Monday, 31 March 2008

Poetic Spam

I've just trawled through the junk folder of my yahoo account and came across an email from a certain
Delperdang Eckrich. Now I don't know about you, but I could never have enough emails from people with names like Delperdang Eckrich. Just the very idea that people with names like that could exist in the world makes me oddly pleased. But take a look at the email's contents:


Hohe hoholulu

Strength is recruited. David, he continued, speaking dead
yet. I sent for preparations of sulphur, experiences, in
gaol and among mobs, in publishing butterfly soul fluttered
incessantly between memory to fall beneath a prince's noble
hand. The hangman's being finely stewed, serve it on sippets
with has done them. I think that ellie who has a very you
yet, so don't squeal, japp barked at the now hulk of a machinist,
who rooms on the same flat, infinitely concerned my daughter
should have so spirits by prattling away on every subject
that straitened they seem to be, very straitened. Taxation
drew on his gum boots, buttoned his overcoat collar off
the c. P. To the deck he would bounce back. Stalls, my companion
speedily over took the little.

How weird and fantastic is that? Yes, folks, it has happened: the spammers have discovered Wallace Stevens and abstract modernist poetry.

It disturbs me a little that the email contains my name (David), which shouldn't have any connection to that yahoo account. (For non-work purposes, my name is usually "N/A", and my yahoo account isn't for work purposes.) How did they get that information?

Then again, if these shadowy poets from the dark reaches of the internet choose to send me bizarre gobbledegook like that above, I don't mind in the least. It beats baldness cures, penis size enhancements, herbal viagras and invitations to launder money for Nigerian gangsters any day. (I sometimes look through all those emails and wonder exactly what is being implied. To internet spammers I seem to have an unfairly gained reputation as a gullible, rich, impotent, conceited 65-year-old.)

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Tuesday, 25 March 2008


I won't be posting as much over the next few weeks, as I prepare to submit my thesis and work for the Graduate School as well.

I'm on my final chapter now, and just have to iron out the kinks that I have in my notation. Am hoping to get that drafted by Thursday, as from this Friday through to the following Friday I'm working for the Grad School on another Careers Skills Workshop. This course is non-residential, unlike last summer's which was based off campus, but because the days have such early starts and late finishes they're putting us all up in a pretty nice hotel for the duration of the actual course. If I get this chapter finished and incorporated into the main body of the thesis then I can take a draft of it with me and spend my odd moments circling things to change.

Submission deadline: April 15th. (this is self-imposed, I'll just be annoyed with myself if it isn't in by then)

I hope to keep up with Wordless Wednesdays, and will post as and when I can. Maybe something now and then about my lead up to the start of 101 Things in 1001 Days...

All the best, more soon-ish.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Architecture Means Something

For a country that prizes craftsmanship so highly, it's odd that there is such a paucity of good architecture in Japan. Of course, there are wonderful examples of modern buildings in the major cities, but ordinary apartment buildings, houses and shops are uninspired and dull in the extreme. In fact, they remind me of nothing more than the dehumanising concrete-slab school of architecture foisted on cities like Bishkek and Almaty during the Soviet era; everything is functional and modern, nothing is beautiful and linked to the past. The Soviets of course had their ideological reasons for institutionalising boring architecture, but I'm not sure what Japan's excuse is.

Part of the problem, of course, is the war. Not even German cities suffered as badly as Japanese ones did from firebombing: 51% of the total area of Tokyo, 58% of Yokohama, 68% of Okayama and 99% of Toyama were flattened by bombing raids during the war; it's difficult for any sort of native architectural tradition to withstand that sort of destruction and the need for rapid rebuilding that followed.

But at the same time, there's something odd in Japanese psychology, I feel, that seems to want to keep past and present as discrete entities. Kyoto and Kamakura are full of beautiful old temples. But most of them sit next to ugly blocks of faceless concrete. It's almost as if the Japanese are completely unaware of the inconsistencies that arise when you protect an old temple because it's a world heritage site, but flatten the traditional (and in their own way equally beautiful and culturally important) houses around it in order to build a block of flats. The result is a museum-like atmosphere in the temples and shrines of places like Kyoto, rather than that of a living institution.

The one exception to this is Yokohama, which is one of the reasons I like it so much. I don't know why this should be, although Yokohama has always been the most open and cosmopolitan city in Japan, which I'm sure has something to do with it. But the city seems much more comfortable with its architectural heritage than the rest of the country; it is certainly the only one which maintains its surviving 19th and early 20th century buildings in any number; these include some stunningly beautiful fin de siecle warehouses on the harbour front and dozens of elegant old port authority buildings downtown which the city has wisely chose to set up its government offices inside of - ensuring that they stay alive and vital rather than crumble away or turn into pure tourist attractions in permanent stasis like most of Kyoto. It surely is no accident, then, that Yokohama is also the centre for great contemporary architecture in Japan; its Minato Mirai bayside development holds not only Japan's tallest building but also many of its most notable modern creations.

Architecture is a funny thing. I've always thought that it has a much greater influence on human happiness than it's given credit for. The Soviet Bloc created a lot of misery for its citizens by ignoring this reality and forcing people to move into ugly squares and rectangles of grey. I've certainly noticed that people in downtown Yokohama seem a lot more relaxed and easygoing than they do in other Japanese cities. I have no doubt whatsoever that it's because they live in a city which makes an effort to be beautiful and to keep some form of continuity with its past.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

I Have Answers

Or at the very least I have the continuation of questions raised previously...

1). I'm leaving the whole passport issue until I hear about this job I've applied for. If I get an interview for a job and if this leads to employment then it's highly unlikely that I will have time for international travel between now and the end of the year. If on the other hand I don't get it then some jetset getaway may be exactly what I need to celebrate finishing my thesis.

2). The whole paper thing just bugged me, it really did. Seems like such bad luck, regardless of differing approaches that someone else should publish a paper on a subject I have covered just as I am about to submit my thesis. However, on reflection, they are two different accounts of the area and I'd like to agree with my supervisor that my approach is more readable than that of the authors of this paper... This could be because I came up with and wrote my chapter, but hey, that's just how it is.

3). I am looking forward to The Dark Knight much more than The Incredible Hulk. It's going to be a heck of a long summer of cinema: Iron Man, Speed Racer, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Incredible Hulk, Wall-E, The Dark Knight... Regardless of international travel plans, the Edinburgh International Film Festival is in June... They're not announcing their programme until early May, but I'm already trying to figure out whether or not the timing of the EIFF and the possible timing of my viva will allow me to head north of the border again.

4). Someone else has clicked yes on Spark now! According to Spark I am "more desirable than 61.34% of people" - my picture has been seen over 100 times, and out of those only 5 people in total have clicked yes... Spark and other applications like it are terrible. If only I wasn't strangely fascinated by it...

When thinking about the end of the world, some people worry about GM foods, the rise of the machines or zombie apocalypses. I, on the other hand, am becoming increasingly convinced that Facebook is going to play a large part in the end of civilisation.

In other news, progress on my last chapter is not going as well as I had hoped. I still think that I will finish my draft of it before I go to work for the Graduate School again next week, but I don't really see how I could finish it before Easter. That said, last week I was convinced that it would take me days and days to finish my previous chapter, and yet that was suddenly finished. Perhaps I just need to motivate myself better, stop procrastinating about notation and just get something written rather than stare at a blank page.

I have 70 things on my list of 101 things now; I'm not convinced that I will have all of these on my final list, and I might rejig them a bit. There seems to be an overlap between how I'm categorising some of them at the moment, so trying to straighten that out. Though I will mention them on here as I start and so on, I am going to start a separate blog to keep track of my progress. More on that in the next month (start date: Tuesday April 22nd 2008).

I'm off to play squash in a few minutes, so I'd best leave it here.

More soon, perhaps a Wordless Wednesday tomorrow.

Monday, 17 March 2008

In the Navy

I've met quite a few ex-US Navy guys in Japan; the big naval base at Yokosuka is nearby and a large number of the men stationed there seem to end up staying on in this area after leaving the services. Without exception they've been funny, interesting and nice people, which has always made me suspicious of people who portray the US armed forces in a negative light. (Europeans tend to see the US military as composed either of redneck barbarians like the guys in Deliverance, or of mean-spirited, arrogant, amoral yobs. Neither of these stereotypes exists in my experience, but then again I've only met those who end up stationed in Japan.)

They also tell great stories. One of my favourites is about the USS Pueblo, which is a technical research ship that was captured in 1968 by North Korea (apparently it was 'spying') who have kept it ever since.

The facts of the Pueblo case are typical squalid cold-war fare. The Pueblo had around 80 crew, who were imprisoned, starved and tortured by the North Koreans in an effort to get them to admit to being spies. Eventually the CO relented and gave the requested admission after being told that his entire crew would be executed if he didn't; all the captives were eventually released when the US government gave an official apology.

But the CO and his crew were men with a sense of humour, which is what elevates the story above the mundane. Firstly, they would take considerable effort to sabotage the North Koreans' plans to use them as a propaganda tool, mainly by secretly giving their captives the finger in staged photographs. This continued until the North Koreans found out and started torturing them even more. Secondly, as nobody in North Korea could understand English properly, the crew would insert puns into their 'confessions' which would not be noticed by censors. The famous example is the confession offered by the CO, which contained the lines "We paean the North Korean state. We paean the great leader Kim Il Sung" - which sounded suitably crawling to the North Koreans, but sounds like "We pee on the North Korean state..." to an American. Finally, as soon as the men were released, they retracted their admissions and the the US government took back its apology.

It's something we can all understand. Without doubt, if you were captured by the North Koreans, you would want to do the same thing: to get back at them somehow, however petty. Spite is such a readily recognisable human instinct. But it makes me wonder about the world of today when I reflect that last year, when a group of British sailors were take prisoner by the Iranian Republican Guard after an incident in the Gulf, none of them made any effort to undermine their captors and in fact seemed all too ready to sing like canaries. Are the sailors of 2008 so different to those 40 years ago?

Friday, 14 March 2008

I Have Questions

1). My passport is about to run out, and so obviously I need to get it renewed. The cost of a passport has gone up a lot since I got mine ten years ago (the added cost is not just due to inflation, apparently we're all safer now too), and I'm wondering when to get mine renewed... Is it worth waiting until I can call myself Dr zero_zero_one? It's just so expensive to get amendments and changes made, that for the sake of six months it might be worth not having a passport. But then that's dumb, what does it matter if my passport says Dr or not? Am I really saying that I am not going to travel internationally until after I graduate? (to clarify, my current passport expires in April, and on my current timescale it is conceivable that I might not graduate until December)

2). (this one is rhetorical) Why, oh why, after spending time doing research, coming up with the idea and then writing it out, finishing the chapter for my thesis, does someone go and publish a paper on what I have been doing? Chapter 6 of my thesis is called "Kauffman Polynomials of Pretzel Links"; today my supervisor popped his head around the door and said, "I looked through the latest 'Knot Theory journal' yesterday, and there's a paper called 'The Kauffman Polynomials of Pretzel Knots' in there..." The good news is that I've taken a different approach to their paper (and also my supervisor said that the paper in the journal wasn't very readable), but still... I was hoping to publish a paper off the back of that thesis chapter, and that might not be as likely now.

3). Is the trailer for The Incredible Hulk any good? I'm really on the fence with this... I just can't decide whether or not I like the look of the Hulk or not. It reminds me a lot of the Hulk in the 1970s/80s cartoon that I used to watch as a kid, and that's no bad thing. Something that I don't like is how the party line ever since it was announced has seemed to be to try and distance itself from Ang Lee's Hulk film (which was very good in my opinion, though different from what nearly everyone was expecting I think). That's quite a weird thing to do.

4). Why can't girls just tell me that they like me? OK, perhaps I should explain: a few weeks ago I was browsing through a friend's Facebook page, and came across a box with my profile picture in. It was for an application called "Spark", and basically two women had clicked on me as "someone they would date." Because I am in the "friends list" of someone who has Spark I am available for people to click yes or no on, and leave a reason as to why they would want to date me. Intrigued, I signed up for Spark to see what it was all about. But here's the thing: Spark doesn't tell you who has clicked on you and said yes unless you also click on that person and say that you like them. I.e., unless there is some kind of mutual attraction. I left it installed on my Facebook account (but with no boxes or rubbish in my profile) and in the last few weeks two people have clicked yes on me, one because I'm funny and one because I have a great personality. That's all very well and good ladies, but since I am neither psychic nor financially wealthy enough to employ the services of a private eye, what am I supposed to do about this? Seriously, what's wrong with asking if I want to do something some time, whoever you are?

Oh I see! I'm supposed to spend all my time on Spark, sifting through pictures of girls and clicking yes or no in the vain hope that I come across you.

Righto then, I'll get right on that.

More soon.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Thursday Thirteen

13 Movies I Would Love To Watch Again For The First Time

This just came to me out of the blue yesterday; I was thinking about conversations I had had with noisms in the past about not being able to see films with fresh eyes once you've seen them once. Sure, you can not see a film or read a book for a long time, and you can always get something new when you re-watch a film or re-read a book, but you can never see it for the first time.

So, in no particular order, thirteen films that I would really, really like to see again for the first time.

1. Annie Hall
I've seen a handful of Woody Allen's films, but this is by far my favourite; I love both the humour and the relationship between him and Annie and how they lose the something special that they have between them. I'd like to see it for the first time because then there would be so many amazing lines that I would hear and see being played out, and they wouldn't be familiar to me.

2. The Matrix
"Unfortunately no-one can be told what the Matrix is..." Is it a twist that the world is not the world as Neo knows it? It was clear from the trailer that something was different in this world, but still it would be good to see it and not know it back to front.

3. On The Waterfront
The only film on this list that I have actually only ever seen once, and I'm just so thankful that I have seen it because Brando's performance is up there as one of the best ever in a film. Had I not seen it already, I would have that to look forward to.

4. Chasing Amy
Because then I would have hope that everything might just work out alright...

5. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
For similar reasons to Chasing Amy; and for seeing those beautiful landscapes to that haunting music for the first time.

6. Amélie
The magic, pure and simple.

7. Se7en
Bilbo got me thinking about this a lot a few days ago, and if I hadn't been so busy with my thesis in the evenings I would have watched it again. Still, can you imagine that sucker punch to the gut from the finale for the first time? Or seeing everything unfold before your very eyes and not knowing where it was leading?

8. Four Weddings And A Funeral
Because I've seen it so many times... I really love this film a lot, but it would be great to see it again and not be anticipating the dialogue so much.

9. Dawn Of The Dead
The original, not the fast zombie remake from a few years ago. I think because it would be good to watch it and not know who was going to survive and who wasn't.

10. Terminator 2
I watched this recently actually, for the first time in a long time, and was thinking, "If you knew nothing about it, the opening is hugely suspenseful - simply because there are these two guys and you don't know which one is good and which one is bad."

11. The Empire Strikes Back
"I am your father."

12. E.T.
"I'll be right here."

13. The Phantom Menace
There have been films since that I have really looked forward to, really been excited about, but I was just so excited about The Phantom Menace that I couldn't think straight. And it would be nice to have that and not have the knowledge that it didn't live up to the hype.

And that's my Thursday Thirteen for this week. Hopefully a blog post tomorrow afternoon: I just finished my sixth chapter (of seven) today, and I'm feeling pretty good.

More soon.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Section 44(2) of the Terrorism Act 2000

This morning as I was exiting the train station I was stopped and searched by two police officers as part of a random search they were carrying out. The authority for this action is the titular "Section 44(2) of the Terrorism Act 2000" and as it was something completely out of the ordinary for me it's something that I've been trying to resolve in my head for the rest of the day - to clarify, I've been trying to figure out how I feel about it.

Now, I have to be upfront and say that the two officers who did it were very professional and friendly (although I did feel a bit weird standing there in public while one of them went through my bag and the other was writing out my name and details; I was wondering what people who passed by must be thinking about me and what kind of person I was). I asked immediately why they were doing it and so on, and also what they would use my details for etc, and they answered my questions in a friendly way, no problems.

Of course, I had nothing to hide, so really I had (and have) nothing to worry about.

Given that's the case, why do I feel really uneasy about it all?

Is it because Section 44(2) says "...the officer does not have to have reasonable grounds to suspect the individual stopped or searched of carrying dangerous instruments or offensive weapons or of involvement in the anticipated violence or terrorism"? Erm, yeah, just a bit actually. A preface to it all says that stopping and searching can be authorised by a senior police officer if "it is believed that incidents involving serious violence may soon take place in the locality, or that persons are carrying dangerous instruments or offensive weapons in the locality." So, firstly, what do they think might be about to happen in Liverpool?

Secondly, Section 44(2) really does mean that they can stop anyone. I appreciate that terrorists, murderers and psychopaths look just like anyone else, that they don't walk around wearing uniforms or black hats to make them easy to identify: but what path is a society on when one of the first steps is literally "start pulling people out of line and checking their bags because, you know, well, they could be a bad guy!"

"...the officer does not have to have reasonable grounds..." Can they have unreasonable grounds? How about "I didn't like the look of him," or "She looked just like the type" or even "Their skin was a different colour to mine." I mean, if you don't have to have reasonable grounds to do something, how do you decide what to do and when to do it? How do you make that judgement call?

Also Section 44(2) - while being a part of the Terrorism Act - is sufficiently vague in its definition of violence and so on so that one could probably use it away from the context of terrorism. Now I am categorically not saying that Britain is a police state, nor do I believe it is likely to become one in the near future, but it does worry me that there is a piece of legislation that says "someone decides that we need to search people here; someone else decides to stop and search people in that location and they can choose however they like because they don't need reasonable grounds to make that decision."

Worried about a demonstration or rally or something, or is someone higher up or wealthy worried about it? Sign a Section 44(2) form, just get the cops on to the streets and stopping whoever they decide! It's not as if they have to justify why they stop somebody!

I definitely don't have my thoughts on this worked out; I recognise that random searching could have a positive effect on security - and at the same time I really don't like it. Am I acting/thinking irrationally? Please, tell me what you think!

Finally, in taking my description the police officer asked my height. I told her, "around six foot four," and she noted it and then filled in a section just next to it. I couldn't read what she wrote, but of course I get a copy of the record. I looked at it when I got to my office, and just next to height is a space marked "Build." She had written "Prop."

What's that supposed to mean? All I can think of is "proportionate" but that seems like a weird descriptor...

(just looked over record again; in the section marked "Grounds for authority" (i.e., for the stop and search) she has just written "Authority"... I have that feeling that something is not right with the world in the pit of my stomach again...)

Have a good weekend people. More soon.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Thursday Thirteen

Amanda has been doing "Thursday Thirteens" for a couple of weeks now. I don't normally partake of memes, but today's "13 Wants I Can't Classify As Needs (Yet)" was just too good a meme not to spread! (especially since some of those wants spookily mirrored some of my own)

13 Wants I Can't Classify As Needs (Yet)

1). A new mp3 player. I keep chugging along with the old one, even though the battery life is getting shorter and shorter and it cuts out always when I need some music to help me get through the afternoon.

2). A laptop. Work would be a bit easier, and a laptop would be much more conducive to me actually getting work done at home... But do I really need one? Probably not at the moment.

3). A Nintendo Wii. Several friends at uni have them and rave about them, and having had a quick go of my sister's friend's son's Wii I really, really want one... This is almost a need, but I'm dampening down my need until after my thesis is done.

4). My thesis to be written. I could keep writing for months and months to come, the final deadline is not until the autumn, but I just want it to be over now.

5). To go back to Edinburgh for a holiday. It's such a beautiful city!

6). To go back to Japan. So much still to see and do.

7). To visit the US. New horizons...

8). To read "A Series of Unfortunate Events" by Lemony Snicket. All thirteen books. It's in my books section of my 101 things in 1001 days list... Here's a need: I need to finish that damn list...

9). To see The Police in concert again. Because once just wasn't enough.

10). To act again. I used to do a lot of amateur dramatics type stuff when I was younger, and then in my mid-teens I just seemed to stop. I wrote little skits and scripts for a while, but then that stopped too. I'd love to do some Shakespeare actually...

11). To take a day off. But I can't.

12). To start a webcomic. And I will.

13). To go out for cake with my friend Helena this afternoon. Oh wait, I am!

More soon. Thanks again to Amanda for inspiration!

Wednesday, 5 March 2008


If Britain is a nation of whingers, Japan is a nation of complainers. Complainers in the sense that it often seems the Japanese would rather resort to appeal to greater authority than sort out differences amicably and face-to-face. It is one of the their least becoming characteristics.

For example, tonight I was chatting to the local takoyaki guy, who sets up stall by the station every evening; as we were standing there a policeman approached and told him, brusquely, that he was going to have to pack up and move on somewhere else because somebody living in an apartment nearby had complained about noise.(Nevermind that this is right next to a busy train station.) That is, people would rather call the police to come and move a street salesman along, than go and talk to the guy face to face to see about coming to a mutually beneficial arrangement - like asking him to be as quiet as possible, or maybe move a hundred yards further down the street.

It seems a bit odd to me. As the takoyaki guy said, "When there's a firework display or a festival the people around here can't get enough takoyaki and we get on really well. But now they're complaining to the police. I don't understand it." Me neither; by going through the police whoever made the complaint has completely alienated the stall-holder and he might never bother coming back - whereas if they'd chatted to him amicably they could have smoothed everything over. And I would still have a cheap source of takoyaki, which is the main thing.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Monday the 3rd of March

Five chapters done on my thesis now, two to go. One of the final two is based on a paper that I did with my supervisor last year, and he seems to think that it will be OK if I just go through it and remove anything that I've already brought up in definitions and leave the rest in. Hopefully that means that my first draft of chapter six will be done by the middle/end of next week...

The final chapter (which will actually be the final chapter in my thesis) is just a short account of some work that I never really got a handle on, but which I got some results for. Not sure if my supervisor will agree on title I have in mind, but the author's prefered version would be "Speculation and Portents in the Annulus"...

Long weekend, and yet over so quickly. My nan is still in hospital, but seems to have recovered from the operation to remove the drainage tube that was accidentally left inside her weeks ago. Yesterday was Mother's Day in the UK, and so I took my mum to see an orchestral concert at the Philharmonic.

Over the weekend I read "Half the Blood in Brooklyn," the latest Joe Pitt novel by Charlie Huston; vampire noir at its best (not that I know of any other vampire noir), it takes two really interesting genres in extremely interesting directions. His descriptions and background for a clan of Jewish vampires (who only drink kosher blood from orthodox girls) make for intriguing reading, and add a bizarre religious angle to the vampire mythology that he's so far grounded as a purely physical (viral) phenomenon.

I also read "Odd and the Frost Giants," Neil Gaiman's World Book Day short story. It may be aimed at children, but it's a cracking little read for adults too. Alas, if memory serves it isn't being released in the US!

And the next book on my list is Rewired, described as a "post-cyberpunk anthology". I'll probably crack on with that tonight: I've got more done today than I had planned, and my cinema plans that I had with a friend this evening have fell through. I think a nice tuna salad when I get home would be good, and then curl up with a good book...

Yeah... More actual blogging soon.