Thursday, December 31, 2009

I'm back!

Sorry for the lengthy absence, by the way.  I know that for many of you a day without me is like a day without sunshine (except warmer).  My only excuse is that I was off gallivanting around in foreign lands eating like a glutton and impulsively buying an awful lot of cheap shirts and books and so I didn't have time to document the process.

The cheap shirts were sorely needed.  A whole heap of my shirts had frayed collars and unravelling seams.  They were in this condition because I haven't bought any shirts since the last time I was in Malaysia 3 years ago.  Whenever I am there I track down the reject shops where the big US manufacturers dump all their unwanted stock from the previous season.  Because I am normal sized by comparison to the average yank, but a great hulking godzilla compared to the average Malaysian, it's very easy to find shirts that fit.  And as for looks, my signature style is to look blandly unfashionable, so it's a perfect match!  And at about $10 per shirt, you can't go wrong!

As for the books, my Smaller Half and I came back with about half our luggage consisting of books.  We bought some medical textbooks in Malaysia and some novels to read as well.  But we were very controlled until we hit Melbourne in transit on the way home and found a book clearance sale where everything was $10 and you got 30% off for total sales over $100.  So we kind of cut loose and bought a whole heap of stuff.  To be fair, my Aged Mother had instructed me to buy myself a couple of interesting books for Christmas for myself so she could discuss them with me.  That was what started the avalanche.

So we've made a new rule that we aren't allowed to get any more books until we've read the ones we have.  Ha ha ha.  Anyway, here's a list of the books we bought, since I think it gives a pretty well-rounded picture of our reading taste:
  • Stieg Larson, The girl with the dragon tattoo.  Murder mystery.
  • Matthew Frederick, 101 things I learned in architecture school.  Architecture for morons.
  • Somerset Maugham, Ashenden.  Semi-autobiographical tales of the author's time as a spy in the Great War.
  • Peter Doherty, The beginner's guide to winning the Nobel Prize.  Scientific autobiography.
  • Aleksandr Solzhenityn, One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich.  
  • JG Ballard, The drought.  Disaster epic sci-fi.
  • Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway.  Bought to sate my Virginia Woolf obsession.
  • Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, The final days. (Of Richard M Nixon)
  • Peter Singer, Pushing time away. A philosopher's biography of his Jewish grandparents life in Vienna.
  • Beginner French.  Mais oui!
  • Larry McMurtry, Books.  How can you resist a title like that?
  • Orhan Pamuk, My name is red.  Praised by a friend years ago, hence acquired.
  • Kate Grenville, The secret river.  Ditto.
  • Ernest Hemingway, A farewell to arms.  Dangerous reactionary lunatic writes good stuff.
  • Ernest Hemingway, For whom the bell tolls. Ditto.
  • AA Milne, The house at Pooh corner.  Go Pooh!
  • Steven Erikson, Gardens of the moon.  Forced upon me by an eager relative, not really my thing...
  • Malcolm Gladwell, Blink.  The longest magazine article in the world.  The perfect airplane book.

Coffee slurry

So there I was, chilling out in the heat with an iced coffee as I waited for my plane.  I slurped it up through the straw.  Mmmm, delicious.  Odd consistency though - it was very difficult to slurp up the straw and there were some chewy bits in it.  Wait, that must be some kind of coffee or chocolate syrup that has been thickened by the cold of the drink.

But it was a little bit gritty.  Hmm.  I caught some with my tongue and poked it onto my finger to take a look.  Hmm.  Funny colour.  Kind of brown, kind of gray.  Taupe - that's what this colour is called.  A good colour for interior decorating.  Not such a good colour for food.

It didn't look like what I expected it to, so I re-tasted the blob with my tongue.  Nothing in particular.  I smeared it around on my finger with my thumb and tasted it again.  Bland, earthy.  What the heck?

I looked again at the straw.  Metal straw.  I lifted the straw out of the drink.  Uh-oh.  It wasn't a straw, it was a spoon with a hollow handle, open at the top and almost but not quite closed at the bottom.

The truth dawns on me.  Ice cream has been accumulating over time inside the spoon handle and I've managed to slurp up the decomposing sludge and eat it.  Bummer.

The rest of the drink was fine though.  Very refreshing.

Monday, December 7, 2009


It's strange that when I hear an odd tapping noise I will turn to look at it, but when I see a strange flashing light I do not turn my head to check if it is making a sound.  But that's not what I'm going to talk about.

This is.  I'm currently reading Valis by Philip K. Dick.  I'm only up to page 50 but it's already a weird experience.  Any PKD book is a weird experience at some level, but this one more than any other so far.  What's weird about it is that he keeps diverting the narrative off onto seemingly random/arbitrary topics - but those topics are often things that have some kind of personal resonance to me.

I've started marking the pages where this happens so I can go back and check, since it occurred to me that maybe it's an artifact of me being really tired when I'm reading it.  Here's a partial list of statistically unlikely topics to arise so far:

  • The concept of degrees of psychosis or delusion, where you get delusions about delusions.  You may remember that I queried my psychiatry teacher about this some time back and just got a funny look in return.
  • Inguinal hernias, which I have previously ranted about.
  • T-34 tanks, as used by Russia in the second World War.  I don't recall mentioning them in this blog but I certainly have played an awful lot of WWII war-games.
  • The issue of Kevin's dead cat and the central question of its nonexistence before its own birth and how that is qualitatively different from its nonexistence after its own death, which is something that I have pondered at length in my offline life.
  • Deus Absonditus, or the hidden God.  I have a book at home which uses game theory to analyse and explain why God doesn't just tell us all to our faces that he's right here, and related topics.
  • Paroxysmal atrial tachycardia, which I seem to have discussed repeatedly with my Smaller Half recently because of a minor technical disagreement between us as to whether it really is a subset of the supraventricular tachycardias.  Yeah, we're dazzingly charismatic.
As mentioned, I'm only up to page 50.  What delights lie in store for me in the next 221?

It's a strange sensation - as if I'm reading a book that was written by someone who knows all about me and deliberately wrote a book that I would find appealing.  That kind of thinking, that the radio is broadcasting specially to you, or that there are hidden messages intended for your consumption in everyday occurrences, is known as a delusion of reference, and is a marker of psychosis.  Valis is all about the main character's drift into madness, unfortunately either initiated or accelerated by thinking too much about madness.  So I'm thinking that pretty soon now they're going to come for me.

Hopefully they won't take my book away.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


The first album I ever bought was Paul Simon's Graceland, on cassette.  I liked the single Call Me Al and my Wise Elder Brother suggested that I should spend my money on buying it instead of some more Technical Lego, Dungeons and Dragons modules, or other such nerdy stuff.  Sure, Paul Simon is pretty nerdy for a musician, but you've got to start somewhere.  I gave him $12 and he bought it for me at K-Mart the next time he was in town.

I had a number of misconceptions about the album though.  Such as its name.  It wasn't until I actually had it in my hand that I realized it was called Graceland, not Grayslant.  Also, it wasn't until then that I realized that the little guy in the video clip for Call Me Al was Paul Simon.  I had assumed that Chevy Chase was Paul Simon, and to this day I think he may actually be him.

It was years before I realized that the National guitar that is mentioned in the first line of the first song is actually a brand of guitar.  I thought that the National Guitar was some of guitar monument, akin to the Big Pineapple.  I think I found this out while watching a documentary about Dire Straits and they mentioned the National guitar on the cover of Brothers In Arms.  It was a revelation to me.

It was also a long time before I found out that Graceland was an actual real Elvis-related place.  I thought he was just being metaphorical, as in a Graceful Land.  I think I realized this when I heard Mark Cohn's Walking In Memphis.  Spent a while wondering why everyone was so obsessed with Memphis.  That was around the same time I found out that Priscilla Presley also had an Elvis connection.  Huh - who knew?

The funny thing was that at the time I was great friends with a kid who grew up in Zimbabwe.  I played the tape one day while we played some Dungeons and Dragons, and he remarked that the music was heaps like the songs he'd heard in Africa.  I basically thought he was full of it.  Of course, turns out he wasn't.  How about that...

Anyway, that's all from this particular Human Trampoline.  Hope you're enjoying your holidays if you're on 'em and your work if you ain't.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


I think it's true what the ancients said, that you can travel the whole Earth over but it's only when you finally return home to your electric toothbrush that your teeth feel really clean.