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With the highly anticipated finale of Batman about to be released (The Dark Knight Rises), there was a solid week of Batman related stuff playing on TV. I started watching The Dark Knight during dinner and when it went to commercials, I noticed that the scene-break they used said “The Dark Knight” and then it said “Heath Ledger” underneath. That got me thinking – the entire comic and persona of Batman are based on, well, Batman. It’s funny that of all the actors’ names, they chose the villain. Now, obviously, I know Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight was an incredible feat of acting that pulled the story and attentions of the audience so that they were centered on him. I just found it funny because that movie will forever be epitomised by the Joker. It’s like, when you think of The Dark Knight, the first thing you think of is the Joker. Amazing.

So, what other texts have featured the villain stealing the show? Well, the first one that came to mind was Othello by William Shakespeare. Iago has been widely regarded as Shakespeare’s ultimate villain, and one of his few Machiavellian evils (many of his villains were misguided, such as King Lear and Hamlet – they thought they were doing good). The fact that I can compare these two, vastly different, texts says something about the nature of the antagonist’s role. Let me cut to the chase: I think humans naturally enjoy a good villain more than a good hero. This might sound a bit morbid and cynical (and if it doesn’t yet, I’ll impress that upon you later), but I’ll present my reasons in a second. First, I want to pay homage to these two wonderful villains.

Before I start, I want to put a little informative foreword here about villains for my fellow writers. Although “Machiavellian” is a classification for antagonists, I believe a wider classification exists. There are three kinds of villains: the evil, the misguided and the chaotic.

The evil villain is your cookie-cutter do-bad-things villain. He is predictable, evil and must be stopped. This was the classic antagonist, and is sometimes known as a needless evil. It was the most common form of antagonist a few decades ago and was characterised by a lack of motive and/or simply being evil for the sake of evil. Being evil for money and power are included in this – what we have here is a character that is evil to the core with no evidence of a wider range of emotions because the character’s sole purpose for being created was to be the villain. Examples include the Wicked Witch of the West from, most Disney villains (such as Hades being evil when in true Greek Mythology, he was not), most villains of movies with aliens in them, and most serial killers or action movie villains where the motive is personal gain or psycopathic slaughter. You can tell that a more diverse opinion was never shown for these characters because they only wanted you to think of them as the bad guy that had to be killed.

The misguided hero is the one who starts doing evil things out of the belief that they are acting in a “greater good”, are mislead or corrupted by a greater evil, or even just to avenge a horrible tragedy they experienced in their past. These are the heroes that you mourn for when they die, and the ones that you wish (and they sometimes are) could be converted back to the right path. Examples of these include Uchiha Itachi, Darth Vader, King Lear, and most other villains of any movie that tries to show an antagonist that repents at the end and delivers some sort of moral message. These villains are humanised more, and have more depth in character because they seem more real. To err is to be human, and it makes us wonder, how far would we go for the greater good and how far would we fall without even realising it? These villains are becoming more popular in contemporary media; I think writers have realised that a necessary evil is a bit unrealistic and shallow.

Finally, we have the chaotic villain. It would be easier to describe this villain with an example than to explain it first, so I’ll just say the Joker (in The Dark Knight; I haven’t read enough Batman comics to understand his original character) is a chaotic villain. Alfred sums it up nicely with his famous quote (loosely quoted by me) “Because some men can’t be understood through logic, such as money. They can’t be bullied, controlled or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” The Joker doesn’t want money. He burns a whole bunch of it to show the mob leader that money is petty. As he says himself “I don’t have plans. I just go with the flow”. He’s such a deliciously evil character because he cannot be predicted, and thus cannot easily be stopped. He’s not powerful because he’s super wealthy or is the leader of a powerful group, he’s powerful because he cannot be understood and because he seems to enjoy going to extremes that a normal human would shudder to think of. A chaotic villain is not necessarily evil – evil is predictable, you can always expect them to do the wrong thing. A chaotic villain simply does things. Sometimes they have unintended consequences – such as the Joker essentially putting the mob out of the picture as a crime force, uniting Gotham and solidifying Batman’s power – which may even be considered good, but in the end you know that something is going to be destroyed because that’s what chaos is. It’s not rational, not logical, follows no process and is not predictable. It just destroys. 

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Now for the Joker. Let’s be clear, I’m talking about the Joker from The Dark Knight – I don’t want comic book fans attacking me, I admit I don’t know much about the original Joker. I’ve actually touched on some of this above in the chaotic villain explanation, but I just wanted to go a little bit deeper into the Joker’s character. I think he’s deliciously evil (or chaotic, if you go by my definitions) because if nothing else, he is an excellent study of the human pysche. I classified him earlier as Machiavellian because Machiavellianism is characterised by deceit and manipulation, two tools that the Joker uses to great effect. He enters the movie appearing like an intricate planner: he plays upon human greed by making his bank-robbing accomplices kill each other to reduce the split (more profits after splitting if there are less people to split it with). However, we know he’s not a planner – he says so himself. I see it more as his understanding of how humans will react, and using this to his advantage. He knows just how to get to people. Another powerful scene of him turning human instinct against itself is after he kills the black mob leader and says to the remaining three survivors “we have one position open, so let’s have tryouts”. He uses human survival instinct to turn former colleagues against each other in such a simple yet brutal way. There are so many more examples I could give, but the last one I’ll mention is how he even succeeded in turning every day citizens into potential murderers by threatening to blow up a hospital if that guy (forgot his name) who was going to expose Batman on TV was not killed within a certain amount of hours.

By contrast, Iago is very similar, though due to the nature of the text in which he is a character and the sensibilities of Shakespeare’s audience, Othello is notably less in-your-face about the death and destruction. I would be wrong to say it was less violent though, as Iago manipulates Othello into killing his wife with his bare hands. As a character, Iago’s motive is never clearly given. He claims different motives to different characters but in the end, he only does so to manipulate them into doing what he wants them to do. The only thing we can possibly know about Iago is that he wants to destroy Othello, regardless of the consequences. This he succeeds in doing, all the while pretending to be Othello’s only trusted friend. His lack of clear motive and manipulative evil makes him one of Shakespeare’s greatest villains.

Why do we love villains?

Now to the question at hand. Let’s flash back to the beginning where I presented my thesis – humans naturally enjoy a good villain more than a good hero (good as in well designed; obviously I’m not talking about their ethical alignment). Why is this morbid? Because I think, deep down, humans have a penchant for evil. Objectively speaking, we do it every day without realising. Some evils have even become a social norm (such as discrimination) and others have even been endorsed by law (legal loopholes and other evils depending on the country you live in). Given the opportunity, many humans exhibit a strong desire to commit evil. These can be as lowly as stealing when nobody is looking to the abuse of power, such as prison guards humiliating and torturing prisoners (I’m sure I don’t need to give examples of these, they’re in the news every few months).

However, I think the most powerful example of this that I can give is something my art professor told me once (I’m actually quite disappointed that I forgot the name of this case, so I can’t source this information). She said that there was an artist who made himself the exhibit and sat amidst an assortment of tools. He invited the audience to use these on him. There were thumbtacks, nails and things like that. At first, the audience did nothing; they thought he was joking. Then somebody hit him lightly. The artist didn’t move or complain. Slowly, the audience became more daring. They used the thumbtacks, they cut him and beat him, until finally, somebody reached for a gun (it was unloaded but they didn’t know that), at which point security stepped in to stop it. If anyone remembers the name of this, please let me know. If anyone thinks my professor was lying to me, maybe she was but I’ve heard of weird self-inflicted-pain artists and regardless, I think this would happen. Humans have a penchant for evil. We are restricted by laws and social paradigm, but, given a chance, we would revert to a primal, destructive creature.

I’m sure some people will be too shocked at this accusation to give it any serious thought. Some will proclaim infallible ethical behaviour, or point to the statistically tiny amount of good people in the world. Truth is, most people are never in a situation where they can commit evil and get away with it. But if you look at humanity’s history of crimes, the destruction we’ve caused on both each other and everything around us, as well as our self-righteous thinking, as well as the way we treat fellow human beings, let alone other living creatures, I think you might come to realise that of all the living things we have discovered, humans are the most evil.

Of course, we could get into a semantic debate over the word evil and how it’s subjective, but you should get my point. Humans are, by nature, more strongly affiliated with evil than good. You’re more likely to find people who would steal than give something of their own just to make somebody else better off. Selfishness runs through us right to the core, and is really the root of all evil. That’s another debate I’ll have another time. One more example: you’re more likely to find a person ignore a mugging than stop one. Before you argue with me over this one, let me tell you that I consider apathy and cowardice a trait of evil (as opposed to good). Of course, they have a different amount of severity to a higher evil, such as slaughter, but it’s still a part of evil. Evil is so much more powerful than good. It’s so much easier to be evil than good, and so much easier to commit evil than protect yourself against it. Anyway, this is getting off topic.

How does this relate to a good villain? Well a good hero can only act within certain bounds. Being “good” restricts you in how you act, and humans are already very used to the idea of a hero. It’s not realistic and it’s not mind bending. But a villain? To explore the mind of somebody incredibly wicked gives us some sort of perverted pleasure. We can never allow ourselves to do what the villain does, so the villain becomes a conduit for us to explore darker creativities that exist within us. That’s why movies that make you question yourself are so powerful, because deep down, there are parts of us that we would never believe existed. That’s why a villain has so much more potential than a hero. “You have rules. The Joker? He has no rules. Nobody’s going to cross him for you.” A fitting quote. The villain has so much capacity as a character, and that’s why good villains continue to steal the show from heroes. We’re sick of heroes. They’re two dimensional, unrealistic and at best, flick our heartstrings a little so we go “aww”. Villains chill us, haunt us and make us question reality. That is so much more powerful.

Before you leave this post feeling all depressed, I want to add that I am not declaring all humans evil. I say we have a penchant for evil, but that does not mean we act (or should act) evilly. If there is anything that could possibly separate us from animals it is our ability to ignore our instincts and act with rectitude. Everyone’s had a crazy thought in their head before. Choosing not to listen to it is what makes you human.

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It’s been a week since this blog went up and I’ve hit 500 views so I thought I’d celebrate by performing another community service (alongside my attempts to educate people in English and science). This time I’ll be telling you why people who complain about being friendzoned only have themselves to blame.

Now I’m no expert on girls, nor am I as smooth as some of my friends, but I do have a beautiful girl friend (which I consider an achievement that qualifies me to advise people stuck in the friendzone). Better yet, I have an analytical mind and will rationalise, to the best of my ability, the reasons behind my argument. It’s up to you whether you choose to believe in my reasoning or not, but honestly, if you have the time to add to this growing internet phenomena of friendzoning I think you’re due for a bit of a change in the way you think and behave. Before I get started, I’ll just mention that it would be more correct for me to say “friend zone” but as the phenomena is practically a term on its own, I combined the words (which also makes it easier for me to type and create a verb for it – friendzoning).

Let’s start with a disclaimer. I’m going to be generalising a lot because that’s the only possible way for me to write anything short of going around to each and every one of you with a case-by-case analysis. It’s the concept you need to understand, not the specific examples. In fact, if you’re dumb enough to think that every girl (yes, this will be targeted towards guys) is identical then maybe that’s the whole reason you’re not having much success. To make it easier on the eyes, I’m going to break it up into subheadings now.

Edit: In retrospect, the post title isn’t really addressed directly so I’ll just mention now: if you do any of the things I say not to do and none of the things I say to do, then that’s why you’re friendzoned. It’s your own fault.

Alpha Male:

Now, since we’re talking about heterosexual guys, it should be safe to assume that the girl you’re after is looking for a man. A man. Why is that important? So you can realise that you should stop acting like a pussy. Put it this way: would you be going for a girl that acts all masculine? I’m not talking about the “cool” girl who hangs out as a friend, plays games or joins in with sport and teasing, I’m talking about excessive bodily noises, behaving like a slob, poor hygiene and anything else considered not very feminine. Since we’re generalising here, the answer should be no. You want a girl who, despite any other cool traits, is still very feminine. What makes you think that girls want a feminine guy? This is why the age old adage “confidence is sexy” is still relevant. Confidence is a part of masculinity.

The topic of masculinity will inevitably lead to the controversial topic of the “alpha male”. Looking at primal animals (from which we evolved) the alpha male was basically the strongest provider (mainly of protection) and thus every female instinctively wanted the alpha male. Alpha male status basically denotes you as someone females find more attractive than others. Don’t get this term confused with jerks – they’re two completely different categories. The only reason why jerks have more success than you is because of something all jerks have. Yep, confidence. Do you honestly think women are stupid enough to intentionally choose somebody that will end up treating them wrong? No, they choose these jerks because they’re initially attracted to their confidence.

I’m going to be taking a lot of paragraphs because I don’t want this to turn into a block of text that’s hard to read. More on alpha males though – there are numerous traits of an alpha male and some of them will depend entirely on circumstance and environment. More general traits include wealth (provider), good looks (aesthetics and genetics), good body (protector and aesthetics), status (provider and power), and the confidence that I mentioned earlier. By now, hopefully you understand what I’m getting at. To be the ideal male, you should be confident, successful and just act with dignity and rectitude. Let’s review, can anyone tell me what’s wrong with this following picture?

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It should be pretty damn clear why this guy is in the friendzone. That’s not an alpha male. That’s a slave. It’s practically shouting at the girl that he’s not worthy of her attention because he has no dominance, no dignity and no confidence. Just to make my point clear, here’s another one.

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The pitiful fact that he’s kneeling in front of her while doing this not only emphasises his subservience (which is practically the opposite of alpha maleness) but basically tells the girl that he’s already in the palm of her hands. More about how girls think later.

Just one last thing to note before leaving the alpha male topic, remember how I said being an alpha male isn’t the same as being a jerk? Well yeah, that’s important. Sure, being an asshole is better than being the quiet guy who nobody thinks of, but if you can be the awesome guy who’s also not an asshole, that’s even better. Sorry, I just had to include one more because this one is the epitome of pathetic.

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If you’re going to do that, at least get your face out of the dirt and face upwards. Give her a cheeky grin and tell her to watch her step.

Making your intentions clear:

Let’s start this one off with a picture from Friends, since the show was what popularised the term “friendzone” in the first place.

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Notice how he said “you waited too long to make your move”. Time is not an arbitrary measure, but you need to make your intentions clear. If you act like nothing but a friend, eventually, that’s how she’ll think of you. If you don’t make it clear that you’re interested in her, then at some point it’s going to be game over for you. And no, doing everything for her and always agreeing with her doesn’t let her know that you’re interested in her. That’s how she comes to know of you as the friend she can always rely on and who’ll do anything for her.

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This one is roughly correct. When the girl loses any sexual interest in you, you are no longer in the game. If you confess after she has decided that you’re only a friend, you’re just going to get an awkward “let’s just be friends” kind of rejection. Your image in her eyes is very important. That doesn’t mean be a pig and make blatant advances on her, but keep her guessing. Just when she thinks you’re just a friend, you say something naughty. She goes “oh! I can’t believe he said that about me” and starts to feel self-conscious. At some point, she’ll start to care about your opinion on how she looks and she’ll want to prove herself to you. That’s how you’re meant to do it – girls are too used to being chased so a guy that can make her do the chasing is both interesting and an alpha male (because by nature, that’s what the alpha male is). I’m not going to go any further into this but just remember, when I say “make your intentions clear” I mean, make sure she knows (or thinks it’s a good chance) that you want more than just friendship. I’m pretty forward and flirtatious myself so I’ve never run into a friendzone problem because none of the girls I’ve been with were ever certain that I just wanted to be friends. It might have also had something to do with me being impatient when I want something, but I would hint at something more than just friends every now and then to keep them on their toes and to keep that interest there.

She just doesn’t like you:

Then give up. Life isn’t so easy that you’ll always get whatever you want. People, of all things, are very emotionally complex. It’s not as simple as “I want an xbox, therefore I work for the money and when I get the money, I can have that xbox that I want”. Sometimes a girl just won’t like you. Take a hint, you’ll be better off and so will she. Not only is pining after the same girl after being subtly rejected very beta (beta meaning not alpha), it puts you in a bad emotional state and prevents you from reaching for other opportunities. Also, it annoys the crap out of the girl.

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So I saw that picture and people were going on about how he was friendzoned. I think that’s just a pretty blatant hint that she’s not into him. Holy crap she practically shouted out “I’m lesbian”. The fact that she felt the need to state that they were “not dating” and just “best friends” seems pretty intentional to me. This is why girls always complain that us guys don’t get hints. Also, why would the guy say “hahahaha” after saying “I love you”. That’s just giving the girl an excuse to take it as a joke. Stick to your guns, don’t pussy out half way.

Even if you want that one particular girl more than anyone else, it’s still better for you to let go – at least for now. Why? Because after letting go, you might find that you didn’t like her as much as you thought you did. Other girls could make you forget her. And if not, by leaving, you have an opportunity to erase your history with her and reinvent yourself before coming back for another shot (maybe a year or so later). It’s better to be constantly in and out of the “I just met you zone” than permanently in the “friendzone” (if you want the girl, that is; those of you that are happy just being friends are either lying to yourself or shouldn’t be bothered about the friendzone in the first place).

And yes, if you finish sticky-taping your balls back together and ask the girl out, you might get rejected. Maybe that’s because she doesn’t like you. But refer to the paragraph above – you’re more of a man (and thus more attractive) if you try, fail then leave. I’ll let you guys in on a secret. My ex cheated on me and we broke it off on mutual terms. She was surprised that I didn’t try to get her back and that I let go of her so quickly and easily. Within two days, she was trying to ask for me back. I still ditched the bitch because that’s what being alpha is and if I let her walk all over me, I’d be like the human bridge up there – pathetic.

Understanding how girls think:

I’ll be blunt. This is incredibly freaking hard. However, there are a few things in particular that you’re better off knowing. First of all, girls are attracted to confidence. We’ve gone through that already. Second, girls are insecure and emotional creatures – they will constantly seek affirmation from peers. That’s why married men and guys with girlfriends are more attractive to girls – because the guy’s worth has already been verified by another female. If the girl is single, she might think “why isn’t he with me? Is the other girl better?” and then feel the need to prove to herself that she’s the better one (which is why we get women who hit on married men, besides the “thrill” of cheating). There are ways to play on these insecurities to get the girl to chase you but I won’t get into those (and they’re not as bad as it sounds). Third, girls are attracted to wealth and status. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar. That doesn’t mean a girl will pick solely based on those things, but they do play a significant role. The older the girl gets, the more important money and status will be and the less important things like physical appearance will be (good news for some of you).

Why are wealth and status important? Because females are, by nature, nest builders. They seek the best man to provide for a family, then they have children and raise them in their nest. All girls want a perfect nest. Why wouldn’t you? Of course, sometimes they just want these things because they’re narcissistic. In reality, it’s probably a mix of both. Just remember, girls want a guy that has the potential to provide them things they want, whatever it is they want (superficial stuff or family stuff).

Notice how I say “potential”. This is important because sometimes you don’t have to have the wealth already. Why are men with no direction or future, and who are unwilling to change themselves, unattractive? Because women know they’ll end up nowhere with a man like that. Physical appearance comes in a bit here – the fact that you work out is attractive on multiple levels. First, it means a hot body (or a potential future hot body), and second, it means you’re the kind of guy who’s willing to improve parts of himself that he knows need work. That is immensely attractive in both men and women.

Of course, there are also the other well-known traits that can give you a few extra points. Being interesting and funny and stuff always helps. Just remember though, girls are always talking about that “chemistry” between them and a guy. What they don’t know (and what a lot of you guys don’t know) is that chemistry doesn’t just happen. You make it happen. From the moment a girl meets you, the way you look, smell, present yourself and speak, as well as what you say and with what kind of tone, your body language and your entire carriage all contributes towards whether she feels chemistry or not. Sure, you can fluke it from time to time, but if you really know what’s going on, you can create that chemistry yourself.

So, if you made it through this entire post you’ve probably had some problems with the friendzone. Let me know in the comments below whether you learned anything, whether anything makes or doesn’t make sense and even if you want peoples’ (including mine) opinion on a particular situation of your own, put down the details and I’ll do my best to give you an answer.

I honestly don’t know how some of these myths are persisting so I’m here to bust them. Let’s hope Mythbusters doesn’t mind if I provide some additional firepower to the whole stupid myths thing.

  1. Your heart stops when you sneeze. FALSE. Holy crap could you imagine if it did? I’ve even heard university anatomy tutors claim this is true. It is most certainly not. Nor will your eyes pop out if you manage to keep them open. A sneeze begins with a tickling sensation that sends a message to your brain that something needs to be expelled from the lining of your nose. Your chest tightens from taking in a deep breath, your eyes close, your tongue presses against the roof of your mouth and you blast air out of your nose with an amusing sound that is unique to the person.
  2. Osmosis (basically water absorption) is the cause of the wrinkly, prune fingers that you get from staying in water for too long. FALSE. Surgeons discovered centuries ago that cutting a certain nerve would prevent prune fingers, suggesting that osmosis was not the cause. A bit more recently, scientists determined that the wrinkles were an adaption to provide better grip in wet conditions (S. Karger AG, Basel, 2011).
  3. The Coriolis effect (caused by the Earth’s rotation) is responsible for water draining down the sink in a certain direction. FALSE. The Coriolis effect does affect long-lasting vortices, but this is on the scale of things like hurricanes. Your sink, bathtub and shower are not significant enough to be affected by this force (which is a very small force indeed when you consider that the Earth makes one rotation a day, whereas your sink will make a rotation in seconds). The direction your sink drains in is determined by the vortices introduced whilst washing, the way the sink is filled and even the shape of the sink.
  4. A human in the vacuum of space without a space-suit will pop, explode, implode or anything else dramatic like that. FALSE. If the person exhales before exposure (to prevent lungs from bursting), that person could survive around 30 seconds before dying of asphyxiation (lack of oxygen).
  5. Dropping a penny from a very high building will kill a pedestrian below. FALSE. A penny is not aerodynamic enough to pick up enough speed to kill somebody. Its terminal velocity and weight aren’t sufficient to produce enough impact to kill – in fact it would just sting if you got hit by it.
  6. Lightning does not strike the same place twice. FALSE. In fact, it’s more likely to strike in the rough vicinity of the first strike because of the way lightning bolts are formed. I won’t get too deep into this (at least not for this post) but lightning is formed after a path of ionised air (known as plasma) is created between the cloud and the target (known as a step leader). Because plasma is more conductive, electrical current will flow along this path to neutralise the charge separation, shooting lightning back up into the clouds. While we’re at it, tall objects do not always get hit by lightning. True, they are closer to the cloud and thus there’s a higher chance for the step leader to create a path to a tall object rather than low ground, but the path of lightning is very unpredictable. For the purpose of this myth, just remember that if lightning strikes near you, then there’s a conductive path of ionised air going up from there and you are most definitely not safe because lightning is a goddamned beast and will strike wherever the hell it wants (probably close to an existing conductive path because electricity will obviously flow through the path of least resistance).
  7. You can’t create gold from other metals. FALSE. This might come as a surprise to many, since alchemists have tried for so long to accomplish this, but scientists are already capable of turning lead into gold. Glenn Seaborg, 1951 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, was apparently the first to succeed in transmuting a minute quantity of lead into gold. I’ve lost the academic paper that I originally read so I can’t be entirely certain, but I remember it was through a process of adding/removing particles or electrons or something else subatomic from the molecular structure of lead. Unfortunately, the cost of creating gold is not worth the value of the gold created, but there were insider reports (from Proctor and Gamble I think) that they predict the process will be refined to a profitable state within the next 50 years. Incidentally, these days the transmutation of elements is no big deal. Particle accelerators do this every day.
  8. Evolution always brings about improvements. FALSE. You may think that evolution is the process of improving a “lower” life form into a “higher” one, but in actual fact it’s dependent on environment and circumstance. Natural selection does tend to weed out weaknesses, but certain environments may have changed or remained the same over time, causing living creatures in those environments to require or not require evolution, respectively. Alligators, fungi, sharks, some fishes, and mosses are examples of creatures that have remained relatively the same over time, because they are so well adapted to their environments that they do not require improvement. The “strength” and “survivability” of a creature is almost entirely dependent on its environment.
  9. There is no gravity on the moon (or in other parts of space). FALSE. If you were to draw vectors in space to represent the influence of gravity, it would be a chaotic mess. Every stellar mass’s gravity in the universe will be influencing you with a force dependent on the distance between you and the core of that mass. The calculation of this, in a multiple body system, stumped Newton, causing him to become religious at the end of his days. Ironically, his problem was solved later through further study into perturbation theory and Newton’s own calculations by someone whose name I’ve forgotten and can’t find with a quick search on Google. I believe he was a French or Swiss scientist who also belonged to some church. Hit me up if you know who I’m talking about. Anyway, considering the calculation of this baffled one of the greatest minds in history, let’s just talk about gravity on the moon. Yes, you are being pulled towards the moon and earth (because Earth’s gravity is far stronger), but because the moon is orbiting the Earth, you are also travelling “sideways” enough so that you can stay airborne (or spaceborne?) for far longer than on Earth.
  10. Christopher Columbus discovered that the Earth was round. FALSE. Navigation systems were already based on a spherical world by Columbus’s time, and he failed to reach his original destination and discovered America instead. Pythagoras was actually the first to propose a round Earth. He died around 495 BC, around 2000 years before Columbus.

There’s heaps more interesting “facts” that are wrong, but I’ll leave it at these for now. It’s getting hard for me to think of any more at the moment. Some of this info was pulled off the internet but I can’t remember where so I’m not going to source them. In any event, it’s all in my own words so no biggie. It’s not like I’m claiming a huge discovery, these things should be well-known but aren’t, which is where the problem is!

People on the internet have been alternating between excessive incorrect usage of the word swag and frustrating confusion over its meaning. And no, those stupid acronyms aren’t funny or accurate. I’m here to shed some light.

The English definition of the word swag is an ornamental arrangement of flowers, fruit and greenery. So yes, from a linguistics point of view, the little kids online posting swag pictures sound very stupid now.

Forgive me the shoddy work, I was too lazy to open Photoshop so I did this with an online editor. Anyway, swag can also be slang for loot, promotional items or a bundle of belongings.

These days, swag has taken on a new meaning that is roughly encapsulated by the synonyms “attitude” and “style”. However, I have seen some ridiculous usages of the word swag that not only violate their English definition, but also have nothing to do with their new “definition”.

As for how the word came to be used in this way, I’m not absolutely certain but based on my understanding, it originated from the LA style dance scene in which studio dancers would compliment their peers on having “swag”, as well as by throwing kicks and caps at them, which was basically the shortened form of swagger (moving with attitude and confidence).  I heard this term used frequently when I started getting into LA style about four or five years ago, which (I think) pre-dates the incorrect usage of the word now. Keep in mind, LA dancers were probably using that word long before I started getting into it, so I’m quite certain this is the origin of the contemporary usage of “swag”.

Now, how did the word spread outside of the dance scene? Hip hop artists like Chris Brown sometimes associate with LA dancers. Ian Eastwood choreographed for “Cat Daddy” (that’s what he told us at his workshop anyway) and I’m sure many other dancers frequently work behind the scenes for singers. In addition to dancing, they adopted the LA style’s clothing and eventually, their language. That includes the word swag. These hip hop artists then spread the word “swag” to the mainstream through their music. As we all know, the mainstream comprises of 99.99% impressionable idiots lacking any sense of their own identity, and as a result, they were all quick to jump on the “cool wagon” like ignorant, mindless zombies.

Now, I profess to using the word swag in its new definition too, but that’s only because I use it in a street dance sense. I don’t want to sound like a self-entitled prick but I think I’m allowed to use it more than some kid who uses it as an excuse to drop out of school, knock up some girl, work a minimum wage job to pay for her and the child, get divorced because it’s too tough and pay child support, bounce between minimum wage jobs for the rest of his adult life, and die a lonely man. Oh, but a lonely man with “swag”, apparently.

 

Too often do I get carried away championing the Grammar Nazi cause that I forget to educate in a less scathing way. This is an odd habit of mine considering I used to be an English tutor – a patient and encouraging one too (I’d like to think).  I blame the impersonal nature of the internet for my blunt, borderline-mockery of those that commit errors relating to English syntax, although I’ve mentioned before that I generally don’t bother correcting people unless they’re trying to correct someone else – and getting it wrong. I’d like to think this absolves me of some of the gravity of my crime – I leave the oblivious alone and hunt the self-proclaimed Grammar Nazis who obviously need a bit of a lesson themselves.

Anyway, to amend my sins I’ll quickly throw together some of the most common errors that I see so that this can be used as a reference for those trying to fix up their English (to whom I give my utmost respect – props for your effort). I don’t believe absolutely perfect grammar is necessary, and I have many well-educated, intellectual peers who have problems with English syntax themselves, but a good degree of English writing is necessary for professional credibility, and also for its own sake. What I find hilarious are people who attempt to be deep and meaningful with incorrect grammar – it sort of undermines your credibility when you don’t know what you’re saying. I think it would be plagiarism for me to go linking funny grammar fail photos, so I’ll let you guys Google them yourselves. I also don’t want to offend my Facebook friends by using theirs. Suffice to say, in a world comprised mostly of idiots, it’s nice to be able to stand out by using proper English. By the way, for those who don’t know, in linguistics, syntax is the study of the principles and processes of constructing sentences. I use the word syntax because I don’t want to be incorrect by calling something a grammar mistake when it’s actually spelling, punctuation or diction, for example (so yes, the term Grammar Nazi is actually a misnomer, which I find ironic). Syntax sort of encompasses all of that.

Ok, I ramble a lot; my posts are way too long. If you avoid all of these errors, your English is passable and you should be left alone by all but the most seasoned of Grammar Nazis. These are off the top of my head so I may miss some conditions. Here’s the list:

10 Common English mistakes:

  1. You’re means “you are”. Your means something belongs to or is associated with you. (You’re always late to your classes.)
  2. An apostrophe followed by the letter “s” ( ‘s ) is used to indicate possession, except for the word “it’s” which means “it is”. I find this one particularly amusing because people often say “Grammar Nazi’s” to indicate plural, which is incorrect. To indicate the possessive of a plural, you put the apostrophe after the “s”. However, if it’s a name ending with “s”, you still put an apostrophe with an “s” after the name. (Jess’s grammar is horrible. It’s quite obvious that she never paid attention in school; the teacher claims that she always got on the other students’ nerves.) Edit: Actually, there’s some debate over whether you need to add the apostrophe “s” after a name ending with “s”. My academic view is that you should, but it would take up too much space to support that argument here. Suffice to say, just make sure you’re consistent in your own writing.
  3. To indicate the plural of a word, generally you add an “s” to the end. If the word ends with the letter “y”, you change the “y” into an “ie” and then put the “s” on the end (-ies). Some exceptions include the plural form of “he” and “she”, “that” and “this” (they, those and these, respectively). (The baby’s eyes glared sinisterly at the other babies. They stared back with equal menace.)
  4. Words should be capitalised at the beginning of every sentence and after ever period/full-stop. Names and significant terms should also be capitalised (which is why Grammar Nazi should be capitalised, as it is an established term used to name somebody who corrects other peoples’ grammar). This should be pretty obvious so I’m not going to give an example. If you can’t do this correctly, I honestly think you need to go back to primary school – and I say that without any hint of insult intended. Also, capitalising randomly in the middle of your words and sentences makes you look like a douche.
  5. Then is used to indicate the next event after a certain time. Than is used to compare things. (He read the poorly constructed comment, then realised that he was far more educated than the other guy.)
  6. A liar is somebody who lies. I have no freaking clue what a lier or a lyer is. The act of committing a lie is lying. 
  7. Affect is a verb; it is the action of causing an effect, which is a noun. (His atrocious grammar affected the Grammar Nazis’ sensibilities to good effect.)
  8. Farther is used to indicate a measurable distance. Further is used for abstract distances, such as time or events. (He ran farther ahead but could predict no further catastrophes).
  9. Multiple negatives can be used for dramatic effect, but most of the time people use them incorrectly. If you use more than one negative in a sentence, you’re complicating things and you’re cancelling out the effect of your negatives. “He hasn’t never done nothing wrong” actually means he always does things wrong. See how confusing and stupid that is? If you want to say “He’s never done anything wrong” then just freaking say it normally.
  10. I’m not actually sure what the proper name for this error is but please, never say “more better” or anything along those lines. More is an adjective. Adjectives are used to describe nouns and pronouns only. Better is an adverb. You do not use adjectives in front of adverbs. Just say “better”, it already has the meaning of “more” incorporated into it.

Obviously, there’s many more mistakes that people make, but if you can manage to avoid these then congratulations! You are now the top 10% (a statistic that I can’t back up with any sources, but seriously, you’re now special because you’re no longer just another incoherent writer whose comments speak poorly of your education).

As a reward, here are some cool words (in my opinion) that you can try using to make yourself sound even more awesome.

  1. Ubiquitous – Omnipresent; found everywhere
  2. Pulchritudinous – Physically pretty; appealing to look at
  3. Paradigm – A set of forms and processes that is used as a model or example
  4. Paramount – Of great importance or impact
  5. Tantamount – Equivalent; equal to
  6. Guile – Cunning; deceitful
  7. Machiavellian – Characterised by the traits of deceit, manipulation and cunning
  8. Effervescent – Bubbly; lively
  9. Comeuppance – A consequence that one has earned, usually negative
  10. Enthrall – To captivate; to hold power over

With great grammar comes great responsibility. Enjoy your newfound power and may it help you in your social life, academic life and professional life (and it probably will if you used to tork lyke dis).

So despite doing a  Bachelor of Commerce, I don’t feel qualified posting about economics. Maybe studying something makes you realise how little you know about it. However, this is going to be quite basic so I should get all my info right.

I remembered a recent article I read about the UK prime minister stating that he will use “extraordinary legal powers” to close its borders to migrants in the case that the Eurozone collapses. Not very comforting news. This is tantamount to saying “we know the Eurozone is going to fall apart so we’ve found a legal way to deny entrance for people fleeing collapsed economies”. As it is, I think the collapse of the Eurozone is inevitable. The sovereign debt crisis is spreading and over the last few years, more and more countries have been added to the list.

The problem here is that there is no solution. I remember a post somewhere explaining how injecting money into the economy works. It showed money changing hands between people in Greece, who used that money to pay off their debt to another Greek person, and eventually the money all returned back to the person who spent it in the first place. It was then captioned “no money was spent but everyone paid off their debt” (or something along those lines). That’s all very well to pay off your debt to the butcher or pub owner, but the problem here is that these countries owe money to the rest of the world. Increasing domestic spending does very little to help with that. Why is there no solution? Because countries in the European Union use a common currency whose value is determined by an algorithm based on the combined economies of all member countries. That means the weaker countries are stuck with a stronger currency that their economy can’t support. With no fiscal or monetary policy available to them, the failing European economies lose all their international competitiveness for exports. Giving them money will not fix this problem – in the end, they can’t generate revenue because they can’t control the value of their currency. Rescue packages are just another of the human tendency to delay problems rather than solve them.

I remember an academic paper predicting that either the EU would collapse or it would split into two – with Germany championing the new European Union and taking its fellow strong-economy countries with it. That would be an interesting process to observe, but there are legal implications to kicking countries out of the EU, which is why they haven’t kicked out the PIIGS yet. Maybe the wealthier countries will voluntarily leave to form their own group. As always, I find the cyclical nature of a country’s power to be very interesting. Ancient Greek and Italy were the centers of the world in their time, and now they’re drowning in debt. This applies to many other civilisations, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Let’s go a bit closer to home. Sydney, Australia, is facing its own little economic struggle. Compared to the rest of the world, we’re quite sheltered. We weathered the GFC well owing to China’s huge spending in our resources sector, the fact that very few banks here invested in dodgy CDOs (collateralised debt obligations), and that the US banks reduced their interest rates and pushed their housing bubble higher whereas Australian banks increased interest rates significantly, slowing down the economy. As Australians, we were probably more chill about everything too, because there wasn’t any panic withdrawal and things proceeded as usual. Now the Eurocrisis is affected companies, and the advent of internet retail and the strong AUD, so we have another battle. Similarly to the currency problem I mentioned above, Australia’s strong dollar (pushed up by demand for natural resources) has hurt all other sectors in the economy. The government did really badly in this. Despite multiple academic papers saying that the resources sector was not a long-term replacement for every other sector in the economy, the government thought it would be a good idea to push the resources boom and sacrifice everything else. Well, retail is the shit that hit the fan first. All Australian retailers have been doing badly, and Darrel Lea recently went into administration, shutting down all across Australia. Of all Australian retailers, only Woolworths and Coles are doing alright, the two stores recently entering the top 25 retailers of the world. JB Hi-fi and Myer shares have been dropping steadily and both report tough times ahead.

On an even smaller scale, some particular stores are fighting with each other. Here’s an Easyway poster. Hopefully my fellow Sydney-siders can already see the humour in this. “Way more yummy than that time” with the T slanted to look like a C. This is blatantly trying to shake Chatime’s success in the bubble tea industry which has obviously damaged Easyway’s business. It’s funny because the sentence makes no sense by itself, as there is not context at all. The T is purposely slanted, and is the only letter out of place. It’s so obvious that it’s hilarious. Looks like everyone’s having a tough time.

I notice that I don’t source a lot of my stuff. This is mostly because it’s information off the top of my head. I know I’ve read it somewhere but I can’t remember exactly where and can’t be bothered finding it. However, this one was easy to find so I’ll source the article that says that the UK is closing it’s borders in response to the Eurozone crisis: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2168367/Eurozone-crisis-UKs-borders-closed-refugees-Greece-countries-eurozone-collapses.html

I’m going to file this under English and Random Facts, because it is a fact that the series was done badly and for reasons closely related to writing, and thus English.

One of the main problems here is the use of deus ex machina, which is technically from Greek tragedy, but as a literary/dramatic technique, I still consider this post relevant to the topic of English.

Ok, let’s get started. A lot of fans will remain close-minded and adamant that their favourite series is as perfect as the rainbow shooting out of a unicorn’s behind but hopefully some of this information will shed light on why the series was particularly bad. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the Avatar series and look forward to the next season. I also hated Shyamalan’s movie, as anyone in their right mind would. However, of all the seasons, LoK was the worst by far.

This was mainly because of poor planning. The Avatar team had this whole “four books for the four elements” theme going. Season 1 was Book One: Water, then came Book Two: Earth, and the last season of The Last Airbender was Book Three: Fire. Then The Last Air Bender ended (by the way, I also had a problem with them calling it Sozen’s Comet when a comet is made of frozen gases, and it doesn’t make sense that ice should power up fire benders). So what now? Three seasons, one element missing. Let’s make a quick fourth one to finish off with. Enter Legend of Korra.

What I’m getting at here is LoK was meant to be a standalone. Unfortunately, they tried to do too much with it and eventually Nickelodeon ordered a second season of LoK which is under production. If anything, that is an admittance that they didn’t accomplish what they set out to achieve with LoK – a nice ending to the four part series – and don’t want to end the franchise with a terrible impression. There’s too much left unexplored so they need another season to explain it all. That’s fine with me, but they should have anticipated it in the first place. Instead, we have a horrible standalone. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching. The series was entertaining and if you watched The Last Airbender, chances are you’ll have enough back-story to make sense of LoK. However, LoK, from a writer’s perspective (and any other intellectual) is a poor text for the following reasons.

Introducing the new Avatar. As a baby she’s already busting through walls and bending three elements (can’t do air yet). Flash forward and she’s defeating skilled benders in duels and is known as being incredibly strong. First appearance in Republic City and she trashes three benders from a notorious gang. With no history of Pro-Bending (the sport) she carries her team to the finals. What am I getting at? She’s damn strong from the onset and displays no real character growth. Aang took seasons to learn one element at a time and grow stronger and wiser. Yes, I’m aware The Last Airbender had more time to develop the story – so that’s why I said it was poor planning. Regardless, there is very little character development at all in LoK. The viewer is thrown into a story and watches events unfold. There is no journey, no connection and no feeling of accomplishment because there is no character development. It’s a list of events occurring in a world that isn’t explained with characters that are set in stone. From a writing perspective, that’s bad.

More, Korra has the attention of the only two male leading characters her age. Why? I don’t know. She hasn’t done much to get their attention. Bolin likes her because he likes any female attention (he goes on about how she came to see him as a fan and is characterised as someone who enjoys the company of women). Somewhere during the series, that personality got erased and replaced with the sad little brother that couldn’t compete with his big brother for the girl he loves. Then Mako apparently loved Korra, which I’ll get into later.

What does this mean? Korra is a Sue. A Mary Sue is a character that violates the reality of the story by having everything. A Sue is too ideal to be plausible, and makes for a horrible character because an underdog achieves goals, a perfect character just exists and everything works out for them. There’s a lot more to a Sue but you’ll have to Google that yourself. Maybe I’ll post about them later.

Now, a lot of people have accused Asami of being a Sue, just because she’s the rich, pretty girl. I think this is mainly jealousy over the fact that she’s pretty and has Mako’s attention, and people somehow wanted Mako and Korra to be together. Well bad luck, because Korra is more of a Sue than Asami is. Asami is pretty, yes. But she lost her mother when she was young, she loses her wealth because her father betrayed her trust and turned out to be a psychopath, she’s only strong because she was constantly targeted as a child and needed to learn how to defend herself, and all of that aside, she lives in a world of bending and she’s not a bender. That’s a huge disadvantage. Add to that the fact that her love rival is the freaking Avatar.

How about Korra? Strong from the very moment we are introduced to her, has the only two male main characters in love with her, treated special because of her status as Avatar, can bend multiple elements, and manages to steal another girl’s man, as well as steal a kiss from him when she knew he was in a relationship, but not get in trouble for it. Everything just works out for Korra. She’s the freaking Avatar. She’s special. Her one flaw is that she can’t connect to her spiritual side, which is never a complication in the story, and eventually she does anyway so she can bring in a deus ex machina. So yeah, Korra is the Sue here.

Amon is another problem. There was so much potential in his character. He could have been the “immortal idea” like V (from V for Vendetta). He could have just been the heart-wrenching product of a firebender’s cruelty and a jaded view on the world after the death of his parents at the hands of a bender (as he claimed). Nope. He’s just a liar. Maybe this was a weak attempt to portray a Machiavellian antagonist, like Iago from Othello, but really, he was just a waterbender who lied so that he could seize power. How boring. In fact, his entire motive makes no sense. Apparently the villain of the entire series is explained in a one minute flashback by his brother (he doesn’t even have the grace to explain himself) in which Amon is first the caring, protective brother, then the cruel, animal-torturing brother, then the guy who wants to eliminate all benders because he believes in equality. What the f-? Great, at this point it feels like the entire conflict of the series was a sham and the story is just falling to pieces.

Now that we’ve talked about how shallow the characters are, let’s get on to inconsistency and unnecessary additions to the series. The love triangle was stupid, quite frankly. It was featured in so any episodes as a point of conflict but it was never established properly. When I was watching it, all of a sudden I was like “wait a freaking minute here, Mako likes Korra?”. Why did I have this reaction? Because it was never properly demonstrated that he liked her. Yes, he complimented her for her good performance in pro-bending (which is normal) and there was a scene where he was staring across the water at the air temple where she lived. For like three seconds. Sorry girls, I live in a real world where it takes more than a well-earned compliment and looking in the direction where someone lives to fall in love. Compare that to Mako first meeting Asami.

See? Now that’s love. He spontaneously generates love hearts which float around his head. That’s true love. Maybe he firebended those hearts, I have no freaking clue, but it’s inconsistent as heck with the rest of the story. I had no idea that Avatar was a show that portrayed visual representations of their character’s emotions. So why are there no light bulbs every time someone has an idea? Why no hash and exclamation marks when characters get angry? Because this scene was stupid (man I really want to use the f-word) and inconsistent with the rest of the story. And honestly, he blatantly expresses love at first sight for Asami (four goddamn hearts, count ’em!). At what point did he give a clear sign that he liked Korra? No point at freaking all. Yet somewhere, they decided to turn it into a love triangle that had absolutely nothing to do with the plot and was just a constant reminder of how poorly thought out the series was.

Finally, the deus ex machina. For those unfamiliar with the term, it means “god out of the machine” and was basically a feature in some ancient Greek tragedies (performed on stage) where a “god” would resolve the characters’ problems and basically fix everything. The deus ex machina was often an actor being lowered down on to the stage, symbolising the descent of a god to magically put everything right. Nowadays, it’s basically a feature that doesn’t gel in with the rest of the story and is introduced for the sole purpose of resolving an issue that has caused the story to get stuck. It’s bad because it undermines the integrity of the entire text and removes all feeling of conflict. It’s like, why should I care if someone’s just going to come and fix everything? There’s no suspense at all. There’s no consequences.

Aang is the deus ex machina. Korra loses her bending and everyone freaks out. For once, I feel as if something momentous is occurring in the plot. It’s like, wow, the Avatar has lost her powers! Holy monkeys, what do we do now? There’s some real emotion now – sadness, fear, uncertainty, and destitution. One minute later – wait, never mind, here’s Aang to fix everything. Yes, I get that Korra was sad, and yes, that tear that fell off the cliff was symbolic of her character’s “death” (an Avatar without bending is a dead character – it fails to serve its intended purpose) and possibly reflecting her morbid mindset in which she may have contemplated suicide. This has nothing to do with the fact that these badasses come in and remove all the emotion, suspense and integrity from the text.

There is no purpose to any of the conflict in the series when Korra can just be sad and Aang will come fix everything. That is why a deus ex machina sucks.

Why am I so frustrated? I think the series had so much potential. They could have made something amazing, but instead, it was a rushed, poorly planned, inconsistent, shallow show. Hopefully they take more time with the next season, although thanks to their little deus ex machina, there’s no conflict for a second season. Amon is dead (supposedly – we never see him actually die) and the Avatar has her bending back and the power to restore bending. So what now?

Seriously though, how could would it have been if the second season was Korra journeying with Beifong (and possibly others) to find a way to restore bending? That would have made for a good story.

I’ve been asked these a lot lately so I’m going to compile my information – otherwise I’ll be retyping the same thing over and over again. Basically, any physical or mental issues that are biologically possible can be alleviated to some degree, if not fully preventable or fixable, with good nutrition and exercise. I say “to some degree” so that people don’t start nitpicking at my words and proclaiming XYZ cannot be cured by diet and exercise – no it might not be curable but you can certainly make a positive difference. This is a medical fact that has spawned the “Exercise Physiology” field as a separate branch from physiotherapy, allowing it to be a specialisation all by itself.

Obviously obesity is the most common example but just to prove my point, I’ll give you a more obscure one. I have a fracture in my lateral meniscus that has weakened my knee a lot. I went to see a sports injury specialist – one of the best NSW apparently, every GP knows his name – and he said the only thing I can really do is strengthen the muscles around the knee to help support it (this was after already having done surgery). So yeah: “Fat? Exercise. Permanent fracture? Exercise”.

I’ll be a bit more politically correct and mention that you should only exercise properly at the proper time. I’m not telling you to drag yourself up off the road after getting hit by a car and hit the gym first. You might want to go to the hospital before that. But as a long term solution to an ailment, exercise and diet are really the only solutions (I don’t consider being on a wide range of medications for the rest of your life to sustain your existence a solution).

Most of the stuff I’m asked about relates to weight loss so I’ll focus mainly on that. Before I start, I’ll add one last disclaimer: I’m reasonably fit as I watch what I eat and work out but I’m no gym junkie. I’ve done a bit of research on these matters but I’m not an expert. What I’m telling you is really stuff that everyone should know – but for some reason they don’t. It’s simple.

I’m going to shoot the naysayers in the foot before they begin. I’m certain people have heard the whole “some people can’t lose weight even if they diet and exercise because it’s genetic or they have some kind of disorder (Syndrome X and hypothyroidism fit in here)” argument. Well if you want to get all scientific about it, I will too. Are you trying to claim that your body violates the first law of thermodynamics (conservation of energy)? So you say that no matter how much energy your body uses and no matter how little energy you put into your system, you still manage to survive without losing any weight? The only  explanation for that would be if you are creating energy from nothing, thereby violating the first law of thermodynamics. If you still think this is you, then congratulations, you have transcended the laws of the universe and are a god unto yourself.

For those of us that are human, or at the very least, exist within the reality of this particular universe (multiverse theories aside), I will guarantee you that if you put less energy into your body than you burn in a day, you will lose weight. Your body needs to burn something for energy. It is not creating something from nothing.

Let me just make something clear. I have nothing against people who actually do have disorders but too often are these illnesses used as an excuse for an absolute lack of willpower and effort. And even if you do have Syndrome X or hypothyroidism, your body still obeys the first law of thermodynamics. The amount of benefit you get out of a diet will be less than someone without your condition, but you will still benefit to some degree. Hey, that’s life. It’s not equal and it’s not fair, but if there’s no point giving up and just moping about it because no one else is going to pick your ass up for you.

Just quickly on the two mentioned disorders: Syndrome X is a metabolic disorder that apparently affects one in four Americans (yes, I said Americans – if you don’t like it read the blog post before this one). It’s basically an insulin resistance; your body usually produces insulin to escort glucose into your cells where it can be burned efficiently. An insulin resistance means that your cells don’t recognise the glucose and deny it entry, leaving it to accumulate in your blood stream. Fun fact number one: insulin resistances are usually caused by obesity in the first place. It’s a slippery slope. Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid gland at the base of your skull, which regulates your metabolism, gets low on hormone levels and thus slows your entire body down. As a result, your cells need less energy to fuel them, so you might be eating less than a similar person without hypothyroidism, but in actual fact you are still overeating (because you require less food).

By the way, your metabolism deteriorates in tandem with your health. By the same process, your metabolism gets better as you get healthier. Blaming your metabolism is just another excuse – you can improve it.

I’ve noticed my posts are turning into blocks of text so I’m going to split it up into subheadings now.

Diet:

Your body burns three types of fuel: carbohydrates (glycogen), protein and fat. These are burned in different ratios at the same time (so technically, you don’t burn each individually until it runs out then move on to the next). Of course, if you have no carbs or protein to burn, you’ll start burning fat as it is the only energy source available. Again, refer to the first law of thermodynamics. Your body can only operate with at least one of these three fuel sources because nothing in the universe can create energy from nothing and your body is only designed to burn these three types of fuel (so no, you won’t start burning off bits of your skull and brain).

Carbohydrates are the easiest for your body to burn because they convert to glycogen very easily and glycogen is basically the easiest and most available fuel for your body to burn. Glycogen is stored in your muscle to fuel their contractions and excess is stored as fat. There’s your first tip, if you want to lose weight, decrease your carbohydrate intake and if you want to gain weight, increase it (I’ll get to weight gain later). There are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex. The good ones are complex carbohydrates; they have a lower glycemic index which means they release energy slowly. A high glycemic index (simple carbs) means it releases energy quickly and basically your body’s glycogen levels will spike suddenly, causing a lot of it to be stored as fat because you have more glycogen than your muscle needs. Then, as you use up the glycogen in your muscles, your body now has no more glycogen (because the excess has already turned into fat), so you get hungry and eat more. Complex carbs will release glycogen slowly, meaning that glycogen will mostly go to fuelling your muscles rather than being stored as fat. The easiest way to distinguish between the two (for when you’re shopping) is that simple carbs are anything heavily processed or sugary (the latter should make a lot of sense because carbs are classified as saccharides, which basically means they’re a form of sugar). White bread, white rice, and pretty much white anything else is bad. Go for the brown option (no, this did not turn into a racial debate).

Next we have protein, a favourite for everyone trying to build muscle. Protein itself does not get burned, but rather, it gets turned into amino acids which are basically the building blocks for skeletal and cardiac muscle (among other things). Unused amino acids get converted to glycogen. Eventually, all protein will be converted to glycogen at a similar rate to carbohydrates (four kilocalories of energy per gram), but the process takes longer than for carbs. Despite this, increasing your protein intake is important for both those trying to lose weight and gain weight. For those trying to build muscle, it should be quite obvious why. I’ll explain it anyway: amino acids are needed to build muscle and if you burn out all your amino acids (during a workout, for example) you’ll start catabolising your muscles, which basically means your body will start breaking down your muscles for more amino acids (because muscles are made of amino acids and protein). For weight loss, protein is a slower fuel than carbs and more importantly, it keeps you full so you feel less need to eat. It also doesn’t that you’ll put on some tight muscle to replace your fat (if you’re exercising with your diet as you should be).

Lastly, we have fat. It’s a long-term energy source that breaks down into nine kilocalories per gram, which is more than double protein and carbs. It is much harder to break down into fuel, and thus you burn fat at a much slower rate than carbs (the easiest fuel source). As mentioned, technically, your body will be burning all three of these at the same time – so you’ll be burning tiny amounts of fat all the time, but if you have weight loss problems, chances are you’re putting on more fat while these little bits of fat are being burned.

Lesson: eat less if you want to lose weight. Stick to complex carbs instead of simple carbs and just reduce the entire amount you consume. Fibre is a lot harder to break down into glycogen so increasing your fibre intake (fibrous carbohydrates) is good too, plus it’ll increase your nutrition absorption and keep you full. Increase protein as well, to keep you full. Reduce fat intake because it’s already fat. Yes, healthy fats are still necessary, but if you have a weight problem it’s much simpler for me to say “just avoid fat”.

For weight gain – I know a lot of my friends who work out already know a lot about nutrition. Basically, you need to have fuel ready on hand so that your body doesn’t catabolise your muscles (catabolism is the metabolic process of breaking down molecules into energy). You also need amino acids to “protect” existing muscle and help build more of it. By this logic, it’s not good to work out on an empty stomach because you’ll have low glycogen and amino acid levels in your body, meaning that your work out could do more harm to your muscles than benefit.

Finally, drink lots of water. It cleanses your body and prevents water retention, which is basically your body thinking it’s short on water supplies so it stores water, causing bloatedness, puffiness of skin and an overall chubby appearance (plus cold water burns tiny amounts of calories as an added bonus). By the way, for those who don’t know, calories are a measurement of energy like a metre is a measurement of distance.

Exercise:

This is something that stereotypically, girls avoid (whereas guys stereotypically avoid the diet when trying to lose weight). I’m being politically correct here by saying “stereotypically” so don’t get offended if this is not you. The majority of fad diets are taken by girls though and a lot of guys pig out when trying to lose weight. The purpose of me mentioning this is not to point fingers, but rather to raise the issue that if you ever ignore one of these two elements to weight loss/gain, you are only doing at most 50% of the process. That means that even if you have your diet down to absolute perfection, you’re still missing half the weight loss process. Why not do 40% of each and get 80% of the process done? (These are rough figures obviously, the weighting of each element in regards to its influence on your body depends on your goal).

In terms of exercise, there is way too much information to give. I’m just going to address the most common ones. “How do I get a flat belly/six pack?” Diet. Sit ups will build your abdominal muscles but the reason why you have a big belly is because your fat is on top of your abs. In fact, getting huge abs will just push the fat out farther, making your belly look bigger. You need to burn off that fat. Core exercises are helpful here because they teach you to tighten your stomach area at all times. It’s like tensing your abs all the time.

Weight loss in general requires cardiovascular exercise, which burns a lot of energy as it is a prolonged need for fuel (as opposed to a 1RM deadlift, which is about five seconds of energy burning). As a general rule, if you’re not sweating, you’re not trying at all. If you can still walk normally when you’re done, you didn’t try hard enough. If you feel weak, almost nauseous and trembling from exhaustion afterwards, you pushed yourself and you should be proud. The same applies for weight lifting. For girls, I usually don’t recommend jogging because a lot of you jog with improper form, leading to high impact on your knees and too much strain on your ankle (which makes you develop large calves, something most of you don’t want). I recommend riding a stationary bike because it’s very low impact.

For muscle gain, most people know what to do. I’ll just say that hypertrophy (the increase in size of something in your body due to an enlargement of the cells) can only occur after cell deconstruction. What that means is basically you need to tear your muscles for them to grow bigger. You do this by overloading (lifting heavy weights). Recent studies showed that doing 80% of your 1RM (1 Repetition Max) for 5-8 reps is the most effective at building muscle. I’m not going to source it but you can Google this if you don’t believe me. No offence but I see a lot of Asians coming into my gym who flail 2kg dumbbells around for 2 minutes, chat for half an hour then leave. You might feel like you did your “gym session” for the day but really, you achieved nothing at all. Push yourself – if you’re not increasing the amount you lift every few weeks then you’re not progressing.

Well that concludes this lesson. Notice I didn’t talk about fitness here because the post would get too long. Your fitness is closely related to weight but not exactly dependent on it. Suffice to say fitness composes of four categories: cardiovascular, muscular endurance, muscular strength, and body composition (fat ratio, etc.).

I’m going to file this under Random Facts and Science because this is medicine and chemistry related (although die-hard physicists consider physics the only true science).

Recently, any 9gag post featuring the usage of the word “America” to represent the United States of America and “American” to refer to a person from aforementioned States has been met with a lot of tears, frustration and broken hearts in the comment sections. This could very likely be an internet-wide phenomenon, but 9gag is the only place where I really read comments (because there are so many idiots there it’s amusing).

Well, I’m here to end this crap.

These arguments usually revolve around something along the lines of “America is not a country, [insert profanity and remove appropriate punctuation], it’s a continent”. Wow that’s dumb. America is less a continent than it is a country. In short, using the word “America/American” to describe the US and its inhabitants is perfectly correct – and I’ll proceed to prove it to you.

Ok, so here’s some history. The term “America” was first featured on one of four five (as of July 4, the fifth was found in a German university library) maps of German cartographer Martin Waldseemueller, who died in 1522. At the time, it was used to mark a boomerang shaped strip of land that is now modern-day Brazil. Here’s a picture for reference.

That’s America there on the right. If you don’t believe me, Google it yourself. Anyway, it should be pretty obvious that there’s more to South America (and indeed North America) than what is shown there. Over time, the term “America” became used to describe the “New World”, which pretty much just included the Americas (gasp, there’s a hint!) and sometimes Australasia. This was mainly due to the expanding of the geographical horizon that existed in the European Middle Ages, in which they believed that the whole world consisted only of Africa, Asia and Europe. Eventually, after all was discovered, and scientists did their thing with tectonic plates, they divided North and South America into two different continents – and rightly so. Why? Because the two landmasses are on separate tectonic plates. Again, a picture for you as reference.

In case you can’t see, the brown plate is North America and the purple is South America. Well, now that we’ve established a well-documented, existing definition (that North and South America are two different continents) we can continue with our proof. And yes, I am aware that people around the world are actually taught different things. There’s a five continent model (old mode from the 60’s in Europe – hence the five Olympic rings), a six continent model where North and South America are combined into one (mainly taught in Europe and Latin American countries), and finally the seven continent model where North and South America are separate. However, most geographers and scientists now agree on a six continent model – but North and South America are still separate continents (refer to tectonic plates if you want to know why). The true six continent model (true as in geographically and scientifically endorsed) combines Europe with Asia (Eurasia) as they are technically one single landmass on one single tectonic plate. So either way, if someone tries to say North and South America are just one continent (America), then that’s how they were taught so it’s not their fault that they’re wrong. Yes, they are still wrong.

Let’s go back to our original claim “American is a continent not a country”. Wrong. Here’s where the previous hint comes back; the Americas (notice the plural) are two continents. They can also be collectively known as Pan-America, which consists of North, Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean. America (notice the singular) is not a continent. The continents are North America and South America, remember? Cutting the first half off a word does not make it the same thing, especially when the second half is the same for two different continents. In fact, these stupid claims are defeated by their very own logic. They argue that we cannot call the United States of America by the shortened term “America” but they say America is continent when it is itself shortened by cutting off the preceding word. In both cases, we’re ignoring the first half of the name, so “America is a continent, not a country” is already wrong by its own reasoning. So what makes it more correct to use America/American to refer to the US and its people? I’m glad you asked.

First of all, “American” is a demonym. A demonym is basically a term for the populace of a certain locale, based on the name of that region. Thus, Chinese (from China), Australian (from Australia) and American (from America). Now, here’s the fun bit. Let’s just say for an instance that the word America does not, by itself, have any meaning – thus nullifying the semantics of the word American (ignoring the fact that some people do already say “North American” and “South American”). What then would you call a person from the US? United States of American? United Statesian? Here’s my personal favourite: USAsian. It even sounds like “You is Asian”. If we ever change the word “American” it should be to USAsian. If you want to blame someone, blame the people who decided to name a country “the United States of [landmass]”. They obviously didn’t foresee the difficulty of naming things when they came up with that name. As a result, we just have the word American, which is a nice, simple demonym.

Second, and here we get into a bit of the etymology and semantics of language itself, what is the meaning of a word? If you think about it, a word is really just a wavelength emitted by our vocal chords. That’s the scientific way of saying “words are just sound”. So how does this sound have a meaning attached to it? It’s meaning is given to it by its use. If it’s used to represent something, it will come to mean that thing. The word “American” has already had a few hundreds years of usage to describe people/things from the United States. Not only that, it was popularised and utilised by the media and government (the American Dollar and the American Dream), so really, the word has already established its meaning and the media, people and government were the ones who created the word’s meaning, as well as ensuring that it sticks. So yes, America is the shortened word for the United States of America, and American is the word for a person/thing from the US. Its usage as such is perfectly correct.

Before I forget, I remembered someone saying “stop claiming the entire continent for yourselves”. I’m guessing that the other people belonging to North and South America (the continents) are feeling left out of their own continent. Well, in response, I say: chill out. You should be glad that you’re not lumped in with the US and have a country name and appropriate denonym for yourselves. That means you don’t get dragged into the American image of archaicness, obesity and stupidity (among other things). Now stop trying to argue that America “is a continent not a country” or you mind end up being considered stupid after all.

So, recently scientists reported the discovery of a particle with observable effects likening it to the Higgs Boson. That’s a very complex way of saying “they think they found the Higgs Boson”. Some of you may not think this is a big deal. To those people, I say “I don’t believe you understand the gravity of this matter”. That’s the first of some of the Higgs jokes popping up.

Anyway, this is a huge scientific breakthrough and it pretty much shoots the whole neutrino affair out of the water. Why is that? Well, there was a lot more hype over the neutrino potentially surpassing light speed because geeks and opportunists started an avalanche of ill-informed statements. The most prominent of these was the whole “faster than light” travel fiasco. I wrote an article on the neutrino for a course at uni but I can’t be bothered finding it so I’ll sum up quickly why this is a stupid idea: the neutrino is also known as the “ghost particle” because it can travel through matter with minimal to no interaction. If something with that kind of amazing ability can’t surpass light speed (or was in doubt of surpassing light speed at the time that these faster than light dreams started multiplying) then what hope do humans have? Let’s put this in perspective. Suppose the neutrino did manage to break the light speed barrier. Well, you might say humans will use that technology to develop super-light speed travel. Errrrrrr. Wrong. What are you going to do, make a spaceship out of neutrinos? Let me remind you that neutrinos do not interact with matter. You’ll have a better chance at resolving the atheist-theist war than ever making even a seat out of neutrinos. There’s a lot more to the neutrino than that, and maybe I’ll put the information up here some time, but for now, rest easy knowing that we’ll always be stuck at sub-light speeds.

I sort of went off at a tangent here. The point was that the neutrino buzz was a fad; there was never really any substance to it. This Higgs boson ordeal, however, is mind boggling. I mean that literally. Even with my reasonable grasp of science, it’s a bit hard to wrap my head around. I asked my mom and stepfather (both PhD physicists who were top of their field in Australia before retirement) for a bit of clarification and arrived at the understanding I have now. I’m going to give a brief explanation of the Higgs Boson and Higgs field in the following paragraphs; if these do not interest you, you may skip, but that leaves you with a bigger question – what are you doing reading this if you’re not interested in science?

Ok, so let’s start with the Higgs field. Why? Because the Higgs Boson is a particle associated with the Higgs field in the same way a photon is associated with an electromagnetic field. The difference here is that the Higgs field permeates the universe. This is a bit hard to understand without an analogy. Let’s say that the universe is submerged within a tank of water – that is, all the planets and stars and galaxies are objects within this tank. The water would be the fabric of time and space – as well as the Higgs field. It is everywhere, in more ways than one. For example, you can bend the fabric of space time (with our analogy, that would be a ripple in the water). Whilst this may shorten the “distance” between two points, the ripple does not eliminate the space time in between – it merely distorts it.

So now that we’ve determined that the Higgs field pretty much encompasses the entirety of the universe (Einstein theorised a similar space time fabric, though I forget the exact name), what you need to know is that particles travelling through the Higgs field, and thus interacting with it, are affected by the Higgs  Boson. The Higgs Boson is a class of particle whose category is known as a Boson. It’s special because it transfers mass to certain elementary particles and thus explains why some particles have mass and others do not. Without mass, there would be no gravity and thus no universe – which is why you’ll hear that the Higgs Boson “holds the universe together”. You’ll also hear it called the “god particle” but Higgs dislikes that name – originally he wanted it called the “goddamn particle” but his editor thought it would be more attention grabbing if it was named the “god particle”.

Anyway, if we delve a little deeper (and further outside my comfort zone), we can attempt to explain how this mass is transferred. Most particles have a positive or negative, non-integer spin. This means that at each energy level of the particle, only one type of spin can exist for the orbiting electron. This is known as the Pauli exclusion principle. The difference with the Higgs Boson is that it can have zero spin or integer spins, thus allowing it to exist alongside another spinning electron at any given energy level. This essentially means that it can exist in multiple states (you may have heard of this quantum mechanics term before, especially since the popularisation of Schrodinger’s Cat). Because the Higgs Boson can exist where no other normal particle should, it has the potential to transfer mass (this is actually my own speculation, don’t quote me in any academic papers).

Anyway, that’s about as far into it as I’ll get. The crux of the matter is, the simple model has been completed. Scientists used this model for 50 years with no proof that the Higgs Boson existed, and now, finally, we have that proof. In short, we’ve discovered something that was fundamental to not only our creation, but everything we see around us in the universe.

The title of this post also mentions world powers, but I’ve rambled on a bit now. I’ll just leave with a quick paraphrasing of the well known Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. “On the day that we Americans like to tell ourselves that we’re the best (July 4), Europe reminds us how far behind we’ve fallen in science (Higgs Boson)”. Dr. Tyson has a deep concern that scientific power will shift away from the US, and wishes to reignite his country’s passion for science. I agree with his forecast; due to the nature of brilliant minds, the next generations of scientists will go to Europe instead of the US for their scientific goals, due to the infrastructure Europe can offer (Large Hadron Collider vs. the now closed Enrico Fermi reactor in the US). A large part of the US’s success is due to the infrastructure and opportunity available within the country, which attracted immigrants and geniuses together. As Dr. Tyson also points out, the greatest scientific achievements made by the US were made by immigrants (a German scientist started the US space program, for instance), and if their infrastructure falls behind, inevitably, their science will too. This will have a widespread effect that will eventually see the US removed as the world superpower (among other factors).

Well, those are my thoughts for the day. Forgive me for any errors in my scientific talk – as I said, the details of quantum physics elude me and I haven’t had the time to research the Higgs Boson as much as I did for the neutrino. Let’s just leave with a picture of the second (and perhaps more prominent) reason why Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is so famous now.

Image

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