misce stultitiam consiliis brevem

Archive for November, 2009

HRSFAN achievement: Rush or Relax?

Jessica Hammer ’99 and her research team recently won a grant to design iPhone games that will help people stop smoking.  The grant speaks for itself:

The game is intended to be an alternative to smoking with the goal of reducing or eliminating tobacco use in players’ lives. The game involves breathing into a microphone to control gameplay, and is coupled with sound, color, images, challenges and feedback to mimic the stimulant and relaxant effects of smoking. The design elements within the game result in two modes of play (“Rush” and “Relax”). These will be tested for their stimulant and relaxation effects through emotional response and physiological (EEG, heart rate, galvanic skin response) measures, and compared to subjects after smoking or who play the game in lieu of smoking. If successful, the game will emulate the effects of smoking as a replacement therapy for smokers who want to quit. It will do so by allowing smokers who crave the physiological effects of smoking to reach for this five-minute game rather than for a cigarette.

I think it’s a great idea.  Although I also thought about this, and it creeped me out.  (Spoiler alert for that link, if you read beyond the first page or so.)

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Abstract Boardgame Site

Apparently my father’s friend has a website that contains a large assortment of interesting abstract boardgames (including descriptions and links to the rules) and java applets that allow you to play them online against a computer or another player.  I didn’t recognize most of them, but gipf and its fellows were there and seemed pretty representative.  For those of us who enjoy this sort of game, this could be an awesome way to waste time and meet likeminded people. Hey– if a bunch of us sign up, we might find each other. We could even use it to follow up on the longstanding notion of an online gaming SIG (presumably alongside other similar sites that support other games)…


We need the story

Speaking of Faith is pretty darn awesome as radio programs go. The tag line is “… conversation about religion, meaning, ethics and ideas …” (formerly “… conversation about belief, meaning, ethics and ideas …”, which in my mind scans better). These topics do produce fantastic conversations, and I’ve encountered quite a few of them just by wandering over to the website and shuffling through the archive episodes. This week, I discover TV and Parables of Our Time, a conversation with media scholar Diane Winston of USC.

I didn’t like this episode at first, but even by the end of the first listening it makes a lot more sense, and I think many of you would be happy to think through its themes, as well–not to mention its references. (Battlestar Galactica serves as the “star” example of a TV show that grapples with big questions; Lost and House play second bananas.)

Enjoy … and while you’re at it, enjoy The Novelist As God and A History of Doubt, Speaking of Faith programs from earlier this year.  All are related somehow to the place for storytelling, and narrative-making, in the human mind.

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Periodic Table

I wonder where I can get one of these? Using the lanthanoids and actinoids as a bench is quite clever. (Yes, I’ll admit, I did have to look up what those rows are called.)


Guest Post from Matt

Today we have a guest post from Matt G. (’07). Matt brings us a list of mashups that are “genuinely clever, cool or generally mind-warping”.

For those unfamiliar: a mashup is when you take the vocals from one song, sans instrumentation, and put them on top of the instrumentation, sans vocals, of a totally different song. A really good mashup is basically a musical joke, and an astoundingly good mashup can even be better than both its original components.

Some of these are nifty enough that I wanted to share, especially since almost all mashups are available for free download. Check them out!

Clever Juxtapositions

“Monty Python’s Killer Queen”
Theme from Monty Python’s Flying Circus
Queen – “Killer Queen”

“If I Were a Free Fallin’ Boy”
Beyonce – “If I Were a Boy”
Tom Petty – “Free Fallin'”
I’d never heard the Beyonce song, either. It’s not important to “getting” or enjoying this mashup.

“Don’t Cha Want Me”
Pussycat Dolls – “Don’t Cha”
Human League – “Don’t You Want Me”

“From the Heart of Glass”
Blondie – “Heart of Glass”
Philip Glass – “Glassworks” (combination of Opening and Closing)

Wow, That’s Really Cool / How the Hell Does That Work?

“Never Gonna Give Your Teen Spirit Up”
Rick Astley – “Never Gonna Give You Up”
Nirvana – “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
video available here

“Black Butterfly Busters”
Ram Jam – “Black Betty”
Smashing Pumpkins – “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”
Ray Parker Jr. – “Ghostbusters”
The Pumpkins song is the “rat in a cage” one — you probably know it, if not its title.

“Mia Freaky Mamma (On a Leash)”
Korn – “Freak on a Leash”
Abba – “Mamma Mia”
This one, in particular, is hysterically funny.

Just Plain Awesome

“Hotel California Must Go On”
The Eagles – “Hotel California”
Queen – “The Show Must Go On”

“Toxic Starlight”
Britney Spears – “Toxic”
Supermen Lovers – “Starlight”
Give this one a try even — or even especially — if you can’t stand the Britney Spears original. The new background completely harmonically recontextualizes the song.

Pure, Jaw-Dropping Magnificence

System of a Down – “Toxicity”
Coldplay – “Fix You”
SoaD is a scream-into-the-microphone-while-playing-heavily-distorted-chords metal band. “Fix You” is one of Coldplay’s slower, more boring songs, and that’s saying something. The intersection between them is nothing short of epic, in all the senses of that word.


This Is the Title of This Blog Post

This is the first sentence of this blog post. This is the second sentence. This is a link to the story that inspired this blog post. This is almost the title of this blog post, but not quite. This sentence acknowledges that this story has been circulating around HRSFA for a while. This sentences qualifies the previous sentence by suggesting that some HRSFANS still may not have read it. This sentence exhorts those who have not read it yet to do so now. This is the last sentence of this blog post.

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Webcomic: the Linking

I think quite a few HRSFANS will get a kick out of today’s Irregular Webcomic!

(via Language Log)

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Undeserved modesty

So I’ve got this friend who, with a few compatriots, is in the beginning throes of a new weblog.  And while the writers may be a bit alarmed if we actually turn our attention to them (those of you at Harvard in April 2001 may remember a certain Matt W. response to “neo-fascist refutations of neo-communist propaganda,” vaguely apropos of the Mass Hall sit-in), I can’t help but be a little out-of-sorts myself at an apology tucked in to the post “The Tour de Bookcases”, by one of my friend’s co-writers.  I’d like to take the opportunity to defend a passion shared, I dare say, by many of us, including the self-deprecating author at Three’s Prime.

Hannah wrote:

Our books describe us: they expose our studies, our interests, our values. They also expose the values we think we should project: there is a reason the religion and philosophy books are in the living room and the fantasy novels in the bedroom. While I am a great believer in the importance of fantasy and fairy-tales, putting those books in the living room would make me feel a need to explain them to all of our guests: “Yes, these are children’s books. They are ‘easy’ to read; they don’t have the weight of tradition. Yes, they are escapist. But is that so wrong?” I love the novels I read, but I am still somewhat embarrassed by them. I don’t read them to discover fundamental truths about the world, but simply for entertainment. The religion and philosophy books, on the other hand, are in the living room to convey, “We are Christians. We are proud of our faith, and want you to know about it. But we are also thinkers. We read and study and learn. Our faith is intellectual, as well as evangelical.”

My instinct is to suspect this lady needs more friends who read—or at least some new sources for ideas about books. Ideas such as C.S. Lewis’s in An Experiment in Criticism, that the value of a book may lie less in how it is written and more in how it is read. I haven’t met Hannah or her bookshelves, so there is the possibility that I would agree with her that her fantasy collection is escapist, childish, flighty. Yet this is unlikely.  And even if it were true, I would nonetheless take umbrage on behalf of the rest of us readers—and writers.

In my comment to Hannah’s post, I mention The Lord of the Rings and Lord of Light as examples of “weighty” fantasy. Tolkien’s masterpieces are properly not novels at all, but romances (which I would expect Hannah, as a self-described literary critic, to appreciate).  Zelazny’s is a far more modern form and yet draws on ancient traditions in a sophisticated way.

What man who has lived for more than a score of years desires justice, warrior? For my part, I find mercy infinitely more attractive. Give me a forgiving deity any day.

Being a god is the quality of being able to be yourself to such an extent that your passions correspond with the forces of the universe …

Forget about the theological discourse. The very grammar of this book isn’t meant for children.  And anyone who mistakes it for a children’s book merely because it deals in the fantastical is missing the point to a potentially dangerous extent.  (See Michael O’Brien’s bizarre characterization of Dune in his literary criticism A Landscape with Dragons: the battle for your child’s mind: “The author’s [Herbert’s] mind is religious in its vision, and he employs a tactic frequently used by Satan in his attempt to influence human affairs. … The people settle for the lesser evil, thinking they have been ‘saved’, when all the while it was the lesser evil that the devil wished to establish in the first place.”)

Do I read fantasy and other speculative fiction to be entertained?  Yes.  Do I read it to discover or cement elemental truths?  Heck, yes! Octavia E. Butler’s Xenogenesis books (also known collectively as Lilith’s Brood) contain, among pages and pages of acute observations on personal relationships and power plays, one of my favorite images for soul-sickness anywhere on this green Earth.  I wish that, like Aaor in Imago, my body began to disintegrate when I felt unloved.  —Okay, so I don’t wish that, literally speaking—it could get kind of messy at times—but the idea of physically expressing my psychic state in such an obvious way is deeply attractive. All literature is metaphorical, and the metaphors in good speculative fiction are gorgeous and subtle and deeply, deeply spiritual.

And I am proud to say those characters and that imagery live in my mind and in my actions.

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