Friday, August 31, 2012

The Ups and Downs of the Sky

This is from Wednesday night--a lightning storm I witnessed when I got out of class.

There was no audible thunder and, sadly, no rain, just a lot of lightning visible to the east and I had a good view because my college is up on a hill.

Of course these aren't lucky snapshots--I took video and then took screenshots from the video. I got about three and a half minutes of footage which I edited down to 45 seconds here;

The music is from Donar's (Thor's) big moment at the end of Das Rheingold. Picture Chris Hemsworth if you must.

It was nice seeing something so cool after astronomy lab, which was kind of a nightmare. For lunch I'd had a bean and rice burrito and a quesadilla--a place I've gone to for years where I've normally gotten just a bean and rice burrito because they're so huge suddenly started making them just the thin tubes of bean and rice much like Taco Bell, so I decided to supplement with a quesadilla, which is a main course at real Mexican places but a sort of entree at Taco Bell. This place I guess hadn't fully devolved yet because the quesadilla was still pretty big, which may be why I felt so dim and zonked all night. I still don't think that explains why I had so much trouble in astronomy lab.

We were working with a celestial sphere, which is like a globe except instead of Earth it's a spherical representation of the night sky. The lab assignment consisted of a number of questions that required the celestial sphere--after some difficulty, I at least understood that the right ascension and the declination were analogous to longitude and latitude, respectively, on an Earth globe. So I was able to find coordinates of stars easily enough. What I was never able to get my brain to absorb, all night, and even now I don't get it, is how I was supposed to tell, using the celestial sphere, whether or not particular stars would be visible in the night sky in San Diego that particular evening, August 29, and whether they would be visible in six months.

I was partnered with two people, a girl named Lucia and another girl whose name I never learned and who mostly just sat watching us. Lucia couldn't figure it out either, and neither could anyone else I asked except the teacher, who is a beautiful Russian woman named Irena. And she kept saying it was incredibly easy. She explained it to me--I had the impression she somehow, from the look of me, expected me to get this stuff instantly. She even said, "Correct me if I make any mistakes," which made me feel even worse that no matter what she said or did, I couldn't make it work in my head.

I saw her counting months and sets of hours as though that was supposed to mean something. She showed me a chart of a little man standing on a little Earth, pointing at the sky with the sun on the opposite side of the planet, and the signs of the Zodiac arranged around both, and looking at this chart I could certainly understand why certain constellations wouldn't be visible at night because they were in the sky during the day, when the light of the sun would overwhelm them. But I couldn't for the life of me see how I was supposed to use the celestial sphere to figure out when this was supposed to be.

The sphere has a line on it labelled with months indicating the position of the sun, and I figured out which constellations the sun would be blotting out in each month. But that didn't answer my question about San Diego. Or I suppose it must, I guess three hours just wasn't enough time for me to figure it out.

Oh, well. Japanese II seemed about this hard at first, maybe it gets better.

Twitter Sonnet #421

Soap thumbs identify dirt ship prices.
Anteaters are official members of
Three sided PvP attic prizes.
Urology never thinks about love.
Polaris obscured by silver rings dimmed.
Repeated tallies lose logical shape.
Submarine vending machines now rescind
The eastern angle honey hoodwink grape.
Agreeably buttressed salons languish.
Snow storms of Venetian blinds wipe summer.
American habits are sewn Spinach.
Romulus tasked the RNC hammer.
Indigo clouded Donar soon struck back.
Radiance repelled the processed attack.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

God's Marriage Counselling

It was the most popular movie of 1951 and I hadn't heard of it until a few weeks ago; David and Bathsheba, a Technicolor biblical epic film directed by Henry King. This movie never bored me--its flaws are sort of deeply weird and fascinatingly grotesque, its virtues are wonderful.

Maybe the best thing about it is the pair of leads, Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward as David and Bathsheba respectively--Peck was a great actor and his moral struggles are never cheapened in this by broad sneering or yelling when he's turning against God's law.

Susan Hayward had one of those faces that always gave the impression of great intelligence and sensitivity. She always seemed like she knew exactly what she was doing and why. Together, she and Peck effectively come across as two people alone against the world. You almost don't even need actual words coming out of their mouths. They could've been braying nonsense at each other and I think through shear force of performance I would have been caught up in the feeling of being onboard with these two.

But when it comes to the words, for a film meant to reinforce Judeo-Christian values, I am amazed anyone could've walked away from this movie and not abandoned their religion. This movie doesn't sugar coat stuff from the Bible--it sees absolutely nothing wrong with the fact that David has multiple wives, or that God smote someone just for touching the Ark of the Covenant. It doesn't seem to think it makes God look bad that he causes a drought when Bathsheba commits adultery, that men can have multiple wives but women can't have multiple husbands.

A woman is shown being stoned to death for adultery, and we're expected to just go with it. Well, then again, not exactly, because David and Bathsheba in well performed scenes themselves question God's law. David asks why should he or Bathsheba be punished just because she, in a loveless marriage to a lunkhead soldier who won't even visit her when he's in town, and David, whose marriages are totally about political and sexual fulfilment, had a love affair. It's a very good question and the movie doesn't make any attempt to answer it.

Visually the movie's great. Leon Shamroy's cinematography is rich, with plenty of darks and many scenes in the latter portion of the movie being painted in somehow violent coppers and greens. I also loved how the Ark of the Covenant, which plays a significant role in the movie, looked so similar to how it does in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Which is another movie where God gets pretty violent, but even melting people's faces doesn't seem quite as brutal as the tantrums he throws in David and Bathsheba.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Why Think When You Can be Angry?

No real time for a blog entry to-day, it's my long day at school, starting at 2pm and ending at 9:30pm. I feel like I ought to get up earlier than 11:30am, but I don't know if I can bring myself to get up so early when I obviously have to stay up so late.

Just watched last night's Daily Show while eating breakfast and saw the clip of Mitt Romney at a rally talking about how at least he was never questioned about where he was born, as though being questioned about his place of birth is entirely Obama's fault. This from a viable presidential candidate--well, I guess Obama has a pretty solid lead in the polls, but it's still pretty damn scary. Maybe not as scary as the secret militia within the U.S. military that stock piled over 80,000 dollars of munitions as part of a plan to assassinate the president. I saw Neil Gaiman link to that story on Twitter and expected it to be the headline everywhere, but no. Everyone's mainly talking about the Republican Convention, at which, apparently, one of the militia members was a page a couple years ago.

Maybe I'm paranoid, but it seems like these guys, and the recent rather stunning comments about women and rape from elected officials, are just a few bubbles coming to the surface from a seriously scary right wing ground soil.

And with that, I'm off to my education, ciao.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fake Lives Often Outstrip the Real Ones

At the chess club this morning. Someone suggested I was trying to seduce pirates. If so, I said, my strategy was backfiring. I received an IM from someone I didn't know saying, "Hi. Want to chat?" I said, "Sure." He didn't say anything for a long time then logged off. Another person I didn't know showed up at the club wanting to play chess, then logged off after one move because he couldn't figure out how to use his camera. A lot of people seem to be allergic to even the teensiest bit of effort.

Still trying to find a job. What a demoralising experience. I put in a bunch of time and effort into finding places that say they're hiring, then filling out applications for them, and then not hearing back and getting the sinking feeling I won't. I saw a sign for a job fair the other day for August 30th but when I went back to check the time and location of the job fair, the signs were gone. Was it cancelled? Who knows. I feel like I'm missing some really tenacious thing I ought to be putting my full effort behind and everyone will later accuse me of being lazy for not doing. Well, I've only been at it a week, there is a good possibility still a lot of the places just haven't had time to get back to me.

I installed the Skyrim expansion a couple nights ago, Dawnguard. It's the first Bethesda expansion I can think of that really changed the fundamental game in a few ways, maybe most notable the ability to use weapons while on a horse. This proved somewhat awkward when I attempted it--the two bandits I found just quickly killed my horse, though this was probably because my character is level 63 and the bandits were probably levelled to a point where they could quickly slaughter an unarmoured critter like a horse. I tried riding and using a bow, but this wasn't too useful since I couldn't aim the bow without moving in the same direction with the horse. Maybe if I can remember the cruise control button. Mostly I'm hoping someone will make a jousting mod, if that isn't already part of the content I'll eventually see in the Dawnguard plot.

Twitter Sonnet #420

The metal stars recall doughy muscle.
Ambulance nepotism takes the beach.
Wicker frame noses look like a bustle.
Questions and vectors pull from story's reach.
Reverse popcorn orbits crush moons to seed.
Paper bag gauntlets laugh at the thin pew.
Dust divests liquorice crochet Lou Reed.
Cigarette tea tranquilised the wet few.
Stencil locks canonise sharper fishes.
Arbitrary Rorschach collages sing.
Mackerel realty trembles at whale wishes.
Yellow lessons solve the recursive ring.
Coors cans conceive of signs too pathetic.
Kellogg diamonds break the breakfast ethic.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Who Wants a Key?

I've been finding keys all over the place to-day. Anyone missing a key? Better yet, any girls out there with brand new pairs of roller skates? For those who don't get that reference, feel free to substitute a joke about the Cox in the picture above.

I saw keys left in mail boxes, the key on the power cylinder above, and I found a key on the ground at school. I picked it up and called out to the many passers-by, "Anyone missing a key? Anyone?" No one said anything. I saw a girl sitting in the shade of a tree nearby and asked, "Are you missing a key?" She shook her head.

Tracking down the Lost and Found at the college proved harder than I'd have thought. I went into the bookstore, no-one knew where the Lost and Found was, and then went into the Administration Office where I was told the Lost and Found was in the campus police building on the other side of the campus. The campus police office was a quiet, deserted little place where I had to use a phone next to the front desk to summon someone to take the key. The phone rang a long time before I got a guy to answer and he only seemed to want to come to the front for it reluctantly.

In class to-day, the assignment was to find a story of some kind your family typically recounts when they're together and present it to the class in under five minutes. Most people talked about times they were injured, or their family members were injured, or their pets were injured. I talked about my parents' Errol Flynn chair. I was pleased to find, when I asked for a show of hands, five or six out of around thirty five students had actually heard of Errol Flynn. It was more than I was expecting.

One serious faced young blonde girl told us, literally, "The Boy Who Cried Wolf". The Aesop fable. She didn't relate it to anything in her life, she didn't put an ironic twist on it. She just solemnly told us about a boy who lied several times about a wolf attacking sheep and laughed when people were fooled, and then was eaten when a wolf finally did show up. She concluded, "The point is that you should never trust a liar, even when he's telling the truth." Which I think may be an unorthodox interpretation.

At least I wasn't seeing "Bad Wolf" written everywhere. There's going to be a new Doctor Who episode on Saturday. Such a long way away.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Prototypes, Stereotypes, Archetypes, and Brigitte Bardot

If you're looking for a good example of how to fill a movie with characters without giving them personalities, I would perhaps point you to 1968's Shalako, a Western starring Brigitte Bardot and Sean Connery in which characters consistently resist following up on established traits with any meaningful pay off or reversal. Instead, people seem to behave as limp archetypes. It's decently shot, Bardot and Connery are great, but I wouldn't recommend watching this movie.

I remember first hearing about Shalako years ago and I seem to remember hearing it described as a misstep for Connery because no-one would buy James Bond as a cowboy. As is pointed out in an opening crawl quote from Louis L'Amour, there were European game hunters in the old west and of course many European settlers besides. The movie's largely about a group of such game hunters blundering into a recently established Apache reservation and Connery plays the American forced to baby-sit this spoiled bunch.

If I can accept him playing an Englishman, I see no reason not to accept him as Shalako, an American with an unexplained Scottish accent. The real problem is that there's not much else to him. He's simply a good guy--he tries to get the hunters out of the reservation, he escorts them away when there's trouble, he falls in love with Brigitte Bardot, he fights the savages when attacked. That is all.

Bardot doesn't get interesting material, either, as the only one of the hunters with the integrity to agree with Shalako all the time. There are awkward moments where the movie feels compelled to remind us, where after Shalako's delivered a bunch of instructions, Bardot says something like, "I agree with Shalako."

Her hair also varies in length throughout the film, from the middle of her back to the middle of her butt. We get a nice scene of naked Bardot back late in the film, which I suspect was seen as obligatory with Bardot at the time.

Not quite as much back as she's known for, but this isn't a movie terribly interested in rocking the boat.

It's funny seeing how civil rights issues are played out in movies from the late 60s and early 70s. With Westerns in particular, their attempts at being progressive often seem to make them even more backward than movies from the 50s and earlier. A lot of dialogue at the beginning to given to point out the Indians are humans, too. Then the movie goes ahead and shows them being remorseless murderers and rapists. The progressiveness here seems to be the white people patting themselves on the back for giving them the benefit of the doubt.

I'd sure like to see a really good Brigitte Bardot movie. So far it's looking like Contempt is her best. But I will keep looking. She is great to watch in Shalako. You can tell she barely understands the lines she's speaking which just slew me. I loved how she pronounced "another" like two words; "an other."

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Right Ingredients Can Be Found

So I did find some cocoanut cream yesterday, at Trader Joes in Hillcrest. The stuff seems like pure fat, though I guess a shot of it is only around 25% of the daily recommended fat. It sure made a big difference in the pina colada I made last night, though. That was a good drink.

I was in Hillcrest visiting Tim at his Radio Shack. It seemed like a good enough excuse to go to Hillcrest, a part of town I really like but hadn't been to in a while. I ate at The City Deli and had a great big cheese omelette with fried potatoes and a cinnamon bagel. I felt like a blimp walking to Tim's workplace.

While I was eating, I listened to two guys sitting across from me who were on a date--a pair pretty well separated in age, one of them looking to be in his late fifties and the other in his early 20s. But the young guy reassured him he had "lots of old friends!" I felt bad for the older man. The young guy couldn't seem to stop talking about himself, I've rarely heard a more disconnected conversation between two people. The younger one talked about how he, a blonde, didn't conform to the "dumb blonde" stereotype. He said, "I live very deep in my personality. If I wasn't the person I see in the mirror, who would I be?"

He talked about how he loved old movies, particularly one he saw that starred "the kid from Ferris Bueller's Day Off". Which mustn't have been long after they started recording history in 1980.

Twitter Sonnet #419

Calculated leprous popsicles rise.
Refunded divine vasectomies miss.
Clubs bounce more shapes than we can advertise.
We're all laughing in the Steve Reeves harness.
Soupless crackers cry in the salty void.
Tarnished shortening eludes the shadow shop.
Wealthy eels won't weaken nature's Altoid.
Coy jazz just surfaced to say hi to bop.
Stone loose changelings tear the space time purse strap.
Mermaid suction cups carefully choose delis.
Almond monsters stay up to gansta rap.
Potatoes fill out the decoy chemise.
Low rez lemmings glisten in starry rain.
Millet liquor quiets the dryly sane.

Friday, August 24, 2012

This Week in Bugs

I don't know what kind of bugs these are, but they've been having sex everywhere I go. These two I saw at school. Here's a couple from a few blocks away from where I live;

They didn't seem to mind their tiny red babies swarming around them. They even seemed okay eating and fucking simultaneously;

Yesterday I saw the largest moth I've seen in my life. It was bigger than my hand;

It's hard to get a sense of scale from these pictures but when it took off, fluttering about the backyard, it looked much like a good sized bat.

I tried making a pina colada last night, but I couldn't find cocoanut cream anywhere. I finally settled for cocoanut milk, using slightly more than I would cocoanut cream. The results weren't bad, especially my second attempt when I used a great deal less rum. I wanted a more alcoholic beverage, I guess, but too much made the pineapple juice taste like dirt somehow. I guess maybe that's why Bacardi came up with Bacardi 150, but I still haven't had much use for that stuff except as a disinfectant. It also makes the drink taste like dirt.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Twenty Four Hour Clash

"She was sharp as a razor and soft as a prayer." This line from Tom Waits' "Bad Liver and a Broken Heart" comes to my mind when thinking about Barbara Stanwyck in Fritz Lang's 1952 film Clash by Night. The movie's about the contradictions in a person's nature, the coexisting desire to give and receive love with a fundamental dislike for other people. It's a beautifully shot film with effectively constructed characters, captivating in their parts of a vivid portrayal of self-destructive psychology.

Four people get top billing--Barbara Stanwyck, Paul Douglas, Robert Ryan, and Marilyn Monroe, but Monroe's part is really only that of a supporting character, the girlfriend of Stanwyck's brother. A sort of tomboy who works in a cannery, Monroe could maybe be seen as a version of Stanwyck's character before she left town to try to make it in the big city, before she comes back home, at the beginning of the movie, beaten and jaded.

The conflicts of the film are mainly played out between Stanwyck, Douglas and Ryan. Douglas is a big, kind of dumb, nice guy. He's the solid, hard working sort, seen in well shot location footage among other fishermen at work, hauling nets.

Ryan is a film projectionist, a cynical intellectual Douglas looks up to and doesn't seem to recognise or mind the patronising tone Ryan takes with him.

The conflict is Stanwyck's as she chooses between these two men, each being a personification of a side in her internal conflict. Douglas seems eager to marry Stanwyck and she says she'd like the security but cares enough for Douglas not to inflict herself on him, as she tells him in one effective scene. Later she succumbs to her daydream and agrees to marry him with disastrous results.

It's a larger than life story but the dialogue flows naturally and the performances clench the deal. There's an abrupt ending one senses was forced by the censors, but mainly one leaves the movie wondering why human beings often so desperately need things that their essential nature inevitably sabotages.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Boldly Conforming to what Most People have Conformed Before

Anime in the morning usually seems to help get me motivated, so to-day with breakfast I watched the third episode of Dull Hot Chicks Intern for Rote Corporate Gig in Space or, as it's actually called, Bodacious Space Pirates (モーレツ宇宙海賊). This third episode mainly involved the cast going out and working as a team obediently following the instructions of their mild mannered sensei as they go EVA to correct a malfunction shortly after their ship has left dry dock. Arrrr, matey!

One thing I liked about the series in the first couple episodes was its attempt to convey some wonder at space travel by slowing down with it and showing the process by which a young person is introduced to it. And here there's a moment or two where the protagonist gasps at the sight of open space all around her, but it seems in the end to hold all the awe for her of a somewhat unusual cactus because a moment later she's answering her instructor's questions with the same chipper, eager tone she might use in a classroom.

It is nice just hearing Japanese being spoken, though--it'd been a few weeks since I'd watched a Japanese movie or television series. Reviewing some math for astronomy lab last night, I was struck by how similar it was to studying Japanese. I guess figuring out strange syntax isn't that different from working out equations.

First I have my American Literature class, though. This is my teacher;

He's a good guy. I've had him for two other classes, Death and Dying in Literature and Playwriting. It's been at least five or six years, but he actually remembered me when he called role on Monday.

Twitter Sonnet #418

Welsh moons teleport police to New Gaul.
Weights obscure destroyed fusion yaks to-night.
Messages jet water to relished fall.
Full houses elude games of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Newborn walrus remembrances mint void.
The salvaged vanity plates lament Ike.
Camels sleep on the heavenly asteroid.
Child mummies make cereal for Mike.
Sinking saddles leave an acidic pop.
Arms of taffeta steal looks of parlay.
Twenty sciences agreed to the shop.
Motorcycles write more eights than the sleigh.
Gummy gambles mutilate corporate fat.
Dishwashed dimes are the eyes of the glass cat.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Those Godlike Beings Known as Retail Employees

And the air conditioner's broken again. Great. I hope I'll be able to get some sleep to-night.

I've spent to-day looking for work. I dropped my Japanese class--no time or money for it, I realised. Anyway, I don't actually need it for my English degree. So I went around looking at what places were hiring, of course almost everywhere does applications online now. I remember that last time I was looking for work. I couldn't even get a job at Wal-Mart that time. Maybe because I don't have many references. I filled out just three applications to-day--it took an hour and a half to do that, which is of course much longer than it used to take when it was all done on paper. This is because of a long, stupid survey every place requires you to fill out, filled with questions like, "You are a perfectionist" with degrees of responses from Strongly Disagree and Strongly Agree. I hear that employers tend to throw out any with responses in between the extremes. These surveys seem to be protracted ways of writing "I am Hercules" or an equally absurd boast on applications.

I drove past a spot yesterday where there are usually people with signs begging for money. Yesterday there was a guy who just had a sign that said, "Life sucks." Yep.

Now I need to figure out how to do math again before my Astronomy lab to-morrow, which apparently involves a lot of math. I haven't had a math class since high school, around fifteen years ago. But it's just as well. It should help me prepare for when I take a math class next year, if I'm still able to go to school.

There's got to be a better way to get work. I wish I knew what it was.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Webs Brighter than My Brain

The garden spiders are starting to show up again, weaving curtains of webs over the sidewalks, under lamp posts, and anywhere else they might catch a full sized human.

I feel as smart as a rock to-day. I think I got well under five hours sleep. The air conditioner was broken so it was 83 Fahrenheit all night. I opened the window at 3am and it was just like opening a window between two rooms. Zero breeze.

Started American Literature I to-day. Looks like we're only going up to 1865. Oh, well.

Here's the new location of my chess club, Chess Garden, in Second Life's Winterfell sim, by the way;

It's a small parcel compared to the last location, but the neighbourhood is beautiful and it brings in more players. Dig this great view of the harbour from the club's north border;

Here's the club interior;

The club opium bed;

The Go board located outside;

So feel free to drop by--you should be able to find it by doing a search for "Chess Garden" in SL. The 3D boards and the glowing 2D board made by my friend Tristy all have computer opponents of varying skill if you can't find any people to play against, but we seem to be getting a lot of traffic already.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ben-Hur, Ben-There, Ben-Around the World

The whole movie looks unbelievably expensive, but it's really only three scenes that elevate 1925's Ben-Hur above the level of being merely a curiosity. As Howard Hawks once famously said, a movie needs "three good scenes and no bad scenes". Ben-Hur does have some bad scenes, almost entirely to do with a mostly unconvincing performance from the male lead and stiff, popular silent film mannerisms.

The most well known scene from the movie is of course the chariot race, and it is by far the best in the film. It has an energy I suspect was helped a lot by the physical requirements of the scene forcing the actors to abandon their broadly theatrical performance styles which are too often present in early cinema. The chariot race scene appears to be nothing short of a filmed actual chariot race--in fact, it must have been more than one in order to get the really great coverage it has.

The bulky, cumbersome cameras couldn't move much in the silent era which makes it all the more extraordinary the sensations of this motion intensive scene come across.

There's not even back projection on closeups of the actors--it looks like cameras were mounted in front of them while they rode. Here the wind and the whips actually force a decently naturalistic performance from the otherwise grandly phoney Ramon Novarro as Ben-Hur. But even more impressive is Francis X. Bushman as the villain Messala, who manages squinting and teeth gnashing in the middle of all this.

He really seems hell-bent on winning this thing. There are so many things going on here that look like they'd be completely impossible to-day with current safety standards. But even more dangerous looking was the sea battle scene, almost as effective as the chariot race.

It looks like at least three full scale ships and several smaller ones were built and then jammed with extras.

In addition to the massive sets and ships on display, this movie's budget must also have been increased for its use of early Technicolor photography in a few scenes, here showing a parade led by some distinctly pre-code topless dames throwing flower petals;

At this point Technicolor mainly seemed best at rendering green and red with fuzzy facsimiles of colours in between. But it definitely has its beauty, especially early scenes of the birth of Christ, particularly the ethereally beautiful lady playing the Virgin Mary.

Unfortunately, most of the colour footage is squandered on scenes related to Jesus, whose face is never shown, instead we get the dubious technique of just showing Jesus' gesticulating little white hand, which feels sort of like seeing Thing from The Addams Family playing a messiah which, you know, he might've been, who knows.

The three scenes I was referring to, in case you're wondering, are the chariot race, the sea battle, and the topless women. Technicolor 1925 topless women, that's worth a lot in my book.

Twitter Sonnet #417

Omnipotent olives abscond with eggs.
Zygote gods grin at the soft pink Sampo.
Eagles decry subcutaneous legs.
Chromosome disorders melt for Rambo.
Cartoon carriers advance in one life.
Misplaced surfboards become bureaus at night.
Absent timelines linger in a lord's wife.
Ghosts collapse quietly in lieu of fight.
Topless gunners neuter the burnt oil.
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Mirrors assault with many a foil.
Zucchini lids wilt rerun Enterprise.
Sullen DMV vouchers change amount.
Dalmatian shamrocks close the spot account.