Monthly Archives: October 2006

Tying the knot

I’m going to my friends Jamie & Darby’s wedding tomorrow (actually later today), which will be my first ever “black tie” event, so I had to rent a tuxedo and all the trimmings from Eisenberg & Eisenberg, a rental shop on the same block as my work in Manhattan.

This also means that I will have to wear a bow tie. Now, I have it on reliable authority that everyone in America uses “pre-tied” bow ties, where the bow is basically stitched onto the end of the tie and you just fasten it around your collar with a clip like a necklace. Indeed, this is what rented tuxedos are usually supplied with.

However, my father programmed me from an early age to believe that clip-on bow ties are unacceptable, so I asked the guys in the rental store for a “self-tie” bow tie instead — which caused them to raise their eyebrows a little, especially when I said that I would also have to teach myself how to tie it. In the end they were good enough to give me both kinds, just in case.

But I followed a link from a Wikipedia article about bow ties to some instructions on how to tie a bow tie earlier this evening, and basically nailed it on the third or fourth attempt — it wasn’t actually that hard at all.

And as Oscar Wilde allegedly once said:

“Learning how to tie a bow tie really well is the first important step in life.”

Face Blind

Today I read a fascinating article in Wired Magazine issue 14.11 about prosopagnosia — face blindness. People suffering from this condition — and recent research suggests it could be up to 2% of the population — have difficulty recognizing faces. In severe cases, sufferers cannot recognize any faces, including the faces of their spouses or children!

I was particularly interested in this article because I’m not very good at recognizing faces myself; I’m sometimes unsure if someone is who I think they are, and I’ve mistaken strangers for people that I know in the past. The worst example, though, happened about 10 years ago: I bumped into my cousin Tracey and completely failed to recognize her, even though we used to see each other weekly growing up.

Anyway, the Wired article included this handy facial recognition test, which I hope they won’t mind me reproducing (in modified, low-res, heavily-credited and entirely not-for-personal-gain form) here:

I was only able to recognize 3 of the 6 faces: A, B & F.

I tried it on a couple of other people, and they were both able to get 6 out of 6 (although one of my test subjects had a little trouble with D, as it’s kind of a weird picture).

So it looks as if I’m partially face blind! Anyway, I filled out a survey form at, the website of the Prosopagnosia Research Centers at Harvard University and University College London.

Decompression Babies

I recently added a new page to my website about my being a decompression baby — during the final months of her pregnancy with me, my mother spent half an hour or so every day in a strange contraption that lowered the atmospheric pressure on her abdomen.

The theory was that daily sessions of mild abdominal decompression on a pregnant women would result in increased bloodflow — and therefore oxygenation — to her foetus, which in turn would result in an easier pregnancy and a “smarter, healthier baby” (according to David M. Rorvik with O.S. Heyns, D.Sc, who published the only book I could find on the subject in 1973).

It seems to have gone out of medical vogue now, but apparently there are some tens of thousands of decompression babies in the World — all presumably about my age.

How Many Dead?

How many Iraqi civilians have died as a result of Gulf War II? A new report published by the respected medical journal The Lancet claims that there have been 655,000 more deaths than there would have been otherwise, a figure that is an order of magnitude greater than other sources, and that also represents 2.5% of the entire population of Iraq:

Gilbert Burnham, Riyadh Lafta, Shannon Doocy, Les Roberts, Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional cluster sample survey. Published Online October 11, 2006 DOI:10.1016/S0140-6736(06)69491-9


Scyld sent me a link to a very funny video — it’s a spoken re-enactment of the transcripts of the instant-messenger dialogue between disgraced Republican Congressman and pervert Mark Foley and a 16-year old page boy.

Cracked Video: An Overly Friendly Conversation

After listening to this it becomes clear why this scandal is such a huge blow for the Republican party.

However, apparently some of the right-wing media here in the U.S. are handling this P.R. disaster, less than 4 weeks before the forthcoming Congressional elections on 7 November, by simply labelling Foley as a Democrat!

My very own Foley conspiracy theory

That’s another kind of perversion altogether.

Anyway, to end on a lighter-but-still-political note, here’s a joke I received today:

President Bush gets out of his helicopter
in front of the White House carrying a baby
pig under each arm.

The Marine guard snaps to attention,
salutes, and says: “Nice pigs, sir.”

Bush replies: “These are not pigs, these
are Texan Razorback Hogs. I got one for
Secretary of State Rice, and I got one
for Defence Secretary Rumsfeld.”

The Marine again snaps to attention,
salutes, and says, “Nice trade, sir.”

Call for Change

I did something I’ve never done before earlier this evening; I volunteered to spend two hours in a large, almost-empty room above a funeral home in Brooklyn, with about a dozen other people, cold-calling people in upstate New York and Arizona as part’s Call for Change Campaign.

Call for Change is basically a “get out the vote” campaign (incidentally, am I the only person who finds this expression semantically cumbersome and bizarre?) for the forthcoming Congressional elections on 7 November. Apparently there are 30 close races, and it would only take 15 of those 30 to go to the Democrats for them to gain control of Congress. The aim of Call for Change is to make 5 million phone calls to probable “progressive” voters who might not otherwise go out to vote.

However, I wasn’t calling voters; my job was to call other members, and persuade them to call voters. All they need to do to take part in the Call for Change Campaign is commit to spending one hour over the next 7 days calling voters to remind them to vote. members that were really keen could commit to becoming “phone volunteers,” by calling for at least an hour every week up until the elections, and then as much as possible on the day before the election and election day itself.

I have to admit, cold-calling wasn’t a whole lot of fun, even though I wasn’t selling anything; I made about 60 calls, most of which were either unanswered or went to voicemail. I also had some difficulty making some people understand me because of my accent, and there were a few people who just hung up on me.

But I did manage to get three people (apparently this is above average) to sign up (enthusiastically) to be phone volunteers, so hopefully they will follow through and it will have been worth it.


At long last the CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model (CIDOC CRM), a standard for exchanging information between museums, libararies and archives that I helped edit for several years, has made it through the International Organization for Standardization’s glacially slow approval process and been published as ISO Standard 21127: A reference ontology for the interchange of cultural heritage information. And it’s a bargain at only 200 Swiss Francs!

Massive Attack

I finally got to see one of my all-time favourite bands earlier this week when Massive Attack played at the Roseland Ballroom in New York. I’ve been trying to see them live for pretty much the last decade, but since I’ve lived in the U.S. for more than 7 of the last 10 years, and this is the first time they’ve toured the U.S. in 9 years, it’s been tricky (pun intended).

Fortunately they didn’t disappoint, despite my massive (pun also intended) expectations… They’ve only produced 4 “proper” albums in 15 years (Blue Lines, Protection, Mezzanine and 100th Window) and they played material from all of them, in a set that lasted about 1.5 hours. However, I felt that they played more tracks from Mezzanine than any of the other albums, which was fine with me since it’s possibly my all-time favourite album. They even wheeled out some of the guest artists they’ve worked with over the years, such as the ageing Horace Andy, and Elizabeth Frazer, who used to be the vocalist for the Cocteau Twins, who I listened to when I was 14!

The lighting was effective and unusual, but also occasionally uncomfortably bright; they were lit mostly by a backdrop wall of powerful LEDs that rendered the band almost always in silhouette.

Massive Attack at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City, 4 October 2006. (c) Tony Gill 2006

Massive Attack are quite political, and there were LED dot-matrix facts about the inequalities in the global economy etc. constantly scrolling along the base of the stage — although they were probably only visible to people at the front (or people over 6’6″ tall). Del Naja also mentioned the dire situation in Darfur at one point.

The event didn’t quite sell out, which surprised me (and I think also some ticket touts outside!), but Roseland is a pretty big venue, they played three consecutive nights, and tickets were on the pricey side at $50 + $8 TicketPleb gouge.

Shooting War

Shooting War is an online graphic novel set in a credible dystopian near-future in Brooklyn & Baghdad, where a blogger from Williamsburg ends up reporting the deteriorating situation in Iraq for a sleazy terror-TV network after unintentionally filming a Starbucks getting blown up directly below his apartment in Williamsburg.

I really enjoyed it, and just read all 11 chapters in one sitting.