Cthulhu and Shub-Niggurath

For S.J.F.:

From Wikipedia:

“Despite his notoriety, Cthulhu is not the most powerful of the deities, nor is he the theological center of the mythos. Instead, this position is held by the demon-god Azathoth, an Outer God, ruling from his cosmically centered court.”

Another Lovecraftian entity that I mentioned last night was
Shub-Niggurath, a.,.a. “The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young.” (For some reason, I remember the name being slightly different, Shub-ish-Niggurath, but that seems to be incorrect.)

According to my copy of Deities & Demigods (James M. Ward with Robert J. Kuntz; Lake Geneva, WI:TSR Games, Inc., 1980), Cthulhu has 400 hit points, is armor class 2, has 30 attacks per melee round, doing 1-10 HP damage (times 30!), is 100′ tall, and is chaotic evil. And he also has the powers of a 20th-level magic-user/illusionist.

See also: A Lovecraftian Bestiary.

Here’s a Lovecraftian MTG card: Cosmic Horror.

Published in: on 25 January 2009 at 6:19 pm  Comments (1)  
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Italy Sees Declining American Tourism

Europe feels U.S. financial crisis in absence of tourism.

Hey, I did my part to help Italy.

Published in: on 25 January 2009 at 10:14 am  Comments (2)  
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Archimedes: The Method

A long-lost text indicates that Archimedes was developing the foundations of calculus, almost 2000 years before Leibniz and Newton.

I just love those ancient Greek philosopher guys. They were really smart.

The problem of preserving ancient documents reminds me of a book by Geraldine Brooks entitled People of the Book. I’m just starting to read it.

Also consider the Antikythera Device. It’s like one of the magical mechanical devices you might see in, say, The Golden Compass (the spy fly, or the alethiometer), or Harry Potter. They should make an MTG artifact card entitled Antikythera Device.

The Golden Compass vs. The Chronicles of Narnia

For K.C., regarding your forwarded email entitled “POLAR BEAR.”

The polar bears reminded me of a movie I saw on DVD (Netflix) the other day in which a polar bear played a major role: The Golden Compass.

It is interesting to compare The Golden Compass with The Chronicles of Narnia. The latter is of course by C.S. Lewis, and is full of Christian allegory. E.g., the hero Lion-King who doesn’t seem to be around to help yet you must believe in him, who sacrifices himself to save the day, and who is miraculously resurrected.

The Golden Compass, on the other hand, is a not so thinly-veiled dig against organized religion, perhaps specifically organized religion of the Christian type (hmm, Snopes has an entry on this). In the movie, the evil Magisterium wants to control everybody’s thoughts, to vanquish free will across all the universes. This Magisterium represents organized religion. Since the story is set in what looks like late-Victorian or Edwardian England, we might take the Magisterium to represent the Anglican Church, but it might instead represent the Catholic Church (the Wikipedia entry seems to indicate the latter).

I wonder, if the version of Christianity that became dominant had instead been a knowledge-based Gnosticism variant rather than the belief-based version that we know, could movies such as The Chronicles of Narnia or The Golden Compass have been written? Would there even have been any movies at all? Would religion-based issues such as evolution and abortion have figured so largely in politics? Perhaps other topics (particle physics? professional sports? music theory?) would have been contentious instead?

If I recall correctly, some religious communities were against Harry Potter because of the alleged promotion of witchcraft. I’m not aware of any religious issues associated with The Lord of the Rings, although I know that Tolkien (friend of C.S. Lewis; they were both Oxford dons) was a devout Catholic.

And it’s interesting that The Golden Compass, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Harry Potter are all set (at least partially; most of the action in The Chronicles of Narnia takes place in Narnia, after all) in what looks like late-Victorian or Edwardian England. And the Shire in The Lord of the Rings looks like medieval England.

Romanian Chocolate

For M.V.

The two tablets of Romanian chocolate you gave me last year inspired this post. They were:

  • Laura, tabletă cu lapte, cremă de vişine
    Product of Kandia-Excelent
  • Novatini, cremă caramel
    Product of Supreme Group
  • Here’s a nice 2005 analysis of chocolate brands in Romania by a branding consultancy named Grapefruit. Interesting points include:

  • In Romania, chocolate tablet brands have short (2-4 syllables), feminine names.
  • The packaging of the downscale market is exclusively in Romanian and is the least “talkative,” while that of the upscale market is multilingual and is the most verbose.
  • If a brand is a “sweet-talker” (e.g., more imaginative names and slicker packaging), it’s a sign that it is more expensive.

  • In my earlier chocolate post, my thought chain lurched from chocolate to a more sinister Lovecraftian theme. In parallel, here I find my thought chain careening from Romanian chocolate to… Dracula… and Count Chocula 😀 LOL! I apologize! Please forgive me!

    Cartoon Commercials in Italian Train Stations

    In my recent vacation in Italy, cute cartoon commercials were displayed in the monitors in the train stations (in Milan as well as in Verona). Here are some snapshots I took with my cell phone. Can anybody out there please translate the sentences in the last two snapshots?












    Published in: on 23 January 2009 at 6:32 am  Leave a Comment  
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    Tunes Performed by Alex Hassan Tonight

    For D.G., regarding Alex Hassan’s performance at the Millenium Stage tonight (unfortunately, requires RealPlayer to view the video; link goes to the Millenium Stage’s video recording of the event).

    The first piano roll tune that Alex played was Your Feet’s Too Big.

    Your Feet’s Too Big, Fats Waller (listen for the humorous lyrics)

    Your Feet’s Too Big, Sesame Street

    And the opening tune for the J. Fred Coots medley was For All We Know (it later reappeared in the medley).

    For All We Know, sung by Nat King Cole

    This is the version that I am familiar with; the golden-voiced Nat King Cole is accompanied by a string arrangement by Gordon Jenkins.

    The Jay Buddy Effect

    Some years ago, Jay Buddy made the following conjecture:

    The Jay Buddy Effect: Men born towards the tail end of the Baby Boom face intense competition finding a wife.

    Jay Buddy’s reasoning was that since women tend to prefer older men, it follows inexorably that men born towards the tail end of the Baby Boom are competing for a smaller cohort of women born after the Boom.

    On closer examination, Jay Buddy’s thesis seems based on three assumptions (have I left any out?):

    1. Women preferentially marry older men.
    2. Within an age cohort, approximately equal numbers of males and females are born, with perhaps a slight preponderance of males (see below).
    3. Between 1946 and 1964, there was a baby boom. The U.S. Census Bureau considers someone born between 1946 and 1964 to be a Baby Boomer.

    Let’s examine each of these in greater detail.

    Male-female age asymmetry at time of marriage. Women tend to marry older men; equivalently, men tend to marry younger women. This isn’t a normative statement, but merely a fact. Certainly there are exceptions here and there (exceptions that prove the general rule), but I’m talking about population distributions, the central tendency.

    There may be evolutionary reasons for this. For example, in a 2007 article entitled Fertile Times for May-December Couples, science journalist John Bohannon summarizes a study of 10,000 Swedish baby boomers, both men and women, born between 1945 and 1955. The study found that choosing a younger wife or an older husband paid off in terms of children born: couples in which the husband was about 5 years older produced approximately 5% more children than same-age couples. On a population-wide scale, that’s a big difference.

    Sex ratio at birth. Back in medical school, I heard a statistic that about 51 boys are born for every 50 girls. (Upon hearing this I toyed with the idea of adopting the sobriquet The 51st Guy.) This seems to be approximately true, as confirmed by this 2005 C.D.C. report (here’s the corresponding Fact Sheet), although the ratio may be decreasing. (Conjecture: young males probably have a higher death rate due to hypertestosteronemia and general machismo, so the ratio may balance out.) Even if the ratio were equal, it seems to me that Jay Buddy’s conjecture would still hold

    The Baby Boom. During the decades immediately following World War II, there was a baby boom. The U.S. Census Bureau considers someone born between 1946 and 1964 to be a Baby Boomer. Here’s a public domain graphic from Wikipedia illustrating the Baby Boom:

    Number of births in the United States, 1934 to present

    Number of births in the United States, 1934 to present

    Now, Jay Buddy wasn’t a professional demographer or social scientist; he came up with this conjecture on his own! And it appears that he may have been on to something. For example, in the book Sexuality across the Life Course (1994), anthropologist Jane B. Lancaster writes:

    Guttentag and Secord (1983) pointed to less sweeping historic trends when they evaluated the shorter-term effect on marraige forms and sex roles of demographic fluctuations such as the baby boom and its effect on the supply of mates given the strong preference of women to marry men of older age (proven prospects) or superior status (James 1989). Women born early in the baby-boom generation found themselves in oversupply; men born at the end of the period find themselves either competing intensely for a much smaller cohort of younger women or else compromising their reproductive interests by marrying older women with reduced reproductive potential.

    Dr. Lancaster references a 1983 book by University of Houston social scientists Marcia Guttentag and Paul Secord entitled Too Many Women?: The Sex Ratio Question. If I understand correctly, the thesis of the book is that imbalances in the sex ratio can result in large-scale social consequences. The book also gives evidence that in 1970 there were only two eligible males for every three eligible women (cf. p. 175, and Table 7.1). In other words, there were “too many women” at the beginning tail of the Baby Boomer generation. The Jay Buddy Effect is the converse; there are “too many men” at the tail end.

    Consider this excerpt from a 2001 TIME article entitled Welcome, America, to the Baby Bust:

    Marriage prospects should improve for women in the baby-bust generation. Women tend to marry men a few years older than themselves, and younger women will find larger numbers of potential spouses among the baby boomers.

    The author doesn’t consider the obvious flip side, which is that men born at the trailing end of the Baby Boom face increased competition among themselves for those younger women in the baby-bust generation: the Jay Buddy Effect.

    And, in a 1996 interview, David Buss, author of The Evolution of Desire, said:

    When the baby boomers reach sexual maturity, since women desire men who are older, the pool of men they desire is much smaller, and so for these men who were born just before the baby boom, there’s a surplus of women. So you’d expect to see a lot more short-term mating going on in that group. And that coincides with what happened in the sexual revolution of the late sixties and early seventies – a surplus of women reaching sexual maturity. At the tail end of the baby boom you get just the opposite effect – women born at the end of the baby boom have many more older men to choose from.

    And finally, here’s an excerpt from a 1988 New York Times article entitled Coming Soon: More Men than Women:

    For two decades [keep in mind this is a 1988 article — Markov] there has been a shortage of eligible males largely due to the baby boom – the 75 million Americans born between 1947 and 1964. The reason is that first- time bridegrooms tend to marry women who are two to three years younger. This trend has remained constant for decades. And since each year of the baby boom until 1957 saw a larger number of births than the previous year, each age group of older males sought partners among a younger and larger group of females. This meant that the number of older men was too small for the larger group of younger women. But once the largest group of baby boomers passed through its 20’s – which happened in 1987 – then the younger, remaining baby boom males had to begin looking for their female companions from among a smaller group of females from the post 1957 ”baby bust” generation. For these men, finding wives two to three years younger will not be as easy as it was in the past.

    The N.Y.T. article then mentions Guttentag and Secord’s hypothesis that during a time of a relative surplus of women, you get an era of relaxed sexual mores, as women have to compete for scarce men: the Era of Free Love. But during a time of a relative surplus of men, one might expect that

    … a protective morality develops that favors monogamy for women, limits their interactions with men, and shapes female roles in traditional domestic directions.

    In summary, for men of a certain age, the Jay Buddy Effect presents a daunting problem. Perhaps the solution is for men born at the trailing end of the Baby Boomer generation to pair off with women born at the beginning of the Boom!

    In recent years, it has been reported that there is now a huge preponderance of boys relative to girls in China and India due to female infanticide. For example, in 2005 the ratio was 118 males born for every 100 females in China. What will be the effects on these societies?

    As a final note, Russia apparently has a reverse sex ratio problem. In 2005, there were 875 men for every 1000 women in Russia (Glenn E. Curtis, ed., Russia: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1996).

    Published in: on 20 January 2009 at 11:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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    Quotes About Card Games

    Last summer, I bought a book in Helsinki entitled Winning Quotations, by Markus Wartiovaara. In the chapter entitled “Game”, I found some quotations mentioning card games, which amused me since I really enjoy a certain card game. I especially like the quotation attributed to Jawaharlal Nehru.

    You play the hand you’re dealt. I think the game’s worthwhile.

    — Christopher Reeve

    Has fortune dealt you some bad cards. Then let wisdom make you a good gamester.

    — Francies Quarles

    A man’s idea in a game of cards is war, cruel, devastating, and pitiless. A lady’s idea of it is a combination of larceny, embezzlement, and burglary.

    — Finley Peter Dunne

    The game of life is not so much in holding a good hand as playing a poor hand well.

    — H. T. Leslie

    Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt you represents determinism; the way you play it is free will.

    — Jawaharlal Nehru

    In other words,

    L = D + F

    where L is life (a game of cards), D is determinism, a constant (the hand that is dealt you), and F is free will, a random variable (how you play the hand dealt you).

    This last quote doesn’t have to do with card games, but I couldn’t resist sharing it since it’s about video games:

    One of the best lessons children learn through video games is standing still will get them killed quicker than anything else.

    — Jinx Milea

    Published in: on 19 January 2009 at 10:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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    The Dry Cleaning Effect and Remembering Yourself

    ‘Dry Cleaning Effect’ Explained By Forgetful Researcher.

    In a nutshell, the rigid striatum is the autopilot, the flexible hippocampus is for (spatial) learning. Vow to yourself that the next time you see, e.g., a red bird, that you’ll say the word “parsimonious.” It seems technically easy to do. But do you think you can actually do it? Or will you forget?

    Maybe meditation is about training yourself to minimize use of the striatum and maximize use of the hippocampus. Even if you’re doing some menial chore that you’ve done hundreds of times before, remain engaged to the task at hand. I think this is what some people mean by the phrase live in the moment, or by one of the current New Age buzzwords, mindfulness.

    Don’t fly on autopilot; operate manually and maintain focused attention. It is difficult!

    I think this is related to turning off that incessant internal dialogue we’ve all got running in our minds like a ticker tape.

    In his book In Search of the Miraculous (6 MB File; top of p. 121), P.D. Ouspensky, a student of the mystic G.I. Gurdjieff, wrote:

    Then again I went out of the house. I walked on the left side of the Nevsky up to the Gostinoy Dvor intending to go to the Oflitzerskaya. Then I had changed my mind as it was getting late. I had taken an izvostchik and was driving to the Kavalergardskaya to my printers. And on the way while driving along the Tavricheskaya I began to feel a strange uneasiness, as though I had forgotten something — And suddenly I remembered that I had forgotten to remember myself.

    I think that Ouspensky had in mind this difficult cognitive task. He had vowed to “remember himself” as long as he could, but then fell back into the zombie-like autopilot thought mode. Although he was physiologically conscious while walking about St. Petersburg (even “changing his mind” at one point on where he wanted to go), in a sense he was only an automaton running on autopilot, a robot run by his striatum. And then his hippocampus kicked in, and he “woke up” and remembered to “remember himself.”

    There seem to be two usages of the word to remember. One usage (striatal?) appears to be somewhat static, like recalling some piece of information that you have memorized by rote, e.g. the year in which some great historical event happened, or the colors of the rainbow. The other usage (hippocampal?) is more dynamic, as in having to remember to do something, like stop by the dry cleaners on the way to work. Of course, it is this second meaning that the “Dry Cleaning Effect” article is about, and it may be related to the kind that Ouspensky was talking about, too.

    Published in: on 19 January 2009 at 1:48 am  Comments (3)  
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