Useless vestigal organ
Octopi have learned how to walk on two legs. Can world domination be far behind?
Sunday night I was throwing up and had an intense pain in the lower-right side of my abdomen. Isn't that a symptom of appendicitis?, I thought. Monday morning I called up the hospital and described my symptoms to the doctor. "Yeah, you need to come into the emergency room right now." he said. They took some blood and urine samples, groped my testicles, etc. then left me on a bed in an open-backed gown with saline fluid dripping into my vein, waiting for about four hours. Luckily I had a good book with me.
Somewhere nearby, behind a curtain, there was an woman who had been found unconscious on the floor of a bus station and brought in. She kept screaming for the nurses to take her restraints off, and refusing to tell her name or address. From overheard conversation, I gathered that they had found cocaine in her bloodstream and that she had been having seizures, ripping out her IV tube and catheter, taking her clothes off, and generally freaking out. The doctors just kept talking to her gently like a little kid. It became apparent that the reason she wouldn't tell her address was that she didn't want to admit to being homeless. She kept pleading with them to take off her arm restraints, promising that she wouldn't pull out the IV again. Eventually she convinced them. Five minutes later they came back and guess what, she had pulled out the IV.
Finally my doctor came back. "Stand up, and jump up and down for me.", she said. I did, and she said "It would be nearly impossible for you to do that if you had appendicitis." All my tests came back negative, so they sent me home with a diagnosis of "abdominal pain". Yeah, I coulda told you that. Whatever, I feel better today, so maybe it was just something I ate.
By the way, next time you meet a creationist or ID proponent, ask them why an "intelligent designer" would have given us an organ we don't need, and which does nothing except get life-threateningly inflamed.
Odds and ends
Jeremy made some gingerale from scratch as an experiment. It sure doesn't taste like the store-bought stuff: it is sour and yeasty, but definitely potable.
That reminds me, I never linked to Jeremy's India blog back when he was actually in India.
In unrelated news: some sysadmin on the University of Chicago network screwed up and left a file containing our social security numbers open to the world, no hacking neccessary. Great! If you suspect someone has your credit card number you can have it canceled and get a new one, but you can't exactly call up the government and say "Hey, I need a new SSN".
Greece and Cyprus
A couple of links I somehow failed to post before.
One is, of course, Austin's blog of his adventures in Greece. I realized that he'll be back in Chicago soon, but that he won't be my roommate after this. I miss him.
The other is the Training Across Borders event which I mentioned before. Seems it was a huge success; read about it here here and here. You may just regain a little bit of faith in humanity after reading this.
Shining Battle Masquerade Prize Convention Report!
Best ACen Ever!
...was the consensus, though I didn't see much of it up close. It
was definitely the best hotel room ever, though. See, there was a
mix-up with our rooms at the Hyatt hotel (insert Excel Saga joke
here). We had reserved rooms, but when Sushu the Organized went to
check in, the only rooms they had open were parts of suites in
the executive wing. What happens when a rich suit rents a bedroom in
the executive wing but doesn't want to pay extra for the attatched
living room/dining room? Those parts get locked off from the bedroom
and are left empty. The hotel offered Sushu two such living/dining
areas in place of the two normal bedrooms we were expecting. No beds,
but they offered to wheel up some cots and give us the rooms for half
price. This was a great deal for us, because we were expecting to
cram twenty people in those two rooms and sleep all over the floor
So we got to these suites and were astounded to see how the hotel
treats filthy rich people: The rooms were huge, with long glass
conference/dining table (suitable for playing Gendo); bar area with
sliding mirrored walls, sink, mini-fridge; several big comfy sofas and
rocking chairs; palm trees, greek statuary, fireplace; walk-in closet
the size of my bedroom; books with titles like "Economists At
Bay"... it was decadent. Even the Q-tips in the bathroom
were special rich people Q-tips with more cotton than peasant Q-tips.
There was tons of room to spread out our junk and work on last-minute
rehearsals and prop repairs for our two anime cosplay skits of
infamy. Our club has many people, so we split into two groups
(just like last year) and put on two skits:
UCJAS skit: Shoujo Gone Wild (8 mb
still photos start here and are continued on the next two pages.
The plot: Utena and Yomiko (from Read Or Die) are in the girls' locker
room. (See the row of lockers in the background? Man that thing took
forever to build.) Mikage, bad guy from Utena, is trying to get them
to duel, so he steals Yomiko's book (Prisoner of Azkaban incidentally)
and gives it to Utena. Note that Mikage has my voice, although I am
not onstage: this is one of the perks of pre-recording your
soundtrack. Yomiko whips out the "razor sharp paper chain" -- one
of a ton of paper-magic tricks that she had stashed away in her
overcoat. Utena, not having her sword ready, reaches for a nearby
object to defend herself, and grabs the towel off of innocent
bystander Rei. This is actually an ACen in-joke: a couple years
ago, some girl got in a lot of trouble for cosplaying "Towel
Rei" with nothing under the towel. Under our Rei's towel she has
a pair of black bars labeled "CENSORED". Ha! (These were
made of foam rubber and attatched to a bikini.) Utena fights with the
towel; Yomiko defends with a spring-out paper shield and
disarms Utena. Looking for another weapon, and not having Anthy
around, Utena bends Rei over and does the "Grant me the power to
revolutionize the world" thing, pulling off the two censor bars
and forming them into a sword. Underneath that is a pair of pink pixellation-effect bars. Ha ha! Yomiko makes a sword of her own out of
a roll of paper towels (we had a telescoping paper sword hidden inside
the roll). They lunge at each other, freeze as the rose spins around
in front of them (painted on an umbrella) and then... Miki buzzes a
giant stopwatch because the 2-minute skit time-limit is up. The
I think this skit was awesome. Those guys put a huge amount of
work into it. But I think it went over a lot of people's heads. Some
people didn't realize that the 2-minute time-up was a joke, and they
thought we had literally been buzzed off stage. Oops.
Pretend Robot Pants skit: Katamari Lupin
(6 mb quicktime movie). Close-up
still photos start here
and are continued on the next page.
The plot: Mario and Luigi are fighting, Smash Brothers style. Mario
gets thrown offstage but comes back on weilding The Hammer, with
appropriate music. Then Lupin rolls the katamari onto stage from
behind them. He knocks them both over, and the katamari picks up
their hats and the hammer. Jeremy comes onstage playing the King of
All Cosmos, wearing a huge cardboard mask and using his disturbing Indian Mc.Donalds
voice. Lupin is using the katamari to steal stuff, see.
Then Goemon (that's me) comes on stage carrying a stolen necklace;
Zenigata tries to arrest me. We fight... and then the Katamari turns
around and comes up behind us. Zenigata and Lupin chase each other; I
wind up and slice the katamari in half with my sword... and Fujiko
pops out. She has been hiding in there the whole time. Fujiko has
pulled a fast one on everybody, and she gets away with the necklace.
Lupin chases after her, the King of All Cosmos warps the rest of us
out using Royal Rainbow except for Zenigata, who is now stuck to the
katamari himself. Mario and Luigi run back out to get their stuff
back, beat up on Zenigata a little bit, Final Fantasy victory music,
fin. A complete three-act play in two minutes. Much to our surprise,
we won the Best In Show for the skit contest!
About the katamari: The framework was made with aluminum tubing:
strong, lightweight, flexible, and cheap. It had two halves,
connected by a central axle of PVC piping and plumbers' joints.
Between the two halves was an open gap (i.e., it's not a complete
sphere); this allows its occupant (Vivi, playing Fujiko) to walk along
the ground, hidden from the audience as long as she hunches over. The
framework was covered with chicken wire, and then dozens of random
objects were secured to the chicken wire with zip ties. It was not
very visible from the audience, but the objects on the katamari
included many anime in-jokes, like a Pikachu, an Evangelion
wall-scroll, plush Catbus and Porco Rosso, flyers from old Acens,
etc. etc. There was an empty one-gallon soy-sauce drum, an old style
Macintosh mouse, and the original Saturday Night Fever album
sleeve. (I'm quite proud of that.) Also, every lightweight ferrous
item we could scrounge up, meaning about half of our kitchen utensils,
went on one side. The other props, meaning the Mario and Luigi hats
and the (styrofoam) hammer, had powerful rare-earth magnets (from here) built into them, and so they
could stick to the metal side. Our Katamari could actually pick stuff up! Well, it worked in reherasal much better than it worked on stage. Oh well.
To do the split-in-half maneuver, Vivi carried a pair of wire
clippers, and at the key moment she cut the connections between the
two katamari halves, invisibly to the audience, and unscrewed the
central axle, so that the thing would fall apart after my
"cut". Vivi is the hero of this skit for flawlessly pulling
off this ridiculous series of maneuvers!
This skit almost didn't happen. Our prop construction was insanely ambitious, and
things ketp going wrong and falling apart. We missed one rehearsal
opportunity after another because of scheduling problems; we ended up
doing our first and only rehearsal for the Katamari skit on Thursday
night, just before the con.
In order to make this rehearsal, I had to
pass up a very special Aikido class. The famous Ikeda sensei came to
our dojo to teach for one night only. If I was sensible, I would have
been doing that instead of this ridiculous skit. But for whatever
reason, I came home for the rehearsal. Then I found out that Jim
(Zenigata) was talking about backing out. Jim's parents flew in
to town from far away for Saturday only, and it was his sister's
birthday, and he quite understandably wanted to spend it with them
instead of us. Saturday was the day of the performance and there was
nobody else who could play his character. We had more problems with
the magnetic hammer and hats, and at that point Jeremy (who has a
pessimistic streak when things aren't going his way) gave voice to
what all of us were thinking: "Should we give up?" he asked.
No way! The skit isn't really important, but I passed up Ikeda
sensei for this (not to mention all those weekends I spent on building
the damn katamari) and I am not going to let that be for nothing.
That's what I decided. I had to resort to some guilt-tripping and
some harsh tones in order to get everybody back on board.
One thing I've learned is that if you want to get stuff done with a
large group of people, sometimes you have to be the bad guy. This is
ironic because earlier that day I had been thinking about giving up
myself, and then there I was championing the crazy thing and basically
ordering everybody back to work.
Jim managed to borow a car, drive out and meet his family for
lunch, and make it back to the convention in time for the
performance. He deserves major, major props for that. Alexis, too,
left the con temporarily for her grandfather's funeral and then
came back to play Yomiko. Man, I love all these guys. They're so
So the lesson is, never give up your dreams, no matter how silly
and pointless they are! If you perservere you might win the adoration
of thousands of nerds! I think it was worth it.
The whole Masquerade (skit and costume contest), often a stressful
event, went off amazingly well this year. The "just
costumes" and the full skits were cleanly separated this year,
which was a win for all involved. In past years the audience has had
to suffer through hours of skits which were just lame, and hard to hear;
this year there were many fewer skits, and they were almost all good.
Some of them were really creative and well-done. It was stiff
competition. It's like all the bad-skit people just stayed home this
year. The sound system worked perfectly, so you could actually hear
what people were saying most of the time, and with fewer skits we
finished on time for once! There was time to kill while the judges
deliberated, in fact, even after the fluffy J-pop idol singer they
brought in finished her act; one of the MCs got the bright idea to
start up some random disco music. Soon the entire audience (literally
several thousand people) was getting
out of their seats and dancing along. This was the kind of ACen it
was: lots of positive energy, almost no bitching.
The sight of the backstage room, full of hundreds of anime cosplayers
dancing to "YMCA" is something I will not soon forget.
Shortly before showtime, I stepped on a sharp piece of broken glass
(going around barefoot was in character, but dumb of me). With no
first aid available, I staunched the bleeding and made a makeshift
bandage out of wet paper towel and duct-tape. Duct Tape Forever! The
Show Must Go On!
Just like last year, I spent the majority of the time at the con
doing last-minute skit preparation (I perfected the Royal Rainbow
effect just a few hours before showtime, after many false starts.) and
when I wasn't doing that, I was making onigiri. So I didn't interact
much. As one friend put it, "You paid $40, not including the hotel
room, for the privelige of showing your skit to others." The executive
suite actually had a fridge and a kitchen sink, so it was perfect for
making onigiri. I got real efficient this year and set up a
production line, piling the results next to labels indicating the
filling. "Salmon", "Kimchi", "Tuna", "Katsuo", "Umeboshi", "Tarako"
and "Possum". The oft-repeated conversation went like this:
person: What's possum?
me: It's possum.
person: No, really, what's in this?
person: Is "possum" like a nickname for some kind of special flavor combination?
me: Possum. The only marsupial native to North America. Try some.
person: Are you serious?
me: Here's the can it came in.
It's true. Back when I was collecting metallic objects for the katamari, somebody came up with a small can of potted possum from Alabama. It's processed, so it looks like Spam (or cat food), but it's not bad. It has a delicate, almost minty flavor; I don't know whether that's from something it was cooked with, or whether that's inherent to the possum.
Late Saturday night, I put a big pile of leftover (non-possum) onigiri in a box and went around the con offering them to random people. They disappeared quickly; people didn't even ask what the fillings were. What I want to do next year is to make a big triangular foam-rubber onigiri-shaped head, and a cape, and run around the con at midnight distributing onigiri to random people like a deranged superhero. Also, Alexis wants to do a Phantasy Star group cosplay. I get to be Myau!
This is the first weekend in several months that I DON'T have to spend building props for the Acen skit. The Acen skit is done, huzzah! So I will update my blog and tell you of many wonders.
First, the most righteous George Clinton concert! It was Da Bomb. In fact these are the guys who invented the phrase "Da Bomb".
A random stage dude came out first to get the crowd riled up. He got us chanting"WE! WANT! THE FUNK!" ever louder as we pumped our fists in the air. The curtain rose and the stage was bathed in ghoulish red light, as a dark figure surrounded by a half-dozen keyboards made a deep, discordant, throbbing morass of nosie, kind of like a twisted organ dirge. The main guitar player, wearing nothing but dreadlocks and an oversized diaper, came out next and added to the sonic madness. More and more musicians joined in and the noise got louder and louder and more discordant, and then it started to form a rythm, and then it started to form a groove, and then it started turning into something familiar, and finally it resolved into one of their famous songs, and they were off to the races! Not to stop for a single moment until well after midnight, 3+ hours later. Each song grooved on indefinitely and bled seamlessly into the next, and back again, and off into crazy improv territory. At one point they even covered a Frank Zappa song, "I am the Slime", which made me very happy.
George himself had purple dreadlocks and a pink furry top hat. He's like 80 years old, so he's there more as a ceremonial figure than an actual performer these days. He introduced some of his grandkids; they came up to the mike and took turns rapping.
They frisked everybody on the way in, but people apparently managed to smuggle drugs in anyway, cuz somebody passed a joint from the audience up onto the stage, where it was enjoyed by george and passed around. This happened FOUR TIMES.
There were like twenty people on stage at a time: singers and dancers and keyboardists and drummers and guitar players and trumpeters and saxophonists and people just there to be crazy, guys dressed as hippies and cowboys and gangsters. There was a girl doing a sexy dance on roller-skates, and some women in slinky dresses doing sultry doo-wop backup vocals. The whole thing was quite erotically charged, without being sleazy. And then there was the guy who was bald except for a ponytail, dark glasses, white and black robes that looked like some kind of futuristic preisthood uniform... "Play yo bass, sucka!" they told him, and he played a full-on whaka-chika bass solo that went on for like ten minutes.
My favorite part was Sir Nose. He had the long fake nose and he was wearing all white fur : white fur pants, white fur wide-brimmed hat, white fur jacket with no shirt -- the better to show off his rippling brown musculature. And these were frightengly low-riding pants here. Anyway, he kinda snuck up from backstage and made a nuisance, holding up signs like "FUCK GEORGE!" and when the band was trying to get the audience to sing along and make more noise, Sir Nose would do sssh motions and flip people off. The band pretended not to notice him for a while, but then he tried to steal their instruments, and they got into a fracas, and he was beaten off. One of his shticks is that he refuses to dance, until the rest of the band overwhelms his resistance with their combined funk power and he finally joins them. Once he started dancing, eh was really impressive. He climbed up on top of a tower of amps and speakers and did a handstand and he rippled his belly muscles seductively.
I just realized something. I haven't been listening to any music at all since the concert. This is unusual. Have I been spoiled? Now that the full power of the true, live funk has flowed through my body and transformed me will all other music forever pale in comparison? Will I never be able to enjoy un-funky, white people music again? A scary thought.
Wait, let's try an experiment. What's the whitest, un-funkiest band you can imagine? Yes, that's right, Genesis*. Let me just dig out my bootleg copy of "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" and start it up here to gauge my own reaction...
...Yeah, I think I'll survive somehow.
* -- Rush would also have been an acceptable answer.
I've decided not to do scavhunt this year. (Hmmm, they seem to have made their homepage into a parody of a content-free high-tech corporate website, amusing.) I've been waffling for a couple of weeks; I love Scavhunt, but the timing is just really bad this year. This weekend is the last chance to prepare Acen skit stuff, and there's just, what is it, five weeks? left for me to clear out my backlog of work so I can finish my degree and go travel around the country in June with a clear conscience. ScavHunt would kill my productivity for much longer than the four-day duration of the event itself: the grueling mental and physical effort combined with the sleep deprivation and the disconnection from reality would render me useless for the following week at least. So it just seemed like a really bad idea. The last straw is the e-mail I just got from Gregor, asking why he hasn't seen my paper on GUSS yet. It sucks to be responsible, but I really need to spend this week writing that GUSS paper, instead of, like, launching gerbils into orbit, or making plutonium out of common household items, or whatever the hell is going to be on this year's list.
Lately I've been considering a new philosophy: that the purpose of living is to generate stories worth telling. This story may not have a happy ending, and you may not even be the hero -- you may realize you're the sidekick, or the comic-relief character. But the benefit of this perspective is that every miserable, rotten thing that happens to you becomes just another plot twist adding neccessary dramatic tension, and can even be seen as improving the overall story.
The story-theory isn't testable, of course, but take a moment to consider what you might do differently if you assumed it to be true. Maybe it is not the wisest action, nor the action which leads to personal gain or happiness, but the action which will make for the most interesting story, that you should choose. Corollary: practice telling stories. It's a lost art these days. Whether you do it in writing or speech or Claymation or whatever, and whether the stories are true things that happened to you or whether they're ancient myths or science fiction, there is a very subtle skill to telling stories well which is just a cool thing to be able to do.
Anyway, the reason I bring that up is because ScavHunt is one of the best sources of raw story material that I know of, and so I hate to pass it up. But I have to weigh the present against the future, and I really don't see much future potential in "The story of Jono the Scav-Hunt Champion and Grad-School Dropout". If you see where I'm going with this.
A guy who works around the corner from me just came out of his office yelling gleefully. I forget this guy's name, but he is known for a strange sense of humor. When I asked him what he was so excited about, he said "I've just been invited to Stockholm to give a very special presentation, if you catch my drift." University of Chicago has had 78 nobel laureates already; I guess this makes 79!
This paragraph exists only to test a bugfix to my rss-feed generator script.