RIP Terry Pratchett

“Don't think of it as dying, just think of it as leaving early to avoid the rush.”

Condolences can be left on his Facebook page.

I didn’t get into Pratchett when everyone else did in the 90s. I’d already grown out of humorous fantasy like the Xanth novels in my early teens and wrongly assumed that Discworld was roughly the same. Pratchett is a much, much (much!) better writer than Anthony, and practically requires annotations or an extensive yet wide-ranging education and acute attention to possible allusion to fully appreciate. A decade later, I finally read Pyramids and later Small Gods. The latter has proven to be a reliable gateway drug to of the other Discworld books for many of my friends and acquaintances.

Something I didn’t appreciate until fairly recently is that writing humorous fiction — particularly fantasy — is bloody hard. It’s far too easy to slip into parody, and consistently writing things that are both clever and funny for most people is very difficult to do. You can count on the fingers of one hand the people who managed the feat at all[1]. Pratchett managed to do it for 40-plus novels in the Discworld setting alone, which makes him frankly amazing and deserving of every penny he earned from it.

“I realized I was rich,” he recounted, “when I got a call from my agent one Thursday. That cheque I mailed you—did you get it? He asked. And I realized I couldn’t find it: lost down the back of the sofa or something. Can you cancel it and mail me a new one? I said. And he said, yes I can do that, but you realize you won’t be able to deposit it before next week and you’ll lose the interest on it? And I said sure, just go ahead, cancel it, and send me a new one. Then I put the phone down and realized it was for half a million pounds.” — anecdote recounted by fellow author Charles Stross

He will be remembered for decades as that be-hatted fellow who wrote all those wonderfully many-layered books about a cosmologially (and temporally) improbable nexus to humor. I sincerely doubt that in my lifetime any other author will even come close enough to be compared to him. Take good care of him, Death.

  1. In my opinion at least: L. Sprague de Camp was clever, but rarely laugh-out-loud funny. Fritz Leiber, ditto. Piers Anthony was always more punny than funny, best appreciated before age 14, and the sexual subtext of nearly all of his work is more than vaguely creepy once you get old enough to start recognizing it. Robert Asprin’s output was inconsistent, and I strongly suspect that Jody Lynn Nye was heavily involved in everything he wrote after Myth-Nomers and Im-Pervections, whether credited or not.  ↩

Baby Hair Brushes

No, not brushes for brushing your baby's hair. Calligraphy brushes made out of your baby's hair. More practical than bronzed shoes, you have to admit. Akachan (赤ちゃん) translates as "baby" and a fude (筆) is a brush for writing kanji characters.

Oh, and for the few regular readers who still think Japan is high-tech, the catalog is a PDF of a print catalog. The way I found this was through a flyer left in my mailbox. They used their phone number as the referral URL, which resolves to the link above. If you're interested, you can order by phone or fax, and if you call the toll-free (in Japan) number, you can get a catalog sent to you by mail for free!

What If?

XKCD is one of my favorite comics. The artist, Randall Munroe, started answering absurd and fun questions using physics and math in a weekly What if? feature. Now, some of those have been collected and printed upon dead tree carcasses that you can purchase in a virtual store and have delivered to your place of residence. How droll.

He also gave a TED Talk on what would happen if a baseball were thrown at 90% of the speed of light, which I think was his first What if? feature. Well worth listening to or reading, if you like science at all.

Hey, Big Boy!

Matt Alt, “Japan's Nose Obsession”:

By now you've undoubtedly read the brou-ha-ha over the "racist" ANA commercial featuring a Japanese dude wearing a huge prosthetic nose in an attempt to look foreign. Putting aside for a moment how much of a transgression the commercial represents, there's no question that "foreigners" and "long noses" go hand in hand in Japan. What IS the deal with that?

My earlier take on this issue.

And then there‘s this:

Is that your nose, or are you just happy to see me?

Is that your nose, or are you just happy to see me?

Oklahoma Considering Throwing out Marriage

It’s being proposed as a bigoted dodge to avoid having to recognize and provide gay marriages, but I think it’s actually an interesting experiment. Ironically, it could end up empirically proving that “marriages” are, in fact, unnecessary if the same goals can be met through other means.

As activist, writer, and fag extraordinaire Dan Savage has often pointed out, the rights of marriage are most necessary at the worst times in your life. Civil partners do not have the same rights as those who are married.

Even with special preparation ahead of time, a civil partner’s asserted legal rights can often be overridden by family, which is not the case in most cases for married spouses. They can be kept from visiting their partner in the hospital. They are not considered next of kin, so cannot make arrangements for a funeral. They do not have automatic and uncontested rights for inheritance, so they can (and have) been kicked out of the home they built with their partner and faced with crushing tax burdens not faced by legally married spouses. They cannot collect social security benefits. And worst of all, their dependent children will be deprived of financial stability at the most stressful time in their lives.

So go ahead, Oklahoma, get rid of marriage. Run an experiment on yourselves. Iron out all the problems in a purely civil system and see how it goes. I honestly and truly hope that it does work, because it will be a precedent for adapting similar measures elsewhere. If civil unions come with the same exact rights as marriage, there will be absolutely no difference between the two except the label. I’ve thought for a long time that there should be a separation between the legal side of marriage and the religious side. This could be the wedge that finally separates the two.

I’m not-so-sorry to say that this trick will probably backfire even if the marriage banning part of the experiment part works out. I really doubt that calling it a civil union, or “breeding couple” or whatever label they come up with will let any system evade the constitutional and legal provisions for equal treatment.

(via @GreatDismal)

Have You Ever Considered That You’re Pooping Wrong?

Squatting relaxes your muscles in just the right way to create optimal inner plumbing movement and can potentially combat some pretty serious diseases like Colitis and Colon Cancer. Now you can poop right with Squatty Potty, a step stool that allows you to sit on the toilet with perfect squat posture. Despite being full of water-plopping sound effects, the ad is pretty convincing. Perhaps an unsightly plastic thing is a small price to pay for happy bowels?

Or, you could just use a Japanese-style squat toilet.

Tyrian Prosody Herein Rendered and Referred

Selected for your perusal:

The words of a precocious child, who declares, “I WISH TO DEVOUR THE UNBORN”. The child’s parental units should be overjoyed, and duly proud of his achievements, for he seems to already be innately familiar with Death Metal English in which, "I am held in blood warmth / Sanguine, sublime fetishization / To bind desire into chasms of suffering / Where the dead meet the living” is a nicely florid way of describing mid-menstrual coitus.

The Caged Demonwolf in Empowered has similar dialog, often hysterically amusing, and occasionally touching:

“Long after you are dead, and this city is ashes, and your species is extinct… and this planet is a graveyard, and every star in its sky has gone dark, and all the universe beyond is lifeless and still… I will carry your memory with me, perfect in every detail, into the next universe. And I will see you then exactly as I see you now. Warm and passionate and violent and alluring and misguided and aroused and damaged and alive. From my point of view, you will never truly die, Kozue.”