A night at the Ryugyong…

…is not something you’re likely to get anytime soon.

I’ve written about strange places before, but few places on the planet are quite as strange (or so it would seem, from what little we, on the outside, know about it) as North Korea. And there are few places in North Korea as strange as its capital, Pyongyang. And… perhaps the strangest place in Pyongyang is the one that does not exist (or so I’m guessing the official line goes by now): the Ryugyong Hotel.

I’ll leave it to you to research all the details, but suffice to say it would have been something of a monstrosity, even if it hadn’t been a complete architectural disaster… or had at least been finished. As it is, it remains little more than a sagging, eerie pyramid towering over the city’s horizon. (It’s said to be visible from anywhere in the city.)

Damn Interesting has some… damn interesting things to say about it. Someone has even registered the domain name on the pretense of creating an official site. (Don’t bother clicking the ad on the page for reservations.) There is an intriguing picture on the bottom of the page though, showing what appears to be a sign on the construction site with a picture of what the hotel will/would look like when completed. If its concrete bulk were in fact concealed behind a seamless façade of mirrored glass as shown, it might actually look kind of cool. But still a bit… weird? creepy? ominous? You decide.

Another of my favorite blogs, The Shape of Days, has also covered the subject in detail. Ultimately though, I think you just need to see it for yourself:

I think the most interesting aspect of the video above is something I’d never been able to glimpse in any of the photos I’ve seen before: the large numbers painted on the side of the building, indicating the floors.

Of course, maybe we’ve all misunderstood the real purpose of the hotel. This CGI video would seem to suggest that Kim Jong Il is going to perhaps load up all of the party faithful in the hotel’s copious accommodations, and blast the entire population of the country off into space in search of a new home planet. (Of course, such a venture, even in a Communist country, would require considerable funding via international corporate sponsorship.)

Despite my insatiable curiosity about places like this, there is just about no possible way I would ever want to actually visit North Korea, so I’ll happily settle for doing so vicariously via a bolder soul’s travelogue. It’s a fascinating and detailed account (which I’ve just spent the last two hours reading) of a rare, brief (and yet, in the moment, seemingly interminable) American tourist’s visit to the strangest country on the planet.

The “free market” solution

I’ve always found the notion that the free market will naturally solve any pressing environmental problems ludicrous, but this light bulb joke puts it in succinct perspective.

I was not in attendance at this year’s Nobel Conference but I just read about a comment made by presenter Steven Chu:

How many free-market advocates does it take to change a light bulb?

None, because if there was a problem, the free market would have taken care of it.

In other words, it’s possible that just maybe the profit motive does not always coincide perfectly with what’s best for the world (shareholders notwithstanding).

I have a “theory” that most people don’t understand what a theory really is…

Wired has published an excellent article on how creationists are exploiting general misunderstanding of the scientific term “theory”. There is copious evidence that the principles of evolution are sound: aside from the fact that dog breeding (not a “natural” process, but evolutionary nonetheless) is something most people, creationist or not, take for granted, we can observe evolution — as an incontrovertible fact — among species like bacteria that undergo rapid reproductive cycles.

The problem, as the article suggests, is not so much one of science as it is of language: the word “theory” means something much different (and much more specific) to a scientist than it does to the average person, and creationist activists are expertly employing this fact to their advantage.

For me the question still remains, for what advantage? There’s nothing about evolutionary theory that denies the existence of a creator. The only thing at risk is wholesale fundamentalist belief in the inerrant truth of the Bible, and if you can live with “inerrant truth” being rife with self-contradictions, you’re going to have a lot of trouble with science anyway. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true. But, meh, who needs science anyway? What has science done for the average person, anyway? (Don’t ask that question with your eyes open, unless you happen to be somewhere in the middle of untouched wilderness… completely naked and devoid of tools of any kind… and, uh, without a computer on which to read these words.)

I suppose somebody might find it useful. Maybe.

Yesterday was time for another of my multiple weekly visits to our new Super Target, and while indulging my 20-month-old daughter’s penchant for banging on keyboards, I perused the USB computer peripheral section.

Of course there was the full array of USB thumb drives. Very useful, but I already have one and don’t need another at the moment. Then there are the more… uh… fanciful USB accessories. Some of them are kind of cool, like the little lamp and the fan. If I were frequently using my computer in total darkness, or if winter weren’t approaching, I might consider picking one of them up, especially at a mere $10.

But then, there was another USB-powered accessory next to the lamp and the fan, one that seemed, to me at least, decidedly less worth $10. A USB pencil sharpener. Yes, you read that right.

Let’s see, how stupid art thee, let me count the ways:

  • Isn’t the whole point of using a computer that you don’t need pencils anymore?
  • How about some nasty, graphite-y pencil shavings spilled on your computer? (You know it’s going to happen eventually.)
  • I know you’ve always really wanted a way to hone your pencils to a fine point, but until now, the means to power such a fantastical device simply did not exist.
  • Need I go on?

Fortunately for my sanity, a Google search once again reassures me that I am not alone.