Sunday, 31 January 2010

Brain crack

Here's a bit of vintage gold from an early pioneer in web 2.0, delivering sound advice in a way that makes you want to listen.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Serious issues

This article impressed me today because of the ability of Chinese politicians to make anything sound like a serious political matter.

[The Shanghai] vice mayor weighed in this month. Yang Xiong said: “I believe, without further development, those people will change their way of life, in particular through the World Expo, Shanghai citizens will realise ...

Gosh, what could the inspiring key issue at hand be? What vision of the future will the Shanghai public awaken to?

...that it’s inappropriate to wear pyjamas in the streets.”

Pizza box is the right shape!

Yesterday I had dinner with some friends in Ask, the place that does fairly good pizza in fairly pleasant surroundings with fairly friendly service. Everything there was a bit wonky - the pizza menu was mostly predictable and uninventive, and the wall art isn't very pretty. The art seems like a weak attempt to give a civilised atmosphere to the place by means of eight small paintings of white shirts and ties lined up in two rows of four, very formal but still obnoxiously bright.

The acoustics were bad and the staff were forgetful and hard of hearing. They tried to make up for it with banter, which just made the situation more awkward in my opinion. "You can strangle 'im for me if you like," said one waiter about his colleague. I wasn't sure how to respond to that. "Oooh, that sounds like fun! Shall we do it with a necktie like the one in the third picture from the left?"

But then towards the end of the meal, the restaurant gave me a gift that renewed my faith in human progress. The waiter didn't know he'd given me a gift. All that had happened was that, after I had repeated myself for the third time, he understood that I wanted to take the rest of my pizza home with me in a takeaway box, and so he took my pizza back to the kitchen to be packed up for me. When it was ready he brought it back.

This takeaway box excited me far more than anybody else could possibly understand. It's a real-life example of how, eventually, good sense will always win out over inadequate solutions. Usually, when I take half of my pizza home with me after going out for a meal, I am given a whole pizza box, even though I'm only carrying half a pizza. So I have to hold a massive, unwieldy box for a small amount of food. It makes my hands cold and my fingers hurt. A restaurant shouldn't make me feel pain. Yet all pizza places do this.

All pizza places except for Ask, who gave me a short, stout box, perfectly shaped and sized for carrying half a calzone. This box is physical evidence of someone having recognised a problem, thought about it and put a solution into practice. It is a sign that there is some hope for humanity.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

You must be SICK if Lady Gaga wants your HUH!

Who is Lady Gaga? What is she thinking? I made a mind map of her song lyrics to find out. Click the small extract above to see the whole thing in google docs. It is something to behold.

The technique I've used to analyse three of Lady Gaga's songs is called, 'Domain Analysis.' It is the central method of my dissertation research into Japanese children's stories. It was invented by an ethnographer called James Spradley, and is used to explore the contents and meanings of words within their wider cultural context. I decided to use freemind software to make the process more smooth and graphical. Because I like diagrams rather a lot. They genuinely make me happy.

I decided it might be fun to apply this method to something other than my dissertation. Since Lady Gaga seems to be a culture all unto herself sometimes, she seems like a good subject. So what meanings and contents can we find in Lady Gaga's vocabulary? The following semantic categories revealed themselves in the mindmap I created.

LADY GAGA is a, 'bitch,' whose properties include, 'Freak,' 'Crazy,' 'Marvellous,' and, 'Educated in sex.' She is a thing to 'Hold,' and 'Love.' In the three songs analysed she wants a total of 24 things, many of which are yours.

LOVE is used for 'stunning.' It is fun, if it is rough. Lady Gaga will not tell you that she LOVEs you.

FUN is something that you have when the beat is sick. It can be used to describe rough love and gambling.

SICK occurs as a prerequisite for certain behaviours in two occasions; it is because the beat is SICK that one has fun, and it is because the 'you' in her songs has a SICK baby that Lady Gaga wants 'you' in her room.

KISS is another thing Lady Gaga will not do to you. KISS is something she wants to do to you. KISSes are 'leather studded' and are conducted 'in the sand.'

TOUCHING, is in involved in Gaga's 'mission.' Properties of TOUCH can include, 'Heavy,' and 'Hair.' To TOUCH is something that Gaga wants, but it can be a cause of heart failure, so should only be attempted for brief periods (either one minute or three seconds are suggested.)

GAME, particularly a LOVE GAME, is something that both Lady Gaga and Cupid want to play. 'You' are 'in the GAME.' The GAME is an initial stage in the story of 'us,' along with a boy, a girl and a 'huh.'

HUH is also something that you can put your hand on, and this co-occurs with smiling.

I am your mind

A recent introduction to iTunes has been the 'Genius Mixes,' feature, which is like putting the library on random but with some level of continuity within the same genre. The other day I decided to try out the r&b mix iTunes generated for me. I had no idea I was the owner of a sizeable collection of r&b mp3s. I don't think of myself as an r&b type. I'm not cool and smooth. I'm passionate and agitated, which explains why there is a special place in my heart for epic metal.

Nevertheless, at the right time, my collection of slightly off the wall r&b tracks see me right. In particular, Roy Ayers' "I am your mind," is bizarre enough to make me feel like I'm doing something ironic and interesting when listening to it. The strange lyrics are enough to distract me from the horrible truth Roy Ayers reveals - that I have a secret love for the kind of plinky-plonky music you hear on The Sims in build and buy modes.

My favourite lines of completely vacuous faux-wisdom in this song include:

"By the way, I need more than sex to nourish my equilibrium. But I do need sex."
"Why do we cry? Because tears cleanse the windows of our minds."
"There's no need to be afraid of me, I want to be your friend. I'm just trying to give you music from deep, deep, deep within."

Saturday, 9 January 2010

How to make perfectly thick hot chocolate

This is a seriously soothing, sinfully thick drink. In fact, it's essentially chocolate sauce or pudding in a cup. The longer it stands for the thicker it gets, so have a teaspoon handy to finish off the final stretch. Make sure you're prepared to feel seriously relaxed and contented after drinking this. It's going to feel like a whole lot of indulgence, and its wasted on a bad mood.

1) Start with a heaped teaspoon of cornflour - don't be tempted to heap it too much, just imagine how far it could heap if it were sugar and stop there. Throw it in the pan and look at the pretty shape the powder makes as it scatters. Add a level teaspoon of granulated sugar. You have to use cornflour and sugar. You can't use plain flour, and you can't cut out the sugar. Plain flour is shit, it takes longer to thicken and it gives the drink a subtle floury flavour. The sugar is there not to sweeten, but to prevent too many lumps from forming. It stops the starch from forming longer strings, I think.

2) Now add a sliver of milk. Just enough to dissolve. Mix with a wooden spoon, bashing any little heaps of cornflour like a whack-a-mole. Add more milk. If you want to have a full cup at the end you have to add more milk than is required to fill the cup normally, as the mixture reduces by about 25% as it boils.

3) Mix and put on the hob to boil. Until it boils, nothing of any consequence will happen, so take the chance to make sure you have your cup and sieve to hand, right next to the pan. Then put your chocolate in. There's no real advantage to doing it now rather than later except that you have nothing better to do right now. I use six pieces of chocolate per cup. I like to throw them in as one big lump and move the lump around, watching the milk go chocolatey in swirly shapes and sensing the gradual build-up of molten chocolate aroma.

Note: Green and Black's cooking chocolate, while delicious, doesn't make swirly shapes :(

4) Once it starts to boil, stir like crazy. Scrape the bottom of the pan because otherwise things are going to stick. Keep it bubbling until the sound of the bubbles starts to sound a bit more like a crackle than a pop. That means its thick enough. Take it off the heat.

5) You now have a five-second window to move the mixture from the pan, through the sieve, into the cup before it turns too thick to get through the sieve. Although the sugar eliminates most lumps there are probably three or four little brown lumps in there anyway, because your pan isn't as good as it used to be.

6) When you have finally forced that last bit of goo through the sieve, add a tablespoon of double cream. I find that the double cream actually takes the edge off how thick and rich the drink is, and provides a welcome extra flavour that isn't cocoa or sugar.

Now, take the cup to your favourite chair and do nothing other than drink and make happy little sighing noises.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Personally, I like elephants.

A couple of days ago I started looking at Japanese design blogs. I figured, if I'm going to spend a portion of my day going goo goo eyed over pretty things, I might as well practice some Japanese while I'm at it. In particular, I am loving Creative Life.

Today I was avoiding writing an essay that my entire future depends on. I'm sure we've all done that. You get up in the morning, knowing that you have something life changing and important to do, so you immediately set to work avoiding it like the plague. Anyway, in the process of avoiding this essay, I decided to properly read Creative Life's latest blog entry. My jaw fell to the floor.

Why is the Japanese internet full of wonderful, nice people, while the English internet is infected with meanness?

He writes about the word, 'Trunk.' The story goes, when he was younger he went to an English language school in London for a while, and the many meanings of the word, 'Trunk,' really tickled him and that gave him the impetus to keep on studying English right up to, apparently, the present day. So he made a series of illustrations of the meanings of the word, 'Trunk.' They're really cute illustrations. It's a simple enough story. Right?

Read my bad translations of some of the comments his readers posted and see if you can believe that this was such a simple story:

"You kindly showed me something that will remain in my heart today.
Thankyou very much.
I'm cheering you on."

"It's such fun, to comprehend how deep life's phenomena are."

"They are such totally sweet pictures!
Like, the Elephant's trunk, awesome dude! You're the master!
Personally, I like elephants, so I was touched.

I have no idea how to respond to this. There's this part of me that is whispering in Japanese, "Ah! How inspiring this is! I also am cheering you on!" I wish I could live in such a happy world, where trunks inspire contemplation and excited whooping. But the sneering, cynical, miserly Brit in me won't have any of this.

Baby blue bowls

Lately I've been feeling passionate about ceramics. Not in a passionate about sofas kind of way. I mean really passionate. This blog entry about white bowls made me cry.

Today I saw this on Etsy. I'm scandalised by how beautiful this thing is:

Being ceramic and glazed in glossy pale blue was enough for me. It's a bowl, after all. It doesn't take much to be cute, because it's short and stout and clean and full of possibilities. It's like a baby, but it doesn't cry, it doesn't take your money, it doesn't demand that you change your entire personal identity around it, and the fact that it's all blue isn't horrifying in any way.

But then the artist put tiny little holes in the wall to fit your chopsticks through! Like little eyes on a cartoon chicky! Is he trying to kill me? I can't live in a world with such perfectly adorable things in it. It's just not poetic enough.

Economics of Sex

So it turns out that, no matter what gender or age you are, playing the field doesn't make you more happy than being in a monogamous relationship. Nor does it get you more sex. Married people have sex more regularly than anybody else. If you've had gay sex once in the year, chances are you'll have sex several more times on top of that, and will overall have more sex than straight people would. Regular sex makes you happy. Really happy. More happy than a high wage. And the more educated you are, the more joy you get from sex.

It's all in an economics paper here.

Of course, everything I have said above assumes causality where there is no real evidence for it. All we know is there's a correlation. I could just have easily have said:

Being happy makes you more likely to have regular sex, which in turn makes you more likely to maintain a monogamous relationship. If you're having lots and lots of sex, you're probably going to have gay sex at some point. Being happy doesn't increase your earning potential. And the more joy you get from sex, the more likely you are to get a university degree.

For some reason these aren't the conclusions the study linked above comes to.

Autotune the News

I like blogs that recommend things from other parts of the internet. It seems like pretty low-skilled work, but as a reader I still benefit hugely from it. So I'll do the same, scrounging off other websites with very little by way of apology from here on in.

If you haven't seen Autotune the News, you must. Now.

Things I may write about here

I'm been thinking about starting a new blog for a while now. My other one was about my life, which my Mum loved to read and misses dearly. However, I eventually found that when things get challenging enough that they would be interesting to read about, the last thing I want to do in my few moments of peace is to write about them.

Nevertheless, I'm an avid reader of the blogs, particularly those with pretty pictures that brighten up my day. And I keep thinking of things I would like to write about. These things generally fit somewhere on the following list:

Pretty things I'm making
Great recipes
Academic journal articles with sex appeal
Pretty things other people have made
Things I found on the internet that made me happy

So let's see how this goes. If I write at least four entries in the next month I'll start to pass this address around and see if it has a positive impact on my life.