Interview with My Mom about Life During World War II in Sweden

Last time I was in Sweden in 2012, I interviewed my mom about her experiences living in Sweden during World War II. The 17-minute interview is embedded here:

In it, she talks about:

  • How her grandparents escaped from Norway during the war and came to Sweden
  • How they had to deal with shortages of food
  • How she tried to smuggle some black market pork on a train
  • What it was like to visit Norway after the war was over.

Fixing the Oakland Coliseum Fences (and Foul Territory)

Grant Brisbee has a fun series over on SB Nation where he ranks MLB stadiums by how well they make home runs look impressive. Surprisingly, he ranks the Oakland Coliseum 13th. It gets that high ranking because the various levels of Mount Davis provide a good contrast between a mediocre home run, and a towering one. When someone crushes one at the Coliseum, you can tell it’s crushed because it lands in the 2nd deck (down the line) or hits off the luxury boxes in center field.

That’s fine and all. I suppose it’s good that Mount Davis has some redeeming feature. But there are far more mediocre home runs than monster ones, and it’s what the current version of the Coliseum does to those wimpy home runs that I hate.

Hate hate HATE.

Really, there is nothing I hate more about the Coliseum than the placement of the outfield walls. Nothing. Not the troughs, not the sewage, not the crap we A’s fans have to take from other fans teams about the troughs and the sewage, not the 8th-inning Call Me Maybe, not even Mount Davis itself. I hate the placement of the outfield walls more than all of those things.

Except at the foul poles, there is no logic to the outfield walls at all. None. Look at the fence at any point between the foul poles. Why is the fence there? Why is it that height? No reason at all, really.

And worse than that, what really drives me bonkers about it is this: any EVERY point from pole to pole, if you hit the ball just barely over the fence, it DOES NOT LAND IN A SEAT.

Home runs should land in seats. Or if not IN seats, then OVER seats. Period.

* * *

Ok, Ken, you’ve been made Dictator of the Oakland Athletics for a day, and you can change one thing and one thing only. Give us your plan.

OK, I’m going to assume the A’s will sign a rumored 5-10 year lease extension, and are therefore planning to stay at the Coliseum awhile. This may be putting lipstick on a pig, but nonetheless, let’s make it a better place to watch a ballgame.

First of all, do you know why there is so much foul territory in Oakland? The story goes, as former A’s broadcaster Monte Moore use to tell, that the third deck had obstructed views of home plate because of its slope, so they had to move home plate further out than they planned.

I don’t know if that’s true or not, but let’s say that it is. Well, guess what? We’re not using the 3rd deck anymore. It’s (mostly) tarped off. So why is home plate still pushed out so far?

We’re going to put home plate back and the foul poles back to where they originally were supposed to be. Then we’re going to use the extra eight feet or so we gain to add some seats in front of the current bleacher seats. What we end up with is (a) an outfield configuration where, except for at the stairs, every home run lands in or over a seat, and (b) every seat in the main seating bowl is suddenly about two rows closer to the action, in a way that (c) shouldn’t cost ridiculous amounts of money to implement.

Here’s what it looks like with the new configuration in left field, and the old configuration in right field (click image for larger version):

coliseumremodelcompare900

Let’s look at this in more detail:

 

1. We’re moving the foul poles over about 6-7 feet, so that there’s only about 1 foot between the pole and the foul line seats. This pushes home plate back about eight feet or so, thusly:

coliseumhomeplate

 

2. The wall nearest to the foul poles is about 2-3 feet shorter than the seats, and begins to angle away from those seats as you move more towards center field. We’re fixing this. The walls go all the way up to the seats, and hug the seating section all the way. No more balls that land over this fence, but fall short of the seats. Compare the new and old corners:

coliseumcorners

 

3. We’ll get rid of that stupid idiotic ledge above the out-of-town scoreboard. With home plate being pushed about 8 feet back, we have room to add two or three extra rows of seats, and still keep roughly the same distance from home plate as before.

I don’t know if we keep a scoreboard there or not. If you give free wifi throughout the stadium instead, you probably don’t need it.

I cut and pasted Fenway’s Green Monster seats here, to show you don’t need to add seats identical to the other bleacher seats. There’s room for some creativity in this new section.

coliseumbleachers

 

4. Centerfield is now about 405 feet from home instead of 400, but we’ve cut down on the foul territory quite a bit, so this may keep the amount of offense roughly the same as before.

coliseumcenterfield

* * *

Ahhhhhhhh, now see? That’s much better.

I’m sure you have all loved your Dictator for the Day, and Wish Long Life for your Beloved Comrade Who Brings Glory to the Homeland. Now please excuse me, I have some propaganda posters to go photoshop.

Projected 2014 Oakland Athletics Anagram Roster

There’s no way to be gentle about this: A’s General Manager Baby Nellie’s offseason moves have clearly weakened the A’s anagram roster for 2014. They have become slightly worse across the board, but some of his moves in the bullpen…well, I just don’t know what he was thinking.

Starting Rotation:

The A’s have lost the two best anagrams from their 2013 starting rotation: Bartender Snot and No Local Robot. Angry Nosy and Rat Mocks Zit are decent replacements to be sure, but are also both clearly a step down. Fin Jar GIF looks like odd man out, as acronyms are purely replacement-level stuff, even if they can be pronounced.

11: Pro Radar Jerk
54: Angry Nosy
57: I Melt My Moon
64: Fin Jar GIF
67: Daily Rants
??: Rat Mocks Zit

Bullpen:

Ask the Pen: is there any better anagram for a reliever? No, there is not. And yet, the A’s just let him go for nothing. To ask the pen without him to match what they were with him is unfair.

It gets worse before it gets better. Swapping closer No Fat Burglar with Oh MJ Is On NJ is nothing but a disaster.

Trading away JV Errs Byline is addition by subtraction, but similarly wretched She Aces JV EZ is somehow still around.

On the bright side, there remains a solid young core led by Oldest Toenail. Greek Loungers may be the best A’s acquisition this offseason, and don’t overlook Banana Fodder.

With no options remaining, there may be no room for Fedora Groupie, so perhaps Baby Nellie can find a match for him with the Astros.

48: Okay Corn
60: She Aces JV EZ
61: Neat Odor
62: Oldest Toenail
65: Fedora Groupie
??: Oh MJ Is On NJ
??: Greek Loungers
??: Banana Fodder

Catchers

The roster of catchers remains the same. Order Sinker is the best gamecaller of the group, of course. Pegs Hot Vent remains to fill in should either of the other two catchers need to go on midseason pilgrimages again.

5: Hajj Soon
21: Pegs Hot Vent
36: Order Sinker

Infielders:

Armload Seas gnip-gnopped his way to Texas last summer, so the A’s have replaced him with Tonic Punk. It’s a slight upgrade, to a mostly intact infield where even the weakest link redeems himself with a Star Wars reference.

7: Mean Fainter
8: Roid Jewel
10: Rat Brain Doc
18: Palatable Colors
20: DJ Han Solo Nods
28: Scarier Dog
37: Random Snobs
??: Tonic Punk

Outfielders:

Grouchy Sin is out, Great Crying is in. You reap what you sow, I guess. Don’t forget that Random Snobs can play outfield if needed, which may leave no room to Erotically Ham.

4: Cisco Crop
16: Jocks Did Her
23: Erotically Ham
52: Eyes Second Pies
??: Great Crying

iPulpit

I’ve been watching James Burke‘s series Connections (1978) and The Day The Universe Changed (1985) on YouTube lately. There was one passage that struck me in particular:

“Before 1450, life was intensely local. Most people lived and died in the same cottage, and never went further afield than seven miles. [...] Here, in church, was where they got their word-of-mouth news about the mysterious and unreal world, out beyond the forest where nobody ever went. The pulpit was their TV, newspaper, wire service, calendar, landlord, lawyer, teacher, timekeeper, social diary.”

–James Burke, The Day The Universe Changed, Episode 4, “Matter of Fact”

Replace the word “pulpit” above with the word “iPhone”, and think about that for a second. What an amazing technology churches were! The church, once upon a time, was the state-of-the-art communications technology. For people in the Middle Ages, it performed many of the same functions that mobile phones perform for us in 2013.

Around 1439, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, and everything changed. This technology, the church, which contained many different products in one, began having its functions stripped away from it one by one. Now that people wanted to read things themselves, you didn’t have just a single, monolithic technology called “church” anymore. You had churches, and schools. And books, and newspapers, and calendars. And as knowledge quickly started to spread because of the new printing technology, other innovations happened which plucked off more and more functions of the church.

550 years later, in 1989, Tim Berners-Lee invented the world-wide web. The iPhone followed 18 years afterwards, and gravity suddenly reversed itself. All these technologies, which had been blown apart half a millenium earlier, suddenly started consolidating again, back towards a single monolithic technology: the mobile phone.

* * *

Western religions have a linear view of time. They see history as having direction, a beginning and an end. They build empires, like Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar, and never expect these empires to fall. Another great conquest is always coming next.

Eastern religions like Hinduism see history as cyclical. The universe and everything in it comes into being, then cycles out of being, then back into being again. Or as Tim Lott writes about Alan Watts and Zen Buddhism:

The emphasis on the present moment is perhaps Zen’s most distinctive characteristic. In our Western relationship with time, in which we compulsively pick over the past in order to learn lessons from it and then project into a hypothetical future in which those lessons can be applied, the present moment has been compressed to a tiny sliver on the clock face between a vast past and an infinite future. Zen, more than anything else, is about reclaiming and expanding the present moment. [...]

For all Zen writers life is, as it was for Shakespeare, akin to a dream — transitory and insubstantial. There is no ‘rock of ages cleft for thee’. There is no security. Looking for security, Watts said, is like jumping off a cliff while holding on to a rock for safety — an absurd illusion. Everything passes and you must die. Don’t waste your time thinking otherwise.

With a linear view of history, church administrators in the west spent a lot of the five and a half centuries following the printing press looking for that old security, never quite believing that their breakup was acceptable, yearning for the good old days when the church was all the technology anyone needed. History is moving in the wrong direction! People aren’t coming to church as much because of these newfangled books! Let’s invest in Baroque art! That’ll wow ‘em back into the pews! We have to fix this!

* * *

The popular technology of the day seems to agree more with the Buddhist view that all that matters is the present. As Erick Schonfeld wrote in TechCrunch in 2009:

Once again, the Internet is shifting before our eyes. Information is increasingly being distributed and presented in real-time streams instead of dedicated Web pages. The shift is palpable, even if it is only in its early stages. Web companies large and small are embracing this stream. It is not just Twitter. It is Facebook and Friendfeed and AOL and Digg and Tweetdeck and Seesmic Desktop and Techmeme and Tweetmeme and Ustream and Qik and Kyte and blogs and Google Reader. The stream is winding its way throughout the Web and organizing it by nowness.

Alexis Madrigal thinks, however, that a backlash towards this nowness has begun in 2013.

Nowadays, I think all kinds of people see and feel the tradeoffs of the stream, when they pull their thumbs down at the top of their screens to receive a new updates from their social apps.

[...] And now, who can keep up? There is a melancholy to the infinite scroll.

Wouldn’t it be better if we just said … Let’s do something else? Let’s have the web be a museum or a curio box or an important information filter or an organizing platform.

* * *

Time Magazine named Pope Francis its Person of the year. I’m Lutheran, not Catholic, but I admit I am fascinated by the man. Robert Barron at Real Clear Religion, however, quibbled with Time’s emphasis on the changes he’s making, and wrote this in response:

If I might cite the much-maligned Benedict, the Church does essentially three things: it cares for the poor; it worships God; and it evangelizes. Isolate any of the three from the other two, and distortions set in.

Those three things, here in 2013, are a lot fewer than the long list of things the Church did in 1413. I wonder then, if Pope Francis’ popularity isn’t just about the Pope’s message itself, but also about two linear arrows of history intersecting: a time the Church is ready for a pope to focus the Church on those three things, and also a culture at large that has reached a point where it is ready to hear a message about lasting values.

Perhaps now, in this peak-iPhone/webstream era, people have found out through their own experience that the Buddhists and the Christians each own a piece of the truth: that most things in life are transitory; yet there are a few select eternal truths worth hanging on to. Perhaps mankind is relearning an old lesson: that one should render unto Steve Jobs the things that are Steve Jobs’, and unto God the things that are God’s.

My Letter from 1989 about the Earthquake World Series

Grantland posted an oral history of the 1989 World Series and earthquake the other day. That prompted me to dig up an old letter I sent to my friends and family outside the Bay Area, mostly in Sweden, about my experiences during that time.

A bit of background: in October of 1989, I had just returned from a year living in Sweden with my girlfriend (now wife) Pam. Pam was staying at her parents’ house and I was staying with her brother, until we could find jobs and afford to get our own place.

In hindsight, this letter is quite long, full of unnecessary details and subplots, not unlike a Victorian novel. It also lacks a good plot, because, well, no buildings fell down around me or anything. Nobody in the story was hurt, nobody was rescued. But in my defense, this was back in the days when you couldn’t just send an email or post something on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram and have everyone you know around the world instantly know what’s going on in your life. My Swedish friends probably got some horrific pictures on TV of collapsed buildings and fires and thought San Francisco had fallen into the sea. We weren’t so overwhelmed with data that a lack of filtering was a problem. TL;DR was not a thing back then.

So, here it is, what I wrote back in 1989:

Continue reading

How to Remove the Yahoo Sports background image on Chrome

Yahoo Sports remodeled their site this morning, and it’s awful. Mostly, I think, because the new background image on is really distracting and annoying. So I decided to zap it. Here’s how I did it, and you can too:

1. Install the Stylebot Chrome extension.

2. Once you install it, you will get a little “CSS” button on your toolbar.

3. Go to a Yahoo Sports web page.

4. Click the Stylebot “CSS” button on your toolbar.

5. Click “Install Style from Social…”

6. It should show “Loading…” for a second, then bring up “Remove background image from Yahoo Sports by kenarneson”.

You should now see a plain gray background instead of the grass field background.

* * *

I wanted to make it a plain white background like it used to be, but the text on the Yahoo Sports site is now mostly white, so that wouldn’t work. So I made it gray.

Koro Dewes

The Māori language, the language spoken by native New Zealanders, is a member of the Polynesian family of languages, along with other Pacific island languages such as Tahitian, Samoan and Hawaiian.

Back around the year 1900, a large majority of people of Māori descent spoke the Māori language, or “te reo”, as their first and native tongue. But then the New Zealand government decided that all schools should be taught in English, and the Māori language was not allowed to be spoken in the classroom. A generation later, when the children of that policy grew up, they were fully bilingual. But as most educational and economic opportunities were in English, many people of that generation spoke Māori to their older relatives, but English to their children. This next generation was also bilingual, but spoke English as their first language, and Māori only passively. As a result, in the third generation between 1950 and 1975, there began a rapid decline in the number of native Māori speakers, and the language appeared to be headed to extinction.

“…the ability to speak te reo amongst Māori children declined from 90 per cent in 1913 to 80 per cent in 1923 to 55 per cent in 1950 to 26 per cent in 1953–58 and to 5 per cent in 1975.”

Waitangi Tribual Report, 2011

Alarmed by the declining state of the Māori language, a movement arose in the 1960s and 1970s among the remaining native speakers to try to preserve and restore the language. At first, they faced a lot of resistance from the New Zealand government. As late as 1979, the New Zealand Minister of Māori Affairs, Ben Couch, said that he saw no need to take legislative steps to preserve the language. However, the movement persisted, and major advances were made in the 1980s. The Kohanga Reo movement brought Māori language instruction to preschoolers in 1982, followed three years later by Kura Kaupapa Māori, which created Māori-language primary schools, as well. They pushed for, and got, native-language broadcasts on TV. And finally, the Māori Language Act of 1987 brought official language status to the Māori language in New Zealand.

These measures brought some measure of success to growing and promoting the Māori language. For about 10-15 years, the decline of the language reversed, and populations of native speakers grew steadily for a time. However, sometime around the turn of the century the growth seemed to stall, and has in the last few years returned to a slow decline. There is more work to be done to keep the Māori language alive.

* * *

The Random Wikipedia of the day is the entry for Koro Dewes, a man who was a key figure in the struggle to promote the Māori language. Mr. Dewes, who lived from 1930 to 2010, did most of his advocacy for the language at the university level. He was a lecturer at both the University of Auckland and Victoria University of Wellington. At Wellington, he helped extend the course catalog so that students could get a degree in the Māori language studies. He was also the first person to submit a post-graduate thesis written in the Māori language without a translation.

Here is a news story on Mr. Dewes’ life, presented in the Māori language, of course, with English subtitles:

James E. FitzGerald

The Random Wikipedibottle spun around today to Reverend James E. FitzGerald, S.J.

S.J. in my mind stands for “Statens Järnvägar“, which is the name of the Swedish national railways. But here, it means Society of Jesus, the formal name of the Jesuit Order. The abbreviation after a name means that this person is a Jesuit priest or brother.

From 1958 to 1964, Father FitzGerald served as the fourth President of Fairfield University, a Jesuit university in Connecticut.

The Jesuit Order has received a lot of publicity lately after Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was elected Pope Francis on March 13, 2013, becoming the first Jesuit pope.

Pope Francis made news today when he said that people who do good deeds, even atheists, are good people. “Just do good and we’ll find a meeting point,” he said.

Fairfield’s diversity statement seems to reflect that same “find a meeting point” sentiment that Pope Francis expressed today.

Fairfield University defines diversity in the broadest sense, reflecting its commitment to creating a more inclusive community that is reflective of the richly diverse global community of which we are part. Diversity encompasses not only racial, ethnic, and religious diversity, but also diversity of socioeconomic contexts, cultural perspectives, national origins, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, physical ability, and educational backgrounds.

Not sure how much that’s a function of their shared, timeless Jesuit values, which Father Fitzgerald would have agreed with back in the 1960s, and how much such a diversity statement is a function of the values of the 2010′s.

But it seems that Fairfield’s commitment to diversity at least welcomed both extroverted and introverted personalities back in the 1960s. Fairfield’s web site describes Father FitzGerald as “a determined man who wanted everything to be very structured and orderly. He avoided public appearances as much as possible and suffered when obligated to make speeches.” Sounds like an introvert to me. Yet even while avoiding public speaking, Father Fitzgerald managed to grow Fairfield University, adding some new fields of study, like a Graduate School of Education, and also constructing several new buildings, where people learning to do good deeds could find a meeting point.

Azteca de Gyves

Today, the Random Wikipedier sends us to visit Azteca de Gyves, a Mexican artist who deftly juggles the contrasts between the personal and the universal, and the local and the global.

Ms. de Gyves hails from Juchitán de Zaragoza, a city in the southwestern Mexican state of Oaxaca. Juchitán sounds like it is like the Berkeley of Mexico, a very left-wing, rebellious city. Wikipedia adds, “The region’s progressive politics and strong work ethic have cultivated a tradition of powerful women and an unusual tolerance for alternative gender roles.”

Her work reflects both this political background and her indigenous Zapotec heritage, often melding the local traditional geometric patterns with modern styles. She recently had an exhibit which displayed, among other things, a series of large 3-D eggs painted in these traditional patterns. The significance of the eggs lie in both their local but also universal relevance. Eggs are a key staple in the local diet, but they also represent both the physical origins of life. They symbolize the spiritual rebirth found in the resurrection of Christ, in a heavily Catholic area.

For more, take a look at this video of some of her other artwork:

Bülent Güngör

The Random Wikipedier would like to introduce you to Bülent Güngör, a Turkish architect. If you judge by his Wikipedia entry, you would think that he specializes in restoring historical buildings. Maybe he does, but this promotional video from his architectural firm seems to suggest otherwise, as there are lots of modern elements shown here:

Perhaps the most notable thing about Bülent Güngör is that he has been chosen to be the architect on a project to realize a 500-year-old dream of Leonardo da Vinci. In 1502, da Vinci designed a bridge to span the Golden Horn in Istanbul. It was an unusual design consisting of three arches. Sultan Bayezid II rejected the idea, not believing it could be successfully constructed. But in October of last year, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that a group of private Turkish sponsors would build a pedestrian-only version of da Vinci’s bridge.

There are worse fates in the world than to be Leonardo da Vinci’s assistant, even if it’s half a millenium after the man himself.

Bless Its Pointed Little Head

(Quoting Wikipedia …) “Jefferson Airplane was formed in San Francisco during the summer of 1965.”

(Doing math: February 1966 – nine months == … ) Ken Arneson was formed in San Francisco during the summer of 1965.

Therefore, Ken Arneson is an airplane.

* * *

Today, Random Wikipedia sends Arneson Airplane to visit the Jefferson Airplane live album Bless Its Pointed Little Head. The album was recorded in San Francisco in the autumn of 1968, and released in 1969. Half the songs on the live album are from their most successful studio album, 1967′s Surrealistic Pillow.

The Summer of Love was about San Francisco, and about psychedelic rock, about concerts at the Fillmore–that is, sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll–and if you combine all those things it ought to all add up to Bless Its Pointed Little Head. But somehow it doesn’t — Surrealistic Pillow is considered a classic album, but Bless Its Pointed Little Head, not so much. Maybe it came too late, after the Summer of Love was over. But if I had to guess why, I’d say it’s because the live album lacks one key Surrealistic Pillow song: White Rabbit.

White Rabbit is perhaps THE canonical psychedelic rock song. Maybe they didn’t realize that back in 1969 when they were assembling this album. But looking back now, it seems pretty clear that a live psychedelic rock album from that era in that city and those venues without the canonical psychedelic rock song is just a missed opportunity.

* * *

Arneson Airplane is not, it must be noted, a particularly big fan of psychedelic rock. I seem to be only be able to tolerate the popular music of my toddlerdom in small doses. I can listen to a song or three and like it, but that’s about it.

I listened to Bless Its Pointed Little Head this morning. I enjoyed first few songs, but after that my mind began to wander and my concentration faded and it all started sounding the same to me. It began to feel like the kind of background music I’d always hear in the record stores in Berkeley during college in the 80s. Atmospherics, little more.

So I’m not sure that, even if I had been old enough to enjoy the music that filled the air in San Francisco in the 60′s that I would have appreciated it very much. I’d probably have missed the opportunity, as well.

* * *

In those days, a lot of concerts had multiple bands playing one after another. For example, during the Summer of Love, Jefferson Airplane performed four concerts in Southern California alongside The Doors on the marquee.

My feelings about The Doors are similar to my feelings about Jefferson Airplane, I liked them in small doses, too. Despite their distinctive, keyboard-first sound, my mind lumps them together with the other rock bands of their era, I guess.

Sadly and coincidentally, The Doors’ keyboardist, Ray Manzarek, passed away this morning, at age 74. Bless his pointed little head. May he rest in peace.

John Cocks

John Cocks” (nudge nudge) was a British “marine biologist” (wink wink) and a “botanist” (heh heh), who lived from 1787 to 1861. He “discovered” (if you catch my drift) a kind of red “seaweed” (rrrrrrrowww) called “Stenogramme interrupta“.

Sorry to interrupt, uh, but are you interested in er… (waggles head, leans across) stenogrammes, eh? Know what I mean? Stenogrammes, ‘he asked knowingly’.

Stenogrammes? As in what a secretary writes down?

Oh, ho ho, a secretary, yes! Secretary, could be, could be! Could be writing, yes. Could be drawings. Pictures, or “photographs”. Pho-to-graphs. Snap snap! Eh? Snap snap!

Snap, as in, holiday snaps?

Could be, could be taken on holiday. Random places, could be – yes – swimming costumes. Underwater, Candid photography. Know what I mean, nudge nudge. Eh?

Ah yes, certainly, I understand now. I happen to have a photograph of a stenogramme interrupta right here:

StenogrammeInterrupta

Say no more!

Photo reproduced courtesy of World Register of Marine Species under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license.

Ypsilomena

Once upon a time, there was a man named Mario with a world-class mustache. If you read yesterday’s entry in our Random Wikipedia series, you might think I’m talking about a video game character. But nope.

Once upon a time, there was a man named Mario with a world-class mustache who dedicated his life to cataloging all the different kinds of flying insects in the world. He was a pioneer in the scientific study of dipterous insects.

The man with the world-class mustache was named Mario Bezzi. He was a professor of zoology at the University of Turin. He lived from 1868 to 1927. No information could be found on how long his fantastic mustache lived. But it looked like this:

MarioBezzi

The Italian Wikipedia describes him as “rigid and inflexible of character, stern first with himself and with a deep sense of duty… unable to accept compromises.” Perhaps, those character traits were a necessary part of his greatness. Perhaps, a man cannot attain such a perfect mustache without being a perfectionist. To such a man, to accept compromise, to accept that good enough is good enough, is a kind of failure.

Sadly, his perfectionism proved his undoing. Shortly after promoted to Director of the Turin Museum of Zoology in early 1927, “believing himself unequal to the task entrusted to him,” Professor Bezzi committed suicide by cyanide. A tragic end.

Today, however, we honor his mustache and his work. Specifically we honor what he did in 1924, when Bezzi cataloged a species of fruit fly found in the southern part of the African continent, called Ypsilomena compacta. Today’s Random Wikipedia entry, Ypsilomena, is the genus to which that species belongs.

No information could be found for the genus to which Mario Bezzi’s mustache belonged. Rest in peace.

1973 in video gaming

I don’t remember the first time I ever saw a video game. I doubt it was as early as 1973. I know my next-door neighbor had an Atari 2600 in 1978, and I had a Mattel Electronics Football game around the same time. I know I went minigolfing for a couple birthdays in between there, and the minigolf place had an arcade. They probably had Pong, if not a few other video games in the arcade. Probably, then, I first laid eyes on a video game around 1976 or so.

So this Random Wikipedia article, 1973 in video gaming, comes a few years too early for me to have any personal memories. As a historical landmark, it’s one year too late. The big year in video gaming is 1972. In 1972, Atari was founded and they produced Pong. Additionally in 1972, Magnavox introduced the Odyssey, the first home video game console.

So 1973 was a period of infancy for video games–after they were invented, but before they became a major force in popular culture. Did the people working on video games back really believe it would later become a huge deal? Or did they assume they were just part of a temporary fad, just trying to figure something out, maybe eking out a living or something if they’re lucky, but not really suspecting they were incubating a baby entertainment industry that would eventually be as big as movies or TV?

And what’s the 2013 version of video gaming — the rough beast that’s just a baby now, barely even noticed, but one day will grow to be king of the world?

Trochaclis attenuata

There is nothing so utterly ordinary in the fossil record of the planet Earth as the shell of a sea snail. They first appeared at the end of the Cambrian era almost 500 million years ago — nearly twice as long ago as the first dinosaur. In terms of number of different species, the Gastropod class to which sea snails belong are the second-most diverse class of animals on the planet behind insects. Unlike insects however, most sea snails make hard, mineralized shells which survive rather well in the fossil record. Therefore, they have left a long, long trail of their long, long existence everywhere around the globe.

Today’s Random Wikipedia Wheel of Fortune sends to examine one of these sea snails, the Trochaclis attenuata. The Trochaclis attenuata lives off the coast of New Zealand.

Here’s a picture of the shell of the Trochaclis attenuata. It looks rather big in this image, but note the scale on the bottom left; if the scale is to be believed, the Trochaclis attenuata isn’t much larger than an ordinary grain of sand.

Trochaclis Attenuata

The species was identified by a New Zealand researcher named Bruce Marshall, who registered the name of this species in 1995.

* * *

Ok, but so what? What is the point of thinking about the Trochaclis Attenuata?

* * *

Try to estimate how many sea snails there are in all the world’s oceans right this very minute. Consider that some of these sea snails are the size of a grain of sand. What’s your guess? 1 million? 10 million? 100 million? 1 billion? 10 billion? 100 billion?

Now imagine that number, whatever it is, multiplied over 500 million years. That’s how many sea snails have lived in the history of the earth.

* * *

Now imagine the latest human scandal that’s buzzing around your news feed right now. Whatever has you all upset and angry, hold that outrage in your mind for just a second.

Now place that outrage right next to your count of sea snails in the history of the earth.

Think about how, of all the sea snails in all the seas in all the history of the world, not one, not a single one, cares about your scandal.

Trilobites dominated the planet for 200 million years or so, then they went extinct. Sea snails lived on.

Then dinosaurs dominated the planet for another 200 million years or so, then they went extinct. Sea snails lived on.

67 million years later, you and your fellow awesome humans and whatever you’re outraged about arrived on the scene. 133 million years from now, who knows what will become of your fellow humans, but your outrage will certainly be extinct.

And the sea snails, the boring, ordinary little sea snails, will live on.

Photo reproduced courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license.

2013–14 Clemson Tigers men’s basketball team

To be honest, I don’t give a crap about the 2013–14 Clemson Tigers men’s basketball team.

* * *

For a week now, I’ve been writing a blog entry each weekday about a random Wikipedia article. I’m not sure why. Something about it struck me as an interesting idea, so I went with it.

But when the Random Wikipedia Wheel of Fortune brought me to the 2013–14 Clemson Tigers men’s basketball team, I almost quit the idea. It annoyed the hell out of me. I mean, look at this, here’s the entire Wikipedia entry:

The 2013–14 Clemson Tigers men’s basketball team will represent the Clemson University during the 2013–14 NCAA Division I men’s basketball season.

It’s basically a tautology. It’s nonsense. It’s vaporware. It’s nothing.

Pffffft. The 2013–14 Clemson Tigers men’s basketball team doesn’t even exist yet. I didn’t go to Clemson University. Why the heck should I care about it? I don’t think I personally know anybody who went to Clemson. Heck, I barely know anyone who went to any of the schools in Clemson’s athletic conference, the ACC. Why should I bother writing about it?

* * *

The past few weeks, I’ve been taking an online course in Behavioral Economics. One of the issues they talk about is how much we overvalue the present and undervalue the future. We also overvalue things that are near to us, and undervalue things that are far away from us. For example:

Would you give $100 if it would pay for an operation that would, guaranteed to work or your money back, save the life of a 5-year-old child today? Probably, you would.

Would you give $100 if it would pay for an operation that would, guaranteed to work or your money back, save the lives of a hundred 5-year-old children in Belgium in 2043, kids who won’t even be born for another 25 years? Hmm…it’s a tougher question, isn’t it?

Why is it so hard to feel sympathy for people and events far away and in the future?

* * *

Taking that knowledge, I plowed ahead and did some googling about next year’s Clemson basketball team. I found an article on RealGM Basketball which uses some statistical analysis of college basketball players to predict that Clemson will go 6-12 in the ACC during 2013-14. Dan Hanner explains:

Given that they lose their two best players and have zero players who were elite high school recruits on their roster, I think a lot of preseason predictions will have them even lower than this. There really isn’t anyone on the roster who looks like a likely offensive star. (The only good news is that Clemson was young last year and the sophomore leap should help at least a couple of their freshmen become solid players.) But let’s face it, this is going to be an ugly team to watch. The only reason the model doesn’t have Clemson lower is because of Brad Brownell’s ability to teach defense.

Maybe that’s accurate. Or not. A year from now, we’ll know for sure.

But I’m from California, not Carolina. I follow the Pac-12, not the ACC. So again, I really don’t care. Because I am human. I concern myself mostly with the here and now. I am, as my behavioral economic class suggests, biased against the people and things that are separated from me by large gaps of space and time.

* * *

In my last Random Wikipedia entry about Błudowo, Poland, I examined a picture of a bible passage about the Lamb of God. I didn’t examine a matching companion text on the ceiling of that same church, partly because the image is interrupted by an ugly ceiling lamp, but partly because it seems to contradict the first image. The text is a quote from Revelations 1:8:

Alpha and Omega

In English, the Błudowo text quotes God saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” The next part of that passage goes: “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is coming. I am the Almighty.”

It’s an interesting pairing. In the first image, God is presented as being meek and humble. Here in the second, God is powerful and eternal. What does it mean to put these passages together?

* * *

Will Leitch had a good article recently about what Christians mean when they thank God after a sporting event. Money quote:

When you live a Christian life, everything you do, from showing up to church on Sunday, to going to the grocery store, to pumping gas, to hitting a home run, to striking out, is done for the glory of Christ. Hamilton isn’t thanking Jesus for helping him hit a homer; he is thanking Jesus for everything.

I think that’s right, but incomplete. Living a Christian life doesn’t just mean understanding or believing Christianity, it means practicing it. And I don’t mean practicing as in “doing”, I mean practicing as in “training.”

We are naturally biased towards the here and near and now. We naturally discount the distant, both in time and space. You can’t just overcome that built-in bias with rational understanding. That bias is our default mode. You have to overcome that bias by actively training yourself to overcome it, otherwise you slip right back into your default mode.

In default mode, you think that three-point shot you just made to win the game is the most important thing in the world. You’re so awesome!

Expressing gratitude toward God, as a practice, removes you from that default mode. It strips away your bias, in two ways:

  1. It affirms that second passage in the Błudowo church. It’s an acknowledgement that there is some thing more awesome than you, and some time more important than now. It is, as Leitch suggests, gratitude towards everything that was, is, and shall be.
  2. It reminds us that our natural biases, a/k/a our sins, are not washed away by conquering the here and now like a tiger. On the contrary, our selfish, competitive biases toward satisfying the desires of ourselves and those nearest to us at the expense of others, is actually a cause of suffering in the world. The practice of thanking God is an act of humility and generosity, of caring about something beyond the immediate. Thanking God makes you more lamb-like than tiger-like.

* * *

Funny though, how in a large Christian nation like America, there aren’t any major sports teams nicknamed “the Lambs”.

* * *

So here I am, a sinner who doesn’t give a crap about the the 2013–14 Clemson Tigers men’s basketball team. If I were more God-like, more Christ-like, I would. I would overcome the bias that makes me care more about my local team and my local league and the current and most recent year than about some team far away and in the future. I’d be more generous, more caring, about everything.

* * *

And this is why I think I am writing these random Wikipedia articles. Like thanking God, it is a kind of practice, designed to train me away from my biases. Away from my compulsive desire to compete, to be great, to win in the here and now. A random Wikipedia article can send me anywhere–past, present, future–and it forces me to contemplate on it, to be generous towards it. Contemplation leads to empathy and compassion, and the world becomes a better place for it. And perhaps I become a better human being, too.

* * *

So Godspeed, 2013–14 Clemson Tigers men’s basketball team.

This is Ken Arneson's blog about baseball, brains, art, science, technology, philosophy, poetry, politics and whatever else Ken Arneson feels like writing about