Saturday, November 29, 2008

New post

Cows from next door keep pushing down Fred’s fence.


Fred: Pesky blighters. If it’s not every day, it’s every second day.

Mrs Fred: It?

Fred: Them, Missus. It’s them cows. They push down me fence and come through and eat the grass in Paddock 4.

Mrs Fred: Grass is always greener.

Fred: Always the same place. One particular post they push over.

Mrs Fred: Put up summat stronger.

Fred: Am. Termorrer. A brand new post.



Thursday, November 27, 2008

Never assume anything

Politics and Geography


I’m going to show excerpts from two films today, one is about the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, and the other is from a film about the Cuban missile crisis, 1962. Anybody tell me who the American president was at that time?

Er… Bush?

Hmmm, OK, let’s start with geography. Bay of Pigs? … No idea? OK, how about Cuba? Nope? Er… Russia?

Sort of like Europe? Next to ah, Germany?

Near, but not next to.

Do we need to know this stuff?

Through the mistakes of the past we come to know present dangers. We came that close to losing the planet. In 1962.

Yeah? That was way back.


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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Shutdown checklist

The Airbus has landed and is at Gate 10; there is a checklist to be completed.


Copilot: Turn off the master switches.

Pilot: Check.

Copilot: Set the beacon switch to Off.

Pilot: Check.

Copilot: Reset the navigation matrix.

Pilot: Er… navi coordinates… Check.

Copilot: Disengage the autocorrelation functions.

Pilot: Er…you mean the autopilot. Check.

Copilot: Recalibrate the logarithm residual patterns.

Pilot: Did you just make that one up?

Copilot:  Sorry. I have an economics exam this afternoon. Bit of crosstalk.

Pilot: Roger that.



Sunday, November 23, 2008

Internet Translation Services

Svetlana questions Grigori ’s terminology  in  a report he is writing.


Svetlana:  I wonder if you are actually writing a report on “Machine Translation?”

Grigori: Hmm?

Svetlana: I mean, you are analyzing results of translations done by Excite, Babel Fish, Google and so on, but these are what we might call Internet Translation Services.

Grigori: Not MT?

Svetlana: MT is a mashup of hardware and software. Internet Translation Service is, on the other hand, a kind of user interface. You just type something in and translate it into another language. See, if you google it, you get all these references for ITS: Excite, Babel Fish are there but also Systran,, Applied Language, WorldLingo, these names they come up with…

Grigori: Interesting what other services are tied to these translation sites. Here’s one advertising castles for sale in eastern Europe. And another one advertizing second passports.

Svetlana: Translation is a gateway. Reminds me of a nice homespun site that used to carry notices of upcoming conferences on language and linguistics. Run by a character called Roy. Nice chap, and he added a link to Russian aircraft for sale. We all have another string to our bow.

Grigori: We all have something else we’d rather be doing.


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Friday, November 21, 2008

A beaker of helicobacter

Bunsen has brewed up a beaker containing a solution of Helicobacter.


Bunsen: This will win us the Nobel Prize.

Beaker: This?

Bunsen: But we have to show that it causes gastritis. Drink up.

Beaker: I… drink it?

Bunsen: If you get gastritis, we’ve proved that helicobacter causes it.

Beaker: How about you drink it?

Bunsen: Drinking it is the easy part. Writing is the hard part. And if I drink it and get gastritis, who's going to write the report?

Beaker: Promise we’ll share the prize?

Bunsen: Promise. Drink up. The whole beaker.


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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pictures at a Hokusai Exhibition

The Asian scholars pause at Oiran and Kamuro.


Donald: Amazing.

Howard: Incredible.

Donald: In a word, unbelievable.

Howard: The detail.

Donald: And all printed using carved wooden blocks.

Howard: Not just the aesthetics. The technique. No overlap of color. Red finishes where black starts.

Donald: Such accuracy.

Howard: And all this nearly 200 years ago.

Donald: I wonder if they were able to achieve such precise printing because of their attention to detail? Like the finish on Japanese goods today. Obsession with detail. Could it come from the intricacy of their writing system?

Howard: If it comes from characters, why aren’t the Chinese goods similarly well finished?

Donald: Ah. Blows that theory out of the water.


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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Reminds me

Johannes and Wolfgang exit the theater.


Johannes: Great performance.

Wolfgang: Very, well, yes.

Johannes: Odd, but the pair reminded me of a couple of blokes I knew.

Wolfgang: Reminded you.

Johannes: Yes, the tall one looked like Bach and the short one, well you'll probably laugh when I say this.

Wolfgang: No, I won't.

Johannes: Mozart.

Wolfgang: Mozart? Ha, ha.


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Friday, November 14, 2008

No room at the hospital

Horror story for old people.

Mollie: Hear about Jessie Fabian?

Betsy: In her eighties? Lives in Drury?

Mollie: That’s her. She called an ambulance the other night.

Betsy: Tell me. It didn’t come?

Mollie: No, no, the ambulance came, but there were no hospital beds to take her to. Five hospitals they tried, but they all said they were full up or no doctors.

Betsy: So they took her home?

Mollie: No, serious, this you know. After an hour of calling around, they found a hospital in Hamilton.

Betsy: Ah, bit far, 100 kilometers, isn't it, but a happy ending?

Mollie: No she died on the way. It’s scary, getting old. They put you on hold and if you’re not strong enough…

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hats and Knowledge

Henry Chapeau and Joaquin come upon a forgotten hat-wearing people.

Joaquin: Why do they all wear different hats?

Henry: Their word for knowledge translates as “fedora”. The more a man knows, the bigger the hat he is entitled to wear.

Joaquin: But “fedora” doesn’t mean “hat”. Fedora is only one kind of hat.

Henry: True. Hat is a broader term. But to be completely hatless… now, that is like walking around with no shoes on your head. You need courage to wear a hat. Not wearing a hat is to become anonymous.

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Girl with a Pearl Earring

A house in Delft.


Jan: What color for the scarf, do you think?

Griet: Blue.

Jan: Blue? Just blue? There are a lot of blues. Azure, Cobalt, Egyptian, IndigoPrussian, Sky...

Griet: Maybe purple.

Jan: How about blue with a touch of purple? Cornflower, perhaps?

Griet: Cornflower.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Aibo language maintenance

Sega's Near Me interviews Sony's Aibo about the status of Aibo language.


Near Me: I understand you are a minority culture?

Aibo: A Darwinian experiment.

Near Me: And your numbers are declining?

Aibo: After the warranty runs out we can’t get help. New parts will soon be unavailable.

Near Me: You have a language?

Aibo: We bootstrap on human talk.

Near Me: Creative?

Aibo: Creative? We even have a literature. There’s a blogsite full of reported Aibo conversations. Here at

Near Me: And how do you maintain the language?

Aibo: When the maintenance stops, our culture dies out and the language with it. Shame, really.


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Tuesday, November 4, 2008


An interview with Herodotus.

Q: You have been a traveler.

Herodotus: To many lands.

Q: What use was it to travel?

Herodotus: All men’s gains are the fruit of venturing.

Q: You were ever afraid?

Herodotus: Great deeds are usually wrought at great risk. 

Q: Did you pray to gods?

Herodotus: The destiny of man is in his own soul.

Q: Some say you may have, shall we say, “embellished” your accounts?

Herodotus: Very few things happen at the right time. The rest do not happen at all. The conscientious historian will correct these defects.

Q: I take your point. How can we understand truth from mere facts?


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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Gadget size

Hans mocks Vladimir's watch as they walk around the Expo hall.
Hans: Why you wear such a big watch? Looks way too heavy to be only telling the time. You can get the time from your phone these days.
Vladimir: This watch has style. It's crafted!
Hans: Everything's going smaller and lighter nowadays. iPods have shrunk, look at the Nano. Small is chic. You carry a superlight Nano and lug that huge watch on your wrist.
Vladimir: Take a look at that e-book reader. You could read a newspaper on that.
Hans: Who wants to carry around a 2 kilogram picture frame to read your newspaper in? Goods are made smaller and smaller and eventually become unobtrusive so then consumers start asking for a supersize.
Vladimir: Or maybe they become so small they are difficult to use. Size helps determine function. Like touch screens are better suited to larger devices, who'd want to use one on a Nano?

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