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Notes from the Ivory Tower
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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Kenny's LiveJournal:

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Tuesday, August 16th, 2011
9:56 pm
Reports from the Front
Why, hello August! Baby, you are looking *fine* today...


Someone at work today asked me if I knew about the Encyclopedia Brown series of books. I immediately responded, "*Know* them? I've *got* them!"

I further thought to myself, "I certainly ought to have heard about them; I spent half my childhood trying to emulate them." Not so much the solving-mysteries-before-dessert part, but rather the being-a-walking-dictionary part.

And then along came the internet and Wikipedia, and made all such aspirations as obsolete as typewriter repairman, slave trader, and dodo wrangler. Ah, well.

(Here I thought "dodo wrangler" would actually be a new phrase, but Google says otherwise. Something something nothing new under the sun something something...)


I've been watching old shows on MeTV lately, and you know what? I never really realized before how funny Hogan's Heroes is...and how odd a show it is.

Don't get me wrong--it's not earthshatteringly, groundbreakingly funny, either by modern standards or even by those at the time, I'd suspect. The plots are about as formulaic as the subject matter will admit, [sarcasm] not at *all* like the *superb* entertainment of today, [/sarcasm] but the writing is still pretty tight, and the timing of the actors is excellent--so excellent that I find myself laughing at a joke I should have seen coming a mile away, but didn't.

And yet, how in blue blazes did this show ever make it on the air? A prisoner-of-war camp in World War II, with bumbling, lovable Nazis? Klink's office has a picture of Hitler on the wall, without any graffiti or darts in it or anything. I wonder if it's ever been allowed to air in Germany, what with the truth-in-Nazism laws they have there.


1911 was a hundred years ago. In 1911, there was still a Russian empire, William Howard Taft was president, and the U.S. had forty-six states.


I haven't yet decided what I want to be when I grow up. I'm thirty years old. Is this a problem?

We now return you to your regularly scheduled program...or whatever crap the network was running when we interrupted. See you around, gang!
Tuesday, July 12th, 2011
10:29 pm
Poetry Corner
Couldn't come up with anything interesting to write about, but I didn't want to walk away *yet again*, so I made something up. Hope you enjoy it.

How Lonely A Button

Here I am at the Lost and Found
Someone needs to claim me
Must've been dropped, no one around
Can't anybody name me?

Gentlemen, turn out your pockets
Ladies, check your purses
We hope to have this mystery solved
Within the next few verses

I'm sitting on the counter
Near an old, forgotten crutch
And jellybeans and magazines
And this and that and such

I've got no tag, return address
Or note tied on my belt
I only hope my absence now
Is somewhere keenly felt

And that the one I love will soon
Come running down the corridor
And pick me up, and take me to
The place that we were heading for

Until this happens, though, I guess
I must stay here and wait
I've run aground at the Lost and Found
My future's up to Fate.

Current Mood: tired
Sunday, June 19th, 2011
7:56 pm
Test Pattern
"O! Where are you going
With beards all a-wagging?
No knowing, no knowing
What brings Mister Baggins,
And Balin and Dwalin
down into the valley
in June
ha ha!"

Current Mood: hopeful
Saturday, April 23rd, 2011
9:02 pm
Today was my last day on earth... [dramatic pause]

...As a twentysomething.

Farewell, twentysomethinghooddomnessment!

Current Mood: thoughtful
Saturday, March 19th, 2011
10:49 pm
A High-Minded Literary Discussion
What? Have you got a problem with the title of this post? Whatchagonnadoaboutit, huh?


Normally I have to work on Saturday mornings, but circumstances conspired to give me today off. So, my sister and I went hunting for used books. First, we went to Plano (a town rather east of here), since the Plano library was having a used book sale. On the way back, we also stopped off at a used bookshop in Sandwich (a town not-quite-so-rather-east of here as Plano). Between them, I managed to buy eighteen books for under fourteen dollars, so I think I made out pretty well.

Here is a list of the books I got, arranged pretty much by size, as it's the order in which they were recently stacked:

1. I Kid You Not - Jack Paar
2. MAD's Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions - Al Jaffee
3. Anne of Green Gables - L. M. Montgomery
4. The Dialogues of Plato - (various translators)
5. Help! I'm a Prisoner in a Chinese Bakery - Alan King
6. The Mayor of Casterbridge - Thomas Hardy
7. Dolphin Island - Arthur C. Clarke
8. The Castle of Llyr - Lloyd Alexander
9. The Book of Three - Lloyd Alexander
10. Physics of the Impossible - Michio Kaku
11. The Trumpet of the Swan - E. B. White
12. All About Ham Radio - Harry Helms
13. An Almanac of Liberty - William O. Douglas
14. The Constitution: That Delicate Balance - Fred W. Friendly and Martha J. H. Elliott
15. Exploring the Great Rivers of North America - (National Geographic)
16. The Arbor House Treasury of Modern Science Fiction - eds. Robert Silverberg and Martin H. Greenberg
17. Dilbert: Thriving on Vague Objectives - Scott Adams
18. Cultures of the World: Scotland - Patricia Levy

Any themes here? (Other than that I refuse to grow up, pretty much for the same reason as why I didn't often act like a kid when I was one. ...Apologies if that last attempt at a sentence was mangled beyond recognition.)


I was working through my copy of Emerson's writings, but I arrested my progress in that for a while. I had just finished his essay "Prudence," which I thought was uncommonly insightful, and so before moving on, I decided I wanted to go back and reread it, and take notes on some of the more interesting passages. So I set it down until I had the time to do so. That was about a month ago, now. Never put off until tomorrow...

It's a shame, too, especially given the news that a previously-undiscovered work by Emerson has just been found and is about to be published. Have you heard about this? Apparently, a few years after Thoreau published Walden, Emerson was also inspired to try his hand at life in the woods. He set out for Nutting Lake, a bit east of Concord, Massachusetts, and wrote about his experiences living in a cabin near its shores. Every once in a while, to keep up his sociable nature, he would head to the nearby town for company. He befriended a few street magicians there, who fascinated him with their showmanship and ability to entertain a crowd, so much so that Emerson began practicing some basic tricks and sleight-of-hand himself. He actually got pretty good at it, too. He ended up including a large part of his town life in his writings.

The working title of the book is rumored to be Emerson: Lake and Palmer.


I also started rereading the Harry Potter books a few weeks back. I think I've only read the whole series through once or twice, so it was my intention to read slowly and thoroughly; now that I know the grand scheme, I want to get a better appreciation of the finer details. But Rowling's writing is so engaging that I find it hard to slow down sometimes. I was reading Goblet of Fire last week, I think, and I got to the part where the champions are in the tent just before the first task, and then Harry is alone in the tent, waiting for his turn, and suddenly I had to stop reading. My heart was racing. I had to close my eyes, take a deep breath, and remind myself that it wasn't *me* about to face the dragon.

Of course, Goblet of Fire is the first book in the series where I usually start crying at some point before the end, and the series only intensifies in that respect from here on out. I finished it last week, then gave myself some time off before tackling Order of the Phoenix, but I've basically been dragging my feet the last few days and need to get back on the job.

But a few more interpolations couldn't hurt...

Current Mood: tired
Tuesday, February 1st, 2011
2:12 pm
Holed Up
If you are reading this from anywhere in the Midwest, I *do* hope you're indoors right now. There's a blizzard a-coming!!! (We're supposed to get as many as 18 inches altogether, which kinda makes it sound like Long Dong Silver is coming to town.)

My sister and I just got back from a last-dash trip to the grocery store, to get the last provisions we needed to wait out the storm. Here's the scorecard:

Items Obtained: 9
Times Stuck: 0
Times Almost Stuck: 1
Snowbanks Hit: 0
Snowbanks Almost Hit: 1
Trees Hit: 0
Trees Almost Hit: 1

I already took my walk today, so at least that's out of the way. The first three laps were OK, just blowing snow, and good visibility. I think it started snowing a bit on the fourth lap, but I still stuck it out.

Work called and canceled today, and probably tomorrow too. I'll try to think of productive things to do with my time...

[time passes]

Nope, couldn't think of anything. Guess it's time for a Futurama marathon!

Stay warm, everybody!

Current Mood: chipper
Friday, December 31st, 2010
1:16 pm
Reports from the Front
Hello again, friends, faithful readers, and curious onlookers! This is your old pal Ignatius Q. Waxwater, with another installment of Uncle Iggy's Patented Post-Postmodern Neo-Urban Slightly Skewed Bedtime Stories.

Since I will very soon become the old man I have always felt myself to be, let me begin my monologue with the perennial opening of old men everywhere...

It has been very foggy here the past three nights, which has made driving home from work quite the adventure. The fog was of a weird variety, too: *very* thick patches on the ground, but the view to the stars overhead was clear as a bell.

Speaking of which, it seems I can no longer say the word "Fog" to myself anymore without automatically following it with "on the Barrow-Downs." Some people find it appropriate to quote from the Bible, or Shakespeare; I, on the other hand, find it difficult to get through life without quoting from either The Lord of the Rings or Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. You would be surprised how often it comes up.

Which further reminds me--I don't think I actually *read* The Lord of the Rings *once* this year! *Or* Harry Potter! And there probably isn't enough time left to try. Shame on me. My excuse is that I was trying to read new things this year, which I did do somewhat, but still I suppose life isn't worth living if you don't schedule some time for the classics. Usually I get the itch to read Tolkien in the spring (which makes no sense, as the story begins in the fall, but that's just the way it seems to work), so we'll see what happens come March or so.

I bought myself a new notebook computer for Christmas. My previous laptop is now six years old, which ranks it somewhere in the Ordovician Period, as it currently resembles a trilobite. I mean, it still works, but it's slow, prone to screen blackouts, and doesn't have a dedicated graphics card, so Bingo, Tic-Tac-Toe, and Mother-May-I are about the only games it can run. So I figured it was time for something new. I'm writing this post on the new lappy right now, as a matter of fact, and things are just peachy.

A new year approaches. What will 2011 be like? I think it will be a prime year for science, a prime year for arts and letters, a prime year for sport, a prime year for crappy midseason replacement shows--basically, it should be a prime year all-around.

(Pretty lame math joke, even for me, eh? Next year will be better, I promise.)

Some people will celebrate the change-of-year formula with large gatherings in Times Square or Grant Park; others will celebrate in smaller parties with good music, a lot of booze, and hopefully enough fun to outweigh the hangover tomorrow. As for me, I'll mark the switch the best way I know how--with the Marx Brothers movie marathon on Turner Classic Movies.

"Here's to the new year. May she be a damn sight better than the old one, and may we all be home before she's over."

Happy New Year!

Current Mood: hungry
Thursday, September 30th, 2010
1:21 am
Whither September?
I seem to have misplaced one month. I am offering a reward of two jokes for anyone who can provide any information as to its whereabouts. As a show of good faith, here's the first one:

Q: What is the plot of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?



This is just another quickie post. I'm writing for two reasons:

1) To motivate myself to write a few more substantial posts in the next week or so; and
2) To showcase a few more one-line thoughts of mine.

For example:

*Someone should write a story about an alcoholic priest set during Prohibition.
*I don't use ball-point pens nearly as much as I used to. I miss the experience a little.
*How quickly should one read a book of poetry?

Um, that's all I can think of right now. Stay tuned for further developments.

Current Mood: sleepy
Friday, August 27th, 2010
11:04 pm
I often fall in love with ideas.

Today I was doing some yard work and started singing the praises of wheelbarrows. These devices are thousands of years old, dating back to ancient Greece, according to Wikipedia. In all that time, the basic design has remained the same, although improvements have been made in terms of lighter and stronger components. You can pile a heavy load of dang near anything in one, and transport the material wherever it needs to go. You can move crops from a farm, rocks from a quarry, firewood from a forest, sand from a beach, ice blocks from a frozen lake, books from a library, drunken delegates from a political convention...and the list goes on and on. Such a versatile invention!

The other day I became enamored of the concept of revising. You write draft after draft after draft dafter raft drafter aft rafter daft of a story, determined not to stop until every thought is *just* as you want it to be, and each and every word on the page has a *purpose*, a reason for being there. There's something about the whole process that seems very romantic to me, and even a bit mystical. ...Of course, the reality of the thing is quite different, at least for me; when put to it, I believe I've run screaming from every second draft of anything I've ever tried to write (and half of the first drafts, too, for that matter).

Earlier this summer (I think it was around mid-June) I fell in love with the idea of a bowl of cornflakes. A simple meal, that: no ostentation, but nourishment and quiet dignity.

I have loved Forever stamps for a while now. What a brilliant idea from the U.S. Postal Service! You can buy a stamp, hang onto it for *eons*, and (assuming the government hasn't collapsed by then) you can use it to mail a letter without needing *any* additional postage! Every time I go to get a book of stamps, I am always amazed that they haven't run out yet. If I had the money, I'd be hoarding and speculating on these babies like nobody's business. It would have been nice if this innovation had spurred on a revival of the fine art of letter-writing, but I suppose that's a post for another day.

In conclusion, I am a crazy person.

Current Mood: tired
Friday, August 20th, 2010
9:22 pm
1. I'm currently watching The Waterboy on FX.

This movie is one of the best to come out of the 1990's. Hands. Down. The whole cast, the whole plot...whenever I watch it, I'm giggling my butt off from beginning to end.

Plus, it's one of the few films with Rob Schneider that *doesn't* totally blow goats.

"Thank you, Adam Sandler, for making us laugh about love...again."

2. *Somebody* needs to write a Mythbusters-themed physics textbook for high school and college use. Shouldn't this be obvious by now? We can't *try* the experiments at home, of course, but we can damn sure make calculations with the quantities involved!

3. We're having elections here in Illinois in a few months. The governor's race has a Republican named Brady running against Quinn, the incumbent Democrat. A mad scramble for endorsements is already underway. No, not from Joe Biden or Michael Steele or Oprah. One man and one man alone has the power to decide this contest with a word.

And that man is...

Brady Quinn.

...Well, seems like the logical person to me, anyway.

Current Mood: giggly
Monday, August 16th, 2010
2:18 pm
A Change of Pace
Greetings to you all, from the dog days of August.

I think I may need to alter the structure of my postings here for a while. While I really enjoy writing things up in a sort of narrative essay format, I've been beset with creative obstacles over the past few months. For example, lately I've been feeling that I *should* write about such-and-such topic, instead of feeling that I *want* to. That can't be good. Also, there are the myriad niggling development problems of the lightning bug v. lightning variety that constantly impede my progress.

So, for the present, I think I'll just stick with the short of it, until such time as I get a good idea for how to go after the long of it again.

Other than that, this past month has been somewhat productive for me:
*I read Sense and Sensibility for the first time, and thoroughly enjoyed it. (Oh, Willoughby, you cad!)
*Thanks to obsessive quizzing over at the Sporcle website, I've now memorized the periodic table of elements in order, and am working on learning the names of as many Supreme Court justices as I can.
*My mathematician's unsolved-Rubik's-cube (rough equivalent of writer's block) has finally been overcome; last Thursday, I went to the library and solved three problems in algebra that had been eluding analysis for...well, months. I can finally start the section on group homomorphisms I've been anticipating.
*After a hiatus, my work in the dictionary has resumed; I'm up to "agaric" (which, despite appearances to the contrary, is actually a noun).

Hopefully, bad jokes will still be an integral part of the blog. Wait...wait...incoming transmission:

Q: How do you make a Romulan ale?

A: Grab him by the ears and throw him out the airlock.

Yep--I still got it!!

Current Mood: happy
Friday, July 2nd, 2010
10:45 pm
No Report
Boy, it's been a while since I've said that. Ah, memories...

Anyway, I promised myself that I would post something tonight, even if I had to make something up. Let's see...um...uh...

Oh, here's one! (Try reading it in a 1930's radio announcer's fast-talking, somewhat high-pitched voice for the right effect.)

"Police are still on the lookout for wanted criminal number 6 and 7/8ths Finnigan 'Tapper' McGee, whose recent reported whereabouts include the Poconos, East Chicago, and the Omaha highlands. The mastermind of several bank heists, courthouse bombings, and the odd international incident, McGee is notorious for always wearing a pair of tap shoes while he commits his crimes.

"Chief of Police Martin M. 'Marty' Martin had this to say: 'I look forward to the day I'm able to stand toe-to-toe with that heel. I'll tear his tongue out! No fancy footwork will be able to save him this time; we've got every gumshoe and flatfoot in the state hunting him down.'

"When asked to comment about why McGee is still at large, the chief tried tap-dancing around the issue, and was immediately arrested for suspicion of being an accomplice."

I've heard Tapper's hideout is in the foothills, myself...


So, what have I been up to? Primarily, I've been trying to think of ways of reporting my rather boring life that don't make it sound so...boring.

Mission emphatically unaccomplished on that score.

Lately, I've had quite a few urges to experience the following marathon-type events:

*Read all of Shakespeare's plays. (What *is* "Coriolanus" about, anyway?)
*Read all of the Sherlock Holmes stories. (I did this many years ago as a young lad, but I would like to refresh my memory.)
*Read every book in my house that I haven't read yet. (I'd only have to block out about twenty years or so for that... I *am* actually making some progress on this, though.)
*Watch every single Disney canon animated film, in order. (This might be tough to pull off; where can I find a copy of "Saludos Amigos"?)
*Watch every single episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation", in order. (Nerd/geek/dork that I am, can you believe I haven't seen them *all* yet?!)

I'd like to try a few of these this summer, and maybe a few more besides. The only person standing in my way is I, myself. (Wait--is that *two* guys?)

Incidentally, how does everyone like this new style of having a running commentary on my own posts? (I think it sucks out loud, myself.) (Quiet, you!)

Yeah, I think I'd better just drop that for now.


Speaking of "Star Trek: The Next Generation", BBC America has taken to showing episodes in the evenings now. Dunno how they got the rights to it, but it's been fun to watch whenever I can remember that it's on. The other day I saw an episode called "The Wounded" that I had never seen before. It was largely a Chief O'Brien episode with Cardassians and the guy who played the warden in "The Shawshank Redemption". Said guy plays a renegade captain out for blood against the Cardassians, and who just so happens to be O'Brien's former CO. I liked it, particularly toward the end where O'Brien and the other guy sing a song together. The tune is a really old, familiar one, but I hadn't known there were actual words to it.

Seeing this episode somewhat inspired the fifth item in the above list.


Has anyone heard of the 10,000 hours rule? The rule that says that all you really need to do to be really great at something is to spend 10,000 hours practicing it?

I'm trying to choose a few things on which to spend 10,000 hours apiece. I'm leaning toward the following list: learning a foreign language, playing club-level chess, and playing the piano really well. (I'm already halfway there on that last one; I play the piano really badly. Maybe I'd only need 5,000 hours for that.)

Of course, I'd really love to learn how to do everything, but somehow I don't think the mechanical immortality machines are going to be on the market soon enough to allow that possibility.


Penultimate note:

PSA - If you value your free time, do *NOT* visit this website: www.sporcle.com

It is more addictive to a trivia geek than cocaine and Wikipedia combined. I've been spending far more time on it than I should have been the past month or so. Today I sat down with my sister, who discovered it last week, and correctly typed out all the U.S. vice presidents, in order, and finished with two and a half minutes to spare. She remains convinced that I need to be institutionalized for my own safety, and that of the general public.


One final thought:

The word "uncopyrightable" is uncopyrightable. It is also one of the longest words in English to have no repeated letters.

Now you know--and knowing is half the battle!

Current Mood: uncopyrightable
Sunday, May 9th, 2010
10:53 pm
Whistling in the Dark
Night is the time for introspection.

At least, it appears that way to me. I think there is a very obvious reason for this.

During the daytime, one devotes oneself wholly and entirely to the problems of the moment, and, if any resources are left over, to semi-structured planning for the not-too-distant future. Tedious details which nevertheless must be dealt with--the scraping, hustling, hoeing and juggling that life makes necessary and capitalism highlights. All of this dictated by a blazing frenzy, a hydrogen dynamo that preaches its religion and exhorts us all to make hay while the sun shines.

In short, there ain't no dad-blasted time for that long-head stuff.

Night is much better suited for contemplative temperaments.

Only at night do the stars, soft pinpoints, grace us with their presence, putting on a show they have done many millions of times before, a slow, steady, patient steering across the sky. It is dark; it is quiet. A window has been opened, a window that looks out onto infinity, a window that only works when there is no light to see by.

Cut off from the world, from others, from time itself (for a little while)--one finds oneself alone with one's thoughts. Since there is nothing better to do, one engages them.


I have been doing a lot of night-thinking of late. Not sure if it's done me any good, but I suppose that isn't really the point.

I tend to ask myself lots of questions:

Am I happy here?

Why don't I know everything I want to know yet?

When am I finally going to fly the coop and see the Wide World out there, the world I've pretty much only read about so far?

How much time do I have left?

Did it have to be this way?

What would it feel like to not be afraid?

What would happen if I gave it a shot?

No real answers to many of these, of course. That's all right; answers are a by-product of the morning anyway. I like asking questions. I like ruminating.

And so I require a little night every now and then.

Current Mood: curious
Saturday, April 3rd, 2010
10:28 pm
Ceiling Unlimited
Is it possible to get drunk on sunshine? (I'll avoid making the obvious joke.)

How to describe today. Let's see...

Color. Lots of color. Bright colors, in basic, primary tones. Everything today was colored as it might be in a first-grader's drawing: green grass, blue sky, white clouds, red barns, dark brown soil, silver streams.

Mild, affable weather. Rain in the morning, almost like a baptism, an ablutionary prayer to start off the day. Then, sunshine by the bushel, the barrel, the metric ton, and a breeze that was confident in itself, without putting on airs. The windmills off in the distance were spinning contentedly, making the scene even more picturesque--sort of a modern Holland sans the tulips.

It was the sort of weather that, if you are walking, makes you want to walk for twenty miles, down the lane, across the fields, over the rickety bridge, into the woods, and up onto the top of that hill off in the distance. If you are driving, it compels you to roll down the windows and drive until you hit an ocean.

Today, in April of Two Thousand Ten of the Common Era, Spring arrived in the Illinois countryside.


This old world has a lot wrong with it. A lot of callousness, wrongheadedness, blindness, pettiness, and just plain rottenness to it.

Somehow, though, I can't help but feel positive on a day like today. My heart is eased; my cares and worries fall away; I have vigor of body, clarity of mind, and serenity of soul. If the universe is able to be so munificent to us, maybe there's hope for us bipeds yet.

Don't let the priests and traders fool you. Truly, happiness is where you find it - and there is no end of places to look.

Current Mood: peaceful
Saturday, March 27th, 2010
10:17 pm
Vasily Smyslov, 1921-2010
I learned this afternoon (via Wikipedia, of course) that former World Chess Champion Vasily Smyslov died today at the age of 89. I don't really know too much about the man, but I thought I would pay my respects here with a few remarks.

I don't really have too many hobbies, let alone passions. I think a fairer term for my leisure activities might be "putterings." One of those putterings, however, has been chess. I've never really been in a position to play competitively, on a team or otherwise, but I used to play during lunch/band in high school with one of my friends.

I enjoy the game, even though I take *forever* in making my moves. (Story of my life...) I don't play much anymore, though. I don't like playing over the computer, and it's difficult to find someone who is at the right level for me; I don't want it to be lopsided either way, so I need someone just high enough above me that I can get the most out of my losses. (To say nothing of the fact that playing someone now would require me to, you know, go out and *talk* to people.) I still like reading about the game, trying to solve three-movers, playing through games by the old masters, and keeping current with the chess world.

The past twenty years have been rather turbulent in top-level chess. Due to various disagreements about how to adjudicate matters, for a while there were effectively two World Champions. Only in the past few years has the title been unified and undisputed again.

Vasily Smyslov came from an era in chess where such a schism would have been unthinkable. Mainly because, during 1957-1958 when he was world champion, the Soviets *ruled* chess. The Soviet Union had entire school systems set up which were devoted to the teaching of chess and the making of masters, in order to have ready a continuous supply of contenders for the title. Chess was maybe the Russians' best front in the larger ideology war against what they perceived as the complacency of democracy and the arrogance of capitalism. This was the year of Sputnik, remember; just months after Premier Khrushchev famously said "We will bury you!" with regard to the West. (At least, that's how Western papers translated what he said, and how it stuck.) It was getting to the point that Western chess players couldn't even make the semifinals - the plan was to have Soviets playing Soviets so that no matter what, the title would stay in Soviet hands.

None of which is intended to mean that Smyslov wasn't any good; to the contrary. Although he was only World Champion for one year (winning the title from, and then losing it back to, Mikhail Botvinnik), he was a Candidate for the Championship eight times, and holds the all-time record for Chess Olympiad medals with 17. (Again, details via Wikipedia.) He was also a talented singer, who said "I have always lived between chess and music." He was getting pretty blind in his old age, and didn't play competitively in his final years, but stayed interested in writing about the game. Overall, he seems to have been a pretty good guy.

Like Herbert Hoover, he "outlived the bastards"; that is, he lived longer than four World Champions who followed him: Botvinnik (died 1995), Mikhail Tal (died 1992), Tigran Petrosian (died 1984), and Bobby Fischer (died 2008).

Vasily Smyslov was one of the last of a vanishing breed, a holdover from a different time. A time when the United States and the Soviet Union were madly rushing to *build up* their respective nuclear stockpiles, not reduce them. I think we're all the better for the changes in the world since then; as for the changes in chess...who can say?

Farewell, comrade Smyslov. You will be missed.

Current Mood: contemplative
Saturday, March 6th, 2010
10:10 pm
*This* Is Why I Don't Like Horror Movies...
(I am going to try and resist the urge to do a hodgepodge post today, and see if I can keep it focused on one topic. Here goes.)

My current work schedule has me working Saturday mornings, so I had to get up early today. I actually woke up twenty minutes before my alarm went off, which, while not unprecedented, is nevertheless unusual.

Technically, "I was awakened" would be more correct.

By a nightmare.









There was not much to this particular dream, other than the climax, which had me swordfighting an invisible ghost. Not really sure what led up to this. Not saying he started it; not saying I started it. Suffice it to say that words were exchanged, and matters escalated from there.

Now, fighting a sword-wielding ghost (an *invisible* one, no less!) evidently isn't as difficult as one would think, at least in dreamspace. I was actually holding my own for a while, and I could swear I had him on the ropes at one point. (Or whatever the fencing equivalent of "on the ropes" might be...)

I'm pretty sure he cheated. Of course, this raises many questions:

What, exactly, were the rules of this scrap?
How, exactly, does a ghost cheat in a swordfight?
Why, exactly, am I so sure that he cheated, and that I didn't just suck out loud at fencing?
When, exactly, am I going to stop phrasing questions in this ridiculously bombastic manner?

To make a long story short ("too late"), he finally managed to cleave me in twain, from crown to...well, all the way through. I was truly and properly bisected. (How's that for a new angle?) (How's that for a cute pun?) That's when I woke up.

Happily, I wasn't too frightened by this nightmare, just somewhat shocked and a little sweaty. I've had nightmares where I've been so terrified that I was desperately trying to scream, and yet almost no sound came out. So this one was not bad as nightmares go. Plus I got an entertaining story out of it. Well, entertaining to me, anyway.

So then, what *does* count as a scary nightmare for me? While I'm at it, let me open the floor on this question to anyone who would like to answer: what is the scariest nightmare you personally remember having?

For me, I guess it would have to be a tie between the one where my parents were murdered by an international crime syndicate and I was on the run for months, and the one where Scrooge McDuck basically got involved in nuclear Armageddon with a rogue worm in his garden. (That last one doesn't sound like much, I know, but at the time it scared the holy hell out of me.)

Pleasant dreams. (Or not, if that's your thing; I'm easy.)

Current Mood: cheerful
Monday, March 1st, 2010
12:38 am
"I'll Take 'Potpourri' For $200, Alex..."
This will be either my last post of February or my first post of March, depending on how long it takes me to write it up. (Bets on the latter are probably the smart money.)


I don't know why, but I really like the number 2010 as a year. It holds for me some subtle symmetry. One thing that comes to mind is that it acts as a solid anchor, tethering us all to the twenty-first century. All the years of the past decade were timid, tentative, meek forays in, but now there's no going back. For better or for worse, here we are.


Here is a haiku I wrote:

The afternoon sun
Is merrily reflected
By the tranquil stream.

Here is another haiku I wrote (one which is certain to be original):

Element number
One hundred twelve; its new name--


I've always been kind of a reclusive person, I guess. I've always found it difficult to make new friends; I've gotten very adept at keeping myself amused through books, puzzles, and such. (I used to count telephone poles on car trips, for example.) I didn't really grasp the concept of "going to a friend's house" or "having friends over" until the last two years of high school. It's still a bit of a novelty to me.

What has been bothering me lately is that I've had lots of days where I *wanted* to go somewhere and do something, and yet I couldn't think of anyplace to go, or else I couldn't convince myself that it would be fun/safe/worth the effort. So I didn't.

Avoidance is dangerous precisely because it's so easy to do. It's very good at making excuses for you:

"Oh, well, if I left now I'd just be late, anyway."
"I'm sure they'll get along fine without me."
"I would have looked like a complete idiot if I'd showed up; better to just stay home."
"Maybe next time."

At first, it seems like the perfect solution; rather than spending every waking minute worrying about what other people are thinking about you, you get to relax, since there are no other people around. Yessir, avoidance is a pretty neat fix for anxiety, right up until the point when you discover that *you* aren't in the driver's seat anymore.


Quotations are safe (once properly sourced). Wanna know why?

" 'Finxerunt animi, raro et perpauca loquentis,' Mrs. Who intoned. 'Horace. To action little, less to words inclined.'

" 'Mrs. Who, I wish you'd stop quoting!' Charles Wallace sounded very annoyed.

" Mrs. Whatsit adjusted her stole. 'But she finds it so difficult to verbalize, Charles dear. It helps her if she can quote instead of working out words of her own.' "

Current Mood: sleepy
Tuesday, February 16th, 2010
3:52 am
Poetry Corner, With A Prelude
The other day my mom asked me to identify a musical snippet she'd heard in a movie that was airing on Turner Classic Movies. I didn't know the name right off the bat, and early attempts to brute-force a solution using the GoogleTubes crapped out. So I went over to the piano and started tinkering with the tune and flipping through a few songbooks, seeing if any of that would jog my memory.

Next thing I know, I'm wondering why I'm hungry all of a sudden. I had been playing the piano for two hours, and had completely forgotten to eat lunch. I wish my powers of concentration were *uniformly* so developed.

(For those who are still wondering, I nailed down the piece the next day - Chopin's "Grande Valse Brilliante in E Flat Major." It's a pretty familiar tune, and no less pretty for being familiar.)

I'm not that bad at the piano, but I'm not great, either. I've been playing in some form or another for years - almost as long as I've worn glasses. It's undoubtedly a good thing that I got the glasses first, considering how young I was; if the order had been reversed, I'd probably only be able to play in C-sharp minor. [ducks]

Now that the obligatory corny joke is out of the way, on to the poetry. This one is full of little twists, but also one big one. (Kind of, anyway. I suppose it's a lot more obvious than I'd like it to be.) "Don't move until you see it..."

It also has a title, but I'm withholding it for now because it would give everything away at once. Anyway. Poetry follows in the next section.


Think hard, my child, upon my words;
Here is wisdom truly written.
Earlier worms avoid early birds;
Roquefort coaxes out the kitten.

Even odd days will appear
In every hero's prime;
So pass the trial with wit and cheer,
Not poetry sublime.

On second thought, forget all that;
Semicolons overload us!
Either I must change the meter,
Check the feet, or switch the modus.

Rather than repeat myself
(Easily though that might be done),
Think I'll try a different tack:
Mets beat Yankees, 4-1.

Enlightenment can still be found--
Satori is the best--
So long as you will search around
And check inside your vest.

Good job! You've made it through the fire and flames!
Enough of this. Go out, and play some games.

[Edited to fix a rotten typo that somehow slipped through my usual triple-checking. Serves me right for not reading backwards as well as forwards...]

Current Mood: creative
Thursday, February 11th, 2010
1:24 am
Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On...
Or so they tell me.

Apparently, last night at 3:59 AM (this would be on the 10th), northern Illinois was hit by a 3.8 magnitude earthquake. This level of earthquake is often felt, but usually doesn't cause any damage. According to various reports, many people were jolted awake by it.

Not me, though. Nope. Slept like a log through the whole thing.

This ticked me off for two reasons:

First of all, I didn't go to bed last night until about 3:30. If I had waited just a bit longer, I wouldn't have missed it.

Secondly, this is the *second* earthquake to hit Illinois that I have slept through. On April 18, 2008, an earthquake hit southern Illinois with an epicenter near Mount Carmel. I was at a math conference at ISU in Normal that day. The earthquake struck at a similar time of day (4:37 AM) and was of comparable strength from that distance (I think estimates at the time were around 4.0-4.5).

Of course, I didn't find out about the damn thing until the morning news.

Now, granted, these temblors (isn't that a neat word?) were nothing like industrial-strength Tokyo Tower-Topplers, but they're likely to be the best we can get in Illinois. At least until the New Madrid fault rips the country wide open and turns the Mississippi River into Mississippi Bay.

But why can't I ever seem to *witness* any of them?

Ah, well. I guess this is just one more thing to add to my (already lengthy) list of idiosyncrasies:

Somnially impervious to Midwestern earthquakes.

Current Mood: grumpy
Tuesday, February 9th, 2010
2:21 am
Reports from the Front
It is snowing tonight.

1)Negation of the first statement: It is not snowing tonight.

It will snow more tomorrow, if WeatherBug does not lie.

2)Negation of the second statement: WeatherBug does not lie, and (logical 'and'; English 'but') it will not snow more tomorrow.
3)Contrapositive of the second statement: If it does not snow more tomorrow, then WeatherBug lies.

Since the second statement and 3) have identical truth values (prove using truth tables), while the second statement and 2) have opposite truth values (by definition of negation), this implies that 2) and 3) have opposite truth values, and hence, exactly one of 2) and 3) will prove to be true.

Logic is nice and straightforward like that. Somehow, though, I doubt the snow cares.


Hmmph. Look at me, talking about the weather. I sound like somebody's grandpa.

I don't recall if I've mentioned this before, but I seem to have two basic mental states: some days I feel as though I'm fifteen years old, and some days I feel as though I'm seventy-five. Not physically, but in terms of perception. I think these are maybe the two best perspectives to maintain in life. Most everything is still new and ripe for scouting out when you're fifteen; when you're seventy-five, you get to say whatever you want and not give a damn what anybody else thinks. Both of these features can be put to pretty good use.


I tweaked my profile an hour ago, and added five more interests. See if you can pick 'em out.


I am desperately trying to work through my book backlog. Maybe if I spent more time reading the *books*, and less time reading Wikipedia articles, I'd make more headway on that. I'm down to the last two hundred pages in my current book, though, so that's something. Progress!


Last week I went shopping for a philosophy. It's been pretty rough going, particularly in finding something new and tailor-made; you wouldn't *believe* the number of crummy second-hand ones flooding the market these days. I thought I'd try Confucianism for a while, but I sent for the starter kit and, wouldn't you know it, all the instructions were in Chinese. Then I tried talking to Gorgias about solipsism, but, not believing I existed, he didn't answer my phone messages. I asked Socrates about his method, but I never got a straight answer out of him; the jerk kept asking me question after question of his own. That got old *real* fast. Eventually I put him in a hemlock and skedaddled. I never should have gone to ancient Greece in the first place, me being an agoraphobic and all.

Everyone I asked gave me the same old story: Sartre wouldn't start; Kant couldn't; Plato plateaued; Aristotle was just too mean.

The bottom line is that I didn't find a good match, after all that searching. As a temporary solution, I've adopted a smorgasbord approach: look at what's there, take whatever bits you like, and leave the rest of it. For the future, I just don't know.

I guess if you want something done right, you've got to do it yourself.

Current Mood: blah
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