Personal notes

Meeting of the memes

Shamus recently posted five things about himself that I didn’t know. Meanwhile, John S. posted six weird things about himself. I think I’ll combine the two. Here are five and a half weird things you probably don’t know about me.

1. I walk funny. Usually it’s not noticeable unless I’m extremely tired or wearing hard-soled shoes and walking on a hard surface. Something happened to my left leg when I was four around the time I had my tonsils out, and the muscle/tendon that runs to the top of the big toe quit working. In a normal foot, this tendon is what flexes the ankle. I never got an unequivocal explanation about what had happened from any doctor; it might have been polio, the symptons of which were masked by or mistaken for tonsillitis, or it might have been carelessly-located injection during the pre-op for the tonsillectomy. (I suspect the latter explanation is more likely.) I wore a brace most of my childhood and did exercises every day for years. Eventually one of the working tendons in my foot was transplanted to a position with better leverage, and the orthopedist let me discard the brace permanently. (One of the reasons I have been so fascinated by ballet is that it is something that I should never have been able to do at all. In fact, my late start was more of a handicap than my weak foot (though a career as a dancer would not have been a possibility even if I had started young enough).)

2. I hardly spoke at all until I was nearly four. My parents thought I was “slow.” Um, no.

3. I found hundreds, perhaps thousands, of four-leaf clovers over the years. They never had any effect on my luck.

4. I taught myself to write backwards when I was young. (No, I’m not left-handed. It just looked like an interesting challenge.) Nowadays, my backwards writing is far more legible than my normal script, which even I have trouble reading once it’s cold (thank God for the qwerty keyboard). It still looks like a fifth-grader’s penmanship.

5. For many years I was frequently told that I looked just like John Lennon. Strangers would say things like, “Hey, aren’t you supposed to be dead?” “McClane” and “McLean” are different spellings of the same name, so I was stuck with the face of one singer and the name of another, neither of whom I much cared for.

5.5. There’s a class of clothing that most people in developed countries regularly wear that I haven’t bothered with in years.

Let’s tag a few people. How about Gene Wolfe, Jonah Goldberg, Haruki Murakami, Benedict XVI and yoshitoshi ABe?



It’s entertaining to see what thinks I’ll like, based on my purchases and ratings. The first page of their recommendations for me includes John Renbourn, G.K. Chesterton, the Pogues, Jorge Luis Borges, James Lileks and Strawberry Marshmallow, all of which are quite reasonable. Further suggestions get odd, though. A pre-calculus textbook was mentioned because I rated one of James Thurber’s collections. And then there’s this:

(Missing graphic: Elfen Lied, recommended because I had rated Bottle Fairy.)

Notice why it was recommended to me.

(For those who are not familiar with the titles: this is like suggesting A Clockwork Orange to someone because he has read One Fish, Two Fish.)


Playing favorites

When you can’t focus your mind on the task at hand, you might as well do a silly meme. Here’s one Chan, the Bookish Gardener, found. The rules as originally promulgated are unworkable, so I ignored #1 & #2, and I also allowed characters from OVAs. I restricted myself to characters I’ve seen in the past five years, which is why Bugs Bunny is missing.

Twenty-five favorite television characters

1. Bullwinkle — one of the three great comic characters of the 20th century (the other two are Groucho Marx and Ignatius Reilly).
2. Reki (Haibane Renmei)
3. Lafiel (Crest/Banner of the Stars)
4. Kirika (Noir)
5. Touya (Cardcaptor Sakura) — anime’s tribute to older brothers everywhere.
6. Alice (Serial Experiments Lain)
7. Ruri (Martian Successor Nadesico)
8. Sai Nanohana (Jubei-chan I)
9. Lisa Simpson
10 (tie) Kei and Yuri (Original Dirty Pair)
12. Washu (Tenchi Muyo!)
13. Lexshue (Crest of the Stars) — she might not be a “regular” character, but she certainly is a memorable one, and that’s sufficient reason for me to include her.
14. Sakura (Cardcaptor Sakura)
15. Yomi (Azumanga Daioh)
16. Urd (Ah! My Goddess TV)
17. Saga (Sugar, a Tiny Snow Fairy)
18. “Icchan” (Angelic Layer)
19. Chloe (Noir)
20. Jiyu Nanohana (Jubei-chan I)
21. Kero (Cardcaptor Sakura)
22. Mihoshi (Tenchi Muyo! OVA) — incredible but true: a dumb, ditzy blonde who’s not annoying.
23. Kyusaku (All-Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku)
24. Admiral Spoor (Crest/Banner of the Stars)
25. Giroro (Keroro Gunsou)


Maybe not

Result: 35. Your score isn’t an achievement, it just is.

Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen and his colleagues at Cambridge’s Autism Research Centre have created the Autism-Spectrum Quotient, or AQ, as a measure of the extent of autistic traits in adults. In the first major trial using the test, the average score in the control group was 16.4. Eighty percent of those diagnosed with autism or a related disorder scored 32 or higher. The test is not a means for making a diagnosis, however, and many who score above 32 and even meet the diagnostic criteria for mild autism or Asperger’s report no difficulty functioning in their everyday lives.

My test tracked 1 variable.
How you compared to other people your age and gender:
You scored higher than 99% on points.

The Asperger’s Syndrome Test written by beachbummer on Ok Cupid.

I’m not autistic, just asocial.

(Via Frëd.)


By threes

1. Cell phone addiction
2. Comment spam
3. 42

1. Keyboards (QWERTY and MIDI)
2. Eighth Day Books flyer
3. Someday’s Dreamers

1. Listening to Helium Vola
2. Coughing
3. Missing dance class

1. Write a great novel
2. Record a great CD
3. Get a good night’s sleep

1. Program a sequencer
2. Build and play a hammered dulcimer
3. Cross my eyes

1. Quiet
2. Acerbic
3. Mostly harmless

1. Grand pliés in fifth position
2. Enjoy spectator sports
3. Smile on command

(I don’t think I need to mention Bach and Mozart)
1. Klezmer
2. Bluegrass
3. The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart

1. [C]rap and hip-hop
2. NPR
3. Billy Jeff Blythe

1. However
2. Hmph
3. No

1. More music theory
2. More math
3. More botany

1. Apple juice
2. Coke
3. Water

1. Moose and Squirrel
2. Dick Van Dyke
3. Green Acres

1. Turn the teevee OFF
2. Turn the radio OFF
3. Turn the cell phone OFF

Blame Robert the LLama Butcher for this one.


Checkmate, stalemate

Here’s an introduction to the varieties of fairy chess. This one we used to play in the dorm at the University of Dallas:

This variant, Kriegspiel, requires two chess sets, three boards, and three players. Two of the players set up on two boards facing one another, with a screen between them so they can’t see the other’s board. The White player has only the white chessmen; the Black player has only the black chessmen. The third player is the referee; she can see both of the first two’s boards, and has her own board set up with both white and black. This board is screened so that only the ref can see it.

The object of the game is checkmate, by the usual rules.

Each side moves in turn; after each move the ref either says “legal” or “illegal.” If the move is illegal the moving player must take it back and try another move until hitting on a legal move.

Before moving, a player may ask “Any?” meaning “Are any pawn captures possible?” If there are, the ref replies “Try,” and the moving player must attempt a pawn capture before attempting any other move.

When a piece or pawn is captured, both sides are informed of the fact, and what was captured, but the player losing the chessman isn’t informed of what it was that performed the capture. (Actually, in our games the player making the capture wasn’t told the results of his move, though he could guess a lot from his opponent’s screams.)

When we played this, the referee would record the moves as they were made. The best part of a game was playing through it again afterwards with all the pieces on one board so you could see how insane the moves were. In my most memorable game, I managed to reduce my opponent’s forces to the king and two pawns, while I merely lost a knight, a bishop, a rook and a few pawns — yet he managed to find a stalemate.

(Via Ernesto.)


Ancient snapshot

Over the years I’ve been told that I look just like John Lennon, or Dustin Hoffman, or Jack the Ripper (as portrayed in some movie I haven’t seen). I’ve never seen the similarities myself. A friend recently sent me this picture by Hans Memling, painted sometime between 1485 and 1490:

If you give the guy a pair of glasses and longer, straighter hair, he would indeed look more like me than anything ever captured by a camera.

Soundtrack: Leo Brouwer, “El Arpa del Guerrero” (Michael Chapdelaine, guitar)


Who needs Hollywood?

Robert the LLama Butcher has come across yet another list of movies to comment on. Rather than comment on his comments, I’ll instead list the 26 movies that I awarded 5 stars to at movielens:

400 Blows, The (Les Quatre cents coups)
Brazil (1985)
Bread and Chocolate (Pane e cioccolata) (1973)
Casablanca (1942)
Chicken Run (2000)
Close Shave, A (1995)
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963)
Duck Soup (1933)
Groundhog Day (1993)
Local Hero (1983)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974)
Player, The (1992)
Princess Mononoke, The (Mononoke Hime) (1997)
Producers, The (1968)
Wrong Trousers, The (1993)
Amarcord (1973)
Hope and Glory (1987)
Incredibles, The (2004)
Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
Ladykillers, The (1955)
Lavender Hill Mob, The (1951)
Magic Flute, The (Trollflöjten) (1975)
Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi) (2001)
Tampopo (1986)
Triplets of Belleville, The (Les Triplettes de Belleville) (2003)
Winged Migration (Le Peuple Migrateur) (2001)


100 questions

Here are my results on the Teachout Cultural Concurrence Index. My choices are in bold. This was a frustrating exercise. I haven’t seen a lot of movies or listened to a lot of jazz, and that is reflected in the 44 items where I couldn’t honestly make a choice. I’m shocked at how many books I haven’t read, and I’m irritated at how much I’ve never had an opportunity to see. I’ve read a lot about Mark Morris, for example, but the one time he passed through Wichita the barely-affordable seats were sold out long before I was in sight of the box office.

1. Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly?
2. The Great Gatsby or The Sun Also Rises? Gatsby
3. Count Basie or Duke Ellington?
4. Cats or dogs? Dogs (but I prefer cacti)
5. Matisse or Picasso? Matisse
6. Yeats or Eliot? Eliot
7. Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin? Keaton
8. Flannery O’Connor or John Updike? O’Connor
9. To Have and Have Not or Casablanca?
10. Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning? Pollock
11. The Who or the Stones? The Who
12. Philip Larkin or Sylvia Plath? Larkin
13. Trollope or Dickens?
14. Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald?
15. Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy? Tolstoy
16. The Moviegoer or The End of the Affair?
17. George Balanchine or Martha Graham?
18. Hot dogs or hamburgers? Burgers
19. Letterman or Leno?
20. Wilco or Cat Power?
21. Verdi or Wagner? Verdi
22. Grace Kelly or Marilyn Monroe?
23. Bill Monroe or Johnny Cash? Monroe
24. Kingsley or Martin Amis?
25. Robert Mitchum or Marlon Brando?
26. Mark Morris or Twyla Tharp?
27. Vermeer or Rembrandt? Vermeer
28. Tchaikovsky or Chopin? Chopin
29. Red wine or white? Red
30. Noël Coward or Oscar Wilde?
31. Grosse Pointe Blank or High Fidelity?
32. Shostakovich or Prokofiev? Prokofiev
33. Mikhail Baryshnikov or Rudolf Nureyev? Baryshnikov
34. Constable or Turner? Turner
35. The Searchers or Rio Bravo?
36. Comedy or tragedy? Comedy
37. Fall or spring? Spring
38. Manet or Monet? Monet
39. The Sopranos or The Simpsons?
40. Rodgers and Hart or Gershwin and Gershwin? G&G
41. Joseph Conrad or Henry James? James
42. Sunset or sunrise? Sunrise
43. Johnny Mercer or Cole Porter?
44. Mac or PC? Mac
45. New York or Los Angeles?
46. Partisan Review or Horizon? Horizon
47. Stax or Motown?
48. Van Gogh or Gauguin? Van Gogh
49. Steely Dan or Elvis Costello? Costello
50. Reading a blog or reading a magazine? weblog
51. John Gielgud or Laurence Olivier?
52. Only the Lonely or Songs for Swingin’ Lovers?
53. Chinatown or Bonnie and Clyde?
54. Ghost World or Election?
55. Minimalism or conceptual art? Conceptual
56. Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny? Bugs
57. Modernism or postmodernism? Modernism
58. Batman or Spider-Man? Batman
59. Emmylou Harris or Lucinda Williams?
60. Johnson or Boswell? Johnson
61. Jane Austen or Virginia Woolf? Austen
62. The Honeymooners or The Dick Van Dyke Show? Dick Van Dyck
63. An Eames chair or a Noguchi table?
64. Out of the Past or Double Indemnity?
65. The Marriage of Figaro or Don Giovanni?
66. Blue or green? Blue
67. A Midsummer Night’s Dream or As You Like It? Dream
68. Ballet or opera? Ballet
69. Film or live theater? Live
70. Acoustic or electric? Electric
71. North by Northwest or Vertigo?
72. Sargent or Whistler?
73. V.S. Naipaul or Milan Kundera? Kundera
74. The Music Man or Oklahoma? Music Man
75. Sushi, yes or no? No
76. The New Yorker under Ross or Shawn? Ross
77. Tennessee Williams or Edward Albee?
78. The Portrait of a Lady or The Wings of the Dove?
79. Paul Taylor or Merce Cunningham? Taylor
80. Frank Lloyd Wright or Mies van der Rohe? Wright
81. Diana Krall or Norah Jones?
82. Watercolor or pastel? Pastel
83. Bus or subway? (hey, I live in Kansas)
84. Stravinsky or Schoenberg? Stravinsky
85. Crunchy or smooth peanut butter? Smooth
86. Willa Cather or Theodore Dreiser? Cather
87. Schubert or Mozart? Schubert
88. The Fifties or the Twenties? Twenties
89. Huckleberry Finn or Moby-Dick? Melville
90. Thomas Mann or James Joyce?
91. Lester Young or Coleman Hawkins?
92. Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman? Dickinson
93. Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill? Churchill
94. Liz Phair or Aimee Mann?
95. Italian or French cooking?
96. Bach on piano or harpsichord? Harpsichord (or synthesizer)
97. Anchovies, yes or no?
98. Short novels or long ones? Short
99. Swing or bebop? Bebop
100. “The Last Judgment” or “The Last Supper”? The Last Supper

If I counted correctly, I am in sympathy with Teachout 29 times and in opposition 27 times for a TCC index of approximately 52%.


33 additional questions

After working through Terry Teachout’s Cultural Concurrence Index, I had to compile my own. Here is the Táncos Cultural Eccentricity Inventory, focusing on areas that Teachout overlooked. My preferences are listed first.

1. Philip K. Dick or Robert Heinlein?
2. Winsor McCay or George Herriman?
3. Crimson or scarlet?
4. Cream or Hendrix?
5. Francesco di Giacomo or Jon Anderson?
6. Cordwainer Smith or Isaac Asimov?
7. Mammillaria or Euphorbia?
8. Jacqui McShee or Maddy Prior?
9. The Dream (Ashton) or A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Balanchine)
10. Austrian Copper or Peace?
11. A Wizard of Earthsea or Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone?
12. Thunderstorms or snow?
13. Heath Robinson or Rube Goldberg?
14. The Face in the Frost or Stormbringer?
15. Muriel Spark or J.F. Powers?
16. Penrose tiles or the Mandelbrot set?
17. 3 Mustaphas 3 or the Klezmer Conservatory Band?
18. Steve Morse or Steve Vai?
19. Photography: black and white or color?
20. Four o’clocks or vinca?
21. Mountains or beaches?
22. Minimoog or DX7?
23. Chesterton or Belloc?
24. Stand Up or Aqualung?
25. Walnut or oak?
26. Chocolate: dark or milk?
27. Bill Nelson or Bryan Ferry?
28. Edward Koren or George Booth?
29. Terry Pratchett or Tom Sharpe?
30. Donald Barthelme or John Barth?
31. Randy Newman or Richard Thompson?
32. Stapeliads or orchids?
33. McCartney or Lennon?
Bonus question: “Simple Gifts” or “Amazing Grace”?

(If all internet lists and quizzes were to suddenly disappear from the servers, how much disk space would be freed up?)

Later: Let’s change the scoring.

First, calculate the magnitude of your eccentricity. Count the number of pairs in which you can make a choice without bluffing and multiply that number by 3 to obtain the percentage score (add one percentage point if you counted 17 or more pairs).

Second, calculate the quality of your eccentricity. Count the number of pairs in which your preference is the same as mine. Divide that number by the total number of pairs in which you can make a choice and multiply by 100.

For example:

Robin, in the comments, noted that she could make choices in 16 pairs, and 10 of her picks were the same as mine.

16 x 3 = 48, so the magnitude of Robin’s eccentricity is 48%.

(10 / 16) * 100 = 62.5, so the quality of Robin’s eccentricity is 62.5%.

I would expect that people who read odd books and who listen to odd music (Steven?) will get high magnitude scores, particularly if they grow odd plants. Quality scores, on the other hand, will probably vary unpredictably.


25 more questions

Chan the Bookish Gardener has posted her own list specifically for gardeners. How can I resist?

1. Lilies: oriental or asiatic? Oriental
2. No-till or till? No-till
3. Bare hands or garden gloves? Bare hands
4. Garden tchotchkes, no or yes? No
5. Clay or sand? Clay
6. Shrub roses or hybrid teas? Shrub
7. Hollyhocks: single or double? Single
8. Foliage: gray or glaucous? Gray
9. Hemerocallis: flava or fulva? flava
10. Impatiens: double or single? Single
11. Calendula or tagetes? Tagetes
12. Arborvitae or juniper? Juniper
13. Spaded edge or “edging”? Edging
14. Asters or mums? Asters
15. Reflecting pool or coursing waterfall? Pool
16. Morning glory blue or forget-me-not blue? Forget-me-not (but which one? Anchusa? Myosotis? Brunnera?
17. Lettuce: leaf or cos? Leaf
18. Hyacinth bean or red runner bean? Scarlet runner
19. Orange or pink? Orange
20. Garden bed shapes: formal or informal? Formal
21. Garden bed planting schemes: informal or formal? Informal
22. Hydrangeas: lace-cap or mophead? Mop
23. Spirea japonica: dried flowerheads standing over the winter or in bloom? In bloom
24. Japanese beetle drowning medium: kerosene or dishsoap solution? Detergent
25. Garden stroll time: dusk or dawn? Dusk

If I counted correctly, this gives me a Bookish Gardener index of 64%. It would be higher, except that Calendula and Arvorvitae don’t like Kansas summers.


It must be the nose

incredibly jewish
You’re incredibly Jewish!

How Jewish are You?
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‘Tis a great mystery, but somehow you have come to
belong in Jane Eyre; a random world of love,
kindness, madness, bad luck and lunatic ex-
wives. There really isn’t much to say about the
place you belong in. It’s your place, and
though it seems far from reality largly due to
how random the events are, you seem to enjoy
it. You belong in a world where not too many
people understand you, and where you can be
somewhat of a recluse.

Which Classic Novel do You Belong In?
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(Via Eve Tushnet.)