Dangerous Teddy

This piece of highly dangerous off-limits equipment sits on the desk of a lady in the department next to mine. It always makes me grin.

(T-shirt logo obscured for privacy reasons.)

The paper says (click to embiggen),

Until July 20, 2010

I am not
at this desk,
at this site,
in this time zone,
in this country,
on this continent.

Please have a safe and wonderful day.

For a geek, I have a perfectly normal desk (it's not usually this tidy.)

I mean, the usual: calendar from Wetdryvac.net, the XKCD distillation of wisdom, the Alice Kelley fractals (just out of camera range to the left is a printout of The Abyss Looks Back by Ursula Vernon), a faded-colour photocopy of my contribution to the Travelling Art Book, the reproduction of Broadway Boogie-Woogie by Piet Mondrian courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art... It says who I am quite clearly in this one photograph.

Is it my fault it's the weirdest desk on the block?
(I am the person of the female persuasion in this picture taken at Dovercourt Trivia Night.)

On Friday Lady Mollweide called and invited me to attend a trivia night at Dovercourt Community Centre, to fill out the two teams from the schooll; I had shown my interest before. Besides being trivia practice, the night, organised by the Kiwanis Club of Ottawa West (by the way, Shilhak-Inshushinak, if you ever read this, both Dovercourt Recreational Centre and the Kiwanis Club of Ottawa West are blog names for Dovercourt Recreational Centre and the Kiwanis Club of Ottawa West, respectively ;-)

My impressions of the trivia night are best summarised in my letter to Lady Mollweide afterwards:


1) The School Team (Oliver, Cuchulain, Rustem, Cuchulain's father) got 12th place out of 30 teams. The Margaret Atwood Team (the Kilhuch family and I) got 17th, two points
behind (there were a lot of ties). We were leading them until the eighth round. The questions were tough - I believe the top score was in the seventies, out of one hundred questions.

2) You won a door prize! I took it for you, and now it is sitting in my front hall - I hope it was not damaged by the ride back. A beautifully wrapped box of something; we suspect it is a bottle, but it is up to you to find out. I will give it to you on Monday afternoon or Tuesday, how it works out.

3) Refreshments in the form of plates of chips, at $1 a plate, seem to be a big success - our own table spent $5 or $6 in the course of the night. Soft drinks, though, were in limited supply. For our night, we should compensate for our "Prohibition law" by making as wide a variety as we can of soft drinks, bottled water, juice, coffee and tea available; if we can at all afford it, something other than Red Rose tea! (The Kilhuch family, suffering without root beer, suggested we
have a keg of root beer. Probably a combination chips and bake sale would be successful.)

4) Scores were done on a spreadsheet PowerPoint on a laptop linked to the InFocus projector. I believe I can find how to set one up, and set it so the ranks are clearly visible and not almost-hidden by the bottom of the screen.

5) The Roland family (playing on a separate team) introduced me to one or two of their trivia-loving friends, who seemed enthusiastic about the planned event. I also spoke briefly to Paul Paquet, who was also encouraging.

6) I do believe the card tables were a great idea; they ensure enough privacy for the teams. However, we probably cannot procure thirty or forty card tables on such short notice, so we will have to work that one out. If only our desks were not all chair-attached!

7) GREAT idea they had: provide a sponsor for each round, and put the sponsor's name on the scoresheet. I would consider it even better if we put the round sponsor's logo on every scoresheet (print on sponsor letterhead?), and, as they did, make sure to project the sponsor's logo, and address (they did not have that) with thanks, on the
PowerPoint each time we can. As well - maybe "table sponsors"? Whatever tables look like, we can provide scratch paper on each table (like at World Trivia Night) with the sponsor's logo on the scratch paper. A higher price to be a round sponsor than a table sponsor, perhaps? Tanaquil (the Acta editor) knows the fair prices to charge for Acta advertising.

8) Maybe we can work out a deal with local food businesses to provide some of the food for the night in exchange for advertising: "Coffee generously provided by the Second Cup on Elgin St...." or something.

9) Maybe we could team up with, say, the art classes to exhibit some of the students' work at the night, or arrange for some school musical group to provide a bit of entertainment during the break - Dovercourt had only piped music on the speakers, whereas if we can say "live music provided," it will encourage people to come, because, besides being trivia freaks, they also feel like patrons of the arts. I do not know if that impinges on some jurisdictions or something, but it is an idea worth tossing up in the air. We should arrange for it soon, if so, since then we can mention the arts connection to potential sponsors. I know the Bagelshop had a near-policy to only sponsor artsy things, and a few other businesses might as well.

10) It may be an audacious idea, but given the technology these days - perhaps for a higher fee, we can offer to play an actual brief ten-fifteen second commercial for sponsoring business, in an audio or even video file they may provide, on the InFocus projector. Tell me if I am crazy, or if that is too invasive already, but it must be more effective than the reader saying "We thank Hulse, Playfair and McGarry. If you die soon, go to Hulse, Playfair and McGarry." If that flies with the Principal, we can find out what the radio charges, and go lower. Even if the audio idea won't pan out, we can offer actual print poster ads for a higher fee, instead of just logos.

11) Definitely door prizes. I think they are a vital part of any adult gathering these days. As well, the idea of giving prizes to the team with the highest score for some of the rounds is a good idea; warning in advance "This round is a prize round" would increase the excitement, which Kiwanis did not do. The idea of tiebreaker
questions, like a spelling bee, made for an exciting show, with everyone listening to see who of the four teams will go out.

12) Kilhuch's father suggested roping some celebrity to serve as quizmaster. That will definitely attract the people, but I do not know what celebrity we can afford. Also, we must project questions on the PowerPoint; Kiwanis did not, and it is unfair if teams ask for some of the questions to be repeated.

In any case, I am amazed myself at my advertising blitz savvy. Let me know what you think, and I will see you this week. With the door prize.


Oliver, when I polled the team there for more feedback on how to run ours, suggested that (a) the questions be progressively more difficult as the round progresses, and (b) the quizmaster should have more background knowledge. There was a problem when the question was asked "What is a googolplex" and both Kilhuch and Cuchulain knew that it is 1 followed by a googol zeroes (10 to the power of 10 to the power of 100), while the Quizmaster said the answer was 1 followed by a billion zeroes. Cuchulain and Kilhuch went and argued with him, until he yielded to say any concept of a number would be considered correct. Since I will probably end up writing most of the questions, I am certain I will be able to provide more background information.

Besides, Reach for the Top wrote back to me, saying they like the sample questions I sent them, and they would be willing to accept 30 pages of questions like that. I immediately sent them the thirty pages I already had, and mentioned more were on the way. They also spoke of a contract, which eased my heart; I have sold my writing before, and I was growing wary at no mention of a contract. So wary that I carefully coded LaTeX to put my name and the date (of the last compile cycle of the file) on each page, just in case Reach skip out on me and I have to take them to court for my hundred bucks. So I write questions for the next Reach pack (it is half done), and await the contract meanwhile.

And that is all I will say on the trivia subject now. That does not quite ease the previous post's angst about my not being good for anything, but whatever. Life goes on even if I am not written in the annals of history, although my heart wrenches inside me at the very idea of not being written in the annals of history.

Much of yesterday was, I assure you, spent studying for the History of English exam. But I did go to the school to coach Reach for the Top. This time about the only significant events were the arrival of several new students, and me telling one of the younger ones, who, alas, cannot yet resist volunteering his opinion on everything, that if he had not heard the question while sitting right next to me, that is his problem, isn't it?

After Reach I dropped into Masala in the Byward Market, where the manager Lynn was very glad to see me, as I had not been there in a while. I bought some small Christmas presents there, and Lynn made an error in ringing them in - she thought they were $8. "Is it eight or ten dollars?" "I am afraid I have to be honest and say it's ten." Lynn did not correct her total. "Aw, you're a regular customer, it's all right." Keep a friendly crocodile in every swamp!

We ended up talking of high school reunions, deaths of classmates, and suicide. Lynn believes that if someone has already tried to commit suicide twice, and has had help and it hasn't helped, he should be allowed to go kill himself. I politely disagreed: I know what depression feels like, I know what it is like to want to kill yourself, and I am very glad I did not do it. No one should do it.

I studied for History of English, yes, I did. But I honestly understand and sympathise with the people who get addicted to Internet porn (god help the people who may get this blog post to a Gmail address; do not look at the ads summoned with it!): sometimes I get the urgent craving to look at jewelry on the Internet, and yesterday it was Birks. I ended up having a crush on
(a) the Aruba tourmaline and diamond necklace - $8900;

(b) the blue topaz and citrine necklace - $1800 (right)

(c) the Acapulco garnet briolette necklace - $2600 (below left)

(I liked the matching earrings for all of them as well). None of them are within my current budget, with the Chicago trip and the Experimetal necklace taking first priority after Christmas gifts. If anyone reading this blog is fascinated by my peerless intellect and humorous outlook on life, and has several Canadian grand in disposable income to throw at my feet, please leave a comment with your contact information, and after suitable verification I will tell you where you can mail the Birks necklaces for me (but read on first). I will not love you any less if you cannot afford expensive gifts for me -- I cannot even guarantee that I will love you if you do give expensive gifts to me -- but hey, my chances of getting something are zero if I don't ask.

In any case, I was half reading the history of Old English in the Wikipedia and half dreaming about expensive jewelry (Mozilla Firefox tabs are great) when I overheard my brother laughing uproariously. I was intrigued, and finally he shared with me the music and/or lyrics of several songs by the Russian "alternative" group Belomorsk. I call them alternative because I cannot figure out what else to call them, or what they are smoking when they write their songs either. I will cite a line-by-line translation of the lyrics to their most memorable song below.
Prior Note: These song lyrics are not a reflection of typical Russian popular music. Russians have a reasonable standard of sanity just like English-speaking people do, and these lyrics are insane by the standard of any language or cultural group I know of.

Translator's Note: Since the Russian language does not have definite or indefinite articles, I am inserting an article only where I feel it is implied, and omitting articles otherwise.
"The Braking Path"

(belomors.ru is where you can find the original of those lyrics, if you really want; any translation error corrections or hints to understanding, if this is worth understanding, are appreciated)

(He) shattered aginst the wall
Go (imperative) "splat" with brains
And bones in the ditch
Whether you yell or not.

You haven't seen the corpse (implied question):
Eyes on the glass
Hand on the pedal
Foot (or leg) on the steering wheel

Nightmare in perverted hell!

He drove his car
In various lands (countries, regions).
Now his tires
And life he lost.

In hospital the doctors
Crucified (him) on the table (word order in those two lines changed to standard English word order )
And (they) did put him together
But a monster now (lit. already)

O horror in perverted hell!

He sat behind the wheel
This android
And immediately to the races
As if (he was) alive!

Knocking cars aside
(He) flew like an arrow
And speed killed
His brakes -

Nightmare in perverted hell!

He wanted to accelerate
Even faster
But a (the) piston broke -
Save yourself quick!

For real, horrible
Was his braking path:
(They) finished him (either referring to the main character or the masculine noun for path)
Pine tree after pine tree!

Finished him pine tree after pine tree!

(word order in the following lines adjusted to standard English word order)
Over mines on a tractor!
(Going) for beer on a tractor!
(Going) for vodka on a tractor!
(Hitting) in faces on a tractor! (crude word for face used, with the preposition usually used in the context of a blow to the face)
(Going after)... women on a tractor! (crude word for women, using the morphosyntactic construction that implies hiring prostitutes, for example)
Over corpses on a tractor!
On (railroad) ties on a tractor!
Through the sky on a tractor!
Through the woods on a tractor!
Over puddles on a tractor!
Over (guitar) strings on a tractor!
Over monsters on a tractor!
Study (imperative, plural or formal) at university!

All I will comment is that I am very impressed at the conciseness achieved in the Russian language by morphological inflection, and that my brother and I were both puzzled by the last line. Those wishing to get some of what the songwriters for Belomorsk are smoking may check out belomorsk.ru and seek it there.

I returned to studying, telling my brother, "Tomorrow I will crack up at the History of English exam because I recall 'Over monsters on a tractor! Study at university!' "
But I did not crack up at the exam.

The next day, today that is, after a fairly restless night, I got up, had some tea, read an old New York paper (I think that is what I did; my memory for mornings is always pretty vague) and trundled off to the exam. I sat in the front row as usual, but then was asked by Prof. Jensen to move a seat to the left. When he asked me to move yet another seat to the left, I rebelled: "There is no one else in this row who can look on! I don't want to move! This is my comfy spot!"

"There is a lot of superstition associated with exams," Charlotte, a fourth-year student whose last semester this is, remarked behind me.

I was allowed to retain my comfy spot. I worked steadily through the exam, and by 9:50 (the exam began at 9:30 and finished at 12:30) I was done except that I could not recall the definition of inverse spelling. I sat there for about fifteen minutes, staring into space, nibbling at the marshmallow chocolate cookies I had brought with me, trying to remember what inverse spelling was; finally I gave up, wrote something consistent down and handed it in.

(I am a firm believer in not checking the correct answer to a question you probably got wrong immediately after a test. What's the point of stressing yourself when there is nothing you can do about it now?)

I trotted out of Vanier Hall and headed to the Rideau Centre, to Birks of course.
To my surprise I found, though I had not noticed it before, the blue-topaz and citrine necklace, although the citrine on it now looked more lime-coloured than it did on the one in the website. I asked one of the associates there to try it on.

It was pretty, but I did not feel the "click" that I want to feel when I look into a mirror with a piece that is right for me. When I try something on, I want to look better with it and it look better with me. With that one I just looked the same.

Now I ask the question that separates the men from the boys, or in this case, the women from the girls: "These stones are blue topaz, right? Now you know that topaz has one direction of perfect cleavage, and usually it is set so that the setting can protect it from being struck in that direction. Since these are just strung on the chain, what is protecting them? I do not want to pay two grand for a necklace only to have it split on me."

"I will have to ask someone," the girl said, a little flustered.

"I understand, this is not a question you get every day."

A senior associate came over, but all she knew was that doubtless the Birks jewellers knew of this and had taken some steps to prevent the topaz from being damaged.

I was satisfied with that, although still curious as to how, and tried on a drop necklace with blue topaz, peridot and citrine briolettes ($950) and a necklace with gold and citrine briolettes very much in the style of the Acapulco garnet necklace. The latter I liked best, and indeed, it cost less than both the Acapulco and the blue-topaz and citrine. I also tried the earrings for the blue-topaz and for the citrine-only necklace, and in them too I preferred the citrine-only, although they cost more. The citrine-only necklace and earrings are not on the Birks website. I was most surprised at the light weight of the earrings; Birks, bless their souls, lets people actually put earrings on, disinfecting them with isopropyl alcohol before and afterward. I had been there before, and had seen the actual alcohol bottle. On that trip I had tried the gold Needlefish collection huggy earrings, and was distressed at their weight (and at the price, but if I had really wanted them, I would have handled the price somehow). I now am wary of gold earrings, as I do not want a slit all the way down my earlobe in my old age. But the citrine ones, though gold studs, were perfectly light, and the backing was quite secure (I also have a paranoia about studs, which I will recount at a later time).

I now asked another lethal question: "Do you do layaways, or do you prefer financing, or what happens as to payment?"

The senior associate rescued the junior associate again, and explained to me that for an amount larger than $500 but as small as this necklace, the Birks card allows for a 10-month payment plan with no interest if the payments are made on time. "There is also a 15 or 20-month payment plan, but I do not know the details of that. I think it offers 9% interest. But this 10-month plan is the most popular."

It may be that by the time I am twenty-one, when many girls my age are still shopping at Aldo Accessories or Claire's, I will be a Birks cardholder.

Leaving Birks, with thanks to the associates, I browsed the Rideau Centre and found myself in the Tie Rack perusing the little detailed ties, where I got into a conversation with the salesclerk. We wondered together what kind of people would buy some of those ties, like one with a balancing rhino; she told me of one man who bought a dolphin tie, because he desperately wanted a dolphin, but his wife would not let him have the tank. I remarked that probably there are further regulations on buying a dolphin than just being able to afford it, and she told me that she and some ally of hers owned a pet shop and had the opportunity to buy a cheetah which had previously worked in Kit-Kat commercials. They had to refuse because the cheetah ate 10 pounds of fresh meat a day, but there was not much to the license other than assurance that the animal is healthy and that you are able to feed it. We also discussed the Christmas havoc that reigns in the mall right now, and shared tales of weariness of piped Christmas carols.

Still with that idea in mind, I went to Magpie, only to see one of the workers there, the only guy, mutter to the girl sharing his shift, "I am going to see how long I can get away with not playing Christmas carols..." He was indeed playing reggae music.

"Thank God for you!" I voiced my sentiment.

I dropped by the school at their lunch to take my first lesson in how to find Lady Siddons, the drama teacher who was in charge of the musical videotape. I found that she was out for lunch, so then I went to visit Alyea's Jewellers, a place I had not gone to since the summer.

My last two visits there had been some of the most enjoyable times I have had in a jewelry store. The gentleman who had been there both times had delighted in showing me exotic stones, explaining the tricks of jewelry and metalwork, and telling the tales of various pieces. This time he was not there (though I did find out that his (real) name is Stefan). Instead, a lady named Anne helped me, but, try as I might, you may need a certain rapport with a jewelry salesperson that was just lacking here, though she was very nice.

Stefan had shown me an unset cushion-cut morganite when I expressed my desire to see one. Now I saw a ring with one, which Anne explained to me was a new design, and I really think it is the same stone - the same size and shape, and peachy-pink colour. It has pavé diamonds around it in the ring though; I cannot afford it. May the woman who can wear it with pleasure.

I stared at one stone, trying to recall what the greenish-yellow-brown shade was called. Facts swarmed up: it was pleochroic, indeed trichroic...Andalusite! How could I have forgotten andalusite? Anne let me try on a strand of andalusite beads they had. Beads are not exactly my thing, but I vow that someday, when I am rich, I will also own an andalusite piece. What I like about Alyea's is that they have the harder-to-find stuff: green tsavorite garnet, blue zircon, pink spinel, kyanite... Since they do so many custom designs in-house (although the stones are cut elsewhere) I think I will go there when it comes time to get an engagement ring. But there was really nothing much there that day that both caught my eye and was even vaguely within my budget. I will return after Christmas.
At 3, realising I had forgotten myself, I rushed off to the school to help with math (why do I do that?). As I entered the main hall, I saw the Dark Lord coming out. In remembrance of a running joke past, I held the door open for him, as he was carrying out an Apple flatscreen.

I no longer question or wonder about anything the Dark Lord does; I have concluded that he is like a barion-cut chrysoberyl: it is much more enjoyable when you don't try to pick it apart and find out the truth about it. I know very little truth about the Dark Lord, and will make even fewer bets on truth, but three dollars says this is the first time anyone has ever compared him to a chrysoberyl. Especially a barion-cut one.

I did manage to track down Lady Siddons, and she asked me to track her down again two months from now.

At math help the p-adically challenged gentleman was back again, and so was the linearity-intrigued grade nine. The grade nine teased another grade nine, who was apparently born in Moscow but left it nine years ago and could not remember a thing about what it is like.

"What is Moscow like?" I replied. "The rich are very rich. The poor are very poor. The subway is dirtier. The customer service is as bad as ever. Way more expensive than anywhere else in the country." I should have mentioned the Maseratis, but I forgot them.

"It is not even the centre of the country," the linearity-intrigued youth said.
"Close enough. Who wants to live in Siberia?"

"I do," said the grade nine, who, incidentally, looks to be of distant African descent.

Canada's winters are bad enough for me. At the end, with only the p-adically challenged gentleman remaining (who still cannot figure out where the centre is of a circle in standard form just by looking at it), the Finance teacher and I shared a discussion about, coincidentally, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. She was sure Lauren Bacall was in it. I replied that Jane Russell played the other main role and the only other woman was very old and would be dead by now: definitely not Lauren Bacall, who is alive. Between me and imdb.com, she was finally convinced she had been thinking of How to Marry a Millionaire.

I pointed out I have a track record in such trivia. In the course calendar for all the high schools in Ottawa, among the things our school is proud of is that they were Reach for the Top provincial finalists for the last four years - I know, I was either playing or coaching - and, and my heart twisted a little at the sight of this, their several interdisciplinary clubs, such as the Space Simulation and Robotics. Oh, Robotics, why did you have to die? I know why you did, but I still hurt.

The p-adically challenged gentleman finally finished his work.

"Do you come here every day, for math help?" I ask him.


"What do you want to do afterwards? Like, do you have a university career?"

"Yeah, I want to be an accountant. My father is an accountant, and he has everything set up for me. Once I pass the courses, he knows where I will do co-op and everything. The math isn't even hard, he says. Just that Carleton requires calculus."

Holy Mother of God.

I cannot even begin to respond to that, although I did explain to the Finances teacher that, judging from what I have seen of his work, someone who has trouble understanding where the centre of a circle is from an equation in standard form, at the end of the conics unit, is due for a tumble in university math, he and his father both.

I went to the math office to once again seek Lady Cauchy, but Lady Runfar told me Lady Cauchy was gone returning costumes. Between borrowing costumes and returning costumes, I hardly ever catch sight of her. However, Lady Runfar and I had a pleasant talk about the fractal calendar I had given them the previous Christmas, the one I am giving this Christmas, as it is no longer a surprise, about compex numbers, the flurry of second teachables, and my intentions to give the NAQT team a crash course in integration between now and June.

Then I left, thinking sadly of robotics, and I came to the conclusion that the Dark Lord is not a chrysoberyl. He is kyanite. He is harder when approached from one side than from another, and brittle along one axis, so when struck wrong he either breaks or leaves splinters in your hand. Robotics was one splinter.

Besides, kyanite is the same colours as the Dark Lord's magic.


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