Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Colliding stories

Tim Schtartit and Tom Stopitz meet at the Blue Angel Cafe.

Tim: I liked that story about bee swarms keeping on moving to search for new homes outside the range of cell phone microwaves. Going ever deeper upcountry and new stealing bicycles to do it.

Tom: Very wry. Rather postmodern.

Tim: I thought it was about colliding unverses. Nature and technology.

Tom: Well, colliding stories anyway. Stories are not self-contained. When they collide, they break into pieces and the bits fly off and become new stories. A true story is always a compound of half truths and you never reach the truth because there's always something more to say.

Tim: Like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Tom: Or Brazil.

Tim: Brazil?

Tom: It wasn't about Brazil. Anyway, it's a story which ends with bureaucrats ordering me to employ life-guards at my pond whenever I have a party. Where will it end?


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Bee swarm

Nabil tells Jalil about his experiment with his mobile phone


Nabil: See I went to the well and there was all these bees buzzing around, thousands, and I dint wanna get stinged...

Jalil: Stung.

Nabil: Stung. And I have to get the water before I go to school, right, so I put my mobile next the well and they all took off.

Jalil: And you know where they went?

Nabil: Went over the hill.

Jalil: They didn’t go far. They all settled on Rahman’s bicycle seat.

Nabil: Come on.

Jalil: A thousand bees on a bicycle built for one. Rahman, he so wild. You better take your mobile over to Rahman.


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Monday, October 29, 2007

There's no evidence

A foreign student, Cecil, remarks to his room-mate, Phileas, that he just bumped into a Japanese ex-prime minister.


Phileas: It can’t be.

Cecil: It’s true. He just glided up in one of those Double Crosses. He’s parked in the field.

Phileas: Did he say anything?

Cecil: He looked as if he wanted to ask something, and so I said, “It is you, isn’t it?”

Phileas: And?

Cecil: And then, well, he just looked a bit blank.

Phileas: It wouldn’t have anything to do with…

Cecil: What?

Phileas: What the subtitles said he had said on TV the other day.

Cecil: Maybe it was the subtext that made him resign.



Sunday, October 28, 2007

Anthropomorphic Percy

Fifi asks Pierre Lapin “Allait-il comment votre jour?”


Pierre: Cycled over to Koganei today.

Fifi: See Percy?

Pierre: Percy was there all right. No change. Still up to his old tricks.

Fifi: His old tricks?

Pierre: Hiding. You know, whenever I go there I have to look for him. This time he was hiding behind some overgrown azalea bushes.

Fifi: Have a good chat?

Pierre: We talked about this and that and the other. You’d think at his age, I mean what is he now, 17?

Fifi: Oh no, 18 last March.

Pierre: That he’d given up this hiding routine.

Fifi: Perhaps it’s just you can’t find him.

Pierre: Well, all right. Perhaps I visit him so infrequently I forget where you planted him. Persimmons among cherries tend to blend? But come fruiting time, we'll see a difference, mais non?

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Maitake and Amanita

Ernie and Bert are up on Mount Takao for the day.


Ernie: Leave the bikes by the trees.

Bert: No bears?

Ernie: Stop fantasizing. Maitake to my left. Gather.

Bert: What’s the red one?

Ernie: Dummy. That’s amanita. Its death cap causes half of all mushroom deaths. Leave it alone.

Bert: Oh damp and gloomy days, conclusions grow up inside me like fungus.

Ernie: Now what?

Bert: I feel a cold coming on.

Ernie: Quit the dramatics. Maitake will take care of the cold. Barbecued with butter and soy sauce. Ten minutes should see us with a bucketful.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Narita Immigration after November 20, 2007

A non-Japanese who has been permanent resident in the country for 24 years, lands at Narita airport and stands in the foreigner line for five hours. At last his turn comes.

Immigration Official: Place your right index finger here.

Permanent Resident: Why?

Immigration Official: Is new rule. If you enter country, you must be fingerprinted.

Permanent Resident: Where do you keep my fingerprint?

Immigration Official: In Central Records Computer.

Permanent Resident: In that case, you have my fingerprint already. I live here. I was fingerprinted when I applied for residency. I've just waited in line for five hours to have my fingerprint taken again?

Immigration Official: It's rule. We fingerprint all foreigners when they enter country. Otherwise you cannot enter country.

Permanent Resident: Why do you need it every time I enter the country? I’m a permanent resident. My fingerprints don’t change. It’s wasting your time and mine.

Immigration Official: Sorry, is rule.

Permanent Resident: What do you think about this rule?

Immigration Official: Sorry. I cannot say. Rule is rule.

Permanent Resident: Can I speak to the managing robot, please?

Immigration Official: Sorry, cannot. Come this way. We must deport you.

Permanent Resident: Why are you deporting me?

Immigration Official: You asked “Why.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Dismembering a friend

Leo is restless because the door to outside is closed and his catnip is shut away in the kitchen drawer.

Fifi: Stop pacing Leo. Sit down and meditate.

Leo: Meditate? Huh!

Fifi: And stop drinking my beer. You’ve got your own water.

Leo: She’s drinking Leo Beer and won’t even give me a sip? Humans! Bah!

Fifi: Look, Leo, on TV. Program on leopards. Wow! Run, leopard, run.

Leo: Reminds me. Time for killing practice.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

cat nip

Delivery man drops off fresh cat litter, two kinds of cat biscuits and...

Fifi: Leo, what's this?

Leo: Meow.

Fifi: It's a new scratching pad, Leo.

Leo: Scritch, scratch.

Fifi: Leo, scritch, scratch. Why so much?

Leo: Scritch, scratch.

Fifi: Ah, catnip. They put catnip on the scratching pad. So you'll bond with it.

Leo: Scritch, scratch.

Fifi: Leo, enough. You'll wear it out. I'm going to hide it.

Leo: Meow.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tomato earings

Johannes asks Griet about her activities over the summer.


Griet: I planted tomatoes.

Johannes: And did they flourish?

Griet: I had to go away. The plague scare.

Johannes: Of course, but it was a false alarm. Everyone came back after two weeks.

Griet: But nobody watered my tomatoes while I was gone. When I came back, they were too small to eat.

Johannes: I see how you used them.

Griet: You think they look nice?

Johannes: I know a painter who might be interested.



Monday, October 22, 2007

What, me worry?

Larry interviews Alfred E… er ?

Larry: Who was it that compared you to George?

Alfred: Hillary Clinton.

Larry: And did she apologize to George?

Alfred: She hasn’t so far.

Larry: And did she apologize to you?

Alfred: She did. She did.

Larry: Did she say why she did it?

Alfred: She was parodying his “What, me worry?” stand.

Larry: Not his looks?

Alfred: Well, that’s what all you media people picked up.

Larry: I’m sorry about that. Even Dick Cheney says you are much more handsome than George.

Alfred: The shootist?

Larry: Alfred, there are a lot of people who think you would do a better job as president than George. What answer would you give them?

Alfred: I can spell Bush, he can’t spell Neuman.

Larry: With me in the studio tonight was Alfred E. Neuman, whose election slogan is "How come we choose from just two people for President, and fifty for Miss America?" Good night and Good Luck.


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Sunday, October 21, 2007


Ewan imagines he is talking to Steve.

Ewan: Scientists have found a swimming ant.

Steve: Crikey.

Ewan: Sure. Ants are mostly light enough to walk on water. But these ones can break the surface tension and still survive.

Steve: Huh? I thought if they got caught under the water skin they were goners.

Ewan: Well, here's the trick. These ones have hairy bellies so they can float like hovercraft and legs like oars so they can paddle like champion scullers. But what about this? They only found this ant a year or two ago. In Oz.

Steve: Wish I’d been there.


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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Bugs Rabbit

Luis tells Diego he had a good day. Talking.


Luis: I made a pun today.

Diego: Were you happy with the result?

Luis: Yes.

Diego: Were the others happy you were happy?

Luis: They groaned.

Diego: For a pun that’s a big success.

Luis: Thanks. Simple pleasures for simple folk.

Diego: But you know, there’s a man called Don who draws puns.



Friday, October 19, 2007

Conversation maps

Harvey and Marvin, two linguists of natural language processing, discuss a metaphorical kidnapping case.


Harvey: Six months ago, the only person talking about conversation maps was Warren Sack.

Marvin: Six months ago. And then what happened?

Harvey: You google CM now, and the links list is headed by some nurses saying a discussion about diabetes is a Conversation Map, and a Very Verbose somebody is defining a Conversation Map as a model for “creating a model of a messy situation.” And this guy has actually stuck a copyright mark on the expression.

Marvin: But if these are very specific instances of the word “conversation” and “map” others more genuinely entitled to use them, like conversation analysts, will pick them up and use them?

Harvey: They won’t be able to if someone from another field has got in first and copyrighted their use. The terms have been kidnapped.

Marvin: Relax Harvey. You’re a conversation analyst. You have a right to use the word. You draw pictures of conversations on paper, maps. What could be a clearer way to describe what you do?

Harvey: It’s a bit surprising that people from other fields are coming over the fence and taking such simple words…

Marvin: Out of our mouths?

Harvey: Why can’t they find their own metaphors?

Marvin: Metaphors are what language is built on. When scientists run out of words, they become predatory. When their own terms are too difficult, they become like Genghis Khan. They scale the wall. Invade new territory. But eventually they die away. According to Guy Deutscher, even grammar is a reef of dead metaphors.

Harvey: So now there are people out there trying to copyright metaphors.


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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Anna Politkovskaya

All the President's Men (2006 version), Carl and Bob, are crossing a street discussing present dangers of being a journalist.

Bob: Her writing made her a target.

Carl: No, her visibility made her a target.

Bob: A target. But for who?

Carl: Putin et al? Some powerful businessman? Or some enemy of Chechenya?

Bob: Who knows?

Carl: Was she an Internet journalist?

Bob: No. She went out. She was a real journalist with real skills. She talked to people. She recorded what they said. She wrote down what they said.

Carl: And she was killed.

Bob: She was killed.

Carl: But you know, despite what you say about Internet journos, many die.

Bob: Killed?

Carl: Well, some die by accident. Kim died when he got lost ion the snow in California. Shuger died in a scuba accident. Vialls died after illness.

Bob: And some claim journalism is dying because of the Internet.

Carl: That Google and Yahoo are indirectly destroying hands-on journalism? Not all news originates in the ether. A lot of it is in in alleys. We safe here?

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Reconstructing Larry

Scene 47 in Reconstructing Larry. Larry is defending the role of pictures in his academic treatise on new media to his editor, Marilyn who is old school academic.

Marilyn: You just cannot fill the book up with pictures. 180 pages of pictures?

Larry: 175. There’re no pictures inside the front or end cover or on the title page.

Marilyn. 175. Whatever. You have to include words too.

Larry: There are words in it. Or rather on it. There’s the cover. Oh and inside too. I had to include the name of the author and my debt to you as editor.

Marilyn: Larry, I know we live in an age where the only thing young people read is graphic novels or manga. But they are fiction. This is a work of academic analysis.

Larry. Well, it’s about context. Rather than fill the book up with description about who was talking I thought I’d just put in a photo of who was talking.

Marilyn: There are also the ideas. What they are talking about.

Larry: So I show their ideas through pictures. One picture is worth a thousand words.

Marilyn: And a picture can be interpreted a thousand different ways.

Larry: And are words always interpreted in only one way?

Marilyn: Look, my bottom line is this. Take out the pictures, replace them with academic argument, or there is no book.

Larry: Marilyn, I’m a graphics person. This will kill me.

Marilyn: You want to live? Start writing.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Retirement talk

Hiroshi and Akira are on Monday afternoon reception duty, there isn’t a lot of activity, Hiroshi sighs and says:

Hiroshi: I’m going to retire next year.

Akira: No you’re not.

Hiroshi: Yes I am.

Akira: You say that every year. And you never do.

Hiroshi: Next year for sure. The pension funds are collapsing and I’m exhausted with commuting. And I have enough saved up.

Akira: So what will you do? B&B from a log cabin?

Hiroshi: It’s not such a bad idea. City people just don’t take time to communicate properly. So busy barking on their cell phones moving meetings and recycling rumors.

Akira: People in the country are dangerous, too. Look, every year you read about someone who goes mad because the solitude gets to them so they throw the gun in the back of the 4WD and drive into the village and take out someone at the local sushi bar.

Hiroshi: Are you telling me I should rethink?

Akira: Put it off for another year.

Hiroshi: Another year. Just for you. Then I’ll go.

Akira: I’ll believe it when I see it.



Monday, October 15, 2007

Chocolate addiction

Scene 32. Noir de Noir. Roux decides to tell Vianne of his addiction for chocolate.

Vianne: But it is so bad? It seems such an innocent substance. Not an abusive substance you would use.

Roux: Typically after dinner. I get this craving.

Vianne: How bad is it? It is interfering with your social life? You have lost friends? It you feel leads to antisocial behavior? It is upsetting your work? You are engaging in bizarre behavior, yes?

Roux: No, on all counts.

Vianne: It has lowered your self-esteem? You have been undergoing counseling? And even sought treatment?

Roux: Again, no.

Vianne: Could you be episodic? Vary with your mood? Or with the season? How often do you crave for this thing?

Roux: There is a pattern. Whenever I go to the shop and see chocolate, I buy it and take it home and after dinner, it happens...

Vianne: So it is why a problem?

Roux: I go on evening walks and the shop is still open.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Not yette

Scene 16. Ma Nuit avec Yvette. Juliette is telling Yvette of her experiences booking a domestic ticket in a Japanese travel agency.


Juliette: One air ticket from Tokyo to Fukuoka. Domestic flight. It should have been simplicity itself.

Yvette: And it wasn’t?

Juliette: Step one: agent goes to one computer and looks up flights. Writes down a selection of flight numbers and departure times on a piece of paper and brings them back to the desk and shows me. I pick an evening flight the 19:05.

Yvette: No printout?

Juliette: No printout. So then she goes away again to another computer and types in my name, flight number, age and passport number, and it prints out an itinerary and she shows me.

Y: Not the ticket?

Juliette: Just the itinerary I say OK. Now she goes to a third computer and types in my name, flight number, age and passport number again.

Yvette: That’s for the ticket?

Juliette: No, that’s to check for seat availability. So now she comes back a fourth time, all this walking I’m surprised she’s not whistling ‘I love to go a-wandering’ and says there are seats available.

Yvette: Now You’ve got a ticket?

Juliette: Wait! She then fills in a form which is an application for the ticket. She takes it out to a back room and several minutes later comes back and says she will telephone when the ticket has arrived.

Yvette: And how long is that?

Juliette: Two days. Hi-tech computer systems? E-ticketing has not landed here yet.


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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Happiness plant

Abel has finally bought a happiness tree. Eve wonders why it took him so long.

Eve: It looks the same.

Abel: Believe me. They're not the same. I made a mistake. The happiness plant has soft leaves.

Eve: And the - what do you call it?

Abel: The yucca. Its leaves are harder, spikier, see?

Eve: Well, you can throw out the yucca now you finally bought the right one.

Abel: Can't do that. I've had the yucca for 20 years. He's been through a lot.

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Friday, October 12, 2007


Gordon D.G. has applied for a job with a law firm. A senior parter, Simpson G, calls GDG in for a quick preliminary interview.

Simpson: Thanks for coming in. Can I get you something? A coffee perhaps?

GDG: Pellegrini, thanks, con gaz.

Simpson. We’re out of gas. Sorry. Plain?

GDG: Plain’s great.

Simpson: Now, I know you're a busy man, and your credentials speak for themselves. But could we just ask some background questions?

GDG: Sure.

Simpson: What is your main reason for applying to work in Homerville?

GDG: My wife got a job here at a local 7-11 so I thought I'd relocate.

Simpson: Ah, hmm, good. Just a couple of things from your c.v. You were an adviser to the Saudi Arabian Taxation Committee from 1995 to 2001. What changes did you initiate in that role?

GDG: Er, well. In a word, none, actually. There isn't any tax in Saudi Arabia. To speak of. Only the zakat.

Simpson: OK. Any hobbies?

GDG: Hmm. Potted geraniums is my big thing at the moment.

Simpson: Thanks, Gordon. That's about all for today. We'll be in touch.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Wikipedia vs Britannica

Hal is grumbling that Dave's report has too many wikipedia references in ti.

Hal: Your article was full of wiki references.

Dave: So?

Hal: But a wiki article can't be authoritative. It's written by unnamed amateurs. Full of mistakes.

Dave: Sometimes. But there was a study published in Nature that showed the typical Wikipedia article had 162 mistakes in 42 articles, compared with 123 in the same 42 Britannica articles. The mistakes were things like facts which weren't quite right, omissions and misleading information.

Hal: See?

Dave: Statistically there's hardly any difference. Web 2.0 collaboration by amateurs can be just about as "authoritative" as a panel of so-called "experts."
Hal: But even so, you can't rely on wikipedia articles. Their quality is uneven.
Dave: Used to be some truth in that. But more experts are getting involved, there's a "multiplier effect" occurring. And the biggest advantage is that when editing is needed in a wiki, it can be done instantly, something that it is not true of a print encyclopedia.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Conversation as performance

Janet and Penelope are just coming out of a presentation, one which is controversial for them, at a pragmatics meeting where the speaker has talked about conversation, referring to H.P. Grice and suggesting that human language is ultimately reducible to formulaic ritualized procedure.

Janet: I’m sure Grice wouldn’t agree, if he were still alive.

Penelope: I know, we don’t just request and exchange information and maneuver people.

Janet: Of course not. Life isn’t just a series of questions and answers like Noam asking how long until the next bus and Steven answering truthfully, briefly, relevantly and clearly: “Five minutes.”

Penelope: Or a little more interestingly and in a entirely different context, Arthur Dent asking how long they have for the Earth to be destroyed and Ford Prefect answering truthfully, briefly, relevantly and clearly: “Five minutes.”

Janet: Oh, yes. Well. Hmm. Context does change things.

Penelope: Anyway. Talk is meat and potatoes, conversation is dessert.

Janet: A good conversation is not just Gricean maxims. The Gricean principles are only about effective conversation, the appropriate amount of talk, timing, truth and so on. Grice says nothing about creativity or pleasure in talk.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Good night and good luck

GC and DS are divvying up film roles.

George: So do you want to be Ed or you want to be Fred?

David: I'll take Ed's part. You be Fred.

George: OK, but I warn you, Ed smoked. He smoked a lot. He died at 58.

David: I'll take my chances. Anyway, McCarthy was gone by 48. Whiskey. When he went on the wagon he switched to beer. Who's playing him?

George: Joe's playing himself. Well, early start tomorrow. Good night.

David: And good luck.

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Monday, October 8, 2007

How not to open a conversation

Basil and Sybil named their restaurant, Fawlty Pipes, in Bicker, Lincolnshire, after a noted TV series. As a result many people drop in to buy a plate of fish and chips half-hoping to catch a sight of the real Basil and Sybil. They’ve come up with own script and set of routines that they go through, like the following (used here with permission), and report that they are doing very well thank you. When asked whether they are worried about copyright issues, they say the BBC hasn’t called. Yet. They did, however, set up the business with advice from an intellectual property lawyer.

Sybil: Basil! We need to talk.

Basil: I get nervous when I hear that. A tiger bounding out of the bushes.

Sybil: Well how about ‘Got a moment?’

Basil: And that has all the subtlety of a snake slithering up alongside. Ssss!

Sybil: Well, can you suggest something?

Basil: Dale Carnegie.

Sybil: Old!

Basil: 1936. But still good. Rules for winning friends and influencing people. Number 1: remember people’s names.

Sybil: I did that. I called you by name.

Basil: Aha, but you loaded it onto the front of your opening, like it was a missile with my name on it. Basil! I think Carnegie meant you drop the name into the conversation quietly, with less of an aura of accusation. Another thing he suggested was smiling.

Sybil: Like this?

Basil: Your mouth is pulled back but the muscles round your eyes aren’t doing anything so the effect has the menace of a saber-tooth. Number 3: Listening

Sybil: I listen!

Basil: Sure, listen, then pounce! Look, you can use people’s names and smile and listen til the cows come home but it has to be done right. Do it wrong, and the whole communication gets brittle. Edgy as a horror flick.