The Ctulhu Sex Diaries
I had a dream a few nights ago that I found a book called "The Ctulhu Sex Diaries". I was flipping through it, and it was page after page of angular alien script and disturbing pictures of Ctulhu's tentacles doing unspeakable things to poor helpless old ladies. Unspeakable things which would have been physically impossible from the standpoint of three-dimensional Euclidean geometry. To look upon it is to go mad!
Note to subconscious: Why always old ladies? Why, subconscious, why?
The Man In Black
I needed some new RIGHTEOUS TUNEZZ to wash the sour taste of The Mars Volta out of my brain. So when I was in Borders getting a Father's Day present for Al (he's all of a sudded decided he likes Coldplay -- O...K... ) I got a couple albums for me too. Right now I am listening to...
The Legend of Johnny Cash
I know, I know, greatest hits albums are for housewives and little girls. But this is country music. I'm from New England. We're snobs up there about cultural stuff. When I was growing up, country music was the one thing my mom hated above all else and so it was this sort of cultural taboo that she passed on to me. I suppose that if I had wanted to be a rebellious teenager I could have listened to country just to annoy her, but that was never my style. (The economic definition of hatred: "willingness to take a net loss yourself in order to harm someone else". That pretty much describes listening to music you don't really like just to annoys omeone else.) So what I'm getting at here is that country music is a vast, unexplored, and frightening ocean to me, and starting with the greatest hits album of one of the safest/most popular acts is my way of sticking a toe in the water instead of jumping straight in.
Anyway, I've had this on repeat constantly since I got home and I'm really enjoying it. One of the nicest things about the music of Johnny Cash is that it is the exact opposite of The Mars Volta in every possible way. Check it out: Lyrics that I can understand! Simple, memorable melodies! Songs that are short and to the point! An appealing singing voice! Honest emotion!
Every song is a story, concrete and self-contained, and they range from funny to desperately sad. My favorite so far is the story of a guy working on the assembly line who steals himself a car "One Piece at a Time":
I left that day with a lunchbox full of gears
I never considered myself a thief
but GM wouldn't miss this one little piece
especially if I strung it out over several years.
And the sad songs are devastating, with this kind of grim resignation to the unfairness of the human condition.
I would like to talk about the reason I dislike the type of music I call angsty. It's not because I only like happy music. That's not it at all. All the negative emotions are an excellent source of inspiration for music, and other forms of art. (But Counsellor Troi, says Data, you told me that emotions are not inherently positive or negative...) But they have to be genuine, you know? There's a difference between a sad song that comes from deep down inside you, based on all the pain you've felt in your life, and a song where you fake being sad in order to impress teenage girls. And you can hear the difference if you pay attention. I guess what I'm saying is that being angsty is a privelige, not a right. You have to earn it.
I like to imagine that if Johnny Cash ever met The Mars Volta, he would kick all their asses, then sit them down and explain, in as few words as possible, exactly why they are all wasting their lives, and as he strode away into the sunset the Mars Volta would say quietly, "Thank you, sir.", and then look at each other and discuss how to turn over a new leaf.
Frances the Mute is a Terrible Album
While i was putting stuff into boxes, I found a CD which I had bought and then forgotten to listen to. It's the album Frances the Mute by the band The Mars Volta, released in 2005. A bunch of my knowledgable-about-music friends had said to me "Hey Jono, you like all that weird music, I bet you would love The Mars Volta!". And they get pretty good reviews online. So I was all excited to buy the album, then I forgot about it. When I rediscovered it, I had already packed up all the rest of my CDs, so it was about the only thing I had to listen to while doing the rest of my packing.
It's bad. Oh, it's really bad. It's not a good record at all. It's over an hour long, and in all that time there are only really two parts that had anything resembling a melody. And I don't mean two songs; there aren't really songs on this album, because they did the prog-rock thing and arranged the music as multi-movement 10+ minute "suite" tracks. Except most of it isn't music, it's just weird oh-look-at-how-artsy-we-are noises and a guy with a really annoying voice moaning nonsense lyrics. There's one track where he goes into Spanish for some reason, and OK, I admit that's pretty cool, but it diesn't improve the lack of melody.
I'm going to put the track list here, because the track names are hilariously overblown and cryptic, like they were trying to sound smart or something. I would like to stress that I am not making any of this up:
- CYGNUS... VISIMUND CYGNUS
- A. Sarcophagi
- B. Umbilical Syllables
- C. Facilis Descenus Averni
- D. Con Safo
- THE WIDOW
- L'VIA L'VIAQUEZ
- MIRANDA THAT GHOST JUST ISN'T HOLY ANYMORE
- A. Vade Mecum
- B. Pour Another Icepick
- C.Pisacis (Phra-men-ma)
- D. Con Safo
- CASSANDRA GEMINI
- A. Tarantism
- B. Plant A Nail In The Navel Stream
- C. Famine Pulse
- D. Multiple Spouse Wounds
- E. Sarcophagi
OK, look, I am a prog-rock fan. I love King Crimson and Yes and Rush and Jethro Tull and Gentle Giant and Magma and I'll even listen to Kansas and Pink Floyd and Renaissance and early Genesis when the mood strikes me. I like a lot of music which is artistically ambitious, and has weird time signatures and multi-part arrangements and weird noises and absurd track names and self-indulgent solos. Fine. But there has to be AT LEAST THE BASIC ELEMENTS OFMUSIC, SUCH AS MELODY AND/OR RHTHYM, IN THERE SOMEWHERE. Frances the Mute is conspicously lacking these elements.
There is a word for music, or other art, that adopts the trappings of something Deep and Meaningful and Serious and Important, but fails to back up these trappings with actual talent and creativity and substance. The word is
P R E T E N T I O U S
This is an often-abused word which prog fans typically hate to hear. Gentle Giant got called pretentious in a review once, and after that they got a neon sign made that said "PRETENTIOUS" and they hung it above the stage at all their concerts. But Gentle Giant had insane amounts of talent. Their music was an acquired taste, and weird and complicated and overly technical, as if their songs were attempts to prove obscure mathematical theorems in musical form, but they were always at least interesting and well done and fun to listen to, and the band could rock out with the best of them when they felt like it. Therefore I would not call Gentle Giant "pretentious", I would call them "ambitious".
But The Mars Volta, in the two fragments of the album that have a melody, just sound average. One fragment is in The Widow and it just sounds like your standard alterna-grunge. The other fragment is in L'Via L'Viaquez and it just sounds like standard heavy metal, but with lyrics in Spanish for some reason.
The lyrics are better in Spanish because I can't understand them. Of course the singer mumbles a lot so I can't understand most of the lyrics in English either. I checked the liner notes and then wished I hadn't. Here's a random sample:
i've always wanted to eat glass with you again but i never know how how to talk without walls dropping on the eve along the fallen scowled a fence of beaks but the temple is scathing through your veins they were scaling through an ice pick of abcess rekoning and when miranda sang everyone turned away used to the noise they obey and whoever said that they would scatter separating the mother from child she can bat a broken eyelid raining maggots from it's sty...
It's written just like that in the liner notes too, with no capitals or punctuation, like they think they're e.e. cummings or something. I really, really hope they used a random-word generator with settings turned to "maximum angst" because the idea of somebody spending time writing lyrics like that, and then putting them on a major-label record instead of on MySpace where they belong, is just too horrifying to contemplate.
You know, there were a bunch of classic prog-rock albums that I didn't like the first time I heard them. I didn't like King Crimson's Red at first; I thought it sounded too heavy and sludgy. I didn't like Relayer by Yes at first; I thought it sounded like a self-parody. I didn't even see what was so great about Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick until I had been through it a few times. But all of these albums had something about them which made me want to give them another listen, and another, and then at a certain point my brain suddenly figured out how to decode them, as it were, like learning to see the hidden 3-d pictures in the static in those "magic-eye" posters, and then Red and Relayer and Thick as a Brick became RIGHTEOUS TUNEZZ and I still listen to them regularly to this day.
So I'm like, maybe I should give Frances the Mute another chance or five. Maybe it will grow on me.
I did. It didn't. It's still sucky. I can do a limited amount of grooving out to L'Via L'Viaquez; it might be a halfway decent song if it were two or three minutes long instead of twelve. I also discovered another couple chunks of melody hidden in Cassandra Gemini, which I usually miss out on because Miranda... gives me an overwhelming urge to stop the disk and throw it across the room. But these chunks of melody are only a couple of bars long each and are repeated monotonously for minutes on end.
Yeah, that's what this record is. About a minute of musical content padded out with endless repetition, weird electronic noises, aimless thrashing, moaning, whining, and mumbling. Oh joy. You know what that reminds me of? It reminds me of Radiohead, the most overrated band of all time!
I think I will declare that my apartment, in addition to being a Smash Brothers-Free Zone as I have already declared, will also be a Radiohead-Free Zone. And next time anybody gives me a recommendation that starts with "Hey Jono, you like all that weird music, right?" I will remember to say, "Hold it right there. Does this band you are recommending to me perchance sound anytyhing like Radiohead?".
I'm not going to have internet access at my new apartment for about another week probably, but what the heck, I'll just post a bunch of stuff as normal and everyone can have a big chunk o' content to read when evilbrainjono.net comes back up.
So, Friday night I was looking through the meager contents of my cupboards to see what I could make for dinner, and I saw some packets of nasty cheapo Maruchan ramen. I decided that instead of eating them as-is, I'd run to the grocery store and pick up a minimal set of ingredients to make the ramen into something decent.
The kind of ramen packets I'm talking about actually have pretty decent noodles. They're almost as good as much more expensive restaurant-quality ramen. The problem is the broth. The broth flavor packets they give you are nasty. They're basically just salt and MSG. So the theory here is that we're going to use the noodles from the packet, but make a decent broth with meat and vegetables in it. Like the childrens' story Stone Soup, we're going to add so much good stuff that the inedibleness of the original stone -- or ramen packet -- becomes irrelevant. That's why I'm calling this recipe Stone Ramen.
Ingredients You Can Get At The Normal Grocery Store
- Three cheapo ramen packets
- A slab of pork, about 7/10 of a pound. A fattier piece of pork is better, for this recipe.
- Two green onions
- One big carrot (optional)
- A small can of bamboo shoots
- One egg
- Soy sauce
- Applesauce (the secret ingredient! No, really!)
Ingredients That Probably Require An Oriental Specialty Grocery Store
- Some squares of dried nori
- One log of Naruto (a kind of extruded fish paste with a pink-and-white spiral pattern) (That ninja on that popular cartoon show is named after this food.)
- A bag of katsuo-bushi (those dried fish shavings. The coarser kind, intended for making dasshi, is best.)
Makes about four servings
Step 1: Boil about 6 cups of water in a big pot. Put the lid on until it boils, then take it off. Also get a secondary, smaller pot or saucepan boiling for cooking the egg.
Step 2: Open up the ramen packets. Set the blocks of noodles aside. Eat the crunchy noodle crumbs at the bottom of the packets. Oh man those are the best part. I love those. Open the foil seasoning pouches and dump them into the pot. This will give us our RDA of MSG. Omit if MSG is not your style.
Step 3: Take a generous handful of the katsuo-bushi, if you have them, and throw them into the pot. Use more katsuo-bushi if you're leaving out the MSG. If you don't have katsuo-bushi, bullion cubes may be an acceptable substitute, but I haven't tested this.
Step 4: Throw the whole raw pork slab into the pot. The theory is that the pork fat will melt into the broth and make it delicious, while the pork cooks.
Step 5: Chop up the carrot, if you're using it, and throw that in. It wouldn't traditionally be in Japanese-style ramen, but it's good for you, and it makes a good replacement if you're missing the nori or the naruto. Also add the can of bamboo shoots around this time.
Step 6: While you're waiting for the pork and carrots to cook, chop the green onions into tiny bits, and hard-boil the egg in the secondary saucepan. I find that eggs take about 12 minutes after the water is already boiling to be completely cooked.
Step 7: Check on the pork periodically by fishing it out of the big pot onto a cutting board, and stabbing it with a knife. If there's any pink in the middle it's not done yet. Trichinosis is not your friend. When the pork is done, slice it into bite-sized pieces and set it aside. Let the broth continue boiling.
Step 8: Poke the carrots with a fork. When they feel soft, they're done. Get the vegetables and fish flakes out of the broth by pouring the pot contents through a large sieve. Set the vegetables aside and put the broth back in the pot. If you don't want fish flakes in your finished product, now is the time to pick them out and throw them away.
Step 9: The broth is now full of fish and pork and vegetable juices, which gives it lots of savoryness, but it needs some salt and sweet flavors. This is where the soy sauce and applesauce comes in. I used about one ladleful of each, but taste your broth carefully and use your best judgement. It's best to err on the side of too little soy sauce -- you can always add it to the bowls at the table, but you can't very well take it out if you add too much, now can you?
If you think applesauce is a weird idea, consider that it is often used as a condiment for pork chops. Also, I was once told by the family of one of my students in Japan that their special family ramen recipe involved boiling pork bones and whole apples for several hours. I don't have that long so applesauce is my substitute.
Step 10. Let the broth continue boiling, and bring the secondary pot to a boil again. Use it to boil the dried noodles, for however long the packages specify. DO NOT boil the noodles IN the broth; they release lots of starch when boiled, and you don't want that in the broth, you want to drain it out and throw it away. If you overcrowd the noodles they will stick together, so do one block at a time. Ladle the cooked noodles out of the pot into a colander and run cold water over them; this prevents them from getting sticky or soggy and generally improves the texture.
Step 11. Peel the hard-boiled egg and slice it.
Step 12. Get out four bowls. Into each bowl put:
- 3/4 package of cooked noodles
- Some pork, carrot, and bamboo shoot pieces
- A slice of hard-boiled egg
- One quarter-square of nori
- One slice of naruto
- Enough broth to cover all of this
- Half a raw chopped green onion
Serve with wooden chopsticks for the full effect. If you have broth left over, you can save it in the fridge and re-use it.
If you make this recipe, please let me know how it goes!
I have an apartment!
It's in Uptown, near the Wilson stop on the Red Line. It's a 20-minute bus ride to work; I can bike it in nice weather. An even shorter bike ride takes me to the Chicago Aikikai, Chicago Comics, Trader Joe's, or the Music Box theater (for Rocky Horror). From the Red Line stop I can go anywhere else in the city. The interior is really nice, with an open floorplan and lots of light, and it's a reasonable $700 a month. Although it's one-bedroom, there are two bathrooms for some incomprhensible reason.
I'm moving in this weekend. Once I'm set up there, I will invite everybody over for a housewarming party.
After nearly two months of fruitless searching, I was able to find the perfect place in one day through Chicago Apartment Finders. They are a free service (they get paid by the landlords). You go in to their swanky office (with tropical acquarium featuring all of the main character fish types from Finding Nemo), fill out some forms about what you need, their agents look up apartments in their database, pick out several promising ones, and then they drive you to each one the same day to have a look. They are professional without being corporate, and they basically bend over backwards to do whatever they can to help you. In my case their agents stayed on long past normal working hours to help me look up all the information I needed to finish filling out all the paperwork. I cannot overstate how impressed I am with this company, and I recommend them to anyone in my situation. They saw a need and they invented a creative way to fill it and they make a profit by making life better for people like me. Capitalism at its finest.
I am feeling so much better about everything in life than I was 24 hours ago. I am breaking out of the orbit of the U of C and starting a whole new life under the sea! And by under the sea I mean on the North Side! I will be alone again after two years with roommates, and I won't have any friends in the area, but it's no different from when I started in Kamaishi. I can take this opportunity to simplify my life, get rid of all the posessions I don't need, and try new things.
Man. I've been commuting an hour and a half to work each way for the past ten months. If I kept that up for a year, the hours I spent on public transit would add up to over one full month out of that year. Cutting down to a half-hour bike ride means I get ten extra hours a week to do whatever I want. I'm gonna go to aikido every single day. Between that and the biking I will become strong and healthy.
I am a little worried about Satomi. She had really wanted to live with me and is a little scared of living on her own. I'll have to go down and visit her ( and Cat and Eric ) regularly.
Awassa Peace Dojo
A year ago, summer 2005, I was training in Aikido almost every day with Don-sensei and Mark Walsh, a visiting British student. I mentioned some of our adventures in my weblog posts of the time. (Pity it's so hard to find older posts to link back to... hmmm, I ought to add a search feature to this site.) Anyway, as I may have mentioned then, Don-sensei and Mark Walsh are both involved heavily in the Awassa Peace Dojo project, which established the first Aikido dojo in Ethiopia -- in fact, the first in sub-Saharan Africa. Really pioneering stuff. Anyway, today I got sent this pdf file of a letter that Mark wrote about his adventures in Awassa. Read it, it's very cool.
Bustin up a Starbucks
Yesterday, on the way home, I stopped in a Starbucks to get a snack. Before I go on to the main point of this story, a little side rant: Starbucks is not evil. I keep expecting them to be evil, since they're a Big Agressive Franchise That Displaces Locally Owned Businesses, but they keep disappointing me by failing to be evil.
They have pledged to voluntarily reduce their own CO2 output by buying 20% of their electricity from renewable energy sources. They alo invest in social programs in the third-world countries that grow their coffee and are North America's largest buyer of "Fair Trade" coffee. So yeah, they are way more socially responsible than you would expect. The only downside is that going there makes you feel like a trendy hipster yuppie.
OK, so the point of the story that I was going to tell is that there was this crazy guy, an older black man, sitting at a table in the Starbucks who
just started talking to me when I came in. First he said I was handsome. Then he said "Hitler was a Christian". I'm like "What?" OK, this is something I've heard before from atheists who are eager to discredit Christianity. I'm not exactly the first person to leap to Christianity's defense, but I don't think for a second that Hitler was a Christian, regardless of what he might have claimed in public. I told this
to Mr. Crazy guy, and he responded "Jews killed Jesus". Oh boy, here we go, I thought, he's one of THOSE guys. Choose your response to "Jews killed Jesus":
- Dude, Jesus was a Jew.
- I thought the Romans killed Jesus.
- I'm not entirely convinced that a historical Jesus ever existed at all; given the lack of corroborating historical evidence outside the Gospels, he could as well be a mythological character.
- If we grant that Jesus was real and the Jews killed him, and look at it from a Christian's point of view: wasn't getting crucified all part of his/God's plan to redeem humans from sin? Isn't that the whole reason he was sent to earth? So if he wasn't killed, his mission would have been a failure, right? So, there's no reason to hold any ill will towards the people who killed him. Right? Am I missing something?
I decided to go with "Dude, Jesus was a Jew.", just for the sake of argument. I wanted to see where Mr. Crazy Guy was going to take this. He said "I've been researching this. Jews killed Jesus. Check your Bible. Hitler was a Christian. Hitler killed Jews. Hitler had a purpose, that's what I'm saying."
He did not appear to see the irony of a black man defending Hitler. At this point, I decided that this guy was either trolling me, or he was completely psycho. Either way there was no point in arguing, so I just gave him an evil glare and walked out of the Starbucks silently.
I was creeped out for a long time after that though.
Good news on apartment hunt?
I've given up on the idea of finding a place to live with Satomi. She needs to be close to U of C, I need to be close to work which is way up north, and attempts to split the difference led us on a fruitless search of various suboptimal neighborhoods.
Tonight I've got an appointment with professional apartment-hunters to scour the Roscoe Villiage/Wrigleyville area. This is where Atul lives, and he showed me the neighborhood yesterday. It is:
- Half an hour bus ride from work. I could probably even bike it.
- Within walking distance of the Chicago Aikikai. I could go there every single day for quality training from some of the highest-level Aikido teachers in the midwest.
- Within walking distance of a Trader Joe's.
- Next to a Brown Line stop for transportation to anywhere else in Chicago
OK, I'm sold. If I can find a one-bedroom apartment there for a price I can afford and with a decent kitchen, I will be all set.
Faucet mystery solved
Phil came over for dinner last weekend. Wow, I haven't seen him in forever. He figured out that the reason my kitchen faucet was operating in reverse was because the handle had gotten turned around 180 degrees. He turned it back and now left is hot again. Ohhhhh, that makes so much more sense than the theory that oompa-loompas had been sneaking under my sink and switching pipes.
Pontificating on Boot Camp and the future of Apple
I don't know if you were paying attention, but Macs (the new Intel-chip Macs) can run Windows XP now. Aha! Apple's decision to move to Intel chips, which was so mystifying at the time, now makes perfect sense. They were planning this all along.
Yeah, running Windows on a Mac is as weird as playing Sonic the Hedgehog on a Nintendo DS.
And Apple's prices keep coming down. I guess the iPod has finally made them realize that it's better to bring the price down and get more market share rather than making a high profit per unit on expensive things in a tiny niche market. If they had realized that twenty years ago they would have ruled the world. So you can now get an extremely awesome MacBook for $1099. And then you have the only brand of computer that can run software for all three main operating system families -- Mac, Windows, and Unix! We are entering a world where there is no reason not to use a Mac! Mwa ha ha ha ha.
This is a pretty good article which talks about the difference between Apple's and Microsoft's strategies. It makes a strong case that Microsoft's biggest competitor is not Apple or Linux or Mozilla or Google -- Microsoft's biggest competitor is itself from ten years ago.
I think Apple is thinking that they will lure in Windows users -- "you can still play all your games and be compatible with work, but you also get all this cool Mac stuff" -- and then wean them off of Windows entirely by showing them the superiority (or supposed superiority) of the Mac OS. But I am wondering if this plan might actually backfire. If most Mac users have a Windows partition, then there is even less incentive (not that there's much now) for third-party software developers to make a Mac OS native version of their programs. Who knows which effect will dominate?
At the same time, we're moving to a world where which OS you use just doesn't matter anymore. I have stated in the past that web-apps won't be able to replace real applications because there is no way to make a responsive user interface. I was wrong. Google Maps changed my mind. AJAX can make a responsive user interface. I am already in the habit of mailing important documents to myself so that I can access them from anywhere by logging into GMail. Because GMail's search feature is so good, it is often easier to find information in an email than on my hard drive. The advantages of keeping all your stuff on Google's servers instead of on your own computer is self-evident to many people.
I think in the next few years we will see somebody start selling some kind of web toaster -- a cheap, stripped-down computer which is nothing but a full-screen web browser. Its hard drive and file system could be stripped down to just what's needed for cache. It would be easy to make it secure, because there would be very little for viruses or spyware to affect. There are plenty of people, like my mom for instance, who don't need anything more than a web toaster.
For this reason, the operating system wars are already starting to seem kind of quaint, like the rivalry between emacs users and vi users.
Good tech support!
On Monday my laptop stopped recognizing its power cord. I have two power cords but neither one worked, so I couldn't recharge the battery. I backed up all my data and emailed Dell. Dell sent a guy to my house on Wednesday to replace the motherboard free of charge; now everything works great. Now THAT is customer service! Fast turnaround, people who know how to diagnose a problem, and a warranty that covers what it's supposed to cover! I am as impressed with Dell's customer service as I am UNimpressed with all the junk software they pre-loaded onto my parents' computer.
Apartment hunting is the pits!
This is just a quick entry to let everybody know I'm still alive. There are lots of things I want to write about but not enough time to finish any of them, because all my time and mental energy at the moment is devoted to finding an apartment.
I've searched dozens of websites, asked everybody I know for leads, written down phone numbers from billboards and magazines, and now I even have a real-estate agent searching for me. I've forgotten how many apartments in how many different neighborhoods I've been to visit. In retrospect, Judy's apartment, the first one I looked at, was nearly perfect. I should have grabbed it, but I wanted to keep looking for something better. Well, I haven't found anything better, and now Judy's apartment is no longer available. And I've got exactly two weeks before my current lease expires, so I'm in a bit of a panic mode.
It seems like apartments in general are "good location, good interior, affordable price: choose two". Good location means within walking distance of a train stop and a grocery store, and not in a gang-war zone, and less than an hour commute to work. Good interior means all the faucets and electrical outlets have to work, the kitchen has to be usable, and there has to be a washing machine in the building. Actually, I haven't even found a place that matches all these criteria, so price hasn't entered into it. Grr mumble snarl.
And I need to start packing all my stuff up right now no matter where I'm moving to.
Oh, I should warn you that this website will of course be going down for an unspecified period of time during my move.