"I will not buy this record, it is the wax tadpole."

As a dedicated, to the point of self-destructive obsession, follower of the DealExtreme New Arrivals feed, I read a lot of very strangely translated product descriptions.

For a while there, for instance, they were regularly adding new "Gypsophila" laser pointers. There are about twenty of those listed now.

That one was pretty easy one to figure out. Gypsophila is the genus of flowering plants whose most famous member is "baby's breath", and baby's breath is known for its large number of tiny flowers. A laser pointer with a diffraction grating built into it will project tons of tiny dots in one pattern or another. "Tons of tiny dots" is in some way connected in Chinese or at least whatever translation software they're using with baby's breath flowers. And there you go, Latin plant name instead of "grid of dots".

Sometimes it takes a little more thought, though. Like when I found glasses and a clock in a shade of black called "Dumb".

DealExtreme aren't alone in using "dumb black" as a colour description. There are plenty of other Chinese dealers who do, too.

I briefly wondered whether this could have something to do with direct or accidental racism and/or survival outside English of racist archaisms, like that whole "nigger brown" thing. Then I thought a bit more laterally, and came up with this:

We, the Chinese sellers of inexpensive mass-produced objects, have a product which we describe in our complex language as having a glossy, shiny black finish. We wish to sell this product to those English-speakers who'll buy bloody anything.

None of us speak English, so we'll hit up our highly unreliable translating software, in which we have the same faith that awful tattoo artists have in those gibberish Asian fonts, for a suitable word.

What, context-not-understanding translation software, is an English word for whatever the Chinese is for "glossy/shiny"?

The software spits out several words, in an alphabetical list, and we take the one at the top: "Bright".

Hang on - we've got some matte-black products too. Not shiny, not bright - dull. So while we're here, we'd better find what the English for "dull" is.

Out comes another list, again alphabetical, and we again take the top result: "Dumb"!

Hm, better be careful, wouldn't want to look silly here. Forget the translation software, let's ask an English thesaurus what the antonym of "bright" is. Whatever that is, it will surely mean "matte".

Oh look, there's "dumb" again! So it must be exactly right!

Result: Descriptions of matte-black objects as being "dumb black" in colour.

(A plain Google search for "color dumb black" OR "colour dumb black", that extra word being there to filter out racists, currently turns up "About 84,800 results". But that's because Google reduces server load by not actually accurately counting hits for string-searches until you click on past the first page of results. There are actually only 30 results not counting duplicates. If you search for "dumb black" on eBay, you get several more examples of this mistranslation, along with various rude T-shirts.)

(P.S.: This post's title is of course partly this, and partly that.)

Small ridiculous object du jour

Crank-operated fan

This is a fan.

I am delighted to say it is every bit as demented as I had hoped it would be when I slapped down $US3.40 at DealExtreme to buy it.

(There's a green one as well, but that costs three dollars and sixty cents. What am I, made out of money?)

It is not a big fan. The diameter of the see-through rubbery blades when they're spinning is about seven centimetres (2.75 inches). The blades fold back at rest, and can thus get in the way of the crank a bit on start-up.

Crank-operated fan

The blades spin fast, though; they're heavily geared-up, and turn something in the order of 110 times per crank of the handle.

I think this fan may actually have a substantial calories-expended-to-air-moved advantage over a simple paper fan. Both cool your face while they warm up your arm muscles, but I think the crank-fan requires less effort.

It also takes up less room, both in your bag and when you're using it.

I wouldn't expect this plasticky little thing to last a whole summer of frequent use, though. But it's probably more durable than similarly tiny fans that run off batteries or USB power; no motor brushes to wear out or solder joints to let go.

I think the principal purpose of this device is to make other people smile when you use it, though, and on that count it seems entirely successful.

And yes, you can turn it to point away from you and crank the handle the other way, and run about pretending you're an aeroplane.

EDIT: I just opened it up.

Crank-fan gears

Black plastic gears on metal shafts, and a couple of actual bushings for the output shaft. The bushings are only plastic too, but should wear slower than if there were only holes in the casing plastic for the fan-shaft to go through. This trinket was not just thrown together.

(The gears were dry; I added some fancy plastic-safe oil, and now I think the fan turns more quietly. This may be a complete fantasy.)

Even if it breaks after a month, it's difficult to complain when the thing costs very little, including delivery, for this orange one, and very little plus twenty cents, including delivery, in green.

(DealExtreme have bulk-buy discounts as well; you pay an extra $US1.70 for the whole order to use the "Bulk Rate" feature, then pay less for three or more of any given item in that order. The three-unit prices for these fans are only two cents more than the ten-unit prices.)


An excuse to use that spider photo again

Here's yet another Reddit-comment transplant, this time from this thread about scary animals in the USA, in the opinion of...

Huntsman spider


I opined:

1: The house centipede. Perfectly harmless, but practically a prototypical creepy-crawly, and very common.

2: The toe biter. Apart from the egg-carrying creepiness, toe-biters have that name for a reason, and their bite may be the most painful of any insect. Won't kill you. May make you kill yourself.

(Most insect-bite-pain-scales, like the not-entirely-serious but well-researched Schmidt one, don't cover large swathes of the arthropods. The Schmidt scale, for instance, only covers the stinging Hymenoptera - wasps, bees and ants.)

I regret I have been unable to locate a YouTube, or even LiveLeak, video of someone deliberately getting bitten by a toe biter. All those marvellous videos of people eating staggeringly hot peppers (or just straight capsaicin), or volunteering to be tased, or shooting each other with fireworks, or engaging in the various other things that only other drunk 20-year-olds used to get to watch... there are even voluntary Irukandji jellyfish stings! But no toe biters.

If you can't find me video of some idiot being turned into a flowing puddle of agony by a toe biter, I of course welcome your suggestions of even more terrifying American fauna and/or flora.

Dead kids, dead animals, and other such jollity

Here's another post that was about to be a comment on a Reddit thread that no bugger'd read because the thread is five whole hours old.

The thread is about this picture of some Chinese doctors (disrespectfully translated versions here and here) bowing in respect to the body of a terribly young organ donor. She donated pretty much everything, and was only eight years old.

Needless to say, the Reddit conversation immediately wandered as far and fast from the topic as it could, thanks to someone noting the similarity between the doctors' respect for the dead girl and a hunter-gatherer's respect for the animal he's just managed to kill.

(Put like that, it sounds as if it's about half an inch away from turning into 4chan dead-baby jokes. The thread isn't actually like that. Well, no non-deleted comments with a score above minus 50 seem to be, anyway.)

This comment in particular pressed one of my personal Talk Buttons, so now that I've spent a couple of hundred words explaining the background, here's my Canned Rant on the subject of carnivores who never see an animal killed:

I don't think it's bad that people don't see where their meat comes from any more, but I think everybody who eats meat should at least visit an abattoir once. Not watch a documentary, visit one, so you get the full experience - sights, sounds and definitely smells. The smell of blood cooking on the steam pipes, the smell of various useful components of animals that people aren't going to eat, the smell of the hair being burned off the hog bellies by a guy with one of the safest, and least interesting, jobs in the whole awful place...

Talk about your "life leaving the eyes..."; how about seeing a pig screaming, thrashing around, managing to get its back feet off the hook and then flapping on the concrete floor, still fettered but no longer hung, as the blood fountains out of its throat and its dog-level brain may actually realise it's now every bit as fucked as it thought it was going to be if it got shoved up that ramp with all the rest...

(Sheep and cows don't seem to have any idea what's coming, thanks partly to clever feed-ramp design. Pigs figure that shit out, though, and do NOT want to go into the building. Perhaps that problem's been cracked now with even more animal-psychology; I saw all this, including the unexpected Porcine Murder Show, on a school trip more than 25 years ago.)

I still eat ham and bacon. But only occasionally.

(I also don't know whether it was normal, back then, for slaughterhouses here in Australia to hang up very-much-conscious pigs and cut their throats, without stunning them first. The usual reason for hanging and bleeding conscious animals is to comply with kashrut and/or halal rules, but obviously there's no such thing as kosher pork, so that couldn't have been it. If an animal's stunned or brained before being bled, then this sort of drama's only ever going to happen, with or without an audience of rather alarmed Agricultural High School kids, if the stunner-guy manages to miss.)

Wibbly-wobbly WTF

The Name of the Doctor

Do you enjoy Doctor Who episodes that are almost entirely free of events that make sense?

You'll love The Name of the Doctor, then!

(Spoilers below.)

Never mind the standard weirdness of having a machine that can go anywhere in time and space but, if your friends are being abducted, never just goes to the moment of the abduction so you can open the door and pull them in.

No, in this episode you've got the whole universe's timeline being rewritten and people fading out of existence like in Back to the Future, while other people... don't. Whole star systems are vanishing by the dozen, friends become enemies but for unexplained timey-wimey reasons stay in the same location... but the people necessary to get the plot to where it needs to be retain their previous memories, just because.

(Oh, and Clara can visit Tom Baker and help him out, but she is powerless to de-interlace him. I suppose it's fair that she seems to have been poorly green-screened in, though. I bet some effects guy really wanted to interlace her, too, but it didn't happen.)

And there are more blokes with weird faces to add to the surprisingly long list of New Who's Nattily-Dressed Scary Dudes. And there's some more gratuitous weapon-like use of the sonic screwdriver.

Three out of ten, if you are foolish enough to watch it sober.

This week's minimalist Doctor Who recap

This one was perfectly decent, too.

Highly suspicious Doctor

Good casting including non-annoying kids, at least two dumb solutions to problems being shot down as such, and a much-needed villain upgrade for the Number Two Doctor Who Major Baddies. I think Matt Smith dropped the ball a bit in his Gollum-and-Smeagol number, but that was good enough too.

OK, perhaps they could have done a little more to blunt the distracting similarities between the New And Improved Cybermen and a certain other iconic sci-fi cybernetic-baddie-race, beyond "but our ones have blue lights on their heads!"

But I think that's entirely compensated-for by Cybermen that are, one, not avoidable by anybody capable of jogging, and, two, now able to "upgrade" any other sentient life.

Given the Cybermen's numerous previous extremely bad strategic decisions, they will of course now be making a beeline for the nearest repository of Kaled genetic material.

Or just somehow upgrade an actual Dalek. The result would surely be-

Cyberdalek v1.0

OK, the first attempt might not be terribly impressive. But I'm sure they'd get it right after a few iterations.

On Human Freedom, and Education, and Boobies

Instead of writing stuff here where thousands of people read it, I've been arguing with people on Reddit, in posts old enough that about seven people will read them.

I would now like to rescue some of that wasted time on my part and waste some more of yours, by asking you to check out this Reddit post about a teacher in Florida who got in trouble for bikini pictures and was going to be fired. She then basically said, "screw you guys, I can make way more money posing for photos than I can teaching anyway", which is not really a heartening outcome for that situation.

My first comment is here. Someone took exception.

Comment there, comment here, heave a sigh and skip the whole damn thing; the choice is yours.

What I'm trying to get at is that the USA has managed to get itself into a royally messed-up position with regard to sex (and race, and religion, and government, and capitalism, and war, and numerous other things), and the USA is so damn big that you drag large amounts of the rest of the "Western" world along with you, including us here in Australia.

The kind of mess I'm talking about is the one in which logical connections between concepts and arguments fade away, to be replaced with mere associations and "common knowledge", that're given the weight of a logical connection. Or there are logical connections, but they're based on unjustified premises.

So, for instance, sex plus children equals sex with children, which we've arbitrarily decided is the worst crime that can ever happen. (No, I am not suddenly joining NAMBLA, I'm just saying that I think killing a hundred children might very well be worse than groping one of them.) Therefore when sexy photos of a teacher come to light, whether taken professionally or by a boyfriend/girlfriend or at a party or whatever, that teacher must be fired. Teachers must apparently teach kids morals (I don't remember any of them doing that for me, but perhaps it's different in the States), but sexy pictures are immoral, therefore teachers with sexy pictures are ipso facto unable to do their job and must be fired.

Countries that managed to dodge that Puritan bullet cast from solid Original Sin (Bodies are dirty! Women are evil! God spends a lot of time thinking about penises!) find this particularly hilarious today. Today, kids with the slightest particle of computer/smartphone knowledge can see all the boobies and peeners they like. So it is I think preposterous on its face to argue that teachers' Adult Activities outside school time have any further impact on their effectiveness or otherwise as a teacher.

Back when department-store underwear catalogues were among the more treasured possessions of many schoolboys, and kids looked up anatomical terms in the encyclopedia in hopes of finding something exciting, you could make the argument that a teacher appearing in Playboy or a "naturist" magazine or whatever would have a shattering effect on their classroom authority. It'd still be because of unfounded associations between being a functioning mammal and pedagoguery, but there would at least be a massive effect.

Today, though... even if you do think bodies are dirty and teachers should be asexual, what further harm is done by adding the pink bits of a particular teacher to the vast and ever-increasing storehouse of other sexual imagery accessible to the entire class?

(And yes, "pedagogue" is a fun word to keep in your knapsack when discussing this stuff with someone whose vocabulary you suspect does not contain it. Deploying "pedagogical", or "niggardly", or "penury", or "titillate", may reduce your chance of changing their mind from slim to none, but it is good for a laugh if they take the bait. You've no-one to blame but yourself if this gets out of hand, though.)

Argue with people infected with this puritan virus, and they'll say of course the teacher should be fired, even if the kids already have daily access to hard-core goat pr0n, because that's what it says in the teacher's employment contract!

Except I was saying not that it's legally permissible to fire the teacher, but that it's wrong.

Oh, so we're still arguing? Well, teachers are meant to teach and they can't do it if the class is all a-tizzy, or a-titty if you will, with knowledge of the teacher's unclothed appearance.

Except, again, there's been no explanation of what the great qualitative difference is supposed to be between the general knowledge that people are naked under their clothes, and the specific knowledge of exactly what this person looks like under their clothes.

(Particularly true in the case of this one particular teacher, called Olivia Sprauer in real life or "Victoria V James" when getting her gear off in front of a camera; in the latter situation she always seems to be so massively airbrushed that you're not really seeing her at all.)

Oh, so we're still arguing? Well, there certainly aren't any other countries that're less hung up about this stuff! And they absolutely certainly don't have better educational outcomes than the States!

And on it goes.

(Does anybody know where I can find data on different countries' definitions of teacher misconduct? I don't read Japanese or the highly implausible languages of the alleged Belgium, so I just had to kind of say "Japan, dude", without primary-source support.)

I'm uncomfortably aware that some of what I've said in that thread sounds as if it may have something to do with Men's Rights Activists, so let me make this perfectly clear: MRA is in my opinion a few per cent perfectly legitimate (for instance, bias in divorce proceedings that gives a terrible mother a better chance of getting custody of the kids than an excellent father). But the rest of it is outrageous atavistic nonsense, surprisingly often being espoused by people who seem to think it's a good idea to be known as "the Blackshirts".

The thing that had me commenting in that Reddit thread in the first place was my constant low-level resentment of one important part of this general sex-in-any-way-associated-with-children panic in the USA, and Australia, and the UK, and umpteen other countries. It is, of course, the popular belief that that every man in particular is constantly quivering with the desire to interfere with kids.

So if you see a man talking to your children, your best course of action is to call the police at once.

I really like talking with kids. (Not enough to actually have any though, you understand, let's not go crazy here.) But if I'm not related to them, I have to avert my eyes if I see any approaching. I wouldn't even consider saying more than "hello", and I'd feel nervous even about that.

(In the real world, kids are much more likely to be molested by someone who is related to them, or by a friend of the family or neighbour or babysitter or suchlike, than by a stranger. And abuse by relatives is likely to be more harmful than abuse by a stranger. But we don't cotton to facts 'round here, pal.)

Again, this is one of those things where incorrect premises lead to a demented result: Child molestation is the worst crime possible, Crime Value Infinity, and child molesters do exist. So even if the chance that a given person is a child molester is one in a million (and according to the conservative press it's apparently more like one in three), the magnitude of harm times its probability remains infinitely high, and the situation must be avoided at all costs.

If the cost in this case is glaring at a man as you lead your children away or calling the police because he's got a camera and is in a park and so are some children and holy shit better get the SWAT team for this one, and making damn sure the strange man knows you're implicitly accusing him of being a criminal that makes Pol Pot or Doctor Mengele look like pikers, then so be it. Think of the children, et cetera.

(It's like the ban on Saying Any Words Related To Terrorism in airports: No matter how small the possibility, the thing you think you're guarding against is infinitely bad, so logic calculations all go to zero or infinity and actual thinking cannot occur.)

Thank you for making it to the end of this post. Your reward is the Brass Eye paedophilia episode.

It's got Simon Pegg in it!

Something is amiss

Crimson! Horrifying!

Quite a good episode of Doctor Who, this time. That's unsettling.

Diana Rigg making sure no piece of scenery lacks her tooth-marks and being beastly to her real-life daughter, while someone else gets to wear one of Diana's outfits from 1966. Strax pushing the rating back down to PG by continuing to not quite manage to kill anybody at all. Throwaway moments of comedy weirdness, one of which involves a street urchin. And at no point is evil thwarted by the Power of Love.

There are some minor concerns, like "how's she paying for all this?", and "shouldn't they all have just been burned to ashes?". But nothing too terrible.

Seven out of ten.