Friday, August 17, 2007

Witler Winner!

Great shame to David Leland, who was so carried away with my suggestion of a fifth Teletubby that he went out and made up his own image of said Teletubby, complete with his own face as Hitler! Terrible! Look at this:

David thus wins the spontaneously declared 'fifth Teletubby contest' unless someone submits a better entry.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tele Tübbingen

I am back from another enjoyable trip to Tübingen. This one was a lot more intense, since it was mostly a work trip. I had the terrific honor of meeting with Niels Birbaumer for a couple hours to discuss ideas for grant proposals, and was otherwise busy working on that. But, I also got to meet some new people in his lab and hang out with friends from before, mostly the soon-to-be-doctor Femke Nijboer, who seemed freakishly calm and well adjusted for a late stage PhD student.

The train ride was fun and pretty, so much so that the train's speed was almost regrettable. The countryside looked so lush and inviting that I thought - do we really need to tear through this at 3 miles a minute? Would it be so absurd to just stop? Everyone in the train gets off, rolls in the grass, climbs pine trees, wades about the muddy river, and maybe shares some picnic baskets? Yes. Yes, that would be absurd, and would surely incur vicious mocking on this blog, enough to badly demoralize several ducks. But I would also acknowledge it as unique, certainly concordant with the strict tenets of flaneur.

Sunday featured a huge event near the main train station. It is called Hauptbanhof, which coincidentally translates as 'main train station.'

Relevant line from Airplane!:
There's an emergency in the cockpit!
The cockpit?! What is it?
It's a room in the front of the plane where the pilots sit, but that's not important right now.

This exchange plagiarizes Lewis Carroll, but is still funny.
The event was sponsored by a German kids' TV channel called KIKA and included a stage with four dancing Teletubbies. Behind that was a huge screen presenting the ubiquitous Teletubby background - rolling grassy hills with flowers and bunnies, and an occasional segue to a sun with a laughing baby face. I found the background quite peaceful, although the show is meant for kids and teens on acid. I then realized that it was in fact quite well tested with adults: remove the flowers, bunnies, and baby Apollo, and you have the default background of Windows XP. Hm. Perhaps, just as Disneyland is a huge and psychologically brilliant scam to impress happy associations on kids so they forever love Disney, Teletubbies is a secret tool to instill a sense of childlike calm and trust in the Windows background. Indeed, the red Teletubby looks kinda like Bill Gates, and has a nerdy air about him.

While talking with a few people in the crowd, I asked if they were familiar with the fuss that Falwell created a few years ago with his suppository supposition that the purple teletubby (Tinky Winky) is gay. This stemmed from Falwell's view that purple is a gay color and the triangle above his head is a gay symbol. (Oddly, he voiced no suggestion that the name might be a giveaway. Hence we can assume that he considers Tinky Winky an appropriately manly, Christian name.) Indeed, the Germans had heard of this and thought it very funny. I thought it would be even funnier to dress up as a black Teletubby, with a little Hitler moustache and a swastika above my head. What the hell are the other four actors going to do to me? Kick my ass? Dressed up as Teletubbies? And it's safe to assume the typical Teletubby actor doesn't moonlight as a cage fighter. With me wearing a padded costume, I doubt I would get badly injured. Plus I would act quite inconspicuous. Teletubby dancing looks really easy, almost as simple as the dancing you see in most clubs. I could do that, and just throw in the occasional Nazi salute. And maybe the hills in the background would periodically feature a Panzer behind a hill, or replace baby Apollo with Goebels, or show people practicing darts or watching Triumph of the Will. Rather than Tinky Winky, I could be called Tinkolf Adolf or Happy Heil or Dipsy the Inferior Jew. I really think the German government does not adequately appreciate me nor my suggestions. First they blow off my new and improved German language, and now they don't even thank me for my latest idea to subtly popularize their imminent darttrooperblitz. No wonder they keep losing. Perhaps I should approach the French.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Mock Duck

I am now healed from my various afflictions, and by unserendipitous coincidence I finally have insurance. I am still not totally settled in; no new business cards and my apartment remains in mid renovation. And it's kinda fun that way. The apartment does have running water, a shower, and washing machine, which is much better than before.

The new apartment features a 35 minute commute each way each day. This is about as long as my commute in San Diego, but it is different being a streetcar commuter. If you're lucky, you get a decent seat and can zone out with an article, book, or crossword puzzle. The whole commute is just background buzz to me, since I can't understand anything except the occasional interruption of Spanish or English. I helped a few damsels in distress in both languages, but the problem with meeting foreigners on streetcars is they tend to be stressed and leaving.

My main professional development lately is the utter collapse of NextFest, which wasted about 2 weeks of my work and killed my trip to Cali this summer. I am sufficiently annoyed about this to move on to another topic. We are scheduled to go to Tübingen this week to visit Niels Birbaumer, but this is also uncertain due to a train strike. At the moment, my trip to SD in November remains definite, and there's some chance of San Fran in April 08.

Last Wednesday, I organized the first movie night here for our group at IAT. It went pretty well, about 10 of us showed up. People chipped in for beer and snacks, and we projected movies onto a screen using a projector (called a Beamer here in Germany, unlike any of their cars). I sent out an email and allowed people to vote on movie choices, and then Bernhard and I threw in our two votes to resolve an ugly tie between Airplane and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The former won, along with Life of Brian. The latter is scheduled for next month's movie night along with Spinal Tap, which I suspect will win the voting. I now reguarly interrupt labbies with 'Surely you can't be serious,' and haggle trivialities.

The weather has remained mercurial, but sunny for the last several days. There is a river near my new apartment and I went there and lay out in the sun. Not bad at all, generally green and pleasant. Ducks are quite prevalent, and loud. After half an hour, I promised one of them that if he did not shut up, I would mock him. Which bird sounds less noble than this braying quack? The bold eagle, cooing dove, or even creative cockatiel sound better. Even the martial rooster emits a cry that, while shrill and annoying, can serve as a useful wake-up call. But ducks always sound like they're mocking, posturing, or complaining. It is unsurprising that the grumpiest cartoon character in both Disney and Warner Brothers is a duck. And lets not forget which species' name is sometimes preceded by Crispy, Roast, or Peking. Bitch.

Though no skunks have quacked at me lately, I shall also mock Pepe LePew, the suave French Warner Brothers skunk that always chased the black cat who somehow got a white stripe on her back. The black cat inevitably fled, and the skunk hopped faggily after with a self satisfied smirk. As a kid, I didn't realize how comically racist Pepe was. What an excoriating assault on Frenchmen! The only French Warner Bros cartoon character skinks horribly, thinks he's incredibly suave but is in fact so repulsive that women flee, seems totally unaware that he stinks, is so stupid he can't distinguish a member of his own species from a cat, utterly disregards rejection, and believes in pursuing resistant women until they succumb from exhaustion.

I made good progress on my latest book, Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain. This book is enjoyable for many reasons, not the least of which is that Twain is happy for a change. He is normally so bitingly, brilliantly bitter that even the least empathetic cringe through his vicious whining. But this was his first major work, when he still manifested some trappings of youthful enthusiasm. He was a bold and curious man, explaining the adventurousness he projects onto characters in his later novels. Reading him humbles my efforts to relay observations from my adventures abroad. At least I can linguistically dominate ducks and skunks.