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The Flying Ghoti

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Thursday the First of January, Two Thousand and Nine

Specifically, I'm annoyed that Verizon is overpriced and underfeatured, but is inescapable nonetheless.

Why why why is the telecommunications infrastructure not nationalized? Not the telecom companies themselves, mind you, I mean the wires and towers themselves. According to this, there are 51 cell towers and 933 antennas within two miles of my house—78 cell sites per square mile! Many of them are owned directly by telecoms or their subsidiaries; the rest are owned by private companies or governmental organizations who are presumably leasing out access to the telecoms. Downtown Baltimore is completely covered with hundreds of antennas, many of which clearly overlap each other.

This makes no sense to me. Why not have the federal government buy up or build all the cell towers that are actually necessary, then lease the complete network to the carriers? Let's say it costs $100 to build a new tower (which it obviously doesn't, but bear with me). Currently, I presume, the cell carriers either build the things themselves (for $100) or someone else spends $100 to build it and then leases it to two or three carriers for, say, $60 each, thus hopefully making their money back. But if the government built it, they could then lease it to all the national carriers for, say, $30 each. With four carriers, the government still makes a little money, but the carriers pay half what they might have, and all the wireless phone customers served by that tower are served by every carrier. And the government network would be an all-or-nothing deal: it's $30 per tower and the carriers don't get to pick and choose which towers they want. That way, even a tower that only serves a small rural area is profitable for the government to build.

The benefits: it makes the government a little bit of money, it's cheaper per tower for the carriers, there are less unnecessary towers and antennas wasting power and looking ugly, more people have wireless access, and, best of all, carriers are forced to compete based on pricing and services and sexy phones, not on the size of their network.

It wouldn't even be that difficult for the government to implement, I don't think. You'd start by taking all the towers and antennas that are already owned by federal, state, or local government (and there are quite a few, as far as I can determine) and making that the backbone of the network. That on its own would probably be enough to tempt enough of the smaller carriers that it would pay for itself. Then you build out from there, buying exclusive rights to existing antennas, building new ones as needed, and upgrading older antennas to 3G and beyond. Each new antenna would be added to the all-or-nothing network until, finally, the network was large enough that every carrier was opting in.

The same argument can be made for any communication infrastructure, of course. In fact, I believe it's not that dissimilar to what happened with physical phone lines in this country, except then it was a government-sanctioned monopoly rather than the government itself that built the infrastructure, and the current infrastructure owners compete directly with the companies leasing access from them (which is, of course, Kind Of Weird). I don't know, I'm not an expert by any means, and maybe I'm missing something obvious here, but I for one say it makes more sense than the current system.

playfully posted by Martin Marks at 4:11 in the afternoon // five comments by:


This whole post taken shamelessly from the Wikipedia 2008 article.

Well, 2008 is gone. It was a year for languages, for sanitation, for intercultural dialogue, and, of course, for potatos. All in all, a good year to own an oilfield, and a bad year to own just about anything else. It was a rather shockingly bad year in some parts of the world, a pretty depressingly typical one most places, and an unexpectedly (if only slightly) hopeful one in others. China walked in space, India went to the moon, and capitalists orbited the Earth—and, of course, the hadrons celebrated their temporary reprieve. Of the hundred thirty-six million people who were born, a hundred twenty-nine million will survive to their first birthday; of the sixty-four million who died, 3,930 of them—0.006%—were notable.

So: one year, 366 days, 31,622,401 seconds—the longest year since 1992, I believe. Good year or bad year? Well, I suppose that depends where you're standing. A hundred million people experienced the happiest moment of their lives this year, and a hundred million experienced the saddest1. I realize plenty of people had a pretty miserable year, but personally, I can't really complain about 2008; on the whole, it treated me okay, though mostly it was just coasting on 2007's successes. I'm not particularly sorry to see it go, I suppose, and I have high hopes for 2009 (a year for natural fibers!).

  1. I'm a little unsure of my math here, actually. Okay, so the average life expectancy is currently 66.12 years, which is 2,086,543,947 seconds, so for each human being, every second has a one in two billion chance of containing the happiest moment of their life, and a one in two billion chance of containing the saddest. If there are 6,677,602,292 humans on the Earth, that means every second is the happiest for 3.2 people and the saddest for 3.2 people, right? So that's 101,201,711 zeniths and nadirs for the year, right?

earnestly posted by Martin Marks at 2:13 at night // four comments by:


Wednesday the Thirty-First of December, Two Thousand and Eight

"Weekends don't count unless you spend them doing something completely pointless."

I got the Calvin and Hobbes hardcover set for Christmas, and I've been mainlining it all week (between Coupling and Blackadder episodes, naturally). It's sort of having the opposite effect from what I was expecting, in that it's making me feel very old and pathetic. If I may quote (and please forgive me, Mr Watterson):

Calvin: How come grown-ups don't go out to play?
Dad: Grown-ups can only justify playing outside by calling it exercise, doing it when they'd rather not, and keeping records to quantify their performance.
Calvin: That sounds like a job.
Dad: ...except you don't get paid.
Calvin: So play is worse than work?
Dad: Being a grown-up is tough.
Granted, I never lived quite like Calvin when I was actually six (if nothing else, I lived in the city), but I certainly did possess the ability to be completely amused by absolutely anything. I was, basically, the MacGyver of fun. And I seem to have lost that somewhat as I grew up. Now instead of entertaining myself for hours with my left thumbnail and a paperclip, I generally tend to sit at the computer and wait for it to entertain me. Okay, maybe that's not quite fair—even counting DVDs, I certainly watch less TV now than either Calvin or six year old me. I also played video games, which I never do anymore except for blue-moon lapses into San Andreas or Katamari Damacy. And I spent certainly plenty of time in front of the old Tandy 1000 back in the early 90s, though it wasn't passive entertainment. Mostly it was writing (by which I mean "plagarizing"; originality came much, much later), or Operation Neptune (with the arithmetic problems all turned down to Ridiculously Easy, of course), or, later on, futile efforts to port the Jurassic Park video game from the Genesis to GW-BASIC. (My roguelikes usually turned out pretty well, as I recall, but then I got overambitious and tried to get into full graphics. It had to completely repaint the screen every time your Velociraptor sprite moved, and don't even get me started on the collision detection.) And obviously I read—and read and read and read. (That habit, at least, I've finally gotten back into over the past year or two, now that I've recovered from college.) But still, I definitely had a knack for entertaining myself even without TV, video games, computers, or books. As an only child living with an overworked single mother, I didn't really have much choice. Now, twenty years later (!), I feel like I'm looking for amusement in all the wrong places.

Well, not for the next two days! This year, I'm going to party like it's 1989! (It helps that I didn't ever quite get around to making New Year's plans, mind you.) I'm going to entertain myself like a six year old—a six year old with a car and his own apartment, no less! I may not have the boundless energy, but I bet I can still muster up the sheer joie de vivre. The library will be open tomorrow until five—I can check out some Ed Emberley how-to-draw books and maybe a book about dinosaurs! (Like most of my generation, I lost track of advances in paleontology right at the dawn of the "They Totally Have Feathers Now" Era.) I'll go to Patterson Park and feed the ducks! I'll write a letter in code! I'll smack Susie Derkins upside the head with a slushball! YES.

(Any other suggestions on how to spend my quarter-life crisis are, of course, quite welcome.)

abstemiously posted by Martin Marks at 1:33 at night // eight comments by:


Saturday the Twenty-Seventh of December, Two Thousand and Eight

Wait until you hear my idea for Pride and Prejudice in a Soho clip joint circa 1968!

So I suddenly had a brilliant idea for a retelling of 2001: A Space Odyssey in 13th century Andalus. Wait, wait, hear me out! At first I figured it was just one of those thoughts that enters one's head and should probably just be taken outside and shot, but when I actually pondered it, it started making more and more sense. I picked the 13th century sort of at random, but that was when Al-Jazari published his Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices, which included several quite advanced automata—even a programmable medieval drum machine! What if, I hereby postulate, he had created an entire autonomous ship? (Yes, I know it's absurd, but it's steam clock hydropunk, of course it's going to be absurd.) And what if this ship were being sent out on with a two-man crew on a mission of exploration? And what if the Almohads had discovered a mysterious artifact in the Moroccan wastes and secretly repurposed the mission to find the truth behind it?

(I don't actually want to write this story, but I do want to write about it. Maybe I'll steal a trick from Borges, pretend the book has already been written, and write a review of it.)

adverbially posted by Martin Marks at 3:14 in the afternoon // one comment by:


Wednesday the Twenty-Fourth of December, Two Thousand and Eight

Am I going to get this in exactly at midnight?

So I was all set to quote "Fairytale of New York", but then I noticed that I'd done that last year. I guess I could, theoretically speaking, quote some other Christmas song, but the only one I can think of at the moment is "Wonderful Christmastime", because I've heard it twice today and it gets deeper under my skin each time. (I did manage to get through the season without hearing "Feliz Navidad"... until just now when it started playing in my head. My eternal curse upon José Feliciano!)

Pointless aside: As I get older, I begin to realize just how emotionally complicated all holidays are, and I think that's what Christmas music utterly fails to capture. It's all Happy Happy Joy Joy (Now Buy Something), but honestly joy is the least abundant Christmas emotion for me. The good side of Christmas, for me, is contentment, comfort, and in a good year peace and even hope. Most of that barely even gets addressed in your standard saccharine Christmas song. And they almost never cover the dark side of Christmas, which arguably makes December the most roundly miserable month of the year. I guess that's what I like so much about "Fairytale of New York" (well, okay, besides the fact that it's a Pogues song with Kirsty MacColl on it and I would therefore probably like it even if it were "Feliz Navidad"). It obviously isn't about the dark side of Christmas itself, but it does depict Christmastime not as a month of uninterrupted Glee (and Consumption) but as a very thin ray of sunlight in one poor drunk loser's dismal life. Which, I think, is a good deal more realistic.

Anyway, happy Christmas to that portion of the blogmass that celebrates it, and happy December 25th to the rest of it. May all your lives, dismal or no, be illuminated just a bit.

hesitantly posted by Martin Marks at 11:59 at night // one comment by:


Tuesday the Twenty-Third of December, Two Thousand and Eight

Not so much wishing I'd been in the Stanford prison experiment, though.

Sometimes I wish I had taken part in the Milgram experiment. That is a strange thing to wish for, I know. It's just that I really believe I would be one of the 35% who didn't go up to 450 volts—or, better yet, the 2.5% who stopped before 300 (which is still much too late)—but I have no way of really knowing that. What if I was one of the 65%? What if I really am that... human?

animatedly posted by Martin Marks at 12:16 at night // three comments by:


Monday the Twenty-Second of December, Two Thousand and Eight

T.I.A.L.W. taxonomers.

Lazarus taxon. Zombie taxon. Elvis taxon.

abstemiously posted by Martin Marks at 10:47 in the evening // comment? by:


You can tell Dromi still has trouble hearing that T-Rex is dating someone new.

I cannot believe T-Rex got there first.

incandescently posted by Martin Marks at 7:57 in the evening // comment? by:


Sunday the Twenty-First of December, Two Thousand and Eight

Everything I know about suit-wearing I learned from Lance Reddick.

I have a new suit!

First off, I should retell the story of my old one, for those who don't know it. Sometime in October of... 2001, I think, I went to the Annapolis Goodwill looking for a Halloween costume. (It had long been my dream to go as Alex—ideally in that awesome purple dandy frock, though I guess that's probably a little less likely to show up in Goodwill.) I didn't find quite what I was looking for, but I did happen across a lovely little dove-grey three-piece... with a price tag of $15. I tried it on, and it fit perfectly, like it was tailored for me. In fact, as I learned from the nametag I discovered in the right jacket pocket, it had been tailored for State Senator John C. Astle. Naturally, I bought that bitch, and indeed used it (along with a bowler hat) as my costume—first as the Minister of Silly Walks, then, when my legs got tired, as The Son of Man (with the help of a convenient apple). And ever since, I have worn it to every Croquet—and, indeed, at every excuse.

So now, the story of my new suit. My mother went to Singapore on business last month, and had the idea to get me a new suit there as a Christmas present. (Singapore and Hong Kong are possibly the two best cities in the world to get a tailored suit, in that the tailors there are as good as almost anywhere short of Savile Row, but are astonishingly affordable.) So she took my old suit and had a new one made based on the measurements from the first. So technically this one too is tailored for John C. Astle (almost—the jacket arms are slightly longer on this one than the original), but it fits me even better than the first. It's a finer wool than the first, in a charcoal grey with a subtle herringbone, and is utterly stunning.

I really wish I had an excuse to wear suits more often. I think everyone has a natural aesthetic which they will naturally fall into given the right ingredients. Mine is Irish Mob circa 1928. This suit with a jauntily cocked trilby (even a lime green corduroy trilby) and a finger or two of single malt and I seriously look like the guy to talk to about a certain substance you need brought across the Canadian border.

absentmindedly posted by Martin Marks at 10:49 in the evening // comment? by:


Saturday the Twentieth of December, Two Thousand and Eight

I've probably spent more time thinking about this show than watching it at this point.

The fundamental tragedy of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is that the titular doctor is condemned by the false dichotomy engendered by the black-and-white morality of the world in which he lives. Captain Hammer, the designated "Hero", stands for mindless support for the Establishment, for the brutal enforcement of conformity, for anti-intellectualism, and for rule by the powerful. Because Billy opposes all of this, he assumes that he must therefore be a "Villain". And so he allies himself with the like of Bad Horse, Fake Thomas Jefferson, and Dead Bowie, although their goals and his are irreconcilable1. If he had only had the courage to break free of the false dichotomy and blaze his own trail, he could have established himself as a different breed of hero altogether—not a "corporate tool" like Hammer, but a subversive hero who fights against the status quo while still helping people2. It would be a difficult road to follow, certainly, as he would be making enemies of both the established superheroes and the Evil League of Evil, with no support (except maybe Moist). It would also mean giving up his childish dreams of "anarchy... that I run!"—which, I believe, are based not so much on the desire of power for power's sake as on the well-meaning but ultimately flawed belief that the ills he sees in the world can only be corrected by giving supreme power to the right people (i.e. him)—and instead setting forth a coherent vision of the world he would like to see3 and finding a means of achieving it without sacrificing his fundamental principles4.

One can even make the argument that Billy's romantic failings are another example of a similar phenomenon. In this case, the false dichotomy is between the Nice Guy and the Jerk Jock (which, like the hero-villain construct, is essentially a lie created by the media). What Billy never quite seems to realize is that his attempt to be a Nice Guy only succeeds in establishing him as another kind of Jerk5. One commentator who Sumana linked to the other day points out that every single conversation Billy has with Penny is based on lies. The one moment of honesty we see in their interaction is when he talks about homelessness being a symptom of deeper problems—and she agrees, though she still maintains that treating the symptoms is the right thing to do. Just imagine what kinds of interesting conversations they could have had if he had actually come clean with her6! If Billy had just had the courage to be honest with Penny, rather than trying to be what he thought she wanted to be (and stalking her to figure out what that was), perhaps the two of them together could have come up with a real vision for change, and used Billy's impressive inventorial abilities to actually achieve it without getting into bed with the Thoroughbred of Sin. (And maybe even getting into bed with each other, for that matter.)

  1. Indeed, he seems to count among his small circle of friends such characters as the Pink Pummeller and the Purple Pimp, who, judging by their names, would appear to respectively embody the very violence and chauvinism Billy so despises in Captain Hammer.
  2. Interesting side note: in worlds with a straightforward hero-villain dichotomy, it is fairly common for villains to fight one another—as is apparently the case with Johnny Snow—but mostly unheard of for heroes to oppose one another. Under that artificial construct, the enemy of a hero is more or less automatically a villain, but not necessarily vice versa.
  3. Like so many angry young people, Billy seems to see the problems much more clearly than he sees the solutions. The best he ever manages to articulate is that "the status is not quo!", which, though not the worst rallying cry, does rather lack something.
  4. I'm eating a piece of toast right now, and I just noticed that I've bitten the piece I'm holding in such a way that it looks exactly like the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Eerie!
  5. Of course, Billy isn't alone in this by any means. It's particularly prevalent—and crippling—among male nerds. At least Billy never descends into the outright misogyny that's so disturbingly common among "Nice Guys"—at least, not that we see.
  6. Oooh, there's an irony for you—he does laundry twice a week, but he can't come clean...

defiantly posted by Martin Marks at 3:15 in the afternoon // one comment by:


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