Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year Animation ft. King Taro and Pita

So, I don't know what to say about this video, except that it seems pretty cool, and it seems to espouse the multi-cultural, trans-national spirit of goodwill that we all ought to be embracing for these last few months before the Mayan Zombies come after us.

This was made for last year's New Year by King Taro. The singer is Pita.

Like the pocket!

Sherlock / Smaug reads Kubla Khan

So, the official title of this is "Benedict Cumberbatch reads Kubla Khan," but if you're like me, you're all, "Who the hell is Benedict Cumberbatch? That sounds like either a good way to ruin poached eggs, or some sort of sexually transmitted fungal infection."

To save you from embarrassment, I'll just tell you. He's this dude:

image from Wikipedia

That's the actor who plays Sherlock Holmes in the most recent incarnation from the BBC, Sherlock.

He's also going to be playing the dragon Smaug in the upcoming Hobbit movies (via motion capture), and providing the voice for the Necromancer (aka Sauron). In those same movies, Bilbo Baggins will be played by Martin Freeman. Freeman also plays Watson opposite Cumberbatch's Holmes.

Somehow the whole situation seems Oedipal to me, although I can't quite articulate why.

Anyway, here is Cumberbatch reading Kubla Khan, one of my favorites. It is embedded here as a YouTube video, but is just audio.

If you're watching it with the sound off, but want to know what the experience would be like if you could actually hear it, here are a few comments from YouTube:

     "I want to be these words. His voice practically caresses them."

     "I would gladly go to that pleasure dome if he was in it."

     "me gusta"

     "OVARIES GO BOOM!!!!!!"

Thursday, December 29, 2011

1971 Bukowski letter on poetry reading

So, I'm not a huge fan of Charles Bukowski's poetry, but the dude wrote some awesome letters. This one was posted yesterday at Boing Boing. It is his response to a request to perform a poetry reading.

Just check out that last paragraph:
I'm working on my 2nd. novel now, THE POET, but I'm taking my time. They say it's 101 [degrees] today. Fine then, I'm drinking coffee and rolling cigarettes and looking out at the hot baked street and a lady just walked by wiggling it in tight white pants, and we are not dead yet.
You read that in a letter and it is smoking-hot prose that makes you want to go get drunk with the guy. That's a paragraph that could only be written by the coolest person you know. But somehow, his poetry all sounds exactly like that. And, for me at least, in the context of a "poem," I would probably feel that it was trying to hard. Or, rather, trying too hard in some ways and not hard enough in others. Maybe it is the extra expectation that is placed on words when you call them a poem, or maybe the sense of deliberateness that it implies. I'm not sure.

I think when I read that paragraph as a spontaneous statement, it crackles, but if I assume that it is deliberately crafted art, the crackle goes away. It makes me wonder if it would seem as compelling if it were written in 2001, rather than 1971, using a word processor rather than a typewriter. Maybe even the typo in "degrees" is key in conveying the authenticity / spontaneity of the statement.

Anyway, Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing got the letter from the tumblr this isn't happiness, which is full of cool stuff. If you don't already follow it, you should. Here are just a few of many, many gems to be found there (arranged roughly from FTW to WTF):

Twitter Revolutions, Reformation Style

So, a couple of weeks ago, the Economist ran an interesting article on Martin Luther and the Reformation, arguing that the social media of the day (inexpensive mass production of pamphlets) played a crucial role in fueling the spread of Luther's ideas. It's a fun read, full of interesting history, with parallels drawn to the Arab Spring revolutions throughout. It is also interesting how the tone of much of the discussion has not changed so much:
Sylvester Mazzolini defended the pope against Luther in his “Dialogue Against the Presumptuous Theses of Martin Luther”. He called Luther “a leper with a brain of brass and a nose of iron” and dismissed his arguments on the basis of papal infallibility. Luther, who refused to let any challenge go unanswered, took a mere two days to produce his own pamphlet in response, giving as good as he got. “I am sorry now that I despised Tetzel,” he wrote. “Ridiculous as he was, he was more acute than you. You cite no scripture. You give no reasons.”

Also circulated at the time was this political cartoon on the origin of monks, created and circulated by the pro-Lutherans. Spoiler alert: they were crapped out by demons.

Over at The Renaissance Mathematicus, Thony Christie has an interesting follow-up post on the topic. He points out that the role of cheap mass production of pamphlets in driving the Reformation is academically well established. He also makes interesting points about the role of the new printing technology in spreading the astronomical ideas of Copernicus and Kepler, as these sort-of hitchhiked on astrological pamphlets.

Also, he calls me a sick warped bastard, but in a good way.

My recommendation: go read both!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Your "Santorum Surge" is finally here

So, if you're a Republican presidential candidate and former US Senator from Pennsylvania, you may have been feeling a bit plugged up in the polls.  You have been hovering irregularly in the low single digits, seemingly obstructed by a gang of competitors.

But, finally, those low polling numbers have been evacuated.

The most recent CNN/Time/ORC poll in Iowa found that Santorum has surged to 16%.

A Santorum Surge straight from God!

Congratulations, Rick!

Unrelated photo:

BTW, I didn't even know that orcs did polls.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Proving Atheists Wrong with Science #1

So, this is pretty awesome. Posted seemingly without irony by twitterer @LoveGod50.

via @EdYong209 via @NaomiMc via @isaach

Friday, December 23, 2011

Pandering to Mongolia

So, I've just posted the most recent Darwin Eats Cake strip: Where in the World is Darwin Eats Cake? Mongolia Edition.

Where in the World is Darwin Eats Cake is the regular feature where we look at Google Analytics to see where people have been visiting the comic from. We then put together some humor designed to appeal to those countries that have not ever visited. Previously, we have done Papua New Guinea and Bolivia.

There was an unfortunate episode during the period when the Darwin Eats Cake cast was camping out at the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York. In an effort to keep up production, I was forced to hire replacement characters, who put together an installment on Finland, despite the fact that we actually get a fair amount of traffic from there.

It was terrible. Just terrible.

There's probably a lesson in there somewhere.

Anyway, here's the latest one.  Much easier to read on the original.

Best URL for sharing:
Permanent image URL for hotlinking or embedding:
UPDATE: Oh, I forgot two things.

First, as of right now, Darwin Eats Cake has received visits from 126 different countries, but still a total of zero visits from Mongolia, Bolivia, and Papua New Guinea, combined.

Second, thanks go to Manduhai Buyandelger for consultation. However, she should be held in no way accountable for the offensive, stupid, or just unfunny bits here. Shit, maybe that's the whole thing. Well, still thanks and apologies to Manduhai!

Mongolian Joke Video Ricchi e Poveri ft Classic Gem and Zaya

So, in the process of researching the upcoming Darwin Eats Cake, which is going to be featuring Mongolian humor – or, rather, Mongolian-inspired "humor" – I came across this. I'm not entirely sure what the joke is, but I think it relates to splicing in some presumably Italian dude into the video?

The comment left by the poster on YouTube was:

"Italian pop mongolian pop new super best"

I think Classic Gem is the woman, and Zaya (apparently pronounced "Z-A-Y-A") is the guy, but I'm not really sure.

Anyway, I was sort of grooving on it, and I thought I would share. You are welcome!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Have a shiny (샤이니) Christmas

So, here's a little bit of Christmas joy from South Korean boy band SHINee (샤이니). They're like the Back Street Boys of Korea, or maybe the Spice Girls of Korea, or maybe the Harlem Globetrotters of Korea.

I don't know, there are five of them.


Calamities of Nature on the Meaning of Christmas

So, this comes from Tony Piro's awesome Calamities of Nature comic. It's from last year, but has not become less true. Check out the rest of Tony Piro's work.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Doctor Who Timeline / Infographic

So, I like this mostly because it is really long, and thus exploits one of the affordances of the web format. I mean, it would either look like crap in a magazine, or involve a big fold-out thingy, and probably no one would bother to make it then.

Anyway, this comes from It's got all your Doctors, your Companions, your villains, and little fun facts.

Minor quibbles:
Considered by many to be the most iconic Doctor, the fourth Doctor appeared in more seasons seasons and adventures than any other.
The Fourth Doctor is the only Doctor.
 "Blink" is consistently cited as one of the most popular episodes in the history of the series, even though the Doctor is largely absent from the majority of the episode.
The supposed "Doctor" in this case is the tenth "Doctor," in light of which I would suggest replacing "even though" with "because."

Fun fact not included in the poster: Lalla Ward, who played the second Romanadvoratrelundar, is married to Richard Dawkins.

Occupy Wall Street Lego Set

So, the other day I was talking with my kid, and he was bemoaning the fact that with Playmobil and Lego, the criminals are often much cooler looking than the police. I've been encouraging him to use the criminals as occupiers, so that the criminals can be the good guys. Remember, the Rebels in Star Wars rarely did anything that was not against the law!

On that topic, here is a pitch-perfect video from Slate, and I soooo wish you could actually buy these.

Ultra Justice!!!

Merry Pastafarian Christmas

So, I was hoping to find a FSM-themed Christmas video to post for you. There are a few out there, but none that I felt surpassed the quality threshold I try to apply to the blog.

What quality threshold, you ask? Fair enough.

Anyhoo, here's an excellent little video. It's lack of explicit Chrismas themèdness is more than compensated by the hypnotic tune and rockin' graphics.

"Let him clean up your mind / Feel the power of his balls"

Music by The Oufs, who, adorably, have a myspace page. Graphics by Noam Raby.

If you prefer, the video is also available with Turkish subtitles.

2011: The year in volcanoes

So, The Atlantic has an awesome gallery of pictures of volcanic activity from this year. Check it out.

via Kottke.

Monday, December 19, 2011

North Korea Party Rock

So, nearly two million of you have already watched this on youtube. The rest of you can watch it here.

Good-night, sweet, psychopathic, strange, little prince.

Steampunk Star Wars

So, how awesome would this have been?

Yes, that's Steampunk Princess Leia. Presented here to rekindle the 21st/19th-century version of all of your adolescent fantasies.  

And here's the corresponding stormtrooper, to rekindle your nightmares.

And finally, here's Yoda, taking a drag on . . . um . . . let's say it's that spice stuff from Dune. He can totally see what color the force is now.

These are the work of visionary genius Bjorn Hurri, whose mother, I assume, went through only a thirty-minute labor.

via Bit Rebels, where you can also find Boba Fett, C3PO, and an in-progress Jawa.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ronin Institute website up-ish

So, I have finally created a webpage for the Ronin Institute. It is quite bare-bones at the moment, and will be morphing considerably over the next few weeks. Those of you who have used Wordpress will immediately recognize it as what a webpage looks like when you set up a Wordpress site without doing anything else.

The URL is

I have included a disclaimer in reference to this blog (Lost in Transcription), that it does not represent the views of the Ronin Institute. This might seem a bit weird, since, at the moment, the Ronin Institute consists of, well, me. The issue I see going into the future is that I often spout off political / religious / cultural opinions here. Those opinions are honest and mine, but are not directly related to my scholarship / research. Furthermore, once the Ronin Institute has established its tax-exempt status, I believe that it will be prohibited from expressing particular forms of political opinion.

So, the Ronin Institute will have its own blog, the Ronin Blog, which is currently at:

The Ronin Blog will provide updates from the Ronin Institute, some cross-posted from here, information about Ronin Institute activities, and, hopefully, discussions about the challenges, rewards, intricacies, etc., of doing scholarship outside of the traditional academic structure.

If you're an independent scholar, and would be interested in contributing, let me know! Happy to have cross posts from your own blog.

Friday, December 16, 2011

I Am An Action Scientist

So, I Am An Action Scientist is an excellent little song by Adam WarRock written for the Atomic Robo comic. About Atomic Robo:
Atomic Robo is secretly hired by the US Army to infiltrate the hidden Himalayan mountain base of Baron Heinrich Von Helsingard before he perfects a superweapon for the Nazis.
So, you know, sort of like Captain America meets Short Circuit.

This is my new motto: "I am an action scientist. / That's why the science is guiding my fists."

Notice: best heard at max volume with pipette in hand.

Check out the comic here. Download the mp3 here.

via Boing Boing.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Calvin and Hobbes Winter Wonderland

So, this is an excellent little musical montage of snowman scenes from Calvin and Hobbes lovingly rendered by Jim Frommeyer and Teague Chrystie. If you're interested in how they did it, you can read (and watch) more here. If you're more of a consumer, just sit back and enjoy.

Note that at the time of this posting, the YouTube page actually has more likes than views. I don't know how that's done, but seems right. I certainly like it more than once.

via Topless Robot.

Don't try this at home: High School incest prank is hilarious, apparently

So, apparently in Minnesota, spin the bottle is a game for the whole family.

Here's a prank from Rosemount High School. Some of the team captains were blindfolded and then kissed by a special someone. The twist? The special someone was one of their parents! Hilarious, right?

When I read the description of this, I assumed that the parents were also blindfolded, but no, they knew exactly what was going on. Although, in retrospect, if the parents were blindfolded and thought they were making out with someone else's high-school kid, maybe it wouldn't be that much better.

Hard to know what to say about this, except, hey, everybody seems to having a good time, so maybe the rest of us should, you know, sit down and quit judgin'.

The video is a little shaky, so it won't be that satisfying for those of you with mommy and/or daddy issues who are watching in a darkened room with a box of kleenex.

The description in city pages is actually much racier than the actual video:
And these are not just innocent pecks on the lips. The parents are intimately lip-locking their children for several seconds. One even progresses to rolling around on the gym floor. In another instance, a mother moves her son's hand south so he's grasping her butt.
via Boing Boing, Gawker, where everyone seems to be completely scandalized.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Occupy the Death Star

So, Darwin Eats Cake has returned from two consecutive strips featuring dumb math equation jokes to check in with Eleonora on how the occupation is going.

Best URL for sharing:
Permanent image URL for hotlinking or embedding:

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dr. Breakfast

So, this video is called Dr. Breakfast. It will be at Sundance in 2012. The official description says:
One day at breakfast, a man's soul busts out of his eyeball. While the soul roams the earth eating everything in sight, two wild deer bathe and dress the man's catatonic body. . . 
Which, you know, yeah, it's that. There's a certain something-else-ness to it, though. Watch:

via The Awesomer, who call it "bizarre, yet heartwarming," and I'm all, yet?

The filmmaker, Stephen Neary, has a blog where he has a bunch of interesting stuff about how the film was made, his other art, and words and stuff. Much of it has a similar something-else-ness, which is similarly enjoyable.

Get your boomenfreude on!

So, remember the baby boomers? Maybe you've heard of them by their other name, the Most Self-Important Generation. They're the ones who think that just because they brought you Hendrix, now they get to bring you an Orwellian police state, and you should just shut up and thank them.

Well, here are two things that made me smile this week, both of which are a form of response to the way in which a demographically very narrow experience has been defined as the essence of "American," (and, in related news, "American" as the essence of "right").

The first is from xkcd, and the second is from community, which is one of the smartest shows on television, which is probably why the baby-boomer executives have placed it on indefinite hiatus.

Finally, because I think it fits in nicely, I have included an excerpt from a letter written by Thomas Day in the wake of the Penn State scandal (read the whole thing here).

So, sit back and get your boomenfreude on!

Think of the world our parents’ generation inherited. They inherited a country of boundless economic prosperity and the highest admiration overseas, produced by the hands of their mothers and fathers. They were safe. For most, they were endowed opportunities to succeed, to prosper, and build on their parents’ work.
For those of us in our 20s and early 30s, this is not the world we are inheriting.
We looked to Washington to lead us after September 11th. I remember telling my college roommates, in a spate of emotion, that I was thinking of enlisting in the military in the days after the attacks. I expected legions of us -- at the orders of our leader -- to do the same. But nobody asked us. Instead we were told to go shopping.
The times following September 11th called for leadership, not reckless, gluttonous tax cuts. But our leaders then, as now, seemed more concerned with flattery. Then -House Majority Leader and now-convicted felon Tom Delay told us, “nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes.” Not exactly Churchillian stuff.
Those of us who did enlist were ordered into Iraq on the promise of being “greeted as liberators,” in the words of our then-vice president. Several thousand of us are dead from that false promise.
We looked for leadership from our churches, and were told to fight not poverty or injustice, but gay marriage. In the Catholic Church, we were told to blame the media, not the abusive priests, not the bishops, not the Vatican, for making us feel that our church has failed us in its sex abuse scandal and cover-up.
Our parents’ generation has balked at the tough decisions required to preserve our country’s sacred entitlements, leaving us to clean up the mess. They let the infrastructure built with their fathers’ hands crumble like a stale cookie. They downgraded our nation’s credit rating. They seem content to hand us a debt exceeding the size of our entire economy, rather than brave a fight against the fortunate and entrenched interests on K Street and Wall Street.

On Ronin and the importance of physical colleagues

So, welcome back to my intermittent live-blog of my adventures in forming a non-profit research institute in order to function as an independent scholar. I've written a couple of times before: about my own goals for the enterprise, and about the things that an independent scholar will most be in need of.

One of the things, of course, that an independent scholar needs is colleagues. Depending on the nature of your research, you might be able to do the day-to-day work (math and programming, in my case) entirely on your own, but unless you are a very special sort of misanthropic genius, you need interaction with a set of colleagues. Sometimes you will want to take on collaborative projects that require the expertise of more than one person, but even more, you need knowledgeable people to bounce ideas off of, people who will ask the critical questions that make your work better, or who will drop some jewel of knowledge that lets you see the problem you've been working on in an entirely new way.

Now, in principle, much of this can be accomplished on the internet, but I am wondering if there are not certain types of information that more or less require face-to-face contact.

Last week, I was at a "catalysis meeting" at NESCent (the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center) on genomic imprinting. The meeting was superb. It had excellent people who work on the problem from all different perspectives: theorists and experimentalists, molecular and developmental biologists, mouse people, marsupial people, bee people. I learned a ton, and, perhaps more importantly, I learned of the existence of a bunch of things that I didn't know. I still don't know them, but now I know that I should know, and I know where to start looking, and whom to ask for help when I get stuck.

As an aside, I also had the chance to meet Craig McClain, Assistant Director of Science at NESCent and doyen of the group blog Deep Sea News. He was as nice as their blog is awesome.

Some people say that biologists grow to resemble the organisms that they study. You be the judge.

You might think that meetings like this are particularly efficient for transmitting information, but that you can accomplish the same thing through more aggressive and far-reaching readings of the literature. After all, the organizers of the meeting were able to find these people. In principle, I could just get all of their papers and read them carefully, referring to textbooks on biochemistry or mammalian physiology whenever there was something I didn't understand.

But I'm not sure that would actually work.

The thing is, some of the most important pieces of information I got at the meeting were things that are not written in papers, or perhaps anywhere, nor are they likely to be. For example, there were a number of people there who have spent years working with lab mice. They have observed thousands and thousands of crosses (e.g., the outcome of a mother of one mouse strain mating with a father of a different mouse strain). This has given them a deep knowledge of what does and does not happen in these crosses, as well as a sense of how sensitive different traits are to the details of the experimental procedure.

An interesting thing was that there were certain results from the scientific literature that none of these people believe, because they are not consistent with their own observations. Now, no one has gone and written a rebuttal letter, or published a set of negative results contradicting the original papers. They have all just sort of implicitly agreed that results using a certain technique, or sometimes results coming from a certain lab, are unreliable, and they move forward with their research as if those results did not exist.

So, there is this substratum of knowledge that is widespread among experts, but which does not find its way into print. In part, this is due to the thanklessness of writing response letters and publishing negative results. In part, I think, it results from a sense of decorum / political consideration. It is common for scientists to have opinions that whole swaths of research are garbage, and it is common for them to share this knowledge in conversation, particularly over beer. However, most are too cautious to put their genuine opinions down in writing -- even in e-mail.

As the good folks at Gawker say, "Today's gossip is tomorrow's news!"

Fundamentally, I don't think that there is anything wrong with this arrangement, as it maintains a pretty high bar for calling someone out for doing bad science, but permits people to move forward with what they collectively perceive to be the best possible information. However, it does point to the importance of getting out there and interacting with people face to face. Otherwise, you may find yourself developing a whole research project that is predicated on some results that no one thinks are true.

I should note that this problem is not unique to the independent scholar. If you are working in a typical university department, there may not be anyone else in your department -- or only a small number of people -- whose research is close enough to your own that you share the same scuttlebutt. That is, no matter who you are, you need to make sure that you pursue opportunities to talk informally -- and in person -- with the people who care about the same things that you do.

One last observation from the NESCent meeting. This was the first scientific meeting I have attended under my official affiliation with the Ronin Institute. This meant that people would look at my name tag and ask me about it. I would tell them briefly about the idea and my plans for Ronin, and they were all very enthusiastic. The people who had come over from England, in particular, tended to comment on how very brave I was. After I got back, I came a cross this translation guide:

If you work with anyone British, you should print this out and carry it around with you. It serves as a handy guide as to whether you need to be punching them in the nose.

I'm going to assume that this is just wrong. Let's posit that a better translation for "That is a very brave proposal" would be "Wow! You are a singular genius and an inspiration to children around the world! Also very sexy! Mee-yow!"

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What if there were Chinese or Russian military bases in Texas

So, it turns out that Ron Paul's new ad is pretty awesome. I feel pretty ambiguous about many of Paul's positions, but this is one topic on which I think he is exactly right. Also, everything about the way this video is done, from the graphics, to the modulation of the audio, to the text itself, is just rock-tastic.

That's the official Ron Paul video, which I think was just released. However, there is another version that was made and posted back in May. I don't find it quite as compelling overall.  The graphics are a little more inventive, but lack the frenetic energy of the new video. Also, the older one actually uses Ron Paul's voice throughout, which lacks the cinematic, Orwellian overtones of the speaker in the new video.

Like I say, I don't necessarily agree with Ron Paul on a lot of positions, but I am glad that he is out there making this argument. I wish more people in our government were making it.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Russian Burger King is AWESOME!!!!

So, this is apparently an actual television ad for Burger King in Russia, which is soooo much better than Burger King in America.

At Burger King in Russia, you ride on unicorn. At Burger King in Capitalist America, unicorn rides you!

via Jezebel.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Welcome back to the obscurity

So, I just got back from a NESCent catalysis meeting, and boy is the free energy of my transition state reduced!

There's been a lack of bloggage over the past week, since I was actually off doing some science, or, rather, talking with people who have been doing actual science. When you're a theorist, it's a fine line.

[Note to self: include clever transition here before posting.]

Which brings us, obviously, to the latest two Darwin Eats Cake strips, which feature abusively obscure equation-themed humor:

Best URL for sharing:
Permanent image URL for hotlinking or embedding:

Best URL for sharing:
Permanent image URL for hotlinking or embedding: