Friday, December 25, 2009

Permanent vacation

The Russian city of Perm made headlines earlier this month with its nightclub fire that killed over a hundred people. This tragedy stemmed from numerous instances of corruption and code violations. Worse, I saw YouTube's video of the nightclub's hired dancers dancing to (of course) American music. They were terrible! Take the money you spent on the dancers, and add it to the money you spent to bribe the inspector, and buy a few more emergency exits.

Anyway. What caught my eye was the end of the story on page 3 of the Pearl Harbor Day edition of the IHT. "Perm ... has sought to rebrand itself as a thriving cultural center. But lately, it has seemed to some residents to be ill-fated. An Aeroflot plane from Moscow crashed on the outskirts of Perm in 2008 as it was landing, killing 88 people. In October, video of an out-of-control bus ramming into numerous cars in Perm was circulated widely on the Internet. Last month, the Perm police arrested three homeless men and charged them with killing another man, eating part of him and trying to sell the remainder to a restaurant."

Of course, the last one is the icing on the, well, ice. Fires and vehicle accidents don't really stand out that much, but the last one is quite new to me. It's a dark comedy sketch waiting to happen. How did the buyer know it was man-meat? I mean, if they ground it up first, or baked it in a pie, or maybe made a stew with some beets or Fried Green Tomatoes, who would know? I doubt they bothered to DNA test it, or that the restaurant manager recognized the taste of human. So we have to assume it was more obvious.

Are you manager?


We have here nice fresh meat to sell you.

We have regular butcher, he sell us good meat, sorry, you go away, to somewhere else.

Ah, but this meat very cheap! See? Top quality.

That look like human arm.

It was very skinny cow. And pale. He was albino cow. That is why, so cheap. And taste a little funny. But good with wodka.

The arm has fingers.

Cow from Chernobyl. But very cheap.

There's tattoo on the arm.

No, is brand. Brand from slaughterhouse.

The tattoo look like names. Pavel and Svetlana. With heart around it.

Yes, he was bull in love. Best meat, yes?

Hm. Can I see papers from slaughterhouse? I get arrested for buy meat with no papers.

No, you can bribe inspector. Like nightclub over there.

I do not trust you. I call police chief. Hello? Hello, where is police chief? Hm. They say Police Chief Pavel not here today.

Yes, you see? He busy with more important work.

Still, I not interested. You, go fuck yourself and walk off a short pier.

Wait, I make better deal. I also give you ring for free.

Hm. Ring say: Perm Police Academy, Class of '84.

Ah, very good. I thought it just scribbles, and backwards R.

It is Cyrillic, stupid man with head of shit and ass of jack. We in Russia. For last time, I not interested. You take your ring and put where sun do not shine, because so much shit is there. Then you die and eat shit and then you eat more shit. Then, you go jump in lake. Of shit.

I make even better deal. You buy this meat, or I kill you and eat you and sell part of you to competitor.

Man know how to bargain. I buy the meat.

While I doubt that's precisely how it played out, the incident was probably not the best way to attract tourists. I'm guessing there's a pretty short wait at the taxi stand at the Perm airport. If the airport shuttle is a little late, nobody complains. Travel agents looking for new jobs don't get much benefit if their resume includes "familiar with Perm." William Shatner, who did his best acting as the Priceline Negotiator, probably doesn't have much trouble wheedling a discount out of the typical Perm hotel. I bet banner ads on the City of Perm tourist website are pretty cheap right now. Local signmaking companies aren't getting rich off new "Welcome to Perm" and "Standing Room Only" signs. The company that sells new ink pads to inspectors who stamp passports is probably not thriving either. The tattoo on the next victim probably will also be written in Cyrillic. Hotel owners who rushed to add tea kettles to their rooms after seeing my earlier post are still waiting for that influx of British tourists.

" ... may I take this opportunity of emphasizing that there is no cannibalism in the British Navy. Absolutely none, and when I say none, I mean there is a certain amount, more than we are prepared to admit, but all new ratings are warned that if they wake up in the morning and find any toothmarks at all anywhere on their bodies, they're to tell me immediately so that I can immediately take every measure to hush the whole thing up." -- Graham Chapman, Monty Python's Flying Circus, Episode 32.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


I returned home to find the usual pile of spam on my doorstep. Not email spam, which is usually filtered to invisibility, or else can be deleted and forgotten - vintage spam, sheets of glossy, colorful paper trying to instill a consuming desire for something I wasn't even considering before. One of them was an ad for Hooters, "the" American restaurant. I thought we had more than one, but I must have been mistaken. "The" Hooters must be very large (the restaurant, I mean), and parking must be a nightmare. The author could assume the Austrians mistranslated "the", but then, they are the grand masters of the definite article, seamlessly matching their every "the" to the gender, the perceived formality, and the number of the associated noun. Notice how the preceding sentence had "the" ten times, and the reader never got confused about which noun each one matched? Two years after first blogmocking this linguistic tailbone, I remain convinced it doesn't help clarify anything, and will eventually become vestigial, just like Englishspeakers learned not to care about whether the listener was formal or informal. Frailty, thy name is waste.

Homey Clemens told me the Austrians innovated their own dialect with fewer articles. Good! Make the Germans use them too. It will be tough; there are 10 times more of them. But the Austrians have surprise.

Back to thinking about hooters. I mean, the ad for Hooters. So, Hooters is "the" American restaurant. We don't have any others. Nice, then, that they seem to have copied it well. The glossy ad is almost indistinguishable from an ad for the American Hooters. Except they have a "kids eat free" day. Hm. I thought the Dutch were much more liberal with kids and sex, but the Austrians relatively conservative. Americans don't really think of Hooters as a kids' restaurant. (And since we have no other restaurants, kids cannot dine out until they hit 18.) Do you want your daughter inspired by Hooters waitresses? On the other hand, it's the only restaurant in the world that selects waitresses for their baby feeding potential. Indeed, while the classic American excuse is that they're going to the Hooters for their wings, I suspect the breasts also hold some sway.

Graz Hooters flyer: front

Graz Hooters flyer: back


A few hours ago, I tried out the new hybrid BCI that we're developing. I used 2 BCIs at the same time, which I wanted to do for over 10 years. It was a major consummation of my principal research interest, which was theoretical until now. In the training runs, I hit 100% accuracy in the hybrid condition, and still did rather well in the online runs. I can't really go in to more detail since the paper is months away from being published. But, we already publicly announced our offline hybrid BCI simulation, and our intent to develop an online version, so I think this is OK.

Thanks to Clemens and Christof for working with me on the project, and thanks again to Christof for running me on a Saturday. Much of the lab is on holiday for the next couple weeks, and nobody is here now. The lack of fanfare is underwhelming. What we're doing will go down in history and revolutionize the field, yet no fireworks, interviewers, champagne, or dancing girls. Maybe I need to give 'em shots. Worked for the Swedes. Sort of.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Why, God, Whyne?!!!?!?!!

In previous blog posts, I gloated about transporting dozens of bottles of wine, pumpkinseed oil, schnapps, and who knows what else across the Atlantic and EU. I took 3 bottles of wine with me on the Berlin - Barcelona trip, since I wanted to give 3 of them to 3 people in Barcelona. They survived to Berlin, and even survived through Berlin, which is remarkable, because it's very good wine. Nice blend up front and a veritable tannin explosion afterward. Bonus feature: the wine is produced by the family of one of our PhD students, which makes it an even better gift.

I wouldn't have built it up like this without the inevitable. I arrievd in Barcelona and got my bag from baggage claim. Nothing seemed wrong, and I headed outside before feeling something wet on my right leg. I looked down and saw a deep red fluid running down my leg. Please, God, let that be blood. But no, He was not so merciful. Only two of the noble travelers survived. I abandoned my elaborate public transportation plans and took a taxi to the hotel. The fallen hero was not simply cracked, but thoroughly shattered, and I studied it for quite a while without figuring out how he was slain. He was packed in bubble wrap and thoroughly surrounded by clothes, which also gave their lives in a vain effort to protect him, and a successful effort to absord wine that might otherwise have damaged my camera or cell phone. Their sacrifice is noted here. Be warned that sommelier viewers may find this image disturbing.

And it was good wine, too.

I can't talk about it anymore. My vocabulary is inadequate. I cannot express The Horror. A fine and innocent bottle, cut down in the prime of his youth! He was only three years old! There can be no surer proof of the absence of a just and loving God.


I'll try to change the subject.

Here are some cool buildinga in Barcelona:

Some funky Barcelona buildings

I gave 3 talks to different grant partners, each of which was followed by an enjoyable dinner. I discovered some cool new places, mostly around Las Ramblas. I had a couple nice Riojas, and -