Snapshots from work

Over the years, we’ve acquired a modest collection of doorstops at the office. The above are currently exhibited on a shelf near my desk. The average price of each was around $25; none of them were of much use. I’d say that they illustrate my observation that the thicker the manual, the less helpful it is, except the thin ones were also pretty much useless.

This poster was taped to the elevator wall. Just wondering: do such posters actually do any good beyond making the persons who post them feel momentarily virtuous?

Additions to The Rules

Walker’s Law: Absent evidence to the contrary, assume everything is a scam.

The Strong Misanthropic Principle: The universe exists in order to screw with us.

(From here.)

Walker, incidentally, is one of the most interesting book reviewers around and is always worth reading (except maybe for the coding stuff, which is Not My Thing).

Just wondering

  • Is there any significance to Valentine’s Day being Ash Wednesday this year, or April Fool’s Day Easter?
  • The celebration of “Disney princesses” is a major international industry. Where are the Disney princes?
  • Is it possible to be both a good person and a successful politician?
  • The nearest grocery store recently put its carrots in a bin labeled “organic.” Do there exist inorganic carrots?

Rich and noble

Neofinetia (Vanda) falcata in a non-traditional pot

I foolishly attended the orchid show last weekend with my checkbook on hand, with the result that I now have half a shelf of mostly “easy” orchids under lights in the kitchen. Most were in flower when I bought them, and you can see them here.

However, the one that is not blooming has perhaps the most interesting history. That is Neofinetia falcata (recently reclassified as Vanda falcata), the “samurai” orchid. According to the Fūkiran Society of America website,

Furan or wind orchid, the Japanese name for Neofinetia falcata, started to be called ‘Fūki-ran’, which means the orchid of the rich and noble people. Many years ago, only the rich and royalty could own Fūkiran, and they searched the country far and wide for rare and unusual varieties. These plants were often covered by a gold or silver net in order to protect them, and people had to cover their mouths with Kaishi (a thin paper usually used for calligraphy) in order not to breathe on the plants while they appreciated them. This, by the way, is the same way the Japanese appreciate a great sword.

Although prices have come down over the centuries, some varieties can still be pricey:

In Japan at auction in 2005, bidders paid from $20,000 to $70,000 for rare varieties of fuukiran which seems a bargain compared to the $300,000 or higher often paid during the 1980’s to late 1990’s.

According to the dealer and most online sources, Neofinetia is fairly easy to grow, as orchids go. It blooms in summer.

Seasonal notes

Those who play chess may be interested to know that there is not only a Halloween gambit in the four knights game, but also a Frankenstein-Dracula variation of the Vienna game.

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The annual fall orchid show is next weekend at the botanical garden. Perhaps this year someone will bring in a Dracula orchid or two. Most are native to the Andean cloud forests. They need both cool temperatures and high humidity to thrive, which is probably why one rarely sees them in Kansas shows. Species include D. diabola, D. vampira and D. vlad-tepes.

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Various people are recommending their favorite Halloween anime. There have been a number of series and movies mentioned, but they ultimately all fall into two categories: Mononoke, and everything else.12

Miscellany

I watched the first episode of Kemono Friends, the post-apocalyptic children’s show that allegedly is insanely popular in Japan. I didn’t dislike it as much as Pete did, but I doubt that I’ll watch more, even if it does feature baobabs (above) and tree euphorbias (below).

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Although there are innumerable Alices in anime, the most Carrollian show of them all never mentions her. Instead, we have Ami, who finds a door to “Animal Yokocho” in the floor of her new bedroom. Things are done differently in AniYoko. Animal Yokocho is nominally a children’s show, and it’s okay for kids, but adults will better appreciate the absurdities. This celebration of friendship, nonsense and emotional blackmail probably will never be licensed for North America.1 However, I recently discovered that the first third of the show is available subtitled on youTube.

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Here’s a helpful article that walks you through registering and making purchases at Amazon Japan. One important detail it omits is that you cannot download music to addresses outside of Japan.

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Saturday I placed orders with both Amazon Japan and Amazon USA. Which will arrive first? This is how matters stood at 7:30 this morning:

I expect both will arrive tomorrow.

Update: We have a winner.

Japan wins

Warning

(Black to move.) What would Garry Kasparov do?

I stumbled across another dangerous waste of time: Chessgames.com. Think very carefully before you click.

Like most chess websites, it uses algebraic notation, which I can’t follow as easily as “P-K4.” However, it also has a “viewer” which allows you to step through each game on a virtual board.

A couple of well-known games in the archive there: Adolf Anderssen vs Jean Dufresne (1852); Anatoly Karpov vs Garry Kasparov (1985). There are more fireworks in either than during the Fourth of July.

Update: an interesting short story, possible connected with the chess position above1: “Master Jacobsen.”

Update II: Lord Dunsany was a pretty good chess player. Here’s a curiosity, a chess game between Capablanca and Lord Dunsany. Dunsany wrote a chess story of some note, “The Three Sailors’ Gambit.”

There is a fair amount of chess-inspired fiction. My favorite, aside from Through the Looking Glass, is Victor Contoski’s “Von Goom’s Gambit.” First published in Chess Review in 1966, it occasionally turned up in fantasy anthologies years ago, though finding it now would be a challenge. If it’s online, I missed it. It’s worth looking for if you have access to a large fantasy and science fiction library.

For the record

Playing on a bit further to show as many different tiles as possible:

Missing are Spiderman (512) and the Hulk (1024).

This particular game is here, should you want to try it yourself. The keys to success are to keep the expensive, hard-to-match tiles all on one edge, with the highest scores in the corners where they won’t impede the action, and to pick a game that’s pleasant to look at. I rather like the 32 tile, despite the girl’s odd proportions and posture.

Odds and ends for a chilly December day

The fundamental trolley problem

Dear [Beautiful but Evil Space Princess],
Every time I capture the hero, I get this overwhelming urge to spill the entire plan, including the way out. How can I stop myself from giving it all away?
Sincerely,
Evil Underlord who can’t quite make the big leagues

Dear Under,
Oh, Sweetie. This is a compulsion written into you by the author. You must use aversion therapy. Have one of your underlings dress up as the hero, and when you start spilling things, force yourself to do something really distasteful. I don’t know, pet a puppy or give sweets to children or something, until you break the compulsion.
It’s all right. If you manage to cure yourself, you can blend the puppies into a nice smoothie afterwards and it will make you feel much better.

Yardsale of the Mind:

I’m not a professional political scientist or sociologist. Then again, neither were Washington, Adams, Jefferson and that crowd ….

The election of Trump is, in many senses, stupid. However, it is far, far wiser and more in keeping with the idea that we, the people, are the defenders of the Republic to elect Trump than to elect someone who is beloved of Harvard. On the scale of errors one can make in a Republic, electing an arrogant and impulsive side-show barker is far to be prefered to electing someone whose fundamental goal is making elections irrelevant.

The Z Man strikes once:

… humans have never had to deal with the problems that come from too much food and too much free time to consume it. We really have no idea what will come from it and how it will hurt or help society. There could very well be a huge upside to having lots of fat people. Perhaps when the zombie apocalypse comes, the zombies will eat the fat people and be satisfied, leaving the rest of us to regroup.

And again:

When I’m ruler of these lands, the people responsible for embedded, autoplay video will be torn to pieces and fed to the dogs.

Video meliora, proboque; Deteriora sequor:

I’ll never forget when John Updike reviewed a book on how FDR’s policies lengthened the Great Depression. Updike basically said that because FDR cared, and was trying, that was worth more than shortening the Depression.

Via Dustbury, who also notes that

That word “bipartisan” should set off an alarm: it almost always means that both sides are in cahoots and Up to Something.

A bit of spirited horticultural history, from a comment at an AoSHQ food thread:

One food arena where the US used to be the best in the world and is now near the bottom of the pack is cider (i.e. alcoholic fermented cider.)
Back in the Revolutionary War era cider was the #1 drink in the nation, far surpassing beer or wine or hard liquor. And people had planted the right kind of apple trees all over the country (as it existed then), so there was always a big supply of the raw material.
In fact, Johnny Appleseed didn’t go around planting edible apple trees — he went around planting cider apple trees! A detail that is now lost to most people’s imaginations of history.
“But wait,” you’re saying, “there’s a difference between edible apples and cider apples?”
Yes indeed. There are three fundamental “types” of apples:
“Sweet apples,” which is what we now think of simply as “apples” — the big crunchy sweet kind that you can eat.
“Sour apples,” now mostly known as “crabapples,” which are mostly useless except for making things with their pectin.
“Bitter apples,” now mostly unknown in the US, but still planted widely in France and England. THESE are the apples you are supposed to make true cider out of. As the name implies, they’re slightly too bitter to eat, but their chemical makeup is absolutely perfect for fermenting a delicious kind of apple cider, a process during which the bitterness goes away.
If you’ve ever tasted true cider made from bitter apples (which is what they serve you in Somerset and Normandy), you’ll know that cider made from sweet apples is atrocious by comparison.
And that’s the tragic part of our story.
Because of the arrival of so many German and Bohemian and Polish immigrants in the second half of the 19th century in the US, beer started to surpass cider in popularity nationwide, and then when Prohibition hit, cider production was stopped entirely. And what happened was that ALL — or almost all — the bitter apple trees in the United States were left to die or were torn out and make room for more useful trees.
So that by the time Prohibition ended, there was no longer any way to make true cider in any quantity, and as a result beer took over the casual drinking market almost 100%. Wine only started to make inroads in the ’60s and ’70s. But cider remain completely forgotten by then.
That is until about 8 years ago, when the “small batch cider” renaissance started in the US, with small startups making cider from apples.
Sweet apples, that is — because that’s all that we have in the US anymore! Yuck!
Cider made from sweet apples is just wrong to a true cider aficionado. So no matter how much effort these America cider microbreweries put into their product, it will never match up to French and British ciders.
In fact, until just a couple years ago, most American cidermakers didn’t even know about the existence of bitter apples and didn’t know they were doing it fundamentally wrong.
Finally a few people have wised up, and they’ve started planting bitter apple trees in the US again, but it will still be several years before they are up and producing in sufficient numbers to create enough true cider for the masses.
Until then, we must suffer with an inferior American product! Frowney face!