Carl Banks' Blog

Viewing all blog posts (Page 2 of 11)

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.


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
Last Edited: 29 September 2014, 12:08 PM
No comments. - Add a comment.

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.


  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.


[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
Last Edited: 26 September 2014, 9:59 PM
No comments. - Add a comment.

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.


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.


[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
Last Edited: 22 September 2014, 7:35 PM
No comments. - Add a comment.

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.

No comments. - Add a comment.

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?


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.


[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
Last Edited: 4 July 2014, 5:24 PM
No comments. - Add a comment.

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.


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
Last Edited: 22 June 2014, 12:41 PM
No comments. - Add a comment.

My most hated fictional protagonists

The vast majority of time, whenever we read a book or watch a movie or TV show, we sympathize with, if we don't actually like, the protagonist. This is because the writer controls our exposure to the character and can present the character in a sympathetic way, even when the character has attributes we don't like.

Some other stories deliberately make the protagonist unlikable or unsympathizable. But again, the writer is controlling our perspective, only now they're presenting the character in an unsympathetic way.

But once in awhile, a storywriter will intend to write a sympathetic protagonist, but fail. That's what this post is about. This post is a list of fictional sympathetic protagonists I hated and actively rooted against.

Toru Okada, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles

Toru Okada, from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, is my fourth most hated protoagonist. Actually hate might be a strong word, and I suppose my hatred mostly isn't actually personal against Toru. It's mostly that I didn't want Toru to ever come into contact with anyone. Toru was basically a bum who had a house thanks to family, and was as ineffective and useless a main character as I've ever seen. But somehow, in the rare times he ever did anything, everyone he came into contact with ended up with major psychological trouble, at least until some shady people recognized his "talent" and exploited it.

Toru, by virtue of being the one of the most ineffective and useless people ever written down, was the one who deserved the psychological trauma he was causing others. Not that the other characters were any good—in fact, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles is probably the only book I've ever read where I didn't like a single major character—but they were at least doing something.

Jack Tripper, Three's Company

Jack Tripper and the Three's Company gang basically exhibit what I like to call sitcom-think. Basically it means that as soon as you suspect someone might disapprove of something you did, you go to ridiculous extremes to prevent that person from finding out, and oftentimes the scheme is obviously not something that can be sustained. To a certain extent this kind of thinking to drive half-hour sitcom plots so a lot of sitcom characters have it, but Jack Tripper takes it to an unbearable extreme, and he never learns anything, ever.

There are other sitcoms where people never learn anything (Seinfeld is a classic example) but in those, the character is at least somewhat high-functioning in their default state. Jack Tripper is the kind of character whose whole reason for existing is to learn a lesson. In other works, that's the sole reason this kind of character would be a protagonist, and you can never feel a catharsis until that character learns their lesson.

But we never have a catharsis in Three's Company because Jack never learns, in fact he never even faces any seriously negative consequences at all.

I realized how bad I hated Jack Tripper when I was watching Three's Company once, and realized that I was actively, from the bottom of my heart, rooting for the thug Jack was trying to avoid. I'm not just saying that to be edgy or to exaggerate: I really, from the bottom of my heart, wanted the thug to beat up Jack Tripper.

Aron Trask, East of Eden

I am not sure whether John Steinbeck actually wanted us to like Aron Trask, per se, but we definitely were supposed to symathize. I didn't. In fact, I think one of the most delightful things I ever read was the scene were Abra burned all his old love letters.

I hate to say it, but Aron represents (to an extreme extent) some of the faults I see in myself, so maybe I'm being unfair. (I should mention that I am talking about the Aron from the novel; in the movie a lot of the subtext on Aron came to the surface, giving him more of an edge which actually made him less nauseating.) Aron is the prototypical fragile pretty-boy. As a youth Aron was shielded from reality, by virtue of being te favorite by everyone on accont of being so pretty and sweet. As a result he became one of those people who believes anything can be overcome by the power of love—not just any love, his love specifically—and is genuinely wounded to his very core when reality happens and everyone doesn't share it. And—this is te nauseating part—his reaction to reality is to double down and get even more idealistic and then get even more wounded when his efforts still produced no results.

I can only imagine what his evenings with Abra were like, she being forced to listen as he got more and more crazy and earnest over how powerful their love was and that it could overcome anything.


Nikolai Rostov, War and Peace

My most hated character of all is Nikolai Rostov from War and Peace. I read War and Peace the very boring summer before I headed off to college, and I may have misunderstood Tolstoy's intent. But Tolstoy seemed to intend Nikolai and his sister Natasha (also not one of my favorites) to represent normal average people who were swept up in the events of the Napoleonic Wars, but in fact they were pretty much just the redneck trash on the lower-end of Russian nobility. Honestly, the Rostovs in general could very well have been a reality TV family with all their drama.

You might have noticed a theme in characters I don't like: they tend to be ineffective people who react to difficult circumstances with even more ineffectiveness. Nikolai is no exception: he pretty much sucked at everything he tried. But what made Nikolai truly insufferable was that, not only did he think he was just a great guy in every eay, the other characters did too.

So. Nikolai Rostov, in his actions and thoughts, is probabaly the biggest pussy ever set upon paper, but the author, all the characters in the book, and Nikolai himself, thought that he was this great awesome guy. As a result, everything he did wrong (which was, in fact, everything he did) was forgiven... because he was such a great guy. And we are supposed to feel sorry for this great guy when all this bad stuff happens to him—a good portion of which was his own fault—and oh, by the way, when he backstabs his own cousin, breaking his promise to marry her so he could marry an heiress (who deserved better) so he could get weasel out of the gambling debt he got himself into, we're supposed to think, "Ah, there's a guy who got things done in the end."

I wanted to strangle him right through the page.

I highly suspect Tolstoy intended for the in-universe sympathy for Nikolai to be ironic. I hope so, because other than the Rostovs, War and Peace has a lot of good characters and was a great story. But if it was ironic he played it perfectly straight: maybe until the epilogue where Nikolai's nephew has no respect for him but does respect Pierre and his father Prince Andrei.

Tags: hate, literature, protagonists
Last Edited: 3 June 2014, 6:47 PM
No comments. - Add a comment.

Quantum thought of the day

I don't think I'd trust quantum randomness to generate cryptographically secure passwords or encryption keys. At least not for anything important.

Here's the problem. When you use quantum randomness, you are giving demons a perfect opportunity to sabotage you. Ok, let's step back, because you're probably saying "What the..." right now.

Of course, we don't know that demons exist. Let's face it, scientific investigations into supernatural beings have consistently shown no evidence of them. So, if demons do exist, their effects are going to be subject to the laws of physics; thus, the only chance they have to manipulate things in the real world is through non-deterministic processes. That means quantum effects.

Furthermore, whatever effect they have has to also obey quantum probabilities (otherwise it would be a violation of the second law of thermodynamics, which is a statistical law, yes, but if demons made a habit of breaking it, we'd notice). This severely limits what the hypothetical quantum demons could do. Because of the second law, quantum effects rarely come into play in the macroscopic world.

But it can become an issue when scientists start rigging the real world to react to quantum effects. The classic thought experiment is, of course, Schrödinger's cat. (Briefly, the scientist puts a cat in a box with a vial or poison gas. The vial is hooked up to a Geiger counter, and will release its gas if the Geiger counter detects an alpha particle. The counter is aimed at a sample that has a 50% chance of releasing a an alpha particle in one hour.) Now, suppose a scientist sets up a Schrödinger's cat experiment. And condsider that there is no scientific test that can distinguish between a natural random decay and a demon-manipulated decay. This means, if there is a demon who really, really hates that cat, then that cat is pretty much dead meat. (Well, it's not dead meat until the scientist opens the box and observes it, but you get the idea.)

The only limitation that a demon has is that, if the scientist decides to run 100 Schrödinger's cat experiments, the demon will have to keep the results to around 50 alive / 50 dead. If the demon hates all cats then there's not much it can do, it can only kill about half of them. However, if the demon hates just one cat, you can bet that cat will be among the dead.

Now, instead of this silly cat experiment, let's say we're using quantum randomness to generate encryption keys to secure important data. A demon wanting to sabotage your data security can potentially manipulate the random values to introduce a weakness into the key.

Now, I'm not saying demons exist. They probably don't. But still, if I had something really important hanging in the balance, I'm not so sure I'd trust demons not to exist.

Note: I'm only being half tongue-in-cheek about this.

I don't really think there are demons manipulating quantum interactions. But if push comes to shove, and something really, really important is on the line, this is something I would think about when choosing a strategy. If I needed an absolutely secure key to stop a nuclear missle launch, I'm not so sure I'd trust a quantum random key when a deterministic, pseudo-random key can be nearly as secure.

On the other hand, if the situation were dire, let's say maybe I was trying to brute force a password override to stop the nuclear launch, I'd maybe consider using quantum random values while praying that a benevolenet demon could help find the code faster.

Tags: demon, encryption, quantum_mechanics, schroedingers_cat
Last Edited: 28 March 2014, 12:15 PM
No comments. - Add a comment.

List of Things I Refuse to Start

I, having been myself for more than 3 and a half decades, have learned a few things about myself. One thing being, I am very good at abstention but very bad at moderation. For this reason there are many things I refuse to do even once, for fear that I might become hooked and have to face the looming burden of abstaining since I don't trust myself to moderate.

Here's a short list of those things.

  • Alcohol
  • Any other drug prone to habit-forming
  • Multiplayer online games
  • Any sleeping pill at all
  • Golf
  • Sudoku
Tags: abstention, moderation
Last Edited: 25 January 2014, 12:44 AM
No comments. - Add a comment.

Things Americans really are bad at

A lot of times, people on the Internet (and sometimes even in real life), when lamenting some defect in humanity will begin their sentence with the word "Americans", as if Americans are the only people in the world who have questionable societal weaknesses.

Normally I roll my eyes at this. People are people everywhere, and a lot of "America's weaknesses" are really humanity's.

However, culture is also culture, and different cultures are different, so there are bound to be some things America really is bad at. Here are a couple examples I could think of.

  • Schooling. The American educational system isn't bad, per se. We hear a lot of the stories we hear about Taiwanese and German kids learning differential equations in third grade when American kids struggle with adding fractions, but those stories are usually missing some vitally important context (like, for example, maybe the Taiwanese kids have no humanities, art, or history, and represent only the top 2%).

    However, one aspect where Amercian schooling just sucks is the emphasis on obedience, and absolute trust in the instructor. I believe this creates an attitude in Americans that authority is something that must be placated at all times. This carries over to real life. I've noticed that a lot of Americans completely overestimate the risk of confronting management.

    Other countries don't seem to have this issue. People seem to have enjoyed schooling more in other countries, and be more at ease at their work.

  • Geography. I don't really think this is the educational system's fault. We do a reasonable job teaching geography, but for cultural reasons Americans don't retain it, whereas they do much better in other countries. This, I believe, is mostly due to the fact that it doesn't really matter much what direction you are heading in in America, you will end up in a place that speaks the same language and has more or less the same culture, except near somet of the borders.

  • Freeway driving. European philosophy tends to favor not hard limits on speed, as we do in America, but on obeying respectful driving rules such as never cruising in the left lane and not tailgating.

    Street driving, however, is another matter entirely.

  • Another thing that Americans do on the road that is beyond retarded is to merge a mile ahead of a merge point. People who merge early will then get mad when someone who isn't retarded decides to drive down the lane everyone is getting out of.

    Studies have shown that staying in lane and zippering at the merge point will get more cars through the merge faster, and cause traffic to back up less. But that's beside the point. The point is, Americans get irrirated at "cheaters" that they are deliberately enabling. If everyone just stayed in their lane and zippered at the merge point, nobody could "cheat".

    In Europe, people zipper at merges.

Tags: america, driving, education, geography
Last Edited: 27 December 2013, 7:33 PM
No comments. - Add a comment.
Viewing all blog posts (Page 2 of 11)