Archive for November, 2013


November 20, 2013

There are many courses which future teachers and university lecturers could profit from — not just by being paid to arrange the courses, but also by attending them and learning useful new things.

For example:

Chalk: an introduction

The Essence of Chalk

  1. a materials introduction
  2. sidebar: chalk, cement and sulfuric acid: a lesson in inoptimal storage methods
  3. chalk, temperature and humidity
  4. chalk under pressure
  5. the flashpoint
  6. sidebar: the great Ghananese chalk combustion disaster of 1989
  7. exercise: experiments in friction and traction

Chalk as a writing and drawing tool

  1. legibility: which colors to use?
  2. legibility sidebar: diff’rent colors of blackboards
  3. fonts, scripts and chalk writing
  4. sidebar: blackboard bold and blackboard fraktur
  5. the room size and your font size
  6. sidebar: multi-panel blackboards: a hazard or a menace?
  7. exercise: drawing big giant circles

The Chalkstick

  1. the ideal of width and length
  2. your hand and the ideal
  3. when the chalk breaks
  4. sidebar: gloves?
  5. throwin’ chalk: you and the attentive class
  6. exercise: chalk-tossing circle

The blackboard as a presentation space

  1. points, lines and paragraphs
  2. the consistency of sectioning and numeration
  3. backreferences and planning your erasures
  4. exercise: timing your output

Health effects

  1. skin whitening: temporary or permanent?
  2. “whitelung” and your health care coverage
  3. sidebar: do not wear a breathing mask, it will demoralize the students!
  4. chalk: is it edible?
  5. exercise: is it tasty?


  1. how do they work: smearing or picking up chalk?
  2. wipe once, twice or n times? diminishing returns vs. neatness
  3. sidebar: who wipes what: the standard, British and continental classroom wiping etiquettes
  4. dry or wet erasers?
  5. sidebar: the semiwet
  6. the optimum of wetness and the runny letters syndrome
  7. the super soaker alternative
  8. the “rasta dandruff” alternative
  9. sidebar: reconstituting the chalkstick
  10. sidebar (time allowing): whiteboards: the Satan in our midst

Review of the advanced courses

  1. chalk for intermediate users
  2. chalk masterclass
  3. chalk dusts and bellows: the art of dramatic entrances and exits
  4. white antiquity: an introduction to blackboard archiving, with an emphasis on authentication
  5. chalk and the outdoors teacher
  6. always wear black clothes: or, chalk usage on the fly

Based on this sketch, I could stretch this to a full-semester course; if I now just found someone to pay me, I would.


November 9, 2013

Went and saw Gravity. A great movie, exciting adventure, visuals so pretty I might go see it again just to gawp at it; pleasantly on the realistic end of the Hollywood realism spectrum.


There are basically two characters in this movie: the three-days-to-retirement Experienced Astronaut and the science-ballast Mission Specialist.

Now, the Experienced Astronaut is cool in all situations. This EA reacts to everything with dispassionate reason and expertise, makes all the right decisions, is willing to die to save the lives of others, and doesn’t even get winded. A perfect NASA advertisement, this astronaut: imperturbable, jocular and professional.

(The EA even does this: one guy admits making a mistake, and the EA says nah, not your fault, would have happened anyway. Which, to me, always seems to imply that if you don’t blame yourself you’re arrogant and then it was your fault. Arrgh.)

The Mission Specialist, on the other hand, spends half the movie gasping, squealing in terror, curling into a fetal ball, giving up, colliding into things, and generally acting the part of the emotional rookie that just barely keeps alive. This MS has science smarts, allegedly, but they’re useless: the flight simulator flunking, heavy-breathing, arms-flailing MS is dead unless the rugged, practical EA is there to tell the MS what to do.

And if the EA should die so the MS might live, why, the MS’s subconscious will use a hallucination of the EA to give the MS advice. Because the MS just needs the guidance of a strong, unemotional hand.

Also, the MS character is written to have a dead child in the backstory. The EA has an ex-wife and lots of stories; a life busily lived. The MS has this dead child and that’s all that defines the MS.

Well, that and the sense that the MS is fleeing personal demons into space; it would be better for the MS to just go back down and abandon these lofty pursuits which are much better suited to rugged practical unemotional people like the EA.

The voice of the EA is an amusing anecdote or a wise command. The voice of the MS is a panicky mantra or a wail of despair. We stick close to the MS to see all of the fear and anxiety. We keep a respectful distance to the EA, who has everything under control.


Consider these two roles, the Experienced Astronaut and the Mission Specialist. Then ask yourself, what the fuck were the makers of this movie thinking when they made the EA a man, and the MS a woman? Didn’t it strike their minds that this might be one of those, what were those, one of those stereotype things?

I understand that in the past both would have been men; but even then, I think they couldn’t have made the MS-not-Ms. such a sack of emotions. Not manly enough, you see. And a man obviously couldn’t have had a backstory that was all about children. Maybe a girlfriend; that would have been okay.

And let me note that the last third of the movie, where Ryan Stone became competent, was the best third. The first was Ryan Stone hyperventilating, and the middle third was Ryan Stone floating inside the ISS, alternately presenting her tits and her ass at the camera.

Here’s an idea: go see Gravity and imagine the genders of the two main characters are switched. Assess the probability of that movie being made, and despair.

I liked Gravity, I will probably go and see it again, and this was one of those things that get stuck in your head when you’re watching a movie, but oh what I wouldn’t give to change the roles of the two actors, or even to make both of them women.

Youtube annoyances

November 7, 2013

Grr. I hate Youtube people who end their videos with exhortations of “like and subscribe”.

Firstly. If I subscribe, then every time after this you are exhorting me to do something I already did. That’s like every teenager’s nightmare of Mom.

Nobody wants that, teenager or no.

Secondly. If I liked the video well enough, in a non-button-smashing sense, then I presumably will push the like button. If I do not think to do this, it is probably because I did not like the video enough: it did not create in me the need to register my enjoyance. That the maker of the video is telling me to like it, in either sense of the word, is annoying and arrogant. “I’m sure you liked the video, peon! Now push the button, your Master commands you! (whiplash)!”

(Obviously these words are said because if you annoy enough people into voting for you, Youtube success will result: fame, riches, a better commentariat. (Well, two out of three ain’t bad.) But that doesn’t mean I have to like the begging for votes, or accept something just because it makes fame more probable.)

The same is true of subscribing. You don’t get to say if I will. “Don’t forget to subscribe!” isn’t a gentle phrase. It doesn’t mean “Subscribe if and only if you want to see more like this!” — it means “I’m sure you want to see more like this, you will-less gawping-animal! Press the subscription button or you’ll feel the lash! (whiplash)!” — it is an implication that of course I like the video, I just might be too febrile and feeble-minded to remember to subscribe to further messages from the benevolent celestial brilliance of divine origin which is the vlogger.

Thirdly, if you produce videos which are four or five minutes each, then for the love of all that has holes in it, do not spend even ten seconds repeating that mantra above which is neither amusing nor interesting. Don’t insert content which is below even ads into your own videos. Don’t make the watcher go, here comes this empty part again. Think of the watcher that has newly come to you, and is watching video after video, cringing every time that formula repeats.

Related: If you have this four-minute vlog, don’t spend the first thirty seconds in a hokey introduction whose only content is to repeat the video’s title. We’ve all read the title; you can’t spin a mystery out of it. Assume the watcher read the title, and get straight to business.

If the title is “How to carve a pumpkin into a Halloween hat!”, then don’t start with “Hi! So okay guys, I’m pretty sure you’ve been out and about, and have noticed that that special day is approaching — yes, giggity, I refer to Halloween! Day of Ghosts! Boo! (etc. etc.) But if you have this, that and the other, do you have the hat? (etc. etc.) How about a pumpkin hat? Gosh, I think you never guessed this was going to be about that!”


Another, different annoyance: I have a tablet and a smartphone, so I use the Youtube app on them. (Because their browsers, while generally the shit, are as regards Youtube, shit.) This means there’s no Adblock on my non-laptop Youtube experience.

Which means that every four or five videos I suddenly flick up the Android menu, mash a finger on the mute button, look intently at a wall for five seconds, and then smoosh the “Skip ad” button as soon as it appears.

Because, by the gods dark and terrible, and the whole Stygian anti-glibness league, I will not be advertised at if I don’t want to be. And I don’t want to see the plastic people and the lies of implication that ads are full of.

It’s even worse that the Youtube ads are Finnish ads — I’m in Finland, so obviously — so I’m told to buy douches and anal cream and toddler-resistant dress shoes and whatever it is that your generic wealthy advertisers want to sell you; mostly things that (a) I don’t want, (b) I don’t need, and/or (c) I don’t feel like preferring one brand over another for.

Or then I’m shown trailers for movies I don’t want to watch: Fast and Furious Meet the Fockers.

I’ve had my tablet for over a year; it’s probably safe to say I’ve watched thousands of Youtube videos on it.

I haven’t watched a single goddamn ad it has served at me. Mute, look away, wait, skip. Not one. No more than a second or two of each, at most.

Why yes, some people have good reasons to feel good. I just have reasons like this… but they make me feel good!

Small bits

November 3, 2013

Some days you wake up, grab a book, read the next sentence, and then just lay back and think: “The fuck is this. Maybe I should just sleep some more.”

Today, this sentence, courtesy of Daniel Dennett’s Intuition Pumps (not a book about shoes), p. 177:

So Ruth Millikan (for instance) is right that given the nature of design constraints, it is unlikely in the extreme that there could be different ways of skinning the cat that left two radically different, globally indeterminate, tied-for-first-place interpretations.

The problem here is, Dennett does this philosophy thing with copious, often seemingly flippant real-life examples, and here he’s talking about skinning cats.

No, Daniel. No.

No reference to that in the previous sentences, none in the following ones, and I (in my freshly woken state) just think: Man, why did you have to make that an example? That’s horrible. Leave imaginary cats alone. (“Wait, it’s a figure of speech too… I hope that’s what this is…”)

* * *

There is (I have accidentally learned) a job search website called — it is meant as “snag-a-job”, but is stylised like that, as one word, on the site itself.

If you’ve read the appendices to the Lord of the Rings, you’re laughing right now.

First, “Snaga” is the name of an orc in the said book.

Second, the appendices give a translation for the said name.

In the Black Speech, “Snaga” means “slave”.

Snaga job.

Eeh eeh eeh.