Monthly Archives: May 2013

Name suggestions for Bake Shape Ape

There’s a restaurant in the town where I live called Bake Shape Ape. That’s right, Bake Shape Ape.


It’s not even a bakery, but a Japanese-style barbecue place. The English name is a character-for-character literal translation of the Chinese 烤狀猿. The first character, 烤, means “bake, roast, grill, etc.” — basically any kind of cooking that doesn’t involve a lot of water or oil. The rest of it, 狀猿, is a pun on 狀元, which is pronounced the same way. The latter is a title used in old China for the person who got the highest score on the imperial civil service exam. The final character, 元, has been replaced with the homophonous 猿, which means “ape.”

So what would have been a better translation? Any good English translation should include a punning reference to apes or monkeys, and ideally should refer both to barbecuing and to the idea of a champion or an excellent scholar. Here are my proposals:

  • Barbecue Chimpion
  • Ape-Plus Barbecue (sounds like “A-plus”)
  • ApeX Grill
  • The Prime-Ate (as in “prime rib” — really scraping the bottom of the barrel here)
  • The Frying Pan (as in Pan troglodytes — even worse)
  • Monkey Bar and Grill (pun on “monkey bars” — fail)
  • G’rilla (gorilla / griller — my personal favorite)

Any other ideas? (Of course this is purely an academic exercise, since I would never dream of suggesting that a name as perfect as Bake Shape Ape actually be changed! The food is nothing special, but I still eat there from time to time just for the name.)


Filed under Language, Oddities, Translation

The Witch

“The Witch,” from Yeats’s Responsibilities and Other Poems:

Toil and grow rich,
What’s that but to lie
With a foul witch
And after, drained dry,
To be brought
To the chamber where
Lies one long sought
With despair?

If economy is the essence of poetry (and it is, in case you were wondering), Yeats is one of the very best. A whole implied fairy tale is packed into these few microscopic lines. It takes the mind a second to realize that, but once you start unpacking it, you find that everything you need is in there — a complete, coherent narrative — a masterpiece of file compression.

And every strand of this little story is brought to point in the final line, with its three-way syntactic ambiguity. Brought with despair? Lies with despair? Sought with despair? Yes, all of the above — and the unity of those three despairs is the point of the poem.

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Filed under Literature

Ambigram: Eraser



May 10, 2013 · 1:35 am

Litany Against Fear

Years ago I developed this version of the Litany Against Fear from Dune:

It kills the mind, that little death
called fear. It stings
the very soul,
complete obliteration brings
to all who breathe its poison breath.
I will not veer
but face my fear —
flinch not before its beating wings,
nor as it hurtles through me run.
It passes by.
I turn my eye
to see its path, my ear to hear
its wingbeats still, but there are none.
Imagined things
have now in whole
dissolved, and still remaining — I.

When I was in college, I developed (for reasons that are still not entirely clear to me) a paralyzing fear of the dark — which was most inconvenient, since I worked nights and had to walk home alone in the dark at 4:00 every morning. A few years later my nyctophobia vanished as mysteriously as it had come. But during those years this little poem, designed to be repeated over and over, is what kept me putting one foot in front of the other.

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Filed under Poetry

Second experiment in waking precognition

I’ve just finished my second experiment in waking precognition, following the same method as the first one. The book I used was The Letters of Lord Nelson to Lady Hamilton, Vol II. With a Supplement of Interesting [sic] Letters by Distinguished Characters — and I got no positive results whatsoever.

Before reading, I made a point of getting only high-quality images which would be of value as evidence. I rejected several because they were too vague; and several others because they were too obviously nautical or military in nature, and it would have taken no special precognitive ability to predict that they might appear in a book about Nelson. I got a list of ten “good” images, each with a sufficient degree of detail to make coincidental matches unlikely. But none of them turned up in the book — not even the “obvious” naval-themed ones I had rejected!

The fact is, Nelson’s letters to his partner in crime are stupendously dull, with virtually no concrete details. Security concerns naturally precluded his describing his military activities in any detail, and he never describes scenery, relates amusing anecdotes, or anything of that nature. Even love, which has been known to bring out the poet in even the most prosaic of characters, did not move him to say anything figurative or otherwise visualizable. The other “interesting letters by distinguished characters” aren’t much better. About the only vivid, concrete image which a person precognitive faculties might have foreseen is Lord Hamilton’s account of hunting with the king and slaying vast numbers of wild boars. If I had foreseen that, that would have been evidence of precognition; but aside from that, there just wasn’t anything to work with.

Aside from the lack of visualizable details, the very boring nature of the letters may have worked against effective precognition. Events which arouse powerful emotions are the ones that stick in the memory, and we might speculate that something similar would be true for the postulated “pre-memories” which these experiments are dealing with.


Nor did any of my potentially precognitive images (or “precogs”) come true in my life outside of the book, though one did find a very faint echo in another book I was reading at the time. The third item in my list of precogs is “a stack of rough gray stones, one atop another.” This was written down on May 1, and then on May 3 I read the following in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: “It was a great grim slab of grey stone supported on four upright stones.” The details are sufficiently different that I can’t consider this a hit, and in any case I had read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe before.


I intend to do five more of these experiments, but I will have to modify my method of selecting books slightly. Fiction and poetry are, I think, the only acceptable genres, since only they can be relied on to contain a sufficient number of concrete, visualizable images. Since I’ve just discovered that Gutenberg has a random book feature, I will obtain my titles that way, rather than using the more convoluted procedure described previously. All non-fiction books will be excluded, as will all books, authors, and subjects with which I have any familiarity.

Here, then, are the five books I will be using:

  1. Stewart Edward White. The Westerners.
  2. Sir Max Pemberton. The Man Who Drove the Car.
  3. Sir William Magnay. The Hunt Ball Mystery.
  4. Laura Lee Hope. The Moving Picture Girls Under the Palms.
  5. Rupert Hughes. What Will People Say?

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Filed under Precognition / Prophecy

Well, why do birds suddenly appear?

Hey, Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!

— Bullwinkle

Many years ago, “Professor Doodles’ Just For Kids Corner,” in our local newspaper’s Sunday comics supplement, ran the following riddle:

Q. What bird is with you?
A. The swallow.

The question was presumably supposed to have been something along the lines of “What bird is with you at every meal?” — but somehow the last few words had been omitted, transforming what had been intended as a lame pun into something more like a kōan.

Naturally, we kids thought this was, by a very wide margin, the Professor’s funniest riddle ever, and we quoted it incessantly. “What bird is with you?” — or just “What bird?” — came to be used as a general-purpose expression of complete bewilderment.


Yesterday, I happened to be thinking about this expression and its history as I was riding back home from my morning classes, when I noticed something odd-looking in the middle of the road. At first I thought it was just some random piece of rubbish and rode right past it, but then the thought registered, “Wait, was that a roadkilled swallow?” I turned my motorcycle around and went back to check — and, sure enough, it was a swallow, though not a roadkilled one. It was a live swallow — to all appearances, perfectly healthy and uninjured — but it was just sitting there in the middle of the road, waiting to be hit by a car or nabbed by a stray cat.

This would not do, so, putting on some gloves, I picked the bird up. It perched on my finger, holding on tight and twitching its tail a bit, and looked at me. This was the first time I’d ever seen a stationary swallow at such close range, and it was really an exquisite little creature. The feathers, which look plain black when you see a swallow zipping past you at high speed, are actually iridescent blue; and the bird blinks with milky reptilian-style eyelids that close from side to side. I set the swallow down under a tree by the roadside, dropped off my motorcycle at home, and came back on foot. It was still there where I’d left it, so I picked it up again, thinking I’d probably take it to an avian vet I know. This time, though, it only perched on my finger for a few seconds before taking off and flying away into the distance. Apparently it could fly all along; I have no idea what it was doing sitting in the middle of the road. (Something similar happened with a little brown bat that showed up on my doorstep one morning. It let me pick it up, and I was quite sure it was unable to fly, but after drinking some milk it suddenly spread its wings and began flying around the living room.)


This is not the first time I’ve been thinking of a particular kind of bird, only to have an actual bird of that species suddenly materialize and walk into my life. Back in 2011 (as described in this post), I had just been reading about a boy who had had a racing pigeon with a number band on its leg show up at his house — when a racing pigeon with a number band on its leg showed up at my house!


More recently — a week or two ago — I pulled off a similar Jumanji-like trick with a centipede. I’m usually in the middle of three or four different books at any given time, and at that time I was reading (among others) C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters and Piers Anthony’s Centaur Aisle. Shortly after having read in Centaur Aisle about “nickelpedes” — described as being like centipedes but five times as big and fierce — I turned to Screwtape and found that I had come to the part where the title character inadvertently transforms himself into a large centipede. I was just about to mention this not-terribly-impressive coincidence to my wife when I noticed something big and black wriggling across the living room floor. It was, of course, an enormous centipede — only the third centipede I’ve encountered in the past decade.

(Years ago I designed a vaguely tarot-inspired deck of picture cards, and one of the cards depicted a big black centipede crawling out of an open book. That card seems a little creepy now.)


Obviously these experiences can’t possibly be anything other than freak coincidences, but — well, let’s just say I’m making a point of not reading any books about cobras these days.



Filed under Anecdotes, Coincidence / Synchronicity

Waking precognition: a trial run

Having already attempted to duplicate J. W. Dunne’s experiments in dream precognition, I am now making a similar attempt with regard to waking precognition.

Dunne’s method is to concentrate on a book which one is about to read (so as to provide a future anchor for associations) and note down whatever images come to mind — rejecting all images which pertain to the past. The next step is to actually read the book and see if any of those images appear in it — or in one’s outside life around the time of reading the book.

For my first organized experiment in this type of precognition, I chose the Kindle edition of the Townsend translation of the poems of Giacomo Leopardi. I chose an e-book so as to be sure that I hadn’t flipped through it and seen something before beginning to read it. I chose this particular work because I had downloaded it pretty much at random, never having read a review of it, had it recommended to me, or anything like that.

(I had just read Evola’s Ride the Tiger followed by Williams’s Place of the Lion, so simple logic — the same logic that makes me keep The Green Knight, The Black Prince, and The Red Queen together on my bookshelf — dictated that my next book ought to be something with a leopard or jaguar in the title. Not being in the mood for Salman Rushdie, I searched Gutenberg for leopards and came up with Leopardi. I sent it to my Kindle but didn’t actually read it until just now.)

Looking at the title page — and only the title page — I concentrated on the author’s name and got the following images and words:

  1. a pointed spiral seashell — something along the lines of a turret snail or a horn snail (I sketched it in my notebook)
  2. very long green grass waving in the wind
  3. a man vaulting over a long, narrow black table — pressing his palms down on the table and jumping with his legs spread out gymnastics-style; I didn’t see his face, only his hands and legs
  4. a young white woman (late twenties, probably) wearing a bright red dress (very slightly orange-ish), shaking something out of her long wavy light brown hair
  5. a left hand writing with a white quill pen
  6. a long black worm with a dry cord-like appearance, disposed in a sine-wave-like shape on a light-brown wooden surface; I noted very clearly that it was definitely not a snake
  7. the word “sapphire”
  8. the phrase “then shall we know”
  9. something which I didn’t hear very clearly, but which sounded like “terms of tray”
  10. the phrase “black words” — pronounced with a strong stress on the first word, so it sounded like the word “backwards” with an l-sound interposed.

I noted down these images on Wednesday, April 24, and then immediately started reading the book. Since I only read it for several minutes each day, I didn’t finish it until April 30.

Here are the results I got:

  1. nothing
  2. Leopardi’s poem “The Ginestra” contains a reference to “waving fields of golden grain.” Since the greenness of the grass was one of the most salient aspects of the image I saw, and since Leopardi puts similar emphasis on a quite different color, I don’t think this can be considered a hit.
  3. nothing
  4. On Saturday, April 27, I went to a movie theater with my wife, niece, and nephew to watch Iron Man 3. At the theater I saw a young white women, probably in her late twenties, with long wavy light brown hair, and wearing a bright scarlet strapless minidress. She would have been eye-catching in any context, but all the more so in Taiwan, where white people are exceedingly few and far between (I often go for weeks without seeing a single one), and where extremely casual dress is even more the norm than in America. She didn’t shake anything out of her hair, but she did toss it about in that horse-like way that some women have. (Not until the next day did I make the connection with my Leopardi images; my immediate thought, reinforced by the fact that she was accompanied by two men in black suits, was that she looked like the woman in the red dress from the Matrix.)
  5. nothing
  6. On Tuesday, April 30, I arrived early for an English class which I teach in a conference room at a manufacturing company, so to kill time I pulled out my Kindle and read some Leopardi. Then, while I was reading, I suddenly noticed the table I was sitting at: a light brown wooden surface exactly like the one I had seen. A laptop was sitting in the middle of it, and the black cord of its mouse was disposed in a sine-wave-like shape. There was not the slightest doubt that this was the image I had seen on the 24th and mistaken for a worm (though, as I had noted at the time, a “cord-like” worm). However, I teach in this room — with that same tabletop, laptop, and mouse cord — every week and have been doing so for months, so this clearly can’t be considered a specifically precognitive image.
  7. One of Leopardi’s poems is called “The Last Song of Sappho” — phonetically similar to “sapphire.” Since I had heard the word “sapphire” rather than seeing an actual sapphire, this seems like a near-hit.
  8. nothing
  9. nothing
  10. nothing

All in all, I’d say this experiment was a wash. The woman in red is the only one that seems even a little bit impressive.

One mistake I made was that I tried to pick up many different images as quickly as possible, rather than lingering over each and trying to pick up more details. As a result, many of the images are so common or vague that they would have been of no value as evidence even if they had come true in every particular. Next time around, I will insist on higher-quality images rather than simply jotting down every vague thing that pops into my head.


The next book I will be trying this with is The Letters of Lord Nelson to Lady Hamilton, Vol. II — selected at random so as to minimize the chances of my having had any past exposure to it. (The selection method was as follows. First I asked for a random integer between 1 and 5000; it gave me 3312. Then I looked up entry 3312 in Davies and Gardner’s Frequency Dictionary of Contemporary American English, which gave me the word admire. Finally, I typed admire into the search box and chose the last result on the list. Since the results are ranked by popularity, choosing the last one is a way of avoiding very popular books, again with the aim of minimizing the chances of past exposure.)

For the benefit of any readers who may wish to try this kind of experiment themselves, here are five other titles, all available free from Gutenberg, selected by the same method:

  1. Robert Green Ingersoll. Hell.
  2. Archibald Makellar. An Investigation into the Nature of Black Phthisis.
  3. Edward Everett Hale. If, Yes and Perhaps.
  4. Knowles King. The Wesleyan Methodist Pulpit in Malvern.
  5. Tappan Wentworth. Report of the Hoosac Tunnel and Troy and Greenfield Railroad, by the Joint Standing Committee of 1866.

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Filed under Precognition / Prophecy