“I shall make that trip. I shall go to Korea.” -Dwight D. Eisenhower

Korea is a country of stark contrast.

In Seoul, every city block sports looming high-rise buildings; proud giants standing testament to the recent rise of Korean industry. The history palace of Gyeongbokgung, in turn, looks like an artifact of forgotten centuries. It is not a facade, as the structure’s most recent destruction occurred during the Empire of Japan’s occupation in 1911, but is instead indicative of the technological leaps made in the last one hundred years.

At city limits, perhaps a kilometer from unbroken ground, the stoic edifices simply stop. Very few ramshackle constructions marking the edge of the city, almost as if the concrete structures simply leapt from the ground like trees. An apt metaphor, as one really does feel like they’re standing at the edge of a large forest; so dense and full of life and impenetrable.

The people of Seoul are a homogeneous bunch, as expected, though expectation cannot compare to the reality of some twenty million people sharing a culture, an identity, a heritage. Standing amid thousands of skinny, dark-haired faces, each with traces of individuality (yet statistically insignificant to my untrained eye) it was easy to feel like I had walked into something I should not have. As if this were something private, and I, an intruder.

I feel I should stop now, and apologize. For the delay, for the hiatus, for my inability to be contacted (which to be fair is more a side effect of my environment and isn’t really my fault.) Three weeks later, and here I am reporting: My time in Korea was wonderful. I learned plenty, ate lots of delicious Korean food, learned how to read Hangul, got accustomed to eating with chopsticks, and generally spent most of the time cursing and sweating at my friend Ian as we climbed seemingly every hill possible.

I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to Asia, or a better tour guide and companion. We saw so much, ate so much, and I even helped him find the local microbreweries to help ease his last two months in the country. As I’ve learned in the intermediate time: Seoul is a city of comforts. Their metro runs regularly and is more or less clean. The cost of living is very affordable, as long as you are not interested in property. There is generally available air conditioning, wifi, and accessible restaurants. The alphabet is easy to learn, so you can read just about anything, even if you don’t know what you’re saying (which, trust me, is way more useful than it sounds.) For all the culture shock and the alienation you feel, it is a remarkably easy place to visit, and I highly recommend it.

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“Time spent with cats is never wasted.” -Sigmund Freud

Though it’s generally considered good sense to approach anything Sigmund Freud said with skepticism, I agree with him on this one. And since even Freud probably couldn’t stretch a metaphor far enough to make a cat into a phallic symbol, I think we’re safe.

I’ve written about my family’s nuisance of house cats before, but it’s been, like, weeks, so I think we’re due another cat post.

So here’s Samwise’s User Guide to Kittehs:

First of all, congratulations! By adopting a little ball of fluff you have made your first steps toward the form of insanity known as cat ownership!

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Anything so cute has to be evil.

Raising and caring for a cat of your own can be a very rewarding experience, as long as you don’t actually expect them to listen to you, or love you in return. Actually, and no one will tell you this until after you adopt a cat, but that little shite is going to do whatever the heck it wants until you learn to put up with it. And you’re going to love it anyway. The most common misconception is that you can train your cat to certain things, and well, the idea is honestly just laughable. Your new cat, on the other hand, is trying to teach you the rules of cat ownership.

The first lesson your cat is trying to teach you: Expectation will always lead to disappointment. 

Living under the tyrannical rule of one of our feline overlords can be frustrating and disillusioning. I guarantee you that four out of five times you, the human, want to have a positive or emotional connection with your lord and master, your furry friend will snub you like yesterday’s beef and gravy bits. Whether you’re trying to play with their catnip mouse or wanting to snuggle before bed, you will most likely be beneath your liege’s notice.

Their emotional detachment will hurt you. Their offhanded rejection will come as a surprise, and it will only leave you craving their attentions more. The most important thing here is to accept it. You see, what is an abusive relationship between members of our own species is the expected norm in human-feline relations. You will spend much of your time vying for their approval, while they, in turn, do their best to accept your existence.

The second lesson your cat is trying to teach you: Learn to recognize my moods.

Cats are very different creatures from the other common, and clearly inferior, domestic species of dogs. They will not greet you with a wagging tail and a slobbery tongue, as they are not such base creatures (however, if you have forgotten to prepare their majesty’s regular meals, they may insistently remind you of your duties.)

As cats are higher beings, their moods are beyond our lowly comprehension. In their wisdom, however, they deign to approach their human servants with three recognizable “moods”: Happy, Angry, and Hungry. 

As I just said, a hungry cat will be actively seeking your attention as you have failed in your duties. Your furry master will most likely rub up against your legs, and then lead you to their dish. They will not lead you to where the food is kept, as they are above such matters and really, it’s your job to know that anyway. Should you not respond within the appropriate amount of time, usually five seconds, your lord or lady may also give you a short but sharp verbal rebuff.

Happy cats are seemingly hard to recognize for the inexperienced human. A Happy cat looks like this: url

 

A closed mouth and shut eyes are good signs of a content overlord, as well as a lazily sweeping tail. If you are successful in pleasing your cat, they will generally settle down for a nap, or if you’re lucky, a cuddle. Our masters also may vary their forms of affection, from a light nip to a heavy purr.

Angry cats are another story altogether. See how the Happy cat above has a gentle expression and perky ears? If you anger your cat, they will adopt a very different visage:

very-angry-cat

 

Oh shit.

Those humans who anger their overlords find that they experience fear on a primal level. An angry cat will make a human instinctually draw back, as we are subconsciously cognizant that a cat should never be angered. As you may have noticed, the ears are flattened instead of upright, the eyes are slitted in disgust, and the fangs are bared. Should you encounter an angry cat, your only hope of survival is to placate them as best you can, or run for your life.

Newcomers to cat ownership may commonly find their liege-lord with this expression:

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Do not be concerned. This expression simply means the cat is experiencing a level of reflection or emotion that you are not able to understand. You should not feel the need to act, though placating your overlord is always a good idea. 

The third lesson your cat is trying to teach you: Learn how and where to touch me.

In our childhood, most of us learn the parts of the cat like this:

cat-body-parts-external

Juvenile.

Not only is the above diagram simplistic, but it also has no real functionality. The terms used there are too general, too applicable to other animals. Cats are on an entirely different plane of existence than other animals (including humans), and therefore require a set of diagrams. Specifically, their anatomy is determined by their emotional state (refer to Lesson 2).

The Happy Cat diagram:

Happy Cat Parts

 

The Happy cat diagram is the most common.

The Angry Cat diagram:

Angry Cat Parts

 

The Angry cat diagram is probably the most useful.

The Scared Cat diagram:

Scared Cat Parts

 

No, scared cats aren’t invisible; they’re just gone.

Knowing the proper names for the parts of the cat is a good place to start, though you should also know where your kitty will prefer to be touched, as shown here:

cat-petting-map

 

Remember to always aim for the “Hell Yes” and the “Awesome” categories.

Well, that is it for this installment of Samwise’s User Guide to Kittehs. Hopefully this information and these diagrams have been useful to you. Remember, your cat is a tiny, furry Buddha, and they have much to teach you.

“Polish comes from the cities; wisdom from the desert.” -Arrakeen villager saying

A few days ago my friend came back from Barnes & Noble with one of the best books I have ever read in my life, and I feel I have to recommend it on my blog, because that’s pretty much what the Internet is for. Also I am continually amazed at how many of my friends have not read this glorious novel, because they are clearly missing out. So here it is:

dune

I’m fairly certain this is the copy I have, plus the original cover illustration, which I guess makes me a Dune hipster.

Dune is a science-fiction novel of epic proportion, and widely held as one of the best sci-fi titles of all time. Despite this, I was shocked to realize that it has nowhere near the fame of Star Wars or Star Trek. Or even Starship Troopers. Maybe it needs more “star” in the name.

Dune was written by Frank Herbert in 1965, which means it is only two years younger than Doctor Who and predates Star Trek: The Original Series by a year. Dune is the story of Paul Atreides, who moves with his family to the desert planet Arrakis where life is pretty dismal, water is scarce, and the savage native peoples wrap themselves in cloth as protection from the sand and heat (sounds familiar, looking at you George Lucas.) Also there’s spaceships, knife-fights, giant worms and some vague spiritual plot points. All in all it’s a fantastic setup for a sci-fi series, especially because it’s very well written.

It’s interesting to me that Dune has kind of fallen out of public knowledge, especially since Star Wars follows a lot of the same lines (evil space-overlords, desert people, spiritual/magical messiah figure.) So here’s me doing my part to get the word out, again.

Also Dune spawned one of my favorite quotes, ever:

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Litany Against Fear, mantra of the Bene Gesserit

Okay well I’ll stop there, before I nerd out any harder. No, I unfortunately did not quote that from memory. Also I want to take a moment to say, don’t get your hopes up for an epic series. Some people like the sequels to Dune, but I am not really one of them. Still, read the first one. If just one person reads it, I’ll feel like I accomplished something.

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” -Bill Gates

Thank you for choosing Dickendustries’™ Social Interaction Tech Support!

In order to better accommodate our Users, we have compiled a series of FAQ’s, separated by Social Interaction OS. (To speak with a Dickendustries® Support Specialist, call 1-800-252-8661 at the low rate of $9.99/minute.)

I. Boyfriend 2.0/Girlfriend 2.0

  • My Boyfriend 2.0/Girlfriend 2.0 keeps throwing up error messages.

This OS is known to occasionally have errors, which is usually a sign that User maintenance is needed. While all errors have been known to occur in both Boyfriend 2.0 and Girlfriend 2.0, there are a few differences. Girlfriend 2.0 is more likely to run the crying.exe program, whereas Boyfriend 2.0 is more likely to initiate a system lockup and become unresponsive.

Due to the variety of issues that may occur, Users are advised to run a System Inquiry and a virus scan. Users should also make sure they have the most recent updates for the Communication Player application, or the Inquiry Report may not render correctly. IMPORTANT: Do not allow error messages to continue unchecked, or the OS will likely crash.

  • I’ve recently upgraded from Boyfriend 2.0/Girlfriend 2.0 to Spouse 7.1, but a number of programs seem to have stopped working.

Spouse 7.1 is an excellent upgrade, but it is not a direct extension of Boyfriend 2.0/Girlfriend 2.0 as many Users seem to think. It is possible to run all the same programs such as BodyImage, Romanticism, and even the fun add-ons like Compliments, but the Spouse 7.1 OS is designed for long-term reliability and User adaptability, with a highly flexible processor. In contrast, Boyfriend 2.0/Girlfriend 2.0 are adapted for shorter-term, flashier interfacing.

All programs from Boyfriend 2.0/Girlfriend 2.0 have cross-platform compatibility, however they have been reformatted to give the User in-depth, personalized returns like the Commitment Virus Protection application, instead of the spontaneous DateNight features of the previous model. Users should be able to run old applications by using the Remember When search feature, and Spouse 7.1 should quickly re-incorporate these programs into its Love&Understanding back-up feature.

  • My Boyfriend 2.0/Girlfriend 2.0 has crashed. Is there a way of recovering the OS?

It is possible to shortly recover the Boyfriend 2.0/Girlfriend 2.0 after a terminal crash, but Users have largely found the recovery process to be limited and short-lived. If a User has lost their OS and are not ready to look for a new model, we recommend trying our Cat 1.2 OS (see below.)

II. Supervisor 4.5

  • My Supervisor 4.5 seems to have a virus, and I can’t get any work done.

Supervisor 4.5 is an older model, and very virus-prone. If the User is experiencing error messages such as shouting.exe or incompetence.tif, we recommend taking Supervisor 4.5 to the local Dickendustries© Tech Repair outlet. Many models of the Supervisor 4.5 are also likely to have a malfunction in their A.S.S. Port, and there may be debris lodged inside. If the User’s Tech Repair Specialist cannot fix the virus or dislodge the debris, we recommend shutting the OS down by running the iQuit application, and then purchasing a new Supervisor 4.5.

III. Cat 1.2

  • My Cat 1.2 seems to be malfunctioning.

Cat 1.2 is impervious to errors. If the User finds their Cat 1.2 is running scratch.exe or hearing the Yowling.aif error noise, it is likely that Cat 1.2 is simply running it’s primary application, FeedMe.

“I need a partner now.” -Axe Cop

It’s been a while since I’ve done a comic recommendation…

… but more importantly we need to talk about AXE COP.

axecop

 

Yup.

Axe Cop is an internet phenomenon, but for some reason isn’t as famous as some other projects on the interwebs. I can’t imagine why.

This amazing piece of literature started when 29-year-old comic book artist Ethan Nicolle was visiting his family for Christmas. His 5-year-old brother Malachai (there are 5 children in the family, Ethan and Malachai are the oldest and youngest, respectively) asked him to play a game, which he called Axe Cop. It was quickly decided that Ethan was Axe Cop and Malachai was Flute Cop, and the story followed a natural progression from there. Well, by 5-year-old-boy logic.

After a while, Ethan couldn’t help himself and decided to draw it out as a single page comic. Since then, it’s exploded. There’s all sorts of merchandise, and reportedly even a a TV show for FOX in the works.

So please, read one page, or read them all. Either way, watching a 5-year-old’s brainchild come to life is going to make your day a little better.

“You don’t have to test everything to destruction just to see if you made it right.” -Neil Gaiman

Back when I started recommending books, my first thought was to recommend one book in particular. I postponed because I wanted to feel out the recommendation process, see how well I did before choosing something great. So I guess you could say this recommendation is the culmination of my previous recommendations.

Another reason I waited was so that I could write about Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman beforehand, so that anyone who reads this will know what I’m talking about. Because they co-authored this novel, so yeah, it’s incredible.

I love co-authored books, and even more so if I know one or both authors ahead of time. But both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman are British fantasy-fiction giants. Putting the two together is the best idea anyone has had since Peanut Butter & Banana sandwiches. Or Nutella & Peanut Butter. Or maybe just Peanut Butter and whatever. They’re like the Simon & Garfunkel of literature, only British and probably brain-addled (so, basically a Hugh Laurie/Stephen Fry combo, which I also recommend.)

Pratchett & Gaiman’s literary love-child is titled Good Omens, and is a ridiculously great blend of the authors’ best aspects. In fact I’m pretty sure the British government almost legalized same-sex marriage back in 1990 when it was published, because dang. I’m pretty sure Good Omens makes the authors’ human children jealous. I’ve even heard rumors that if either Pratchett or Gaiman perish, the novel gets all their stuff.

At this point I guess I should discuss the book, in case you want to hear about it for some reason. Good Omens is centered on the End of Days (yes, those capitalizations are required.) The novel starts with the birth of the Antichrist and gets weirder from there. A bookish angel and a flashy demon, both of whom are supposed to be trying to influence the Childe, decide to work together and see what happens. Also there are hellhounds and witches and witch-hunters. Plus, in true Pratchett style, we get the personifications of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. And everything is very British, all around.

I don’t want to ruin any surprises, so that’s all you get. The novel is very funny and very clever. Gaiman’s ethereal cheekiness mixes very well with Pratchett’s simple-yet-incredibly-apt satire. Go read it. You’ll thank me.

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“It is a fool’s prerogative to utter truths that no one else will speak.” -Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is an English author of considerable acclaim, which he has largely gathered by being awesome. He writes short stories, novels, screenplays, graphic novels, and more. You name it, and Neil Gaiman did it better than you ever could. I normally do recommendations hoping that maybe someone will check out whatever thing I’m writing about, but this time is different. If you haven’t checked out Neil Gaiman, you need to do it. I am not giving you a choice in the matter.

Gaiman’s work has all the charm of Terry Pratchett’s (the two have worked together), but it’s generally much darker. He never quite gets gory, but his stories are much more along the lines of the Brothers Grimm than Mother Goose. He could easily be likened to Tim Burton, and it’s true that they walk the same lines. In my opinion, however, Burton’s work feels safer. Burton excels at the bizarre, but every aspect of his work is meant to be seen. In contrast, Gaiman only shows his audience the story at hand, and is content to let the rest hide in the shadows.

Neil Gaiman has written a whole series of Sandman comic books, and a variety of excellent novels. Some of my favorites are NeverwhereAmerican Gods, and The Graveyard Book. He also wrote the 2002 movie Coraline, which got a lot of attention.

IMPORTANT: Any collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman is pure gold, and should be purchased immediately and treasured.

So basically, do yourself a favor and enjoy something that Gaiman has written, because the man is a genius.

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“The only difference between suicide and martyrdom is press coverage.” -Chuck Palahniuk

My recommendation to you this week is not a comic, or even a book, but a movie. And it’s a romantic comedy at that. Weird, right? Just wait for the next part: every character dies.

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No. But it’s still a better love story than Twilight.

Wristcutters: A love story is a film that is so incredibly and typically indie and yes, as implied by the title, everyone is a suicide victim (no, nothing I like is normal.) Set in what you can only assume is purgatory, an actor-you-won’t-recognize meets another-actor-you-won’t-recognize, learns his girlfriend from Life is there, and sets off on a directionless road trip to find her. Pretty soon the two actors-that-you-still-don’t-recognize meet up with that-one-chick-who-was-the-love-interest-from-A-Knight’s-Tale, and thus wacky love triangle shenanigans ensue. Oh, and it features Tom Waits and Will Arnett.

What really makes this film stand out for me is not only how clever or quirky it is, but how they never once treat the subject of suicide lightly. It’s not due to the fact that their surroundings are nearly post-apocalyptic or that no one can smile, because these elements are part of what make it fun. The reason I like it so much is because of the characters; some are more grounded than others, but all of them reached a point in their life when they decided they would rather be dead. The story doesn’t stereotype it, doesn’t trivialize it, and (most importantly) doesn’t let you forget it.

The story is about love, second chances, friendship, family, and hope. But it’s also about depression, despair, anger, fear, and apathy. There’s a malaise surrounding, well, everything, but there’s also miracles. But everyone knows miracles only happen when it doesn’t matter.

wristcutters

“The pen is mightier than the sword if the sword is very short, and the pen is very sharp.” -Terry Pratchett

Some of you are wondering when I’m going to get back to recommending books, which is how my recommendation posts started, instead of all these comics that I doubt anyone reads. Or at least this is how everyone is reacting in my head. Still, I figured it was time to get back to books, regardless of whether my imagination is accurate. So here goes:

Terry Pratchett is among the most creative and witty modern authors, and certainly one of my favorite authors of all time. His characters are both likable and interesting, and his world-building is remarkable (you may have noticed these things are important to me). Pratchett is a leader in the genre of fantasy-satire fiction*. His jokes are funny, clever, and above all else, very British. Also, he was the first author I read who does this**.

Terry Pratchett is a very prolific writer and I have found pretty much everything of his worth the read. His Magnum Opus has got to be the collection of works set in the Discworld, thanks to which he is well known. Discworld is a place of magic and mythology, and above all else, stories. These range from epic struggles involving heroes and gods, to the adventures of a deadbeat cop. Regardless of the plot, it will be fun.

paul-kidby-disque-monde-the-great-a-tuin-2

Oh, and it all takes place on the back of a giant star-turtle and four elephants.

Discworld’s versatility is second only to its cleverness. If Pratchett can be said to have a flaw, it’s that he does so well with the characters and rising action and clever remarks, and then kind of wraps up the ending without pizazz. But this is fitting, in a way; His books are more fun to read than they are to finish. You learn to enjoy the process, and to stop worrying about how it all ends.

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*= No, I don’t read normal things. Get over it.

**= Yes, this. What I call the asterisk thing, which is better known as a footnote. Blame him for it.

“You don’t become great by trying to be great. You become great by wanting to do something, and then doing it so hard that you become great in the process.” -Randall Munroe

Some cartoonistsare hailed as true artists, and even geniuses. The prime example, as always, is Bill Watterson:

Calvin_and_Hobbes_1280_Wall_by_LamboMan7

Hallowed be thy name

Watterson’s stories with Calvin and his stuffed tiger Hobbes changed the approach to comics (though I’m not sure Family Circus got the memo), and if you want to read more about that you can check out this blog post my Dad wrote, because I’m not here to gush about Watterson (at least not this time.) But the important part is that Watterson had the dedication and imagination to make every Calvin & Hobbes comic great.

The webcomic I am highlighting today is a lot like Bill Watterson; full of good ideas and breaking the mold of comics. But, you know, with stick figures.

XKCD is a thrice-weekly, largely single-panel webcomic made by Randall Munroe. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, this guy cranks out some of the funniest and smartest jokes I have ever read. Some are more technical and pretty much all of them are nerdy, but that’s what you should expect from a freaking former NASA roboticist.

Here’s a few of my favorite examples:

Cat Proximity

Good Cop, Dadaist Cop

Hyphen

They’re all good, if the joke doesn’t go over most peoples’ heads, that is. However, some of his updates have to have been ridiculously time consuming.

Frequency

Movie Narrative Chart

So even though Munroe’s art isn’t amazing, XKCD serves as an excellent medium for expressing his ideas, which as you can see are impressively ambitious (which is one reason why I wanted to highlight his comic.) Hope you enjoy.