Developmental thoughts

As I found out the hard way: babies doe not come with instructions. Well actually they do, but I don't think that single sheet of A4 paper the hospital hands you after they're done with you is a proper manual. You can buy numerous books about them little critters but none explain in a satisfactory simple way the developmental process that is currently complicating your life.

You see, for some reason, on rather fixed points (with a variation of a couple of weeks) in their little lives babies switch into some kind of parent-über-irritation mode. Going from perfectly happy publicly presentable sickingly cuteness to bloodcurdling unmanageable pieces of contradiction. The books tell you they're going through periods of complex change in which they may acquire new abilities which themselves are not fixed, but which are possible within the blah blah blah.

They're not fooling anyone. Them babies are leveling.

With the coming of the game era, current generations are well trusted with the mechanisms of electronic adventuring and player development. Perhaps I am the first to notice, but babies do level. When they've acquired enough experience points, they level. And when they do, they themselves choose in what skills, feats or abilities they invest the harvested XP.

Those few lines, myverygoodfriends, explain in crystal clear simplicity and complete to the last detail the developmental process of babies.

It goes without saying that some babies gather XP faster than others and that some skills only become available at certain levels. For instance, our child is currently spending all it's XP on physicals: increasing balance, stamina, strength etc. putting next to no points in speech development. But however hard she may try, she still has no sufficient level do gain "walking". The books will tell you that's because of the fact that her body is not yet properly shaped, and only when she reaches certain proportions she be able to walk. But you can just as well say that she hasn't got sufficient level to unlock that skill.

Pointless list

Lists. Pointless numerically ordered scraps of data, if possible consisting of multiples of 10. The internet is bursting with lists. The best, the worst, the weirdest, name it, they've listed it. Why do people make lists? Is it because of the intrinsic human nature to categorize everything? Is there a basic instinct that forces us to evaluate, numerically quantify, scale and compare everything we come across?

Maybe you think it's weird, a scientist like me ranting about lists. After all, we scientists are the most notoire list makers of all. Day after day we conduct experiments, neatly writing down the numbers we measure. Ah! the thrill of science.

Except in my case my notes are more a like a diary of the steep decline of my handwriting mixed with cynical remarks and drawings of robots and tragically anatomically incorrect female bodies. Hell it ain't even a decent lab book, I make a draft using loose papers, overflow from the copier, they lie around, getting mixed up, awaiting the glorious day I'll finally copy them in my final version, my official lab book. A day I've been putting off for more than a year now. King of procrastination I am.

But why I am telling you all this? Because I have the burning urge to make a list myself, a strange feeling I haven't had before. And it would be a totally useless list: a list of comic books I've read and enjoyed. I mean: I've already read them! What on earth I am going to do with such a list? So I decided to put it up here.

I don't know where this burning desire to make this list comes from. At first it was like a mental challenge "in retrospect, what are the best books you've read". Laugh you may, but I find it actually very hard to make a short list of my favourites: comparing & measuring stuff that can't be compared and measured. Maybe to the average human being this isn't hard because they do it all the time, and it's just me and my uncompromising refusal to put everything in little squares and somehow compare it to everything else in the known universe. It would explain why I loathe "top X lists" that much. And yet here I am, trying to come up with a list of the best graphic novels I've read.

I'll stop whining and just give you the god damn list. I don't knwo if it'll be a multiple of 10, I'm still come up with titles that matched my stringent criteria (after reading them being haunted for at least 3 days by the images & the plot in dreams, nightmares, daydreams, whatever). Nor is it in a fixed order: Ranking them all so that some are better and some worse, that is beyond my capacities. Also, all the stories listed are finished works, no ongoing series.

Nausicaa of the valley of the wind (Hayao Miyazaki)
A long fantastic & heroic tale that grips you from the very first chapter to the very last pen stroke. A solid plot with giant insects! I will not try to summarize it, you'd better read it: but know this: it's going nowhere you'd expect it to. The drawings are clear black & white and surprisingly western for a Japanese work.

Akira / Domû (Katushiro Otomo)
Ok, those are actually 2 works there. I could not decide which is better: Akira or Domû. Akira is longer, more violent, more complicated. Domû is something very different, yet still it has the same eerie touch of supernatural powers & of course there's blood by the gallon, death & destruction but it is somehow better timed. Due to it's short length Domû has the advantage that it really explodes in your face: fast & gripping. Yet Akira has more story, will let you get attached to the characters & see them evolve, there is more dept. Read'm both is what I say.

Carnival of the Immortals (Enki Bilal)
Now there's an unusual story with matching artwork: In a dystopian future the ancient immortal egyptian gods have arrived in Paris in their huge flying pyramid/spaceship and they demand fuel, loads of fuel. We follow the adventures of the vengeful God Horus, who has turned on his brethren and is searching a way to annoy/harm them. Meanwhile the Paris' fascist government tries to negotiate with the gods to get something in return for the astronomical amounts of petrol they demand, mostly personal favours for the regent. Bilal is a very skilful artists, every page bursts with weird fascinating details creating a universe of chaos, madness and poetry. I am well aware of the fact that there are 2 more books following this "Carnival of the immortals" in what is commonly referred to as the Nikopol trilogy. Yet I've always felt them as somewhat artificial extensions of the original story. The last page of the book does not ask for 2 more volumes, as I see it, the story is finished there. But of course, you're free to read them and form your own opinion as I did.

the Incal (Moebius & Alejandro Jodorowski)
Another mad adventure set in a dystopian future. This time you follow the selfish and cowardly private detective John Difool and his concrete parrot Deepo as he receives the "Incal of the light" from the hands of dying alien creature. The incal is an object of immense power and, needles to say, soon John finds himself dragged into a vortex of mad adventure featuring some of the most crazy characters you'll ever come across in comic land. Moebius' overactive mind and his powerful visual style take you on a journey no portion of psychoactive mushrooms could ever grant you. Jodorowski's story spawns characters so powerful they've got a comic series of their own now and the plot reads like a joint venture between Alice in Wonderland & Naked lunch. It'll take you more then a couple of days to come down of this trip.

Watchmen (Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons)
America and it's superhero stories, I've never felt much for them, those sterile asexual good doers in their brightly coloured spandex suits. Yet here's a story by the magnificent Alen Moore (V for vendetta, from hell, etc) about real people with no superpowers who dress up in silly suits to clear the streets of villains. Or at least so they used to: after a police strike and lots of public protests they were forced to retire, and now they live normal lives. But the year is 1985 and we're in the middle of the cold war: full scale nuclear conflict can burst loose any day and someone has started killing of the retired masked men. Or so it seems... The drawings are not exactly what I'd call an example of pure genius, they're a bit dated and seldom spectacular, but they're more than adequate to drive the story. Featuring unforgettable characters like Rorsach, Night Owl and Dr Manhattan and a firmly gripping story that'll make you turn page after page the book manifests itself as a real thriller. Both on the psychological level and the more down to earth action level. The sole drawback for me were the frequent background references to a certain movie which kind of spoil the final plot twist (only if you've seen the movie of course, and unless you're into 1950's science fiction movies those chances are pretty slim).

Maus (Art Spiegelman)
The only comic ever to receive a pulitzer prize, I don't know if that's a good reference: I've never read any other pulitzer nominated stuff. Yet it says something about how this comic is different from any other. Spiegelman tells the story of the things his dad went through during the second world war. Yet the way he tells the story is wholly unique: combining his own problematic relationship with his dad, the latter his story, the creative process of the comic and much more into a single diary like narration of great depth and power. The artwork is somewhat unusual but contains many genius aspects, like the depiction of the different nationalities as different animal species, it might sound silly, but it works. In reading the comic you gain insight in the true horrors of the war, the way the people were, how merciless people become when their lives are at stake and how the nazis used that to their advantage (or simply to torture others) and most importantly in the psychological trauma the survivors carry with them. It all sounds boring when I reread what I've just written, but the story of Maus is actually exciting and funny. Although the grim realization that all of it is true often gives the punchlines a bitter taste.

The trenchwar (C'était la guerre des tranchées) by Tardi
What Spiegelman did to me for the second world war, Tardi did for the first. Their works are by no means comparable, except thematically perhaps, and the fact that both are done in black & white only. Tardi's work is a collection of smaller stories about the life of soldiers in the trenches. A life you of which simply cannot begin to imagine the horror & cruelty. Tardi's knowledge about the first war is encyclopedic, every detail you can find in the drawings is historically correct, yet his drawings have none of the dry correctness usually present in historical comics. He creates a very vivid, almost cartoonesque image of that era, capturing the spirit of it all. He takes you on a trip to the deep end of the gutters of history & the man's inhuman insanity. Shell shock, patriotism, blood, guts, mud, suicide, and a total absence of all things heroic. This one will stick to your ribs for many days.

the Great Capacity of Chninkel (Jean Van Hamme & Grzegorz Rosinski)
Voted best comic of the past century in Belgium & a ton of other prizes. This book tells the story of a world of small elf-like creatures (Chninkels) and the three immortal tyrants that oppress the Chninkel people. In beautiful black & white panels you follow J'on a lowly Chninkel who is, very much against his own will, imposed by the one true god with the role of messiah (and receives "the great power") and must now free his people. The story will draw you in in no time, with nice, somewhat classic, plot twists but the punch line of it all is truly a PUNCH line: you didn't see it coming, and you're left dazed. You'll sympathize almost immediately with the somewhat anti-hero J'on & the pitiful Chninkels. This comic contains a load of criticism towards religion in general & Catholicism in specific but it's never too obvious to be annoying. Recently a coloured edition appeared, but personally I don't think the colour adds to the strength of the story, on the contrary.

Xoco first 2 albums (Thomas Mosdi & Olivier Ledroit)
I've always been a big fan of Ledroit's art and I could've put any of his works here, but this one sticks out because of the intense story (Thomas Mosdy) and the way the drawings reflect the dark horroresque atmosphere suck you in like an industrial strength vacuum cleaner the size of the large hadron collider. Ledroit does a superb job with unusual camera angles & unconventional page layout, furthermore the intense use of dark colours & matching tones makes into a perfect, comic-catched film noir. I've put "first 2 albums", this implies there are more, and indeed there are. The first two albums form a single finished story (and I mean solidly finished). Yet somehow (most probably because of their success) the publisher wanted to continue the series, even if that meant changing artist. As from album 3 the drawings are done by Christophe Palma, and although he does a rather good job, he lacks the genius of Ledroit. Also, the story takes a very strange turn (well yeah, after all it was completely finished at the end of album 2) and never again reaches it's original quality, the stupid story-extending cliff hangers are too bad for words. Yet that doesn't diminish the superb quality of the original story, it's one of the few European comics I can re-read any time, so get out there and read it!

Corto Maltese in Siberia (Hugo Pratt)
Many are the adventures of Corto Maltese, the idiosyncratic sailor, and his mad russian companion Rasputin. This is perhaps to least mystical of his adventures, but certainly one of the best drawn ones (as far as I'm concerned), for Pratt's style was ever evolving and no 2 albums had a completely identical style. As always in Pratt's stories the historical setting is of paramount importance to the story: It is 1919, Russia is in the throes of revolution, the czarist army in retreat. Imperial China is in ruins, shattered into a horde of private kingdoms ruled by warlords. From Manchuria, Japanese, English and American forces manipulate what's left of the republic to satisfy their own conflicting interests. Here we find Corto, on his way to capture the gold of the Russian tzars, meeting many a historical character. And I don't mean dusty history book characters, but very lively ones: like the beautiful Duchess Seminova or the mad baron Ungern von Sternberg on his bloody path to no victory at all and the White Russian dictator Admiral Kolchak. This is one of the greatest adventure stories in the world.

If you haven't read any of the above you're an illiterate fool unworthy of internet access.


Since blogging takes more time than clicking...


updated daily, enjoy

And if you're not into the feed thing yet. Get your lazy ass to work.

I guess this didn't start overnight

Invasions, they're everywhere...

Stormtroopers for instance, unheard of 30 years ago. Now you can't imagine a world without them...And if you haven't noticed, insects are taking over too:

Allthough for that particular problem there might be a cure.

You look like you need to get in shape

Does your poodle work out?

And since we're talking about upper body strength...

Why not try this workout: use the force here ... Garantuees result in less then 30 days!

Or if your goal is not supreme muscular show-off, you can always try the zen-approach whilst getting a workout for the arms: Sure to keep you busy for days.

But beware: there are certain dangers in over-doing it, so be sure to read the instructions and use yer common sense...

And if you're not into the entire body-thing: there are other things you can do on a sunny day like this.

Not quite the average bedtime story

One day, now many a month ago, somebody pointed out to that I should produce literature or at least try to write a short story to make better use of the eclectic phrases I tend to produce.

Guess what, I actually did it.

After months of incubating and fermenting weird ideas and crazed plotlines I have smeared the resulting poisonously insane ooze out over a number of pages. Unfortunately for all you international readers the story is in Dutch (well after all it is my mother tongue) and I wouldn't recommend trying to put it through one of the many online translation tools.

I have chosen for a modern day remix of a classic tale, not safe for the fragile of mind though. Anyway, sit back, relax, lock op yer children and read ahead: use the clicky power

As for comments & reactions: I bet you all know how to behave


Creationists are on the rise. that's not just awful, that's god-afwul.

And that's all I'll say about it, rather than ranting about how utterly ignorant and stupendously unscientific they are I'd like to point out some of the rather strange unintended side-effects their struggle produced. Well actualy, I'd just like to notify you of the existence of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It's quite a long story to explain how it came into being, so I'll just leave that up to someone else: In his name we pray, Ramen.

On of the core pillars of belief of the Church of the FSM is the fact that the decline in piracy is to blame for Global warming. Their are papers on the subject. A lot of people seem to join in the pirate bussiness, one way or another and some are trying very hard to spread the word. Others are just trying very hard. Personally I believe Ninja's have a better chance of reversing the temperature rise, and you needn't buy an eye-patch.

And if you don't believe that, you can always join my roadkill worship cult on facebook.


Cranial considerations

Hair, for some reason, I've been giving it a lot of thought lately. It's not what you think. I've been wondering just how fast our capital plush grows. More specific if it grows with the same speed in every person. This might seem trivial, but the outcome of that question has rather serious consequences.

What bothers me is the fact that I cannot come up with any good biological reason to why there should be large differences in capital filament extension rate between human beings. Sure there will be differences & exceptions, but hairgrowthrate will most probably be normally distributed in our population due to the complexity of the metabolic processes involved. That means that the cranial decoration of all people will elongate with at roughly the same speed.

Absolute speed that is.

And that particular detail has caused sparks in my grey matter. For it means that short people will have to pay the hairdresser a visit more frequently as their relative change in coiffure is a lot faster than that of taller people. eg. the hair of a dwarf will reach it's ancles much faster than that of a giant if it grows at the same speed.

Unless small persons have a really slow metabolism of course, but I think we can rule that one out.

Anyway this means that you have the best chances of seeing really small people when having your haircut adjusted by a professional, and that small people will have to spend a significantly larger amount of their budget on hair care. Are there any small people out there who can confirm this? I think I've got some material for a publication in Science here.

Spring Haiku

For this years Hanami I have composed a Haiku which I will share with you all! The original is in Dutch, but I've worked out an English translation for all you international readers:

Het feit dat in mei
vogels zitten met een ei
geeft menig aambei

The fact that in spring
many a bird lays an egg
oft leeds to piles