31 January 2013


Here's a beautiful video of the moon rising with people silhouetted against it:

It's a little hard to believe at first, but the video is realtime and the moon really does move that quickly across the sky. It's a little deceiving, though, since the video was shot through a telephoto lens from 2 km out, so you're seeing a smaller portion of the sky than you might at first assume. That's also why the people seem so small against it: the moon is distant and large enough that it's going to appear about the same size no matter where you are on the surface of the Earth, but 2 km is very relevant to objects the size of human beings, so they seem quite small against the moon. Phil Plait explains that and more over at Bad Astronomy.

The music is lovely (I'm a total sucker for a pairing of strings and piano) and of course the view is amazing. There's something enchanting about watching the people mill about on the hill in silhouette; knowing nothing about who they are, but still feeling a bit of a connection because they're so readily recognizable as human. There's a young couple sitting closely side-by-side, children clambering on top of things. And while the people went up to that observation area to enjoy nature just as we are, they have no idea about the stunning image they've become a part of. All in all, it just really makes me smile.

30 January 2013

Swim like an eagle

Human preconceptions of you are irrelevant when there's a tasty hunk of meat to be had.

(via 22 Words)

27 January 2013

The Life of Brian and Closed Systems of Thought

In a recent post on Pharyngula, PZ Myers reminded me of this frustrating but intriguing interview and debate from 1979 that members of Monty Python did about their film Life of Brian, which came out that same year. Two of the Pythons, John Cleese and Michael Palin, discussed the film with journalist Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood, the Bishop of Southwark. The segment in its entirety includes an interview of the Pythons by the host and opening statements from Mr. Muggeridge and the Bishop and can be watched starting with this video (first of four parts, the rest of which you should be able to access through the sidebar on YouTube), and I do recommend it. The videos I'm going to embed below are an alternate copy (the same that PZ used) which skip to meat of the debate.

While Mr. Muggeridge and the Bishop's harangues can be quite tedious to get through at times, the whole thing is interesting because of how well they obliviously make Cleese and Palin's point for them. As Cleese futilely tries to tell them, the point of the movie isn't to ridicule the figure of Christ, it's to ridicule "closed systems of thought." The film is meant to encourage people to think for themselves, to approach matters—including religion—with an open mind and critical thinking. Mr. Muggeridge and the Bishop do an excellent job of showing the pitfalls of such closed systems by clearly having had their opinions of the movie set in stone before they ever saw it and by stubbornly brushing off all of the Pythons' attempts to explain to them how they'd misinterpreted the film.

You can find the second part of the video and the rest of my thoughts below the fold. (By the way, ignore the titles of the embedded videos. :P They were clearly uploaded by another person who isn't keen on listening to what the Pythons were actually saying.)

26 January 2013

Geek vs. Dork vs. Nerd

(Image Source)
I'm the sort of person who happily self-identifies as both a "geek" and a "dork," but as soon as someone tries to call me a "nerd" I'll vehemently deny it. Why?

Because I'm also a pedant, though I've come to realize that my pedantry in this particular area may be a lot more subjective than I used to think. To me, the terms "geek," "dork," and "nerd" have always had distinct meanings and I had assumed that was generally understood. But after years of issuing my prescriptivist rant on the subject to the rolling eyes but blessedly patient ears of my friends and acquaintances, I've noticed that most people seem content to use the terms interchangeably.

Now, if I were a reasonable human being I might admit defeat and drop the subject. But I'm stubborn, so I've stuck to my guns and will continue sticking to them. I think it's much more useful for the terms to have their own distinct definitions than for all of them to be vaguely synonymous—plus the differences among them just seem too self-evident to ignore (even if it turns out that's only a result of my subjective experiences). So I'll keep on making my case to any kind soul patient enough to listen—and now it's your turn, fine folks of the internet.

17 January 2013

The Temper Trap - "Fader"

It took me a while to realize how much I enjoy this song. It doesn't really have anything that reaches out and grabs me and so for a time I'd only half-listen when it played on the radio. But soon I realized that I always found myself feeling like it had ended too soon, that I wanted to listen to it some more. And upon closer listening I found that even though it is perhaps a bit subdued, it's quite enjoyable. Hope you enjoy it, too. :)

16 January 2013

An Ode to Oddness

When I came across this video, it was presented in a way that made it seem like just another video of somebody showing off some dumb thing they'd invented. Because of that I almost passed it by, since the invention itself (a spring-loaded wrist mount for an iPhone) isn't terribly impressive. But I'm thankful to whatever tiny demon of whimsy prodded me to watch it, because while it starts off predictably enough—a diagram of the gadget, a demonstration of its use—it quickly veers off course to become something else entirely. The anticipated explanation of the invention and its creation never comes, and instead the video somehow shifts into a series of awkward and absurd vignettes that are only vaguely centered around the device. I've already yammered on about it too much, so just watch it for yourself:

It's a bit pathetic and borderline creepy at times, but I love pretty much everything about it: the pacing, the shots, the non sequitur acts of weirdness. The uploader on YouTube, morishowta, only has a handful of other videos, and after watching them I get the impression that he's self-aware and that he's being weird and pathetic on purpose. If I were to find out that wasn't the case then that would probably change my opinion of his videos drastically, but as it stands I think they're a queerly beautiful little ode to being an outcast.

Like I said, he only has a few videos so far, and it's well worth it to watch them all. After seeing this one I went to the beginning and watched from there, and in doing so you can see how they start off somewhat normal and then get progressively weirder, which I also think is great. I wish I understood Japanese so I could get the full picture, but I think there's also something to be said for the added sense of foreignness that the language barrier adds to his already-confounding antics. In addition to several iterations of his iPhone-deploying gadget, there are also a couple where he builds grotesque "girlfriends" out of junk, which manage not to come off as creepily as you might assume. :P