Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I just saw the culture change!

Reading an article which posits that the harms of interbreeding are oversold. Article here.

The article itself isn't really the point. What caught my eye was this passage:
"For his part, Dr. Stefansson suggested what we might call a Goldilocks Zone for inbreeding. That term, which we usually see applied to exoplanets, refers to the idea that planets need to neither too far away from nor too close to their star in order to be able to support life. In much the same way, third cousins might actually have just the right amount of genetic overlap, neither too similar nor too dissimilar, and so they enjoy a reproductive advantage."
For those who don't know, the term in astronomy comes from this fairy tale. Wikipedia provides a fascinating history of the tale.

I assume that anyone reading this has heard the Goldilocks story, and the author over at IO9 probably assumes the same thing.

However, the fact that the author assumed, either naturally or through the revision process, that a term relating to the habitability of planets around alien suns would be more immediately recognizable and relatable to the average IO9 reader (admittedly a geeky set) than the original story says something about where our culture is headed.

Something wonderful.

Happy Wednesday!

Further proof that we live in the best of all possible worlds:

This seems to me like the musical version of "found art", except aesthetically pleasing as well.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Links

Charlemagne is antsy and I will probably be working extra hours from now until election day, so it is not outside the realm of possibility that this post will be the last until Nov. 6. Unless it isn't.

As always, I guarantee nothing.

Religion:
  • This is the banal evil that religion brings into our world. Warning: this story is not happy.
  • Somehow, the least violent, most kind-hearted, pro-progress, pro-American religion around today is the most vilified (well, second most after Scientology, but they have it coming) creed in the nation today. You may say that certain liberal forms of Protestantism are more kind and fluffy, but those are really just Christianity with the nasty parts ignored. "As God now is, man may be". I really am having a hard time coming up with a more pro-human statement from any author this side of Ayn Rand.
  • While we are on the topic, as batshit as Rand was, when theists ask me how there can be purpose in life without God, I give them this (well typically I just curl up and mumble because I don't like in person confrontation, but I think this really hard):
"My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."
- Ayn Rand
Bad People:



Also:

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The power of science

We live in the future.

Today I bought a device. The device is roughly cylindrical and housed in a small metal body, painted mostly blue with some silvery metal left unpainted. The device utilizes properties of the fundamental pixellization of the universe, as well as the wave-particle duality of all matter, theories so bizarre and baffling that even Einstein despaired of understanding them.

image shamelessly stolen from Wikipedia
Those little green dots? Electrons, a particle which is (as far as we currently know) an absolutely fundamental part of the universe. The manufacturer of my device used advanced engineering techniques to launch photons, the force carrier at the heart of such things as magnetism, electricity, light, and the solidness of objects, at electrons at the fastest speed possible to things in this universe. By launching said photon just right, the hyper-advanced quantum mechanical machinery of the device creates more light, but also creates that additional light in the exact same direction, energy and polarity as the previous photon, leading to a cascade of interactions on the smallest scales of the universe.

This device for generating beams of wave-particles cost me the equivalent of fifteen minutes of my time analyzing data at the office. Who am I to have such an advanced device, which I would be incapable of creating on my own under any conditions, aside perhaps only immortality, and for so small a portion of my total personal wealth? I am not a king, nor a king's son, nor an advanced scientist, or even a normal scientist, nor am I a successful businessman or a wealthy heir. I am nobody, I am, in a sense, everybody. I am the beneficiary of both the incredible wealth of incredible knowledge which permeates our society to such an extent that the purchase of a laser pointer scarcely generates comment.

To what purpose am I employing this device, which contains such unimaginable power, created by such advanced manufacturing, and purchased at so little cost? I am pointing around the room for the amusement of my co-blogger.

Seriously, though. This laser drives Charlemagne absolutely nuts. Her psychotic homicidal impulses, untethered on the best of days, goes into manic overdrive in the presence of a laser dot. I have discovered that I must take care where I point it or she will run so hard that she will slam bodily into the wall, not a good thing when her surgical scars are still visible.

I also got her a mechanical mouse, a contraption devised of wheels and gears housed in a casing of hardened fossilized hydrocarbons hundreds of millions of years old and operated by means of cylinders containing an acid solution capable of storing the power of lightning for years on end. When activated it rolls around in circles, makes a faint buzzing noise from the friction of the gears, and terrifies Charlemagne to no end. $15.00 and a lesson learned, another victory for quantum era technology over plastic powered clockwork.

But holy shit, we live in the future.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Happy Wednesday!

My sincerest apologies. I meant to post this video earlier, but I wanted to wait for a Happy Wednesday, but then I forgot, and now I have remembered. This makes me happy:
It is probably for the best that I don't speak Korean, which is, incidentally, why I like foreign music so much. Since most people are idiots, and writing good lyrics is hard to begin with, I count it as a good thing that I cannot hear him straining the meter or forcing a rhyme.

UPDATE: Shylock Holmes (Blogger Extrordinaire) recommends MC Solaar for similar reasons. I must say that this:
Sounds vastly better (not to mention more cultured) than this:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tuesday links

First up:

The "If they have the power, they will use it" collection:
Grab Bag:
  • Amused.
  • Distressed.
  • Is there a word for being metaphorically slapped in the face with a dead fish, where the dead fish represents wholly un-self-aware idiotic tribalism? 'Cause this.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Allstate

This one is slightly better because the person doesn't look like a huge douche:
Still, though, I wonder what this guy is doing here. I know he is the spokesman or some such, and he has a wonderful voice on the TV ads, but in this he isn't saying anything. He sort of looks like he is about to say something, but then he doesn't. I don't think this guy is famous, so it isn't like a celebrity endorsement (let me know if I am wrong), it is just a picture of a guy. There is nothing objectionable about any individual element here, but I feel like they could have him saying something, or doing something insurance-y, or replaced the picture of him with some benefit of Allstate, or they could have shrunk the ad to just the message at the top and the zip code and logo box at the bottom. If they had done any of this, they would have been increasing the amount of information conveyed with this information conveying box per square inch of conveyance space. The fact that they didn't makes me wonder about their commitment to efficiency. They could have conveyed more information for the same cost. They could have conveyed the same information for lower cost.

Allstate is advertising below the production possibilities frontier (point A on the chart). This leaves me extremely skeptical about their overall corporate efficiency.

What is going on here?

Just saw this banner ad for Pizza Hut on the internets:
The first thing I noticed was that this seems like a fantastic idea for a family situation, or perhaps a fraternity-like atmosphere where everybody knows what everybody likes gets. Otherwise can you imagine trying to negotiate the particular flavors of what looks like four separate parts? Absolute madness. So I am in favor of this product for this eminently reasonable price.

Leaving that aside, the Big Dinner Box seems like it might be a little too much for our everyman stand-in in the grey hoodie. Not only is he alone, meaning that Pizza Hut believes the Big Dinner Box to be an appropriate size for a single serving, but he also already has at least one slice of pizza (note the piece in his hand does not correspond to a hole anywhere in the Big Dinner Box in front of him), and since it is absurd to think that a person at home would bake a single slice of pizza, especially when he is expecting a Big Dinner Box, we must necessarily assume that he either has another whole pizza somewhere out of the picture, or he is just finishing another pizza before getting started on the Big Dinner Box. Pizza Hut apparently believes that their products are best consumed by insatiable gluttons and endorse the notion that pizzas should be chain-eaten in the way that cigarettes are chain-smoked. Utter madness.

Then we get to our everyman. Who is he, our soon to be diabetic pictorial interlocutor, supposed to be? Frequently the person in an ad is supposed to be a stand-in for the viewer, but really, is this the glamorous lifestyle of the Pizza Hut consumer to which we should aspire? Alone in a dark room consuming to excess and engaged with what is probably a television or other glowing mind-nullification box. Beer ads show attractive people having various sorts of good times, meant to indicate that you, too can be an attractive person having a good time if you drink this beer. In this regard, Pizza Hut is telling me that I, too, can be alone in the dark with nothing but calories to sustain me and the caffeine content of a two-liter Pepsi product to keep me from the death-like embrace of sleep. A consumer of the Big Dinner Box, goes the narrative of this ad, is empty where it counts and full where it only serves to translate the ugliness of your personality into the ugliness of your corpulent, bloated flesh.

Taking the other popular interpretation, that the attractive party-goers in the beer ad are not stand-ins for you, but rather implied promises that they will approve of you and be your friend and sleep with you, what can we make of this guy. Well, the first thing that we notice is that he looks like a douche cake. I don't want to be friends with him, not even if he is paying for a giant box of pizza, not that it matters with him because he is such a fatty that it will probably eat it all anyway. Perhaps the image I pasted is too small/low quality for you to be able to tell here, but it is clear that every single element of this photo was photoshopped together. Our protagonist, Douchebag McGee, is such a terrible person that every single element of this photo refused to be photographed with him. Even the slice in his hand is photoshopped into an otherwise idle extremity and if you look closely you can see that he is not sitting on the couch which appears behind him but rather somewhere below it. The people who know him best-- those who interacted with him for the five minutes required to take his chunk of the photo-- cannot stand him, and yet Pizza Hut wants me to squeeze myself into the tiny space to his left on the red couch. Well, no, thank you, Pizza Hut. That guy can just crawl back into his darkened hole and shove food into even darker holes until he dies of Too Much Pizza like the douchebag that he is.

The pizza looks pretty good, though.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Geico and Lies

I feel like there must be something noteworthy going on at the GEICO ad department, because I am not sure that I have ever seen a company with so many different ad campaigns running all at once for a general audience. Now, I know that many companies will have different campaigns for young people and for Spanish speaking audiences and whatnot, but the GEICO ads all go out on TV together.

Anyway, for my the typical difference between GEICO ads is that there are some that are witty the first time I see them and then become irritating the next thousand times I see them on Hulu, and then there are some that skip the witty stage. This one, however, while not the funniest, is one of the best ads on TV (or at least, one of the best on Hulu. Haven't watched live TV since I moved out of my parent's house).

Also, I was throwing things out to clean off my counter for the week and I noticed the packaging for one of the cat toys I bought for Charlemagne. On the back it features quotes by cats endorsing the product. Every one of those quotes is Made Up. Still, if you are going to make shit up, I was amazed by how bland the endorsements were. Perhaps the people who made the label knew what they were doing, but I suspect instead that they are just stupid.

More the the point, the section featuring the endorsements (all of which were Lies. Cats cannot talk) (or write) (or otherwise communicate complex thoughts intelligibly) was called Cat-imonials. I take it that the writers of these lies were attempting to draw a parallel between testimonials, except with cats. but this doesn't work, because if Cat-imonial was a legitimate metaphor then testamonials could only be given by tests, or perhaps people named "Test" or perhaps a hitherto unknown race of test-beings, or something.

But anyway the point is that the packaging is dumb.

Observations

Some combination of having a kitten, the novelty of a new kitten, and possibly the allergy medications I am on to keep said kitten from strangling me to death have changed my mind somehow. I feel less able to abstract my thoughts and very firmly rooted in my present sensory experiences. I am smelling more, I am feeling more which is a good thing (?) but it is much harder to think creatively and to write about the privations of the wanderer when I, here and now, have a full belly and a sweet, fuzzy kitten. Not to mention the fact that she is fascinated by the clicking of the keyboard and is insisting on helping me type. Perhaps this is all transitory and the blog will return to what it was last week. Perhaps it won't and I will return to being a wholly consumptive force on the web.

How do grocery stores decide what to stock? Is it purely a guess and check sort of thing (you stock kidney beans and see how they sell for a week) or is it demographically based? If it is the latter, what does it mean that I find the best selection (for me) to be at an HEB a good ways away from my apartment? I just went down there and passed another HEB and a Walmart on the way. Of course, the marginal cost of driving another two miles to get to the farther HEB is minimal, so maybe the stock with that in mind?

The point is that I went in there and for some reason, nothing I could point at particularly except to say that this HEB, as opposed to the two closer grocery chains, has all the stuff I like, I felt that I was in a place built specifically for my demographic profile-- single, young, with a good job and a cat. Maybe it is the allergy meds, but maybe that is credit to someone knowing their target audience.

Walked out through the HEB parking lot and saw a bumper sticker that said "I like Obamacare" with the Obama campaign website at the bottom. No photo because there were other people around an I felt like it would be weird to take a picture of a bumper sticker, but it is a real thing. I think this is absolutely genius. I was talking to my father who absolutely doesn't understand that huge swathes of America still think the president is doing a fine job, since after all my father doesn't like what the president has done and none of his golf buddies or work buddies (a combination of oil-men and entrepreneurs) like the president, so how could Romney not get 90% of the vote? This sort of bumper sticker reminds people who live in bubbles that there are people-- normal people shopping at the normal HEB-- who radically disagree with him. I have never seen an effective bumper sticker before, so this made me take note.

On the way home their was a billboard that said "tell a Goodwill employee that they rock." I don't understand the point of the sign. If they wanted to increase Goodwill name ID, they could just put up the logo. If they wanted to let Goodwill employees know that they are appreciated, they could A) tell them, B) reward them, or C) put up a sign saying "Goodwill employees rock". C would also work to let me know that the employees are quality, though I would prefer that to be perhaps a subheading to a larger statement like "Goodwill employees help people: therefore they rock" or some such. After all, I am not going to make a trip into Goodwill just to tell the employees that they are good people, and if I am in a Goodwill store then my interaction with the employees, no matter how brief, will be more informative than the billboard, meaning that I will offer praise not based on the urging of the sign but on the details of our interaction.

The point is that the Obama sticker was pretty good, even if I don't agree with it, and the Goodwill sign was dumb.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Happy Wednesday!

I have the world's sweetest kitten still getting used to the apartment. I am also a terrible photographer of cats. End result: you get a link to Dr. Boli and I get to play with a cat.

Priorities: I has them.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tuesday links

I am pleased to announce a new co-blogger, Charlemagne. She is a six month old black cat from the Humane Society and right now she is crawling on my leg after having gotten used to her environment. She seems to enjoy watching me type, but I haven't been able to get her interested in Youtube videos of other cats. The real test will be to see if she is calm while I play TF2. Tomorrow there will be a fuller introduction, and then I will use every ounce of self-control I possess to keep this from becoming a cat blog.

  • Pretty funny. If this is half true it is an interesting comment on US-Chinese wealth and culture differences.
  • The forward march of science. I tend to be of the opinion that all sorts of doping should be allowed, and that anything which enhances the capabilities of the human body is a good thing.
  • Fascinating. Note that the lower axis is not zero.
  • The forward march of science. The more that robots or other automata integrate into daily life, the better.
  • Droughts in the US, animated. Takes a minute to load, even on my machine.
  • Why do people complain about the creation of private businesses? Obviously the business will either be appreciated by the community or will go broke. The only issue I can see is if you are a hyper-moralistic busybody who absolutely has to tell everyone around them the "right" way to live their lives.
  • The forward march of science. I feel that 3D printing is as big an innovation as home computing, and yet we hear very little about it. Was the PC as much of a stealth technology before it became really big?
  • The forward march of science. I have fewer hopes for space travel as a super-futuristic technology, but of course the only way to ensure our survival as a species is to be a multi-star civilization, so clearly these guys are doing more to save the species than I am.
  • Not a fan of the New England, but Mrs. McMahon is a veritable model for Conservative libertarianism that I am totally fine with.
  • An interesting debate with implications for the reliability of medical journals.
  • Phillip Roth is wrong. He, the author, is a terribly unreliable source for his own work. Just ask yourself how reliable an elected official is as a source for his own Wikipedia page and throw in the tremendous amounts of money that Mr. Roth has riding on his personal reputation.
  • This is what religion does to people.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Monday Links

Super Awesome changes occurring IRL. Details tomorrow with any luck, but suffice it to say that while the wanderer will continue to reach a new town every Saturday (and sometimes Sunday), I will not be able to guarantee continuous posting here, especially as work will really start to heat up just as I get settled in from the new change.


  • I would vote for Obama if he gave this speech.
  • The first petition to the President that I have signed. I will give him mad props if he does this.
  • This sentiment is destroying the Republic.
  • A tale of government destroying a thriving industry, retro edition.
  • The perils of handing state government power to institute regulations equally binding on everyone.
  • The perils of handing local governments the power of discretion. Perhaps this is abuse, but a police force interested in nothing but violent crimes would not have done this.
  • I had a similar assessment of Whole Foods. Mine theory is that what they are selling is the ability to feel that you alone are in that store for a good purpose and everyone else is either a dirty hippy or a poseur.
  • Another casualty in the war on drugs, a real, bloody war against the American people.
  • Yes, this is the military, but it should serve to show that the absolute last thing we want is for the military to have any more power than it already does. (To clarify- This guy is a terrorist and should be punished, but cutting up his face is not impersonal, judicious punishment, it is deliberate humiliation).
  • Neither political party is interested in anything but power for its own sake.
  • Neither political party is interested in anything but power for its own sake.
  • I was going to put the presidential kill list in the above motif, but the unrestrained power to murder at will is seriously not funny. Democrats, imagine Bush with this power. The only way to keep it from anyone is to keep it from everyone.
  • That killed the joke, so here is an analysis of who would win if all 43 presidents were put in an arena for a knife fight to the death. I think the civil war vets, including the Official President of the EntirelyAlive Blog get a bum rap, but I also agree that Teddy and Jackson are the clear favorites. I think he also forgets how much harder life was in the 19th century. Sure the Bushes are hardy, outdoorsy types, and the modern day equivalents of some of the Gilded Age presidents, but I suspect that LBJ was the last one for whom "carrying water" was not a metaphorical term.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Town with a dragon (pt. 4)

They sped through the empty waste, the shining knight and her oath-bound wanderer, each stepping holding the weight of ten. Neither time nor distance held any meaning in this featureless waste but the superhuman racers could feel the wind of the still air as they ran. And they could see, high in the air, the form of a dragon.

This is how any dispassionate witnesses would know them to be completely mad, for there is no sane motivation to knowingly follow a dragon. There were, however, no dispassionate witnesses of their marathon over the desolate plains, and when at dusk they reached sight of a large, ramshackle town the terrified and swiftly perishing townsfolk were lifted by a glimmer of hope. Mad hope.

The bonfire that had once been the town was burning itself out as the wanderer reached the east edge. The smoke hid the stars and held all the scents of a fine hardwood barbecue, roasting pinewood which uplifted the dust beneath it blending into a most earthy flavor, the sweet, flame-kissed smell of cooking pork paired with the dull charred notes that told the wanderer and the knight that the dead meat in that town had been scorched beyond suitability for human consumption.

The two fighters slowed to a walk as they approached the bonfire. The knight reached around herself pulling tight straps that had loosened in the journey. The wanderer stretched his arms up to full extension, weaving his fingers together and cracking every knuckle in harmony with the fiery pops of the town. The knight muttered syllables and tiny symbols glowed into life around her armor and broadsword. The wanderer lightly rested his hands on the grips of his mismatched pistols. The two fell into the shadow of the dragon, its partially outstretched wings and impossibly large body blocking the whole town.

Above them rose black smoke. Beneath them dead ground was shrouded in shadow. They trained their eyes forward at the darkness ringed by fire.

"You will heal me." muttered the wanderer.

"When the dragon is slain." The knight replied, the chill in her voice running ahead of the cooling nighttime.

On the west side of the burning town a small patch of dirt has by chance been spared from the fire. A thin layer of debris covers a man dressed in a white suit. His eyes open to see orange blaze to his sides and darkness above him. The man in white is uninjured. He pushes some larger bits of wood off and stands, dust and grit and grime falling away from his spotless white suit. He stands and surveys the fire around him. He stands in an unburnt circle of perhaps fifteen paces in radius though the firewall to his left is less than ten away. He picks up his hat and moves to the right. The fire burns higher than is natural or appropriate, flame tips licking a foot above the man in white's spotless white hat despite having fed for a good while on a thin layer of wood. Given their origin and given their behavior, the man in white judged the flames to be unnatural and possibly hazardous enough to act cautiously. The man in white stands and surveys the fire around him. He takes a few steps to be as close to the center of the geometrically irregular barren patch. He sits and removes his hat. He places his hat in his lap and sits motionless facing east until conditions change.

To the north of town, just far enough as to be unlit by the town firelight, another man watches the dragon. He sees the dragon hunched over the town, picking out bodies with the agile talons at the tip of either wing.  Whole organs spilled out from the gaps between the dragon's arm length teeth and collected in a rapidly growing pile of gore at its feet, blood spattered across its face. He notices two tiny figures, shadows within the dragon's shadow giving off the telltale rune-glow of northern magic. The glows extinguish when they complete their preparations and the man to the north loses sight of them in the pitch black of the night. He decides that the time will come soon to move on. He goes back towards the west side of town to inform his partner. His spotless white suit begins to glow as the moves towards the bonfire.

They walked in shadow to the base of the beast. There they stood in silence, any notion of plans fleeing from their mind as they looked up at a fourteen story tall lizard of apocalypse. They could see the powerful muscles in its back and neck move under the steel-plate scales as it ate the town.

With deliberate silence the wanderer placed a hand on the knight's shoulder. She looked at his figure. He gestured to the north, let he go and walked up. In the darkness his gesture was not visible, but she made no move to stop him. She tossed the hilt of her sword from hand to hand before gripping tightly with both.

The dragon's talons picked through the fire as it started to burn lower. The beast gave up on finding more meat and bent low, taking the pile of fallen viscera at its feet into its jaws in one sweeping motion. As its head lowered, the knight leapt, rocketing upwards along the monster's jagged spine. At one hundred and fifty meters up she cleared the hunched dragon and hung in the air, acceleration falling to zero. The firelight reflected off her steel casing, flames reflecting in the blade of her broadsword as she swung herself into a dive.

She called out at runes pasted beneath her feet and burst downwards through the smoke filled sky, a blazing angel, a falling star. She brushed away memories of her training that threatened to pull her out of the moment, though it really was amazing. The sect-master had only ever seen dragons in ancient illustrations and in the visions granted him by the gods, and yet the diagrams he had drawn really were accurate. She could see the notch at the base of the dragon's head where the nerve bundle that ran down the dragon's neck protruded from the skull and was protected by a single dragon scale.

She powered downwards, a spike driven into evil by the holiest of northern magics. Her sword began to glow red with the heat of air friction and golden as the runes sharpened the edge and strengthened the steel. Her armor, too, responded to her need, but it was outside her vision as her eyes focused on the target. She saw the great and featureless eastern darkness beneath her. She saw the great fire pit of the town above her.

She thought as she fell that she hadn't needed the wanderer's help after all.

The tip of her broadsword hit the weakest scale on the dragon's body with all the force of a meteor and all the fury of a warrior. The sword shattered without slowing the knight. The bones of her arms, locked outstretched, shattered with the blade. Her head came down onto the dragon's neck, shattering her entire spine, ending a life spent in training for this one moment.

The wanderer looked on as her limp body slid off the huge neck and was caught midair by the immense jaws. The jaws clapped shut and immediately opened again, head shaking the distasteful shards from its teeth. The knight fell to the ground and the dragon took a few steps into the fire, kicking the knight into the last bits of the viscera pile as you or I would kick an unseen pebble while staring at an eagle. The wanderer stood passively and once swore softly.

The fire lapped against the dragon's scales without visible effect, dimming as the night went on. The dragon spread its immense wings and crouched down to leap. As it jumped it gave a tremendous flap. The flames nearby were snuffed out immediately, the ones further away flared up before again resuming their gradual diminishment. The wanderer was buffeted but held his stand through one, two, three, four more gusts before the dragon was well aloft. It could be seen as a shadow for a moment through the smoke clouds and was again concealed by the night as it flew north.

The wanderer stood for a minute longer. He loosened the deathly tight grips he held on his mismatched pistols. Then he took the southern route around town and continued west.

A Thought

Wal-Mart sells their own off-brand version of Dr. Pepper. It tastes a little more watery than Dr. Pepper, but it is pretty good. The taste, however, is completely beside the point. It is called Dr. Thunder and the box and cans look like this:
The branding for Dr. Pepper is fine, but Wal-Mart is demonstrating here that all it takes is a little bit of extra effort and you can make anything look awesome. My question is this: Why isn't this level of awesome the default level of intensity for typical consumer goods. Why is the default level of characterization for consumer products so lame. For example, IKEA names its products (or they used to, haven't shopped there in a long time), but they would name their chairs things like Peter or Ingo, which is really bland. Are there really people out there who would not prefer to buy products called the "Thunder Chair of Power" or the "Madness-Inducing Tupperware Set of Despair". If you are selling thin sheets, a place like Bed, Bath and Beyond will call it something like "Wrinkle Free Cotton Sheets" but would it not be more awesome to call it "Ethereal Sheets of Heavenly Bloom"? Instead of "Cuisinart 12-cup automatic coffee maker" would not "Cuisinart's Blazing Exhaustion Annihilating Fluid Dispenser" be superior? You can note that it makes 12 cups in the description somewhere.

These are just things I can come up with off the top of my head while procrastinating. Surely people who do branding and thus get paid to do this all day can find substantially superior names for their products. I am not saying that the objects themselves need to be changed necessarily.

All I am saying is that more awesome is always better than less awesome and the people who do the branding on the products I purchase every day are really dropping the ball.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Friday Photo

Housekeeping Note: Expect part 4 very late Sunday. Blame writer's block. Also blame video games.
A road crew came by and ripped the reflectors out of the asphalt and replaced them with flimsy plastic flaps.
The first private spacecraft takes off.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Interlude: Two Muffins in an Oven

There is a story, perhaps only a parable, that been passed down through the haze of time. The story, or parable, is not true. It is as follows:
There are two muffins in an oven. The first turns to the other and says, "It sure is hot in here.". The other one says, "Oh, my god! A talking muffin!".
This story is not true.

  • Muffins do not posses the musculo-skeletal structure required to turn under their own power.
  • Muffins lack the motivation to address other muffins with idle comments.
  • Muffins to not posses the sensory capacity to experience heat, and anyway lack the processing power to understand sensation.
  • Muffins can not talk.
It is said that every tale contains within it a germ of truth, or possibly of Truth, the former being embellishments of historical accounts and the latter being illustrations of moral imperatives or philosophical outlooks. The tale which follows is True:

There exists, or at one time existed, a Fabricator. This Fabricator was capable of collecting and combining materials in order to create things. On a particular day it was decided, either by the Fabricator or some outside force, and agreed to by the Fabricator, that the Fabricator should create two muffins.

The Fabricator collected ingredients together. I do not know what, exactly, goes into a muffin, and would certainly not venture to guess what would go into two muffins, but perhaps the Fabricator's collection included such things as eggs, flour, muffin sauce, and perhaps a splash of brandy, because all the fancy recipes call for a "splash" of some manner of liquor. This is probably because writers of the fanciest cookbooks are all alcoholics or Julia Child, who was firmly in the pocket of Big Liquor.
The Fabricator applied his muffin creation skills to the ingredients. With the passage of time the ingredients had been formed into a proto-muffin goo sufficient for a pair of muffins. The Fabricator possessed a metal tray with twelve muffin shaped indentations arranged in a rectangular array. The proto-muffin goo was inserted into two adjacent indentations, one on a corner and one next to it on the longer axis. These two proto-muffins existed as muffins, but also acted as a metaphor for the human condition.

The muffins were inserted into an oven, which was then heated to temperatures twice the boiling point of water. Chemical changes brought on and accelerated by the thermal energy transformed the proto-muffins into muffins, enhancing their taste and aptness as symbols for the human condition. At no point did either muffin speak.

At the appointed time and the appointed hour, with a set of known and proper conditions having been met, the tray containing two heated muffins was removed from the oven and placed on an unheated surface. When the muffins cooled, they were subsequently removed from the tray, in every symbolic detail identically to the fashion in which mankind yearns for meaning.

A Consumer, who may or may not have been the same character as the Fabricator, manipulated one of the two muffins whose existence was also burdened with the power of metaphor until the muffin was partially inside a hole in the Consumer's face. Two clamps made of sharpened crenelations of bone came together, messily severing a chunk of the muffin. that chunk was mashed by the powerful workings of the bone clamps and mixed with the saliva of the Consumer, transforming the detached chunk of muffin into post-muffin goo. 

The post-muffin goo was induced deeper into the Consumer, bathed in a bladder of acid and, in the fullness of time, excreted. This process brought to the mind of a Theoretical Dispassionate Observer the deeper truths of the human condition.

The other muffin, equally metaphorical though at this point in the narrative more physically coherent, was lifted by another Consumer, who may or may not have been the same character as the previous Consumer, and may or may not have been the same character as the Fabricator. The other muffin was manipulated into the face hole of the other Consumer and a chunk was ripped off. The muffin was aware of none of this.

The muffin possessed no awareness.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Thursday Oh No!

There have been no new federal laws signed this week. Hooray!

However, since the convention circus makes me physically ill, that leaves me with nothing to give you today. Oh no!

That said, part 4 is having some trouble making itself into words, so I will do some on that.

In the meantime, I leave you with the following words of wisdom:

UPDATE: Hah! Funny story: It isn't Thursday! This also means that I am not, in fact, a day behind schedule at the office and really had no need to work as hard as I did today. Still, part 4 is not going to write itself, so consider this tomorrow's post as well.

Happy Wednesday!

Happy Wednesday!
The room is dim without being poorly lit. Two well dressed, attractive men sit at an ornate wooden table playing chess. The board is ebony with inlaid marble, the pieces are ivory. At one side of the board sit three white pawns, a white knight and a white bishop idling atop the oaken table near a quarter-full wineglass. At the other end sits a black pawn and rook by an identical wineglass holding only the last red dregs.

Playing white is a man with short, silky-smooth hair, his face clean-shaven, his eyes bored of the world. With his every gesture he silently cries out that it is this - only this! - which staves off the ennui of his drab, overly comfortable existence. His white linen shirt is crisply starched and tucked without a crease into perfectly pleated khaki pants. His immaculate jacket was the socket for precisely five flawlessly polished brass buttons- one on either cuff, two along the middle and one above the waist pocket. The thick material of his jacket is dyed a deep navy blue.

Opposite him a man responds with black, the sharp creases of his khaki pants matched by the perfect stiffness of his white linen shirt. He alone knows the sad exhaustion of living, a pain he holds behind a clean-shaven face, beneath silky-smooth hair cut fashionably short, though perhaps the smoldering dullness sat within his eyes. Upon his jacket, itself without material flaws, rested five ornate and finely kept brass buttons, two along the middle, one on either cuff, and one above the waist pocket. The thick material of his jacket is dyed a slightly lighter navy blue.

The man in the darker jacket lifts a white pawn off the board. "Ah, what a metaphor, the pawn! Consider, for what am I in my empty and comfortable life but a pawn of my father! And yet, like the pawn I move forward, for how else would I maintain the consumer luxury in which I am entrapped without the un-opposable hand of his wealth!"

The man in the lighter jacket looks away from the board, away from his fellow, into the darkened space at the side of the room, "Perhaps I hear truth, good man, but how should I, so blinded by my comforts, recognize so sublime an essence as truth?"

"Nay," replies the man in the darker jacket as he places his piece, "what are we without our truth? For us, to whom the beauty of ignorance is denied, what then could be left?"

"I fear for my very soul, though such a thing has long departed from me, but you have placed yourself in check." replied the man in the lighter jacket.

"And yet," continued the man in the darker jacket, "Have not we all done so? Do we not live our lives in fear of that terrible check?"

"There may be your truth," insisted the man in the lighter jacket, "That it is not the world-weariness of the sophisticate which paralyzes your action, but a baser motive."

"Your words, as meaningful as any words," replied the man in the darker jacket, "mere shaking within the air, and yet lessen themselves in context. As the sage would say, they are but green dream sleeping furiously."

"Tame your language," pleaded the man in the lighter jacket as he idly lifted his wineglass to his lips. He forebear from drinking and said instead, "I sense within me a wroth wholly foreign to my consumptive nature."

The man in the darker jacket pushed his high backed chair from the table. The man in the lighter jacket responded in kind. As one they rose and stepped to their respective lefts. They returned their chairs to their places beneath the table. The man in the lighter jacket stepped to his right, gripping the shoulder height wooden posts of his former seat with loose wrists.

The two men attempted to scowl, though neither could summon the desire to put for the energy required. The man behind his chair accomplished only a mildly disappointed glare, while the man in the darker jacket took on the appearance of one stricken with a mild food-borne illness.

The man in the darker jacket pronounced the following, "It seems to me, old friend, that you have come to delight in the worldly."

The man in the lighter jacket replied, "I take no pleasure from this drab and empty existence, noble comrade. I had thought myself numb by find pain within the vacant shard of my soul to see you acting the courtesan, pursuing the fleeting drama of this life."

The man in the darker jacket reached forward with his right hand and grabbed the stoppered wine bottle by the neck. He lifted it upturned into the air, as much Gorbachev's Shoe as Thor's Hammer. He spoke, "With the shattering of this bottle, I shatter our association, our mortal friendship." He brought the side of the bottle down upon the thick edge of the heavy oaken table, striking just above the label. "And with the upper shards of this neck, I will cut you as befitting a disobedient woman-for-hire."

The man in the darker jacket reached forward with a slow, controlled thrust, striking the unmoving arm of his one-time counterpart.

The arm of the man in the lighter jacket became a metal plate, spreading out from his flesh as he rose to a greater height. He was ten feet high, then he was twenty, every step of his mechanization matched by the man in the darker jacket. Missile launchers sprang from his shoulders and rapid fire large caliber guns from his arms. His eyes fired lasers.

The two giant robots fought to the death through the streets of Old London, the lower half of their shared wine bottle forgotten in the road.

Happy Wednesday!


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tuesday Links

Today I present: LINKS WITHOUT CONTEXT
  1. Link
  2. Link
  3. Link
  4. Link
  5. Link
  6. Link
  7. Link
  8. Link
  9. Link
  10. Link
Bonus activity: Guess which links I approve and disapprove of!

UPDATE: I was going to let Clint's empty chair meme pass me by, but this is really too great. Apologies for the context.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Monday Links!


  • This seemed like a really good idea when I read it a few days ago, but as I revisit it now, it seems like a less good idea. However, a comparison of cinematic Nixons is an excellent idea.
  • Its times like this that remind us that corporations really have no special abilities or magic that make them better than normal people, or even politicians, for that matter. The difference between a successful corporation and an unsuccessful one is that the unsuccessful ones go out of business. Unsuccessful people linger, and unsuccessful politicians can stick around for decades if they have an incumbent friendly district. That is why I will trust Unilever 1,000% more than any politician on any prediction they care to make.
  • I am not certain that this piece provides any value-added. That is to say, Romney fans can look at this and reinforce their pre-existing viewpoints while being a flimsy enough argument that Obama supporters can see right through it. It is this sort of writing, not the invective fueled commentary, that drives the partisan divide in this country, IMO.
  • This makes my job harder. Redistricting is a joke. Everyone involved knows that there are only two considerations when producing a map, maximizing red vs blue (or vice versa), and protecting the incumbents who are drawing the map. The fact that there were a bunch of racists living in Texas fifty years ago makes not the slightest bit of difference. The article notes that Hispanic incumbents got moved? That's because A) Hispanic concentrations grew around the state, meaning that the lines needed to be redrawn anyway and B) Hispanic voting patterns (at least in Texas) are becoming less solidly blue, meaning that Team R can redraw the lines and grab some 45% red districts that could be competitive in a cycle or two. This didn't happen to the white incumbents because East Texas is a stagnant backwater, and also the white people have more seniority (because Texas really was racist 50 years ago) meaning that they are the ones doing the drawing meaning that they are particularly invested in their own seniority. Neither the defendants nor plaintiffs care about black and white, they care about Red and Blue, its just that Team Red botched the process and are getting called on it. As long as politicians get to pick their voters instead of the other way around, [end of sentence redacted for excessive profanity].
  • This is a great website, run by the XKCD guy. This one looks at the math of soulmates.
  • A debate on poverty. Very interesting. None of it is new, but they are holding a very pedestrian argument on a fairly sophisticated level. I am not sure who is right.
  • This is what inspired last Wednesday's post, though I never got around to linking it.
  • ROAR! When there are this many laws, everyone is a criminal. Bet you won't see famous politicians suffering the same fate. Also, when the judge in 1963 handed down whatever punishment he thought was appropriate, he handed down something that was, presumably, proportional to the crime (two days in jail). Do we think that the judge would have handed down the same sentence if he knew that this man would be categorically denied a range of employment by federal law? This is why A) laws passed to deal with emergencies that have already occurred are universally terrible and B) laws should be kept at the most local level possible. In this case, the judge was much closer to the crime than the federal government and handed down a vastly more appropriate sentence.
  • Politicians doing what politicians do, now with people calling them on it!
  • I have a love-hate relationship with online surveys. They can turn out like this. But there is also a growing high web-use demographic that is much harder to reach by cellphones and often impossible by land line. It is important that screw ups get disseminated far and wide so that we can at least know what not to be doing. Now we just have to figure out how to build web surveys of the general public that are as reliable as telephone surveys were in the 1980s.
  • Team Coke battles it out with Team Pepsi. Seriously, if both sides think that it is the purpose of government to keep auto plants open, and both sides believe that the government should have the power to keep them open, why would I vote for anyone except Gary Johnson? On the other hand, Median Voter Theorem is alive and well.
  • This is what the government has power to do. The founders assumed that everyone was a dick, but lacked the power to express it. Modern pundits seem to think the same thing, except that their political party is immune to dickishness. This is why we need a political Golden Rule: Do not give the government any power you would not want to see in the hands of your political opponents.
  • People blame the free market for our troubles. A free market would not be perfect, but it is not, in fact, the cause of the particular set of troubles we face.
  • Voters get the government they deserve. They get it good and hard.
  • Wrongful convictions happen every day. In part because humans are fallible. In part because of the incentives system faced by prosecutors.
  • One more death in the war on drugs. This time it was someone who tried to build a career helping people. Our dear Uncle Sam would like to remind everyone that helping people is the sole province of government and you will undermine the fabric of our nation if you take it upon yourself to be happy.
I should note that the captions for these links are fairly off topic. Today is, I guess, official Free Association day at the EA.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Town with a dragon (pt. 3)

The wanderer ate a waffle alone in the Saloon and dance hall. A tired old horse was tied outside next to a sign that read "Auntie's Waffles - Best In Town". The wanderer voiced no complaints about the quality of the waffle. He drank a beer so light as to be distinguishable from water only with careful observation.

An old, matronly woman came up to his with a plastered smile on her face. She had introduced herself earlier, before offering the best waffles in town, but the wanderer had already forgotten who she was except that she was not the eponymous Auntie.

"Who," he asked, "Makes the second best waffles in town?"

"Were these not good enough?"

"I was only considering how competitive this town is."

"Oh," she said, not quite certain what the word "considering" meant, "Auntie makes the only waffles in town!"

"I thought she made the best waffles?"

"Of course! No one else even gets close!"

"If these are the only waffles, are the not also the worst waffles in town?"

The matronly lady frowned at this, completely unable to follow the logic but certain that some insult was intended. "If you don't like the waffles," she said after considering for a moment, "No one is forcing you to stay and eat them."

"The waffles are fine, Ma'am."

They were fine, if a little sour.

"Aren't they the best you have ever had?"

"They are the best in town." the wanderer said, now trying to detach himself from the conversation.

"Not the best ever?" She asked, with a bit of irritation in her voice.

"I have had waffles back east, but these are a bit different."

"Better?" Her irritation grew, and while the wanderer hardly cared enough to form an opinion he opted to agree with her for the sake of getting rid of her.

"Yea, sure."

It was true, though. The waste had forgotten many things, and many of those things it held on to it recalled only in name. Back east he had once eaten a waffle cooked by one who still remembered the meaning of the word. The potatoes were finely cut and the eggs were only added on the grill afterward so that the potatoes wold come out more thoroughly cooked. The man back east had even poured the thick, meaty gravy on while it was still grilling right before scraping the waffle off the cooking surface.

Since venturing west, the wanderer had come across a few towns that claimed to cook waffles. Not a single one of these dishes were in any way similar to each other. The meal he had almost finished was a base of mashed potatoes with chicken baked together, with some sort of citrus taste that was nearly drowned out by a peculiar, almost sour honey the wanderer had never encountered before.

The wanderer scraped the last bit of honey drenched potato off the plate and licked his knife clean, wiping it on his tan leather vest before sheathing it under the larger one at the small of his back. He stood and looked at the matronly woman for a moment, but then let his shoulders fall and walked out through the open door frame. On the porch he looked to his left towards the still-rising sun and saw a long shadow over the ground. The shadow was affixed at the feet of a figure perhaps five miles out yet who still reflected the light of the sun even at that improbable angle. The angle, of course, was no more probable than the thought that the lone figure walking in that waste had survived her previous encounter.

Even less probable was the fact that she was running. Even after fighting a dragon and wandering an empty waste, she still had the strength to run fast enough to kick up more dirt than a cavalry brigade. The wanderer squinted and could just make out that her arms seemed too long. She was running while encumbered by both her weapons, spear and sword sticking out to either side of her.

A shadow passed over the wanderer. It was not her shadow.

He knew what he would see. He knew he did not want to see it. he knew it was only a few more steps to his horse and he could outpace the demon, assuming the dragon stopped and ate at this town like it had the others. If not, then he might as well be as far west as he could be when flying death fell upon him. But instead he looked up.

Not straight up, it was still a mile or two away just above the morning sun. The shadow had already passed over in the time it took his head to lift, the beast traversing its own tremendous body length in an instant. Its dun green underbelly was visible at this distance, and the creeping deeper green of the back scales could be seen lit up at the very edges of the beast like the thinnest lit crescent of a nearly-new moon.

Though this was the third sighting of the dragon, the wanderer still could not move for watching it. He was not stiff and frozen, no fear appeared in his features, but his eyes were open and unblinking, pupils tight and focused on the beast with the wariness of a rabbit waiting for an eagle to pass. His hands rested lightly on his mismatched pistols, perfectly calm, perfectly still in mind and body.

Beneath the giant figure a trail of dust rose from the feet of the knight keeping superhuman pace. As she closed in her tremendous weariness became evident in her hunched shoulders, her stooped head, her sweat-loosened armor jostling with each tremendous stride. Now only three or four miles out a small roar was audible, an almost human roar of frustration, determination and homicidal fury. The roar was as cracked as the sun baked land beneath her feet and blood flecked freely from her raw throat, but still the roar did not stop. She ran without breathing- no, she ran without inhaling, pushing herself through the power of her runes and the power of her rage so that the dragon would not forget its pursuer.

The knight was only two miles out and closing fast when the dragon reached the east edge of town. It cocked its head sideways to look down and its head was a fourth of the way through by the time it decided to make a meal of these people.

The dragon's wings, stretched to full wingspan in the sky, folded powerfully at the joint atop the torso as it reared back. The tremendous gust of wind did most of the dragon's destructive duty in one blow, flattening the town, launching wood shrapnel and blood spray out for miles beyond the town's radius.

The wanderer braced himself the moment the wings began to close in on themselves, taking to one knee and pulling his pistols from their holsters. He rammed the larger muzzle deep into the hard packed dirt in front of him and the smaller at an angle to his body and clutched the grips tightly. He knelt just to the side of the widest clearing in town, and had the dragon chose to land anywhere else he would have been sent flying. As it was the dust blew away from him and the wave of pressure blasted him down, bruising his kneeling leg without moving it.

When the blast of air subsided he looked up at the dragon. Its wings had folded in and its torso had risen perpendicular to the ground. He saw the bottom of the beasts two clawed feet and trailing out, its tail. With its underbelly covered, the true green hue of the dragon was apparent. The smoky emerald dragon hung there in the air, its flap having stopped all forward momentum and gravity only now daring to request permission to act upon this terrible body. Then it fell.

It plummeted through the air, a mountain of densely packed muscle compressing the air beneath it which couldn't move out of the way as fast as the dragon could fall to earth.

It hit with a visible shock wave which rent the very earth beneath it. The wanderer, only yards away from the nearest foot was dropped and then thrown into the air by the force transmitted through the dirt. No longer braced, he pulled his pistols up to shoulder level in a flash and extended his body, a gunslinger's stance translated in free fall. The instant before his arms reached full extension he squeezed together on a pair of mismatched triggers.

The burst was a dissonant chord propelling two bullets outward and unerringly forward. In the same instant the wanderer saw a spark within the gaping open mouth of the dragon, a spark which fed upon the oxygen rich atmosphere of a dragon's upper respiratory system, catching and spreading to the tip of its jaw and finally expelled with a single tremendous, clipped burst. The larger, slower bullet felt the heat of the flames, melting but holding aerodynamic form behind its smaller cousin.

The nearly parallel paths of the paired munitions met just beneath the center of the dragon's right pupil. The smaller bullet was faster and struck the lens of the dragon's eye first, shattering smooth, crystalline structure, but deforming heavily and falling as a harmless tiny weight into the now freely flowing jelly of the eye. A fraction of a moment later the larger bullet followed, unhindered into the portal and swimming through the eye jelly with nearly the facility it cut past the air. It struck the photo-receptors in the back and burst, still partially molten from passing by the dragon-fire, severing the ocular nerve and embedding tiny shrapnel into the eye.

The dragon choked as the short burst of fire cut off in place of a terrible scream of pain. In the air, the recoil from his shots pushed the wanderer back and set him spinning, his top half rising as he slammed into the dirt behind his fallen horse just as the spurt of flame hit. The horse took the inferno meant for his head and back, but the dragon-fire cooked the back of his legs, fusing pants and flesh.

The wanderer could just smell the burnt meat of his horse and legs as the dragon's scream of pain began, though it cut off just as soon as it started in a monstrous single gag, a click deep within the beast's airways that spread as a visible bubble of air pinging through the town, bursting the exposed blood vessels of the horse before him, then passing through the wanderer as an unearthly force driving his very blood through his body and finally bursting out upon reaching the soles of his feet, popping the bottom skin clean off in his boots.

The click shattered wood and bodies with equal ease out to the edge of town, but the gag itself held such force as to throw the dragon's head up to the sky. The recoil nearly knocked the monster clear over, but in its pain it stiffened its tail and swung it hard against the earth, leaving it teetering on its two clawed heels.

The wanderer lay there and bled as the dragon resumed screaming with even less restraint, emptying the rest of his building sized lungs in half a minute. The knight looked up at this scream and saw the few wispy clouds high in the sky dispersed. A mile out she was buffeted by the various shock waves of the dragon's landing and stumbled a bit, the bellow she had sustained since leaving the previous town breaking off in a spout of blood flecks, but she recovered both her legs and her voice in little time and propelled herself forward, kicking herself against the earth and propelling towards the dragon. In the air she held the steel spear with both hands and straightened her body.

The dragon caught a wink of light flashing off her steel armor in the corner of its last good eye, but paid it no mind in the red haze of its suffering.The beast leaned on the base of its tail as it brought up its left paw to scratch at the now freely bleeding eye. Jelly, blood and meat came away on the claws as the enraged beast cleared the shrapnel from the wound.

The wanderer had finally managed to curl up under the dead horse, leaving his own trail of blood as he pulled his unresponsive legs in where they would be safe from further flame blasts. He picked up his head in time to see the dragon lowering its, cupping the eye with talons held together no longer as five man-sized spikes but as one wall of blades. The dragon inhaled, pulling ambient dust from all around into the center of town, the dust grains shooting into the wanderer's burnt skin. The wanderer heard a tiny spark catch within the dragon and pulled his head down and his body in just in time for the dragon to unleash a fiery gout lasting a full minute.

The dragon shot these flames directly into the ground. The flames scattered in a ring, consuming the flattened structures everywhere except those on the direct left of the dragon. There it had put its left claw on the ground to funnel the flames back up, cauterizing its own eye. The dragon flesh bubbled and hissed as steam escaped from the now empty eye socket.

Through all this the knight reached the end of her half-mile leap, her spear pointed straight at the neck of the dragon, a shining missile of humanity. The dragon's jet of fire wore out, leaving a blackened ruin of the left half of its face charred uniformly. The dragon rose, lifting it left wing to paw it it face, moving almost clinically but for the vengeance burning in its one good eye. Almost as an afterthought it lifted its tail to smack down the soaring knight who crunched to earth cutting off her roar for a second time.

The dragon lifted its head to its fullest extent and stood for a moment, as if considering. In that moment the world was still, the constituent atoms of the town pausing in their ceaseless jiggle for the decision of the monstrous demon. Then with a jerk of its head the dragon sprang into the air, leaping twice its own height before flapping once. The burst of air flung the smoldering horse carcass somewhere behind the wanderer. The dragon flapped again, higher up this time, sending sharp grains of dirt flying against the wanderer's prone form. The dragon flapped again, high enough in the sky that the wanderer felt only a heavy breeze.

The wanderer turned his head so that the right side of his face was collecting dirt and saw a crumpled heap of steel laying in a pile of what was once a building, shaking intermittently. If his eardrums hadn't ruptured, he would hear each bout of shaking accompanied by a sharp crack of bones re-breaking and being set back into their proper place. The crumpled pile broke off mid-shake and raised the knight's head up. The wanderer was too far away to see her suddenly determined expression, but he did see her take up her spear and drive its butt into the rubble.

She pulled herself up and rushed as fast as she could with only one leg- the wanderer could see bone sticking through the steel boot of the other leg- hobbling to the center of town where the dragon had landed previously. She rammed the dull end of the spear four inches into the hard packed crust that was once a road that ran through the center of what was once a town.

As if it had been suggested by the spear, the wanderer turned further, his muscles rebelling against the effort, and looked up to see the dragon falling. It had wrapped itself in its wings and was pointed directly at the spot it had landed previously. The dragon was falling faster and seemed intent not on landing as much as on delivering the greatest possible force to the ground beneath it. It only noticed the spear at the last minute.

Perhaps a dozen yards off the ground the dragon began to unfurl its wings and realign itself but by then it was too close to the ground. The bones at the top of each wing scraped against the ground, scarring the earth and hurling shattered wood and building foundation every which way. Its feet hit the ground first, splayed out too far to support the weight of it's tremendous underbelly.

The dragon hit the spear on a single large scale above its hip and the whole of the lizard's weight fell upon it. As the wanderer watched he saw the spear glow, quickly becoming a blinding light which scoured his retinas even after shutting his eyelids, but neither the steel weapon nor the iron-hard scale gave. The energy from the fall was consumed by the shining spear and given off as light until finally the force was too much and the tiniest of spaces, the place between the spear tip and dragon scale, the collected energies burst forth, flinging the armored warrior over and past the wanderer.

The explosion lifted the dragon the few feet it needed to catch the air and in one powerful wing thrust it flew backwards, east and out of town. The wanderer was thrown back with this and landed atop the hard steel of the knight's greaves. The dragon landed for a moment out past the wreckage of the town, its belly visibly unscarred, and looked upon its work. Perhaps it conceded defeat, perhaps it decided it was done, and perhaps no particular thoughts filled its mind at all. Whatever the case, the dragon rose into the air once more with a terribly enfeebled roar, one which shook the dirt grains on the ground but utterly failed to shake the earth itself, and flew west, morning sun at its back.

The wanderer was kicked in the head by a steel boot.

"Get off me." The knight commanded, voice raw but still hard. The wanderer rolled his shoulders and fell off her leg. She pulled the leg up and tied wrapped a thin strip of cloth around the ankle, just under where a piece of shinbone stuck out.

The haze of screaming nerve endings had not faded for the wanderer, but he was getting used to the pain enough that he could start taking in the world around him. The sight of destroyed buildings and smashed bodies was becoming terribly familiar so he tried to move his head around to see what else there was. His head, however, was much less interested in moving and flat refused. So he lay there, staring at a sign that now read "-st in tow-" that was wrapped in the intestines of his horse. The rest of his horse was out of his field of view, though he assumed it was in no better shape.

Somewhere above him was a soft, diffuse green light originating from behind him. After it subsided he was smacked on the shoulder by a steel gauntlet. A minute later he was smacked again and out of the upper corner of his eye he saw the knight, once again shiny and unscarred, leaning over him. With one hand she rammed a piece of cloth into his ear and clapped his head down in the dirt with the other. A little bit of light and a whole lot of pain later, she removed her hands and cloth.

He heard the hot breeze rolling through what used to be a town. He heard cracking as wood gave in to stresses. He heard the knight.

"You will never walk again like that."

The wanderer lay mute, as if hoping the world would go away if he pretended it wasn't there. The knight smacked him with a steel gauntlet.

"Answer me. I fixed your ear for free. The rest of it costs you."

"Costs me what?" The wanderer spat onto the ground. There was no blood which he took as a good sign.

"You will be bound to me until we have slain the dragon."

"No."

A steel gauntlet smacked the wanderer's left leg. He could feel his leg jerk, but somehow there was no sensation at the point of impact. The knight hit him again, higher up and on the right leg. There was sensation this time.

When his screams had fallen into mad gasps, the knight continued.

"You will never walk again. We must hurry or the dragon will get ahead of us."

"The go off, hero." Somehow, despite his pain, the cynicism that the wanderer imbued into the word "hero" made the knight flinch.

Behind him she grimaced and decided.

"Fine," she said, "I would have preferred your aid, but all I need are your weapons." Her hand moved to his hip. As she brushed his waist, his body twisted all on its own, flipping the holster out of her reach. Without the aid of conscious thought the wanderer's arm drew the smaller pistol, rammed the muzzle into the palm of her outstretched hand, and fired. The bullet went clean through and landed to the south of town, becoming the only feature of the southern waste for miles.

The knight sighed and reached into her pack with her good hand. She wrapped another thin cloth around the stigmatized hand. "Kah!" She barked and the cloth glowed a soft green. When she unwrapped her hand the wanderer could see that her gauntlet had been repaired and could infer that her hand had also been healed.

He grumbled at her, not quite a growl, and said, "You can heal my legs?"

"No, but the runes can."

"And in return I will slay your dragon."

"You need only assist." The arrogance in her voice, even after three failed attempts, was astounding.

He grumbled again, considering. He continued to grumble for a bit even after deciding for the sake of appearances. "Fix me." He said.

"No." She said.

He looked at her, his features completely neutral, the face he would have if all his muscles were cut from his skin. It said nothing and asked nothing.

"You will betray me." She explained. She reached into the pack and pulled out two fat, woolen cloths. "These will allow you to walk, but they will not heal you." She pointed to her own ankles with identically marked runes, "They will also keep you from slowing me down."

The knight pulled out her broadsword and cut deep into the flesh of his right thigh.

"Damnation descend, wretch." The wanderer shouted, emotions knocked free by the unexpected bite of steel. She smacked his face with her steel gloved hand, "You can't keep up with me if your legs hurt. Now you can't feel either of them."

She was correct, neither leg responded to anything and gave no indication other than visual that they were still even there. Just below his right hip hurt, but it was the known pain of a blade.

She ripped the bottom inch of his pants legs off his skin, letting the charred pus ooze out for a moment. When the new runes were tied securely she read them out, "Kas Dan!", and the two on her legs glowed golden along with the ones on his. When the glow subsided he tried to move his legs. Nothing moved.

"Get up."

"How?"

"By wanting to."

The wanderer scowled and simply thought about getting up. His legs responded, not as body parts under his control, but no differently than if they had been normal legs. He still had no feeling below his hips, yet stood solid. The mysteries of Northern magic eluded him as he stood upon burnt legs.

"Bit Yisit!" She called. The runes gave a tiny burst of golden light and grew dull. The wanderer fell from his useless legs to the ground. A rock split his lip.

"I will heal your legs only after the dragon is dead. If you abandon our quest before then I will annul the runes." She called them back into life and headed off after the dragon at a speed more suitable for a racehorse than a human.

The wanderer thought about getting up and found himself standing once again. No amount of deliberate moving of his legs produced any effect, but thinking that they should be moved accomplished the same task. After a few halting but solid steps he thought that he should catch up to the knight. With merely that thought he burst out of town, leaving the wreckage behind him in a flash. He caught up to the knight a minute later and they ran west behind a dragon.