Friday, December 31, 2004

Can't sleep, meme will eat me.

I dunno.

I just had the phrase stuck in my head. The '92 Simpsons episode (origin thread about how it came from one of the show's writer's childhood) clearly predates the 2000 release on a Alice Cooper Japanese bonus disc of the song "Clowns Will Eat Me".

Can't sleep...clown'll eat me...can't sleep...clown'll eat me...can't sleep...clown'll eat me...can't sleep...clown'll eat me...can't sleep...clown'll eat me...can't sleep...clown'll eat me...can't sleep...clown'll eat me...

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Review and Airing of grievances: The Hebrew Hammer

It's shlock, but it's not awful shlock.

I was fully prepared to hate The Hebrew Hammer, but it's not that bad. It's not that good, but it's not that bad, either. I was afraid they'd blow the import of Hanukkah out of proportion or throw in meaningless Yiddish words only because they sound funny. The movie does no such thing.

It does, however, four things that bother me. In increasing irksomeness:

  • In the movie they don't say shul or synagogue. I know, there are good, observant, non-Reform Jews who call it temple. I just don't personally know any. It bugs me. It sounds so polytheistic, having all these little "temples".
  • Why not say "HaShem" when you pretend that you're saying a brucha in the opening theme song? I never understood that. It's such a small thing. And then later your protagonist complains about taking the Lord's name in vain?
  • When he lists the stuff on the seder plate in alphabetical order, they should be in the Hebrew alphabet's order. If I'm using that question to test someone for Jewishness and they list zroa זרוע after karpas כרפס, that's instant disqualification.
  • A good Jewish girl going downtown with gusto. Maybe it's like the temple thing and it actually happens. I'm just saying I've never heard of it.

Wow. I regretted that last one before I even started typing it.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Atom Feed

Looks nicer, is all.

Blogger has had an automagic Atom feed for a while now. The hyperlinked content and paragraph breaks show up all nice in SharpReader, so I changed the links on this page to point to my Atom feed. The RSS feed isn't going anywhere, it just doesn't look as good. I don't feel like spending the time to invent an alternative when one already exists.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

You made them live happily ever after! You bastards!

The customized Romeo and Juliet sucks. First: once you start substituting in, most names are going to completely ruin the iambic pentameter. Also, if you're paying six times what the Folger Shakespeare Library edition sells for, you deserve a better happy ending on your Shakespearean tragedy than four dinky, tacked-on lines. The last two lines of the "classic" happy ending don't even rhyme, unlike every Shakespearian tragedy that comes to mind.

Some constructive criticism, then, to all would-be Romeos: buy a nice, unadulterated hardcover edition. If you can't think of a couplet you can sign the frontispiece with, take the five bucks you've saved and pay someone to think of one for you.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Review month pt 1: Reading Lolita in Tehran

For lack of nothing better to post about, here's the first of some short reviews.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Azar Nafisi was an English Lit university professor in Tehran before the Shah was deposed and for quite some time after. She was eventually kicked out of Iranian universities, and still kept teaching novels to a small group of female students.

The book founders the most when talking about her private coterie of students, especially in the beginning where I could only have kept names and personalites by making a crib sheet — until Nafisi hits her stride in the second of four sections, 'Gatsby', most her students feel quite flat. Once "Reading Lolita" starts with actual storytelling, it frames a very effective comparison of the Western world's concept of "the West", the Iranian concept of "the West", and Iranians' concepts of their own society during unrest, revolution, and aftermath.

I started reading "Reading Lolita in Tehran" and thought I might be better equipped to understand if I read "Lolita" itself. Nafisi clearly sees something wonderful in Nabokov's prose — his description of American middle-class houses, his subtleties of the unreliable narrator, Humbert Humbert. I got frustrated from not seeing what she does from the novel, and didn't finish. My suggestion: read "The Great Gatsby" instead. "Reading Lolita" spends more time, and much better time, on "Gatsby" or on Henry James novels than Nabakov. If you're not planning to read "Reading Lolita", read "Gatsby" anyway. I'll even give you a copy.

As Nafisi brings F. Scott Fitzgerald's take on American dreams and Henry James' versions of feminine courage side by side with her students hopes and actions, she gives a very real and very immediate sense to the importance of fiction and the Middle-East context it was read in.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

splitting hairs, trading spaces

I'm getting a haircut today

I saw an ad for "Japanese hair straightening". Why would there be a Japanese straightening technique? Don't the Japanese already have straight hair? A quick check with google shows that some of these products really are from Japan. So what do they call them there?

I've heard said that you don't see signs for "Authentic Philly Cheesesteaks" in Philly or "New York-style Pizza" in New York. But Dominos (or Pizza Hut or somesuch) has a national campaign that they surely aren't exempting one of their largest markets from. And was in Philly a few years back and saw signs touting that one store was more authentic Philly than the rest (and therefore tasted better, etc.).

Regardless, I'm getting a haircut. I'm using ancient United States buzz-cut methods passed down from one generation of immigrants to the next (my usual barber was born in Vietnam).

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

It moves!

I have been amazingly inert for almost a month now.

I've been a homebody, and home sucks. I just finished sending off a bunch of emails to strangers from Craigslist asking to live with them. I've never done the roommate thing before, so I'm not sure what people are looking for. The usual trick is, If you were on the other side, what would you want to hear? but not ever having dealt with this sort of thing, I can't imagine anything other than the basics: someone modest and relaxed with a steady source of income so they pay their share of the rent.

But so I've been inert. I haven't been minding my own blog; I haven't been reading yours (for any given value of 'you'). I haven't sent a note to the conductor girl, and now I can't find where I put her email address (dammit!). I haven't exercised. I haven't gone anywhere different or interesting (I'm not including the Morrissey concert here, obviously).

At least I've been sleeping a little better than my average, which is still crap for most people, with the exception of last night when I was just too cold and the heat was not working. Yet another reason to move.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

For those of you about to Cygwin, we salute you

and also encourage you to try something else instead. Seriously, scrounge around for a cheap, used PIII 300-based box and install OpenBSD on it instead; get Services For Unix now that it's free, and can mount NFS shares where Cygwin can only serve them; download VMware. Don't get me wrong, Cygwin is an amazingly detailed and clever set of sophisticated hacks. The development crew is a cool bunch. But a hack is a hack.

Anyway, in interest of giving something back to the community: if you find people can't see mounted directories when connecting to a Cygwin server, check the registry keys.

In Cygwin, the mount command will only take a folder, like "/usr/bin", and point it to a Windows drive, like "D:\cygwin\bin". Cygwin can't open a device directly, it depends on Windows for the filesystem and device drivers. What's more, the mappings are stored in the registry, not in /etc, like all us UNIX weenies would expect. I was running ProFTPD and was setting default directories to folder that, via a mount, redirected to the D: drive. After I upgraded my version of Cygwin, users FTPing would find themselves in the directory and could list the files, but the permissions showed up wrong and they couldn't send or recieve any files. Turns out the upgrade reset registry key permissions so that the user that the ProFTPD server was running under (BUILTIN\SYSTEM) could read them but normal users couldn't. Since this was a Windows 2000 box, I ran regedt32.exe, went to "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Cygnus Solutions\Cygwin\", clicked on "mounts v2" branch, went to the menus under Security -> Permissions... and added the group Users and gave them read permissions. Permission inheritance propagated the change down to the sub-branches and the problem was fixed. Yay.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Concert going.

So now that I think of it, while I might like listening to Death Cab for Cutie, do I really want to pay to see them in concert?

There's a fairly representative collection of DCFC mp3s here. But I'm more up about ...and you will know us by the trail of dead, Flogging Molly, and PJ Harvey. Now I'm fairly sure Double-D has a Flogging Molly CD if not two, and you can't tell me you haven't at least one of PJ Harvey's songs.

I'm trying to be good w/budget. But if I'm going to see Morrissey, too, Polly Jean might just have priced herself out of my price range. But she's so cool. It's not fair.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

To sport or not to sport

aye, there's the rub

Erica and I have been going back and forth about the Olympics and what counts as a sport. Her suggestion is for a more objective scoring method for figure skating. My argument is that it doesn't matter: I like figure skating as it is, but it's not a sport.

> [...] Is windsurfing a

> sport just because you can measure who crosses the finish line first?
> I will acknowledge that there is a degree of finesse involved because
> you need to read the wind, but are they the same kind of athlete? I
> couldn't do what any beginning gymnast or figure skater does, and I am
> in awe of the top athletes, Paul Hamm, et al.

Exactly. Because you can measure who crosses the line first. I'm not sure if I like racing as a sport, either. To me, that straddles the line but is easily closer to sport than figure skating.

I'm thinking by writing here, so forgive me if this isn't fully clear. My definition of sport: Sport is a direct physical competition between people that gives the competitors an opportunity to demonstrate good sportsmanship. And by good sportsmanship, I mean primarily fair play.

  • Direct physical: take soccer as an example. As a team sport, there is an important mental aspect needed to win a soccer match, but if you can't stay active on the field for an hour, you aren't going to make it to the Olympics. While there is the intermediary of the ball, the physical actions you take directly and clearly affect the actions your opponents then choose (this has to happen if you want to play
    competitively, anyway).
  • Between people: the measurable part of the struggle is between you (or you as part of a team) and another person or other people.
  • Sportsmanship and fair play: Try hard to win, and always follow the rules; compete on equal terms. So there needs to be clear rules for you to follow, and clear, objective terms for the winning conditions. The measurement of whether the winner won a match should only be important because it is compared, on the same terms, to the measurement for other competitors in that match.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Look, about last night

Thanks for helping me find my car, considering it took an hour. And yes, I noticed there was parking on both sides of the street.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Yogi Berra would be proud of me

"...all over again."

Today, I'm sitting at my computer looking out the window while trying to figure out a problem.

Then I get this strong feeling of déjà vu that I've been staring out this window thinking about the same problem before.

Then I get this strong feeling of déjà vu that I've gotten this strong feeling of déjà vu that I've been staring out this window thinking about the same problem before.

Déjà vu never feels to me like I've done something before but like I've dreamed it before. I usually take it as a sign I haven't been sleeping well lately. Either that, or the Matrix has me.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Roshambo for Radio (XM Radio, that is)

Rock-paper-scissors your way to fabulous prizes!

For my friends in the D.C. metropolitan area, you need to know that tomorrow is the The 2004 DC National Rock Paper Scissors Championship. Winner gets $1000 dollars and an XM radio. For those of you who can't/won't be going (like me), you can always play correspondence rock-paper-scissors thanks to the wonder that is the internet. No money it it, though.

Unrelated: The A-Team Resolves Lapses in Homeland Security. I like last two steps of our new plan for terrorists threatening to detonate a bomb that contains nuclear materials: "While terrorists' attention is diverted, replace radioactive materials with horse manure. Later, when bomb detonates harmlessly, have B.A. deliver line, 'Now that's what I call a dirty bomb.'"

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Ignore it like it's pork

I asked Erica if she had seen that woman's story in the NYT this Sunday about OCD manifesting as religious observance. I've been saying for years now that Judaism is a great religion for the obsessive compulsive.

I remember reading about one of the Talmudic rabbis -- I can't remember who -- who had a hole in the wall just above his commode. I remember the rationale as:
An evil spirit would be more eager to beset a prominent rabbi than a normal man,
but someone else’s presence with you would warded it off,
but it's indecent to have someone watch you go to the bathroom.
So he bored a hole so his wife could put her hand on his head while he was sitting down without worry of accidentally seeing anything.

My mom used to always tell us how, when she was a kid, she thought flatware grew out of the ground. My grandparents had someone come in to help around the house when the kids were young, but she didn't know from keeping kosher and would wash all the silverware together. To clean something, you can use fire to burn away the treif, but you can bury it in the earth for however many days if you can't burn it. Mom would walk by and see silverware sticking out of the ground...

[ Listening to: "What Cool Breezes Do" - Digable Planets ]

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The only thing worse than a bad poet is one who doesn't think he is.

H Monkey runs, H Monkey hides -
a monkey's always by our sides.
Mine sees no ill nor hears too well
but screeches that I'll go to hell.
(Or else he sings without one word.

Be glad if you have never heard
what buzzes raw and feels more fell,
a din of rage, a one-man cell.)

We control the...screw it, we don't control nothin'

Woah. They were directed by the same guy?

Yes, Whichfinder General is more worth your time, assuming violent, bloody misogyny and eye gouging aren't deal-breakers for you.

I've said it before: The Sorcerers was a poorly edited episode of The Outer Limits — the newer series, not the 1960's version. The cast has one 'name' actor everyone knows and a few others that are vaguely familiar. There are serious plot holes, but the general concept is something you probably would never see on screen otherwise. The production values could have been a little better, and there's one horribly miscast guy.

Also, how sad is it that when I saw that episode with Kevin Nealon I instantly recognized the woman as being the English voice of Sailor Moon? This is why I've sworn off cable, people. I'm incapable of regulating my television intake. I turn it on while I'm futzing around on the computer, and the next thing you know I'm riveted, torn between watching people mill around during a quorum call on C-SPAN and an episode of the Telemundo equivalent of Passions. Ten hours later, I'm waking up in the morning two hours after my alarm went off with only three hours total of sleep.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Jodi Foster does origami (Follow up to a link on Franks page, II).

About the 10 dumb scifi moments, Superman turning back time absolutely belongs there.

I have a problem with the "Contact" thing, the last one on the page. Maybe it's because I read the book and never saw the movie, but it seemed perfectly rational to me. Maybe the alien race you're communicating with has naturally evolved radio signal receptors, and maybe the technology you're trying to communicate is potentially disastrous if misunderstood. An I.Q. test first seems perfectly reasonable then. So you send a simple message from space, and the more a species can analyze it, the more puzzles peel off like an onion until they get to the blueprints.

And if it's just because you're the kind of race who just likes being enigmatic, why would you stop right when you get to the good stuff?

Friday, July 23, 2004

On chicken subservience,

as seen on the BBC.

An argument for video games: if poultry industry employees knew they could get their avian-related frustrations out on a web site, maybe they wouldn't have gotten fired.

Also from the Beeb: racketeers go where the money is, to DDoS attacks.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Biggest. Collection. Ever.

Every comic book DC ever published.

Yes, every single one:

Among the more esoteric items in the collection is the two-volume set of Cancelled Comics Cavalcade, published by DC in 1978. With a print run of only 35 copies, these books contain stories left over following the infamous "DC Implosion." Printed for copyright purposes, these were distributed internally to creators whose work it featured.

The best squalor money can buy.

Now selling tickets for admittance to offset costs. Inquire within.

Seriously, why did the landlord decide they have to do air conditioning maintenance now. Why? Why would you wait for the middle of the hottest month of the year, and then turn the A/C off. This is the second July in a row with several consecutive days without A/C, though to be fair, last year's outage was because a telephone pole fell on a power line and caught on fire and all the power was out.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Canucks' got nothing on U.S.

Thanks, Frank, for the link about the Canadian Election (no party won the majorty this time, BTW). But for its wackiness factor, the District of Columbia beats Canada any day.

Because the United States federal government resides in the District, the Feds get to control the district. Which seems reasonable enough until you realize that, due to the nature of the federal legislative body, a Congressman from New Jersey has effective veto power every time D.C. wants a bill to change the funding for their failing school system. D.C. doesn't get any say in the federal legislative body. Sure, the District elects someone to congress (1 out of 535), but Congresswoman Norton isn't actually allowed to vote.

So after 173 years, Congress allowed D.C. to elect its own mayor and the Washington City Council in The Home Rule Act. They've still no voting Congressional representative. If you live in D.C., for ten bucks you can have your licenses plates read "TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION". I think the default is "Celebrate and Discover".

And what did they get by having home rule? Last time around, the current mayor almost didn't get himself on the ballot for his own reelection, because his campaign screwed up in the face of a deadline and filled petitions full of obviously fake signatures. But at least he's not ex-Mayor Marion "Bitch set me up" Barry, who set low mayoral standards by getting caught with a hooker and crack. I mean, if the current mayor gest caught with an high-end escort and some pot, he's still doing better than average. Now Marion Barry wants to run for the Ward 8 City Council seat (yet again, after a campaign in 2002 for an "at large" spot on the council which was cut short by another cocaine-related incident), but the incumbent for the seat he's running for, Sandy Allen, announced his candidacy before he did. And if you're tired of hearing those two argue back and forth, it's okay: I've been told there are over 500 other people running for elected positions in the District this year.

The school system is still the biggest political issue, though. There was last year's scandal of embezzlement by the head of the teacher's union. The mayor's struggling to gain control over what is now a wholly elected school board, with good reason: if he's held accountable for failing schools at election time, he'd like the authority to do something about it. The city's still searching for someone a sucker qualified enough to be the D.C. Superintendent of Schools.

Some linguistic notes on names:

For confused foreigners, the District of Columbia contains only the city of Washington and all of the city of Washington. There used to be more than that: Alexandria used to be part of the district, and Georgetown was considered separate from Washington City (history here). From my personal experience, people usually use D.C. for the physical place: "I'm going in to the District this weekend"; and Washington for concepts, entities or organizations: "Those fat cats in Washington have another thing coming." "The Washington Times is owned by the Reverend Sun Yung Moon [true!]." These are not hard and fast rules.

The spokesman for the D.C. police is Joe Gentile. I get a kick out of that. Also, the mayor appointed someone last year to help get the bureaucracy in order. That man's name is Bob Bobb. People actually call him that.

Bob Bobb.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

C-SPAN hasn't been the same since

Matthew Baldwin was unimpressed with White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.

I couldn't put my finger on just why I loved watching the pre-McClellan press briefings until today. I didn't care much for what Ari Fleischer had to say, but I liked his skill in dodging. Ari could not answer questions, make the askers feel like the idiot for even having asked it, then insult their mothers; and they would thank him for it.

And about that dodging article: I believe them when they say there's been a decline in research by journalists. I know a journalist who has done covered music, and I've heard stories of bands stunned that a reporter already knows when the last time they came to town was and how long they've been around because they actually looked it up. To be fair, rock bands are very different than Colin Powell.

Which reminds me why I like Fresh Air so much, where they have rock bands and Colin Powell. It's not hard, 0day news, but someone has actually done a lot of work before Terry Gross sits down to an interview. Guests come on their show and say, "OMGWTF! Someone actually did their homework. My head feels like it will explode! [*explode*]". Sure, they lose a lot of guests from this, but it makes for great radio either way.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Follow up to a link on Franks page, I

In re things you can and can't run from:


Many visitors have been gored by vuffalo.

Buffalo can weigh 2000 pounds
and can sprint at 30 mph,
three times faster than you can run.

I left town and you didn't even notice /// Three to tango

I flew to Chicago.

Downtown Chicago is one of the most impressive-looking downtowns I have ever seen. There are these huge, impressively architected buildings all very close, as if they're trying to overpower the land they’re forced into. At street level, if you're not looking up, it seems fairly normal.

I got in a cab where the guy never checked his blind spot. The first time the car he almost sideswiped was an unmarked police car. The cop used his bull-horn to say, "You better watch it there, buddy." Of course ten minutes later, the cabbie does it again. And then once more, for good measure.

My plane back was delayed 1 hr 45 min or so. While waiting, I struck up a conversation with two women and a man who were going to Argentina "for dancing, food, and shoes. In that order." They are in to tango enough that they fly from Chicago to Buenos Aires every year. And it doesn't hurt that you could get what would be a $50 four-course meal stateside for ten bucks, and they know about this guy who makes shoes by hand in such a bad part of town, that last time the cabbie refused to leave until he saw they had actually entered the building. They're my kind of people when they travel, too: "Who wants to go in October [or did they say April?] when all the Americans and Europeans fly in to town? They want to see people they could meet at home, just down there. If I go, and everyone speaks Spanish and I meet no one from home, I'm happy." You can't meet the locals there back here. Isn't that part of why we travel on vacation?

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

I wake to sleep

Grr, grr, grr.

I've been writing blog stuff on my computer at home that doesn't have internet access, but I keep forgetting to bring the files to a machine that does.

I've skipped on blogging (and exercise, sadly) because I've been sleeping horribly. But it's horrible in a cycle. I'm alternating between 11 hrs one day and 0-3 the next. Back and forth, back and forth. It's better than only 5 hrs every night, because I'm in good form at least every other day, but it's still f'ed up. The biggest thing I've noticed when I'm running on little sleep is I have trouble following along when someone's talking. The day after one 0-hr night, I think Joe (you don't know him — he's new around these parts) must have thought I was drugged. Which is always even more ironic with me because I never, ever am. Every time I saw Joe I thought he was trying to suppress a grin, like I was a joke to him. Then again, I was also just very paranoid that day.

But I figure I could at least share with you the toaster poster made from toast.

The post title is from a villanelle I always liked.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

I am trying to break your art

A Wikipaedia article from last month (last modified 21:15, 18 May 2004) seems almost precient by mentioning The Conet Project and Wilco in one sentance after the other.

The Conet Project disc consists of recordings of numbers stations, which I used to listen to on Dad's shortwave radio. His radio is a bit bigger than an ATX mid-tower PC, IIRC, and is the only thing I've ever seen that uses a single-A battery. The recording in question is the album's titular sample, a woman repeating for a minute or two the words "yankee...hotel...foxtrot". The label that produced The Conet Project recordings says she's from Israeli intelligence. She may be, but it's not an Israeli accent — sabras have distinctive "long o" sounds, and the o's in "foxtrot" sound more British to me than anything else.

Anyway, the point is that the label Irdial sued Wilco's label for sampling of stuff recorded off a broadcast in the clear over shortwave. Though I don't have all the facts, my impression is that based on an crappy law, the suing, smaller label would have won the case. Joe Gratz, who comes up first in Google for this issue, thinks the case would be to close to call without a lot of fact-finding. The label ended up settling, paying Irdial's lawyers fees and some unrelease value in royalties.

All this prompted by the article in Wired, btw. Also, see pre-settlement post on Boing Boing yesterday.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Om mani padme hum

Thanks, Spiney, for this article about the Dalai Lama. I really want to meet the Dalai Lama in this lifetime (mine and his). But Spiney sent it because of this:

That rooted quality, I presume, reflected years of mental training and meditation. It also made for a brilliant demonstration of the Buddhist contention that the key to happiness lies in the ability to control what is sometimes called the “monkey mind,” the undisciplined consciousness that scrambles from thought to thought, impelled by negative emotions and impulsive desires.

The battle between Monkey and Monk. Here I am at Monkey Monasticism, the worst of both worlds.

BTW, posts about vacation forthcoming. As soon as I keep the monkey minds at bay for a day, you'll see them. I'll say this Sunday at worst, now that I have a working floppy drive.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

At last

It's all over with; case dismissed. I want to borrow Tony's copy of The Who's Tommy. I want to play "I'm Free" several times. Then I'd like to take a nap.

Note: will actually do neither - I have a few other things to do today.

You think you know movies?

But do you know the typography? Quizzes like this movie poster game take me back to the good old days when I had a subscription to GAMES Magazine. Of course, I couldn't do better than 30% back then, either. Don't forget the 80's. (via ntk)

Monday, May 31, 2004

Better than the hemp victrola

Okay, I know I should stop picking apart spelling in blog comments when I'm no better, but a music-playing jute box would be pretty cool. We could revitalize the Bangladeshi economy! Yow!

I know the bug, his wire running down into the hole

The bug, a crude coloring from a crude sketch from last week.

Teaching myself how to use The Gimp would be easier with a tablet.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Uh, is this thing on?

A test of posting pictures; why buck a trend?

Friday, May 28, 2004

I always forget to shave

You can not see, but I just did a little dance. I have license plates and stickers and pieces of paper and reciepts and a new shiny laminated plastic rectangle with my name on it to replace the older, less shiny laminated rectangle. I am also a few hundred dollars poorer, BUT!

Today I will go the repair store place and give them some more hundreds of dollars, and I will put the new plates and stickers on, and then I will DRIVE HOME. Well, I'll probably stop at the grocery store right accross the street first, but after that I will DRIVE HOME.


I always forget to shave the day I get a license/passport/photo ID/etc. Always. I mean what, did I not expect to be at the DMV? "Oh, how'd I get here? Where did my birth certificate come from? I didn't mean to bring these papers here, but I might as well..."

Then again, at least the picture is more accurate this way.


Stardust: Our instincts usually calculate odds poorly. For example:

On the game show "Let's Make a Deal", Montey Hall asks you to pick between three doors. Each is equally likely of hiding a prize. You pick door #1. Montey shows you that door #3 didn't contain the prize, and asks if you want to pick door #2 or stay with door #1.

The kicker is that knowing what's behind door #3 doesn't change the probability that door #1 is right. When you picked door #1, you had a one-in-three chance of picking correctly, and you still have a one-in-three chance after door #3 is revealed ... unless you switch.

Some time back I also heard game theory experts analyze Millionaire. The verdict: no one takes enough risk.

Also, the bit about fear reminds me of the movie Defending Your Life. I'm not a fan of Albert Brooks, but I liked part of the premise: your life (at least this time around) is evaluated based on fear. Whether or not you overcame your fear to do the right thing is pretty much the only basis for deciding if you get to go to a better place when you die.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Cicada Concerto

The sound of a swarm of 17-year cicadas in person is pretty cool. It needs to be mandatory, in-person listing for anyone who designs sounds and timbres for a living.

These cicadas sound like the nice whirring sound a Foxtail nunchucks make when you spin it. There’s a pulsing to it that doesn’t very much in pitch, but not a pulse with nay rhythm or order. You can’t count the beats of a thousand buzzing insects.

I thought the whirring was mostly lots of beating wings. Maybe because I was closer to the middle of them yesterday, or because there’s fewer now that many have done their business, but it’s easier to pick out that the sound is the composite of a thousand ugly screams.

I thought it was cute the day before. Inspired by a Mac Hall comic, I let a few land and crawl around. One little bugger crawled up my on shoulder, sang his little two-note song, and flew off.

Now they screech binotonous as they whack themselves the window next to my bed.


The normal summer cicadas haven't gone anywhere. (The usual local variety apparentlyallegedly sound the same as in Japan — a movie I saw on UHF last year and some Anime — can't remember which — have used the sound as shorthand for "it's now summer".) The regulars were aurally fighting it out with the tourists Monday afternoon. I was rooting for the annual home team with their raspy “ssseeeep-ssseeeep”; they're not any less ugly, but at least they don’t sound like hundreds of faint recordings of "The Torment of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore" played simultaneously.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Running away vs. giving in

My main home computer went down last week. It hadn't been set up for productive stuff — I was mostly using it to play games and screw around.

I was writing a few blog posts at home and then taking them via sneakernet to somewhere with a better network connection. This past week I took out an old composition book, but I keep on forgetting to bring it with me anywhere. From what I last wrote, all I remember is:

Waves' constant crashing

Burnt sand or salt water drenched?
Even gulls wet their feet

Friday, May 07, 2004


This is a post I started writing a month ago, hence the Passover reference. I still haven't said what I want in the last few lines, so I'm just going to post this now and try to rehash that last part later.

In Friday's post, the ̣H is supposed to be a guttural (like the German 'ch'). What's weird is that I need to enter the dot before the H for it to appear correctly in the web interface when I edit blog posts, but I need to have it after the H for it to look right when it's pushed out to the web page.

I'll be honest: in the last few years I've been wavering about my own Judaism. Part of the reason why I was happy to be moving back in 2001 was because I'd be somewhere with an actual sizable Jewish community (by dint of population density and averages if nothing else). But I'm questioning my faith even more now that I did then.

For one thing, I haven't really done anything to involve myself in the local community. Sure, I went to the informal study classes that I really, really liked, but with a thirty- to forty-minute trip each way every Monday evening and with me having enough problems as it is getting up on time the next morning, I've let that go. I thought where I was moving to would be close enough to a shul, but honestly I'm farther than practical walking distance, especially on a hot, humid summer day. And even when I do go, I usually don't bother to fight my own recent tendency to remove myself from people and hide in the corner.

I'm also trying to educate myself in being more reasoned, rational, and empirical. Everywhere I look the reasoning and empirically based folks are anti-religion if not atheists. How can I believe in the Gd of my fathers who, in this Passover season, "rescued us [from Egypt] with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm"? The plagues? The parting of the sea? The earth opening up and swallowing Korach? "Let there be light"? But despite my doubts, I still want to believe there is something — some overarching thing, a deity. And even if I have trouble believing, I still want to sit down and pray, and I still want to study Talmud and its millennia of wisdom. Maybe I just need to pick up Critique of Pure Reason.

I always liked the story of Jacob wrestling with an angel, because it always struck me as representing a man trying to come to terms with his own faith. Neither truly wins: Jacob wins because time runs out, but gets a dislocated hip that never completely heals. The Rabbis say that this battle lasts the one night, but it also lasts all of Jacob's life in a way.

I like thinking we should wrestle with our beliefs and try to come to terms; we should take all our lives and search for answers only to never find them.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004


Ah, a return. In case you care, the car is still in the shop. I have to get new tags, and I can't do that without the car passing inspection, and I was just told today it needs $200+ worth of parts and labor to get it up to spec. So it's going to be a little while longer.

I really haven't wanted to use this blog to moan and whinge. I don't want to sensor myself, but it's as much as a disservice to myself is the reader. Taking time here to wallow in the doldrums makes it that much harder to pull myself out. If I start whining, please hit me or something. At least let me know.

Hello, me. It's me again.

I feel demoralized every time I walk out the door. It's like there's two of me, and every time I go anywhere the smart H has to the stupid H, "Now, H, do you have your keys with you?" The dumb side feels a blow to his pride from being talked down to, and the smart side feels frustrated because the dumb side never seems to learn. And both sides feel lower and more frustrated because I know the times I forget to ask are the times I lose my keys.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

no excuses

FWIW, taking hiatus from writing blog until after May 5th. In part because not having a car at the moment (in the shop, can't get a rental) is eating a lot of travel time, in part because time spent preparing for family coming to visit, in part because of stuff I'll blog about eventually.

I have stuff I've been trying to work out in my head and write about, but I just can't get it all focused while being distracted by things that are, honestly, much more important.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

This belt can make me invincible

I have a sudden urge to grab Tucker's waist and press up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Select, Start.

It's not working? Maybe we have to blow on the cart first...

Monday, April 12, 2004

Spanglish Bouncing Beybies

This morning I saw lined (not college rule), hole-punched notebook paper taped sideways to the side of a bus stop enclosure. Handwritten in pen were the words:

Si necesitas Beybicir[,] favor de
llamar al numero se encuentra aquí

followed by two local phone numbers and the name "Elizabet" (as is standard procedure, the name and numbers were repeated a few times and the paper was cut so that you could easily tear off a copy of the name and numbers and put it in your pocket).

Beybicir clearly must mean "to baby-sit". It's horrible, horrible Spanish, but it sounds wonderful. FWIW, Si necesitas is "if you need", favor de llamar a is "please call", and el numero se encuentra aquí is "the number found here". Beybicir is exactly how you would write the English word using Spanish spelling conventions plus the obligatory "ir" ending to make it a verb.

A few notes:

I think that line was a comma, but there was a stray mark higher on the paper that, if intentional, would make it look more like an accented "i". From what Spanish I know, an "í" would make even less sense.

The other verb endings, "ar" and "er" sound wrong in this context. "Ir" is the only one that sounds right, probably because there are a lot of "cir" verbs — mostly from the Latin "ducere": traducir (to translate), conducir (to drive) — and "i"-consonant-"ir" verbs: bebir (to drink), dirigirse (to head or direct oneself [towards]).

Friday, April 09, 2004

If you're not the lead dog...

I was again browsing through Amritas' linguistic notes (of late I just ignore his political stuff, though I did like this), and read this Chinese proverb (and the professor's gloss of it):


Ning wei ji shou, bu wei niu hou

Lit. ‘rather be chicken head, not be cow rear’
He also mentions a variant with "pheonix tail" instead of "cow rear".

As a happy coincidence for a Friday, since I always like a good Hebrew quote heading into Shabbas, there's a similarly patterned saying in the Talmud. I've quoted Pirkei Avot (פרקי אבות) before — it's a central Talmudic repository of ethics and general advice. Someone once taught me "Pirkei Avot is the only place where [the great competing teachers] Hillel and Shammai are right next to each other and don't disagree." As a side note, when I went to Israel a few years ago, the corner of Hillel and Shammai streets in Jerusalem was the proud home to a definitely non-kosher McDonalds.

Anyway, from Pirkei Avot, Chapter 4; mishna 20:

רַבִּי מַתְיָא בֶּן־חָרָשׁ אוֹמֵר׃
הֱוֵי מַקְדִּים בִּשְׁלוֹם כָּל־אָדָם
וֶהֳוֵי זָנָב לָאֲרָיוֹת וְאַל תְּהִי ראשׁ לַשֻּׁעָלִים

Rabii Matya ben-Ḥarash omair:
Hevai makdim bishlom col-adam,
Vehevai zanav laarayot v'al t'hii rosh lashualim.

Rabbi Mattia ben Ḥarash taught [omair lit.: says, note the present tense]:
Be the first to extend greetings to every person [col-adam: All of Adam, a common scriptural Hebrew locution for "all of humanity"].
Be a tail to lions [arayot] rather than a head to foxes [shualim].

I agree with the professor when he says "I'd rather be the 鳳尾 phoenix’s tail".

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

My mad l33t rhetorical skills

(Her changes channel to MTV, watches first minute of a recent Britney Spears video.)

Her: Okay. Now Britney is just plain creepy.
Me: Yes, but: boobs.
Her: (looks over dubiously)
Me: (Raises hands hand in air to make point) Boobs! I win!

Q. E. M-F'n. D.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Can't even procrastinate in peace.

I got into accident a while back and I haven't gotten around to dropping the car off for bodywork (fix the dents, get a new bumper, etc.). I've been putting off giving up use of the thing for a while now. For now I'm telling myself I'll ignore it until right after I come back from a next week's Passover vacation. But these guys — and it's always guys — keep pulling up in their cars and stopping. "Hey, I can fix that for you. I do body work." I didn't mind it so much the first few times.

Monday I promised I'd help someone at 3:30, so at 3 I went to buy a late, quick lunch, made matters worse by leaving my cell phone behind on the sub shop counter, and when I went back to get it there's a guy who pulls into the empty parking spot next to where I'm walking to talk to me about my car. So I tell him I didn't have time right then, and he keeps going on about how he'll do it for cheap. I just keep walking and do my thing, but it gets on my nerves.

Tuesday I'm running late once again to meet with someone early (at least I made backup plan for when I was the inevitable 25 minutes late), and I'm driving down the narrow little street where I live, stuck behind someone driving slower than what everyone usually does. Then the driver stops and puts his hazards on, and opens his door, and I start judging which side has enough room for me to pass him on. But he stops at the rear of his car and starts gesturing towards my dented driver's-side bumper, so I think maybe he's just pointing out that there's something wrong with my car in case I didn't notice. That's nice, but...

"I can fix that for you."

I left my car in first so that when I blew past the guy the engine rev'ed extra just in case the sudden acceleration wasn't clue enough.

How good could these guys be that they need to stop random strangers, anyway? Either you're good enough to work in a shop where you can get consistency, a controlled environment, and benefits, or you're even better and you list yourself in the phonebook and advertise like normal people and work hard so people know you by word-of-mouth. Am I wrong?

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Requiescant in pace. Keep off the grass.

I was listening to the BBC World Service in the 0700 GMT hour today, and heard them announce that Alistair Cooke passed away. Most of us USians probably know him from "Masterpiece Theater", but the past couple years I found and really grew to like his "Letter from America" segment. As an American, it was like having kind Uncle visit once a week to tell stories about all the little things you know to be true but just never stopped to think of before. I was kind of resigned to not hearing from him ever again already, since he stopped recording a month ago on the advice of his doctor. I feel let down easy, but it's sad just the same. Me, I would like to live to 95 and be as sharp as Mr. Cooke was. (This would require a marked improvement.) It could happen — I have a Grandmother who's 91 and was telling me a few weeks ago how she had a nice time "visiting with the elderly" just the day before.

I remember one Sesame Street episode with the Cookie Monster where they had "Monsterpiece Theater". The host was Alistair Cookie [sic]. The feature was "Me, Claudius", which consisted of a half minute of two monsters in togas, each pointing at himself and arguing, "Me Claudius;" "No, me Claudius." Then a third one enters and shouts "No, me Claudius." Curtains fall. How this was supposed to educate kids is beyond me.

In re the title, requiescant is the plural of requiescat (I had to look it up), the R of RIP. Also, Peter Ustinov passed away recently and he often said he wanted his epitaph to be "Keep Off the Grass".

The Penn State is mightier than the sword.

I apparently allegedly made a big bluder writing "Penn" when I should have written "Penn State". Corrected.

Spiney Norman
Happy Spiney?

Dinsdale! Dinsdale!!!

Just Like Darkman

Only with a face still. Or most of a face, I... heavens it's hard to sound lighthearted or witty without being a cruel bastard when talking about this three-year-old girl. Link via some blog or other. I forget.

There are only 16 or so people like her in the world. Because of a genetic defect, they feel no pain.

As a side note, her dad is some kind of racecar driver.

I don't know about you, but after reading the article I wondered what happened to Hereditary Sensory and Autonomic Neuropathy (HSAN) Types 1 through 4, and I found which genes and nerve types are affected. The FRED site at Penn State's College of Medicine is a little more informative from a layperson's perspective, even if the site seems to exist only to plug Penn State's researchers. Judging from references in published article abstracts, the creator of this classification system for HSAN is one Dr. Peter J. Dyck.

Sorry for the lack of links to scholarly journals or why it's Dyck's classification system &mdash I didn't think to check that I had bookmarked HTTP POST request responses to medical journal search engines before closing my browser window. I did find a chart that I think shows which symptoms appear in which type, but the chart's in Traditional Chinese. I don't know Chinese, but 無 means 'not', if that's any help.

I don't have to explain why bookmarking POST responses fail, right?

Friday, March 26, 2004

Unicode vs. search engines

Someone came here looking for "צורי USB" on Google. צורי is "rock" from this post, and USB came from here. Probably not what this person was looking for.

I'm happy. I was worried Google didn't up the UTF-8 stuff. After all, if the search engine can't see them, how would I know of the pages that aren't getting indexed? The search engine issue was what pushed me over the edge to give up on the more portable HTML escapes. This is also why good spelling is important — only the people who spell consistently with everyone else are the folks who will be found.

Not that the escapes were hard. In Mozilla, all I had to do was make sure I was looking at the post submission form in a non-Unicode encoding, and Mozilla, knowing the characters can't be displayed in that encoding, automatically handled the conversion.

What's neat is, with Unicode or the HTML entities, Lynx tries its best even if you tell it you don't have Unicode capabilities. Kohelet with the vowels left out (which is how it's written in the Bible), shows up as Q+H+L+T+. Japanese phonetic characters fare even better, though it doesn't deal with Kanji. I'm guessing is probably because getting the phonetic equivalents would computationally require about 70% of the effort of just translating the whole thing anyway.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

His "little Hugo" was showing.

On his offical page for the The Man In The High Castle, Philip K. Dicks site has a picture of the Hugo award the novel won. I know that's just how rocket ships are built, but it strikes me as being much more phallic than strictly necessary.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

To be rhetorically fair

Since I always point out Rush Limbaugh's relentless ad hominem attacks, I should try to be fair about my "poor rhetoric" statement yesterday. I'm not blaming him for lies. If I talked on radio for as much as he does I would be dumbfounded if everything I said on air stood up to as much scrutiny as Rush gets. What's more, fallacies sell. I don't think he'd get as good ratings if he didn't appeal to emotion or use guilt by association (that plan is horrible because the Senate Democrats hate it, e.g.).

Also, I screwed up the last paragraphs of the post. Second to last should read:

Second, I did not understand the width of the great moral divide. I think many opposed to gay marriage believe homosexuality is as perverse as, say, sacrificing puppies. In that light, I'm eventhey're probably a little astonished that I'm not as indignant as they are. This might seem a "no duh" statement to you, but the realness of the feeling, real empathy never hit me until I put Tony's two and Dinesh's two together.
And there should be no break before the last sentence.

A moral decision or two

I rode in Tony's car to pick up some computer hardware. On the way back from the first trip where we had just earmarked the stuff we'd come back for, he turned the radio on. Rush Limbaugh came on, which is fine.

Not that I think Rush Limbaugh's show is fine, but I have no problem if your radio was already on the station when you turn it on and we sit there for twenty minutes listening to him. I'd take a trip with my dad to the beach and we'd be listing to a financial advice show that gave good advice, and then Rush would come on next, and why change the station? We're not going to agree on a music station, there was no game to listen to; we might as well stick with it. Secondly, I can handle streams of poor rhetoric in radio-sized doses. Everything moves at the speed of conversation which is a speed I'm used to dealing with on a daily basis, and I can work out in my head why or why not Limbaugh has a point statement-by-statement before he's already moved on. I'm always paranoid with produced and edited TV segments that with the visual data added to the mix that I'm missing something that's subliminally affecting my judgment. I worry after I've fallen asleep with the radio on, too.

So on the second trip, when we've got a truck following us to actually carry the stuff in, the radio burbles on about gay marriages in San Francisco or maybe some county seat in New York. So Tony, knowing I agree with him on some foreign policy issues and haven't objected to his radio talk show choices so far, starts venting his frustration about the gay marriage/civil union issue. He is, just to be clear, against homosexuality. Not that he has anything against the homosexuals. Though he didn't say as much, his stance is close to the Augustinian "hate the sin, love the sinner," which, if nothing else, is commendable from a consistency standpoint from a man who is proud to be a practicing Catholic.

I don't agree. I could go in to states rights vs. federalism, church vs. state and economic arguments, but that's not my point. My point is that I'm sitting in a car listening to a guy rant on about a point I don't agree with, and I'm saying nothing. I feel bad. It's not like he's trying to convince me - he's only expressing how he feels and isn't spending effort to tie it all together to prove his point. Still, I feel a bit cheap just sitting still and taking it in. I think to myself, I'm going to see Tony almost every day for the next few months at least, and it's going to be a lot easier for both of us if I just shut up and sit still.

Without that listening to Tony, though, I don't think I would have ever understood the moral side of the argument.

Later that week, once more scouting out people with opinions I don't normally pay attention to, I found Dinesh D'Souza. I was reading A Solution for the Democrats when two things hit me — first, I have no hope of being convinced when even D'Souza's straw men seem pretty reasonable at times. (I am opposed to robbery, but what's so bad about wanting free health care for everyone? I would love my elected representative to say "I would like free health care for everyone. Sadly, to do so is horribly impractical. Here is my proposal:..." I also want world peace, and for puppies not to die.) Second, I did not understand the width of the great moral divide. I think many opposed to gay marriage believe homosexuality is as perverse as, say, sacrificing puppies. In that light, I'm even a little astonished that I'm not as indignant as they are. This might seem a "no duh" statement to you, but the realness of the feeling, real empathy never hit me until I put Tony's two and Dinesh's two together.

There are a few loose threads about all this that I am trying together. There's the story about conceptions of disgust and roaches that have been in an autoclave (and so are more sterile than your own finger) from the "No Thanks" episode of Been There Done That. There's George Carlin arguing the evils of religion in a way that I find hard to refute.

I'm still not sure what I ought to have done in the car that day.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Final Programming Exercise Tactics Advance

In part because of .Pete linking to this article, and in part because I just had a craving to play the game, I started writing a program for Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. After most major events in the game you get to place a piece of terrain on the map, gradually arranging the countryside. Certain clusters of terrain types will have buried treasures, and the nicest treasures will be hidden only under certain patterns.

So it's a basic optimizing problem. Given which patterns yield which treasures, how favorable one item is over the other, and a known list of pieces and the array they can be placed in, which is the best possible layout? So I fired up a Scheme interpreter and got to work. My code generates a few thousand random scenarios, rates each by summing the assigned weight values, sorts the scenarios by that rating, and randomly recombines bits of the best 25% and some more random ones into a new set of a few thousand, and does it all over again. The code does exactly what I tried to tell it to do, but after 7 minutes — about 10 iterations at 4000 scenarios each time (experiment found using more scenarios at fewer iterations yields quicker results) — it's only about two-thirds as good as me sitting down for 30 minutes with pen and paper.

It's still a little buggy. I fixed the problem where, for a given set of neighboring terrain I was checking permutations against the list of items and not combinations. Currently I'm counting literal combinations: if you have four mountains, there are three combinations of three you can make, but I think the game might count only that there is at least one set of three neighboring mountains and ignore the remaining combinations (only terrain types matter). I'd have to play for hours to get to a point where I could test it. Also, I just finished figuring out that I need to carry the best trial(s) over each time so that if the random recombining doesn't yield better results I don't go backwards for an iteration. Thanks to the good old A.I. koan about teaching a computer to play tic-tac-toe for that one (if it bugs you, ESR explains the garbage collector koan and garbage collecting). Also, code profiling shows that more time is spent determining which items will be generated and summing the ratings than anything else. I should get a nice speed increase if I sit down for a bit and rework the algorithm.

I'd like to post the code, but I'd have to have a front page post with just screenfulls of code. I'll find some way to post it and link to it here without getting a whole new site.

I recommend:

If you like FFTA, try Fire Emblem: Sealed Sword or, even better, Advance Wars 2 for more of a tactical challenge. Advance Wars 2 more than makes up in challenge and game play for what it lacks in unique units/characters. For more of a traditional RPG, try Golden Sun but feel free to skip the sequel. All these are for Gameboy Advance.

I'd have used the very excellent MacGambit scheme interpreter and IDE, but my Mac only has a 16MHz CPU.

Oh, and I got all my data about how FFTA works from Gamefaqs.

Getting my butt out of bed in the morning

I mean it every time I say that I'll be ready early in the morning. Every time I think, I've got everything under control. I can handle this much better than I used to. I'm a driver. I'm a winner. Things are gonna change — I can feel it.

Every time the person I promise is skeptical. But I will show them. I'll not only be there, I'll be early. I'll show them all; They'll be impressed. This monkey has turned over a new leaf. It never works.

This morning, no one was waiting. There was no emergency. I was early.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Linux is less shitty than it used to be

I knew there was propotionally more crap when I upgraded to the 2.4 linux kernel from 2.2. I just couldn't prove it until now.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Quid Pro Quo

Ah, I thought I had finally kicked my Anime habit, but I gave in and checked out Full Metal Alchemist. One thing I like about the show, is that they play up the laws of conservation. I like watching a show that uses the concepts of conservation of mass and energy as its philisophical basis. The part of me that loves justice would like to know that the universe at every level works that way, but I can't logically argue for it.

We can't assume parallels exist just because these conservation laws are inescapable for chemical reactions. At the level of electrons and smaller quantum mechanical "supositions of states" abound, but that doesn't mean we deal with Schrödenger's Cats daily. I may deal with unknowables, indeterminate data, and averages regulary, but these are different than suppositions — the indeterminancy of whether traffic is bad today won't make this evening's bus arrive partially on time and partially late.

Given we can't assume parallels, do we have any proof these parallels exist anyway? Aren't there win-win situations? Does everyone who gets ahead in life only do so at the expense of others? Can we possibly do more good than harm, or are we just deluding ourselves each time? I was taugh the Lord is just, but he is also merciful — He remembers inequity to the hundreths but kindness to the thousanths. I want to believe that the universe works that way. Some days it's hard.

Fire and Ice

Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Public warning, unless you're Matt

I don't think Matt actually reads this, but in case he does: Matt, you need to see the new live-action remake of Sailor Moon, now if not sooner. I saw one episode of this (no need to go into the details of how), and it was horrible. Matt bought Spice World. This is was much, much worse. It was, in fact, the exact kind of horrible that Matt loves. Matt, you see, has an unending hunger for the awfulness that can only be created by people who suck very much but try really hard. What more could he want that this?

To all of you not-Matts in attendance, stay away. I got stupider just from watching it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

To: Frank; Subject: Power (was: RE: Simplicity of Dark)

Okay, Frank;

Problem: Captain Carth is clearly a weakling and cannot see the power of the dark side of the force. Further, he DARED question your judgement.

Solution: You've gotta kill the girl now, or else Carth will think he can order you around any time he wants (and nobody orders around a jedi except a better jedi), so kill the girl (remember it's Carth's fault), then amputate some random limb of Carth's. In the Star Wars universe, amputation isn't such a big deal and, in fact, is an accepted way to make a point.

Assuming that I did want to be evil, you're saying I should let my actions be dictated by my underling? Weakness. I wouldn't kill the girl because of Carth's insubordination. You maim Carth to make him learn. Then you kill the girl for the money, since you were planning to do so anyway. Reverse the order if you think the girl's a greater flight risk than Carth. Thought process may not seem to matter here because the results are the same. The same this time. Next time you may act to spite a minion and find yourself striking out when you are weak instead of building power and waiting or your opening.

Further examples provided upon request, but I enjoy nitpicking better. In the game when this all goes down, you sort of aren't really a jedi. Also, not that I'd imagine it'd be much fun, but can you beat the game and not be a jedi? I've only played through it all the way once.

If knowing was even 60% of the battle, I would be much better off.

E.g.: I know why my writing needs work.

BTW, I know I lied about a followup to Moon on Friday. I was OBE, you could say.

Friday, March 05, 2004

"To know where you can find anything, that in short is the largest part of learning"

I'm probably going to try my hand at this past year's King William's College Quiz. I think the answers may be already out — I can't tell if it's last year's or not since I broke Acrobat Reader (long story). I'm thinking of doing the no-Google challenge with it this year, and I'm off to a good start since I know 4.2 6.1 and 10.4, and I'm fairly sure about 2.5 5.7 12.1 13.7 and 15.10. I also know what 18.1 is all about, I just don't know their names of the top of my head.

Great. Now I'm going to have John the Revelator stuck in my head for the next few days [specifically this version] .

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Never put off for today that what can wait until the day after

I received an email:

I think it was originally scheduled for today, but, hey, what's the rush?

For what it's worth, the email came from a mailing list I found for people with that wonderful brand of insecurities and perfectionism that boils down to: if I make a mistake I am a horrible person, so I never do things because if I never start I can never fail. Which is, of course, horribly fallacious. The mailing list isn't exactly geared to my age group (and judging from traffic, my gender, either), but I've realized if you want to fundamentally change and improve your nature, you have to pound the change into your head every way you can until, years later, it maybe finally sticks.

Free as in "free beer" or free as in "The Moon"?

I read The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. I bought a few Nebula and Hugo award winners the other day, but I bought Moon specifically as part of my current push to find well-reasoned reading that promotes views I don't necessarily agree with. Moon, you see, is often touted as an excellent proponent of libertarian government (take the Amazon reviews for example).

I disagree. Heinlen is saying Libertarianism is very hard to pull of. While trying to stick to laws of reality and human nature, Heinlein invents a Moon that is the best possible breeding ground for a libertarian revolution and still insists his revolutionaries only have, at best, a one in seven chance of success (about 14%), and worse as the novel progresses. He has gives his culture a believably home-grown common law system that promotes independence and self-reliance, and yet at the end of the book no one can stop their new government from devolving towards an unwieldy control-accumulating bickering parliament, with all the power-grabbing and infighting of a stereotypical unicameral representative democracy. Don't get me wrong: from what I know of history the power-grabbing and infighting in communist states and under authoritarian monarchies are far, far worse, but my point is that as hard as he tries, Heinlein concedes that even the ideals he loves cannot hold. He can't make himself a realistic happy ending. There is none. There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

Bottom line: I recommend the book. If nothing else, it's a good read. I don't understand why anyone bothers recommending Ayn Rand when there's stuff like this around. The folks at Jerkcity (the "t" stands for "tell") said it better than I would have.

More Friday (or tomorrow, time permitting) on cultural institutions and personal responsibility and whether I actually agree with Heinlein. Either that, or Neil Gaiman.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Words, words, words

First (and you can ignore the rest of the post if you want): Holy friggin' crap. I actually won. Go me!

Nitpicky stuff: I keep on mispronouncing depreciated as deprecated. The first is from Latin for 'price', the second from 'pray'. The computer geek that I am, when I mean to say deprecated, I don't mean it quite as defined in the dictionary, but more like "obsolete and recommended against" with "soon to be removed in a future version" implied.

Third: I heard two people mistake amenable and amendable recently. I think both meant amenable in the second, "willing to change" sense. Amendable means you can make changes, but doesn't imply whether anyone would like it. Amendable is most commonly used for text (contracts, documents, etc.) and so can substitute for emend, or it can mean a change that improves (c.f. "make amends").

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

And I just finished reading "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress", too.

Dwane was ranting about HOV lanes and the followed up with a link to a Cato Institute article about combination high-occupancy/toll-paying lanes.

Ah, the Cato Institute. It's plans like this that made me think I was a libertarian for a year.

What bothers me are the political talk shows where the host will bring out pundits and introduce them based on the think tank they come from without giving any more credentials. Think tanks names are then like secret society code names. When you know the code it's easy to predict which organization will take which stance. The publicized rationalizations are the fun side-show: Come see the conservative co-opt green standpoints! Watch pro-labor reps swear it's for the good of the shareholders!

H. Monkey rolls his eyes.

[ edited at 10:10 Feb. 24 ]

Friday, February 20, 2004

Simplicity of Dark

I wrote that I don't enjoy making prank calls, and it reminds me of talking to Frank about Knights of the Old Republic, a game which lets you can play a Jedi, for good or ill.

So I said, "Playing the Dark Side is easy and hard. I mean, knowing which choices to make easier, but it's so hard to actually do it." I think Frank words were, "What are you talking about?"

Take something from the near beginning of the game for example: you open an abandoned apartment's door, and there's a generic-looking woman hiding there. She tells you she slapped some guy in a bar who made advances and wouldn't take "no" for an answer. She drew some blood when she hit him. He's part of the crime syndicate. He lied to say she attacked him unprovoked and put a bounty on her head so he wouldn't loose face. You can choose to say, "You know, maybe I'll just kill you and take that bounty for myself." If you do, your fellow soldier points out that, sure we could use a little money, but killing some innocent woman is not the way to do it. Cpt. Carth's a bit whiney and annoying, but he has a point. I mean, it's just so wrong.

Just to be clear, none of these people are real. It's all just spots of glowing screen and vibrating speaker diaphragms. These people only move and make sounds because of inexorable processes directed by patterns of millions of tiny differences on magnetic plates no bigger than my hand that spin inside my computer, patterns designed by people I have never met. I know this.

Killing the woman is still hard.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

100 years of...

Can you blame my mom liking her job? They'll have an excess of buttons for Ted Geisel's 100th birthday on Tuesday, March 2nd, so she wrote me asking if I would like one. When I wrote back, I couldn't help myself:

A Seussical button would I like to see
That says "Go read books! Avoid the T.V.!"
Or has Cindy Lou Who, so cute and so wee,
With Yertle and Horton and a big bumblebee.

Please do send it by any which way,
By snore-fax or speed-snail or railcar relay.
I'll wear it one Tuesday so people may say,
"My goodness, what news! It's Seuss's birthday."

I'll hang it like fruit of a truffula tree
On my favorite long-sleeved striped red and white tee.
Oh a Seussical button I would much like to see
So long as it's soon. I won't wait 'till March 3.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Pondering Monkeys

I pondered, and I finally thought of something for a set of Most Emailed photos captions. Yay!

It's pretty simple - each weekday morning, Mort takes three images of whatever Yahoo has listed on their most emailed photos page and tries to make a caption linking them, and then the regulars try to do him one better.

But just so you know, I am not the original Pondering Monkey.

Friction/Burns the butter back to milk

I've got that Soul Coughing song, "I've Got To Get Right With This", where the lyrics include a phone number. I looked up the number.

I don't feel so bad cold-calling a business. And I didn't want to mess with them or otherwise waste their time; I just wanted to see if they're who the phone book says they are. Maybe I'll want to actually do business with them. And the person on the other end is almost always paid to pick up the phone anyway. So I called a few months ago, and a lady answered, "Hello. [Garbled]," and I said, "Excuse me?"

She garbled her garble again.
"I'm sorry. Wrong number." I hung up.

This happens to me almost every time I call a number where I don't expect how the person on the other end answers the phone. It reminds me of speech recognition software on a Mac I saw in 1995 where it worked only if what you said was one of a pre-made list of choices (to its credit that list was easy for the user to modify). Even if I suspect they're speaking English, which I'm positive this lady was, I just can't figure out the name said. If I accidentally call, to make something up, "The law firm of Samuel Hugh, Thomas Luis, and Sarah Dewey", the receptionist could say "Hello. Huey, Looey, Dewey; can I help you?" I'll just hear, "Helfosihefyouledhwdycnhpeheeou?"

Last month I was at out drinking with friends and friends of friends - about seven total. Granted, two beers didn't help, but I'm sure I was the only one who had to give up on figuring out half the conversation. Two people left, alcohol got metabolized, and then I had an easier time.

It's not my hearing - I can sometimes hear that a muted TV is on in the next room because of the noise the CRT makes. It must be that bit in the brain that turns the sound to words. I think the bit of the brain that goes from words to sound needs work, too. People complain that I mumble.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

"Dreaming her dreamy little dreams"

A Monty Python quote is good title for dreams I had when I fell asleep listening to the BBC World Service. I can't find my "All the Words" books to figure out which episode it came from, though.

And I know, shamisen aren't Chinese, but you try telling my subconscious that.

Where was I? Oh right, fell asleep listening to BBC news...

I had a dream I was playing a stereotypical Final Fantasy knock-off with GBA-quality graphics, but the world was confusing. It was some planet with two layers - a whole maze like arrangement of earth floating a mile above normal ground. I couldn't keep track of where everything was, which made it really hard to play the game.

An apartment-sized set of rooms with clean white walls is part of a therapeutic experiment for patients with limited mobility. Caregivers can move some doorway-sized white walls of this opaque fiberglass-like material near to the patients, and these panels take paints and pencils as well as paper. It's a creative outlet for those who can move their hands and wrists but can't sit up. A set of these walls are assembled so that they look like a whitewashed bus stop enclosure on wheels, and there I am, sitting on a bench inside them, trying map out in acrylic paints this stupid game's twisty landmasses so I don't lose my place. I'm using a lot of green.

* * * *

I'm touring the world with two BBC reporters, a man and a woman. I'm along for the ride as they track down their "human interest" stories. I can't recall the first countries we went to.

In China we met the Party chairman in what maybe once was a temple room. Maybe we were in the Forbidden City. To the chairman's back was an ornately decorated wall with filigrees and small bells and places to put lit incense sticks. The floor was padded and covered in red silk. The chairman sat on a raised cushion and held a white acoustic folk guitar. The fret board was painted white, the back was painted white; the whole thing was except for the wire strings, the gilded frets and the steel tuning pegs. He played the guitar and it sounded like a shamisen.

My view panned around, turning 180 degrees, so that I saw his only audience member. The chairman's nine-year-old niece sat on the silk floor, listening attentively. But the two BBC reporters were kneeling down towards the back of the room. And behind the reporters sat two actors from MAD TV in character as annoying husband and wife tourists who wouldn't shut up. The woman from MAD TV actually reached forward and strummed the guitar near the base of the frets so that it played a western-style chord. The chairman was incensed, but suddenly Ben Stiller walked into the room, singing a song that poked fun at himself that our Chinese bus driver made up. The chairmen and the comedians from MAD TV joined in. I think there were cameras rolling and it was all staged, to be aired later on FOX™.

* * * *

Then we went to India, the reporters and I. We were at a resort beach with a half km of yellow sand leading up to the ocean; a kind of beach I don't think exists in India. I had to ask twice which hotel we were staying at ("The fifth one from the end"). It wasn't so much a hotel as a themed bed and breakfast, a marriage-themed bed and breakfast designed for post-wedding parties. There was a grand sloped entranceway shaped like a wedding cake, and a master of ceremonies who announced everyone who walked up the entrance ramp. Everyone looked Hollywood-beautiful, but I don't, so I didn't get a very good intro when I walked in - the MC just said I was smart and witty or something. I was also the only one for whom the entranceway wasn't fake but actually made of cake. I kept sinking down in it as I tried to scramble up into the hotel, and got icing all over my tux lapels. My only consolation was an unavoidable rear view of the shapely BBC reporter as she walked in front of me.

I sat down on a bench on the sea-facing upstairs balcony to admire the bright, sunny day. A middle-aged local with a very bushy but well-trimmed, curly beard and a head of hair to match sat down next to me after coming back from what was clearly not his first trip to the cash bar. He vaguely resembled a rabbi I once knew. He also vaguely resembled Saddam Hussein. He leaned over to confide in me, "India, you know, wouldn't mind going in to space if it has to." I thought about this. I said, "You know, I wouldn't mind going in to space, either."

Fade to: midday in a nearby city. A man who looks like Kurt Russell walks down a wide, empty cobbled street in a nice neighborhood in the heart of the city. The monsoons have started, but nobody acts as if they mind getting drenched. Several Indian men in dark suits pour out of a limo as it peels into view. These gangsters each have pistols, and as they surround the white guy, they aim for his chest. Their unarmed target raises his left arm and points out his index finger like his hand is a gun, too. He aims at a black wrought-iron fence in front of one of the well-architected stone townhouses and "fires". The fence gate bursts into blue flame despite the rain, and it bends and warps until the top rail almost reaches the ground. As the fire goes out, a hooked fishing line from above lowers to catch on the tiny circle of burnished metal on a twine necklace around the accosted man's throat. The hook snags a bit of skin and draws blood as it's raised up and tugs at the necklace. The protagonist points his hand again, upwards this time. The hook and line burn up, all the way up to a fishing rod held out a third-floor window by an unseen hand. He then runs down the street, turns, and escapes into traffic. The leader of the group that tried to kidnap him, the only person at the scene with an umbrella, steps out of the car. "He can not handle the Soul of India," the leader says. "He must be stopped."