June Pieces Of My Mind #1

  • One of the synths on Gentle Giant's "The Boys In The Band" sounds like mp3 glitches.
  • Very soon my commuter train will enter a many-years-long period of refurbishment chaos. It's going to be a hassle. But I just feel excited about it. Something new along some of the most well-trodden and least pretty paths of my life!
  • A film studies professor once told me that prior to the VCR, a lot of the basic data presented in published research in her field was simply wrong. It was really hard for scholars to rewatch and pause movies. Like studying frogs and only being able to glimpse one a few times a year.
  • Swedish expression: "Not something you'd hang on your Christmas tree", meaning "Not very impressive".
  • Ideas for stories. 1. A visiting position on a space station for a potter to develop zero-G glazes. 2. An insane billionaire who spends a fortune sending porcelain copies of a cast of his genitals to every woman in the US.
  • Movie: Coherence. Dinner party's participants gain the ability to visit parallel versions of the party according to the many-worlds interpretation of quantum theory. Many versions of everyone get really confused. Grade: Pass.
  • Heading out briefly to log a new geocache near my house. Can't have those little icons cluttering up the map on my home turf.
  • Another one of my many beauty tips: to remove tea / blueberry stains from your front teeth, use a pencil eraser.
  • I just invited a bunch of nuns to my excavation.
  • Referred to Schrödinger's cat in conversation with a guy I hadn't met before. He didn't seem to know what I was talking about. So I changed the subject and asked what he works with. "I'm a chiropractor", said he.
  • Adolescent family member who shall not be named shows worrying signs of rebelling by becoming a preppy. Has mentioned law school. Parents aghast.
The 1861 locomotive Thor at the Swedish Railway Museum in Gävle. The 1861 locomotive Thor at the Swedish Railway Museum in Gävle.

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Erasers also work great for the gunk from your skin you get on the trackpad, keyboard and mouse. Unless you own a high-end keyboard in which case it's easiest to just run the keycaps through the dishwasher. Unless you own an original Model M, in which case you can just run the entire keyboard.

ps. Don't call erasers "rubbers". Native speakers will be confused. ds.

Don’t call erasers “rubbers”. Native speakers will be confused.

This is one of those "divided by a common language" things. A "rubber" is the accepted term in UK-speak for an eraser. But in US English, it means something else. So stick with "eraser" if you think there may be Americans present.

"Chips" is another such word. If you want UK-style chips in the US, ask for french fries. If you want US-style chips in the UK, ask for crisps.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 11 Jun 2016 #permalink

It's probably for the better that the chiropractor had never heard of Schrödinger's cat. If he had, he probably would have brought up Deepak Chopra, who is notorious for misusing terms involving quantum physics.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 11 Jun 2016 #permalink

To add to the confusion, in Australia, condoms used to be called "French letters" when I was a kid, although if you referred to them as that now, most people would have no idea what you are talking about. Erasers are called rubbers. Crisps and French fries are both called chips - you have to guess which is being referred to by context. That is, unless you go into a MacDonalds in Oz, whereupon chips magically become French fries - American cultural hegemony has been trotted out to much of the world via American-parented franchises like MacDonalds and Starbucks. But if you go to a fish and chip shop, French fries are still called chips.

Australians invariably go into paroxysms of laughter when Americans talk about "rooting" for someone. In Australia, "rooting" means "f*cking". And "fanny" means female genitalia, as it does in England, whereas in America it just means backside.

Australia as a national entity originated from a series of British penal colonies (except for the city of Adelaide in South Australia, which was only ever a "free settlement", as Adelaide people are fond of endlessly reminding other Australians) that were separated by large distances and had no connections to one another. Direct links were maintained between each of the colonies and Mother England, rather than between colonies. They only merged into a single country in 1901 with 'federation'. Even after that, in the 1920s Western Australia made a serious but unsuccessful attempt to secede from the rest of Australia and become an independent country. So you have different Australian slang used in different Australian cities/states, and different usage of various English words. Endless opportunities for confusion and derision.

By John Massey (not verified) on 11 Jun 2016 #permalink

In Hong Kong, the use of WhatsApp is ubiquitous as a means of communicating with people via text messages. We even use it at work.

In Mainland China, they produced their own similar software called WeChat, but that has grown from a simple piece of software for sending text messages into something much bigger, and it has all happened amazingly fast:


I never tire of the odd sight of my wife writing Chinese characters on her mobile phone screen with the tip of her finger. It seems like such a bizarre combination of the very old and unwieldy with the very modern.

By John Massey (not verified) on 12 Jun 2016 #permalink

My Tai Chi teacher has fallen into the habit of using my mobile phone to take videos of me while I practise, so I can watch myself and pick up on my errors. I can send a video of me practising lasting several minutes to my daughter, who is about 10,000km away in another country and different time zone, via WhatsApp, and she receives it almost instantaneously. Brave New World.

By John Massey (not verified) on 12 Jun 2016 #permalink

Meanwhile, my wife sends my Tai Chi videos to the daughter of a friend of ours in Mainland China who is a tall and very athletic girl and a keen exponent of Chinese martial arts, and the girl sends back constructive criticism, making approving comments about my progress and giving constructive advice on how I can improve further. She's returning a favour - I helped her by coaching her in English via email when she was studying in Canada. It's a classic Chinese mutual assistance network, the sort of thing I have become very accustomed to in Hong Kong, but now its global and electronic.

By John Massey (not verified) on 12 Jun 2016 #permalink

"I just invited a bunch of nuns to my excavation."

That's a change of habit!

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

"Australians invariably go into paroxysms of laughter when Americans talk about “rooting” for someone. In Australia, “rooting” means “f*cking”. And “fanny” means female genitalia, as it does in England, whereas in America it just means backside."

Then there was the American bloke who went to Australia. "Hi, I'm Randy!"

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

"a cast of his genitals"

In Ron Goularts "Hello, Lemuria, Hello", a salesdman tries to interest a Elvis-esque superstar in making plaster casts of his genitals for mass production.

FUUUUUUCK! USA got its Breivik copycat, but with inverted ideological signs.
Breivik also tried to make himself out to be a part of a larger movement, and even had a photo taken of himself in a fantasy uniform.
Before that, Sweden had a serial sniper who shot immigrants and was convinced the silent majority was supporting him.
When the truth dawned on him during trial, he a a fit of rage and attacked his own defence lawyers physically, before the court. It did not help his case.

BTW real IS death squads usually are provided with bombs by their handlers to maximise the carnage. Another sign this was a lone kok, even if the IS would like to take credit.

By Birgerjohansson (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

America is an incomprehensible place. Hello? Assault rifles? The Swedish army barely has those.

The guy was apparently employed as an armed security guard. Hello? Great bit of security checking there.

Most of the security guards in the housing estate where we live are little smiley cute chubby ladies who have the only thing they need - hot buttons to the nearest police station and nearest fire station/ambulance depot. They serve principally to keep the local small children entertained/under control, a service I greatly appreciate.

#9 - Yes, that too.

By John Massey (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

"Most of the security guards in the housing estate where we live are little smiley cute chubby ladies who have the only thing they need – hot buttons to the nearest police station and nearest fire station/ambulance depot."

Sometimes, I worry about parking my car in a city which I don't know well. In Vienna, this is not a problem: A friend lives in a house owned by an Orthodox Jew, and many Orthodox Jews live there and in the other houses in the neighbourhood. There is a kiosk on the street with a policeman with a machine gun inside. I always park right next to that.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

“a cast of his genitals”

You have heard of the Plaster Casters, right?

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

#13 - You're assuming that the cop won't suddenly go off his head and machine gun your car.

The only cops in HK that you will normally see carrying automatic weapons (like Heckler & Koch submachine gun type thingos) are the ones patrolling the airport - they're also 7 feet tall, with bulging muscles and heavy suntans, which tends to stand out among Chinese (although less than it did a couple of generations ago). It always strikes me as a singularly inappropriate choice of weapon to be used in a very crowded space - low on pinpoint accuracy but high on rate of fire. Great for their deterrent value, though - they look as scary as hell.

In the bad old days in HK before security systems got more sophisticated, every bank and jewellery/gold shop had a large Sikh gentleman standing outside the door holding a 12 gauge shotgun. Again, that's not the type of weapon you want someone discharging in a crowded street. One of them did once - he got the crook, but he also got a few other people that he wasn't actually aiming at. That hastened the demise of the use of a lot of scatter guns for security purposes. The armoured car guys who cart cash around still use them, though.

By John Massey (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

"You’re assuming that the cop won’t suddenly go off his head and machine gun your car."

In Vienna, that is a safe assumption.

At least under normal circumstances, I've seen such heavy weapons only near well known Jewish landmarks.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

There are some prominent Jewish landmarks in HK, namely synagogues. As far as I have seen, none of them has ever had any visible form of security, nor needed it.

Likewise, there is a very prominent mosque, which likewise has no visible sign of security. Plus Hindu and Sikh temples, ditto. The most prominent Sikh temple has its doors wide open all the time - anyone could just stroll in. Not being 7 feet tall, heavily bearded and wearing a turban and curly toed sandals could be a bit of a give away, though.

Likewise a plethora of Chinese temples of various sorts, wide open and totally unguarded. I do stroll into some of those sometimes, just to poke around. I can't pass as Chinese, but no one minds.

The Anglican cathedral always has its doors firmly locked, excdept during services. Not that I have ever felt tempted to stroll in there, except on one occasion when they were suffering some damage from vibrations caused by foundation works in the adjacent lot and I needed to go in on official business. I got away from those bastards once; I'm not keen to renew the acquaintanceship on any kind of personal level.

By John Massey (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

The guy was apparently employed as an armed security guard. Hello? Great bit of security checking there.

His ex-wife claims he regularly abused her, too. But this is Florida we're talking about--their gun laws are particularly lax, even by US standards. There are Federal laws on the transport and sale of firearms, but most of the regulation (or lack thereof) is at the state level.

Meanwhile, out in the LA area, police arrested a guy who was about to do something similar at the Gay Pride Parade.

The insidious thing about Donald Trump is that he is making this kind of hatred socially acceptable. It's always been there, but thirty years ago the haters had to at least go through the motions of hiding their hate.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

Apparently the winner of The Voice was shot and killed while she was giving autographs, on Orlando, on the same day.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

Orlando police ID ‘Voice’ star Christina Grimmie’s killer http://www.rawstory.com/2016/06/orlando-police-id-voice-star-christina-…
Gaining fame the way of Herostratos?
-- -- -- --
"remove tea / blueberry stains from your front teeth"
Cool fact about dinosaurs: Like sharks, they could continuously replace old teeth.
-- -- -- --
Locomotives and ocean liners were the spaceships of the victorian imagination. Also, favourite motifs for a lot of painters.

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

Whatever one thinks of Trump (and I think that he is a jerk), he is being wrongly attacked here. Essentially everyone has a knee-jerk reaction to this, knowing as few facts as Trump (and that is saying a lot). Many refer to the "thanks for the congrats". Yes, he thanked people for (unsolicited) congratulations on "being right" in this case, but IN THE VERY NEXT SENTENCE said that he didn't want them, he wanted something to be done. You might disagree (as do I) with regard to what should be done, but Trump is being singled out here for behaving essentially just like everyone else.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

he wanted something to be done

The problem being that what Trump wants to be done in this case is (1) unconstitutional, as it discriminates on the basis of religion and/or national origin, and (2) ineffective, as the shooter was a lifelong US citizen. Not to mention that the shooter's claim of affiliation with ISIL is the only evidence so far of such affiliation, and authorities are skeptical of this claim.

Both Obama and Clinton have pointed out the real problem: that a person with a history of domestic violence and violent rhetoric in the workplace (one of his former co-workers reported this to the FBI) was able to walk into a gun store and walk out with an AR-15, which is a military grade rifle (more effective, as Martin notes above, than the Swedish Army's standard-issue rifles).

Trump reminds me of a certain German politician who became prominent toward the end of the Weimar era. Which is a scary thought for those of us who live in the US.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

Phillip Helbig @9: The real estate agent who helped my husband and I buy our house was named Randy Johnson.
My husband did not understand why i wouldn't talk much around the guy, or why I laughed so hard when he left.

In the US, "fanny" doesn't just mean backside, it's a very dainty, childish way of referring to your butt. Like, Sunday school teacher dainty. (And almost always only directed at an unruly child.)

By JustaTech (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

Daily Mash on Brexit: "This bullshit probably going to happen" http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/politics/politics-headlines/this-bullshit…
"Latest polls have shown the bullshit thing taking a three percent lead, because of growing concern that foreigners exist."

(Actually if David Cameron had not been such an ideologically rigid c*nt about austerity economics, Britain's economy would have bounced back earlier, leading to more optimism and less fear of EU. But he will never admit a chain of cause and effect, never mind that even IMF thinks austerity was a mistake)

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 14 Jun 2016 #permalink

maybe I want others to feel as miserable about human nature as I am feeling

I know that feeling. At least you live somewhere that you can be reasonably sure the only people who have guns are professionals trained in how and when to use them. As an American, I have no such assurance. The Second Amendment is predicated on the need for a "well-regulated militia", but this country has actively avoided regulation of these informal militias.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 14 Jun 2016 #permalink

Also, "bear arms" in the 2nd amendment refers to front-loaded muskets. Short range, low accuracy, long reload time.

Some details have begun to emerge which alter the picture somewhat.

It turns out he was himself a practising homosexual, at least to the extent of using gay dating services and frequenting gay clubs, so unless he was a self-loathing gay (admittedly not unknown, but fairly rare), it becomes difficult to explain this as a case of homophobia.

He claimed to be affiliated with or at least pledged allegiance to both Daesh and Hezbollah, two groups who are mutually condemnatory and murderous towards one another, as any real practising Muslim would know - so he wasn't a real Muslim, just a pretending one. So all the Islamophobes can get back into their boxes, including Trump. He was a full US citizen who was not a practising Muslim and did not know some rather basic facts about Islam.

He had substance abuse problems (he was a steroids user, which are a category III controlled substance, and something that can induce rage in people who take them), he had a known history of violence (including domestic violence), and he was mentally ill (he was bi-polar). On all three of those counts, it was illegal for him to purchase firearms under both federal and state laws.

Finally, and this is the real cruncher for me, he had been employed variously as a security guard at a courthouse, an armed security guard for the company G$S, and as a state prison guard.

So the basic story that he was an Islamic homophobe, and that he could obtain high powered firearms legally, doesn't really fly.

I think what it does show is that a guy who was a known nut-bag prone to bouts of rage and violence managed to get his hands on guns, and that none of the legal checks that should have disqualified him from both being able to buy firearms from a shop (in fact, he could have bought them online, but didn't) and employed in a series of jobs that should have entailed effective security checks, didn't work. In fact, it's not clear whether any of the security checks he should have gone through were actually made.

By John Massey (not verified) on 15 Jun 2016 #permalink

Apparently, absolutely anyone can become a state prison guard in USA, as long as you are not wearing visible prison tattoos.
And for some reason, drugs keep getting smuggled into prisons (sarcasm).

By Birgerjohansson (not verified) on 15 Jun 2016 #permalink

The reporting is wildly exaggerated, but I do think it's fascinating to think that meteorite fragments turn up in limestone beds.

John@31: The US would be in a better position if the situation were as you describe. It's not.

For domestic violence disqualify a potential gun purchaser, there has to be either a conviction (in this category a misdemeanor conviction is enough) or a current restraining order, neither of which existed in this case. It shouldn't surprise you that many domestic violence cases are never prosecuted, especially in a country where guns are readily available.

Substance abuse, again, requires a conviction (IINM a felony level conviction is required). The shooter was never convicted of anything--he would not have been able to get a job as a security guard if he had been convicted.

The rule about selling guns to mentally ill people only applies to people who have been hospitalized, not for people who are attempting to control the condition with medication, as this guy apparently was.

And of course there can be errors in the record. Even a convicted felon might pass the check if the name is misspelled (and conversely, somebody with the same name as a convicted felon might be erroneously flagged as ineligible).

I also wouldn't discount the self-loathing angle. It happens far more often than you might think, although usually not at a level where somebody starts shooting people. The shooter's father appears to practice a strict (but not necessarily violent) version of Islam--the father was a candidate in last year's presidential election in Afghanistan, and does a radio broadcast in one of Afghanistan's local languages. The Afghan government claims that this broadcast is pro-Taliban, though I have seen no independent corroboration of this claim.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 15 Jun 2016 #permalink

A couple of updates on the Orlando shooter case:

1. Apparently the gun used was not an AR-15, as first reported, but a Sig Sauer. The model in question is not merely a military grade rifle but one that is specifically issued to Special Forces troops. The owner of the shop where the shooter bought this weapon has claimed that it was legally purchased, and I have no reason to doubt this claim.

2. The shooter's wife is currently under investigation. She allegedly had some idea of what he was planning--the claim is that she tried to talk him out of it but did not notify authorities. (Their house is about 200 km south of Orlando.) Though if he abused her the way he allegedly abused his first wife, that would be an exculpatory factor.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 15 Jun 2016 #permalink

#38 - It's clear he falsified the form (ATF form 4473) that he was required to fill in, in order to purchase the firearms, at least in relation to Question 11e. So it was an illegal purchase, even if the gun shop owner can't be blamed for it; i.e. there was a 'system' of sorts in place, but it clearly didn't work.

Bi-polar people are infamous among psychiatrists for not taking their meds when not under close supervision, for the simple reason that the meds even out the highs and lows, so they don't get the euphoric highs any more. When in a manic phase, they feel great; like they can conquer the world.

He evidently cased a number of places, including Orlando Disney, before deciding to hit the gay club. Immediately assuming this was a homophobic hate crime is too simple. The current commentary in the news would be very different if he had decided to hit Disney instead.

Daesh (Sunni) regard Hezbollah (Shia) as apostates and idolaters. Shia militia are fighting Daesh in Iraq. This guy claimed to be a supporter of both. Regardless of what his father is, he was no practising Muslim. He was self-radicalised - he had no real association with either of those groups.

Apparently he was on an FBI 'terrorist watch list' for a while, but then was taken off. No idea why he was put on the list in the first place, and no idea why he was then taken off again.

He was also a registered Democrat, but I don't see what that has to do with anything.

He was a very complex, screwed up individual. That he could still get high powered firearms and a ton of ammunition to commit the crime that he did bears a lot of scrutiny.

That this was a hate crime is unquestionable - you don't kill 49 people and wound another 50-odd because you like people. Putting him into a 'radicalised Islamic homophobe' box as a convenient knee-jerk explanation is way too simple, and may obscure the real lessons to be learned from this. One of the lessons is that unstable people like him should not have such easy access to high powered firearms, but I don't need to be a genius to predict that lesson will not be learned.

By John Massey (not verified) on 15 Jun 2016 #permalink

After-thought: that night, the club was hosting a Latin Night, a regular event that drew a mainly Hispanic crowd. Two survivors reported him as saying "I don't have a problem with black people."

It's not beyond the realm of possibility that this crime was race-motivated and directed against Hispanic people. He had been to that club often enough to know about these regular events.

So it's possible that 'Islamic' and 'homophobe' could be complete red herrings.

By John Massey (not verified) on 15 Jun 2016 #permalink

Another after-thought: not wanting to prolong this, but one former co-worker said that he "had talked often about killing people and had voiced hatred of gays, blacks, women and Jews." Sounds like he hated just about everyone. If you hate both gays and women, who is there left to love?

The other thought is that the gay club was not an exclusively gay male club, it was a more broadly gay establishment - an LGBTQI place, I guess. From press reports, there were quite a few women present on the night of the shooting, and some of the victims were females (albeit maybe gay females, or trans - I don't see that it's relevant). So it is not immediately apparent that this was targeted at gay males out of self-loathing.

By John Massey (not verified) on 15 Jun 2016 #permalink

These days, particularly in the US, political satire can be hard to distinguish from political news. For instance, the Onion recently had a story with the headline "UN Warns Trump May Be 7 Months Away From Acquiring Nuclear Weapons".

Erick bin Erick is a notorious right-wing internet figure: he runs the (normally) pro-republican site Red State. His anti-cosmology tirade reminds me of a line from Douglas Adams: "In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move."

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 17 Jun 2016 #permalink

Very interesting new paper on the peopling of the Americas by that clever chap Pontus Skoglund. The whole paper can be downloaded.


It kills the already dead Solutrean Hypothesis yet again, just to make sure it stays dead.

But it does contain some surprises, which inevitably lead to more questions.

By John Massey (not verified) on 19 Jun 2016 #permalink