Oriental Adventures - Family Matters

Grettings of the Season to you all!

We have spent a couple of days in Shanghai, but I must first take a post to catch up on events prior to our arrival in this megametropolis. Truly events have been transpiring faster than they can be recorded - I shall take to whipping my chronicler, redoubling these typing efforts until I catch up with the elusive present.

On top of the family dinner recorded in the last writing, there was a second family dinner: The Family Strikes Back. At this myself and Xinxin were heavily suprised by being awarded with a "Ru Yi", which translates roughly has "Goddamned Thing"

Fancying themselves a civilised folk the chinese have refined familial gift-giving to its very purest essence, creating a device that
a) obviously cost a lot of money
b) is difficult to carry safely
c) has absolutely no function whatsoever but to burden you with the obligation of a) and b)

Xin has suggested that it may serve as a "Beating stick" sufficiently elegant for her to remonstrate with me - I countered that it was an ideal size to be crammed into her flapping mouth whole. She incorrectly objected that it was too large, until I pointed out her error in not realising how much force I would be prepared to bring to bear in this endeavour. The hunt is on for other uses - the carved holes are too small to act as a pen holder, and though secret research has shown it to be a very fine back scratcher, if Xinxin ever actually catches me doing that I suspect it will lead to the beating stick argument times 9.

Dinner: The Revenge took place in a restaurant called "Shark Fin Palace". If the Forbidden palace was destroyed, and the ruins painstakingly rebuilt by a dedicated team of crack Las Vegas Casino designers this is how it would look - every surface is absolutely crammed with stuff, to the point where if there was a quarter as much it would look four times better. Example: a fountain in the middle of the giant walk in menu (no joke) is tasteful and elegant - when that fountain consists of six giant illuminated carp, you need to have a serious talk with your interior decorator. And that talk needs to consist of "Pack up your shit, Jones, you don't work here anymore. And take your giant fish with you."

I could write a whole update about the architectural horrors of the place, but there's a fair chance they'll send their army to kill me - I've honestly never seen anything with such a ridiculously large number of staff. There were sixteen staff working the front door - that's one per hinge! This sort of thing is only possible in a country where "prevents you starving to death as fast" is an acceptable working wage - leading to an amazing 5:1 staff to customer ratio, doubtless all trained in kung fu and ready to leap into an oncoming flying kick the moment a wronged lone hero approaches within a square mile of the building.

The food here continues to be excellent - I note with surprise and alarm that I've gained the mass of an entire infant tiger in the gut region since I've arrived, and warn you that come my return to the frigid wonderland of Canada in January this newsletter shall be renamed "Avoidance of fat-fuckery: no Bacon edition" for a few months. This is all part of the long scheme of the cunning Chinaman, seeking to lull me into a false sense of security while reducing my top speed, that I might not escape when they strike en masse. Here you see the cardinal tactical error! They think that I will cravenly act as they would, not realising that the Sturdy Irishman runs not from naught! Every kilo they add to my frame will simply be more mass with which I shall roundly smite them, standing firm and proud and breaking the tide of assailants with nought but determination, my patented chin-checking one-two, and any chainsaws I happen to find lying around.

In fact, it's time for us to leave for food once more - enjoy your day of boxing, knowing that I shall be sitting with chopsticks in one hand, pump-action in the other, ready for food or foe!

Your humble and well-fed expeditioner


Oriental Newsletter 4 - Attack of the Various Things

Nimen hao!

(That is the last piece of cutesy foreign-speak you will ever see transcribed here, faithful reader, and rest assured that I personally hunt down and punch every white blogger who ends pure english sentences with "ne").

It's hard to believe I've only been here about a week - it's like being a child, the sheer density of new information everywhere I look makes it seem like so much more time has passed. We've been in Jin Nan a few days now, and I've been shown off to a great big bunch of family members like some kind of prize dog - but a prize dog that's been remarkably well fed, so that's good.

The first thing I noticed about Jin Nan is the fog. On Friday it was serious super-fog, we're talking early nineties first-person shooter Turok fog where you can't see more than twenty meters ahead of you (because the computers back then couldn't actually render many objects, every hard-bitten save-the-world hero spent most of his time battling an impenetrable pea-soup whose job was to prevent the computer having a heart attack or the player from seeing where he was going).

But if Friday was video game fog, Saturday was horror movie fog, real look out the window and "Where has the world gone?" time. I was expecting the phone lines to be cut and hotel guest to start turning up with interesting collections of knife-marks, forcing me to use my one unique skill that seemed irrelevant earlier to outwit the killer (in this case, the skill being so pale that if I take off my clothes I can blend invisibly into the mist coverage, until I dramatically leap out of the smog and blind the killer with my direct whiteness).

I was distracted from hunting atmospheric-moisture-cloaked-killers by introduction to a large swathe of Xin's extended family. I was ushered into a room full of hyper-keen, super friendly small people who I could not understand and god help me but the only image I saw was of C3PO and the Ewoks, except I'm shining white instead of shining gold. Xin punched me pretty hard when I told her. (And if you're pointing out that C3PO could in fact understand those things, then screw your hyper-nerd pedantry for trying to ruin a perfect image).

The food was great, in a way that I'm getting dangerously used to, and then the food after that was great too. There was also beer that was actually moderately decent tasting, though not one single person in all of China knows how to pour a beer with less than 60% head, Xin has started intercepting waiters with assurances that "she wants to pour for me", tactfully avoiding the fact we both find their method of pouring heretical and evil.

Actually running out the door for food and even more family members: The Revenge, so time to put my best smiley face and tall posture on.

Oriental Newsletter 3 - Jin Nan Jive Master

We have left Beijing behind, and rest assured I could write a book about my experiences there, and travelled to Jin Nan. To most Chinese this is an unremarkably small city, since it contains a mere 125% of the population of Ireland, but contains the Oriental point of interest known as "Xin's parents". As you can imagine there was much curiosity on both sides before this meeting, though I wasn't expecting just how keen they were - we hadn't even gotten off the train before there was banging on the window from delighted relatives here to see the giant foreign specimen that their offspring had captured and dragged home with promises of spicy food.

Cross-cultural forces are in full effect here - they are absolutely positively dead keen to please me, but pretty much unable to communicate with me (beyond a few words from the father about deep subjects such as the current temperature of the weather), leading to the unsettling effect of a horde of people generating a palpable field of anxious eagerness that I can't defuse. I spent a few hours walking around the town centre today in a constant state of convincing them not to buy things for me. I was like some sort of ultimate quantum observer, terrified of looking at anything too closely lest I cause something to happen, in this case "happen" meaning "be bought and proffered to me by grinning people". I may also have to set myself on fire or start vaporising ice cubes once a minute in order to prove that I am, in fact, not cold.

Xin takes care of most of the communication, chittering and whooping with all the locals in the primitive manner they seem to enjoy. Looking at the scale of constructions around these places I can see they really are an industrious people - if only they used a language capable of communicating meaning, who knows what they could achieve? The process has already begun - amid the spiderwebs of fingernail scratchings they adorn their signs with, I see occasional fragments of the Queen's Own English - a phenomenon similar to that of an infinite number of monkeys generating Hamlet, I suspect, and one that may one day make communication with these keen souls possible.

On the first night Xin and family were keen to catch up, so I kept myself quiet on a couch - her father had anticipated this and provided me with a sliding panel puzzle to pass the time, and casually mentioned that he'd only heard of one person completing it. Of course, a challenge like that could not go unanswered! Alas this was a "diplomatic mission", so I wasn't able to pull out my trusty pump-action shotgun and blast the puzzle into fragments, declaring it solved, but few conundrums are designed to stand against the mind of a sober Irishman and soon the enigma was de-riddled. Two days later Xin still overhears them telling people about it on the phone, and since then I've pretty much been promoted from "boyfriend" to "Emperor Boyfriend the First of the House of Sun".

The second challenge of manliness was issued on the second night, when he took out a Go set and asked me for a game. I'm sorry to confess that my skills were not as good as they should be - if I was better I could have merely beaten him, but as it is I can't really pretend to be worse than I am without losing, and I accidentally obliterated the fuck out of him. He played white, I black, and by the end the game the board looked like a coal mine at midnight during a blackout.

The third challenge? Food! Prior to our arrival Xin had regaled her family with tales of my capacious appetite, and today we and some relations went to a buffet all you can eat for lunch - they acted casual and friendly in that strange language of theirs, but it was clear to my keen mind that this was the third challenge - to test my endurance, ability to stockpile food, and likelihood of surviving a nuclear winter. They were conferred advantages by their twisted asian biology, able to buy time with entire trips to the buffet and back to acquire nothing but a small piece of uncooked fish, a tactic unavailable to me (not only was it hideously unsporting, but I swore on the shores of Blessed Eire that I would never descend to the heathen savagery of eating animal flesh that had not been cleansed by flame). I was left with naught but my strength, dedication, and huge piles of steak and bacon.

One, two, three, they resigned from the battle with surrender-cups of Haagen Daaz ice cream until I was victorious - but wait! While I was distracted by a particularly delicious piece of pork, Xin's father had cast aside his icecream and brought back a bowl of wonton soup - trickery! Luckily I had prepared a reserve roll of peking duck against such foreign devilry, and was still in the game. I was ahead, winning, and he got up again! Suicidal! I steeled myself - if he wanted to turn this into a life or death stomach-bursting contest, he would not find me unmanned - but he returned with a mug of tea to help his digestion. Weakness, and I struck hard! I left to follow, but returned with a pint of beer instead - Victory! Xin translated that all were impressed, and I had secured righteous prominence in this culinary battle!

Another day of glory and investigation for your foreign correspondent - keep reading these adventuresome pages!

Oriental Newsletter 2 - Beijing Boogie

Oriental Newsletter 2 - Beijing

Greetings all, you homeward people with your drinkable tap water and your cities with populations smaller than my home country, salutations! My Oriental Adventures continue and have been so distracting this is my first chance to write - as such, gentle reader, I must warn you that the format of these memoirs is likely to be as rapidly fragmented as a monkey playing with a grenade.

The very first night here put me in fear of my life - myself, my guide Xinxin and her locally based cousin Yu were running a gauntlet of lake-front bars, complete with hawkers shouting outside trying to attract passersby, shining green laser pointers hither and forth. The only problem was that these beams were clearly visible in the air, meaning that either
a) The chinese have miniaturised Class 4 lasers and distributed them to the population with orders to vaporise foreigners
b) The air here is so thick with contamination you could cut it into bricks
Whichever was the case, I thought it best to get off the streets and we dove into an eatery, where - despite being so tired I actually lost the capacity for three-dimensional vision - we had some of the best food ever. The highlight was something called "Volcano explosion bone", super-spicy ribs, except when it arrived Xin asked them to cut out the bones - leaving nothing but a plate of "Volcano Explosion". And it was great. Also some awesome tumbleweed like vegetables which are the first non-meat item ever that has made me think of it wistfully after. Truly, these yellow devils work their inscrutable magic through the digestive tract.

The next best food was something called "Chili Chicken", a truly uninspiring name - you might as well call the Atlantic ocean "water pool". I haven't got the necessary camera cable to prove it to you yet, but the dish is just a giant bowl of super-hot chillis, in which fugitive pieces of chicken hide. They soak up all the wonderful face-melting capsicim while cooked, rapidly converting from "pieces of meat which are delicious" to "Anti-personnel weapons of a tongue-flensing nature, which are delicious". It's like something out of a horror movie, each bite stripping another layer of cells from your tongue and igniting the tenth circle of hades in your mouth, but you just can't stop! Luckily my Eire-blessed digestive system proved more than a match for this delectable devilry, and I defeated every last piece of food - but I can only imagine how many less sturdy bastions of caucasionality spontaneously ignited because of this tasty trap, their ashes left to join the rest of the dust in this foreign air.

We went to see the forbidden city, which was absolutely awe-inspiring. Truly magnificent stuff, epic-scale, and someday it's going to make the best bonus-level ever in a skateboarding video game. Tons and tons of incredibly sophisticated art and treasure, it expresses three central tenets of Chinese culture
a) Hierarchy
b) Respect for History
c) Fuck the disabled
Every single door had AT LEAST three steps and a raised metal bar across the floor, for no other reason than to screen out people who couldn't walk. I've got some photos, you really wouldn't believe how insistent they are on this point otherwise. My favourite example was at a different site, the Temple of Heaven, where only one door has a ramp over this bar - a ramp which leads to a long walk of about half a kilometer, at the end of which is another portal - one WITH NO RAMP, and, one imagines, artfully lacquered inscriptions in the mandarin style declaiming "haha legless bastard". And lest you fear that all this talk of inspirational beauty has corrupted this loyal servant of the Queens territories, be ashamed of your lack of faith! True to an internal promise to myself I found a spot that had been reserved only for the Emperor in the past (and by 'reserved' I mean 'a commoner spotted there would be tortured, killed and all the men of his family killed, all the women sold into slavery' - seriously). I stood there, cast my thoughts to find any lingering trace of the glorious figures of the past, and gave myself a good hard scratching. It felt good. Ave Eire!

This is nothing but the wonderfully flavoured tip of the China Iceberg of my travels, but I have to go now. I won't leave it so long until next writing, as we continue on my Guaranteed Happiness Travel Plan (TM) of "Eating food" and "Doing stuff until next time to eat food".

Luke, Professor of Eireness Abroad

Adventurer's Newsletter - Expedition to the Orient

Are you prepared for a roistering ride? Prepare to thrill to our new series, Professor McIrish and his Oriental Adventures! (Released in Mandarin as "Giant ignoramus white as the snow drunk in our treasured national heritage".

Yes, I sit here typing this words on the electro-fuelled typ-o-matic to let you know I sally forth to the Mystical Far East this morning. Alas, God has designed the globe to give people warning that such actions are unhallowed, forcing the sturdy adventurer to arise at a truly anti-religious hour early enough to defeat all but the stoutest brains. I will then be subjected to a cunning aerial chamber of mental endurance, left with naught but my own electrogizmodical contrivances to defend my brain from bored self-destruction.

Arriving in those lands to the East, which the sun shines upon ever earlier each day hoping to nourish the natives enough to grow to adequate height, I will be entirely reliant on my sexy and seductive sidekick, Xinxin, an escapee of this foreign climes who can navigate the polyharmonic natterings so unclean to a refined European tongue. In the event of trouble I plan to bring my superior height, weight and albinism to bear on Johnny Chinaman, which will soon see him running, have no fear of that!

I have no fear of these strange new lands - Xinxin has been preparing me for their insidious toxins by exposing me to increasing quantities of rice over the past year, and I have packed my best pair of Panda-chastising gloves (for I fear that modern animal-veterinarians, coddling their charges, have not yet tried the simple "punch to the jaw" solution for any species that refuses to have marital relations to ensure it's own survival).

The time comes to hail our chariot, so I shall await your word. Please remember, gentle reader, that e'en as I risk my sanity in climes unknown, your stories and status from a more Christian timezone will be even more valuable: don't delay, send a missive today!



A non-zero level of awesome for my writing progress today: an article I wrote for the Daily Galaxy got picked up by Reuters aka "The great big official source".

This event is known in Luke-circles as "wooohooooo!", and leading commentator headstogether is on record as saying "Mad Props", and then some stuff about bling and steel that I didn't really follow.

Five tiny things you need to know about nanotechnology

I've been writing every day for the Daily Galaxy, but I had so much fun with this article I thought it deserved a special link: click here to remind yourself why science is awesome.

My original title was "Five things you need to na-know about", but I guess the editors pun tolerance is lower than mine.

Find new articles by every day at the Daily Galaxy and Galactic Emporium.

Sino-Gaelic relations, score one for Ireland

[See the first part of my adventures in Mandarin here]

I'm an Irishman, my lovely ladyfriend is Chinese, and to say this means some fun cultural differences would be to say that transporting ming vases coated covered in butter during an earthquake is an interesting technical challenge.

The established points so far:
  • Chinese cooking can be an orgasm for the sense of taste, while "Irish cuisine" is a phrase that has to be held in parenthesis lest the two words annihilate in an explosion of irony. In my defense Gaelic cuisine is based entirely on "rendering whatever you scraped together that day edible", giving rise to the stew - the only method of food preparation intended to remove flavour and texture from its parts.
  • The Chinese created a Great Wall visible from space, while the Irish made some small piles of rocks. I win this round by pointing out that everyone who worked on those piles went home in the evening, and people were only buried under them if it was their tomb to begin with. Building the Great Wall is estimated to have killed 2 to 3 million Chinese workers and slaves, and feel free to go back and read that sentence again if you need a minute to stop going "Jesus fuck". That's more people than the Emerald Isle had for most of its history. Call us crazy underacheivers, but when we have the choice between "lasting monument" and "the survival of our entire race", us lazy bog-boys will choose the latter.
  • Irish people can drink far more than the Chinese. Strangely, we both count this as a point in our favour.

Once those arguments were used up it became increasingly hard to defend against her allegations that Ireland is a tiny little rock in the water while her country has cities we've never even heard of with more people, industrial capacity and art than my entire nation. Arguments based in fact are tricky - UNTIL NOW! In my efforts to learn the ways of the enemy I've been studying Mandarin, and found evidence that will detonate her "stupid farmers" argument forever:
That's right: the Mandarin word for 'beautiful' (mei, fall and rise in tone) is made of the characters for 'big' (da, falling tone) and 'sheep' (yang, rising tone). And I don't mean in a "I find it looks like the characters in a childish manner" way, I mean in a "that's actually how it's made" way. The character is built from the radicals 'big' and 'sheep' - radicals being the building blocks of many characters, and also how you identify and locate a character in the kaleidoscope of heiroglyphs that is a Mandarin dictionary. It doesn't get more official than that.

Even during the coldest night of winter, the loneliest man from the most socially retarded village in Kerry would not say that a nice big sheep is synonymous with beauty. The Chinese have it as a basic assumption built directly into their language. Game, set and match to the Celts - for us and New Zealanders sheep-shagging is an insult, not a literary construction.

Some might accuse me of making Mandarin look more fucked-up than it is (which wouldn't be hard, I admit) - but it isn't so. Looking up a character by its radical doesn't always work, so even native speakers have to look up various radicals in the hopes of getting it right. FACT: Mandarin dictionaries include a section for "Words that are hard to find". That's right - even the people who write the things don't know how the hell to organise the alcoholic spider scribblings they call a language, and have defined a section as "we give up, it's in here somewhere".

A brilliant Galaxy that isn't Mario-based

I've started writing for another blog, whose mission for me was "Write about cool science and technology while referring to fiction and pop-culture." I would therefore like to thank whoever went out and created a company purely to give me the perfect writing job.

The first article, "5 Things you didn't know they were doing in orbit", can be found here.

Predicting what happens next

An article about predicting the future up at CRAM Science here, inspired by the movie Next. I originally wrote it for the cinema release, but who said the internet had to be fast?

Books that should not exist #2: How to Solve Sudoku: A Step-by-Step Guide (52 Brilliant Ideas)

Even the name of this book shows that it doesn't know when to quit. The Title: Subtitle (another bit of Title) shows that this is an author for whom editing is something that happens to other people, because you don't get up to fifty-two sudoku ideas if you're even remotely prepared to cut unnecessary or pointless things. Even so they'd need to devote ten secrets to "How to pick up the pen" to get over half a hundred tips for this numerical equivalent of "square peg goes in square hole".

The problem with Sudoku was that they weren't a genuine puzzle, they were a single boring mathematical task repeated ten thousand times. Some scientists found that they'd already written a program that solved all known Sudoku as part of a scanner control system, thereby destroying the pretense of all those coffeetime pen-chewers who think they're smart because they outwitted the backpage of a daily newspaper: because any genuinely smart people faced with the task wanted no part in its boring tedium and ordered the computer to do it for them. Once you work out how to play them you either stop playing or have a tragic lack of other occupations in life. Getting 'good' at Sudoku is like getting good at walking upstairs - there's only one possible path and once you've done it there isn't much point in going back and starting again.

The real tragedy is those who worked out the pattern and thought themselves intelligent because they could solve hundreds more so quickly, when repeating a simple task over and over again is the opposite of intelligent (especially when you aren't even getting the four dollars an hour for it). Real mathematicians enjoy Sudoku about as much as structural engineers enjoy setting up a deckchair. There's no shame in not being able to do one, but the sort of person unable to solve one but willing to spend money for help is somebody who should be relieved of that money as quickly as possible. Their thick-headed stubbornness and the need for instructions for even the simplest task could lead them to give it to scientology.

The fact that this book has 52 great sudoku-solving secrets is terrifying: the implication that somebody might need a week per tip to digest the secret mysteries of number writing over the course of a year, and that this person might be wandering around bookshops loose and unsupervised until they find a car that looks interesting enough to walk out in front of. Plus the fact that if even one of the ideas was brilliant, it would "Let's find something more interesting to do than Sudoku."

Previous book: Winning the Lotto

Books that should not exist #1: "Winning Lotto/Lottery for Everyday players, 3rd edition"

The printing press has been hailed as the most important invention in history, allowing smarter people to share their ideas with other less smart people. Unfortunately one of the ideas they shared was "printing presses" and since then the device has been abused to wreak such horrors as to make nuclear power look like an innocent and harmless kitten-based technology. In this series I'll be looking at books so hideously opposed to the idea of knowledge that every time one is sold, a scientist loses his lab coat.

"Winning Lotto/Lottery for Everyday players, 3rd edition" by Professor Jones

This book contains enough compressed illogic and falsehood to erase all scientific learning back as far as the middle ages. The only thing preventing this nightmare of stupidity from returning us to medieval times is the army of idiotic lotto players reading them, placing the barrier of their own knowledge-impermeable brains between the book and the world, preventing education and the "Anti-knowledge" in this monstrosity from wiping each other out.

I read some of the book, but to save you from the same dangerous level of exposure the title alone proves the retardedness of everyone who's even touched this book four times over:

  1. They had to write both Lotto and Lottery on the cover, for fear of missing half of their target market. "Dur, this book is for lott-e-ry, dat sounds more fancier than the lotto we simple folk play round these parts"
  2. The use of "everyday players" conjures the absurd vision that lives in the minds of the target market, that they are mere regular players while a secret cabal of professionals keep scooping all the jackpots. Why, if only they had access to some kind of inside knowledge they could make it too!
  3. The existence of the book. It's a point so astoundingly crystal clear that it's dismissed as a cliche, but if the writer wasn't lying then he wouldn't be writing the book. Many scams are revealed by fact checking, or odd requests for money, or even a lack of spelling - this is some kind of meta ur-scam, proved false purely by it's own existence. If I had access to secret lottery-winning strategies the only book I'd publish is a solid gold tablet entitled "Why it's awesome being me (with special contact information for triplet cheerleaders interested in discussing nudity on a yacht)"
  4. 3rd. Goddamn. Edition. I have no idea what possible refinements to lotto-winning technology the author could be adding each time, short of scribbling "hahaha, oh god this is working I can't believe it's working" all over the proof copy before sending it back to the printers. A third edition of anything hasn't damaged my faith in humanity so much since the Daily Mail ran their "Princess Diana - still dead" memorial in 2000.
If you can get past the title, the back-cover blurb is an even richer treasure trove of anti-logic weaponry designed purely to annoy anybody capable of thought. Though we may be able to use them to confuse the machines once they take over. Professor Smith proudly claims to have designed dozens of lotto-predicting programs, another sanity-shattering "the very fact I can make twenty proves they're all crap" claim, before promising to reveal the secrets of interpreting your dreams for winning lotto numbers. I hate to break it to you but if the best your conscious mind can come up with is "buy a book about how to win the lotto written by someone who has not done so", then your unconscious is unlikely to be some unharnessed money making probability superpredictor.

As a final spit in the face, chapters are devoted to cataloguing number frequency and hot numbers - yes, the two things that they very first page of the first chapter of any probability textbook will tell you are shite. The actual epitome of "stupid, stupid hopeless" gambler fallacies. The things that can be disproven with a coin and a minute.

This book is simply cruel. Buying a lotto ticket may be a tax on people who don't understand statistics, but it still provides that momentary hope, the few seconds of dreaming and a pleasant image. This book specifically harnesses and murders those hopes, telling the reader that playing the lotto is actually a valid financial strategy and something that can be worked at rather than the moments harmless escapism it is. When you're taking the money while killing the dreams of those left with nothing to hope for but winning the lottery, you have officially reached the rank of King Bastard.

Next book: Sudoku Solver

I can only hope that the author changed his name to "Professor Smith" to make the book seem more legitimate, because if I find that an institution actually accredited him a doctorate and tenure then I will be guilty of arson shortly thereafter.

Team Fortress Motivational Posters

In the real world talking about Team Fortress gets me glazed eyes, boredom, and complaints from my girlfriend that setting people on virtual fire is not a healthy activity. Online it gets me digg, reddit, stumpleupon and the love of my editors. Editors who pay money!

More motivational posters can be found at the Galactic Emporium.

World's oldest living thing found, killed by scientists

Scientists were excited to find the oldest living creature in the world, a 405 year old clam they have named Ming. Ming was about as opposite to excited as possible, having died. If anybody involved is upset that they just killed the worlds oldest and most utterly defenseless animal they sure aren't showing it.

The mollusc lived peacefully on a seabed north of Iceland, sucking plankton out of the water, for four hundred years before scientists dragged it up out of the water, where it lived, to the surface, where it didn't. If they don't grasp the irony of searching for the oldest living thing they can find by yanking it out of the environment it needs to survive, we can only hope they don't take an interest in the worlds healthiest baby lest they start storming maternity wards and holding the infants in fishtanks.

The researchers grabbed headlines (and funding) by claiming that such an animal must hold the secret to defeating aging, but look at the facts: it sat in a pool of liquid, never moved, couldn't hear anything and ate whatever it could suck through its fleshy gums. This thing doesn't have the secret to eternal youth, it has the secret to being really fucking old. The fact they gloss over is that we can't learn how to live forever from clams for the same reasons we can't learn how to lick our genitals from cats - we're different goddamn species.

It's a shellfish that lives at the bottom of the sea eating things too small to see, what's it going to teach us about living longer? Don't smoke? Eat less red meat? It sure as hell isn't going to tell us to exercise or get out in the sun. I'm happy to continue eating, drinking and hanging around with girls and if I don't have the longevity of a sedentary mollusc and I do it in the joy that I don't have any of its other qualities either. Besides, if never moving and sucking in liquid refreshment in near total darkness is the secret of immortality then they're going to have to invent some World of Warcraft levels a damn sight higher than seventy and industrial size cans of Mountain Dew.

Of course the headlines are misleading: they claim the "oldest animal ever", when they mean the "oldest animal ever found", because the true secret to long life is hiding from scientists who'll explode you, dissect your corpse and try to sell you to cosmetics companies.

Do you miss your Companion Cube?

Full article over at the Galactic Emporium

Sony loses a billion goddamn dollars on PS3

Buy twenty Faberge eggs and flush them down a solid gold toilet. Film "Waterworld" five times. Buy everyone in Ireland a twenty pints of Guinness. Do any of these things and you'll still be a more successful console developer than the team behind the Playstation 3, which has now officially lost Sony over a billion dollars. I've never been partisan in the great "Retarded Internet Fanboy Console Showdown", but when somebody mislays the entire Gross National Income of Belize you just have to say something.

As reported by Businessweek, PS3 losses have doubled since last year with the total pushing across the ten-digit mark. I'm sorry, allow me to state that properly, the "Holy God you could pay the entire population of South Korea twenty American dollars each ten-digit mark". To the shock and horror of precisely nobody outside Sony it seems that the "market a thousand dollar console and sell it for less than it costs to make" strategy is failing quite spectacularly. Selling below cost is a tactic that has worked well for Nintendo in the past, but when you tip the half-a-grand mark people don't see the three hundred dollars you're saving them, they see the six hundred you're asking them to pay.

With total PS3 sales at 5.6 million, Sony could have bought every single customer a brand new Playstation 2 and a couple of games, throwing in a fifty dollar bribe to "tell everyone it's a PS3 and that it's really good". Many users seem to have the same idea, with the PS2 selling 3.2 million in the last quarter alone (that's more than half the number of PS3s sold, ever). Side-by-side they look like a Mercedes and a hovercraft: sure, the hovercraft is more exciting and futuristic, but it's way more expensive, less useful and nobody actually wants one.

The power of the vaunted cell processor is not in question. In fact a team of astrophysicists at the University of Massachusetts are using a network of eight PS3s as a supercomputer, solving the gravity wave solutions of black holes consuming stellar bodies. But when you're getting more praise from physics professors for the flexibility of your computing architecture than from kids who like to blow stuff up, there's a good chance you've missed your target market. (Unless you give us a game which lets you slam stars into black holes, because that honestly sounds pretty awesome).

Top Ten Team Fortress Stupidities

I can now claim that all the time Team Fortress 2 has eaten right out of my life was actually research, as my article Top Ten Team Fortress Stupidities over at Galactic Emporium has done rather well. Thank you, reddit, for pointing out that I'm great! And thank you, reader, for getting over there and reading it!

Videogame rapture at the Galactic Emporium

An article by me on Halo 3 and things related up over at the Galactic Emporium. I'll be writing there every day from now on, so check back often and tell them how awesome an idea it was to give me money.

Temporary technical tits-uppery

Some links are currently broken. Resolution underway.

Brewster's millions? Amateur

In a story too honestly retarded to be made up, the US government has spent over a billion dollars and doesn't even know what they don't have to show for it. Private US firm DynCorp was contracted to train an Iraqi police force, and so far the results of $1,200,000,000 seem to be ten cabinets of dodgy paperwork and probably a distinct rise in the "Lamborghini:DynCorp employee" ratio. To put that into perspective, a more permanent and effective drop in the crime rate could have been achieved by giving every citizen of Iraq forty dollars and asking them to stay indoors for half an hour.

The best bit is the lovable naivete displayed by those investigating the crime. Auditors claim that the project is so badly managed that it's impossible to find out where the money went, apparently not realising that when somebody takes a thousand thousand thousand dollars from you and fixes things so it's impossible to trace, they managed what they were doing really well. DynCorp insists that there was no "intenional fraud", a phrase that I genuinely don't need to say anything about to make it funnier, but they haven't ruled out slipping on a banana peel, falling onto a keyboard and accidentally misappropriating enough money to give everyone in Cyprus a thousand dollars.

They say the state department could take up to five years to check through the records and prove improper expenses, which shows that they just don't understand the correct attitude for spending twice the gross domestic product of Gambia. This isn't like being too scared to complain to a used car salesman, guys. When you spend a billion dollars you don't have to prove shit about what happened to it - it's up to the people you paid to prove that they did it, and prove they did an absolutely perfect job worth a thousand goddamn million (fucking) dollars. If that's too complex, just say "Where's my police force?", count to ten, and if there's no trained civil authority structure standing there then you ask for your money back.

How do you get as far as nine zeroes before checking that something is actually being done with the money? I'm pretty sure it wasn't all handed over in a single awards ceremony with a cheque the size of a tennis court, which means that at some point somebody had paid over a hundred million dollars, thought "I wonder why these guys haven't started building anything and spend all day with hookers in a swimming pool shaped like a hand giving me the finger", then shrugged and kept pouring cash into the great big bottomless pit.

It doesn't help that DynCorp sounds like the most madeup business name since "Legitimate Businesses Inc". If I walked into a building marked "DynCorp" I'd expect to be attacked by hundreds of identically-rendered security guards tripping over the pistol ammunition inexplicably lying around the floor. Those trying to use the same tactic on their next tax return should rename themselves "John McRealPerson" and send in a folder of haiku-based sudoku instead of their W2 this year, for a fun and exciting demonstration the governments grasp of priorities between "Billion dollar scam" and "Actual citizen forty dollars short".

Science admits it made integration up.

Another article of mine up at the Creative Science Quarterly. You should go and read that, you know.

iLimb over at TechBuzz

Another piece by me for the fine folks over at TechBuzz, the gadget department of CRAM Teen Science magazine.

Daily blogs at Tech.Blorge.com

My first post for Tech.blorge.com is up here. I'll be contributing there daily, so anytime you need a little extra Luke-wordage you can satisfy your cravings.

5 things to do with a cracked iPhone

A piece for some folks in the UK who like mobile phones, and like paying people to talk about mobile phones. I therefore like those people, and oh my goodness look what I just wrote about. You can read the piece here, but be warned that they removed a bunch of relevant links so not all of it makes as much "sense" as it once did.

Millions of dollars and no sense

It's a fact that some people have more money than god, and everybody who believes in that god put together. Their bank statements don't have numbers, just little maps showing how much of the world they could buy. When your morning coffee costs more than the entire upbringing of the person who prepared it you can lose sight of what you're doing, and before you know it you're holding an eggcup that costs more than the World Cup.

Below we look at five of the worlds most stupidly expensive things, what someone with sense could have got instead, and what the gullible hyper-rich should have been given in a world that valued brain more than bills.

1. Mobile Phone
Let's start things off with a stupid, expensive bang. If you or I thought about a super-expensive mobile phone, we might picture live video or daring to view the internet without fear of the ten-dollars-per-page fees. The ultraWealthy don't actually have any more imagination than that, so they take our regular plebeian-crap and roll it in diamonds until it gets expensive. Goldvish stamped 160 diamonds and a wafer of gold across a handset and declared it worth one-point-two million; or as you or I would call it, several years off work.
What you could get: If I'm paying seven figures for a phone it had better come pre-loaded with Angelina Jolies number, Zhang Ziyi's private pictures, the ability to send messages to Mars and a setting that electrocutes people like the one in that Bond film.
What they should get: For anybody out there who thinks that the most easily misplaced piece of modern electronics is the ideal place to store an untraceable fortune in gemstones, might I recommend my house as an ideal place to crash when you've had a few too many champagnes.

2. Tie
A tie is something to be tolerated: certain work environments require a flapping piece of cloth symbolically throttling you as you sell your hours for cash, and that's it. Satya Paul and the Suashish Diamond Group apparently don't know that and used four kilograms of diamonds to make one costing a quarter of a million dollars.
What you could get: Quarter of a million dollars is enough hundred dollar bills to cover over twenty square meters. You could have an entire wardrobe of suits cut from nothing but currency, and it would still be less tacky than this tie.
What they should have got: For a tie that costs more than a ferrari, it's pretty damn ugly. The only way this tie will impress someone is if you take care to make sure they know it has 261 diamonds, and if you're the sort or person who takes care to make sure people know how many diamonds you're wearing then you deserve a punch in the face.

3. Bra and panties
Victorias Secret temporarily lost their minds and armour-plated a perfectly servicable red satin set of underwear with over thirteen-hundred rubies and diamonds, inflating the cost to a wallet-blisteringly-insane fifteen million dollars. While that might sound sexy and extravagant, for me ideal underwear does not inflict over a thousand puncture wounds if I try to actually touch my lover.
What you could get: Let's face facts: $100 will get you a blowjob in any city in the world. Or for the cost of these underthings, a blowjob once an hour, on the hour, every day for the next seventeen years. Exactly how grateful are you expecting your lady to be?
What they should have got: Even if you get it, this present isn't going to end well. "Hi honey, I spent fifteen million dollars on you today! No, I got something that completely defines you as a sex object - isn't it great?"

4. Mobile phone number
Last year the phone number 666 6666 sold for nearly three million dollars - or in the new unit I'll be using to describe utterly ludicrous purchases, three MegaDollars. Besides proving that money is indeed the root of all evil, it also demonstrates that the buyer just doesn't understand their situation. When you can spend that kind of money on a phone number it could involve binary, heiroglyphs and the sacrifice of a live chicken to place a call and people will still do it.
What you could get: You want to make it easy for your people to remember your number. At a bulk rate of six hundred dollars a pop you could hire aircraft to write your number in smoke across the sky, over a hundred cities worldwide, once a week for the next year. Anybody who can forget your number after that you probably don't want calling you.
What they should have got: The money went to charity, so in fairness these guys can have any number they want up to and including my girlfriends.

5. TV
If you predicted that the stupidest most expensive thing would be a TV, then quick, contact us, we need someone to fill the role of 'Biting and Not-at-all obvious Social Commentary' editor. The Yalos Diamond TV is like a soft gold hip replacement - super-expensive and you'll really wish you got a proper one. 160 carats of diamonds, 130 thousands of dollars, and only 40 inches? That's not just costly, it's a tragedy.
What you could get: Paving a regular sized bathroom in 65-inch LCD screens would cost less. Do you want to get a screen that looks like it got lost on the way through a jewellers, or watch life sized sports while hunched over the throne?
What they should get: These people are paying six digits to gold-plate the part of the TV you don't look at. This is Exhibit A in my new class-action lawsuit, "Money should be confiscated from the rich and given to people who know what it's for."

(3 of) the 5 most pointless movie adaptations of TV shows.

Another article up on Cracked.com, and at least 50% of it is by me! This one got rewritten pretty heavily (I have never and will never be able to even mockingly talk about "Bewitched") but at least half of my original humor remains - and the rest of the Cracked-approved content isn't bad either.

PS The joke that's based on saying "titties" twenty times? That wasn't mine.

Stringing up a theory

My not-glowingly-positive or un-sarcastic opinion of superstring theory may be read at the Science Creative Quarterly.

The piece got linked up on Seeds Zeitgest that day.

Great moments in Evil Democracy

Behold, as the Baron (aka me) informs you of Great Moments of Evil Democracy, over at The International Society of Supervillains.

How to play poker

I've done an article for the "International Society of Supervillains". If you know what's good for you, you'll go and read it.

Beer review - Bell's Expedition Stout

The best stout I've had.
10.5 % ABV, Michigan USA, CAD$11.89 / 355 ml

The compass on the bottle usefully indicates which way is up after a few.

Bell’s Expedition Stout gives the lie to the claim that all American beer is tap-water that’s been lightly pissed in. Its rich flavour and strong ways show that Bud light and Labatts only exist due to the flaws in American democracy - they know how to make the good things, but most people are content with cheap swill (the McBeer effect).

This wonderful stout pours like the T1000, liquid metal glistening and thick. You almost expect to find dinosaur skeletons preserved in the rich, tarry texture of a full glass. When you drink it it doesn’t just demand respect – it smashes a chair of flavour over your tongue and stamps it’s boot on your throat (from the inside) with a powerful, long-lasting aftertaste. One that says “You’re a real beer drinking man now, my son”.

It isn’t for everyone. If you enjoy stout then you must make sure this is the next Expedition you embark on; but if you’ve ever found any stout too strong then give it a miss. The same applies to anyone sick, infirm, pregnant, unable to deal with rich deep flavours or simply not concentrating 100% - back off until you’re ready to handle this.

CRACKED - Romantic Comedy Relationship Advice

A guy's guide to surviving in a romantic comedy, over at Cracked. You should go check that out.

Titanic Triple Travel Time

2:40 pm (been travellling/airporting for four hours already)
I now embark on an arduous day of travel, connections and transports invented by my airline as a penance for people who don't book flights in time. I'll be visiting three different cities with travel times precisely calibrated to wear down my resolve, all after the initial gauntlet of boarding a flight to America, also known as "Being Arrested on grounds of being Foreign". But I shall prevail! For I learned wisdom at the under a stern tutor; like the greatest Kung Fu masters, he was thousands of years old. Many thought of him as rocky and unyielding, but I learned the value of life and never to waste a single day - not even a day spent imprisoned in an inescapable aerial prison.

I have free time, I have unlimited imagination, and even better - I have electronic devices.

3:36 pm
Flicking through the in-flight movie selection, I find that the 'movie classics' selection is the 2002 version of The Time Machine. For your reference, the feeling of losing your last remaining hope for humanity is a cold weakness draining strength from your cheeks as your face falls in despair.

3:51 pm
Rewrote an article I'm doing for TRENZ magazine, since it was so dull I am wondering if I accidentally swallowed a copy of Readers Digest before writing it. Wanted to en-brilliant-ify the Parkour article as well but it seems it didn't save properly, and at 40,000 feet I can't really connect to Google Documents.

Speaking of Parkour, I have almost completely recovered the use of my legs.

5:03 pm
Played a game of Go against the computer. Go is a famous strategy game that computers just aren't built to learn well; it's used as a common test of AI efforts. I lose the first game by 10 points, the second by 20. Conclusion: I'm learning even slower than something that by design can't learn it.

6:18 pm
We've arrived Dallas and I haven't seen any guns or big hats yet. This may be because we're stuck in the airplane for 20 minutes while the previous flight at the gate prepares; other passengers have voiced frustration, but I cunningly thought ahead by only booking my flights at the last minute and therefore having a three two hour wait ahead of me anyway!

7:26 pm (6:26 pm local)
I heard my very first authentic non-mocking "Y'all" just now. Disappointingly it was by a woman, and she seemed to wear neither gun nor ten-gallon hat, but by her sheer scale I can say she represents the spirit of Texas. There was also the biggest escalator I've ever seen; where any other nation might have given up and built elevators, or at least a short landing halfway, the Lone Star state bravely saves the effort of walking even an extra meter with an escalator that may well be visible from space (and only falls slightly short of reaching it). You may think I'm exaggerating, but I saw an local employee turn, sit on the stairs and start writing once he got on. Clearly once you get used to the majestic automated scale of the whole thing you need something to occupy your mind during the wait.

I also rode the Skylink, an inter-terminal tram that puts most public transit systems I've ridden to shame. Each loading bay outstrips many subway stops, and the ride gave a great view over the whole airfield. (Nerd +1: Looking at many of the planes, I couldn't help but think those wings would make very awkward and flimsy arms once they transformed.)

Despite not being known for their grasp of technology that doesn't fire projectiles, this state has shown a couple of unexpected contrivances:
1. The ATM machine has a headphone jack. This jack does not feature instructions for the blind, as you might expect, but simply plays the beeps louder and directly into your ear canal, in case you feel you may have missed something. Perhaps for capitalist minimalist techno music market.
2. An iPod vending machine. This is the cruelest thing I've ever seen, a torture akin to the water always receding before the eternally thirsty Tantalus, and the fruit always beyond his reach. And that was inflicted by Greek Gods, the Masters of All Pointless Bastardry. Think about it; a distraction starved prisoner of the terminal finally cracks and buys an iPod, anything to relieve the tedium, then stands there holding his lovely new sound device with absolutely no way to load it with music.

The terminal is flanked on both sides by Starbucks, keeping watch against their eternal enemy, variety.

8:20 pm (7:20 pm local)
Everyone reading this, please cut out the following and keep it on your person at all times. If you ever gain access to time travel technology, send it to my younger self standing outside the 'Chili Too' eatery in Dallas Airport:
"Luke, your intuition that the 'Oldtimer chilli burger' will satisfy you is correct, but your hopes that the spicy buffalo wings will be nice, or even remotely edible, are false. Abandon them."

10:20 pm
Jubilation! I'm back in the air and already the whole torturous trip has been made worthwhile, for I have acquired a Skymall catalogue - the holy grail for all who enjoy mocking stupid products, and encyclopedia of pretty much everything that is wrong with capitalism. It feels like the metal duck shoot at a fairground - it's way too easy, but it's so much fun you won't stop until they stop coming.

10:25 pm
Alas, in Dallas I was forced to choose between feeding myself or my laptop battery, and may soon be forced offline.

11:04 pm
Third game of Go against computer. I resign from a hopeless situation before even finishing; at this rate the computer will be checking me on as luggage in the next flight.

11:30 pm
The laptop is out, so I record these notes on paper as I play gameboy instead (luckily I carry multiple electronics with me at all times, or I may be forced to become aware of my surroundings).

I hoped to enjoy Sonic the Hedgehog on my DS but found that the game was translated by rabid fanboys - and not in a good way. I mean either bitter sega fans, despairing that they lost the hardware war and determined to sabotage nintendo where they can; or howling nintendo zealots who have sworn to die rather than let the enemy sully their lands. Either way only a vicious conspiracy could allow a game so utterly broken to be released.

Because Sonic suffers from slowdown.

Yes, on a console I've seen run games four times as complex Sonic staggers and stutters like a broken-legged geriatric, and no amount of pulling out and blowing on the cartridge will save him. Understand that a slow Sonic is like a pacifist R-type, or choosing Ryu and finding yourself in "Street Resolving-conflicts-through-reasoned-discussion II"

Yoshi's Island on the other hand is pure platforming love and threatens to reignite my love of utterly pointlessly collecting coins.

12:30 am
I've been betrayed! The coffee I relied on to keep me awake no matter what has now viciously backstabbed me, keeping me awake no matter what I do to doze. Who saw that coming?

2:30 am (11:30 pm local)
Taxi through downtown San Diego. It's amazing how much downtown San Diego looks like the inside of my eyelids. The fact that the trip only took thirty seconds, apparently, is also mysterious.

3:30 am (12:30 am local)

I've got your iBrand RIGHT HERE

Make your own DIY iPod Shuffle!

Welcome to Max Laboratories, where today we'll show you how to build your very own iPod shuffle - and save a few dollars into the bargain! For this project you will need:

1 x Nomad MP3 player ($40)
2 x Pitchers of Heineken ($36)

The total cost comes in at less than the Shuffle recommended retail price of $80 (we don't mess around with $79.99s here at Max Labs). A lower price may be obtained by replacing Heineken with an american beer like Bud Light or Labatt, but the extra preparations required (being an uneducated tasteless fool who can't distinguish tapwater from beer) aren't worth the savings.

Construction procedure:
1. Purchase and wear your cheap and extremely nice Nomad MP3 player. You will notice that this product, which does not have a major advertising campaign, is cheaper but has more features than the Shuffle you wish to build. Don't worry, we'll soon fix that!
2. Any electronics work area should be non-conductive and staffed by professionals. For this reason we recommend your local bar.
3. Order two pitchers of Heineken. Apply as needed.
4. Your route home should pass several trees. Tree climbing can be as a result of a challenge to your manliness, a surfeit of energy, or a simple reversion to primitive primate programming. It matters not.
5. The mixture and trees, alcohol and gravity should automatically produce a Nomad-breaking impact, without (or even
despite) the efforts of the person currently in the tree.

Your MP3 player now replicates the functions of a Shuffle costing twice the price - Congratulations! You may find that this shuffle-alike emulates the battery life of early-generation portable music technology rather too well, as a cracked LCD screen is the gutshot wound of battery powered electronics - ugly, with a tendency to rapidly bleed out and die. To rectify this lever off the LCD screen and just tear it out with whatever comes to hand. Keys and knives are useful, and convenient should you suddenly be attacked mid-procedure, but you really can't beat the dedicated "nails and teeth" approach that gives such a personal flavor to your possessions. Quite literally, for true practitioners.

Feel the sexy shiny blue!

With the blue LED backlights are exposed your player is now the single sexiest and most desirable piece of kit in existence - as we all know, blue LEDs are modern technological civilization incarnate. It is important to verify that the newly exposed lights remain blue; should they turn red, your foolish tinkering has flipped the 'Evil' switch included in all technology since 1980. Any attempt to use the device after this point may cause irritation, personal injury, and cause you to join the vanguard of fleshling slaves of the inevitable robot uprising. Should you retain any free will despite the inhuman intelligence bending your mind, at this point you should call technical support.

Canada Day

Canada - the country younger than my country's national drink.

I'm kicking back for Canada Day and it is so cute watching this place acting like they have a history and culture. Canada was confederated in 1867 - the Guinness Brewery has a longer history than that, one with more excitement and tragedy: the legendary 9,000 year lease; the 'Breo' disaster; the heart-rending closure of St James Gate and the daring innovations of 'North Star' and 'Toucan'. Canada's entire notable history is:

1867 - Confederated by Queen Victoria, who was tired of dealing with the whole frozen mess.
1814 - Burning of the White House by Canadian forces. You will notice this was before the current 'Canada' technically existed. The fact it was achieved by British forces also eludes those Canadians who bring it up.
2007 - Taking smug pride in being "better than Americans", despite the fact that having your entire national identity defined in terms of another country is a tragedy.

For history and culture you need a set up like Europe: too many tribes, too little land, and they all get gunpowder at the same time so nobody ever gets any peace. This results in masterpieces like London, Paris, Vienna, and maybe just a few of the bloodiest and most nightmarish conflicts in recorded history. A band of gunmen expanding into deserted tundra, stopping occasionally to slaughter tribes whose military capacity is entirely based on combating fish, does not lead to excitement or culture. It leads to Edmonton and Kitchener- the Tenth and Eleventh Circle of North American Hell. Ask an Edmontonian what there is to do and they'll say "The Mall", then sigh, and possibly promise to bear your children if you will but help them escape. The downtown is what the Gobi desert would look like if you could build parking garages out of sand, and at least the searing desolation of the savannah doesn’t close at 5 pm sharp.

Perhaps realizing the terror of this vanilla suburbia the Canucks have set up a great simulation of the pride, arrogance, stupidity and selfishness generated by intracontinental tension with the Quebec situation; but it’s like training to be a boxer by giving yourself brain damage and breaking your knuckles. You're meant to have a half-reasonable goal as well as the stupidity and pain and the concept of a Quebecer nation just doesn't cut it. Not even "Because it would be really funny, then a bit sad". It's like that one episode of every lazy sitcom where a roommate decides to divide the house into two, but without the deeply thought-out financial planning of the average comedy character.

Smaller countries don't work anymore. Even Germany, who you might remember as "the country whose economy could kick the shit out of three other countries combined" and "that tiny nation that took on the entire world and nearly won that time”, is pushing the European Union. When they start gathering countries like Ireland and Estonia to bring up the numbers, shouting "I don't want to play any more" and heading off on your own is statesmanship right up there with the Alderaan governors famous telegram, "Fuck you Darth Vader, what the hell could you do to a planet anyway."

Some people encourage the screaming-child politics of Quebec by acting like it’s an actual issue, but until they find a way to weaponize arrogance we can just ignore them – this is a problem that will go away. Because the best thing I can say about French is: it isn't English and it isn't Mandarin, so it isn't something your grandchildren are going to have to worry about.

How to fix politics

We stick politicians in metal coffins. No, it's not what you think.

Democracy is the least worst system of government that's been tried, but just because a kick in the testicles is better than a knife in the eye doesn't mean you shouldn't twist and avoid the blow. A horrible combination of apathy and inevitability (like being hungover in front of daytime TV) means that while all politicians are now assumed to be lying sacks of hate, people aren't rioting in the streets demanding revolution but instead try to pick the 'best' of a bad bunch (and these days it's like finding the best meal in the skip behind a McDonalds). But I've found the solution: we stick the politicians in metal coffins.

The future face of politics.

Think 'Captain Pike' if you know Star Trek, or 'immobilising metal box in which they can only communicate by flashing a light' if you're good at contact sports. Political hopefuls will be held silent and immobile during all election periods, fed and relieved by tubes until all the ballots are tallied. This prevents any and all lying, baby-kissing, muck-raking or posturing. Tax cuts cannot be promised from inside three inches of solid steel; nay, not even the loudest pledge to magically create jobs shall escape. How will we find out what they say about the important issues of the election? We already know: whatever we want them to say. No matter their fine ideals when entering politics any one of them would surf to power on a promise of free blowjobs if they thought it had a chance of working (a tactic some protesters have highlighted).

Words are cheap. Words are free. If you compare election promises of the past to what actually happened, these words end up costing you money so we're safer saving our time. Instead of judging their ability to treat people like sheep we judge them on their past work, because unless you have a boatload of money or used to chase Sarah Connor (or both) you can't just walk in off the street and say "I'd like to be in charge of the country please, oh thank you very much". Not even if you wear a short skirt. There exists a vast web of assistantships, departments, administrations and committees for these political larva to burrow through and the higher up you go the more roots these metaphor-mixing politicians have. So shut them up, stick 'em in a tin, and whoever did the best job in their old position wins. Anybody who didn't do anything in a post but come out richer is disqualified. And left in the tin.

You'll notice this system doesn't allow for charisma or stage presence. If I want stage presence I'll go to a comedy show. It cares not whether the ministers screw around in their spare time, because unless the screwing is spectacularly forceful it doesn't affect their ability to combat inflation. Most importantly it isn't affected by how much money the hopefuls have, because there's an inverse relationship between how much cash someone gets from private firms and how much they're likely to care about the public sector.

Trust me, this system will work. In the words of Captain Pike himself:


NXNE Music Festival

I talk about rocking out over at CampusX. Direct links to reviews for Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Conclusion: Fun Factor Five.

Review - Thai Bangkok restaurant

412 Spadina Avenue

Should you find yourself here, your best bet is to try eating those plants in the window.

The Thai Bangkok is a lot more decorated than the usual chinatown quick-lunch joints, as it actually has decorations. Wall paneling, paintings and enough (carved) elephants to keep Tony Jaa happy for a month. Then you notice the dirty spots and peeling paint around the edges but for a moment you had the impression you were somewhere nice for your six dollar lunch: enjoy that impression because it's all your money is buying you.

Despite the themed trimmings this eatery does exceptionally poorly on the nationality test (fraction of customers from the same culture as the food), with a total of absolutely zero Thai present (counting the fact that even the visible staff weren't Thai, the place earns negative points). It was pretty easy to check the home country of the eaters too - for most of the meal I was the only one there and I'm Irish. At lunchtime in a spadina/college restaurant that's just tragic.

Hungry and hurried I ordered lunch special #1 (hard to get any faster than that) and it's a damn good thing I did because lunch special #1, at lunchtime, took twenty minutes to arrive. If I'd ordered anything else I might still be there. The upside was that the extra time allowed me to fully appreciate the highly excitable menu:

That's three exclamation marks! This is the most excited menu of all time!

Whoever wrote this urgently needs to be sedated. Anyone who finds the concept of rice coming with Thai food exciting might explode if they see something truly astonishing, like a window or a barking dog.

I honestly cannot review the spring roll because I inhaled it, having become so hungry my body was trying to photosynthesize or absorb the tablecloth through osmosis. This lessened my crippling need for food enough to appreciate the hot and sour soup, much to my regret. When the most basic starter possible for any chinatown restaurant takes twenty minutes to prepare you expect something special. Hand polished tofu with beansprouts plucked by specially trained experts, carefully ladled into a platinum bowl and mixed precisely by multimillion dollar perfectionist robots. You do not expect a bag of starch dumped in hot water by the chef during a break in Judge Judy. The spicy beef was an an exemplar in lazy food, a paragon of a spicy meal made wrongly: tough lumps of meat with chunks of flavourless plastic masquerading as peppers glued together by a thick and utterly effortless sauce. I don't mean effortless as in "the masterful chef effortlessly created a wonderful taste", I mean "the person who happens to work in the kitchen expended absolutely no effort in making this". Turning the plate over I expected to find "Screw you, stupid foreigner, you don't know real food anyway" written on the bottom. Of course I didn't - they had no need to waste ink when they'd clearly expressed that message in the food.

Every time I see this place it's deserted. Keep it that way.

The Invisible Woman

The Science of the Invisible Woman, posted by me to CRAM Science.

I still think the Fantastic Four could have been better interpreted as a harrowing psychological drama about four mentally disturbed patients who wrongly believe they have incredible powers. For example, Jessica Alba only thinks she is invisible when taking off her clothes.

Protest Warriors

People are now protesting other protests. I guess we've run out of hobbies.

The fine folks over at Cracked.com recently highlighted Protest Warrior - a group of right-wingers who turn up to counter-protest liberal demonstration. They also have access to a minimalist artistic genius, with a logo that has no blonde hair at all and still manages to be the most Aryan thing I've ever seen.

"Look, I'm not saying the Jews had it coming or anything but..."

You've got to respect a group dedicated to bringing the glory and intellectualism of internet forum arguments into the real world, hunting down people they disagree with and shouting "No it isn't!" Aside from simply existing, there are a few more mistakes they've made:

1. They're not helping the conservative cause.

It turns out that there isn't a binary "Right/wrong" switch in every argument. Saying any particular thing is correct or incorrect simply because of which political category you jam it into is like judging medicine based on what colour it is - wonderfully simple, saves a lot of thought, and will fuck you up right quick. Having these guys on your side is like having Ann Coulter or a diarrhetic chimpanzee; they're eager to help, they've got lots to contribute, and your best bet is to lock them in a cupboard and hope no-one hears them. This playground contrarianism is not helping those conservatives who have sensible things to say.

2. Authority figures do not like them.

Some of their "after action reports" (the "action" normally consists of being ignored or shouted at) talk of sharing nods and understanding with the police and security guards present, not realising that those people hate them. Think about it: You're a peace officer assigned to a protest. Would you prefer

a) A group of liberal hippy protestors moving in an orderly fashion. Note that the average hippy is about as likely to start photosynthesizing as he is to start a fight.
b) Two groups, violently opposed to each other, with you in the middle. The second group is composed of people like this.

Thanks a lot, Protest Warrior, you've turned a milk run into a potential riot. Come over here, I'll show you how a taser works.

3. Liberal protests aren't a threat.

Setting up counter-liberal protests is like becoming a vigilante struggling against late library returns - you're not solving a real threat. In February 2003 over six million people protested the invasion of Iraq around the world, in a record-breakingly huge demonstration in over 60 countries including several national capitals. You may have noticed that the war failed to not happen, and the average "Aha, fuck you" implications of the political announcements has gone up since then. That day of protest conclusively proved that such demonstrations unfortunately achieve nothing; and if a globally co-ordinated effort by a group with the same population as Hong Kong doesn't affect things, a group of student liberals with placards does not need a specially trained counter-force.

PS That said, I do love their anti-communism sign, though the pistol-r is completely unnecessary. I suspect placing guns in any and all unnecessary locations is not incompatible with the average Protest Warrior.

Review - Moonbean coffee

30 St Andrew, Kensington Market

Don Guiseppe relaxed. With the ear of their leader nailed up as a warning sign, the Metal Men would bother his legitimate business no more.

In the chilled district of Kensington Market, you'll find the second hippy-est cafe in Toronto - Moonbean Coffee. (The absolute hippy-est is around the corner, the Kensington Cafe, which wins the title with it's awesome swingseats).

Moonbean has so many coffees, and so little space, it's not actually possible to fit them all in one shot. However the top row are flavoured coffee beans and therefore do not count.

Coffee is very important to me, without it I would stumble around known only as "That guy who falls asleep when asked who he is". Moonbean provide an excellent and ever changing selection of beans for home grinding, and when I find myself choosing between blends like "Devils Brew" and "Colossus" I know I have found a business that understands my morning coffee needs exactly. The cafe has all the advantages of the non-chain coffee shop, a sense of individuality and character. The occasionally cramped seating and wobbly tables is an acceptable price for the fun feel and unique clientele. Plus I love coffeeshops where 'Grande' is just the title of a mexican-themed wrestler.

I'm making modern art pieces. I call this work "Sleep is for pussies"

You have to visit once if only to try the 'Herculatte'. Bear in mind that the Godfather Marlon Brando could beat someone to death with their own severed arm for preparing his latte incorrectly, and he would still look girly for having ordered a latte. But Moonbean do a good job of manlifying this milky drink by serving it in a mug the size of a childs face and pumping three shots of espresso in there. If one of these doesn't wake you up, please report directly to your nearest Emergency Room and inform them that you are dead.

Moment of clarity

Walking through the gym the other day I notice one of the training rooms blocked off with a sign saying "Womens only training hours". "Damn", I think, "That must be pretty hot."

Then I realise "Congratulations, self, you're the exact reason they need women-only training hours in the first place".

Review - Rong Hua restaurant

478 Dundas St

I can't read a word or even see inside - let's eat here!

It scores highly on the "foreign restaurant" stakes since it
a) does not appear to have even a letter of English to its name* and
b) it's backed off the street, looking pretty shady so that
c) basically it's the kind of place a lone hero enters and has to fight the entire clientele, after throwing a knife-wielding chef through the plate glass fronting.

* - It actually has an English sign, but overhanging the pavement so far out you can only see it from the other side of the street. The idea is perhaps that once the English-speakers venture too close, they are already lost.

Rong-Hua-man cursed. With that silver station wagon in the way, he would never get the Rong-mobile back into the RongCave

Any ethnic restaurant can be judged on the nationality test: how many of the diners are actually from that culture. Fukian snacks scores over one hundred percent there - not only was every single guest chinese, they were such Fukian regional chinese that even Xin (a chinese national fluent in both mandarin and cantonese) could not penetrate a word of their dialogue beyond "Yep, that's heavily accented Fukian dialect all right".

Another element of the "small chinese restaurant feel" is how food is the priority. The ONLY priority. The restaurant consists of a kitchen for food-making, store rooms for food-keeping, and then some space for those troublesome people who keep arriving and taking it. As you squeeze past the counter and walk through a store room to get to the bathrooms, you realise they're only there because they are absolutely legally required - though they are usably clean unlike the excellent-food-but-nothing-else Kom Jug Yuen around the corner.

The sweet and sour lychee pork was good since it was actually sweet and sour, not the sugarised-syrup meat chunks that often get passed under that name. Xin ordered some strange salty-water-and-little-clam stuff, but assures me that it was quite well done salty-water-and-little-clam stuff. I couldn't tell, because it was pretty much salty water. And little clams. Service was nice and fast, with the usual chinatown "What do you want right here now go" brusqueness rather than the "How may we help you" speed some may expect. I enjoy this confidence because it's well earned: these people know their food is good and if you don't want it, you're welcome to not come back.

This restaurant does exactly what it claims to but nothing else. If you want good cheap Fukian food it's the place to go - if you want anything else at all, it isn't.

How to write Mandarin

If you want to write chinese characters, simply dip a spider in alcoholic ink and place it on a page. Then wait for an earthquake. I'm not saying that mandarin characters are unnecessarily complicated, but people have been known to die of starvation while attempting to read a menu. And there is the story of the man writing a birthday card who found it was out of date when he finished.

My Chinese girlfriend tells me that their language isn't actually an IQ-burning trap devised against the white-devils. This is the same person who as a child was punished by being made to write out her own name a hundred times, based on the fact that Chinese names can be complicated enough to make this a frustrating and boring torture. For a country that views education and medical care for the population as optional extras that's some pretty impressively advanced psychological control. Communism may be impractical but conditioning children to hate their own names is a pretty good stab at making it work. "To hell with my hateful individual name!" cries the child, casting aside the pen and taking up the Glorious Peoples hammer and sickle, "I will become a faceless soul among many - all hail the glorious hive mind!"

Think I'm kidding? In English the letter 'I' is the absolute simplest letter you can conceive of, a single stroke - the mandarin equivalent is . Try writing that - it's only marginally quicker than sketching a quick self portrait. Even better, spot the difference between and - one means "me", the other means "workman" and "spear"; of course, the fact that the language of a large population views the concept of self and armed warrior as synonymous shouldn't be of any concern. Especially to Russia, their immediate neighbours with rich mineral resources.

A pictographic language reveals a lot more about a culture's history and development than a character-based one. Many chinese characters developed from simple pictorial representations, and evolved over time as they were needed - which makes the following set quite interesting:

That's right; the language was at the point of differentiating between different types of stabbing weapon long before the concept of "love" needed to be written down. Distinguishing between different bladed implements designed for killing takes only two strokes, while the concept of love takes ten - so you have to choose between liking someone or knifing them five times. This is a language developed by people who didn't mess about, and by "mess about" I mean "not stab people".

There are insights into the sexual politics of Chinese history too. The character means female, and is child, or in some cases teenage. Put them together, and you get , meaning good. You know, "good like a young girl" being a universal constant; to say China was patriarchal would be like claiming that Hitler had some effect on local politics. Another window into the equal opportunity heaven that is the Mandarin language is means "too much, excessively" while means "wife". Clearly this is a culture where women hold an important position, and have to keep holding it until the man is finished and falls asleep.

Getting off the subject of how the language speaks of a time about as interested in equal opportunity as a drunk rugby team, and back into how it's just spitefully difficult, observe counting down from five to zero.

Note how it fakes you out with some apparent reason and simple order on the way down to one, before breaking out the zero. You might recognise it as the Mind-Smashing ImpossiPuzzle that Captain Genius had to solve to save the universe from the Sanity Breakers. It's possible to write the Theory of Relativity in less strokes than that.

So ends my first foray into the world of the Mandarin language. Since I'm not quite fluent yet, you can expect to see more.

Forum Safety Tips

Forum Safety Tips for your edification and entertainment over at CRACKED.

Happy Boys

The company behind the phenomenally popular Chinese "Super Girl" series (think pop idol, with girls only, and released in a country that hasn't developed an immunity to idol shows yet) are replacing it with a male equivalent, "Happy Boys", proving that it's possible to make something enjoyed by over a third of a billion people but not have a clue about the real reason it's popular. The producers live in an admirable, if naive, world where it's the excellent singing and genuine interest in the development of a young artist that keeps people watching, where the young attractive girls performing for the viewers approval is merely a fringe benefit.

They may be using boys to destroy the concept of their massively popular show, but it's taking revenge by annihilating the very concept of 'boys'. The happy boys are the most effeminate males this side of a gender-change surgical theatre waiting room. I honestly cannot imagine a girlier boy existing anywhere until a male ballerina is touring a biological lab and is accidentally bitten by a radioactive tutu.

At great risk to my own Y chromosome I've been wading through images of the pansies posturing for popularity, chewing cigars and wrestling bears which are also chewing cigars once an hour to preserve my testicular integrity. I have skimmed off only a few examples below, but in order to prevent a critical loss of manliness you are advised to watch a Schwarzenegger film or headbutt a wall for each of the following pictures you look at. Even if you're a girl.

This person is listed as a "boy", proving that the Chinese must have advanced automation to an impressive degree, as only a soulless machine could have ticked the "male" box for this contestant without adding a question mark or demanding a full medical exam. Cover everything below the neck with your hand, tell yourself that you're looking at a guy. This will feel similar to when you say "I'll just have the one" or "I swear I'll go to the gym tomorrow".

I've seen prepubescent albino girls with manlier frames than that, and I can only assume that emergency ripcord on his shirt is so he can swiftly pull it off to prove he doesn't have breasts. He's obviously used to defending his gender, with that piece of throat armour ready to flip up and conceal his critical lack of adams apple, drawing any attackers within range of those loose dungaree straps hanging from his belt - though when you're fighting accusations of being a slightly mannish lesbian, loose dungaree straps don't help your case one bit.

This guy has absolutely no right to be involved in any project where the concept of maleness is even implied. He should be serving coffee in a feminist library, being obsessed over by pseudo-intellectuals who can remember in vivid detail every time a girl has accidentally brushed against them. They're scared off talking to her by the gang-sign of "The Mincing Mimsies", who dominate the downtown with their cutting fashion co-ordination and strike fear into their enemies with choreagraphed dance numbers.

Now this is just a tragedy of overcompensation. While marching into the wilds and wearing the skin of whatever you kill out there is incredibly manly, it only works with bears and wolves. Something that had a chance of eating you. Marching into a farm and slaughtering a sheep does not cut it. When your barbarian garb is 100% wool and machine washable, you fail to inspire the fear of the bloodthirsty warrior in those who behold you. You inspire the urge to lay your robes in front of a blazing log fire and curl up with a mug of cocoa, and after that you might as well hand your penis in as dead weight.

Even worse is the way the forearm sections are crudely tied down, as if this tender flower would do anything dramatic enough to risk it coming loose. It takes a lot for someones elbow to look small and fragile next to a blanket and a rug, but through a lifetime of avoiding protein and sunlight this brave stick-insect impersonator has managed it. I will move on to another target now, for fear that even the weight of my criticism might snap his rickety bones.

I don't know how this guy got into the competition - perhaps the Advertising Commisison warned the producers that they'd better show something that actually looks like a "Boy" soon or face stiff fines. All I know is that they took a Bond villain, disarmed him by giving him a rimless hat, and shoved him into the mix to bring the average manliness up to a non-zero number, and for that we can all appreciate his sacrifice. Look at the toll it's taken on him; I don't care what you say about racial traits and characteristics, anybody with a face like that used to have chest hair and his has been burned off by sheer overexposure to the other contestants, whose abundance of estrogen is slowly robbing him of his manhood by osmosis. But he soldiers on, brave soul, and for that he will forever be remembered in the Halls of Valhalla; albeit a hall that smells more of air-freshener and grooming products than the others.


The producers threw everything they could at this one to make it look male. It's a bad sign when the schizophrenic combination of army camoflague pants and flourescent construction gear, on a truck, in a loading dock can't diffuse the overall feel of "girly". It adds up to the worst attempt by anybody to be something they're not since Vanilla Ice first said "Yo". Best of all is the expression of pure disgust on the face of the driver, who's obviously worked ten hours a day since he was five and is now turning his cold stare on the viewer:

"You did this. By watching you are complicit in these crimes. You have made a joke of all I and my kind have ever stood for."

After his photo was taken, he walked into the distance to become a lumberjack.
Nerding it up with motivational poster time!
Click for full size>

If this spoils anything, you were never going to get round to playing it anyway.

Ogham Blogging

Ogham is an ancient Irish system of writing. As we are a deeply lyrical culture with a rich history, we used the most advanced writing technology available at the time: rocks. Specifically, one rock carves notches in the side of another, larger rock. There may have been metal, but when your national sports are "Being killed by Vikings" and "Trying to grow enough food to not starve before the vikings arrive", anyone using metal for anything but swords, or swords-that-can-also-dig, gets removed from the gene pool pretty quickly.

An ancient gaelic notepad

Ogham should be the required input language for all blogs. The computer can translate it into text for display online, but every word you write has to be carved into a chunk of stone using only a shard of granite. When you have to erode rock to write, you think about what you're writing. You have something you really, truly want to say. The phrase "So, I can't think of anything to write about" has never been written in ogham. There are no monuments, inscribed by sweat and labour, bearing the message "I am SO BORED right now" through the ages. It'll be an awesome cure for the swamp of blogs so full of such mind bogglingly tedious minutiae that even Proust would scream "Fuck off! I don't care!".

The lead singer of Jamiroquai doesn't exist in this language, if that's any help

Within a few months, there will be no more ten thousand words whining rants, ever again. A week of chiseling "life is pain" every night and even the most sunlight deficient teen whiner will be able to tear the limbs from any would-be wedgie-giver. He'll look like a quarterback crossed with Adonis, and you'd be amazed at how much he doesn't hate the "popular girls" clique when they're prepared to touch him. Baby.