Saturday, December 09, 2017

A Cure for Hiccoughs

Hiccoughs (aka "hiccups") are funny, but can be embarrassing and annoying. Most of the folk cures for it (scaring the victim, breathing in a bag, drinking water, etc.) are obtrusive and do not work.

Here's a cure I developed many years ago. It's simple, it's imperceptible to those around you... and thus far, it's always worked. There are a few steps, but they're easy, easy, easy.

  1. Close your mouth. Make sure that your upper teeth are touching the lowers, but do not clench your teeth. Simply close your jaw and your lips.
  2. Place the tip of your tongue against your upper teeth where they meet the gum.
  3. Flatten out the front of your tongue against the roof of your mouth so that your tongue is touching the roof of your mouth and all of your upper teeth. It doesn't hurt to suck in the back of your tongue just a little. This should be comfortable. Do not press hard.
  4. Breathe in and out a few times through your nose. Do it naturally. Don't force your breath, and do not hold your breath either at the exhale or the inhale. Just let the air flow in and out.
That's pretty much it. It usually takes about three or four breaths for the hiccoughs to disappear, but you may have to do it a little longer if your timing was unfortunate and you had a nice big "HIC" early in the process. Again, do not force, clench or press. This should be totally relaxed and natural. I used to have frequent hiccoughs, but for years I've simply held my mouth that way when not talking or eating, and I rarely if ever get them any more.

I could go out on a limb and give you some theory as to why this works, but it would be bullshit. The fact is, I have no idea why it works. It just does; and not just for me. So far it's worked on practically everyone I've shown it to. I was in a pharmacy one day, and met a little girl, about 10 years old, and her mother. The girl had chronic hiccoughs. I coached her through this exercise, and they disappeared, at least for the remainder of their visit. And if they ever came back, this is such a simple, easily remembered exercise that she could always apply it again. Her mother was flabbergasted. Maybe it was just my coaching technique, but "Mom" asked me if I was some kind of hypnotist. Nope... just observant.


Since you've gotten this far, here's a bonus "cure", for gag reflex, particularly effective for denture wearers.
Blow your nose.
That's it. When you feel your gag reflex, close your mouth and snort. If you're congested, you'll probably want a tissue or handkerchief, but most of the time a good sharp exhale through the nose will cause the gag reflex to instantly abate.

Again, I don't know why this works. It just does.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

I finally got The Joke.

A few days ago, I threw out a joke about sponsoring cats. It was a parody of the old Sally Struthers sponsor-a-child-in-Africa charity drive. What I didn't expect was that people would actually want to sponsor a cat. "Their" cat. In my home. A cat which they cannot love, pet, cuddle or hold. A cat which they can enjoy only vicariously, from afar, through the photos that they'd expect to receive. And yet, I got several takers.

My reaction was a resounding "WTF!"

I wrote a blog post, and told my son about it. His reaction was, "what's wrong with that?" The husband of an online friend thought likewise.

And I realized that the world has literally gone mad. It's not people's willingness to pay for my cats' food that floors me... it's that absurdity has been normalized.

It's as if this isn't the universe I was born in. It's as if I'm caught in some sort of "Flashpoint" where a new universe spins off with every joke I tell. It's absurd, but it would explain why every single parody product I've ever imagined (and there are dozens of them) is now actually sold as a serious product. Given my experience, I'm debating whether I should be holding on to this "Flashpoint" joke on the slim possibility that it isn't a joke.

It's now my conviction that Poe's Law is mis-stated. It's not that a parody of extreme views is indistinguishable from the views themselves; it's that extreme views cannot be parodied, because the views cannot be made more ridiculous than they already are. The best you can do is faithfully re-state the views and let the audience decide which side of the theater they're going to sit in.

Furthermore, I've now concluded that the only person in real life or fiction who's ever understood this completely is...

(drum roll)... 

By Source, Fair use, Link
The Joker. 

Yeah. The Batman villain.

For decades, the Joker has teased Batman with the idea that there is some "joke" that motivates his murderous rampage. Whatever it is, it's hilarious, but he's never actually stated it, not even in "The Killing Joke". Every other character concludes that he's batshit crazy, a chaotic element; and they lock him up in an insane asylum, melt down the key to slag, and pray to God in Heaven that he doesn't escape... again.

But now I know the Joke. And it's funny.

Not only that, it makes the Joker the sanest person in the DC Universe... or this one, for that matter.

The Joker isn't a murderous psychopath. He never has been.

He's a parody of one.

BTW, if you haven't figured it out, this is a joke. Without a disclaimer, I'm pretty sure this post will put me on somebody's watchlist. Hell, it might happen with a disclaimer. But to the extent that it's a serious explanation for the Joker's motivation... think about it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

(Almost) All Superheroes are Orphans

My son and I were discussing the dearth of superheroes with parents in the DC Universe. We do a schtick where Batman is being all self-pitying and the other heroes admit that they're all orphans, too; and it didn't reduce them to brooding psychopaths. And since the trend in comics is toward social justice, I figured, why don't they just go all in and stop pussy-footing around?
FLASH: Hey, Batman. 
BATMAN: Flash. Where've you been? 
FLASH: Oh, I've been scouring the Multiverse, looking for superheroes who aren't orphans. 
BATMAN: Let me guess... you didn't find any. 
FLASH: Well, I found this guy. 
NEW GUY: Hello. 
BATMAN: You have parents? 
NEW GUY: Oh, yeah. Mom AND Dad! 
BATMAN: And they're not dead? 
NEW GUY: Nope! Safe and sound. 
BATMAN: But they're evil or something, right? 
NEW GUY: Uhm, no... they're pretty great, actually. They really love me and support everything I'm doing! I don't know how I'd get along without them. Came pretty close one time, though... 
FLASH: Oh, this is a good story! 
BATMAN: (glares) 
NEW GUY: Well, this one time my parents took me to the movies, and then a petty crook pulled a gun on us in a back alley! I thought we were goners! But I pushed Mom and Dad out of the way at the last minute. The crook ran away. I was only eight years old, but I decided then and there that I'd devote my life to making it so that guys like that wouldn't have to stoop to a life of crime. 
BATMAN: So your powers are... what, exactly? 
NEW GUY: Well, I'm rich. I fight crime by building shelters for the homeless, and by giving away money. 
BATMAN: You said this guy was a superhero. 
FLASH: In all fairness, he builds a lot of shelters. 
NEW GUY: I give away a lot of money, too. 
FLASH: Yeah, there's that. 
BATMAN: But... criminals... 
NEW GUY: The "bad guys" usually just turn out to be needy. I remember my first case. There was this nightclub comic. He was having a really bad night. Looked like he was preoccupied, and it was messing up his act. So I bought him a drink and asked him what was wrong. Turns out his wife was pregnant and he was desperate. And when a guy gets desperate like that there's no telling what sort of trouble he might get into. So I gave him ten grand on the spot. Oh, man, was he grateful! It was like a huge weight had been lifted off of him! And it showed in his act! His timing picked up, his delivery improved... he had the crowd in stitches. Went on to become the biggest name in show biz. There are a lot of comics in the world, but this guy is THE Joker! Named his kid after me! 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Sponsored Cats

How can you turn down that face? Seriously!
One of my cats has had a litter of kittens, and they're now old enough to unload drown find loving homes for.

I spent some time at work today doing just that, without much success. Apparently, the world is filled with cat haters.

As the rejections mounted up, my "sales pitch" became more aggressive. For instance:

"Each cat is free to a good home... or you can have all three for 30% off."

"Dog owner? No problem! These kittens are delicious!"

Finally, having simply given up in my mind, I tried this one:

"For just pennies a day, you can sponsor a cat in my home. In return for your donation, you will receive a picture of 'your' cat along with its name, birthday, and other vital statistics; video updates sent to your smart phone; and your cat will write to you once a month. What better way to 'own' a cat without having the fuss and bother of feeding it, cleaning up after it, or risking exposure to potentially dangerous allergens?"

I swear to God in Heaven above, I did NOT expect that to work.

I got three takers right off the bat.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

THIS is Star Trek!

For a change, I'm not going to do spoilers. I simply want to say that this episode of Star Trek Continues is not just Star Trek... it's quintessential Star Trek.

It has numerous well-incorporated call-backs to the original series, excellent guest stars, and a superb script by award winning author Robert J. Sawyer. As you watch it, note that they are making a continuation of a 1960's TV series. The goal here is to mimic the look and feel of that original series, while doing it subliminally better. Pay particular attention to planet surfaces (esp. the distant horizon) and the effects in space... they're updated without taking you out of the established universe.

The allusions to events in the original series are so nuanced that at one point I had to ask myself... "wait a minute? Was she there? Did she do that?" Re-watching the original episode itself, I answered, "Damned if she didn't!"

This is brilliantly done. I wait for the conclusion with bated breath.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Sci-Fi Progress Report

In a moment of curiosity, I thought I'd check in on Rotten Tomatoes and see how The Orville and Star Trek: Discovery are faring today.

For The Orville, the critic score has dropped, but the audience score is higher than before. As I mentioned before, this discrepancy is massive, and cannot simply be explained by taste. Clearly, the broader audience here likes the show, and the critics are either clueless or biased.

Notice the poster. This is an ensemble show, and it's reflected here.

For Star Trek Discovery, the audience score has climbed a little bit. It's still a disappointing 59%, made more disappointing when you realize that the audience for this show is pre-disposed toward liking it, to the point of having paid a subscription to CBS All Access. Despite this, they're not nearly as impressed with the show as the paid critics.

Also, notice the poster. This show has no ensemble dynamic, and it's reflected here. Unlike every Trek of the past, this is purely a vehicle for one character... a character which, judging by the vast majority of fan reviews, doesn't earn the spotlight. One who, as earlier noted, began as -- and remains -- a Mary Sue.


One thing puzzles me. Despite this piece of guidance from Rotten Tomatoes:

...and despite the fact that Star Trek Discovery has received 3,912 reviews as of this writing, you have to know to drill down to the season 1 page to see those reviews. You won't find them on the main page, where the superficially impressive "want to see" icon is used instead of the more disappointing 59% rating from those who have actually seen it.

This artificially makes the show look more popular among viewers than it actually is. The Orville has a larger potential audience but a much worse timeslot. Nevertheless, with a similar number of reviews (4,285) the audience score of 92% is prominently featured on The Orville's main page.  There doesn't seem to be anywhere on The Orville's main page to actually post a rating. I'm not saying there's something untoward, here... but I am pointing out something obviously inconsistent and strange about the way presents the two shows.

As for me, if I had to pay for The Orville and got Star Trek Discovery for free, I'd still watch The Orville. The same can't be said the other way 'round. This is my last month of CBS All Access.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Blade Runner 2049: Some Good, Some Bad

As usual, I don't care about SPOILERS. Read at your own risk. You've been warned.

I watched Blade Runner 2049 last weekend. It's a mixed bag. I could rave about the things I like -- Edward James Olmos' return, some clear nods to fans-in-the-know (like Olmos' origami sheep, or the alternate-universe continued success of Atari) -- but gushy reviews are boring ones. In Blade Runner fashion, bring on the dystopia. Let's see the bad, the boring, the indifferent.

I'll start by saying I liked most of it except Jared Leto. I thought his character was idiotic.

To clarify: I think that they were trying to use Leto to bring to his role some of the poetry of Rutger Hauer's performance in the original. Only, Hauer's performance brought something significant and new to the character. He showed us that the replicants were not merely desperate killing machines. Leto's character is pointless. So much so that I don't remember one damned line he said. He's quirky for the sake of being quirky. If half of his scenes were simply cut -- not re-written, not replaced -- it would improve the final film immensely. All of his scenes are too slowly paced. I would never want this as action-adventure; but I want conversation to occur at a pace that doesn't leave me feeling like Barry Allen.

As for the rest of it, I liked it, with a nit to pick here and there. One of the things that made Blade Runner a cult classic was the uncertainty of whether Deckard was a replicant. Well, that's off the table. I don't mean the issue is resolved, despite Ridley Scott's insistence that Deckard is a replicant. I mean, they just don't address it... at all... and we don't care about it... at all. And truth be told, the events that play out indicate that he isn't. So whatever you believe about Deckard, just keep believing it. But I think they did successfully transfer a similar form of that  uncertainty to Ryan Gosling's character ('K'); and they execute that particular head-fake pretty well. Blurring the lines between what's real and what isn't is signature Philip K Dick, so I'm pleased with not having seen the obvious-in-retrospect.

It's 30 years on, but visually, it's the same incessant rain, the same giant billboards, the same crowded squalor, the same flying cars limited to the same cops. And somehow they managed to carry that rainy feeling to Las Vegas in the form of a persistent dust cloud sans wind. Take your choice... constant grit or constant rain. Empty sky is for utopias. The visual message is that change and growth are not happening here. It's stagnant future, very little removed from that which was imagined in 1982.

Nothing much changes in 30 years.

As a vision of the future, Blade Runner and its sequel are set way too close to the present, but beyond that, the world they paint is just weird. They presumably have supra-light interstellar travel, as they talk of battles in distant star systems. They have off-world colonies. But that tech doesn't appear to have brought home much of value. In the original, we were left to assume that the City had just built up over the years. Here, we see that they just abandoned the whole damned modern world and left the old buildings to rot. Look at Dresden... Berlin... Coventry... that's not how humans rebuild. And they side-step the persistent nature of a surveillance society with a little lip-service about a global blackout that had erased... well... everything. Except what it didn't. As a software developer myself, I realize that there is no difference to a computer between programs and data, and I shudder to think of the scope of re-writing all of the software in existence. If you will, imagine the task of getting any computer to run when everything down to the bootloader is deleted by an EMP. But this was a special magic blackout that deletes data and leaves the software. But if Star Trek can have magic gravity, I suppose I can suspend disbelief for this logical fallacy.

Joi. You can look, but not touch.
One thing new that their tech has bought is personal company. Shell out the dough and you can buy a holographic personal assistant. Think "the Siri I wish I had". "Joi" can be anyone you want her to be, except a flesh-and-blood woman. And in one of the most uncomfortable-in-a-guiltily-good-way sex scenes ever put on-screen, she manages to find a temporary loophole around that little limitation. A little more moolah will get you an "emanator" (a mobile emitter). Late in the show we're still left with that signature question, "How much of this is real? If the simulation is good enough, is there even a difference?"

As for the acting, I have no complaints, except Leto. He takes the place of Tyrell from the original film. If there's one character in the whole story who should be grounded, and know the difference between reality and simulation, it's him. Despite putting on the fatherly mentor façade for his creations, Tyrell was insightful and could convincingly hold down a nuts-and-bolts technical conversation. Leto's character, Wallace, didn't project anything even approaching competence. What grounding he might have had was undermined by filtering his entire reality through software. And then they chose to put the most execrable yet forgettable dialog in his mouth. In the end Wallace was nothing but yet another delusional little god wanna-be, as cliché as they come. The saving grace of this is watching Harrison Ford's wtf facial expressions as Deckard tries to decipher Leto's crypto-speak.

Then again, it's in one of Leto's scenes that we have the high note, which is the biggest spoiler. Rachael's return. Granted, I've only seen the film once, but I was looking hard at this, and the CGI'd "Rachael 2.0" (Sean Young) was picture-perfect. Perhaps this has something to do with her slightly surreal performance in the original film, but this is one case where there's not even a hint of the "uncanny valley". And even the one detail they "got wrong" was crucial to Deckard's reaction. Great job on that one.