kirk.is | archive | 2003 may

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zap whip sizzle

(8 comments)
May 1, 2003
Game of the Moment
Following up on yesterday's videogame with artistic pretension, it's Painstation, Pong with a masochistic (or sadistic) twist; every time you miss the ball your hand gets shocked, lashed, or heated, depending on what icon the ball hits. Loser is the person to take their hand off first. I think it says something artsy about our relationship to entertainment and technology, but I'm not sure what.

Update of the Moment
Starship Dimensons, linked to earlier this week, as a new URL and a new 2 meters per pixel page.

Quote of the Moment
"Well, that's the end of the film. Now, here's the meaning of life. [opens envelope] M-hmm. Well, it's nothing very special. Uh, try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations."
--Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. For some reason this line popped into my head the other day, I guess I was thinking that I haven't been reading as much lately. I think it's a pretty good chunk of advice, really.

something strange, in your neighborhood

(1 comment)
May 2, 2003
Quote of the Moment
"Any view of things that is not strange is false"
--Neil Gaiman, Sandman

Image of the Moment
"A creation by Iraqi artist Zerak Mera made from Iraqi army boots is seen where a statue of toppled Iraqi president Saddam Hussein once stood, in the center of Kirkuk, April 29, 2003." Via cellar.org image of the day, they mention the disrespectful symbolism "bottom of the shoe" has in that region.


Article of the Moment
Jack Chick, the man behind the tracts.

a glutton for gluten

(1 comment)
May 3, 2003
So, Mo's brother Dan is over with a friend...and the friend is gluten intolerant. Man, that's a tough one, just because it's so subtle relative to some other food allergies, tough to know what foods are bad and which ones are ok. Or at least it would be for me.

Prayer of the Moment
Lord, take me where you want me to go;
Let me meet who you want me to meet;
Tell me what you want me to say
And keep me out of your way.
--Father Mychal Judge was a victim at WTC, who rushed down after the plane hit, and whose death certificate is 00001. Some folks would like to see him canonized as a saint. I don't have much of an opinion on that, but I do like his prayer.

Quote and News Bite of the Moment
"Declare war on the cold front!"
--I was kind of amused by the story of a Taiwanese company using Hitler to market its German-made heaters. I guess nothing says "German" to a Taiwanese person quite like Adolf...(To be fair, their grasp of European history might be about as weak as my grasp of Asian.)

all too common wisdom

(1 comment)
May 4, 2003
Politics of the Moment
"In my judgment, in the judgment of a lot of economists - and the truth of the matter is, it's now become kind of the common wisdom in Washington, D.C. - the best way to create growth is to let people keep more of their own money."
--GWB. Man, that's not what I've heard from the economists, including the beloved Greenspan (who thinks tax breaks are kind of ok, but only if it doesn't lead to big deficit spending.) But this is the way this administration works, repeat something enough and then after a while you can start calling it "common wisdom". On a related note, Slate.com poses that musical question, George Walker Hoover? Even the promised 1.4 million jobs in 18 months that the plan should bring is below average job growth. Bush's might be the first presidency since Hoover where the American economy lost jobs...I know that's after a runup bubble (where taxes were raised on the highest earners and we added 5 million jobs in a year and a half...though maybe that was all the magic power of the Internet) but still, the fact is the adminstration doesn't know how to fix it.

Funny of the Moment
I mistyped Ranjit's site moonmilk as "moonmilik" and in trying to get back on track via IE's MSN post-404 search engine (Stupidly, I should remember to just retype it in the URL field at the top) I noticed that the first moonmilk hit is Dear Postal Customer, a kind of funny note from the post office explaining some letter damage...but if you look at what it's trying to explain, it's kind of like damning with faint apology.

Randomness of the Moment
So Brooke came over, and rode shotgun as I finished this month's Blender of Love, and actually wrote the front page blurb. (Along with laughing at the horrible grammar of some of the posts.) And with that blurb's "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You" reference, Mo mentioned a weird snort in the middle of the song. Brooke and I didn't believe her, but we managed to track down this Wav file (found on this webpage) and sure enough, there is a random sound in the middle of it. Brooke and I thought it was more of a grunt or a "rooof!" (ala "Who Let The Dogs Out") than a snort, but still, I really had no memory of it being there.

By the way, everyone should buy and read the graphic novel Clumsy that I reviewed for this month's Blender. It's great and bittersweetly romantic.

i come from the fuuuuuuture!

(4 comments)
May 5, 2003
From the website for the museum exhibit Yesterday's Tomorrows. I'm a sucker for this kind of retrofuture city scene.

Quote of the Moment
"If you can't beat them, arrange to have them beaten."
--George Carlin

News Stories of the Moment
Wired had a piece on replacement for risky "stomach stapling" surgery: pills that expand in the stomach. Seems corny, but also like they've through a lot of the possible complications.
Slate.com had some interesting pieces as well: I haven't heard nearly enough about Bill Bennett's Gambling scandal. Man, case in point for Dan Savage's "Skipping Towards Gomorrah"; stop knocking other people's vices, and don't point out the mote in the other guy's eye when you have a 2x4 dangling from your own.
Also, Fred Kaplan analyzes Al Franken's jibe at Paul Wolfowitz, "Clinton's military did pretty well in Iraq, huh?" Saying yes, in some ways it was Clinton's Legacy in the army--but much R+D is pretty much independent of the presidential office, and Clinton really was reluctant to put any American soldiers at risk. (Of course that was pre-9/11. I think that might have made a difference for any administration.)
Doing a Google News search on "Bill Bennett" is interesting. Some of the first hits are conservative commentators rushing to his aid. They tend to focus on the arguments that Slate.com presents and rebuts, and then drag out the old Clinton trope. And of course they blame "the liberals"...but really, it's a libertarian kind of view, that Bennett shouldn't be trying to define and dictate people's lifestyles in the first place. (Oddly, the extension of that viewpoint is that people shouldn't pick on his gambling, since its his own "victimless" vice, but...America can be guilted into listening to honest blowhards, but hypocrites get the scorn they deserve. If you're going to preach, you should have the courage to live your convictions.)

crapulence

(7 comments)
May 6, 2003
Lyric of the Moment
"Every jumbled pile of person has a thinking part that wonders what the part that isn't thinking isn't thinking of"
--They Might Be Giants, "Where Your Eyes Don't Go". Via "The Night Watchman"'s Slashdot sig, I like it from a "theory of consciousness" point of view.

Technicalish Article of the Moment
Slashdot linked to this X-bit labs article on chess computers vs man. It was more compelling reading than I expected, even if I couldn't really read some of the chess diagrams presented later. What really surprises me is how there's this incredibly rich ability to analyze chess at a high level that probably even medium-good humans have, and that computers (and myself) almost completely lack; a vocabulary of grouping the vocabulary of chess pieces on a board into a meaningful grammar. (Though some argue the game Go is a better exercise in true AI, since it's dang near impossible to run through all the combinations of moves, like chess games generally do.)

Vocabulary of the Moment
Did you know "crapulence" is a real word? You can look it up, though it doesn't mean what I hoped it would mean.

ladies and germs

(1 comment)
May 7, 2003
Quote of the Moment
"It's better to have loved and lost than to have loved and caught something."
--Too Much Coffee Man...I found it in the comic where my favorite TMCM quote I had only seen reprinted originated, "Unrequited Love is like hitting your head against a wall that isn't there."

Link of the Moment
I kind of had the feeling Moore was kinda propgandizing during "Bowling for Columbine", and I found a page that really lambasts it as a deliberate fraud. I think it puts the case a bit too strong, but it does back up many of its arguments.

Thought of the Moment
Reading slate.com's explainer on Bennett and the odds of slot machines, it seems like there should be some strategy to preserve your winnings and cut your losses...like a Maxwell's Demon for slot machines, but that lets winnings through rather than fast moving molecules. I know that it's probably as unworkable a concept as the original Maxwell's Demon, and misplaced confidence in this kind of half-intelligent scheme is what makes casinos rich, but still. I find it an interesting metaphor.

quoth the raven never-frickin'-more

(6 comments)
May 8, 2003
Riddle and Games and Link of the Moment
So BoingBoing.net recently posted a reference to an old Straight Dope column about the unanswered (at least in the book) Alice in Wonderland riddle,
"Why is a raven like a writing desk?"
(My favorite answer, though I didn't get 'til the answer came to me about 30 seconds after I had admitted defeat, is Aldous Huxley's "Because there is a B in both and an N in neither.") In the ensuing conversation, some pointed a reference to some interesting party games based on similar principles...including "Plenty Questions", credited to Ranjit, a bit to my happy surprise. The games were a column in a now defunct web column Word & Stuff; I think it might be worth reading through the archive.

Icons of the Moment
--How To Care For Your Floppy Disks, from the Beagle Bros. Online Museum. Beagle Brothers were a very funky little software company, noted for their catalogs' retro stylings, alas mostly for Apple II (I was an Atari 800XL and C=64 guy).


Essay of the Moment
Paul Graham continues to write beautiful essays of intense meaning to the modern geek. Slashdot just linked to the latest, Hackers and Painters, identifying the activity of the latter being most similar to that of the former, as opposed to engineering, mathematics, or architecture. Interesting comparing that to the book "Masters of Doom" I'm really into now, about the guys behind the true breakthrough games.

Dialog of the Moment
Mr. Wensing:What do you want on the pizza?
Larry: Hmm... I want chicken if they have it.
Mr Wensing: Oh, okay, I'll go order it now.. I'll see if they have chicken, and if not I'll get the pepperoni.
Ross: So basically, you're going to get pepperoni, and then just tell Larry you asked and that they don't have chicken?
Mr. Wensing: There you go... now you're beginning to understand the key to marriage.
--from Ross's site. He clarified that Mr. Wensing is head of the math department at good old Euclid High School.

like twist and shout but screamier

May 9, 2003
Quote of the Moment
"When in danger, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout."
--Original Source Unknown (noted in boot messages for A/UX 1.0), though I saw a similar version attributed to Laurence J. Peter.

Link of the Moment
Situation Puzzles are kind of fun, strange sounding situations summed in a sentence, and the other players have to ask yes or no questions to suss out the story. I should figure out a way to get these into my Palm Pilot without seeing all the answers so we could have fun on trips.

Snippet of the Moment
Before I relate to you the next part, I have to tell you a little bit about the Pantheon. It has the world's largest domed ceiling. A domed ceiling might be a big deal in the world of architecture, but in the world of whispering it is definately lousy.
--Steve Martin, "Yes, in My Own Backyard". From his book "Pure Drivel", a slim volume of small, often absurdist essays. It also had a great line of his I saw first published in The New Yorker, "Embarking I saw a woman standing aft, her back to me, looking very much like a doric column would if it were leaning against a rail."

News Item of the Moment
"[At first] the lead male got a stone and started bashing the hell out of it. Another thing they were interested in was in defecating and urinating all over the keyboard."
--Researcher Mike Phillips. I don't know about you all, but I am deeply disappointed by these monkeys on typewriters. Shakespeare, hah! Just a page full of S's and then some A J L and M. It is to scoff! If flung poop is beautiful, only than do they have a chance of making a masterpiece.

take your number 2 pencil and...

(3 comments)
May 10, 2003
Idle Boast of the Moment
Hrm...some guy was out to make a point about recent inflation of SAT scores by getting as low a score as possible. One tidbit he mentions that thanks to the recentering in 1995, exactly the score I got in 1992 would now be considered a "perfect 1600". Damn! Take that, you punk Rosser!

Mo gently reminds me that "uh, Kirk, isn't it time to move on?" Ok, so I'm being a petty Al Bundy reliving his high school football glory years...still, for some reason "bubble tests" were one of those things I was really good at, and it's annoying to think I missed having an aura of "perfection".

Of course I heard they're adding a third 800-pt section in, so that soon all of our <1600 scores will make it sound like we were rampaging idiots.
Gamebutton of the Moment

It's the Magic 8 Bar! Concentrate on your Yes or No question, then click and all will be revealed... (You may also wish to visit A Magic 8-Ball Unofficial Home Page, or my own gamebutton arcade)
Academic Observation of the Moment
One of the Elizabethans' favorite Classical verse form was the pastoral allegory, which had reached its peak in Virgil's Eclogues. In such poems simple shepherds discourse on country life, which would all be pretty boring except that the whole thing is a disguise for comment on contemporary affairs. Actually, most of it is still boring.
--Michael Macrone, "Brush Up On Your Poetry!"

city of broken dreams and glass

(4 comments)
May 11, 2003
He Asked Her Name and For A Light
This was the city of broken dreams and glass.
He was against the wall and the war.
She had high hopes and boots.
She aroused suspicion and men.
He bought her story and a beer.
She dropped her cigarettes and a hint.
They left together and their fears behind.
--A poem I half found and half wrote at
this Words & Stuff page on "Zeugma"


Link of the Moment
Atlas Comics presents The 25 All-Time Greatest Covers of American Comic Books. Click on each one for a larger image and a description of why it was chosen. Some interesting choices there, with a big emphasis on some of the patriotic covers that came out during World War II. The page of rejects is kind of amusing, no commentary though, I suppose most of them speak for themselves.

made of meat

(1 comment)
May 12, 2003
Line of the Moment
Jasoco wrote:
> Oh, and Meat is good. Meat is to be eaten and
> by God, I will eat it.

And I guess we are all what we eat. But I already knew I was meat.
Guess I should avoid fruit, nuts, and vegetables...
--exchange at this Atari Age Forum. Jasoco liked my response so much he started using it as his tagline.

Game of the Moment
Not online, alas, but worth the time to down and install, Spheres of Chaos is an Asteroids-derived game, with huge amounts of pixel particle action. Pretty cool overall, bordering on the psychadelic at times.

Tech Tool of the Moment
At first I thought that DENIM, a tool that lets webdesigners sketch out a site almost as if they were drawing it on pieces of paper (but linked) was some kind of a joke, about according to this Wired article it seems to be a useful tool.

Quote of the Moment
"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned in life: It goes on."
--Robert Frost. I was surprised to see this quote wasn't already somewhere on this site.

oh chess, chess, ba-bee

(11 comments)
May 13, 2003
Game Review of the Moment
Chess, a small-scale tactical turn-based strategy game, attempts to adopt the age-old "easy to learn, difficult to master" parameter made popular by Tetris. But the game's cumbersome play mechanics and superficial depth and detail all add up to a game that won't keep you busy for long.
--A Review of Chess by Greg Kasavin. Written from the perspective of a computer wargamer, as if Chess was a new game. Funny, I think. I tracked it down after having it in the back of my mind for a long while.

Quote of the Moment
"You'd better make some noise while you can, because when you're dead, you shut up like HELL!"
--Reverend Ivan Stang, founder of the Church of the Subgenius. The only trouble is that it brings to mind the Weird Al chorus "I'll be mellow when I'm dead..."

Image of the Moment
New currency designs always look wrong, but a big slash of peach? Ugh.

nekkid

(2 comments)
May 14, 2003
Flash of the Moment
An exercise in way too much interface but with a dose of wackiness, db-db DESIGN IS FUN. (Warning: tiny pixel nudity) The NUDEMENSHOW (from the top menu) was kind of amusing though.

Research of the Moment
Personality Keeps Changing with Age, Study Finds - though it doesn't sound like the most controlled study in the world, it's kind of interesting.

Political Potshot of the Moment
"They could sense I would be one of the great pilots of all time."
--Bush on why the Air National Guard took him (via Bill a while back.) Given his record with the Guard--extremely spotty even with generous recognition of National Guard service when the nation was at war in Vietnam--this is such a laughable statement. And his recent jet landing on that aircraft carrier, some think may have cost us like a million dollars to give him a great big political advertisement?

On the other hand, what the heck. If I were president, I'd do the same thing. Except I'd say I was doing it for fun, rather than make some lame excuse about wanting to avoid inconveniencing the sailors or then, when that no longer applied due to a weather-induced course change, "to see an aircraft landing the same way that the pilots saw an aircraft landing."


Consumer Product of the Moment
It's still just a rumor, but if Shick comes out with a razor with four blades...man, that'd be totally hilarious. When will the madness end? Seriously, I tried Gilette's 3 blader, the "Mach 3" (you know, the one with that commercial commercial, as subatomic humor put it, "What a guy! I mean, heís lost it all: his uniform, his plane. Whatís he got left? A razor. Not even a can of shaving cream. But you canít keep him down. There he sits, rubbing his face. At least he got a smooth shave! Heís looking on the bright side. Booyah naked jet pilot!") and it's a serious case of diminishing returns. The Gilette "Senor" with two blades seems to work pretty well...with three, I dunno, it just presents a giant sharp shaving surface. Anyway, I shave once a week, a new blade each time. Probably slightly cheaper than a normal shaving schedule, and it seems to work for me.

his life and pixel times

(2 comments)
May 15, 2003
Pixeltimes of the Moment
So, I've been thinking about possible substitutions for Ranjit's beloved and defunct Pixeltime. I've already posted about tilemachine. It's pretty good, though its obsession with tiling, designs that can seamlessly repeat, is a little odd. guestpixel isn't bad, though it has a weird "select a (small) palette" thing I'm not crazy about, though it makes for some nicely mood-ed images. The newest entry seems to be blograffiti. It uses Pixeltime's 45x45 size, but it does by letting you paint big, and then shrinking it down.

None of them capture that Pixeltime magic for me. Few of them respect individual pixels the way the Pixeltime did. None of them have a mascot like the good old Pixel Master, and all the images end lumped in a single giant gallery, there's no sense of themes, and no judging. (And one thing I learned from loveblender is that a selection by some kind of judge adds a nice structure to a site, and at least for pixeltime, gave me something to shooot for, goaded me into trying to be more creative.)

Anyway, I guess I like tilemaster the best of those. Here are four from my gallery at tilemachine (each is a 3x3 version of the thing I actually made.) The last two are video games, Pac-Man and Zaxxon, respectively.


Fotolog of the Moment
Ethan Kavet is a medical photographer in NYC, and he has an amazing fotolog Fire..Cuffs and Guts with medical photos, fights, car accident scenes, and the like. You can follow that link for the most recent photo, or start at the first image.

Quote Article of the Moment
As for the famous passion that used to motivate so many worker bees, a guy in the weight room at the Pacific Athletic Club in Redwood Shores said it best: "How many people can honestly say that they are really passionate about selling 'ERP software solutions to Fortune 100 enterprises'?" People are working, and working fairly hard, but most would rather be doing something else, if they weren't afraid of living on half the income.
--Po Bronson, Life in the Bust Belt from Wired. Ain't it the truth.

Thought of the Moment
Been reading a lot about the Matrix today, various reviews, going to see the new movie tomorrow. One point; in the first movie, the big "kill all the soldiers in the lobby" seemed kind of ok, because it was "only" happening in the Matrix. I never really connected that scene with the previous scenes showing how when you died in the matrix, you died in real life. And one of the reviews pointed out the trouble with imagining anyone as fundamentally "soul-less"...it makes it possible to justify killing them by the truckload.

there is no sword

(2 comments)
May 16, 2003
Passage of the Moment
The Cathars were fighting a losing battle, but the interesting thing was that they were fighting at all. It is not unusual to take up a sword and die for a belief. It is unusual to take up a sword to die for the belief that swords do not exist.
--New Yorker review of the new Matrix movie, talking about a real life catholic sect who more or less believed that this world was a Matrix-like situation.

Funny of the Moment
I bought the Esquire that came out with this David Sedaris tribute (or something) to his brother, You Can't Kill the Rooster.

Political Potshot of the Moment
Making the rounds, Bush's Résumé.

Rant of the Moment
"Curse these repetitive block-rockin beats! Grr! Can't you play something with guitars and actual people singing? This music feels like getting felt up by a darn cell phone!"
--Metal Steve in today's Diesel Sweeties.

for i have no blog and i must post

(76 comments)
May 17, 2003
I disagree with Dylan, I think "Matrix Reloaded" is a good name. The movie it's self was pretty good. A little bit too much lecturing, and I'm still not convinced that the Matrix itself is a big enough world to feel 'real', and I'm not sure why Neo and Trinity had to wait 'til they were back in the city to jump each other's bones, but hey. Sawers had an interesting idea about [SPOILERS FOLLOW, select text with mouse to see] neo being the sixth singularity, or rounding error, or whatever he was; given his newfound power to shut down the robots in the "real world", maybe each Matrix is built "inside" the old one. [END SPOILERS]

One observation though: isn't it odd that everyone looks the same in the matrix as out of it, except for clothing and maybe a bit of hairstyling? We see people instantly recognizing others outside the Matrix who they only know from inside, so it's not "just" a trick for the audience. The only explanation is that there's some kind of wacky reverse-phrenology going on, instead of the shape of the skull telling you about the mind, the shape of the mind explains the body. Or the machines for some wacky reason are sampling your DNA or otherwise going to great lengths to make your Matrix-self look just like your "battery" self would if you weren't a big bald naked guy in a tube of slime.

Story of the Moment
A very interesting meld of a Matrix-type situation (except everyone knows what's going on) with Asmiov's "3 Laws of Robotics" (i.e. 1. Don't let people get hurt, 2. Obey people's orders, 3. Don't let yourself get hurt, in that order) by way of "For I have No Mouth and I must Scream", it's The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect, a novel avaialable online. The basic premise is, what would you do to fight boredom if you were one of trillions of immortal people in a world you could sculpt to your own desires on a merest whim? Make yourself the star victim of other people's "real-life" snuff films, of course! Some adult content in that, but a very good read. I used the PayPal tip jar there.

Interview Q+A of the Moment
"Pick a superhero--who would you be?"
"I know I don't want to be the Hulk. It's very painful to be the Hulk; he's a tragic hero who happens to be a monster. Probably Superman. I like his outfit."
--from a Wired interview with Ang Lee, director of the upcoming Hulk movie

calvinist

(1 comment)
May 18, 2003
Link of the Moment
Entertaining study of those "Calvin Peeing" decals and their many variations. Lots of photos (appearing in a popup window) taken in the wild.
I think my favorite truck decal I've seen was in downstate Ohio, a "No Fear" sticker modified by dropping the F. I don't know if the driver was a Van Gogh fan or what.

Video of the Moment
I hope it's not considered animal cruelty, but I found this video totally hiarious. I'm sure it's just cats being cats, and that it looks a bit worse than it was...

the mysterious allure of fur boots

(12 comments)
May 19, 2003
Ugh, yesterday I prepublished 16 days worth of kisrael.com for my upcoming vacation, and now I'm burnt out on this stuff!

Quote of the Moment
"If you wish women to love you, be original; I know a man who wore fur boots summer and winter, and women fell in love with him."
--Anton Chekhov

Video of the Moment
This is an excerpt from a Star Wars fan video that's making the rounds. Some guys secretly released a homemade video of a chubby kid acting out his Star Wars lightsaber dreams. (Probably the kid was messing with some of the DIY lightsaber ideas that were going around a while back. (followup--I guess according to this NY Times article, the saber effects were added by somebody else later.) You know, we laugh because it's a dorky thing to do, and because the kid's chubby and throws in some gratuitous kicking, but he actually pulls off some decent lightsaber spins.
Heh. The snippet shown here almost qualifies as an example of small gif cinema, though it's a bit larger than I usually go for.

News of the Moment
"What you want to be strong is you want people to have confidence in your currency."
--Treasury Secretary John Snow. I'm no economist, though I'm vaguely in favor of a weaker dollar, just the idea of making our exports that much more attractive. Still, couldn't he have waited 'til after my damn trip to Europe to announce that we're pretty much ok about a weaker dollar?

Passage of the Moment
    "Is he a fairy?" Rosa was, at that moment, asking Joe. They were still sitting on her bed, holding hands.
    Joe was at first shocked by this suggestion, and then suddenly not. "Why would you say that?" he said.
    She shrugged. "He has the feel," she said.
    "Hmm," Joe said. "I don't know. He is--" He shrugged. "A good boy."
    "Are you a good boy?"
    "No," Joe said.
    He leaned forward to kiss her again. They bumped teeth, and it made him weirdly aware of all the bones in his head. Her tongue was milk and salt, an oyster in his mouth. She put her hands on his shoulders, and he could feel her getting ready to push him away, and then after a moment she did.
    "I'm worried about him," she said, "He looked a little lost. You should go after him."
--Michael Chabon, "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay". I was struck by the decription of the kiss, "milk and salt".

don't let mailboxes etc do your passport photo

(5 comments)
May 20, 2003
old passport.
new passport.
curse you
mailboxes etc!
Random Snicker of the Moment
So I got my passport yesterday, yay...I got my old passport for my "summer before college" trip to Portugal in 1992, it had expired since our last international trip. We hadn't noticed, so last week we got expedited service. Anyway, I was looking at this FAQ on German Visas (to try to figure out what most easily constitutes proof of health insurance) and I felt a little sad I had no need for a Verpflichtungserklärung, an official affidavit of support from friends or relatives.

Gotta love German. It's like legos for words!

News of the Moment
Ugh. Asia Times thinks that "the next targets could be in Europe, and soon." Yay, just what I want to hear before heading out. On the other hand--what are the odds? Everyone thinks that they're special, singled out for good or bad fortune. That's not the way it works though.

Actually, I've been thinking about our nation and risk aversion. While I have no doubt that our soldiers hold their own in terms of bravery on an individual basis, on the institutional level, our military is much more cautious than say, the British, and that works to our detriment. When the British took off their helmets and started wearing their berets, when they got out of their tanks to talk with the locals--even though in one instance it cost a British soldier his life--they were able to connect to the population, to foster a positive relationship that our guys couldn't. We project an image of faceless, untouchable soldiers, and the more we do that, the more distanced we are from the populations we're theoretically trying to help.

Similarly, Jane's wonders if our decision to remove troops from Saudi Arabia is seen as a bit of a victory for Bin Laden.

All in all the situation isn't as bad as it could be. The fact that terrorists are picking softer targets and haven't conducted a jaw-dropper attack since 9/11 indicates that some of our efforts are paying off. I wish all this stuff wasn't happening right before our trip, but overall I'm confident the odds are in our favor. And if not...well, I've had a pretty good life in all. From a global and historical perspective, I've been way up the high percentiles. (My one request would be that my collective family friends and/or fanbase (heh) try to keep the Love Blender going and find a permanent way of archiving this site...)

Link of the Moment
Hemmings Motor News presents Oddies but Goodies, oddities from the history of cars. Some really cool stuff in there...the 1939 Antarctic Snow Cruiser (with its 10 foot wheels, built-in darkroom, and optional attachable biplane accessory) was pretty amazing, and this 1931 idea for adding some shape symbology to traffic lights (so that colorblind people can more clearly see what's going on) makes so much sense it's not even funny. (I only had time for the first dozen or so, but I plan to come back and read through 'em.)

see ya!

(21 comments)
May 21, 2003
Off to Europe! I'll try to add some "postcards" to the 5-items a day I prepublished as access permits.

Vaguely Optimistic Quote of the Moment
"Please try to remember that al-Qaida and its surrogates are engaged in a war with Muslims as well: They boast of attacking the West in order to impress or intimidate those Muslims who are wavering. But they are steadily creating antibodies to themselves in the countries where they operate."
--Christopher Hitchens, Did the Iraq war really boost al-Qaida? The main point I disagree with is that an increased risk of retaliatory strikes doesn't mean that terrorists feel they lost a friend in Saddam; even if they found him loathesome, they might not want to see ANY arab leader taken out by a big Western army. A related slate.com observation: were bribes the real secret weapon of the last Gulf War?

Consumer Product of the Moment
Possibly even more amazing than the Jesus Action Figure, it's Jesus Comes 2 Play! It doesn't say so explicitly, but I think this guy is supposed to be "Cabbage Page Christ", more or less. Stigmata, sandals, long hair, the works. "His Clothes and Sandals are Removable", even, just in case you want a naked Jesus doll to boot. (Update: on today's comments, Harry points out there's also a Moses Comes 2 Rock doll, complete with--err--a hockey stick. Is that their update of his staff? Ooh ooh...coming soon...(and I'm not making this up) Buddha Comes 2 Play too!)

vacation filler day 1 (backlog flush #20)

(2 comments)
May 22, 2003
  • An article on Nov. 10 about animal rights referred erroneously to an island in the Indian Ocean and to events there involving goats and endangered giant sea sparrows that could possibly lead to the killing of goats by environmental groups. Wrightson Island does not exist; both the island and the events are hypothetical figments from a book (also mentioned in the article), ''Beginning Again,'' by David Ehrenfeld. No giant sea sparrow is known to be endangered by the eating habits of goats.
    --Retraction by The NY Times Magazine.
  • "What does God need with a starship?"
    --Captain Kirk in Star Trek V
  • Soundsupport makes "video" games for blind people, like Drive...completely audio based. ("Video Games" is kind of a funny phrase, actually.)
  • Last time I went to Cleveland, I was amazed to see that Big Chuck and Little John were still on the air. They're old school Saturday Move filler hosts...corny as heck, but kinda fun.
  • My Dart Team plays out of "Legends Hall of Fame Grill" in Waltham. But they say on credit card receipts, it shows billed to "The Rough and Smooth Room". What's that all about? The imagination runs a bit wild...

vacation filler day 2 (backlog flush #21)

(9 comments)
May 23, 2003
Update from Germany
Hello from a German Internet Cafe! The keyboard is a little odd so I'll keep this quick. I have two need observations to add to my previous list of random German factoids (halfway down page): 1. Many women here use magenta haircoloring, even middle-aged women. Something you don't see much of in the states. 2. The dollar may be a bit weak at the moment, but the Euro is physically the weakest bill I've ever seen. I accidentally tore a 50 Euro ($63 or so...) note while taking it out from behind the moneyclip in my wallet...


  • "If your time hasn't arrived yet, not even the doctor can kill you" --I have no idea where I heard that, or if I made it up, or what. Maybe it was this one comedian on a previous trip to England.
  • R-rated Usenet post, but not in a bad way, Love and sex among the eccentric intelligensia
  • "The best way to seduce someone is by making yourself unavailable. You just have to be busy all the time and they'll be craving to see you."
    --Madonna
  • Slate.com on the First Photograph. Like, ever.
  • "Sometimes, magazines hid their best 'Huh?' moments deep inside stories that were otherwise utterly normal. I was drowsing through a Newsweek cover story called 'Clinton Now' when suddenly a comment by Julia Payne, the ex-president's spokeswoman, made me laugh out loud. 'One night last year he called about 1 a.m, ranting and raving about something,' Payne recalled. 'And I said, "Sir, are you watching Fox again?"'"
    --Peter Carlson in this Washington Post article.

vacation filler day 3 (backlog flush #22)

(2 comments)
May 24, 2003
  • [In response to 'you're too old to be serious about playing soccer'] "Stanley Matthews was playing First Division football when he was fifty."
    "I'll bet you any money you like you're not playing First Division football when you're fifty."
    "[looks at his cigarette] Well, no. It's the smoking."
    "It's not the smoking, Steve. It's the crapness."
    --Fever Pitch (though just the movie, not the book.)
  • Esheep.exe is the cutest little windows pet ever.
  • If the moutains were paper and the oceans ink
    If the stars were scribes, and all the world could think,
    Not all their words upon words, in the event,
    Could come to the end of my love's testament
    --Milan Kundera, "The Joke"...though I wonder if, like that "Doubt that the sun doth move[...]But do not doubt I love" poem from Hamlet, maybe it was meant to be an example of overwrought poetry.
  • K. Thor Jensen's A Short and Happy Life was one of my favorites, especially when it was updated every day. Check out Amber Forever, where he pretends to be a 14 year old girl in chatrooms, gets perverts to try to seduce her (him), and then turns the tables in fantastic ways. Funny, funny.
  • The Whitney Museum Portal to Net Art.

vacation filler day 4 (backlog flush #23)

(1 comment)
May 25, 2003

vacation filler day 5 (backlog flush #24)

May 26, 2003
  • Random thought...will all the impromptu parking lots that spring up around Fenway at game time, where you hand over your keys...could someone fake having a lot, and steal a car or two that way?
  • Remember Printshop Pro? On Apple IIs and what not, you could run it, and make posters on old dot matrix printers. Set the border, text, pick your clip art and arrange it...I'd love to see the old clipart robot it used to have again, but Google didn't come up with anything.
  • I've already blogged about E-prime, the idea that we'd write better if we couldn't use the verb "to be". But I think a much easier and dramatic improvement might come if we simply use fewer adjectives like "very" and "extremely".
  • I get fever blisters from time to time. Is dermaseptic worthwhile? I wish I could find some talk about it other than the testimonials on the site itself.
  • Little program idea: a 3D dice rolling sim, except you could customize the faces to meaningful images.

vacation filler day 6 (backlog flush #25)

(1 comment)
May 27, 2003
European Update of the Moment
Hello from Frankfurt Airport...thanks to the wonder of the Samsung e-lounge (free Internet!) I get to say hi....
I learned two new things playing Pictionary with Germans. One thing is that for them, Aladdin's lamp is more of a vase looking thing. The other thing, though, is really big, and might also be a Europe/USA thing, not just English vs German...the Germans have no word for the opposite of smile. And maybe neither do the British. If you look up "Frown" in the Oxford English Dictionary, it talks about wrinkling the forehead, and doesn't mention the mouth at all! They would never come up with a phrase like "turn that frown upside-down", it just wouldn't make sense. I'd love to hear from any British or European folk who can confirm this; it has kind of big implications for the iconography of the different cultures. (Like in Pictionary, the Germans will spend a lot of time drawing wrinkled foreheads...)


  • "She closed her eyes, saw his dark-as-treacle-toffee eyes gazing down at her. Weirdly, he was clad in pin-stripes at the same time as being naked. Pin-stripes were erotic, the uniform of fathers, two-dimensional fathers"
    --Wendy Perriam, 3 time winner of the Bad Sex in Fiction Award
  • "I love myself...but it's unrequited."
    --Tom Robbins line
  • According to NPR, Ann Peeble's Can't Stand The Rain is like the best thing ever. I always thought it was funny to put this song (the "Commitments" cover) against the Temptations "I Wish It Would Rain".
  • Besides just being in a building full of nubile people my own age, the other thing I miss about dorm life is message boards, like on people's dormroom doors. It was fun cartooning on those, or just saying hi.
  • Man, I miss the show Dr. Katz, where they added animation to ad libbing comedians on the dr's couch. That was some funny, funny stuff.

vacation filler day 7 (backlog flush #26)

May 28, 2003
  • I loved the micromachines Z-Bots, small robot figures with builtin weapons and what not. I think they were out late highschool, early college for me. They were so cute! I had the one shown here, about 10 more maybe.
  • "Every man is a spark in the darkness. By the time he is noticed he is gone forever. A retinal after-image that fades and is obscured by newer, brighter lights."
    --Warhammer 40,000, a wargame in a scifi dystopia. I also liked "But the universe is a big place and, whatever happens, you will not be missed...."
  • I thought the first email and response on the 10 March 2003 Brunching Shuttlecocks mailbag was really funny. (A "Wilhelm" is a distinctive scream that shows up in many action movies, a bit of an industry injoke.)
  • Iraq Body Count was trying to remind us about the human cost of our war. I admit it didn't go nearly as badly as it could have, but it wasn't the unmitigated victory we could have hoped for, especially in terms of the aftermath.
  • Business 2.0's 101 Dumbest Business Moments of 2002. I thought the captions of 95 through 93 were really funny: "Slyly slipping a camel through the eye of a needle" "Taking a camel and firmly shoving it through the eye of a needle" "Chopping a camel into millions upon millions of tiny camel pieces and pushing them, one by one, through the eye of the goddamn needle". And I thought of trying to rig up something like 101 for myself, a final e-mail in the event of my untimely demise...

vacation filler day 8 (backlog flush #27)

(2 comments)
May 29, 2003
  • Major Tom Shenk (is that spelled correctly?) made a mix tape of Dr. Demento stuff for my dad when he was sick, and one of my favorites on it was Dead Puppies Aren't Much Fun. Especially now that I'm on a dart team called "Dead Yuppies". (No relation.)
  • One of the cutest anecdotes from my childhood: I was like 6, and decided to give a funnel as a wedding gift to some friends of the family. I wrote a card too, explaining how it was just someting I had found floating around my room...
  • Did you know the word "heomald" isn't (or wasn't, at least) in Google? So I have no idea what "heomald matthew" written in my Palm means.
  • This American Life talked about the Hartman Value Profile which you can take online though the results aren't the easiest things to grasp.
  • I have no idea why monsterism.net was in my palm. Can't really figure out what that site is all about, actually. Same deal with foodtastesgood.com.

vacation filler day 9 (backlog flush #28)

(1 comment)
May 30, 2003
Travel Photo of the Moment
Me and the Old Frankfurt Opera House, as reflected in a Volkswagen, 2003.05.26
  • "A man needs to know his limitations"
    --Clint Eastwood in a Dirty Harry movie. I have this recorded with the note "SUV"--I think the concept being the freezenfreude of SUV owners who ignored that admonition and ended up deep in a snowbank.
  • A while back on Christian Rightwing Radio I heard Focus on the Family talking about "Bill Kennedy", who was in jail unjustly, according to them, but they were very coy about the crime. I couldn't find anything online then, but now he and his case have their own website. Not as interesting or scandalous as I had hoped.
  • Math Geekery: I should really look into recreating this, but in highschool I looked at the equation for a circle, x2 + y2 = a constant, and realized that there was an infinite set of generally untapped values that satisfied this equation if you used unreal numbers, i.e. the square root of negative one. I graphed and got some parabolas, if memory serves. I was proud of myself for thinking outside that particular box.
  • The buyers' broker we used for our house mentioned her husband like the dice.com index of hightech jobs but I never really followed up on that.
  • "Because history is a tragedy and not a melodrama."
    --I.F. Stone on how he could admire the notorious slave owner Thomas Jefferson

vacation filler day 10 (backlog flush #29)

May 31, 2003
Travel Photo of the Moment
I previously discovered that the Euro might not be strong but it is definately big. Outside the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, 2003.05.26
  • What I was not thinking about, however, was the technique I once used to avoid being run off the road by Mexican bus drivers, back when their roads were narrower and their bus drivers even more macho. Whenever I saw a bus barrelling down the centerline at me, I would start driving unpredictably, weaving from shoulder to shoulder as though muy borracho. As soon as I started to radiate dangerously low regard for my own preservation, the bus would slow down and move over. As it turned out, this is more or less what Cheney and his phalanx of Big Stategic Thinkers were doing, if one imagined the Soviet Union as a speeding Mexican bus. They were determined to project such a vision of implacable, irrational, lethality that the Soviet leaders would decide to capitulate rather than risk universal annihilation.
    It worked.
    --Dave Farber from this post in his Elite "Interesting-People" mailing list, tying in Cheney's MX missile strategy with the Iraq gambit (the post was from February, before the war) and how he might be trying to sell us as the ultimate "weaving driver" rogue nation.
  • The Lego Tarot. Includes lots of commentary on the cards. Very reasonably clever, as promised by the URL.
  • The letters of Olive and Eric, a young English couple seperated by World War II. Makes for some good reading. Post 9-11, I think we tend to forget that we haven't lived through anything as monumental as World War II.
  • Computer Stupidities. The thing is a lot of the customer service calls aren't that stupid, just poorly informed. On the other hand, on free disks, "I got one o' these here disks of yours. Is this one a those new home security systems, that all I have to do is put it here in my winda, and it'll scare away burgulars?"
  • "My heart does not know from logic."
    --Woody Allen, "Husbands and Wives"
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