Monthly Archives: June 2009

solstice!

today is the longest day of the year!  celebrate like Matt & Kim, who use this occasion to go all over brooklyn playing drum and keyboard in the sun.

mithra-grandchamp

Two years ago I had the pleasure of reading The Diving Bell and the Butterfly after seeing the film of the same name.  Both are the memoir of Jean-Dominique Bauby, a young editor of the fashion magazine Elle who has a stroke and becomes completely paralyzed, except for his left eyelid which he can blink.  Bauby (pre-stroke) would be best described as a playboy, one of the most famous and notoriously indulgent men in France.  His recount of his fall from grace is both elegant and deeply uplifting; despite the tragedy that has befallen him, Bauby remains remarkably optimistic throughout the novel.  In fact the name of the book comes from the feeling that although physically he feels like a man stuck in an archaic deep-sea diving suit – a diving bell – his mind is now more free to float about like a butterfly, unhampered by any barrier that may have once restrained it.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Perhaps the most unbelievable thing about this book is how it was written.  Since Bauby could not talk, the entire book was transcribed by an aide of his who would read off all the letters of the French alphabet in order of their frequency in french words, with Bauby painstakingly spelling words letter by letter.  Writing a paragraph would take hours, and together Bauby and his assistant wrote a whole book.

Baubys letter chart

Bauby's letter chart

Bauby obviously had a beautiful mind and a gift with words as the editor of a major magazine, but he never fully realized his talents until he had his means of expression taken away.  When it takes you all day to write a paragraph, you have a lot of time to think about how you want to perfectly shape your sentences.

I would have expected Bauby to angry and sardonic about his terrible fortune, and at some points he is understandably frustrated. Yet throughout most of the book Bauby is inspiringly thankful to be alive.  In some lucid dreams, Bauby imagines rising from his bed to dance with a statue of a Goddess that stands outside his door, both miraculously sprung to life despite the shackles of anatomy and physics.  Rarely does he ever draw pity from the reader and never does he beg for it.  Still, it would be inhuman to turn an apathetic eye to Bauby as he gleefully describes watching his children play and grow up before him on a few of the rare excursions he was allowed to take to the french riviera.  Every small event, from his baths to televised soccer matches, feel like small miracles to Bauby.  Although Bauby frequently cheated on his wife while he was healthy, she still loves him and goes out of her way to make his life more comfortable after his stroke, and her love may be one of the most beautiful things about the novel.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

One of my favorite chapters of this book was Bauby’s recount of a horse race several years before he had his stroke.  He, as editor of a small newspaper, took his best friend and coworker to the race track one friday.  They had receieved a hot tip about an underdog horse who was a “guaranteed winner” and they had intended to place large bets for themselves and a few coworkers who were still in the office that day.  In the swirling smoke and summer heat of the grandstand, time slipped by and Bauby and his friend missed placing their bets by mere seconds, and thus lost out on winning a large sum of money for themselves and their coworkers when the underdog won.  Together they watched the horse pull away and thought about how sad their coworkers would be when they returned to the office without the expected prize money.  The name of the horse was Mithra-Grandchamp and he came to symbolize lost chances to Bauby.  The following quote is from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and I think it beautifully describes “the one that got away” – in whatever sense that might be.

Frankly, I had forgotten Mithra-Grandchamp.  The memory of that event has only just come back to me, now doubly painful: regret for a vanished past and, above all, remorse for lost opportunities.  Mithra-Grandchamp is the women we were unable to love, the chances we failed to seize, the moments of happiness we allowed to drift away.  Today it seems to me that my whole life was nothing but a string of those small near misses: a race whose result we know beforehand but in which we fail to bet on the winner.  By the way, we managed to pay back all our colleagues.

Being in LA, i sometimes wonder what i opportunities were lost by moving so far away from friends and family whom i love.  It is reassuring to think that although i am somewhat bound by my decision, there are no permanent barriers to freedom such as the ones Bauby suffers.  Further, his beautiful literary stylings and unflinching hope in the face of a dark future are very uplifting.  So i suggest you read The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. It is a great summer book, it being neither long nor dull nor overly lecturing, and the chapters are short so its easy to read while trying to fall asleep, lest you get stuck mid-chapter with heavy eyelids.  It all happened in the 90’s so it doesnt feel outdated.  And if reading isnt your thing, the movie is lovely, too.

Jean-Dominique Bauby

Jean-Dominique Bauby

Wolf Shirt

-because i love zombie movies and Dan Boekner (from Wolf Parade).  i dunno but if it were me, i wouldnt let a zombie spit in my mouth even if it were love.  i would blast that bastard.

one of the best parts of the internet is how easy it is for “inside joke” type of mockery to spread.  for example this wolf shirt has become a cult favorite on amazon.com for obvious reasons:

wolf shirt

wolf shirt

at some point the snarky, hipster crowd found out about this shirt and ran with it and now this shirt is one of the most highly reviewed items on amazon.  almost every user leaves a 5 star rating plus a hilarious quip about how the shirt cured their HIV or something.  below, some of the most popular are sampled.  also, check out the images section of the amazon page to see the wolf shirt doctored into some really funny pictures.

This item has wolves on it which makes it intrinsically sweet and worth 5 stars by itself, but once I tried it on, that’s when the magic happened. After checking to ensure that the shirt would properly cover my girth, I walked from my trailer to Wal-mart with the shirt on and was immediately approached by women. The women knew from the wolves on my shirt that I, like a wolf, am a mysterious loner who knows how to ‘howl at the moon’ from time to time (if you catch my drift!). The women that approached me wanted to know if I would be their boyfriend and/or give them money for something they called mehth. I told them no, because they didn’t have enough teeth, and frankly a man with a wolf-shirt shouldn’t settle for the first thing that comes to him.

I arrived at Wal-mart, mounted my courtesy-scooter (walking is such a drag!) sitting side saddle so that my wolves would show. While I was browsing tube socks, I could hear aroused asthmatic breathing behind me. I turned around to see a slightly sweaty dream in sweatpants and flip-flops standing there. She told me she liked the wolves on my shirt, I told her I wanted to howl at her moon. She offered me a swig from her mountain dew, and I drove my scooter, with her shuffling along side out the door and into the rest of our lives. Thank you wolf shirt.

Pros: Fits my girthy frame, has wolves on it, attracts women
Cons: Only 3 wolves (could probably use a few more on the ‘guns’), cannot see wolves when sitting with arms crossed, wolves would have been better if they glowed in the dark.

-B.Govern

and some of the first reviews…

You would not believe the pussy i pull in this thing

-Don Juan

My power has increased 100 fold with the addition of this shirt to my already vast arsenal of wolf shirts

-Tomash

I just saw this guy with this exact same shirt on!  he made my pussy all wet

-Stacy

if god wore a shirt, it would be this one

-brownrice

nothing more beautiful than a girl in a wolf shirt and panties

-throwdest

excellent roaming shirt out in the desert.  gets you great reception for your cell phone as well

-teh win

“born to bone” is more like it when you wear this f*er around

-fazle

my last GF was stolen by a guy who had a wolf shirt for every day of the week

-Dodgeboy

OMG i got into a gangbang with a pack of hot wolves because of this sexy shirt

-Roflcopter

Some people say my father created Earth in 7 days… he created the wolf shirt before he even began thinking about making the world

-Black Jesus

this shirt cured my AIDS!

-OMG

There is no way our shirt cured AIDS.

-Admin@everythingwolf

if you love hipster-savvy humor, definitely check out the amazon.com pages for Tuscan Whole Milk, 1 Gallon, 128 fl oz Uranium Ore and the JL421 Badonkadonk Land Cruiser/Tank (see below).

badonkadonk land cruiser/tank

badonkadonk land cruiser/tank

interpreting the cards

sometimes metaphors are best

a short time later, when the carpenter was taking measurements for the coffin, through the window they saw a light rain of tiny yellow flowers falling. they fell on the town all through the night in a silent storm, and they covered the roofs and blocked the doors and smothered the animals who slept outdoors. so many flowers fell from the sky that in the morning the streets were carpeted with a compact cushion and they had to clear them away with shovels and rakes so that the funeral procession could pass by…

-Gabriel Garcia Marquez – 100 Years of Solitude

seth galifianakis

many of you have probably heard of zach galifianakis, the bearded funny man from movies such as “out cold” and the recently released “the hangover” and also some other goofy shit that you probably dont like or understand unless you are tragically hip like myself.  most people have yet to be introduced to his twin brother, seth galifianakis.  seth is a stark contrast to the angry and comedic zach, but in his soft-spoken, conservative north carolina drawl seth helps elucidate some of the origins behind zachs funniness.  my favorite part is near the very end where seth adopts the anonymous moniker “marcus” and uses the black-out lighting to describe a moment from the last time him and zach hung out.

mutated sea bass with lasers

laser shark

artists rendering of theoretical laser shark

as per the request of one Mr. AB, i would like to use the space afforded by my most recent blog post to discuss super lasers, specifically ones under the auspices of mad-scientists such as the ones in this article sent by mr. AB (super laser article).  naturally, these scientists have a secret lab under the san francisco harbor.  it only makes sense this would happen in california… im guessing these laser scientists will soon kidnap governor schwarzenegger who will require my skills to save the himself and the world.  then we will fight alien hunters together in the jungle.

fodder for the governator

fodder for the governator

the basic workings of modern lasers are relatively simple, but still kind of a pain to understand unless you like physics.  the basic idea is that there is a tube with some source of light and mirrors on both sides.  this light shines on a bit of special material and excites electrons.  think of it as a room full of 8 year olds and you give some of them candy… now they are running around like crazy.  unlike the kids, this excited material gives off its energy very fast in the form of light, which is coherent with the initial light (in “harmony” – the coherence and wavelength of the light has to do with quantum physics of the material and can get pretty nasty.  basically the initial light and created light make each other stronger).

anyways, this wavelength of light is roughly akin to the amount of energy given off by the kids with candy while they are in their hyper state.  now imagine all these kids running around and bouncing off the walls.  every time the hyper kids run into a calm kid, they both end up hyper and running off the walls.   will the insanity ever end?  yes, now imagine there is a little open door on one end.   every now and then one of these kids is gonna randomly bounce right out that door.  in a laser, the excited light is bounced back and forth off the mirrors as the excited light builds up, but the mirror allows a small amount of light to pass through each time – this is the emitted laser.  the importance of a laser is that it allows a lot of energy to be built up and focused on to a very tiny spot, generating heat or bright light and other nonesuch.

a laser

a "laser"

if you have had enough physics bull jive, skip to the next paragraph.  in this article, the scientists have further focused the laser light from 192 lasers on to a single point.  the goal is to create nuclear fusion, which is used in hydrogen bombs where its only purpose is to destroy some junk but is too hard to control for any practical purposes like nuclear energy.  the difference between this (nuclear fusion) and existing nuclear technology (nuclear fission) has to do with some of the basics of nuclear and quantum physics.  in fission, a really large molecule like uranium is hit with a neutron (a neutral subatomic particle like protons and electrons with the same mass of a proton and are more abundant in larger atoms).  this creates an unstable atom which splits apart into multiple atoms and usually an alpha (electron) or beta (two neutrons and two protons, or a helium atom without electrons) particle , giving off all the energy that was previously binding the atom together as heat.  this is why atomic bombs are so devastating.  after the reaction, the neutrons are stuck in smaller atoms (which again, usually have less neutrons per atom) and the neutrons are thus given off as radiation until the radioactive waste reaches a more comfortable state.  the emission of these particles can create a “sustaining” reaction by crashing into other atoms and causing them to split.  sustainment is controlled in a nuclear reactor by carbon rods that absorb excess atoms, while in bombs the reaction is allowed to go on uncontrolled.  fusion is basically the opposite reaction – two atoms are smashed together to give off energy.  this is usually hard to do because the most dense part of an atom is the nucleus, which has a bunch of positive charges.  think about bringing the north poles from two really strong magnets together.  nuclear forces get enormous on very small scales, so very controlled and very strong lasers must be made to bring atoms together.  in enormously dense and hot objects like the sun, the gravitational force can be strong enough to compact cells together and has enough energy to make the fusion occur, which allows for the release of lots of energy.  normal chemical reactions involve the exchange of electrons while fusion involves the exchange of protons (which have ~1000 times more mass and thus more energy potential).  so while it may take a huge amount of focused energy from lasers to make fusion possible, it also will give off huge amounts of energy.  this was the importance of the famous E=mc^2 equation – c is the speed of light (enormous) and m is the mass of a material, so as Einstein correctly postulated, a lot of energy can be released by the seperation of nuclear components.  think of nuclear fusion like an investment of a few thousand $$s to a prince in africa who will then use the money to establish a bank account and deposit millions of inheritance dollars of inheritance into your coffers.  the initial energy investment may be large, the payoff is well worth it!

nuclear fusion

nuclear fusion

nuclear fission

nuclear fission

i digress.  the coolest thing about this article is that they seem to have figured out a good way to focus laser light for future energy applications.  while they will probably not figure out a way to do cold fusion like in the saint and none of these scientists are elizabeth shue, maybe they can learn a bit about reactions in the sun.  but it does scare me that the article mentions this laser as a weapon… like we need to make hydrogen bombs any more deadly.
im an engineer and a physicist, there is no danger of my hearts surrender because i dont know any girls

im an engineer and a physicist, there is no danger of my hearts surrender because i dont know any girls

as an aside, in general i support nuclear energy; for the last 15-20 years the technology has been tremendously safe and if you think about it the coal and gas fuel we have been using for the past century has devestated our earth as well as our own health.  the biggest problem is storage of radioactive waste and there doesnt seem to be a good way to do that.  and for what its worth i am in favor of reducing nuclear weapons and preventing other countries from going nuclear but thats just my 2 cents.

z machine for fusion reaction

z machine for fusion reaction

uncontrolled fusion - hydrogen bomb
uncontrolled fusion – hydrogen bomb