Thursday, April 12, 2007

So It Goes

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (1922-2007)

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Arrival of Sibley Raj Pea

I've been so busy setting things straight in Owenia that I've been remiss in other aspects of my life. Not only have I been failing you, my dear, patient readers, but I also found out, just the other day, that my Flatulonian friend, Windy Pop, has had a baby. In case you've forgotten, Windy Pop is from the planet Flatulon-Nine, the occupants of which have heads located where their bottoms should be, and bottoms located where their heads should be. The main form of communication among the Flatulonians is via flatulence. However, contrary to what many people may think, this is not why they are called Flatulonians. In fact, the word flatulence is derived from the word Flatulonian, rather than the other way round - look it up if you don't believe me. The time it takes for a non-preganant Flatulonian to become a pregnant Flatulonian isn't necessarily very long. In fact, it can be so quick that it can come as quite a surprise to many Flatulonians. Windy Pop was one of those pregnant Flatulonians who was surprised to discover he was pregnant. He wasn't all that keen on having a baby. He always said they were like little turds (actually, this is an accurate description of baby Flatulonians). He wouldn't have minded if it was the woman who carried the baby, but on the planet Flatulon-Nine, a law had recently been passed which stated that it is the men who must gestate the baby - and it felt very much like being constipated, times 1,000. The standard Flatulonian pregnancy usually lasts 60 Flatulonian years (each of which only equates to a single Earth day) and Windy Pop's baby was premature by two months. Sometimes, if the baby is late in coming, they have to induce labour by means of an enema.

Before I get caught up in all the gushy baby stuff I should recount to you the story of how Windy Pop met the mother of his child. The girl's name was Stinky Toot Toot Drive Slowly Keep To Left, or just Tooty for short. The first time Windy Pop saw Tooty was on the train travelling to the Werribee Sewage Farm, where Windy Pop had the job of looking after the farm animals (singing them to sleep at night, among other things). Tooty was fast asleep on the seat opposite to Windy Pop. Windy Pop couldn't take his eye off her. He had never seen anyone so beautiful in his entire life. He thought she was so beautiful that it hurt him inside, as if an evil cupid had stuck a knife into his stomach and was twisting it. On the planet Flatulon-Nine, the popular symbol for representing love is a picture of a bladder with an arrow through it. The symbol for lost love is a bladder bursting (angsty Flatulonian artists would often express how deeply they felt about things by drawing graphic pictures of bladders bursting, with the contents dripping into a puddle on the ground). When Flatulonian parents are explaining to teenage Flatulonians the difference between teenage lust and true love, they say true love feels very much like needing to go to the toilet, times 1,000. Windy Pop thought everything about Tooty was perfect, even the imperfections! He could easily get lost in her gorgeous brown eye, which he thought to himself was like a window to her soul (via her bowel). He even loved the hair fuzz, stretch marks and cellulite on her cheeks. Simply put, Windy Pop felt like he really, really, really needed to go to the toilet.

Windy Pop had sat there staring at Tooty whilst she was sleeping, thinking wonderful things about the life they could lead together. He was staring for such a long time that he began to worry that it might be wrong to stare at her whilst thinking things like that. Windy Pop was prone to thinking about things a little too much, and worrying needlessly. Windy Pop might have been even more worried if he'd known that Tooty was returning home after her self defence class. In the self defence classes Flatulonian women learned about the various horrific things they could do to any would-be attackers. Not content simply with the old kicking of the balls routine, the women learnt about other, more permanent, methods of damaging a male Flatulonian's testicles with the types of items found in your common female Flatulonian's purse, such as, makeup, soft toys and anything coloured pink. Windy Pop got so worried that staring at her was a bad thing that he made a concerted effort not to look at Tooty. Instead he shut his eye and tried to remember all of her features so that he could continue to stare at her in his imagination. But then he started to feel guilty about that as well, so he opened his eye and discovered that Tooty was staring at him...

So anyway, Windy Pop and Tooty started talking and it turned out that Tooty was pretty keen on Windy Pop as well. Windy Pop talked about his adventures with me on the planet Owenia, his love for the sewage farm animals and anger at space taxi air fresheners. They talked about affecting the world, about global warming and greenhouse gases and what your average Flatulonian could do to make a difference. They talked right through the night and into the morning. As the sun rose, casting a greenish hue over the city, which was caused by all the methane produced by all the Flatulonian lovers up talking all night, Tooty rubbed her cheek against Windy Pop's hairy cheek and they kissed. When Flatulonians kiss it looks like this ))<>((. They went home together and spent the rest of the day in bed listening to Tooty's record collection, which included records by Barry White, Al Green and Marvin Gaye. Now, Windy Pop isn't the type of Flatulonian to kiss and tell, but it's obvious, considering the subsequent pregnancy, that some 69 rimming action must have occurred.

Windy Pop never wanted to get pregnant. He always imagined that he'd live the free life travelling the universe, visiting exotic locales, and dropping in on friends whenever their partners were having particularly gassy nights. Windy Pop didn't know how to feel when the pregnancy test returned the colour green. He didn't know what it was going to mean to his life. He knew that it was something special to bring a child into the world, but he didn't know if he could cope with the responsibility. He just wanted to run away - but he knew he couldn't do that. He knew that it didn't matter how he felt about the baby, he was going to look after it all the same and make sure that it had a good home. On the day the baby was born, Tooty there holding his hand. Windy Pop later recalled to me first seeing the baby. It was a girl. He remembers his feeling of relief when he saw that baby had it's head and it's bottom in the right places. Then he took the baby girl into his arms and named her Sibley Raj Pea and suddenly something changed. It didn't feel like needing to wee or being constipated. Right then, Windy Pop decided that there wasn't yet a Flatulonian sound conceived that could describe how he felt about Sibley Raj Pea. It simply felt like he was floating on a green cloud of methane.

Friday, February 16, 2007

So-Crates' Hypothetical

Central to scientific method is the hypothetical - the practice of science involves the construction and testing of scientific hypotheses. The hypotheses accepted by science aren't necessarily true, it's just that they are more true than anything else anybody has come up with. (In fact, according to the epistemologist Karl Popper, scientific hypotheses are necessarily falsifiable, and thus science is necessarily false. Take that atheists!). Of course, any jerk can come up with a hypothesis - some type of 'what if' scenario which has more or less of a relationship to reality, much like my cannibalistic agent evolution simulations. The thing that I get the greatest kick out of during my brief dabbles into the philosophical aspects of my studies is the hypothetical. Any philosophical essay goes through a number of modes: some interesting intuitive explanations, some boring difficult abstractions, but nothing inspires the action downstairs as much as when they start outlining the hypothetical scenario.

In earlier posts I likened an indulgent philosophical discussion to self abuse. Something else I've noticed during drunken moments where some poor sucker has inquired too deeply about my thesis topic and on my visits to blogs where such things are oft discussed, is that there is a fine line between philosophical discussions and trolling. Especially if it's something to do with ethics and morality. For example, during the early stages of my relationship with Jodi, I posed the hypothetical: if I had a life threatening condition which required me to always be tickling someone, in particular, whoever happens to be closest to me, would you break up with me? It's like asking: if I had a life threatening condition which required me to always be asking annoying hypotheticals, would you break up with me? Needless to say we were lucky to survive the early hurdles of our relationship.

All this talk about philosophy and hypotheticals reminds me a troll I once met called So-Crates. So-Crates was one of those annoying trolls who lived under the bridge across the river Wey and would jump up and ask difficult hypotheticals in exchange for safe passage across the bridge. I could've swam across the river, but then I'd of had to contend with the pirates who were already eyeing the emergency ice-cream I carry every time I leave home (just in case). Anyhow, the question So-Crates posed was regarding hedonism - a test to determine whether the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain was the highest objective of human life, i.e., everything we do can be reduced to the pursuit of pleasure. He asked me to imagine a machine which controlled the pleasure and pain receptors of the brain, such that anybody hooked into the machine would only feel pleasure (like eating ice-cream, but without ice-cream headaches). The machine is 100% reliable - apparently So-Crates can guarantee such things as the God of his hypothetical universe. Now, So-Crates' question was this: would you agree to hook yourself into this machine for some extended period of time? Obviously you'll miss out on whatever, potentially painful, things are going on in the real world. People who'd say 'yes' don't need to explain further, as the benefits are obvious, but if you'd say 'no' (or perhaps something more emotive), then the burden is on you to explain why not. You don't have to listen to So-Crates if he says something particularly jerkish, such as, there is a right and wrong answer.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Magic Happens

I've been immersing myself in my studies recently. The problem with PhD work, or at least my approach to it, is that you don't have any start or finish time and it seems to lend itself to a workaholic lifestyle. I always seem to be working, be it thinking through my ideas and arguments, rolling out of bed in the middle of the night to calibrate my simulations, or, the most time consuming activity of all - trying to avoid thinking about my work (aka procrastinating). It seems impossible to get anything done whilst procrastinating, except menial tasks such as cleaning. Any recreational reading or blog writing makes me feel guilty about the reading and writing I should be doing for my PhD work. And then there is the blog. I caught up with Meg at a gig on Friday and she was giving me grief about my lack of postings. So here is my recent effort:

Those who know me in the real world know that I grew up in a small town called Upwey on the outskirts of the Kingdom of Batmania. The town of Upwey was named after a town in Dorset, England, on the river Wey. Upwey is also half way up a hill, so I always thought that somebody had just misspelled directions to the town. I found out that the town of Upwey, on the river Wey, is somewhat famous for being home to an old pagan era wishing well (at least a contributor to the ever reliable Wikipedia thought so). Apparently, the well is the source of the Wey river. The water flows out of the well and fills the Wey valley. During the Victorian era people with paddle-wheel steamboats would use the river to transport important items, such as food and ice cream, to the township of Upwey and the surrounding region. Sometimes pirates would sail up the river and commit piracy on the paddle-wheel steamboats, presumably keeping the ice cream for themselves.

I remember, when I was a child travelling around the world with my parents, I visited this city which seemed to be all skyscrapers. I can't remember the name of the city - I must have been too young to remember things like that. For a brief period during the day, during the eleventh hour, the sun would rise above the skyscrapers and shine on the small park in the middle of the city. During this short period all the trees would blossom and the park would be filled with the bright colours that nature offers, contrasting the greys of the city. Unfortunately all the people who worked in the city didn't have their lunch break until noon, and so they never saw the park during this time.

In the middle of the park was a stone wishing well with a sign hanging over it which declared, to anyone who wasn't already in the know, that "Magic Happens". The people on their lunch break would sometimes throw coins into the well whilst making a wish and thinking about getting "Magic Happens" bumper stickers for their cars. I was lucky enough to visit the park during that brief period, during the eleventh hour. I looked down into the well, which was very dark, and wondered what was at the bottom. At some point a nice man walked by. It was the first time he'd seen the park during the eleventh hour because he'd only just quit his job, being of retirement age. He dropped a coin into the wishing well and made a wish, and then he gave me a coin so that I could also make a wish. I wished to know what was at the bottom of the well and dropped the coin.

The coin clattered down, bouncing off the walls. Before it hit the bottom, it was caught by a goblin. The goblin's name was Dorcas. It was Dorcas' job to organise the coins into categories based on the type of wish. There was a weekly pick up of the coins to take them onto the wishing factory, or some such place - Dorcas wasn't particularly concerned about that stuff. The room at the bottom of the well had shelves along all the walls with boxes to hold all the coins. Dorcas had become very cynical about the people who worked in the city, whose wishes were almost always selfish. People would often wish for things like their coins back, wanky bumper stickers, or to see such-and-such a person without their pants. There was a rather large cliche section for people who wished for things like world peace, or whatever was trendy at the particular time. At some time in the past Dorcas had been an elf. He had turned into a goblin due to the long hours he spent in the well getting cynical about people and spending all the time counting money. Elves are very receptive to their environment, so this type of Magic Happens often.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Magical Realism Death Match

I started this blog with the intention of NOT writing reviews on the films, books and music that I come across - the internet seems to have such things well covered without me. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to share my thoughts on the film "Pan's Labyrinth" which I saw today. I'm a big fan of the genre of magical realism, so I'll just placate myself by saying that I'm writing about the genre rather than the film. The film is an Alice-Down-The-Rabbit-Hole story set in post World War II Spain. It's a bit dark, not a children's movie, in fact, I thought it was more violent than "Reservoir Dogs", with it's very own torture scene (sans catchy song). It had absolutely amazing creature effects, including a wicked looking faun that could surely kick Mr Tumnus' arse all the way back to a disappointing filmic version of the Chronicles of Narnia.

Anyway, I loved it, but then I'm into that type of stuff, that is, magical realism. I'm not sure if there is a consensus on what magical realism is. I'd define it, most probably, inadequately, as a story where real and magical elements are interwoven in such a fashion that it is difficult to delineate between them. One of my favourite books of all time is "One Hundred Years of Solitude", which is considered, by many, as the best example of the genre. The book is about a South American town which, through isolation from the rest of the world, is innocent of its technologies, where things like magnets and magic carpets hold the awe of the townspeople and something as simple as ice is truly miraculous. Just thinking about it makes me feel all choked up, like a bit of a pansy. What I love about the genre is the child like perspective it gives on those difficult adult problems, such as politics and discrimination, technology and IP addresses. Anyhow, here are some of my favourite films, which may, in some possible reality, be considered as magical realism: Heavenly Creatures, Big Fish (although the book was way better), Lawn Dogs, The Purple Rose of Cairo (one of the best films of all time).

And now for that death match, judge for yourself:

Mr Tumnus


Pan's Labyrinth Faun

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Setting Things Straight in Owenia

I recently received feedback on one of my PhD papers I'd submitted to a journal. The paper was about my simulation environment, which I discussed in an earlier post. One of the problems that the reviewer had identified with my model was a rule in my simulation which implied cannibalism. Basically, when an agent in my simulation dies it's health is recycled back into the local ecosystem to be reused as an energy source. My thinking was that this implies cannibalism in the same way that eating food fertilised with manure implies eating shit.

Anyway, I was thinking about this problem in my simulation late into the night. Long after Jodi and Gypsy had gone to sleep I saw strange lights shining though the window from outside the house. I went to investigate and there was Windy Pop, my friend from the planet Flatulon-Nine, whom I'd thought I'd only dreamt. Windy Pop told me of this place he visited called Owenia. I have no way of accounting for it, but it would seem that by some strange cosmic phenomena the world which I created in my simulation had become actualised as a real world, some twenty thousand light years on the far side of galactic central point. The occupants of Owenia, the Owenians, celebrated effigies of me, referring to me as the Designer. Now, I'd be inclined to say that this type of thing is an inevitable consequence of living in an infinite universe, something we all just have to accept and deal with, but the stories Windy Pop told demanded affirmative action. I had designed the inhabitants of Owenia to be capable of competition and reproduction, thereby evolve-ability. Although they were capable of evolving certain forms of biological altruism, such as aging, they weren't able to act in a cohesively social manner - apparently they just weren't made of the right type of stuff. The horrors Windy Pop recounted to me included the sins of necrophilia and cannibalism. Clearly it was my duty to visit this world I was responsible for creating, so that I may provide some higher order moral guidance.

Initially, Windy Pop's main method of transportation around the universe was via space taxi, but this proved problematic as it is very hard to find a space taxi without an air-freshener hanging from the rearview mirror, which, as any Flatulonian will tell you, is the root of all evil. But thanks to invaluable advice from a wise sage about the magical properties of Santa's reindeer wee, Windy Pop devised a method of interstellar astral travel between planets by consuming copious quantities of reindeer wee. Unfortunately this had an unpleasant side effect of dizziness, so I only vaguely remember the trip. I do remember first seeing the torus shape of Owenia in the distance. (A torus is a ringed doughnut shape. This seemed like a convenient shape for my simulation world, which is essentially a square grid with the edges wrapped around and connected. Try it yourself with a piece of paper).

Once I got to Owenia I refrained from revealing myself to the Owenians. Instead I selected a special group of people, who were currently enslaved by a selfish group of Owenians, to be holy agents. I also selected, from among them, a special one, named Mooses, who I spoke to in the form of a burning bush and told to lead the holy agents into an empty cell patch called the promised land. I gave Mooses special powers allowing him to part the seas, which defined the borders of the cell patches, permitting the holy agents to pass. After the holy agents were freed of their captors, I called Mooses up to a nice grassy knoll where we had a nice picnic of baguette and dessert wine, and I gave him the rules by which to live in the promised land - the Ten Commandments:

Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Pixie Princess and the Boy Who Cried for No Reason. Part Four.

Finally the night of the ice cream feast to be held in honour of the hero of Batmania, the Boy Who Cried for No Reason, had arrived. It also happened that it was New Year's Eve. The Boy Who Cried and the Gyppopotamus arrived at the castle of the King of Batmania, which was only accessible via a drawbridge over a moat filled with a ferocious herd of moo-moo cows. The King wasn't married, which was why his castle was a bit of a bachelor pad. On one wall the King had framed and hung all his Swindleburn University degrees and diplomas, in order to impress any visiting princesses. He also had a disco ball and a high speed internet connection which he used to read interesting blogs and look at pictures of pretty Batmanian women who didn't feel the need to wear pants.

By the time the Boy Who Cried had arrived the party was in full swing. He didn't know that the Pixie Princess and the Golden Dragon were stuck in the kitchen trying to organise a late delivery of goblin testicles, which needed to be freshly picked before being added to the ice cream. Outside in the party room all the waiters and waitresses for the feast were dressed in Conan and Barbarella outfits respectively. The music was handled by my sister Alice, a band of 80's minstrels, Fi and the Flatulonian choir group, who were lead by Windy Pop and Ludicrousity. God and Darwin were having a heated argument in the corner with the Mormons, Rev. Qelqoth, Santa and Dboy eagerly watching on. An effeminate poet and librarian, having just finished on the twee porno set, were kicking back having a few milk drinks at the milk bar with Cassandra, Inigo Montoya, Goldmourn, Cass and Ben. The Internet Pixies, Wire, Donald Duck, Dave, Kenneth Branagh and the workers of the panty vending machine sweatshop were running around without any pants on, having a pillow fight. Daniel Kitson, Adam, the Pixie Prince and Leighton were having an involved, graphic, conversation about masturbation. There was a crazy constipated person waving a dildo-cam at Meg, L.S.T. and Jasper (or whatever his name may be). The Gyppopotamus, who was a little shy after the golden sock incident, decided it would be best if she hid in shadows with Frankie and all the readers who hadn't yet identified themselves in comments. Jodi, Gypsy and I were also there. In fact, Jodi and I were also celebrating the third anniversary of our meeting and not quite getting together. I was very excited about the prospect of having a deep philosophical conversation with my character creations, but Jodi pointed out to me that it was the Boy Who Cried's special day and that it would be unfair to cause him an existential crisis.

When the Boy Who Cried's arrival was announced everybody went to meet the hero and to give him a hug and congratulate him on the golden sock quest. The King, who was very excited, asked the Boy Who Cried if he would re-enact his adventures in the Gyppopotamus lair for everyone. The King even agreed to play the part of the Gyppopotamus, who still didn't want to come out from hiding in the shadows. Everyone agreed that a re-enactment would be spiffing and they all cajoled the Boy Who Cried onto the stage, took a seat and were quiet. But the Boy Who Cried was overwhelmed and didn't know what to do. He worried that he might start crying again. The King lay on the stage with the golden sock in his mouth and pretended to be the Gyppopotamus monster, asleep. But the Gyppopotamus decided that the King was doing it all wrong and pushed the King off the stage and stole the golden sock back. The Boy Who Cried and the Gyppopotamus then staged an epic battle, tooing and froing across the stage and around the room, clambering over the audience, who divided into those who were supporting the Boy Who Cried and those who were supporting the Gyppopotamus, cheering them on. Eventually the Boy Who Cried disarmed the Gyppopotamus of her magic sharp stick and retrieved the golden sock. The audience were so impressed by the performance that they all stood up and applauded, calling for an encore. The Boy Who Cried and Gyppopotamus both bowed, and the Gyppopotamus was so happy and excited that she couldn't help but wee a little on the stage. The Gyppopotamus' bravery inspired the readers who hadn't yet identified themselves in comments, to at least say Happy New Year at the next opportunity.

Everybody was so happy eating ice cream and dancing that they almost missed the countdown to the New Year. They all paused, charged their ice cream bowls and got ready to start the count down. TEN ... The Pixie Princess quickly came out of the kitchen to join the party for the countdown ... NINE ... and the Boy Who Cried saw the Pixie Princess ... EIGHT ... for the first time ... SEVEN ... and this made the Boy Who Cried for No Reason start to cry ... SIX ... but it didn't feel like the normal crying for no reason ... FIVE ... it was as if every time he'd cried for no reason ... FOUR ... was because he was crying in anticipation of this moment ... THREE ... and the pixie princess saw the Boy Who Cried crying ... TWO ... and she wanted to ... ONE ... give him a big hug ... HAPPY NEW YEAR.