Posts Tagged holidailies

Unintentional Haiku from New Scientist on A Better You


It’s been a while since I’ve run an issue of New Scientist through Haiku Detector. Since I’m far behind on holidailies, here are some of the unintentional haiku in their collection issue, A Better You. There were 40 haiku all up, many of which were bylines or captions. Many others were rather underwhelming as haiku, but here are the at-least-passably-whelming ones. First, some about getting smart:

We kick off with the
most important organ in
your body: your brain.

These brain areas
are very active when you
play an instrument.

Then you have to have
the motivation to do
something about it.

Now some about what not to eat:

As a result, health
bodies are gearing up for
a “war on sugar”.

Its conclusion: there
is “no evidence” that food
can be addictive.

Is it simply that
too much sugar equals too
many calories?

Unfortunately,
recent research casts doubt on
their effectiveness.

Headlines have appeared
questioning the benefits
of eating less salt.

The last one on that topic echoes Hank Green’s thoughts on picking the right addiction:

Assuming you will
have some vices, the trick is
to choose them wisely.

Some about growing old gracefully:

Some think the effect
is simply about having
a long way to fall.

What you need is a
bit of excitement along
the way. Take some risks.

What on earth was he
doing differently? What was
cushioning the blow?

Not surprisingly,
one of the most important
is intelligence.

Learning like a child
is easy if you know how,
says David Robson

Whatever you want
to learn, it’s never too late
to charge those grey cells.

He recently took
up Chinese, and has no plans
to stop after that.

Some under the heading ‘Get physical’:

They just haven’t been
very good at telling us
what they’ve discovered.

Could exercise be
a killer lying in wait
for the unwary?

Pain may return on
finishing the exercise,
or the next morning.

So if exercise
is so beneficial, why
won’t people take it?

“I’m sorry,” he says
when I ask about the noise.
“I’m on a treadmill.”

and some recipes for success:

It seems that anger
can make us impetuous,
selfish and risk-prone.

Concentrating in
itself is not enough to
screen out distractions.

Instead of nuking
your friendly bacteria
you should nurture them.

Their wounds were slower
to heal, and they also caught
more throat infections.

One theory is that
CMV plays a key role
in immune ageing.

And good vagal tone
improves emotional and
social well-being.

In conclusion, a haiku from me:

I hope these will lead
if not to better haiku,
to a better you.

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First Footprints: A Story Cube Flash Fiction


Today I visited my friend Grace, who mentioned being scheduled to write for an international writing blog but not having any ideas. I also needed an idea for my holidailies post for the day, so I got out my Story Cubes, she rolled them, and we both wrote a story about the following pictures:

Footprint. Globe. Lightbulb. ID card. Abacus. Flower. Turtle. Cane. Falling star.

Grace posted her story within about half an hour of rolling the cubes. I spent a little more time on mine later in the evening, but not a lot. Here it is:

After the theme parks were set up, they protected my first footprint in a large magnifying cube, so tourists on all sides could look at it in detail. Nothing but the size of the boot marked it as mine; at the time of first landing, the soil and thick atmosphere were known to be toxic to us, so bare feet were not safe.

It’s different now, of course. People live and work here, and it looks for all the world like… all the world. The higher gravity attracts star athletes doing strength training and thrillseekers looking for acceleration. They start out crawling and propping themselves up with sticks, but after a few months they’re walking as normal, and back at home they can almost fly. They win all the sports competitions they can, then as they begin to weaken, they act as superheroes and make enough money to retire. That’s the dream, anyway. The trip back out of the gravity well is much more expensive than the trip in, so many who came hoping for a giant leap out of poverty spend their lives working in the theme parks hoping to earn enough to get home, their spirits crushed as much as their bodies are.

I’m stuck here too now, without valid identity to fly home on. They wanted to make me a hero, but I wanted to make myself one. I wanted to keep doing the science we’d started with that first small step. Wanted to take more samples of the air and soil before they lunaformed it. So I had a scent gland transplant and went incognito, got a job as a field technician. We fought hard to keep one small section of ground near the equator pristine, and even that has a crust from reactions with our safer atmosphere. I captured three canisters of air on the first landing, and I had to steal one of them from my own lab to continue studying it.

The first thing I found was a shape barely recognisable as a fossil. A faint impression of spikes radiating from a point. Months more digging revealed objects so bizarre that we may never be sure what they were.

There is one thing I am sure of: mine were not the first footprints on Earth.

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What’s the difference between couchette cars and sleeping cars?


Today I found out that New Zealand has lie-flat sleeper buses, which I’m going to have to try while I’m here. I can’t sleep on planes, but I can on trains, so buses should be my next experiment.

This news reminded me that I intended to post about the differences between couchette cars (Liegewagen/Voiture-couchettes) and sleeping cars (Schlafwagen/Voiture-lits) on overnight trains in Europe. I searched for information about the difference before I took my first overnight train, and wasn’t too satisfied with the descriptions I found, so I went with the slightly-more-expensive sleeping car to be sure I’d be comfortable.

A couple of months ago, due to lack of available sleeping places, I took a couchette for the first time, from Vienna to Rome, and then took a sleeping place on the way back. I took some notes on the differences. Both trains were catered by newrest, as were other night trains I’d taken around Europe (between Vienna and Zürich or Amsterdam.)

Amenities

There’s not a lot of space in a cabin on an overnight train, so there are many things cleverly tucked away which you might not notice unless someone else in the cabin is more experienced than you. I probably missed a lot of things.

Sleeper

Secret washbasin, usually hidden under part of a table or inside a little cabinet (where there is also a mirror.) Fold-out table, no real seats, but sitting on the bed is comfortable as long as the bunk immediately above is folded away. On the trip from Rome to Vienna there was a little cubbyhole (with a door, but I’m not sure if it locked) for each bed, next to the washing cabinet.

Couchette

Small table, no washbasin, but the seats are normal, comfortable seats until the seat backs are folded away to convert them into beds.

Evening goodies

Sleeper

Thin newrest slippers (which I now have a collection of at home), a facecloth, 3M earplugs, a small container of potable water which I think is intended for tooth brushing. On other routes, there has also been a bottle of drinking water, a bottle of sparkling wine (which I mistook for sparkling water on my first trip, and tried to drink with breakfast), and something small to eat (a small packet of pretzels, or a tube of fruit compote) in the cabin on my arrival. On the trip from Rome to Vienna, the attendant asked if I wanted a fruit salad, and when I said yes, brought it back in a small glass bowl along with a bottle of drinking water, a bottle of sangria, and a packet of party cracker mix. In general there’s some kind of snack and something mildly alcoholic to put you to sleep.

Couchette

A bottle of water.

Sleeping place

Whether couchette or sleeper, the more people can theoretically fit into the cabin you booked, the cheaper it will be. There can be up to three bunks on each side of the cabin, some of which will stay folded away if the cabin is not full. If you’re lucky, you can get a cabin to yourself even if you booked a four- or six-person cabin.

Sleeper

Mattress with sheet on it (already tucked in etc.) duvet and fairly normal-sized pillow. Pretty comfortable to sleep on, though due to the movement and noise of the train I still wake up a few times during the night. On one train to Amsterdam, I barely slept due to the noise; I think I was at the end of a car or of the train, which might make a difference to the noise or movement.

Couchette

Lightly-padded bench-type seats that convert into narrow beds, with a sheet (which you have to unfold and spread out yourself after converting the seat to a bed) a blanket, and tiny pillow just big enough to fit a head on. The benches are soft enough to be comfortable seats, but not really soft enough for sleeping, unless you’re used to sleeping on fairly hard surfaces; I could sleep quite well, but when I woke up during the night I always found parts of my body still asleep. What’s more, couchettes are a bit narrower than beds, so probably wouldn’t be suitable for people who have enough natural padding to make up for this.

Breakfast

In both kinds of accommodation, breakfast is brought to you in the morning, a certain amount of time before the stop you’re getting off at; if you’re sharing a room with someone who’s getting off before you, chances are you’ll wake up when they get their breakfast. If I recall correctly, you can get free refills on the tea and coffee if you can be bothered getting the attendant to come back.

Sleeper

You get a menu to fill out in the evening where you can choose 6 items (more for €1 each) from a list that includes tea, coffee, orange juice (in a carton so you can save it for later if you want), two pieces of bread, yoghurt, and various cold meats, cheeses and spreads. Unfortunately I lost the photo I took of the menu. I usually get a hot drink, bread, yoghurt, and three things to put on the bread. The ‘two pieces of bread’ option is a bit of a mystery bag which sometimes gets you slices of bread and sometimes rolls; I recall getting a croissant on one train, but I can’t remember whether that was a separate option.

Couchette

White rolls with butter and jam, and a choice of tea or coffee.

Overall, the couchette car is just comfortable enough (it’s not going to be your best night’s sleep in any case, but it’ll do, if you’re the kind of person who can sleep on trains) and you wouldn’t notice anything wrong with it if you’d never tried a sleeper car. The sleeper car has a lot of nice luxurious touches, though, and I will continue to use them when I can.

If you have other experiences with couchettes or sleeper cars in Europe or elsewhere, please share them in the comments so we can compare.

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Perhaps I will not post something interesting every day for the rest of the month, but I should at least try.


Today I watched this video from the Virtual Linguistics Campus:

After that, I intended to analyse some sentences myself, but I got sidetracked thinking of simple ways to make diagrams like the ones in the video. It looks like there are apps and LaTeX packages to do something like it, but just for fun, I modified the AppleScript I wrote for diagramming monduckens to turn text like this:

Clause(Adverb(Perhaps) NP(Noun(you)) VP(Auxiliary(will) Adverb(never) Verb(find) NP(Determiner(a) Noun(job)) PP(Preposition(as) NP(Determiner(a) Noun(linguist))))) Clause(Conjunction(but) Noun(you) VP(Auxiliary(should) Adverbial(at least) Verb(try)))

into a tree like this in OmniGraffle:

TreeDiagram

Note that I am not sure if this is strictly correct (I think the adverbial ‘at least’ could have been broken into words, and the conjunction perhaps shouldn’t have been included in the second clause) but it’s how it is in the video. Redone with only rectangles (which is an option when running the script) and using the exact same Tree nester script the monducken diagrams did, this can then be turned into a rather oversized and misaligned version of the sentence with rectangles around the constituents:

Perhaps your sentence will never be a credible turducken, but you could at least try.

I didn’t have a lot of time, so it’s pretty crude as yet, but it would be fairly simple to adjust the settings of the shapes to be more like what’s in the video. I’m posting it now in order to continue with Holidailies.

While we’re on the subject of grammar, The Doubleclicks have just covered a Tom Lehrer song about adverbs. I get this song in my head every single time I answer a ‘how’ question with an L-Y adverb, so I am very happy about the cover.

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Reviews of a Mid-air Movie Marathon


Technology is great. For instance, did you know that you can get to New Zealand from Europe simply by sitting in three different chairs in the sky and watching about seven movies while people bring you a succession of breakfasts and dinners in no discernible order? It doesn’t even cost any more money if you book it the day before instead of several months in advance, although it can be quite disruptive to daily blogging projects, and pretty much everything else. I know because I did it a week or so ago. In an attempt to get back on the Holidailies bandwagon, I’m going to review the movies I watched. I’ve never reviewed movies before, and I’ve also never properly slept on a plane before, so chances are these are poorly-written reviews of movies interspersed with the daydreams of a sleep-deprived mind.

First off, I can’t remember any scenes which would cause any of these movies (except perhaps the last one) to pass the Bechdel test, but I was awake for more than 48 hours that day, and I wasn’t specifically looking for such scenes, so I don’t trust my memory. I am pretty sure that they all had mostly male protagonists, so such scenes were not the norm. That means that even if they passed (and at least one apparently did), they didn’t do it with flying colours, even if I was flying at the time and they were in colour.

I’ve put the movie descriptions from the in-flight entertainment system at the start of each review. The order of the reviews is only approximately the order I saw the movies in.

Boyhood

Filmed over 12 years with the same cast, this film is a groundbreaking story of growing up as seen through the eyes of a child named Mason, who literally grows up on screen. Snapshots of adolescence from road trips and family dinners to birthdays and graduations, and all the moments in between, chart the rocky terrain of childhood like no other film ever has before.

I was going to start with Winter Soldier, but the premise of this seemed interesting, so I played it on impulse. I wasn’t sure whether it was going to be a documentary or a movie. It was a movie. With all the effort and risk involved in filming the same cast over twelve years, it’s a shame they didn’t really come up with a plot for it. There were entertaining slices of life, though.

The film jumped from one year to the next without any clear indication that time was being skipped, so sometimes (especially during the parts where there were four children instead of two) it was difficult to tell when there were new characters and when they were just the old characters a bit older with different haircuts. Keeping the same actors is a great idea in theory, because it should be easier to recognise the character as a year-older version of the same actor than a completely different actor, but they still changed a lot. It could be that they deliberately changed the haircuts and hair colours of the actors in order to make it more obvious that they’d skipped some time, but I’d have been happier if they’d just put a date or ‘six months later’ title on the bottom of the screen.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Marvel’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” finds Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, living quietly in Washington, D.C. But when a S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague comes under attack, Steve joins forces with Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, and a new ally, the Falcon, to battle a powerful yet shadowy enemy – the Winter Soldier.

Planes are a good way to catch up on all the movies the whole internet seems to be talking about which you somehow didn’t hear about or get around to seeing until it was too late. There were surprisingly few of them on offer (the internet talked so loudly about Guardians of the Galaxy that I saw it in the theatre soon after its release) but with this one I finally found out why the internet has been saying ‘hail hydra’ so much lately. My first flight was less than six hours, so I actually had to watch the end of this on my second flight. I’m more used to having two twelve-hour flights and a one-hour flight, so this was a bit of a jarring intermission. They didn’t even serve overpriced popcorn in Dubai airport. Anyway, it was a good superhero movie, with no gratuitous love interest that I can remember, but still a plot point borrowed from Romeo and Juliet.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

With his 100th birthday approaching, Alan Karlsson has led a long and eventful life. Despite his age, Alan has grown restless and while still in good shape, decides to flee his boring everyday life.

I pressed play on this one as soon as I saw it in the list. I read the book several years ago on the advice of a friend, and was excited to see the movie, even though it’s in Swedish and at that point in the flights I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep my eyes open to read the subtitles. I managed it well enough. The movie is good fun, although it necessarily misses some of the details and subplots of the book, because that’s what movies do. If you liked Forrest Gump, you’d probably like this; the guy’s life is a similarly unbelievable string of events. He reminds me of me. He also reminds me of Werner von Braun.

I Origins

While studying the evolution of the eye, molecular biologist Dr. Ian Gray and his lab partner, Karen, make a stunning scientific discovery that has far reaching implications and causes them to question their once-certain scientific and spiritual beliefs. Risking everything he’s ever known, Gray travels halfway around the world to validate his theory.

A more accurate description would be, ‘While studying the evolution of the eye, Dr. Ian Gray, with the help of his student slave who turns out to be competent, useful, and maybe even listed as a co-author, Karen, makes all the scientific discoveries he hoped to make. Later, he discovers that somebody else seems to be testing an unstated hypothesis that might cause them to question their spiritual beliefs. Risking a disappointing mid-air movie marathon, he flies halfway around the world to perform a single uncontrolled experiment to test what he hypothesises that hypothesis might be, with inconclusive results.’ I was disappointed, but I was still entertained enough for the amount of concentration I still had.

The Giver

In the year 2048, Jonas lives in a seemingly ideal world of conformity and contentment. Yet, as he begins to spend time with The Giver, the sole keeper of all of his community’s memories, Jonas begins to discover the dark and deadly truths of his community’s secret past, and realises that to protect the ones he loves, he must achieve the impossible and escape their world.

Just another dystopian utopia. A bit like Pleasantville, with a mandatory daily dose of I Feel Fantastic. The final quest reminded me a bit of Milo smuggling a sound out of the Soundkeeper’s place in The Phantom Tollbooth. The title caused unpleasant goatse flashbacks.

Edge of Tomorrow

As Earth faces an relentless assault from an alien race, Major William Cage is unceremoniously dropped into what amounts to a suicide mission. Killed within minutes, Cage finds himself inexplicably thrown into a time loop, forcing him to live out the same brutal combat over and over. But with each battle, Cage gets more skillful and, alongside fellow soldier Rita Vrataski, closer and closer to defeating the enemy.

It’s like Groundhog Day, but the groundhogs are aliens casting their shadow over everything to forecast six more weeks of human life or an early extinction. In the very last scene, I thought to myself, ‘Hey, that guy looks kind of like Tom Cruise.’ Then the credits rolled and it turned out to be Tom Cruise. I’m quite proud of myself because I don’t usually recognise actors, and Tom Cruise is especially nondescript.

Predestination

(No description, since this was on a code-shared Qantas flight, and they don’t put the descriptions from their comparatively-terrible in-flight entertainment system online)

After watching this, I vaguely remembered a co-worker telling me about such a movie several years ago. It sounded really interesting and I wanted to see it. That’s weird because this movie only came out this year. Perhaps my co-worker is actually a future version of myself who travelled back in time to mess with my head. Or perhaps he was telling me about the Robert A. Heinlein short story —All You Zombies— that the movie is based on. Anyway, I really enjoyed this film, and watched the beginning of it again during the last half-hour or so of my last flight. I think the Bechdel test needs a fair bit of clarification before I can say whether this movie passes.

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