Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A minor gripe about Transformers...

Here's something that only just hit me after reading the Arcee result on somebody's Facebook quiz (I ended up as Jetfire on the same quiz.):

What in blazes is the point of a female Transformer?

If the only way to make new bots is that Allspark doohickey, then why do the Transformers even need sexes? Of course, they don't. At least not for any reason more compelling than that untouchable axiom of the entertainment world: Sex sells. And the prospect of nice hips, a sexy/cute/sultry/FEMALE voice and boobs makes the target market that tiny bit bigger, even if it's on a fictional robot.
I don't know. I haven't watched the 2nd movie yet, so maybe there's some cute explanation for Arcee's femininity that's halfway plausible. Given the nature of the movie, I doubt it. Having grown up on Transformers, I do wonder why this line of thought never occured to me sooner.

On a related note, based on what I'm seeing the Japs and the Koreans get up to, especially the Japs, I'd put money on commercially available robot prostitutes hitting the market in less than ten years. As it is, Sega's gonna start selling wee curvaceous bots that kiss you later this year.Don't bother getting silly ideas. She's only about 38cm tall. ;-)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Where in blazes did I put that Joker?

Regulars to this blog may remember I once put up a picture I found on Break (or was it Something Awful) of this absurdly detailed Etch-a-Sketch drawing of Heath Ledger's Joker. I haven't the damndest idea where I left it, but anyways, I found better. Check this out:

Found this and a few more here. Apparently, each takes about 70-80 hours and can command prices of up to USD10k. The artist's website is here. Go see!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ever wondered what the inside of a baseball looks like?

And now you know. I'm not sure if I've posted this guy on this blog before, and I can't be bothered to check, so here's an earlier video showing his ungodly amazing skillz on vegetables and a BB:

By the way, if you watched the 2nd vid all the way to the end, you might have caught them talking about the next challenge: Cutting through steel plate. If anyone could tell me where I can find that, I'd be much obliged.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Baby trouble?

This may help:And on a completely unrelated note (coz it just happened to be in the same Break gallery), you know Earth is fuct when Captain Planet's been letting himself go:


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ippon vs Life in Malaysia

In case I hadn't mentioned it before, I love kendo. I haven't really been at it very long, and at the time of writing bear the grade 7th kyu, that is, the minimum required to wear armour. That will, hopefully, change soon, seeing as my next grading is on 11 July. I wouldn't say I'm qualified to speak with any authority on the technical points of kendo, but I'd like to record a little something I've noticed, as a Malaysian doing kendo.

The world seems more real from inside that armour.

A little background is needed here, I think. I am part of generation whose creativity and passion has been crippled forever by the hamfisted mucking about of Malaysia's Ministry of Education. For decades, the meaning of 'education' was utterly lost, reduced to nothing more than having children jump through meaningless hoops for decades of their lives. The subjects being taught became pale shadows of what they were really about, mere collections of bullet points to be swallowed, regurgitated and forgotten.

Today's Malaysia is the inevitable product of such wasted youth. A nation driven by nothing more than consumerism. Ideals have faded into saccharine platitudes. Culture is dictated by MTV, Channel [V] and the criminally insipid Hong Kong entertainment industry. Language on all fronts has decayed into the vulgar mash that is Manglish, the subject of much misplaced pride and yet another contributing factor to the miasma of anti-intellectualism that grips the nation. Am I exaggerating? Answer me this: When was the last time you saw someone reading on the train in KL? And then ask yourself: When was the last time you saw some Malaysian Chinese person dismiss something they couldn't understand (because it wasn't shoehorned into Manglish) with "Mm chee kui ngup mut"?

I'm a dyed in the wool empiricist. I'm the kind of person whom you'd say "Good morning" to, who'd look up at the overcast sky and retort, "Is it really?" I live every moment constantly making sure I'm doing my utmost to cut through bullshit and grasp the reality of the world I perceive. Being in Malaysia means I've a *lot* of bullshit to cut through.

Now contrast this with kendo. Specifically, duelling in kendo, i.e. shiai. I think there's a certain austere beauty to it, everything you've ever known in your life, shrinking down to the immediate reality of your situation, that every fibre of your being is now focused on the task of scoring the killing blow, ippon, on this one opponent in front of you. There is no conversation to be had, no words that need to be spoken except for the occassional ear-splitting kiai to break your opponent's spirit. There is no luck. Whoever scores is, for that brief moment, the superior swordsman, and that's that. Luck is merely a polite way to downplay the truth of the matter: "I was better than you."

But this is kendo. Bamboo blades and heavy armour make sure we survive each encounter practically unscathed, no matter how viciously we throw ourselves at each other. We bow, we reflect, we learn. Perhaps in the near future we will fight again and see who is worthy of ippon. Ippon is everything. It is the culmination of your countless hours of harsh training. It can only be bought with the one true currency of life - sweat, blood and tears. Who you were and who you will be fade into the distance in the face of ippon, because all that matters, there and then, is who you are and the answer to the question: Are you good enough to take ippon?

And there we have wee slice of my understanding of kendo. I expect in the future, when I've climbed up a few more ranks, I'll come back to this post and think on how I have or haven't changed. For now, I've a shinai that needs repairing before the next class, and maybe, the next ippon.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

It's all relative...

Britain's Daily Mail ran a story on this Belgian lass who, following a misunderstanding at a tattoo parlour, ended up with 56 wee stars on her face:

Apparently, she tried to tell the guy, a Romanian, she only wanted 3 little ones, under her left eye. She fell asleep during the procedure, the artist just kept going and when she woke up, shock, shock, horror, horror. Naturally, the words "scarred for life" popped up and she's trying to sue the guy. And I thought the constellation adorning half her face was pretty fearsome, too, up until I saw a pic of the tattoo artist himself:

Yep. Now 56 stars doesn't quite look all that bad, eh? I for one find it difficult to believe that one could possibly fall asleep when someone's etching designs into your face with a sharp, noisy object, but then again, I've never been tattoo'd before, so what would I know, eh? To his credit, the tattoo artist has offered to pay to have half those stars zapped away by lasers.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Links, links, links...

Why have humans domesticated cats? Dogs do lotsa work and are easy enough to train (or so I'm told) but cats do nothing constructive whatsoever. Granted, they're great fun to play with, and waking up to find a purring cat leaning against you (hopefully not in your face) is a nice start to a day, but seriously, they've got our species duped, haven't they? Here's Scientific American on the issue.

One of my favourite books of all time is Guns, Germs and Steel, it being the most interesting summary of human history I've ever read, minus the fiddling about with dates, politics and nations, and just telling the story of the human race as just another interesting animal on our big, blue planet. Since reading that book, and a few others, Jared Diamond has been one of my favourite authors of all time. So I was a bit dismayed to find out about his article in the New Yorker being mostly fiction, and in breach of journalistic and anthropological standards. As such, he is presently in deep shit, and I'm not quite sure what to think of his books. :-(

On a related note, shortly after I'd read Guns, Germs and Steel, I despaired, because everything seemed to point towards a future in which humanity blithely bumbled into the Malthusian nightmare. I have since learned that though this may be true, there's no point in living in perpetual dread, because life's simply too short for that. Still, it's good to be reminded of what's coming every so often. Maybe the right people might actually do something about it.

I've suspected the existence of linguistic relativism to some small extent long before I'd read about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. As yet, I'm not convinced that any given language really determines cognition as much as reinforces the cultural norms in which said language developed. In any case, one thing that far too many Malaysians simply don't get is the sheer importance of achieving an adequate level of proficiency in a language, and the vulgarity of their command in any language they come into contact with shows in every aspect of their being. Here's an article from the Edge which gathers together much of what I've encountered in Kovecses' Language, Mind and Culture, and more.

Lastly, wanna know why Japan isn't taking a more active role in nipping North Korea's nuclear arsenal in the bud? Here's why:

That's right. When the going gets tough, the Gundam comes out to pop a can of whupass on you. More pics here.

Right, time to give those useless cats a bath. Seriously, sometimes I wonder just who owns who...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I would totally buy a wind-up walking stick...

... IF and only if I could be absolutely sure that every penny went to Trevor Baylis:

And soon to DR Trevor Baylis! There just aren't enough charming old English gentlemen in this world...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Wanna be a Laird?

Means Lord or Lady, apparently. I'm quite serious. For the paltry sum of GBP30, you, too, can be a Laird of Glencairn. By which they mean 1 square foot of dirt in the Scottish Highlands that no human eye would ever see were it not for Google Earth. Thanks to www.iwantoneofthose.com for that. Anyway, what really struck about this silly offer was this fantastic bit of feedback which was just too good not to share:

Dear Sirs, I recently purchased a Laird of Glencairn gift box for my husband and wish to complain. This gift came with no health warning, such as "This gift can seriously damage your mental health and if affected this does not mean you can drive a tractor. It may also impair your ability to maintain a healthy marriage" Since receiving his gift my husband has become seriously deranged, requiring myself and our sons to address him only as Laird and will respond only if spoken to in a scottish accent. He has also taken to wearing a kilt (in the traditional way) which is unfortunate as he is a window cleaner. We have been granted some respite as he is presently sectioned for an unfortunate accident where his sporran became entangled in a venetian blind. He is keeping himself occupied by building a miniature caravan out of scone crumbs to site on his plot of land. We are unsure when he will be released as he is refusing treatment unless he can be seen by DR. Finlay. The upside is, I am planning a convalescence trip for him to his country retreat for a bit of camping and fishing in the glorious scottish air and am presently trying to convince him that we will not be able to tow his caravan. On a thrifty note for our scottish brethren, the tin makes a lovely container for scones and I have used the tartan wrapping to line a drawer.

Denise Foreshaw, Liverpool

Monday, June 8, 2009

Akakkubi Ryu Kenjutsu*?! Is nothing sacred?!

Rhetorical question, of course. I, and no doubt many other jaded infidels around the world, am perfectly aware that the very concept of 'sacred' is just another convenient human delusion. But I do love martial arts and am especially partial to anything to do with kendo, i.e. anything to do with the arts of Japanese swordsmanship.

I love the history and culture behind the sword, the atmosphere of the dojo, the practical wisdom bought in countless duels and battlefields, the rush of crossing swords with strong opponents... And I love the fact that a Japanese dojo is a bastion of quiet**, graceful, secular spirituality in an increasingly stupid world.

As such, I do sympathize with the Japanese masters when they lament the corruption of their fighting arts as they spread overseas. Those who have observed the tides of cultural evolution will shrug and say that this is an inevitability, like the spawning of well over 300 styles of kung fu (wushu? Never was too clear on that point...) in China, some of which, to be brutally honest, have as much practical use as a knife made out of yoghurt. The fighting arts, and the accompanying code of ethics, become warped into new forms as they are passed from one person to the next. Without the crucible of combat to separate the chaff from the wheat, even the most freakishly absurd mutations of the original forms are allowed to survive, when ordinarily they shouldn't.

The days of storming dojos and bellowing challenges to rival masters are long gone, but the Japanese obsession with doing things properly (aizuchi) ensures the general purity and integrity of their martial arts and the accompanying philosophy. However, it seems that outside of Japan, karate has turned into something else. Once upon a time, kata was an austere, physically demanding form of moving meditation, a way to polish up technique and concentration.

Seems to me that in certain quarters, the focus has shifted somewhat:

Frankly, I'm not sure if this is karate. Wearing the pyjamas and the belt does not make the karateka. I enjoy seeing good tricks and hats off to them for such displays of skill, strength and agility and all but, I'm not sure this is karate.

Call me naive, but I came to the conclusion years ago that the only reason of merit to learn how to fight is so one never has to fight. In the arduous journey of learning the rigours of combat, one should come to understand that fighting is not a real solution to this world's problems, and that the very worst adversary you will ever face, the one who will defeat you before you've even raised a fist or sword, the one who will hound you, mock you, poison your mind, cripple you with doubt, whither you with apathy, tear at you constantly until your dying day is yourself.

I find many Eastern martial arts take great pains to teach this harsh and valuable lesson, hence I do feel a wee twinge of irritation at the sight of a McDojo. Even more so when said McDojo doesn't even bother making any effort towards authenticity, as evidenced by some so-called "karateka" who cannot even pronounce 'katana' or 'bokken' presuming to teach how to use a katana, which for some odd reason is missing it's tsuba (hand guard).

This charming practitioner of the ancient art of posing with a sword not only tries to pass off his antics as a genuine martial art, but does so in the name of a certain Jewish zombie king. It's also more than a bit telling that he doesn't even know the difference between a bokken and a shinai. For those of you who don't already know this, observe. This is a shinai (lit: Bamboo blade):

And these are bokken*** (Lit: Wooden sword):

Apparently, his school is called 'Yeshuas Ryu Karate'. The age old theist pastime of lying for [insert messiah of choice here] opens a new front. I think I'd rather stick to my name for it - Akakkubi Ryu Karate. If nothing else, at least the name is honest and gives a true and fair indication of exactly what these people are about.

Oh, and as an added slap in the face for people like me, Redneck-san up there has a whole series of videos all on Expert Village. Suffice it to say, I no longer trust a damn word from Expert Village.

Tres Tew, ah facepalm at yew...

* Literally:- Redneck Style Sword Technique. No that's not what they call themselves, I just made that one up. I think it kinda fits.

** Not literally, of course...

*** I got the white one for my birthday. Isn't it pretty? ^-^

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Fun questions to ask Wolfram Alpha

If you haven't tried out Stephen Wolfram's delightfully clever answer engine yet, do so now. This cunning website tries to go one better than Google (!) by answering your questions, whatever they are, and laying it out systematically for you, with sources cited and/or calculations done step by step. Have a peep at the answers gallery to get an idea of what you can ask. As the name suggests, it's still something of a work in progress, so it still gets a bit lost sometimes. For instance, you can't ask it how to make a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, and it most certainly won't give you a recipe for Wow-Wow Sauce.

Fun questions with snappy answers:

- Are you Skynet?

- What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything?

- Open the pod bay doors.

- To be or not to be?

- Who are you?

- Who am I?

- Who made you?

- Are you self-aware?

And of course...

- What is your name?

- What is your quest?

- What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen African swallow?

Try it. Have fun. If this thing takes off, coursework's gonna get a lot easier...

Update [9/6/09] - Some more, from Gizmodo:

- I love you.

- How many roads must a man walk down?

- Hello?

- Hello. How are you?

- I hate you.

- Are you a computer?

- Where are you?

- Hello world.

- How much wood could a woodchuck chuck?