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"Your 'reality', sir, is lies and balderdash and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever."
— Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von M√ľnchhausen

I'd Be Shaking in My Boots, If I Wore Any

Today's Order of the Stick is hilarious: Belkar talking shit to the Paladin's warhorse.

You Should be Writing Fantasy

Apparently, I needed some damn web page to tell me how I am to express myself. Why do I take these inane quizzes?

GenreFantasy

What Kind of Novel Should I Write?
brought to you by Quizilla

Lestat's Love Child Aborted

Thanks, Patsy. I have to quote this one in its entirety:

Palermo, Italy, July 23 - Horror fraud in Palermo, where a couple convinced an old woman they were "vampires" and forced her to give them money, for a total of 50,000 euro. The two 'vampires' have been arrestyed by the Carabinieri, charged with fraund. Apparently, they began tormenting the woman in 2001, telling, and convincing her that if she wouldn't take some pills and magic potions the antichrist was going to possess her. The necessary remedies were obviously provided by the vampires, and had to be paid: 50,000 euro in 4 years. Each pill to abort the antichrist's son costed 3,000 euro. The two people arrested are Ugo Ammannato, aged 48, club singer, who appeared on some local TVs, and his partner, Caterina Traina, aged 38. The investigations started following the report of the woman's sisters, worried by her sudden impoverishing. .... They will be heard on Monday.
Agenzia Gionrnolistica Italia
Oh, Ugo.

Grammatical Rules of Thumb

We all know the term "rule of thumb"... it's a simplified version of a more complex set of rules. You may have also heard that the phrase originally comes from a law that stated a man could not beat his wife with a stick any thicker than his thumb. I'd heard it, too, but apparently, this isn't the case:

It is often claimed that the term ["rule of thumb"] originally referred to the maximum size of a stick with which it was permissible for a man to beat his wife. This claim has been debunked, for instance by Christina Hoff Sommers in her book Who Stole Feminism? (1994 ISBN 0684801566). In particular Sommers notes that there is no mention of this in the legal commentaries of William Blackstone.
Wikipedia: Rule of Thumb
But the purpose of this post wasn't to blather endlessly and self-importantly on the origins of this term. The purpose of this post is to blather endlessly and self-importantly on grammar, and show how a rule of thumb can lead you astray.

This weekend, I went to Shakespeare in the park (this in itself is a long story that may or may not become the subject of another post). As I was sitting reading the synopsis in the program, I read something in the synopsis about "effecting change". I stopped, re-reading it a couple of times, and couldn't decide whether it was correct or not. The rule of thumb, of course, is that "effect" is a noun and "affect" is a verb, leading me to conclude that it was incorrect usage, but my grammatical spidey-sense was tingling. It looked right. So, I looked it up, and found that I should have trusted my instincts:

A commonly heard differentiation between these two is that "effect" is a noun, while "affect" is a verb. This, however, is a gross oversimplification. True, it is correct to say that the drug Viagra has a miraculous effect on male sexual performance, while unchecked ingestion of the substance can negatively affect the long-term viability of one's urethra. But "effect" is also a verb meaning "to bring about." ("Nothing short of electroshock therapy can effect change in my chemically ravaged nether regions.") And likewise, "affect" can be a noun denoting feeling or emotion.
—Steve Schneider, Metro Times Detroit

Another such rule that has thrown me off in the past is the whole "'i' before 'e'" thing. We've all heard it, "'i' before 'e', except after 'c'". But did you know the second part? It's "except when said 'ay', as in 'neighbor' and 'weigh'". But even that's not enough. According to my research, it looks like there are a number of exceptions to the rule. What good is a rule if it's broken so often?

But never fear! I put together a new poem for people to memorize, so that they will be better able to know when to put the "i" before the "e" or vice versa:

"I" before "e"
Except after "c"
Except when it's said "ay"
As in "neighbor" and "weigh"
Or a plural after "cy"
"Fallacies" and "frequencies" are sly
Or when it's two separate sounds
Words like "deity" abound
Or when it derives Latin scire
"Science" and "conscience" are the other way
Because when it's "weird" there's no rule –
Just look at a word like "dreidl"

The GTA Porn Scandal

When someone first told me about this issue, they said that they didn't know the specifics, but apparently there was "hidden porn in Grand Theft Auto". Portrayed this way, it sounded like some developer managed to sneak an Easter Egg the size of Godzilla into production software, a difficult proposition to say the least. I'm not saying that it couldn't happen, but it seemed less than likely.

Now that I've read up a little on the issue (thanks in part to MacFurious), I see that I was right. This wasn't some Easter Egg. What's the uproar about? A mod. That's right, a mod. Apparently, there's a mod floating around the internet that enables you to have your GTA character have sex in the game. This is what has people so upset? I could see being upset if you "ran across" pornography where you didn't expect it, but that's not what happened. Get a clue, Hillary, before you shoot your mouth off: you have to intentionally modify the software to get it to be pornographic. Your outrage is akin to seeing a piece of art vandalized with pornographic images and blaming the artist.

Now, you may say that that's not what people are upset about. You may say that they're upset that it's available in the first place — an even stupider thing to be upset about. You mean you can get pornography on the Internet for free? Really? You mean porn is two clicks away at any time? Wow. I never knew that.

I think it's amazing that this is what has caused the uproar. This isn't something hidden in a shrink-wrapped piece of software. This is some kid who managed to hack into another program to make it do something else. Blaming Rockstar Games (the company who developed GTA) for this would be like blaming Microsoft for a Word macro virus.

Here's a tip for all you alarmist parents out there: before you start looking for someone to blame, realize that no one forced your kid to download porn, whether it's movies or some mod. He went looking for it. He intentionally downloaded it, installed it, whacked off to it, bragged about having it, shared it with his friends, posted it to a usenet group, and discussed it on the school bus. Your kid isn't a victim here. He's a perpetrator.

Bird Brains Get Nothing

Researchers have experimentally demonstrated for the first time that a bird is capable of comprehending a concept like zero, something people generally can't do until they're about three years old:

... Alex, the 28-year-old parrot who lives in a Brandeis lab run by comparative psychologist and cognitive scientist Dr. Irene Pepperberg, spontaneously and correctly used the label "none" during a testing session of his counting skills to describe an absence of a numerical quantity on a tray. This discovery prompted a series of trials in which Alex consistently demonstrated the ability to identify zero quantity by saying the label "none."
Science Daily
According to Dr. Pepperberg, "Alex has a zero-like concept; it's not identical to ours but he repeatedly showed us that he understands an absence of quantity."

Zero as a concept has been around at least since the Babylonians (third millenium B.C.E.), but zero as a numeral was anything but universal. There is no Roman numeral for zero (though when necessary they indicated it with the word nullae, meaning "nothing"), but this is more a function of their lack of a concept of place-value than a lack of a concept of zero.

The Boss Key

Now, I'm not sure how many of you are familiar with the concept of the Boss Key, but it was the sort of technology that I thought had gone the way of the Atari 2600, but lo and behold, it's back. Here is a web boss-key. I'm including it in my "External Links" section below, because someone being naughty might need it, and maybe that naughty boy will be me.

I've been very, very naughty, you know. I think I need to be taught a lesson in how to behave. Yes, mistress. I know I've been bad, but I can learn....

History of the Non-Medical Use of Drugs

I have to thank my boy Alan for sending me a link to this great article on The History of the Non-Medical Use of Drugs in the United States, originally published in the Journal of Cognitive Liberties in the Fall of 2000. The author takes through the history of drug regulation, from the rampant morphine addiction at the turn of the twentieth century, to the formation of the FDA, to the federal government's decision to illegalize marijuana in 1937, straight through to the so-called War on Drugs.

Heart of the Beholder

This isn't a review, though I will post again when/if I get the chance to see this film, because I ran across it on another site and was intrigued by the story.

Heart of the Beholder tells the story of a family who run a chain of video stores and come under attack from a fundamentalist Christian group for carrying Martin Scorcese's The Last Temptation of Christ (along with other "pornography" such as Mr. Mom and Splash). The group goes so far as to blackmail an attorney to ruin the business and even threaten their young daughter. Even though they won their case in court, the bad press and expenses forces the family to declare bankruptcy, prompting the protagonist to decide to exact revenge.

Written and directed by Ken Tipton, the man who lived the story, if the excellent reviews are any indication, the movie should be both powerful and accurate. The topic of censorship is close to my heart, so I plan to check it out, if for no other reason than to see the strongarm tactics of the religious far right in action.

If anyone has seen this movie, please comment.

Mmm.... Sewage

The 2005 Darwin Awards are here. I found this one suitably gross so as to merit space on my blog, so here is the "Five-Star Stupidity Award Winner":

When a man attempted to siphon gasoline from a motor home parked on a Seattle street, he got much more than he bargained for. Police arrived at the scene to find a very sick man curled up next to a motor home near spilled sewage. A police spokesman said that the man admitted to trying to steal gasoline and plugged his siphon hose into the motor home's sewage tank by mistake. The owner of the vehicle declined to press charges, saying that it was the best laugh he'd ever had.

This is another one from this year, a brilliant tribute to human ingenuity under pressure. I'm not sure it merits a Darwin, since the offending idiot survived, but I'm sure it says something about the state of the mental health system in Zimbabwe:

After stopping for drinks at an illegal bar, a Zimbabwean bus driver found that the 20 mental patients he was supposed to be transporting from Harare to Bulawayo had escaped. Not wanting to admit his incompetence, the driver went to a nearby bus stop and offered everyone waiting there a free ride. He then delivered the passengers to the mental hospital, telling the staff that the patients were very excitable and prone to bizarre fantasies. The deception wasn't discovered for 3 days.

But neither of these hold a candle to the hilarious winner of the 1999 Darwin:

A 39-year-old Charlottesville man died Thursday in a freak accident involving his washing machine. According to police reports, Samuel Randolph Strickson was doing laundry when he tried to speed up the process. Strickson apparently tried to stuff approximately 50 pounds of laundry into his washing machine by climbing on top of the washer and attempting to force the clothing into the basin. Strickson then apparently accidentally kicked the washing machine's ON button. When the machine turned on, Strickson lost his balance and both feet went down into the machine, where they got stuck. The machine started its cycle, and Strickson, unable to free himself, started thrashing around as the machine's agitator went into gear. Strickson's head banged against a nearby shelf in the laundry room, knocking over a bottle of bleach, which poured over Strickson's face, blinding him. Forensic reports say Strickson apparently also swallowed some of the bleach. He then vomited, but was still unable to free himself. Strickson's dog, then apparently came into the laundry room. At about the sametime, according to police, a large box of baking soda fell from the shelf, startling the dog, who then urinated. Urine, like vinegar, is acidic, and the chemical reaction between the urine and the baking soda resulted in "a small explosion," according to police reports. The dog, however, escaped unharmed. Strickson remained stuck in the washing machine, which eventually went into its high speed spin cycle, spinning Strickson around at about 70 miles per hour, according to forensic experts. Strickson's head then smashed against a steel beam behind the washing machine, immediately killing him. A neighbor heard the commotion and called 911, but Strickson was pronounced dead at the scene.

The Clapper

I had a problem. I hated it when I'd flop into bed and then have to get up and turn the light off. So one day in Duane Reade, I thought I saw a cheap solution. The Clapper (yes — that Clapper) was a measly ten bucks, and the problem would be solved.

Now, it seemed simple enough. I got it home, and opened the package, and there it was. I had images floating through my head – a gray-haired woman in bed, slapping her meaty hands together to shut off the light. It's a big, beige box with a two sockets – the two-clap outlet and the three-clap outlet – and a plug in the back, just like you'd expect, but there is this confounding sensitivity switch. I experimented with the thing for a little bit, first in two-clap mode. Apparently, two claps makes the thing erratically deaf, because there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to when the thing would respond at all. After trying unsuccessfully to communicate with my new friend from Duane Reade, I walked away, frustrated, and put on some music. Then, randomly, the Clapper decided to turn my lights on and off a few times. I turned the sensitivity down, and the thing stopped working altogether. From the lowest setting to just below the highest, no response at all from Mr. Clapper. This was not going to work.

So I switched it to three-clap mode, reasoning that it should be less likely to pick up something ambient as three even claps. In three-clap mode, the sensitivity switch seemed to basically do nothing. After experimenting a bit further with it, it seemed to respond with something like consistency to three claps, regardless of the sensitivity, but now it seemed to almost work like you'd expect. Now, it does not work like the commercials show it. Sometimes you have to try three times to get the stubborn little Clapper demons to comply. But after a while, I learned to do it right, and it worked about 75% of the time, so I decided to leave it and hope for the best.

Now, I won't say that it's been completely shitty, because it does do what it's supposed to do, but it's interpretation of what qualifies as a clapping sound seems to be somewhat broad. And without any reliable way of controlling the sensitivity, the clapper can be a real distraction. For instance, when people are shrieking your name in ecstasy. The clapper suddenly throwing the lights on in the middle of things can be disorienting (depending on your state of sobriety, YMMV). A few whines and whimpers later, Mr. Clapper decides to stop watching and shuts the lights off.

The Clapper does not generally respond to music, except (strangely) the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Cake. Can't seem to figure why.

All-in-all, it's been fun for a while living with the Clapper, but it's time to move on. I'm going to buy one of these things.

I Hate These Things

Especially when something like this happens. To make matters worse, the description of Islam is simply inane. Take the religion quiz while I sigh deeply and wonder why I even bothered.

You scored as Islam. Your beliefs are most similar to those of Islam. Do more research on Islam and possibly consider taking the shahadah and officially becoming a Muslim, if you aren't already. Despite the actions of some – who go against the teachings of Islam – Islam is a religion of peace; the word "islam" means "peace through submission to God." "Muslim" means "one who submits to God." Islam is the third of the three Abrahamic faiths, and it shares much with Judaism in Christianity; its differences are the acceptance of Muhammad as the last and final prophet, and the oneness of God - in other words, that Jesus, though he was a revered prophet, was not in fact God, and only one God exists. Apparently the Taliban could not read (though their name means "students"), because the Qur'an states that men and women are equal as believers, and that all believers should be educated and seek knowledge. Modesty in dress and behavior is required in Islam for both men and women to preserve the values of society and move the emphasis from superificial appearance to intelligence, knowledge, and God.

Islam

88%

agnosticism

75%

Buddhism

71%

Hinduism

58%

Judaism

54%

Paganism

42%

Satanism

38%

Christianity

33%

atheism

33%

Which religion is the right one for you? (new version)
created with QuizFarm.com

Dodgedick

A friend of mine sent me a link to this blog, written by an American who is teaching English at a Japanese junior high school. In this particular editorial, he describes the fun and exciting game he calls "dodgedick".

Whiners

In deference to a few whiners, I have changed the layout of the site a bit. Apparently, a shift in the spacetime continuum during my absence from blogging caused the HTML/CSS spec to change, or small green men decided to change my blog, and it broke my damn page. The simpler layout should also be more friendly to you browser-pagans (you know who you are — you non-IE people sicken me). Now, I know what you're saying.... Mr. Gates' blatant disregard for such benevolent and infallible orders as the W3C is one of the signs of the Apocalypse, but trust me... once you accept the fact that you work for the Prince of Darkness, it becomes much easier to move on.

Women Crave Mechanical Cock

I believe it was Socrates who said: "Women are hungry and crave cock". Well, maybe if he didn't, some other very smart guy did, and could have added "but they really love mechanical cock the best." And why not? Shoot, I know my equipment doesn't hit 100 RPMs. Check out MSN's article on the history of the vibrator.


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The Red Bull Diary is the personal pulpit and intellectual dumping-ground for its author, an amateur game designer, professional programmer, political centrist and incurable skeptic. The Red Bull Diary is gaming, game design, politics, development, geek culture, and other such nonsense.