The Bran Report

It's good for parts of you that you'd probably rather not think about.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Octavia Hill, 1838-1912.
Though we have the same surname, I'm going to go out on a limb and say she's not a close relative.
If she were a direct ancestor, she'd be my.. what? Let's say 150 years have passed since her most likely child-bearing age. Great-great-great grandmother, five generations back.
I don't mean that I know who any of my gran-gran-gran-nans are, and I'd be kind of pleased in some wonderfully irrational way if one of that had turned out to be in the forefront of Christian Socialism and spent her life improving the living conditions of the very poor by the simple expedient of being a socialist landlord. Octavia Hill, long dead as you are, I approve.

The page I got the image from was called "Local ancestors", but Octavia isn't my ancestor. Indeed, unless the nineteenth century held a secret, she isn't anyone's ancestor as far as I can see. Octavia was born Hill, and was never married. The chance of her being a close (Well, grand3 or so) aunt are also pretty slim, because as far as I can tell her father (the proto-Hill) just had eight daughters, all of whom would have to loose the name to get into the gene pool.

Then again, consider that six generations back only maybe 3% of my ancestors had the Hill name and when you're named after a common English noun, you can assume that my family probably did not account for 3% of all Hills. Of course, ultimately, we are related, and both being English, probably more closely than most.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Strange seas

Dolphins are pretty intelligent, and a lot like humans in many ways. They have finger bones and live in families, there's even evidence that they might have the rudimentary structures for music and language.

Here's something, though. Dolphins don't dream.

Humans dream while they're in REM sleep. Pigs, dogs, horses- they all go through REM sleep and give every impression of dreaming while doing so. Dolphins have never been observed to do this. Instead, the two hemispheres of their brain can sleep independant of each other. During the night, one half sleeps for an hour while the other keeps the dolphin swimming and returning to the surface for air, and then they swap. If you wake a dolphin up each time the halves swap over, you can make it sleep-deprived in one half but not the other. During this half-sleep, the dolphin is blind in one eye. It never enters a state like REM or gives any sign of dreaming.

There is a species of dolphin that lives in the river Indus that sleeps as much as a human does, but only in snatches of one minute in every three.

If we ever get to converse with an alien intelligence, we shouldn't assume that they're going to be enough like us to enjoy Bach and chocolate pie.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


One thing they don't tell you (and who's "they"? The wizards?) one thing they don't tell you when you start growing a beard is that it makes a ton of everyday activities way more gross.

Case in point: Eating soup.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Memory challenges

I have an obsessive turn of mind. I know this. It's part of why I've done as well as I have in schoolin'. A bloggin' companion of mine recently decided to recount the crazy habit we have lately developed of demandin' a tally of the American states from each other when out drinkin'.

Tangent: I feel like I am over-using that eliding-the-g thing.

Qualifier: We don't live in Norteamerica

Of course, this is the Information Age, and when any man jack can do a google for "Capital of Azerbaijan", skills like mine are somewhat devalued. And I'm fully aware that by throwin' up that teacher's aid there I have further stretched my credibility. In fact, I'm going to put in some wikipedia links to explain Anglicisms, so, uh... just take my word for it.

For added value, I will give you one unique fact per state. Too ambitious? WE SHALL SEE!

Edit: Wierdly enough, my fifty-plus paragraph post turned out kind of long, so I'm inserting a cut here.
>Read On!

1) Deleware
It's named after a river! Many companies have their corporate HQ here, due to favourable tax laws. It has a famous town hall. It's the Jersey of America.

2) Pennsylvania
For a short while, the State of Pennsylvania existed seperate from the United States. During this time, it was an experimental state that had no standing army. It didn't work. Many people in Pennsylvania speak German, also known as "Pennsylvania Dutch".

3) New Jersey
Um, I guess maybe this is the Jersey of America. No, wait, Jersey is famous for boardwalks, working-class seaside holidays, depression... Skegness? Skeeball is from here, and that uses many of the same letters as Skegness.

4) Georgia
Georgia was originally a colony for debtors to escape prison. Athens, GA, is the hometown of R.E.M. and has a kickin' music scene.

5) Connecticut
No combination of human letters can accurately spell Connecticut. Connecticans are notorious for being miserable, clever, and good mannered but distant. It is the England of America.

6) Massachusetts
Massachusetts returned a Republican governer, Mit Romney, despite a heavy blue bias. This is because the Democratic candidate might be described as George Galloway in the body of Oona King. Hugo Chavez gave the people of MA a break on the price of oil after Hurricane Katrina.

7) Maryland
Maryland's norther border (with Pennsylvania) is the Mason-Dixon line, the boundary between Slave states and Free States before the civil war.

8) South Carolina
SC is the "first of the worst". It has the highest teenage pregnancy, highest illegal drug use, and highest illiteracy of any of the states. South Carolinians are known for their patriotism.

9) New Hampshire
NH has no income tax, but you have to pay a toll if you want to go outside on nice days. It is the only state to share my initials.

10) Virginia
Named after Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen. In fact, Elizabeth had enough lovers to lead to the invention of the tabloid press. You go girl.
Virginia calls itself the "Old Dominion", which seems an odd thing to boast about.

11) New York
The state is built around the Hudson and Syracuse Gaps. That the city and state have the same name means people sometimes tack on "State" or "City" to make it clear what they're talking about. NYC has nearly 100% of the incidence of giant apes climbing towers in the United States.

12) North Carolina
NC resents being confused with SC. The state American Basebaskets team is called the Panthers. Oh, OK, I guess the sport they actually play is... football?

13) Rhode Island
Rhode Island is the same size as Staffordshire. The main town is called Providence.

14) Vermont
Vermont is America's Lake District: beautiful, and full of tourists. They are famous for mountains with trees on.

15) Kentucky
Kentucky is famous for sweet whiskey, fried chicken and banjos. In 1942 it was the USA's number one producer of hemp.

16) Tennessee
Tennessee has too many letters in it's name. It is named after a river, and is the spiritual home of all country music artists. It has a city called Memphis.

17) Ohio
Also named after a river, Ohio is where you'll find Cleveland and Cincinatti. Ohio is the Staffordshire of America. It is not about the size of Rhode Island.

18) Louisiana
This was the first state to be carved out of the territory, purchased from France, known as "Louisiana". LA is where New Orleans is/was. It is the most French-esque part of the States.

19) Indiana
Indiana's capital is Indianapolis. It was the first state comprised of featureless plains filled up with settlers on land freshly cleared of it's native people, hence the name. Sadly it was not the last.

20) Mississippi
Mississippi has too many letters in it's name. It is named after a river, and is the spiritual home of anyone who's ever wanted to kidnap someone and work them to death on an alien continent.

21) Illinois
Chicago is in Illinois. My two favourite films (The Sting and The Blues Brothers) both start in Joliet, Illinois. And they both had painfully disappointing sequels.... conspiracy...

22) Alabama
Alabama has a city called Birmingham. Sorry, we called bagsies on that one, Alabama.
The masterpiece of modern cinemaMy Cousin Vinny is set in Alabama. It is also where the eponymous lead character of Cool Hand Luke was supposed to be from, though the film was set in Florida. I need to stop thinking about Paul Newman.

23) Maine
Maine was originally a territory of Massachusetts, but they felt that Boston didn't really capture the spirit of being cold and northen well enough. Maine is famous for it's Moose, which can grow to a weigh anywhere up to a bajillion metric tonnes.

24) Missouri
Samuel Clemens discovered Missouri in ancient times, when out swimming in the river with his childhood friends. Missouri eventually gave him immortality, but by that time he had taken to calling himself "Mark Twain".
Mark Twain loves and hates Missouri, as he loves and hates himself.

25) Arkansas
State legislation indicates that the name should be pronounced "Arkan-saw". The part of Arkansas by the river is called "the delta", in open defiance to how everyone else in the world understands the word.

26) Michigan
Michigan is known as the Great Lakes state, because it borders on Lake Superior, Michigan and Huron. It is the only state to span two peninsulae. Peninsulatari? Anyway, Sufjan Stevens wrote an album about it.

27) Florida
The population is fifty percent retirees and fifty percent smugglers. I'd describe it as being like Bournemouth, maybe, if Bournemouth had a tropical climate and PREDATORY REPTILES.

28) Texas
Man, everyone hates Texas.
OK, right, it broke away from Mexico, a war that included the defence of the Alamo, a glorious defeat for the army of Sam Houston. Shortly after it joined the Union.

29) Iowa
Iowa has too many vowels in it's name. It has corn and very little else.

30) Wisconsin
I've heard it said that beer is cheaper in WI than anywhere else in the States. It certainly contains the famous breweries of Milwaukee. FYI, America: "Budweiser" means "Beer brewed in the town of Budweiss". The people of the Czech republic want to talk to you about this.

31) California
Affectionately known as "The Stupid State". The spiritual home of the New Age movement. Ruled by the Governator. Subject of an argument between myself and a housemate of mine as to whether there exists a linguistic gradient towards Spanish in the Southern US. (There totally does? "San Diego"? Give me a break!)

32) Minnesota
Famous for it's accent. The capital is Minneopolis-St.Paul, which is the setting for the beautifully drawn, if confusing, Wapsi Square. I once saw a map that lumped all the mid-western Blue states together as "Minnewinnelinois".

33) Oregon
I once took a test that determined I was secretly an Oregonian. True story. Also, it was co-governed by the US and Britain for a long time. Before that, Russia and Spain fought over it. Weird, eh?

34) Kansas
Shortly before the American Civil War, conflict between proto-Confederates and Unionists earned this area the nickname "Bleeding Kansas".

35) West Virginia
WV is famous for meat with shot in it and marrying your cousin. Chris Onstad wrote this song about it.

36) Nevada
People come to Nevada for one of two reasons: To gamble at Las Vegas, or to dispose of the bodies of their rivals in the Mojave desert as a result of gambling at Las Vegas.

37) Nebraska
There is only one person is Nebraska. She is called Omaha and owns a corn farm and a call centre.

38) Colorado
... includes the city of Denver, which is more than a mile above sea level and is the setting for the novel Sum of all Fears.

39) and 40) North and South Dakota
Both Dakotas were once set aside as "perpetual" reservations, the last remainder of native America. One of them has Mount Rushmore. The president at the time of asession shuffled the papers so that neither could claim seniority over the other. The Dakotas are where you would go if you hated all other human beings but loved Dairy Queen.

Not a state) Alberta
Alberta is a province of Canada. Citizens of other provinces joke that they should swap Alberta for Washington state. This is because Alberta is a featureless plain populated by narrow-minded gun nuts.

41) Montana
Montana challenges us to consider the possibility that the sky is larger in some places than others. It's boundary is the Continental Divide.

42) Washington State
This state does not contain the city of Washinton. It is like Canada, but slightly more violent. According to some survey I read somewhere, it is the state "Least hostile to" atheism. Seattle is the setting for 'Frasier". Penny Arcade is based in Washington.

Not a state) The District of Columbia
This is where Washington DC is. It's a federally owned mashland, kind of like the Australian Capital Territory. DC is a pretty city in a horrible location. Canberra (in the ACT) is a horrible city in a beautiful location. I blame Modernism.

43) Idaho
Idaho is a made-up word that was proposed as the name for every no-where state from Louisana onwards. This Idaho is famous for potatoes and flannel shirts.

44) Wyoming
Wyoming was the first legislature in the western world to extend to vote to include women. Kudos, Wyoming.

45) Utah
Utah has the world's highest population of Mormons.

46) Oklahoma
Sorry to bang on about this, but Oklahoma was land given to native people who had reached the end of the Trail of Tears. Then, it got taken from them again.

47) New Mexico
New Mexico includes the elegant former capital of New Spain, Santa Fé. It also has the town of Roswel, spiritual home of everyone who wears a tin-foil cap at night.

48) Arizona
The mojave desert. Americans apparently have a prediliction for living in places where the average temperature is WAY TOO HOT inHg, because Phoenix is (or was recently) the fastest growing town in the US.

49) Alaska
Alaska is the largest state. It is the same size as Jupiter when Jupiter's had a really hectic month and has been eating takeaway a lot.

50) Hawaii
Hawaii is a chain of volcano tops, traditonally used for nuclear testing and leper colonies. It is a popular tourist destination.

Symmetry challenge for American obsessives: Fun facts about, say, ten European member-states? Or how about FIFTY European nations?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Heroes and Villains

One way to loose my respect very quickly is to build a political message on hating a villain.

Example: Shell is not a satanic cabal, shooting up Nigerian towns for the hell of it. It is, on the other hand, a corporation and like all corporations it decouples personal benefits from personal guilt. There's also the Zimbardo effect: when people are scared and uncertain they fall back on stereotypes for guidance. In Zimbardo's case, normal people started beating folks in their care. In the case of corporate executives, they wear expensive suits and talk about "the bottom line".

People do things for reasons, be they good things or bad things. To claim that someone is just evil is lazy, and I hate that excuse-making.

On the other hand, I'm something of an iconoclast. I love the idea of a hero, but I also have a tendency to look for the flaws in what people offer me. I once got into quite a fight with a Church-of-England friend of mine, because I bad-mouthed Martin Luther. I think the facts support me, though. For one thing, he and I would have had quite a disagreement about the value, or otherwise, of "die verfluchte Huhr".

Martin Luther also turned his wisdom to the questions of how to live in a multicultural society and, although his solution was one of the first and most enduringly popular, we now call it the "Final" solution.

Martin Luther is a prime example of someone who, for whatever reason, hated the light of reason.

And to tie this rambling message together, let's look at an ancient symbol of rationality and wisdom:

"The owl is a dirty bird that prefers darkness to light"

This is either a pleasing symmetry or a case of "No, you are".