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The Dress

So apparently the most controversial thing to ever happen is this dress that no one can agree what color it is, and the illusion is so strong that some narrowminded actually think it's a hoax perpetuated by half the population.

The science behind the illusion isn't really that controversial. Some people's visual systems see it (incorrectly) as a white-colored dress in shadow; other people's visual systems see it (correctly) as a blue dress in the light. It's a well-known effect called color constancy, and you can see a bunch of relatively innocuous examples of it on the Internet.

What's interesting about this illusion (to me) is just how little context is needed to get the illusion for some people, including myself sometimes. There is a narrow strip of overexposed background on the upper-right corner, and that is apparently enough to cause our brains to think the dress is in shadow. So I wondered whether an object in the foreground, say another dress, that was clearly in the light, could thwart the illusion.

People who only see the dress as gold and white: how do you see this image? I did nothing at all to the color of the original dress; I only added the red dress in front of it (and a little drop shadow).

http://www.aerojockey.com/clips/dress-with-context.jpg

I sometimes see the original image as white and gold, but never this one. For me the dress is always blue and black in this image.

Tags: color_constancy, dress, optical_illusion
Permalink: http://blog.aerojockey.com/post/thedress
Last Edited: 2 March 2015, 12:17 AM
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Game of Thrones "Predictions" #6

I am now finished with A Storm of Swords (which now appears to be poorly named since there was less fighting in this book than the first two). Also unlike the first two books, it ended up with no real cliffhangers (except for a literal one that was resolved before the end), but a did end up with a lot of open questions.

As such, I really have less to go on than in prior books. In those books there was a state of war, so the people involved had immediate motivations, but now with so much left open I don't have a lot of material to work with. What is Tyrion doing now? What would motivate him, and how does he plan to get it? What is Petyr going to do with Sansa? What is Stannis going to do (or, more accurately, how is he)?

Also, when is winter? It barely looks like autumn in a lot of places. One of the few things I knew about Westeros before I started reading was that seasons were unpredictable and lasted for many years, and given that it was this apparently significant fact, I was expecting the books to cover several cycles, not a 3-year transition from late summer to early autumn.

Another thing I keep waiting for is for people I built an emotional connection to die. That was pretty much the other fact I knew about these books. So far, nothing much. Closest thing to it was Renly. Are people talking about Ned and Catelyn and Robb? Or does it not really get going until the next two books?

Prior Predictions

Turned out to be wrong on a few predictions. Here they are.

  1. I predicted (way back) that Sensa would be the first Stark child to die, since I was thinking they would die in the same order as the direwolves. Now, we know Robb is dead (probably permanently since they cut off his head), and ironically, Sansa is the only one most people think is still alive.
  2. I predicted a big mess at Edmund Tully's endagement at the Twins (and in truth, it was kind of hard not to forsee; one of the reasons I think Martin spent time with Robb and Catelyn discussing battle plans against Pike was to throw us off a little, try to make us think those moments mattered), but I didn't anticipate just how shamelessly treaterous the Freys were. As such all the predictions I made were wrong. So Sandor Clegane never delivered Arya and we never had any drama over that (or with Roose Bolton demanding justice for the man she killed). I did predict Robb would never make it out of the Twins alive, but I was expecting something more subtle: a dagger after the ceremony or something.

However, I was right (or partially right) about quite a few.

  1. I predicted that Sansa keeping her meeting with Dontos would let her escape; I was wrong about it being that particular meeting, but was right about her keeping those meetings allowing her eventually to escape.
  2. I predicted that Arya would somehow reunite with Needle. Soon after I made it, I thought, "Oh come on, you have to be kidding, there is no room for that kind of sentimentality in these books." Lo and behold....
  3. I predicted that Shae would break Tyrion's heart at some point. She did a good job faking it.
  4. I predicted that Rosalin would be beautiful. She was a little awkward and weak but definitely looked a lot better than Edmund Tully was expecting.
  5. I predicted that Jaime's reuniting with Cersei would be not

Also, my prediction that the Others would turn out to be the same beings as the Children of the Forest was not proven, but it did get some good evidence: Melisandre called the Others the "Children of the Other". I realized that Melisandre often called the enemy of R'hllor the Other, but I never connected this with the Others. Perhaps because I think of Melisandre as coming from a hot, desert-like climate.

Predictions

  1. Both Clegane brothers have (or seem to have) septic wounds. We are led to think they will both die. Which is why I don't think neither one will. I positively hope Gregor dies since he's not that interesting a character. But the case with Sandor seems almost too contrived for him to die there. I am not even sure that he was a ailing as he let on.
  2. The one person with a clear motivation is Daenerys. I am prediciting she will do as she intends (remain queen in Meereen and maybe even expand), but something will happen at some point to interrupt it, and I'm guessing it's not something good (from her persepective). She'll see an opportunity or something and go off to seek her throne in Westeros. Perhaps it has
  3. Jon Snow is technically the Lord of Winterfell right now, with or without Stannis's offer, since Robb disinherited his siblings before he died. As far as I can make out, the end of the novel is maybe two months or so after the massacre at the Freys, so it might not have been well-publicized heretofore. Maybe the maesters have to get together and verify it or something. But the news will hit fairly soon and it'll cause some trouble. (My first guess would be with Petyr since he is probably thinking Tyrion will be killed and he'll marry Sansa and inherit Winterfell through here. Also what if Bran shows up, who would have been the Lord of Winterfell if not for being disinherited?)
  4. Hard to guess what Tyrion might do. My guess at his only motivation is to get revenge on Cersei, and I have no other idea. He wanted Casterly Rock but apart from getting rid of Cersei (who I believe has inherited it since Jaime is ineligible) I doubt he would be rash enough to think he could get it right away. As far as I know, the only person in the world he thinks he is friends with is none other than Jon Snow, so that is who I am guessing he'll be seeking out. He might even take the black.... Another thought: he could seek out Daenerys and ally himself with the Targaryens. However, I doubt he'd have much of a read on how powerful she had grown.
  5. Arya is headed for Braavos. Her main motivation seems to be killing lots of people, so I'm guessing she is heading off to be a made a warrior princess. Maybe a witch like Melisandre, or a warrior like Brienne.
  6. Since Jaime sent Brienne off, it seems like she might start getting her own chapters. There is no one to follow her travels, unless she suddenly appears in a Sansa chapter. If she doesn't get her own chapters, that's what I'm guessing happens.
  7. The situation at King's Landing is a mess. Tommen is king, but with Tywin gone who will step up to be leader? Seems like it'll be a mess. My early guess is that Pycelle will be the King's Hand, but I don't know how stable that situation will be. It seems as if the Tyrells (Ser Loras's clan) will get a little conquesty, maybe the Dornish peoples as well.

Questions

I can't really make a prediction about Petyr and Sansa. One thing that surprised me is how deftly Petyr kidnapped Sansa, seemingly without Varys noticing it. I am not so sure I belive Varys has birds listening everywhere like everyone thinks he does, but I find it hard to believe that Varys wouldn't have noticed. This means that either Varys is in on it, or that Petyr is a lot more formidable than he has looked. I'd guess the latter, given the cool way he dealt with the situation with Lady Arryn. Now he has the Vale (since he's likely to be regent) and has his eyes on Winterfell (via a planned marriage to Sansa) but what is he going to do if he finds that Tyrion is alive, and that Robb disinherited Sansa? Also, it seems he will soon have Brienne to deal with.

Bran, I mean seriously, what the hell is he doing. For several months he's been traveling to meet some seer in the middle of nowhere who's probably going to tell him to man up and go be Lord of Winterfell already.

Tags: game_of_thrones, literature, predictions
Permalink: http://blog.aerojockey.com/post/gameofthrones6
Last Edited: 23 February 2015, 1:15 AM
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Game of Thrones "Predictions" #5

I'm about halfway through A Storm of Swords and I have to say it is a big improvement, easily my favorite of the three books so far. (The Tyrion chapters were pretty much the only good thing from A Clash of Kings.) Anyway, I have more hilarious "predictions" coming.

Right now here is where it stands. Arya has been captured by Sandor Clegane and he's revealed to her that he's not taking her to King's Landing but to the Twins to return her to her mother. Robb and Catelyn are heading toward the Twins in an endless downpour, and Robb has laid out plans to attack the ironmen. Sansa is married to Tyrion but they still haven't done it. Daenerys has captured Yunkai relatively peacefully. Jon has escaped the wildlings and rode on ahead to Castle Black to warn them. Samwell has encountered a mysterious Night's Watchman. Jaime has been released by Roose Bolton, then returned to rescue Brienne from the Bloody Mummers. Davos has been made Stannis's Hand.

Prior Predicions

A couple of my predicitons did turn out to be hilariously wrong.

  1. I predicted that the Melisandre's shadow child was Patches, mainly trying to think of the most unlikely person possible. Based on Melisandre's words as she was trying to seduce Davos, clearly the child was Lord Stannis.
  2. I predicted Jon Snow's mother was a Targaryen, thinking it was the only person Ned would want to cover up so bad. Now we've been told it's a servant called Wylla in the house of Dayne, and that Ned apparently made a pretext of loving Ashara Dayne to get to Wylla, and that Ashara killed herself over it. Ouch, no wonder he kept it secret.

But I was right on a couple:

  1. Correctly predicted who was alive and dead at the end of the second book.
  2. Correctly predicted a stalemate between Lannisters and Starks as the Starks went to deal with the ironmen.

Predictions

  1. A word on religion. I doubt it'll ever be resolved explicitly, but it appers that the gods are taking an active role in the events of Westeros. The problem is, we don't know if it's the gods, or mere magic, or what. For instance, it's not said if the pyromancers are invoking any gods to do their alchemy, but then they imply that the presense of dragons in the world might be helping their alchemical skills to be more efficient implying that it's more than just alchemy.

    • The God of Light, R'hllor, seems to be the most powerful god in the story. If it was only Melisandre doing it, I'd guess that she is just a powerful sorceress, and that R'hllor wasn't real. But Lord Beric and Thoros also follow R'hllor and they seem to get revelations the same way at least, and Lord Beric survives assassination attempts.
    • However, R'hllor is not all-powerful, and even Thoros admits that in some locations the old nameless gods are stronger. The old gods have been credited with enough that I'm inclined to think they exist also. The direwolves, answering Samwise Tully's prayer, and the revelations of the old woman on High Heart. However, none of these are certain.
    • I have yet to see anything that suggests the new gods (Mother, Father, Crone, etc.) are real.
    • The gods in the east are implied to have some kind of power, and some knowledge of magic (such as through the maegi) is there, but nothing is certain. Technically, R'hllor is an Eastern god (Melisandre is from Asshai) but I'm not counting him.

    The thing that's not clear at all is whether different god are more or less powerful, or if people are more or less skilled at channeling the gods.

    My prediction is that the latter is true: the gods may or may not have varying powers, but the primary determination is the skills of the person in channeling that power. Melisandre is powerful witch who is better than anyone at channeling, even if R'hllor himself is a relatively weak god.

    One wrinkle to this is that the influence of the gods (or general metaphysical abstractions, which may be the same thing) reflects their global popularity. The pyromancers became more powerful ostensibly because dragons had been born a continent away, which made Fire a more influential "God" all over the world. Likewise, Thoros was self-admitted bad priest, until one day he was suddenly able to resurrect Lord Beric. Could it be because Melisandre was gaining power with R'hllor at the same time, or is it also connected to the dragons, or both?

  2. The meeting at the Twins is probably going to turn into a royal mess.

    • I am suspicious of the Frey's motives.
    • Arya's headed there, so is Roose Bolton. When Sandor Clegane delivers her, Roose will recognize her as the person who stole three horses and killed a sentry (which, if you think about it, makes Arya a grand hypocrite when it comes to Clegane). Robb and Catelyn will not hear anything of having Arya be punished fir this. This will likely honk of Roose and they will pull out of the northern alliance.
    • Roose's delivery of Jaime to the Lannisters will likely honk off others in the North as well. (Although it's not certain he'd want to admit this, but he might after he gets slighted.)
    • Robb will probably do something stupid like turn down Sandor's service and just pay him gold, probably a lot more than he has to as well.
    • I'm guessing Robb doesn't leave the Twins alive.
    • And probably would have if Roose hadn't left.
    • Which means that Jon Snow becomes Lord of Winterfell, even though all of Robb's brothers and sisters are still alive. Disinheriting Sansa might have been a good idea, but given that Arya's status was still uncertain, he shouldn't have disinherited her.
    • So now there's a succession crisis over Winterfell, and the Pykes still attacking.
  3. Among other reasons why I think Robb is doomed is the curse the Stannis placed on them. He burned three leeches, one for each usurper: Balon, Joffrey, and Robb. Balon already died under strange circumstances. So I predict that Robb does as well. On the bright side, this also means Joffrey dies.

    I'm a little skeptical of this, though, because I think the ability to cast curses on people over great distances like this would upset the balance in a story like this. Another reason: Robb's old gods have some power and might be able to protect him from the curse.

  4. Robb thinks that there will be succession crisis in Pyke now that Balon has died, but remember this is based on information from the idiot Theon Greyjoy. Based on the text it sounds as if Asha might not actually have any rivals as heir, so the North attack might take them in at a vulnerable moment like they thought.

  5. Rosalin will turn out to be beautiful. The story is clearly implying that Edmund Tully and everyone else expects her to be a ugly hose beast, which is why I'm predicting she won't be.

  6. Gendry will start to get his own chapters. This will allow us to continue to follow Lord Beric and Thoros and the outlaws.

  7. Sansa still has hope in escaping. We are told that her marriage to Tyrion is still annullable because they hadn't had relations, so of course we are going yo think she's going to get with Dantos again and escape as they originally planned. Which is why I think it won't happen that way. I'd guess things are going according to plan when she gets raped (or sillier, she loses her mind and has sex with someone like Ser Loras), thus can no longer prove her maidenhood and so can't get an annulment).

  8. The person that rescused Samwell? Benjen Stark. We are led to believe he shared the fate of Waymar Royce and others who became wights, but they never found out what happened to him.

  9. Jaime is clearly enamored with Brienne in spite of himself. (We know Jaime would think nothing to treaterously kill his enemies, so when he leaves her alive despite several opportunities to eliminate her, we know something about her attracts him.) I guess he reunites with Cercei and suddenly finds her lacking in some way. She'll find him lacking in some way, too.

  10. Jaime wouldn't be able to release Sansa, although he had decided to.

  11. Children of the Forest? The Others? Same thing.

Random Thoughts

I had written earlier that the Lannisters were boring because they were a stereotypical evil family. However, I did opine that maybe they were acting the role deliberately, and from the Jaime chapters it is clear that is the case for him at least.

I was very happy to see that the first chapter of this novel was a Jaime chapter, because he seemed like a character with so much potential. He rocketed to be my favorite character when I read these lines: "Jaime had decided that he would return Sansa, and the younger girl as well if she could be found. It was not like to win him back his lost honor, but the notion of keeping faith when they all expected betrayal amused him more than he could say."

Davos is probably the least believable character in the whole series. I find it hard to believe that this timid, honest-to-a-fault man was once a fearless smuggler.

The Daenerys story was so interesting in A Game of Thrones. After she hatched the dragons, I was expecting an exiting story of conquest as her little khal slowly reconquered all of the Dothraki. But she spent all of the second novel and half the third novel running from city to city trying to gain favors, and it got lame and stayed lame. Then she attacked Astapor and it instantly got real interesting again. Took long enough.

I hope Asha gets her own chapters.

Tags: game_of_thrones, literature, predictions
Permalink: http://blog.aerojockey.com/post/gameofthrones5
Last Edited: 29 November 2014, 8:51 AM
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Game of Thrones "Predictions" #4

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the first two novels of A Song of Ice and Fire: A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings.

I am done reading the second novel, A Clash of Kings. My first two sets of "predictions" either have not been resolved, have been way off base, or have been correct. This time, though, I have made some hilariously bad ones.

Assesment of prior predictions

Some of my predictions turned out to be correct. Halfway through the first novel I predicted Theon would turn out to have a significant role, and that he'd be a destabilizing factor to the Starks. Boy was I right, though I expected his distabilizing influence to be from within.

Then I hilariously predicted that he might recapitulate and help the Starks after his cool treatment from his own family. That doesn't seem like it'll happen now, though, even if he's still alive. In retrospect that's kind of a dumb prediction. Theon was clearly going to be one of those people who, when shunned by his family, would actually try harder.

I predicted that it would turn out that the Small Council was on Ned's side early on but he lost them. Doesn't appear to be so, though. Only one that might have been true for is Varys.

For awhile there I was afraid that my prediction that Bran would survive to the end was (nearly immediately) wrong, but I guess not. So that prediction still stands.

I definitely predicted the standoff between Stannis and Renly would be very unexpected (and perhaps out of nowhere), and I was totally right. I did not correctly predict what would happen, but that was kind of tangential to my main prediction and I only threw it out there.

I predicted that Sansa would find escape the very night she successfully lied to Tyrion, thinking it a waste for this to be just a character milestone for Sansa, but I guess it was. (It's kind of amusing that she and Ser Dontos have been able to keep their meetings a secret under Lannister eyes for so long.)

I correctly predicted Anya's second victim, but was wrong about the identity and circumstance of #3 (which turned out to be more like victims 3-10). Although victim #11, by her own hand, was the same circumstance as I predicted for #3.

Predictions

  1. The fate of several characters is unanswered.
    • Ser Davos: Alive. Metareasoning here: he needs more page time to earn more sympathy.
    • Jaime Lannister: Alive. Catelyn cut out his tongue I'm guessing.
    • Lord Stannis: Alive. On one hand, dying is too convenient an excuse to explain his disappearance. On the other, I think the story would be more interesting with him gone. His heir is now his daughter, and his wife and Melisandre would control her. I'll go with A, and predict that Melisandre (or, more likely, her shadow child) is responsible for whisking him away.
    • Theon Greyjoy: Dead. (It's heavily implied, but Martin leaves just enough room open for him to survive.)
  2. Who is the shadow child? Davos said he knew who it was. I highly doubt it was Lord Stannis (although the story kind of implied it is him based on his dream when Lord Renly was being killed). It had to be someone Davos knows, and is almost certainly someone we know. That leaves only a few people. The one I am guessing is... Patches. The fool. I'll go so far as to predict that Patches's original wit was stolen by Melisandre to serve as the shadow child.
  3. So now the Lannisters control all the lands South of God's eye. What happens next? I kind of doubt they'll team up with Pike and the Greyjoys. A lot of Stannis's army will doubtless bend the knee to Joffrey, but I still expect them to keep busy keeping down some insurrection. Robb is going to have to pay more attention to the North. So Lannisters versus Starks will stagnate for awhile, while Robb deals with the Ironmen.
  4. Theon's dream where Robb and Grey Wind were stabbed? I don't believe it. Theon has shown no signs of prescient dreams. Robb might be killed yet (and I do kind of expect it sooner or later) but it's not anything to do with Theon's dream.
  5. The fact that everyone was told Bran and Rickon were killed is going to cause trouble later on.

New characters I like and disklike

Characters I thought were interesting

  1. Theon Greyjoy, if only for the sheer trainwreck factor. Similar to Viserys Targaryen, in a way.
  2. Asha Greyjoy, for being awesome.
  3. Quorin Halfhand. Too bad he bit it.

Characters I thought were not interesting

  1. Ser Davos: Kind of a flat character. Martin didn't really build enough sympathy for him.
  2. Melisandre. So far she's just a stereotypical evil witch, though in fairness, she didn't have a lot of coverage.

Random Thoughts

Of the characters who died so far, Renly Baratheon was the one I was closest to being attached to. He would have made a great king, in spite of his flaws.

I had thought the Starks were stupid. No, Theon Greyjoy is stupid. He did not do a single thing in the whole novel that wasn't completely off-the-wall brain-dead. He never planned for or even considered anything beyond step one (and sometimes he didn't even consider that, as when he declined to return with Asha), and every single thing he did, or didn't do, had negative repurcussions later on. Also he completely disregarded everyone's very explicit statements of his standing in the family. (And it's not like he was oblivious to it like Viserys Targaryen was; Theon knew and understood his standing in the family, but then simply acted like it didn't apply to him.)

Whenever the Lannisters engage in brutality, there is a reason for it. Even Joffrey has a degree of insane logic to his saddistic tendencies. For Theon, whether he was being brutal or magnanimous, the ony rationale behind his decision seems to be how can he do the most utterly stupid thing possible.

Arya's moral crossover is slightly, but not wholly, unexpected. After watching the Mountain and Tickler for so long, and after indirectly killing through a hitman, why wouldn't she pick up those same behaviors? Still, everything she does shows that she's smarter than everyone else in her family. She actually learns from her mistakes.

Tags: game_of_thrones, literature, predictions
Permalink: http://blog.aerojockey.com/post/gameofthrones4
Last Edited: 7 October 2014, 12:18 AM
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Game of Thrones "Predictions" #3

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the first two novels of A Song of Ice and Fire: A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings.

Continuing on my series of "predictions" on A Song of Ice and Fire, I am now about halfway complete with the second novel, A Clash of Kings. I stopped readong right before as Stannis and Renly Baratheon seem ready to attack one another: they've already had their face-to-face mediated hopelessly by Catelyn Stark, and basically just agreed to fight. Arya had just used her hitman to kill her first saddistic Lannister. Tyrion has arrested Pycelle and kicked him off the Small Council, and then rescued Sensa from a beating (and at the very end Sansa seems to have one-upped him in the lying). Jon Snow is on the way to confront Mance Rayder. That's where I am.

Assessment of Prior Predicions

Well, my predictions after the first novel were way off base because I was expecting a time jump, for a few reasons.

  1. Peace seemed likely because of the relative positions of the armies. (I didn't anticipate that they would dig in and start petty warfare for several months, nor that Renly would take his sweet old time advancing on King's Landing.)
  2. Based on book descriptions, I was expecting several changes of season throughout the series, but since the seasons are so long a flash forward seemed like a good way to advance in time to get those seasons in. (Also, I didn't think the series was ready for winter yet, and thought it might bypass a short one.)
  3. Not only is peace boring, but so is stalemate. I figured Martin would want to get back to the exciting part, war, quickly and so time jump ahead quickly to the point it would erupt again. (Obviously, Martin disagreed.)

As a result of this incorrect assumption, many of my predictions were about the aftermath, rather than the immediate continuance of action. I incorrectly predicted that peace would be made (though under terms that were similar to but weaker than the actual Stark proposal), and that Renly would back off as a result and bide his time in Highgarden. I did correctly predict that a bunch of kings would spring up, but believed that the Lannisters would have instead consolidated and bided their time on that (and still think that's what they should have done).

I predicted that Arya would be conscripted into Night's Watch by Yoren, but I guess Yoren was actually trying to rescue her on the pretense of conscripting her. Still think she might end up there.

Predictions

Heretofore, I've been pretty wary of doing what I call metapredicting. Regular predicting would be to consider the personalities of the characters and the situations they're in, and try to predict what those characters would do. Metapredicting would be to think about what the author would do, and takes into account things like forwshadowing and surprise. But everything I heard about Game of Thrones led me to believe that Martin liked to build sympathy for characters only to kill them off, and that I therefore shouldn't trust him since he doesn't follow typical narrative structure. However, now that I've read more, I think I have enough familiarity to attempt a little metapredicting. In fact, I am even audacious enough to predict that one character will survive to the very end. But I am still wary.

  1. Bran is already known to have prescient dreams: his crow dream right before he awoke had information he couldn't have known in it. I suspect he'll reluctantly give up his dreams of knighthood and take up as a maester (or even a maegi).

  2. Based on the fact that authors like to "bookend" their works (have it begin and end the same way). Therefore, I predict that the very last chapter in the series will be entitled "Bran" where he will die at old age, probably as King of all Westeros. Note that this is a prediction, not a "prediction". (Though, of course, Bran might already be dead.)

  3. Renly versus Stannis I somehow have this feeling won't go at all the way we expect. I think it's been foreshadowed that the God of Light will actually bring great power to Stannis's small army (think of how Melisandre somehow was immune to the poison). Also, note that Davos is now a character with his own chapters; it'd be kind of a waste to do that for just two or three chapters. (Though he doesn't necessarily have to remain with Stannis.) With all the focus on Stannis in the narrative, it just seems unlikely that in the same narrative Renly would simply destroy Stannis's entire forces, then shrug his shoulders and move on to King's Landing. Factor in Renly's overconfidence and Davos's underconfidece, and we are definitely being conditioned to expect a "surprise" upset by Stannis that cripples Renly and allows the Lannisters to keep King's Landing and focus more effort on the Northerners.

    Which is exactly why I don't think it'll happen. Something completely unexpected, perhaps completely out of nowhere, will interfere with this battle and put both Renly and Stannis somewhere no one expected. I don't know what it'd be, but to throw out a guess, I'd say Stannis is not showing his whole forces. Ok, he actually is, but Melisandre has her own forces, followers of the God of Light, backing them up, that no one else has the slightest idea existed. Stannis will put up a good enough fight that Renly has to recall his other forces to break the siege. Then, decimated, Melisandre's forces will arrive to siege him.

  4. Sansa, as a I said, had a suprising one up on Tyrion and I hate to think it would go to waste. Sansa disappearing would certainly add an intriguing element to the story to parallel with Arya's disappearance. So, warily, I predict that Sansa's escape to the godswood that night will be crucially timed to allow her escape--then again it could also be crucially timed to allow something bad to happen as well.

  5. Arya. Wouldn't it be cool if she took down the Mountain? Don't think she will, though. I'd guess #2 is Tickler or Weese, and #3 is someone relatively nice like Shitmouth who she regrettably has to kill to allow her escape. She knows that Robb is (or was) in Riverrun, so she escapes somehow and travels there to reunite with her family. Somehow she'll reunite with Needle.

  6. Sansa has hope of escaping, Arya has fear of being recaptured, and Tyrion has sent experts to rescue Jaime Lannister. Two things would be interesting: a hostage rebalance in either side's favor, or a loss of all hostages (leaving no barrier to resume the war). I'd say most interesting would be to find the Lannisters without any hostages (Arya and Sansa both rejoin the Starks), but most shocking would be to find the Starks without any (Lannisters free Jaime then capture or kill Arya or Sansa). Tyrion's been on a roll lately and he's due for a fall, so I'll guess the Starks discover the Lannister's rescue team and send them back in boxes with the next peace offer, while rejoining Arya at least.

  7. What is that chain for? The only thing I can think of would be to hoist something. Is Tyrion going to deploy the wildfire from catapults deployed down the road, then drag the device back toward city walls as they manage to advance? Only think I can think of.

  8. With Robb marching more toward Casterly Rock, I am thinking the Iron Islands will open a painful second front on the North. However, Theon, who I originally thought would destabilize the Starks, might actually help them in the end due to the cool treatment from his family.

  9. Shae is faking it and will break Tyrion's heart (probably right before he is cruelly killed).

  10. Still too early for dragons and Others to make a major impact.

Random Thoughts

Not too much this time. Starks are still good warriors but stupid, Lannisters are smart but overly inflexible and have a major thorn in their side (Joffrey).

Renly Baratheon I declared very capable and think his easygoing style is actually very effective when combined with a decisive and serious personality underneath, which I think he has. Yet he has a weird blindness which I think might be his fatal flaw. For instance, he sees the obvious truth that his brother came to the Iron Throne in reality through power and not by inheriting it, but somehow misses that this doesn't impress people.

Tags: game_of_thrones, literature, predictions
Permalink: http://blog.aerojockey.com/post/gameofthrones3
Last Edited: 29 September 2014, 12:08 PM
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Game of Thrones "Predictions" #2

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the first novel of A Game of Thrones.

This post continues my series of hilariously inaccurate "predictions" of what's "going to" happen in what is to me the "upcoming" sequels in A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin.

Assessment of Prior Predictions

The only one of my predictions that has been jossed [1] is the idea that Daenarys's baby would be around to cause trouble (even though that prediction was tangential to the main one that Arya would vanquish Dany, not to mention obvious since an oracle prophesied that very thing). Since the baby died, that is not going to be true. However, it could still be true metaphorically (or even metaphysically). The maegi, Mirri Maz Duur, said that one life pays for another. The life of Dany's baby was used to pay for the life of Khal Drogo. Then, the lives of Khal Drogo, a stallion, and Mirri Maz Duur, were used to pay for the lives of the dragons. The way I see it, the prophesy might have applied to those dragons all along.

In any case, thanks to the dragons, I now doubt that Dany and Arya will face in combat as I predicted. Daenerys clearly leans more toward commanding than fighting herself.

Predictions

  1. The first novel ends with people talking about brokering a peace that would involve at least an independent North Kingdom, and perhaps a complete dissolution back to Seven Kingdoms.

    1. I predict it does happen that way: the Lannisters make peace with the Starks and Tullys. Terms being that 1. Kingdom of the North becomes independent, the Lannisters renounce all claims to the territory, 2. all traitors are pardonned, 3. prisoners are exchanged (Jaime et al. for Sansa et al.), and 4. Sansa's engagement to Joffrey is broken.
    2. Once this peace is brokered, Renly Baratheon realizes that (again) he won't have Northern assistance to depose the Lannisters. He backs off plans to advance on King's Landing but claims kingship of the Baratheon lands (in spite of Joffrey) and declares independence.
      • However, I was a little confused: in a couple places it sounded as if Renly had actually took King's Landing in a few places and depoesd Joffrey. I kind of doubt it because the plans to send Tyrion to King's Landing to serve as regent wouldn't have made sense.
    3. Several other domains declare their independence as well, and we end up with (what else?) Seven Kingdoms. The Lannisters are in a somewhat weak position miltarily and too afraid of Renly and Stanis Bartheon to devote much effort to oppose this, and so only keep King's Landing and their ancestral Castle Rock.
    4. Because of the peace, the second novel will probably flash forward a few years in time.
  2. The narrative left it a little unclear what happened to Arya. She was captured by Yoren, and Yoren handed her back her sword Needle and said to her, "Hope you can use that boy". I took it to mean that Yoren was conscripting her to the Night's Watch, and this is what I predict will happen: she'll try to keep her sex secret.

    However, several times later in the novel Catelyn Stark spoke as if the Lannister held both her daughters, even though when she met up with Robb they expressed doubt that the Lannisters had Arya. In which case Arya would have been exchanged along with Sansa. But I think the evidence points more strongly to Night's Watch conscription.

  3. Stannis versus Renly will become a thing. They appear to be two highly competent people (unlike Robert) with diametrically opposite political beliefs, both claiming not only the Baratheon lordship but also the Iron Throne.

  4. I feel like in the second novel Daenerys will spend her time consolidating the Dothraki sea and other eastern lands, and will not yet trouble Westeros. Likewise, the Others and other people north of the Wall are biding their time.

  5. Winter hasn't come yet by the time the action in the second novel starts, even though it's years later. Or maybe a short one (two years or so) comes and goes.

  6. Also probably not by the second novel, but at some point Bran will take Osha's warnings about the North seriously and save the day.

Random Thoughts

I wrote last time that I had started to pull for the Lannisters because everyone else was being retarded. I also wrote that I felt like the Lannisters were the least interesting clan because they were straightforward stereotypes of an evil family. Cersei, Jaime, Tywin, and Cersei's two youngest children all fit pretty well. But these families tend to have a few members that seem to break the mold (although that is part of the stereotype). One is the smart, not-wholly-evil one who nevertheless throws his weight behind the family even though he is cynical about them. That's Tyrion. Another one is the completely stupid one who is evil for fun of it. That's Joffrey. (Taking a page from D&D, we might say that an evil family is mostly Neutral Evil, but there are often a Lawful Evil and a Chaotic Evil member in the midst.)

Well, the point of this is, Joffrey is really thowing a kink into Lannister leadership, and I can't really pull for them as long as he is King. I belive that Cersei genuinely wanted to cultivate connections with Sansa and was willing for her sake, and because it was more useful, to let Ned take the Night's Watch, but Joffrey just wanted to be evil, and it really cost the Lannisters a lot of negotiating leverage. Cersei or Jaime Lannister on the throne would have been a good choice (but they can't because, unlike Joffrey, they were not "heirs" which means they'd be usurpers), or one of the younger children who are easier to control.

The Starks, as bad as they are at court intrigue, at least are good in battle.

Footnotes

[1]"Jossed" is a fanspeak term for when a sequel upsets whatever theories you had. I suspect it might be named after Joss Whedon but I'm not sure.
Tags: game_of_thrones, literature, predictions
Permalink: http://blog.aerojockey.com/post/gameofthrones2
Last Edited: 26 September 2014, 9:59 PM
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Game of Thrones "Predictions" #1

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the first half of the novel A Game of Thrones.

This is the post where I show my ignorance with "predictions" about what's going to happen in A Song of Ice and Fire (better known by the title of the first book, A Game of Thrones) by George R. R. Martin. As I write, am a little more than halfway through the first book. I stopped to write this right after Jon Snow attacked one of the Others in the Commander's quarters. It's after the Lannisters' coup d'état. Sensa Stark had been coerced to write her family. Arya Stark seems about to escape. Tyrion had made a deal to hand over the Vale of Arryn. That's where I am.

My "predictions" are certain to be hilarious, but maybe it could help you reexperience the state of unknowing just a bit. I plan to do this every half-book.

Note: I have never seen the HBO show, and have no intention to do so until after I finish the novels.

What I already knew

Before starting on the books, there were basically three things I knew about A Game of Thrones:

  1. Lots and lots of people are killed, including some of your favorite characters. I went into this ready to accept that anyone I liked was going down. (In fact, I figured that Martin would "pull a Clarence" [1] as a matter of routine; basically he'd build up sympathy a character for the express purpose of killing them later. However, having read half the first novel I don't think that's necessarily going to be "routine", but I'm sure it's going to happen at least once.)
  2. Winter and summer last for years. This is common knowledge, really. Since winter has not come yet (at least not literally) I still don't know how this is going to play out, or what really happens when winter comes. (I assume everyone starves and that add impetus to everything.)
  3. There's a big wall made of ice that's too big for humans to build, and may be held up with magic.

Numbers 2 and 3 were established early in the narrative so there's really no spoiler there.

Predictions

This is from most certain to least certain.

  1. Jon Snow's mother is a Targaryen. (This is kind of a case of "Who else would it be?"—apart from Cersei Lannister, there is no other person that we know of that Ned would need to so secret about.)
    • Side theory: I don't think this is necessarily true, but I wonder if Daenerys is also Ned Stark's child. It would explain why Ned is so loath to have her assassinated. The problem is that Daenerys has silver blonde hair, and Mendelian genetics has already been established. Then again there are those pesky recessive genes.... If it is true, then Jon Snow and Daenerys could even be brother and sister.)
  2. Sensa will be the first Stark child to die. I am thinking that the children die in the same order as the direwolves.
  3. Daenerys is the Big Bad (or, more likely, will be later in later books). It's clear that her true nature is not the timid girl she appears to be on the surface—I mean, she has bedroom dominance over the Ghenkis Khan of that universe.
  4. Arya will fight Daenerys, physically, for the whole thing: the Iron Throne of Westeros. Arya will win. But Daenerys's baby is still to be reckoned with. (That's if Arya isn't killed first, which she probably will be because I like her.)
  5. Theon Greyjoy has been given attention disproportionate to the role he's played so far, so I expect him to become important later. Perhaps as a destabilizing factor in the Stark house.
  6. Retroprediction: The Small Council was actually on Ned's side (if you call it that) at first, hoping he would be effective enough to stabilize things, because they didn't really like the Lannisters any more than anyone else. But once it became clear that he was going to blow it, they allied themselves with the Lannisters since they would still rather be on the winning side.

Characters I like and dislike

When talking about liking and disliking characters, there are really three questions for me: whether I sympathize with the character, whether I agree that the character is effective, and whether the character is interesting. These don't always overlap. I'll handle them separately.

In general, I think George R. R. Martin has done a good job building sympathy for the characters he wants you to sympathize with, and vice versa. I doubt there are any characters that I sympathize with, or not, in spite of GRRM.

As for character effectiveness: I personally don't like ineffective characters at all. If a character is ineffective I tend to dislike them even if I sympathize with them. What characters might those be? Let's see...

  1. Catelyn Stark
  2. Ned Stark
  3. In fact, all the Starks in general, except Arya. I mean, are they dumb or what? Some of them (Ned especially) were intelligent, but stupid, if you know what I mean. Ned often knew the right thing to do, but always decided to do something else.

On the other hand, I think certain characters are presented as ineffective that really are very smart:

  1. Renly Baratheon. He saw the danger presented by the Lannisters, proposed to act decisively in a way that probably would have staved of the Lannister coup, and then when Ned Stark stupidly ignored his proposal, was smart enough to leave town.
  2. Sandor Clegane: He is presented as a fierce warrior, but I think he's also cunning beneath. I also have a feeling he might switch sides.
  3. Daenerys, at first. But it has already become clear that she is way more formidable than she looks.

Finally, how interesting are the characters. Again I feel like Martin has done a great job. With the exception of the Lannisters (other than Tyrion) and Robert Baratheon, all of the main characters are well-written and interesting to some degree.

The Lannisters are an evil family stereotype played completely straight so far—even Tyrion fits the stereotype since most evil families have the "black sheep" who is not so evil. I wonder if there isn't more to them, though, either at a meta level (Martin has yet to reveal some underlying secret that would explain it, a la JK Rowling with Snape) or an in-universe level (the Lannisters themselves are deliberately playing the stereotype).

Robert Baratheon is just a lout and I think he was as simple and straightforward as he was portrayed. Since he was one of the first major characters to die, I think we can overlook it: his role was to be an uninteresting foil for more interesting people to play off.

The characters I find most interesting:

  • Arya Stark
  • Tyrion Lannister
  • Daenerys Targaryen
  • Viserys Targaryen (Yes. He was a fool who was all talk and no bite, but was so amusingly oblivious that I liked having him around.)

The characters I find least interesting:

  • Cersei Lannister
  • Robert Baratheon
  • Robb Stark
  • All of the Small Council (It was presented as if it were a colorful group of misfits, but I kind of think they are really just petty sycophants, though they have interesting personalities.)

Random Thoughts

  1. I need to pay more attention to people's hair and eye color. (I should've known better: in a book where there's obviously going to be succession crisis, and lots of illegitimate children, you almost certainly know this will come into play, and Mendelian genetics is certain to be a clue. If I had been paying attention, I would have figured out the one great mystery that's been revealed, that Robert's children are not his.)
  2. I started pulling for the Lannisters some chapters before their coup d'état, when it was clear that neither Ned or Robert knew what they were doing. Despite being murderous powermongers, at least the Lannisters would bring stability. (Of course they were starting down the inbreeding path the Targaryens took.)
  3. George R. R. Martin is a good writer, not just a good fantasy writer. (Which is not exactly the same thing. I think there are better fantasy writers, but the only fantasy writer that I've read that is a better writer is J. R. R. Tolkien.) I suspect that if he wrote about weightier matters he'd be Pulitzer Prize material.

Footnotes

[1]"Pulling a Clarence" is a reference to Shakespeare's play Richard III. Shakespeare gave us a long scene where the Duke of Clarence almost talks his way out of an execution, but then is cruelly killed anyway.
Tags: game_of_thrones, literature, predictions
Permalink: http://blog.aerojockey.com/post/gameofthrones1
Last Edited: 22 September 2014, 7:35 PM
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Me complaining about people who complain about the ice bucket challenge

All right, all this complaining about the ice bucket challenge is starting to annoy me to the point where I'm actually making a post about it.

(For those of you reading this three or so days later, after the viral sensation sweeping the Internet today has been forgotten, the ice bucket challenge is a personal challenge to your Internet friends to either donate $100 to ALS foundation, or to donate $10 and post a video of you dumping a bucket of ice water on yourself, while challenging more of your friends. The ALS foundation reports that it is a highly successful charity drive, netting them over $7 million.)

  1. All you people who say how stupid it is to do something so as to avoid giving less of your own money to charity? Well guess what: that's how many charity drives work in practice.

    Someone might spend $1000 dollars to run in a charity 5K race, then spends several months getting sponsors so that they are on the hook for less of their own money. It turns out the promise of spending less of your own money is a big motivating factor to collect donations, which is why many charity drives are structured that way. Maybe you're taking advantage of base human nature, but it works.

    No matter how stupid you think ice bucket challenge is, it's pretty much the same thing on a smaller and less formal scale. People have the option to donate their own money, or to donate less of their own money but instead do something to collect dontations from other people. There is no enforcement of it, so many people can and probably do cheat, but based on reports of record dontations, it's obviously many people are taking it seriously.

    IOW, it's working, and it's working on the same principles that some other charity drives use (that no one complains about).

  2. The amount of water "wasted" is paltry. Here's the thing: it's a one time thing. Very few people are ever going to throw more than one bucket of ice water on themselves in their entire lives. The lifetime amount of fresh water lost to the ice bucket challenge is 5 gallons per participant.

    Yet most of you have no problem dumping 20 gallons of fresh water on yourself EVERY DAY just to keep clean. If you made a pie chart showing water use from showering versus water use from ice bucket challenge, the ice bucket challenge slice would be too thin to see.

    If you can justify using all that water to keep yourself clean, then you're being really unfair to condemn using a miniscule percetage of that water for what is clearly an effective way to collect charity dontations.

So, to summarize, the ice bucket challenge 1. works the same way other charity drives work, and 2. uses far less water than people use for showering in one day, and 3. is highly successful. So just shut up.

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How to chop an onion without crying

How to chop an onion without crying. It's one of the most famous questions that everyone has a dozen answers to, none of which work; it is a question rivaled perhaps only by how to stop hiccups [1].

But I have the answer.

But first, let's do a quick review on why onions cause us to cry [2]. Onion cells produce a lot of irritating sulfur compounds that give them a unpleasant flavor. This evolved as a defense mechanism to prevent animals from eating them. When chopping onions, we break through the cell walls and cause all those sulfur compounds to be released into the air as vapors, which then go on to wreak havoc with our eyes. And here is the crucial fact: those sulfur compounds don't just leech out into the air all at once. A little bit gets out right away, but most of these vapors aren't released until the newly exposed surfaces react with the air a little and internal fluids start to permeate out. Most of the sulfur compounds won't be released until a minute or two after chopping.

So much most people already know. So the answer is to work fast, right? No, not quite, we're still missing something.

I take about a minute to chop half an onion. I can usually get through the first half without any problem at all, but by the time I get to the second half my eyes start to hurt and I'll have to step away. So it would seem that the second half of the onion had already sat there too long; when I sliced into it, the sulfur compounds were sitting there waiting to leech out and attack my eyes. Right?

Wrong.

The sulfur compounds that attacked my eyes were not coming from the second half of the onion, they were coming from the first half... which is now fully chopped, still sitting on the same cutting board, and right at the point in time where the sulfur compounds really start to come at you. We as humans have a tendency to think that the problem is what we're focusing on at the moment (in this case, the second half of the onion which I was currently chopping), but oftentimes the problem is really something else (the first half that I'd already finished chopping).

Realizing this was an epiphany. It instantly became obvious how to chop an onion and not tear up:

When you're done chopping the first half of the onion, move the chopped onions to another part of the kitchen, away from your eyes. Then chop the second half of the onion.

If you follow this advice, and you can chop each half of the onion in about a minute, you should be able to finish both halves without tearing up.


Footnotes

[1]Which is easy, actually: you just will yourself to stop hiccupping. Works 99% of the time.
[2]Actually, onions don't make me cry at all; they just make my eyes hurt like hell. For whatever reason my body has no lachrymal response to my eyes being chemically burned by sulfur compounds, so I have to either induce tears, throw water in my eyes, or just deal with it. But for the purposes of this blog post, we'll just call it crying.
Tags: chopping_onions, crying, lifehacking
Permalink: http://blog.aerojockey.com/post/chopping
Last Edited: 4 July 2014, 5:24 PM
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My Pulled Pork Tacos

This is my pulled pork taco recipe, which has got me nearly universal praise (the only exception being some friends who eat kosher who couldn't praise it for obvious reasons).

Pulled Pork Tacos

Finely chop up one cup of carrots, one cup of celery, and one cup of onion. (And don't be a lazy ass about it; chop them down to the size of peas. Chop the carrots lengthwise so you don't end up with medallions. Chop the celery lengthwise at least once to get rid of the U shape. If I see any U-shaped celery pieces, I will find you and hurt you.)

Get about 2 pounds of pork shoulder. (And do use shoulder. Save your loins for grilling or pan searing; today we braise.) Cut the shoulder into 2- to 3-inch cubes.

Lightly grease an cast iron dutch oven. (Note: If you are taking proper care of it it should already be lightly greased. Don't worry, I don't always do it either.) Get the dutch oven holy hot, then sear the hell out of the pork shoulder, all six sides of the cubes. At least three minutes per side at high heat. Remove the pork, and turn down the heat to medium, add the mirepoix and simmer for about 5-10 minutes (using the residual heat of the pan to get a nice sizzle—just for sound effects really, I don't know it if makes it taste any better). Then add the pork back, cover the pork with chicken stock, some beer or white wine, and about cup of salsa. (Homemade would be great but there's good jarred stuff. No beans in the salsa please.)

Cover the dutch over and simmer for awhile, then put the dutch oven in your real oven set to 250 degrees: just enough to boil the water. Check every so often to make sure there's enough liquid left so it doesn't burn.

When pork is tender enough to pull apart with a fork and much of the fluid had been reduced, remove from the big oven and pull the pork apart. (You could strain the mirepoix out if you wanted to, but I like to keep it in.)

Serve with Mexican toppings and tortillas.

Variations

Obviously using beef instead of pork is a simple variation. Ordinary stewing beef like you buy packaged at a supermarket (usually shoulder or chuck) would work fine, but you can up it a little by going for a flavorful cut such as sirlion tip or tri-tip. (Again, save the tenderest guts for dry heat.)

I find that braised beef can use a little ''something''. The braising process leaves it a little off: ''slightly'' stringy and ''slightly'' more bland than it should be. So I sear the beef in butter: it help bind it a little and enhances the flavor.

Tags: pulled_pork_tacos, recipe
Permalink: http://blog.aerojockey.com/post/pulledporktacos
Last Edited: 22 June 2014, 12:41 PM
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