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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Links - 19th August 2006

"Cynicism is an unpleasant way of saying the truth." - Lillian Hellman

"Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it." - George Bernard Shaw


Princeton [PEAR] Remote-Viewing Experiments -- A Critique - "The Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) program has produced a number of experimental reports discussing remote-viewing results and analyses. This work is reviewed with attention to methodological and statistical issues. The research departs from criteria usually expected in formal scientific experimentation. Problems with regard to randomization, statistical baselines, application of statistical models, agent coding of descriptor lists, feedback to percipients, sensory cues, and precautions against cheating. Many of the issues of remote-viewing methodology were identified by Stokes and Kennedy over 10 years ago. It is concluded that the quoted significance values are meaningless because of defects in the experimental and statistical procedures."

Stop Capitulating to Threats by Afshin Ellian - "I have encountered political-religious intolerance before. I know how it begins, how it develops. Let no one say that we are in the grip of Islamophobia or racism. Believe me – they are very different. Luther was not a Catholicophobe. He was critical of the church. Voltaire was not a religiophobe. He was simply critical of the intolerant manifestations of religion. Should the Reformation have been warded off on the grounds that Luther “must not stigmatise all Catholics”?"
By the person about whom it was said: "The idea that freedom is the cornerstone of politics is one reason why people like Mr Ellian, that Iranian who fled to Leiden, look hopefully towards America. His argument goes as follows. Islam's sacred texts can be read either in a spirit of militant intolerance or in a spirit of altruism—and the latter can prevail only in conditions of hard, open-ended debate in which nobody holds back for fear of giving offence. America's free-speech culture may have a better chance of fostering such a debate than European political correctness."

Security 'bad news for sex drive' - "A woman's sex drive begins to plummet once she is in a secure relationship, according to research."
Addendum: For men there is no difference

Slimline snaps that help holidaymakers to stretch the truth - "In some respects, things have changed since the 1970s, and in this digital age such painful moments of self-knowledge are apparently no longer necessary. In what is described as the latest “female-friendly” gadget to hit the high streets, a new digital camera will take pictures of you reclining like a beached sea mammal — and make you look thinner. The electrical chain-store Comet is selling the HP Photosmart R727, which contains a “slimcam” function. Set it to “slimcam”, and the camera “squeezes” the object at the centre of the frame without distorting the background."

Mary and me - "Kathleen McGowan claims to be a descendant of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and has written a book to prove it. Heretic, player or the real deal? Decca Aitkenhead meets the rival for Dan Brown's crown "

Atheist Soldiers Demand to Be Recognized - "There are no atheists in foxholes," the old saw goes. The line, attributed to a WWII chaplain, has since been uttered countless times by grunts, chaplains and news anchors. But an increasingly vocal group of activists and soldiers—atheist soldiers—disagrees. "It's a denial of our contributions," says Master Sgt. Kathleen Johnson, who founded the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers and who will be deployed to Iraq this fall. "A lot of people manage to serve without having to call on a higher power.""

The writing's on the wall for Italian graffiti artists - "A draconian law has been put before Italy's Senate, calling for a maximum penalty of two-and-a-half years in prison for graffiti artists who critics say are blighting the country's urban landscape and defacing much of its architecture... This month Mr Sgarbi, a connoisseur of Renaissance painting and a fierce opponent of most modern art and architecture, denounced most celebrated modern artists as members of a self-promoting mafia."

Goldberg Variations - Google Video - This should be the 1982 one. You can see the stupid broken stool he sat on, which was too short for him, and how he mutters to himself as he plays.

Eet smakelijk; bon apetit — The European compulsion to say "enjoy your meal" - "You'd say "Enjoy your meal" in the English-language translation. It's not the same, though — and it sounds odd on repetition. We simply don't have the phrase in our tradition. (A Spanish friend suggested that that is because the English have no cuisine. Speculation, that; but provocative I guess.)"
Another good page on the site: Alstublieft, a good Dutch word

Biometric passport cracked and cloned - "The biggest problem, Schneier wrote on his blog, is that passports will have a shelf-life of 10 years, during which time the technology will not only become antiquated but will almost inevitably be overtaken in sophistication by the methods for cracking it. Schneier wrote: "A passport has a 10-year lifetime. It's sheer folly to believe the passport security won't be hacked in that time.""

Don't spit and shout or smoke and squat. Mind your p's and don't jump queues - "Good manners may have been seen as something of a bourgeois affectation during Chairman Mao’s ultra-leftist Cultural Revolution but yesterday the Communist Party put its foot down on poor etiquette... In Japan, tourists ignore suggestions not to make a noise and frequently sing and shout in the hot baths, prompting other customers to leave. In Thailand, Chinese drop so much litter that the country has put up signs in Chinese characters reading: “No littering.” In Hong Kong, they don’t queue and in Europe they smoke where smoking is forbidden. Mr Qian said: “At airports around the world when you look at the messiest, noisiest group, it’s the Chinese.”"

David Copperfield says he's found Fountain of Youth - "Master illusionist David Copperfield says he has found the "Fountain of Youth" in the southern Bahamas, amid a cluster of four tiny islands he recently bought for $50 million."

Google Groups: CAPSoff - "Welcome to the CAPSoff group! Subscribe if you want to join the campaign against the CAPS key, or if you want to help us construct and run this campaign. Right now we're building the CAPSoff organisation, using only free Google services. Our slogan: STOP SHOUTING!"

Man pleads guilty in rocket-launch drug case - "They were smart enough to design a rocket that would shoot their drugs into space if they were caught by police. But they were not smart enough to remember to plug it in."

the Illuminati - "Another expositor on these hidden agendas and worldwide conspiracies is Jim Keith, who died on September 7, 1999, during surgery to repair a leg he injured at the Burning Man Festival. Keith, a former executive Scientologist and author of nine conspiracy books (including Saucers of the Illuminati) could see things the rest of us don't. Was this because he was better at seeing or because his imagination ran wild? He watches a Coke ad and sees fellatio and anal penetration. You can imagine what he sees or hears when he gives his attention to world history... A rational person might think many of the PCTs are joking. There are Internet sites that seem to be parody sites but it is difficult to tell, since there seems to be no belief, however inane or absurd, that the PCTs can't fit into their bizarre worldview. A rational person who never heard of Pat Robertson might well read his New World Order (Word Books, 1994) and think it must be a joke. Could anyone actually believe his rambling paranoia regarding Jewish bankers, Freemasons, Muslims, homosexuals, foreigners, etc.? Apparently so. Still, one wonders why PCTs exist and their numbers seem to be growing."
I think the acting in Power Rangers is miles ahead of Channel 8.
Fie, I am crippled again.

I'm quite sure this is the same thing that happened in Sec 2, both in March and June.

July trip: 6/7 - Rome (Part 2)

July trip
6/7 - Rome
(Part 2)

Brick and stone on the Palatine hill

The Palatine hill's sights were not numbered, so I had no idea how the audioguide would've worked. There was also a total lack of information panels, almost total lack of labels (ie What the current place was) and few directional signs.

Having exhausted the possibilities of the Palatine hill, we went down to the Ancient Forum.

Tempio di Antonio e Faustinia

Aedes Vestae
Vestal Virgin temple. The flame was extinguished in 393 AD when Christianity became the official religion, angering the Gods. No wonder the Roman Empire fell.

Tempio dei Castoni

Cloaca Maxima


Temple of Saturn

Umbilicus Urbis Romae

Aedes Deum Consentium
Behind: Mons Capitolinus. The wall talked about Gregory XVI and Pius IX

Arch of Septimus Severus, and details

Ancient Forum

Imperial Forum. I find it ironic that it's less well preserved than the Ancient Forum. Unfortunately the whole thing was closed!!!

Trajan's Column

Victor Emmanuel Monument

Circus Maximus

I got a Don Giovanni DVD for €7. Yay. I wonder when I'll get down to watching it though.

For dinner, Andrew and I had Chinese food. On the menu: "Gnocchi di Miso" ("Gnocchi of rice" - "chao3 nian2 gao1"), "Spaghetti di Miso" ("chao3 mi2 fen3") and "zha4 shui3 guo3" (Fried fruit?! This is a first. There was apple, banana and one more whose characters I didn't understand; they were battered and fried). Unfortunately I pronounced "zha4" (deep fried) as "chao3" (stir fried). As I commented: "No wonder we don't get free food - products of the 2nd generation Chinese diaspora". But then, so were they - they were PRCs, not Cantonese-speaking types, so there was no "boat people" spirit of solidarity.

What I thought was soy sauce in a bottle turned out to be Balsamic Vinegar.

Me: I like my ice-cream like I like my women.
Andrew: Cold?

Rome is even less English-friendly than Paris.

I had problems booking both the night trains I needed - Cinque Terra-Venice and Avignon-Reims. For the former I should've booked the moment I landed in Rome, using one of the ubiquitous machines, but I was waiting for Andrew to get everything done at once (it's one of those things you do against your better judgment, like traveling with the Cock). Oh well. The Avignon-Reims ticket was weird though, since though it was available online the Trenitalia counter staff told me it was unavailable - maybe they hate the Italians (I looked at the screen and she seemed to be clicking the right buttons).

Travel tips:

- Book in advance and plan ahead if you can - you lose flexibility but the alternative may be screwing yourself, especially around peak period.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Never upskirt a ballerina.

Just now, I was being helpful and helping a ballerina down the stairs since they're preparing for a roadshow tomorrow.

Now, this ballerina was quite big, so to keep her stable and prevent her limbs from colliding with anything, I held her horizontal with one hand below her chest and one on her perineal area.

Unfortunately, I've been away from NUS too long, so I miscalculated and missed a step. Or two. Or three.

And now I've what appears to be a sprained left ankle and cannot walk. At least she was unhurt.

Damn, looks like no more RV reunion or cooking this weekend.
Gah, why do I kept getting introduced as a "famous blogger"?

I'm being pigeonholed!

July trip: 6/7 - Rome (Part 1)

July trip
6/7 - Rome
(Part 1)

Bunny Boy had flown in the previous day, so we went to see all the things I'd been waiting for his arrival to start seeing.

We started off by going to the catacombs. Taking a bus to the outskirts of Rome, we still had to walk 1+ km in to the Catacombs of St Callisto. We then found that no pictures were allowed, and all visits were to be guided (presumably because people would otherwise get lost inside).

There're 60 catacombs in Rome, but only 5 are open to the public and those of St Callisto are the largest at 26km in length. It has 4 levels, but only the second is open, with the remains of 10/16 of the popes interred in there. Inside it was nice and cold, despite the heat above; that's one nice thing about temperate countries - even in summer it's cool underground, and since water is usually stored underground you can get cold water even with the blazing sun at noon.

The guide kept talking about "gravity gers". I was trying to figure out what a "gravity ger" was - presumably it was someone intimately involved in the construction, extension and maintenance of the catacombs. I figured out halfway, but Andrew had to ask me at the end. I said he should've asked the guide; her answer would've been very interesting.

When we came out of the catacombs, it was 9:45 and the courtyard was full of people. It was lucky that we'd gone in at ~9:09.

Arch of Constantine

Side of the Colosseum

I wonder who pays for all the potable water fountains/dispensers in Rome. Maybe it's cheaper than treating heatstroke victims.

There were a lot of Koreans travelling in Europe in July.

One reason people might buy Cock cars is that then they've an excuse not to fetch people around.

Behind St John's Lateran there was another obelisk which was also covered in scaffolding, like the one in Piazza del Popolo. And all the obelisks I saw had crosses on top. Gah.

The bastards at the Colosseum charged €4,50 for the audioguide, and there was a 2hr limit. For each *minute* exceeded, the cost was €4,50. There was also no discount for EU students - only for EU citizens, and I didn't manage to con them with my Dutch residence card.

Colosseum interior

Colosseum interior


Arch of Constantine from Colosseum


Attic Bel-Krater with Apollo
Terpischore & Clio; Clio painter, 440-30

Fresco with Achilles and Briseis; Pompei, 50-79 AD

Below: Head of Hesiod, 'Pseudo-Seneca', 138-61 AD

Bust of Cicero. 1st century BC-AD


Mostly students excavating the Palatine hill

Arch of Titus

A pope put his name of the back of the Arch of Titus. Bloody hell.

The Palatine hill was run by the same people as the Colosseum and they were just as scummy here - the audioguide was €4, with a 2 hr limit and a €4/min fine per minute past the limit.

It was forbidden to enter the Palatine hill wearing masks and costumes and authority was needed to take photographs and film for weddings. Wth?!

Alcove in which there was a wall water was pouring down, at the entrance of the Palatine hill

View of the Forum from the Palatine hill

The Palatine hill was horribly signposted. I had no idea where everything was.

Presumably the Romulean huts - 'Fondi di Capane di eta Romulen'

The guidebook said a lot of archaeological sites were in this area and named some, but almost all were not marked so even to me they were just brick buildings, and not even the most famous ones. No wonder, although the ticket was bundled with that of the Colosseum, it was not very crowded.

There were some sculptures in the Palatine museum, but they weren't spectacular. There's a reason why there're so may Roman copies of Greek sculptures. The museum also had a sign saying one was limited to 20 mins per floor. Wth.

Apollo Citaredo

My inspired guess says this is the Stadium of Domitian/Hippodrome ("Circo Massimo"). A sign pointing in this direction also said "Domus Augustana Stadio".

There was a signpost pointing to the Nero something but I couldn't find it despite going around in a few circles, so I skipped it.
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