Friday, March 25, 2005

Where is it?

Picture the scene, it's just before lunch on a Friday, a Good Friday no less, and you get up from your desk and go to the toilet. (For the remainder of the story to work, you have to imagine you're male.) In you go, walk up to the urinal, undo your flies and start looking (or I guess feeling — as you tend to be able to this sort of thing without actually looking) for your, ahem, member. A few seconds go by and you are still looking (feeling), where is the convenient hole in your boxer shorts? Eventually you lean forwards and have a gander at what is going on inside your trousers. The convenient hole is, inconveniently, missing. After solving the how to piss problem, you realise that yes you did in fact put your underwear on back to front this morning.

Now I'm not saying that actually happened to me today, but if by some chance it did... I would have to wonder how drunk/hungover/tired/asleep/stupid (delete as you think applicable) I was when I was getting dressed this morning. I'm pretty sure I've always managed to figure out how to put a pair of boxer shorts on before.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Goaty nonsense

Now I don't want to read the story because I'll only be disappointed when I find out this isn't about Mr Gates's MS, but I do like the headline Goat blood drug 'offers MS hope'.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Dumbing down?

I just discovered a new part of the BBC news website, called NEWSwatch. One of the features they have shows you which are they most popular stories on the BBC News site.

Yesterday the two most popular stories were about a couple who had a pork pie wedding cake (from the UK edition) and one entitled "Chewing Gum can 'enhance breasts'" (from the World edition). It's nice to see the sophistication of the average web user shining through.

Excellence, donkeys and tea strainers

It really is quite a gloomy looking today (or at least it was before night fell). I do wish the weather would get it's arse in gear and either be nice and sunny or start bucketing it down with rain. All this in between, overcast nonsense is very tiresome.

Despite the weather I am feeling inexplicably upbeat today. My mood can be partly put down to Jolie Holland, and her really rather excellent Escondida album... Well I fell in love with a boy who has a real live romance with a train. Music is particularly nice this week as I've got the office all to myself, so I've been able to use speakers instead of headphones. I think that Escondida may well be my favourite album of the last 12 months, at the moment I'd say it was a toss up between that and Kanye West's The College Dropout.

I watched Dogville this weekend. I remember wanting to go see it when it came out in Geneva a couple of years ago, but for some reason I didn't get round to watching it. I was surprised at how well the chalk lines on the floor, for scenery, worked. I'd thought it might have been too distracting, but found myself entirely willing suspend disbelief. I was saddened to hear that they had removed the butchered donkey scenes from the next film in the trilogy, Manderlay, as Lars Von Trier didn't want the row about it to overshadow the film. I'm not saddened because I particularly want to see butchered donkey (the cow is something of a one off for me), or because I worry that the donkey died in vain, but just because if the director wanted to have scenes of a dead donkey in his film then I think he should be able to. But I suppose when there are so many people with so little to do and so much time on their hands, they have to find things to kick up a fuss about.

In other news, Deadwood is still absolutely bloody brilliant. And for any readers of the male persuasion aren't you pleased that you live in a day and age where there are better methods than sticking a thin metal rod up (or should that be down) your penis to discover whether or not you have kidney stones in your bladder. Although I imagine it would not be a good deal more pleasant if you come equipped with female plumbing.

Incidentally, I was just looking at a kidney stones webpage which included the following: The doctor usually asks you to save the passed stone(s) for testing. (You can catch it in a cup or tea strainer used only for this purpose.). I really quite like the parenthetical addition, although I'm fairly convinced I could piss through a tea strainer and then remember to thoroughly wash it before I used it for its more usual purpose.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Red Lake Sunset

Another day, another school shooting (well fortunately, they don't come every day). I find it some what bizarre that this one happened somewhere that I've actually been to, well driven through at least. (It was on the road from Itasca State Park to the Red Lakes that we saw the cow.) I remember thinking as we driving through the little town of Red Lake, with it's big prevent alcoholism sign as you enter, that I would go mad if I lived there for any length of time. Of course, by that stage I was into month three of my Minnesota winter, so I was already a little crazy myself.

Anyhow, here's what I think of when I think of the Red Lakes (taken from the end of the peninsula between them).
Red Lakes Sunset

From the BBC News website:
The FBI said it was too early to speculate on a motive for the shootings, but Weise's fellow pupils said he was teased because he always dressed in black.
I'm not sure quite how one is meant to interpret that. Are they suggesting he shot them because he wore black, or because he was teased for wearing black? Either way you have to love a sentence that starts with The FBI said it was too early to speculate... and ends with speculation. Not knowing, or really wanting to know, any of the facts, I'm going with the Chris Rock theory: he was crazy.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

To reside or not to reside, that is the question... answer was no three times and maybe/sort of the other time. I am, of course, talking about the inexplicably un-understandable world of US tax forms. You'd think it would be an easy question, it's one of the first questions that they ask on all of the forms (I've filled out four so far, and can't quite work out if I need to fill out a fifth), but I'm buggered if I can work out where I'm a resident and where I'm a non-resident.

The only thing I know for sure is that as far as the federal government is concerned, I am a non-resident alien — which is a lovely way to describe somebody, really makes you feel welcome. If I'm still around this time next year I get promoted/demoted to resident alien — which, I guess, is sort of like a resident DJ in a club, only much cooler. I'm pretty sure that as far as lovely little State College is concerned I am also a non-resident (which is good as it means my tax rate drops from 2.25% to 1%). When it comes to Pennsylvania I plumped for non-resident, based solely on the fact that I ticked that box last year, well that and I know I'm not getting a refund from them so it pretty much doesn't matter which box I tick.

Then I came to the incredibly, for me at least, confusing Ohio tax form, after much umming and ahhing I decided to plump for part-year resident. You'd think somewhere on the State of Ohio tax website, or the Ohio State international scholars tax website, they'd mention whether or not Ohio considers dirty foreigners, such as myself, residents or non-resident. And you'd be wrong. Once we'd jumped over, or maybe through, this first hurdle and got to question one proper, I was confused again. Instead of asking me to fill out the amount of money I was paid as listed on my W-2, they asked me what I wrote in box 36 of my federal tax form. The problem being that they actually meant box 35 on my federal tax form, as I get to fill in the non-resident one. Several blind guesses and table head thumps later, and I ended up claiming that Ohio owes me $86 (although I did offer to donate ten of those dollars to the cute little endangered animals), we'll have to wait and see if they agree with me.

As far as I can tell, I don't have to fill out a Columbus tax return. Using their look for the biggest number on your W-2, double it and divide by a hundred (okay I could have just said times by 2%) method, I've paid the right amount of tax here. I particularly like how they instruct you to look for the largest number on the W-2.

By this stage I'm just thoroughly fed up with filling out bloody forms, and if it wasn't for the fact that (I think) the thieving bastards owe me some seven hundred odd dollars between them, I'd have given it all up as a bad game a long time ago.

In further proof that Benjamin Franklin was right, yesterday also saw me purchase Funeral by Arcade Fire. Okay, I agree that's a tentative link at best, but we do what we can. I also bought, on the recommendation of Thea Gilmore, Escondida by Jolie Holland. I've not really had enough time to fully form an opinion of either album, but I have a sneaking suspicion I'm going to end up liking them both rather a lot, particularly the Jolie Holland album.

For those on tenterhooks waiting for news of the bar downstairs (notice how it's the bar and not my bar, it's been a good few weeks since I've had anything more than my free Sunday night beer club beer there) a couple of nights ago I thought that somebody had gone and done something rather rash. I was sat upstairs in my apartment, as I'm wont to do every now and again, and then there was this siren and these flashing lights and a great big fire truck pulled up in front of my apartment. My first thought when I saw the fire engine was of one of the recently departed employees, not that I think they'd burn the place down but I remember them saying that if anything bad happened to the bar they'd get the blame after vocally wishing ill on the place. Fortunately, for both them and myself, there was no raging inferno as I think I'd be more than a little bit fucked if my apartment burned down.

Okay, enough rambling for now.

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Joy of GIMP

You know how it is. It's gone six o'clock on a Monday afternoon and you can't quite motivate yourself to do any more work, but you're not quite ready to either go home or go to the gym. So what do you do? One option is to stumble across a web article, which I've now handily misplaced (ooh, found it again), about how you can enhance your photos by selectively colourizing (the OED can't decide if it's a word, so I can't decide how to spell it) parts of them using GIMP. This seems like a good way to waste a few minutes.

Off you go hunting through your back catalogue of photos, until you find one which might look striking if it was selectively coloured. The first one that seems to match the bill is not an original idea, by any stretch of the imagination, but then again red, white and blue does provide a nice contrast to black and white. I think I took this photo when I visited Bellefonte with Mumsie last year. So here we are; someone's flag in all its glory.

Someone's Flag (Black and White)

As pretty as the flag picture is, somehow it just doesn't scream Ryan did this at you. So I was thinking, what photograph do I have that really epitomises me-ness? Of course, there was only ever going to be one answer to that question. If red, white and blue looks good what about some black, white and red?

Dead Cow on a Truck (Black and White)

Now, I think you'll agree, that certainly is lot more Ryan-esque. And to think they said I had no artistic talent when I was at school.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

"What wrong with bell?" and other inanities

I think it was Wednesday night, although it may have been Thursday, that I discovered my smoke alarms do actually work. I'd turned on the oven, really what I wanted to do was turn on the grill but they don't do ovens with separate grills over here, and left a pan on the bottom shelf. I don't think there was that much smoke, but being as I haven't managed to set the blighters off before I suppose there must have been a reasonable amount. At first I was very composed and rationale and went and opened a couple of windows, then the second of the two smoke alarms started blaring at me and I started to get a little bit more frustrated. Being as I have nice high ceilings, and a severe lack of furniture, I had to go and fetch my coffee table to stand on to reach the smoke alarms. The first one was easy enough, just take it down and pop the battery out and it stopped wailing at me. The second one proved to be rather more difficult, as it didn't want to either shut up or come down from the ceiling. In the end I had to rip the entire unit off, screws and all, and stick it in my duvet to quieten it down a little bit. Even now I can't seem to put it back in place with out the annoying little sod making noises at me.

When ever I set off a smoke alarm, or (on those thankfully rare occasions) a fire alarm, I am reminded of What wrong with bell? man. His story took place — or at least the part of his story that involved me, I can only assume his story is still taking place somewhere — in a big old Victorian (or earlier) town house that had been converted into student accommodation, and in which I managed to live rent free for over a year. Anyhow, WWWB? man was original from somewhere in the Far East (China, Korea, Vietnam, I just don't remember) and every single time he cooked during the first two months, he set off the fire alarm. The third or fourth time this happened I went upstairs to the third floor kitchen where he was 'cooking', all the while the fire alarm was blaring at its ear-deafening volume, and the kitchen was so full of smoke I could barely see WWWB? man. It was at this moment that he uttered his immortal line, What wrong with bell?. I don't recall what I said to him, sadly it probably didn't include the phrase, There's nothing wrong with the bell, you fucking moron.. Forever on he was known, to me at least, as What wrong with bell? man. Still it could be worse, the other thing that I remember this guy for was an incident involving a newspaper, a toilet and something you should be doing in the toilet directly and not in a newspaper first, then folding it up and putting the newspaper into the toilet. But that isn't a savoury story and I plan on cooking later this evening.

On the subject of memories (okay we weren't really on the subject of memories but I'm segueing gracefully away from discussions of unpleasant toilet activities), what is it about certain songs that makes me associate them with particular moments and places? Today, thanks to the joy of random music selection, I was transported to Beaufort Street, London (by The Slide — The Beautiful South), the laundromat in Tower, Minnesota (by Sk8er Boi — Avril Lavigne) and Victoria Tower Gardens, London (by Have You Seen Her — The Chi-lites). The last of which is still my favourite place in the world to go when I'm depressed, there's something strangely reassuring about the Houses of Parliament, the Burghers of Calais, the anti-slavery monument and of course the river (somehow Olentangy river doesn't quite have the same effect on me).

Oh well, that cooking thing calls. (Chicken curry in case you're curious.)

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

I had to post it

Just in case anybody hasn't heard about the homosexual necrophiliac duck. I really don't have anything witty and insightful to add, but then again what can you add to some stories.

Yesterday, when I came across this story (pun somewhat intended), I mentioned it to my German colleague and asked him to guess in which country they discovered the duck. His first try? Holland.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Incompetence and coincidence

Last night my shiny new physics building had its second unintentional shower incident. Apparently, down in the dim, dark reaches of the basement, one of the steam pipes got a little bit too hot and set off the fire alarm. This caused the sprinklers just inside the main doorway to go off. Sometime later and the entire floor of the cathedralic main atrium was covered with a couple of centimetres of water. When I made it into to work this morning (before 10 am, for the second day in a row no less) there were still puddles of water under all the chairs and tables, and carpets across the ground floor were being dried out by big industrial heaters.

The first unintentional shower incident occurred a couple of months ago, before the building was inhabited, when a pipe burst in the basement. This apparently resulted in several tens of thousands of gallons, maybe even hundreds of thousands of gallons, of slightly acidic flooding the basements and messing everything up beyond belief, delaying occupancy by a couple of months.

I believe things like these are meant to come in threes, so fingers crossed.

In today's OSU today, two consecutive stories were:
Do you suffer from pelvic pain that happens or gets worse with your period? If you are between the ages of 18 and 40 and have a history of moderate to severe menstrual-related pelvic pain, you may qualify for an investigational medication (oral contraceptives) research study being conducted at the Department of OB/GYN at The Ohio State University...

The Critical Difference for Women Program at Ohio State announces two grant competitions for 2005, administered by the Department of Women's Studies and the Coca-Cola Critical Difference for Women Research Grants Award Committee...

In other news, karaoke is still part-terrifying, part-fascinating and part plain fucking awful.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Running from the rain and other (pre-gym procrastination) nonsense

Did I mention that I'm in love with my new office. It's so nice to be able to turn round in my seat, and it's a swivel seat no less, and see outside. I know when it's day, I know when it's night, I know if it's raining or snowing. Who'd have thought a window overlooking a building site could provide so much entertainment.

At the moment it looks very dark and ominous outside (yeah I know I'm in love with the word ominous). For some reason this just-before-the-downpour weather, when the world is dark and grey and there are too many clouds up there for the sky to hold, always reminds me of a game we used to play on the council estate I grew up in. The estate was split up into squares, the sides of which were formed by short terraces of houses. At some of the corners, about half, the two terraces joined together and formed a little tunnel over the path. When it rained heavily my favourite game was to try and run from tunnel to tunnel as quickly as possible without getting wet, needless to say this was not a game you could win at in the long term. There is something enormously invigorating about running as fast as you can in the pouring rain. Of course, when I do it these days people do tend to look at me pretty strangely.

Sunday, saw the return of HBO's (really really rather good) Deadwood. And no it's not just their gratuitous use of the word cunt that I like, although I am particularly fond of it. I didn't even realise that the second season was due to start last night, it was only when I was flicking through the TV guide twenty minutes before it started that I noticed it was on — very fortuitous. It made me happy and jolly, well that and it made me pop down to the Mexican market to get a six-pack of Bohemia to wash down my free Beer Club beer.

Last week saw my defeat in the battle of wills between me and my iPod. Finally I threw in the towel and decided to send the little blighter in for service. For some reason Apple's automated service request website didn't want to acknowledge the existence of my iPod, so I had to spend thirty minutes on the phone with their support people trying to get them to send me an empty box. Eventually they did, and a severely hungover Ryan, wearing only his dressing gown, collected said box from the DHL man at the ungodly hour of 10 O'Clock on Thursday morning. I must admit I felt a little bit nervous putting my $400 toy in a cardboard box and then dropping it into one of the DHL drop boxes. Hopefully it will all turn out nice again.

Other highlights? Few and far between. On Saturday I helped a couple of friends move a couple of hundred yards down their road (they changed apartments). It all went well apart from the moment I was handed a drawer filled with knickers and feminine products, and for a moment I couldn't comprehend what I was expected to do with the drawer (in the end I plumped for taking it to the bedroom and putting it in the chest). Remembering that I've got season three of Oz on dvd, and watching a couple of episodes. Sitting on the fire escape stairs behind my apartment, reading my book while listening to the music playing in my kitchen... spring may finally be coming (I hope).

Friday, March 04, 2005

World gone mad?

Is it me or has the world gone mad? The top three stories on the BBC News website this afternoon were all entirely unbelievable.

Firstly, we have the crazy story about the Italian hostage who was released by her captors in Iraq, only to be shot and wounded (and have one of the Italian 'agents' accompanying her killed) as she was being driven to the airport. And, just to give the story that little extra oomph, the people who did the shooting were apparently US troops. Words fail me.

That story makes a nice contrast with story two, in which President Bush demands a full Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. I think there is some pot/kettle phrase that fits the situation quite well.

Finally, to round of the craziness, the third most important thing in the world (according to the BBC, as of March 4th at 20:49 GMT) is about that <insert appropriately nasty phrase here> Jackson. Why is everybody in the media, including myself I guess, wasting so much time and energy over this scary little man and his twisted ways?

Thursday, March 03, 2005

A post with a view

It finally happened. It only took eight months. But it finally happened. I can barely believe it. But it happened.

Here I am sat at my shiny new desk in my shiny new office in our shiny new physics building. And, what's more, I now have a window in my office. In fact, from the window in my shiny new office I can look across the way to where my old windowless converted storage closet of an office is located. It makes me smile to think that I don't have to spend any more time in that fifth floor want to be dungeon.

Now I can gaze out the window at the construction site across the road, and marvel at the artistry of the twin cranes silhouetted against the background of the twilight sky. It's all very marvellous (which I didn't realise was spelled different o'er 'ere).

In other news, I was a teeny tiny little bit drunk last night. Sort of a don't remember leaving the bar, remember throwing up in a friends bathroom, don't remember getting home from there, woke up in bed this morning next to my credit card wrapped in my boxer shorts kind of little bit drunk. Oh well no harm done, except to the aforementioned bathroom (for which I feel terribly guilty) and credit card (for which I don't).

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Containing Zanesville, Prague, goths, hicks, calibre and maybe some other stuff

It's been an interesting weekend. When I went home on Friday evening I had absolutely no idea what, if anything, I was going to do — being that I am currently actively not going (assuming that one can actively not do something) to my regular haunt. In the end I had a weekend filled with drinking, culture (I know it's surprising), hicks (both with and without capital letters), some more drinking and even some dead fish.

Saturday night typifies the kind of weekend I had. There I was at six thirty in the evening, lying in bed, watching television, I can't even remember what it was I was watching, when the phone rings, "Do you want to go to Zanesville, which we don't know where it is, to watch the Prague Symphony Orchestra, play something or other — we don't know how much it will cost and we're leaving in twenty minutes?". "Sure, sounds like fun", was my response (this may well be a severe paraphrasing of the actual phone conversation). Thirty minutes later and I'm sitting in the back of my friends' car, wearing jeans and a t-shirt while they're dressed up nice, heading towards Zanesville, which was 50 miles away and the concert was due to start in 50 minutes. Remarkably, we got to Zanesville, found the Seacrest Auditorium, just barely had enough cash on us to buy three tickets (they didn't take cards), and managed to take our seats right before the orchestra came out.

The Seacrest Auditorium is probably not the best designed auditorium for a symphony orchestra (too many curtains and not enough gradient) . We were sat about 15 rows from the front, and from there about fifty percent of the orchestra were entirely obscured by the giant grand piano in the middle of the stage. The concert started with some Bedrich Smetana and an enthusiastic crowd applauding between each movement. After the Smetana came Dvorak's piano concerto in g minor, which was really rather good, I thought. I quite liked the way the piano kept on flirting with some of the wind instruments, but I am easily amused. A short intermission, during which the piano was wheeled away, later and they played out with some more Dvorak, slavonic dances I believe. All in all it was bloody impressive. Although possibly the music was not quite as impressive as stepping outside the auditorium into Zanesville's industrial wasteland after the performance. Some contrast.

After the cultural sophistication of the orchestra, we tried to find somewhere to eat in Zanesville, which is much harder than it might sound. We did find three rather large and impressive looking churches, two of which were next to each other (why do they do that?) and the third was a giant Russian Orthodox church. We also found a hick bar. As we approached the bar, three people exited the establishment engaged in a 'heated discussion'. I was quite impressed that the woman, at least I think it was a woman, managed to spout a good dozen swear words in the space of about ten words (and that takes some effort). We decided not to try and eat there. (For what it's worth, we ended up eating in a shitty Southwestern place by the name of Tumbleweed, I wouldn't recommend it.)

As if the contrasts between Zanesville's industrial wastescape (it's Ryan's new made-up word, although Google tells me 147 people beat me to it), the Prague Symphony Orchestra and the hick bar weren't enough for one evening, when we got back to Columbus we went to goth night at the High Five. I suppose it's inevitable when you hang out with Germans that sooner or later you're going to end up at the goth bar. Definitely an interesting night.

In a completely unrelated note I discovered, via Lisa Snellings-Clark (via that nice Mr Gaiman), the Bill Hicks Foundation for Wildlife. As instructed I did indeed donate at least a dollar, in fact I'm going to get t-shirt in exchange for my donation. I feel all warm and fuzzy inside, although that could just be indigestion or the after effects of last nights drinking.

Yesterday I discovered the definition of the word calibrate, although discovered seems to be rather a grand term when all I did was look it up in the OED. Being as my PhD thesis was entitled Calibration of the MINOS Detectors, one might think that I should already know what the word calibration meant, and you'd be sort of correct. It's obvious really but I never realised that to calibrate is to determine the calibre of something. (I'd always thought in terms of setting the scale, etc.)

Oh, and in the evening yesterday I got to listen to some more live music, courtesy of Myke Rock's MultiFestival series. It was, as ever, really quite good.