kirk.is | archive | 2006 dec

<<prev
next >>

red kettles

(23 comments)
December 1, 2006
Hey, it's December already! Full tilt into the Holiday season. Back in high school I'd spend a lot of this month "standing kettles" for The Salvation Army... playing carols on tuba for 4-8 hour shifts... (I always thought that the tuba's mellowness made it easier to listen to for long stretches than, say, the trumpet.) I usually didn't take many breaks, a little bit out of teenage machismo, but mostly I just hated the empty stand just standing there, and having to find a place to stash my horn and the kettle. Nothing felt better than climbing into the big van after and having a styrofoam cup of McDonald's hot chocolate, and finally sitting... my teeth would feel a bit looser after a full shift of tuba-ing.

So the red kettles are still out there in front of the stores, but they've also gone virtual... longtime friend and sometimes-sidebar-poster Beau sent out requests to help fill his online Virtual Kettle... (Heh, actually a few times Beau and I were part of Kettle bass quartets, though that was the exception more than the rule.) I figure I've been pretty generous with myself lately (*cough* *cough* *Nintendo Wii* *cough*) but not so charitable for others, so I figured I was overdue for making a donation of a similar order of magnitude.

The Salvation Army is a great charity...I remember when I was doing kettles, getting to hear stories of appreciation about when the 'Army was there for folks when they were having a rough patch, but now they were able to throw in a couple bucks. My favorite were the old WW2 guys... I guess during the war The Salvation Army generated a lot of good will with its support for the troops, giving away some stuff like stationary and donuts that other organizations would nickel and dime them for.

Anyway, I encourage other folks to throw something into Beau's kettle to kick off the Winter season... even in Boston where it's like... yeesh, 64?


self-portrait of back in the day...


delawary

(5 comments)
December 2, 2006
Oy, the weekend. I'm in Delaware the latter half of next week, so this weekend I have to find that difficult balance of preparation for the trip next week and that big category of "anything that isn't damn work related".

IM of the Moment
FoSO: is delaware worth visiting?
kirk:let me ask you this: do you like the business sense of connecticut, the small-shore state feel of rhode island, and the black urban sensibility of the non-political parts of washington dc?
FoSO: wow, yes! sounds really nice...
kirk: huh, that sounds a lot better than I meant it to now that i read it

Toy of the Season

--I linked to this snowflake construction kit toy before, but it bears repeating. Still has some oddities, every once in a while you'll be making an elaborate creation, then go to cut off a little near the left-edge center, and then suddenly everything drops off except for that little bit you meant to remove... fortunately there's an Undo button. (Be warned I had poor results with the "Email This Flake" function.)

FoSO also pointed out Zefrank's Kaleidoscope-y variant


high ankh ziety

(6 comments)
December 3, 2006
Well, I still have some of the issues with anxiety that I kisrael'd a year and a half ago. And I still think that I might have an "addiction to anxiety". Which is annoying, I mean if you get addicted to something, isn't there supposed to be a time where you enjoy it or appreciate it, at least for a while?

I've noticed that my anxiety tends to have a single focus at any given time. When I start to dwell on one thing, like say preparation for teaching next week, all the other concerns slide from view. But then when the preparations are settled, experience tells me one of the other concerns will shoulder its way to the forefront. Which makes me think, probably none of these things are worth me being so uptight... or at least, none of them are helped by my sense of anxiety.

Actually, that's true to a huge degree. And to the best of my introspection, that comes from a desperate need not to fail at a task, to be shown up as not good enough, to the extent that I have to fight trying to "sour grapes"-away tasks where it will be more evident I'm not the smartest guy in the world, or even the room.

One coping mechanism I've inadvertently developed... you can throw money at some problems to decent effect. I'm doing ok financially, I'm living fairly cheaply (if indulgently, when it comes to gizmos and the like) and so I tend to keep this great big financial safety cushion, and rely on it from time to time. This has given me some limited measure of the equanimity I kisrael'd 2 years ago, where sometimes I have the privilege of saying "hell, it's only money".

Lego of the Moment
FoSO did most of the work assembling this lego creation (from my favorite toy store The Construction Site) and while I dig the new Exo-Force line with all their big lego robot suits, I'm dismayed to see Lego providing sheets of stickers, rather than having them pre-applied to the various pieces. Mostly because I always screw up stickers on toys, they've never ended up straight, going back to my Transformers in the early-80s...

i want money, that's what i want

(7 comments)
December 4, 2006
Here comes the snow. Bleh*3. Shovel, scraper, extra gloves are dutifully brought to back of car. Bostoners, watch out for the idiots who have forgotten how to drive on snow, but I guess we should count ourselves lucky, if this is the same system that punished so many to the West, it seems like we're getting off pretty damn easy.

Video of the Moment
This video (Umm, PG13 lets say) about pre-nookie negotiations with lawyers is actually pretty funny. I think I saw the basic idea on the Chappelle Show, but this takes it to the next level by bringing the counsel. (via BoingBoing.)

Anecdote of the Moment
"During the contest for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination, Kennedy visited a mine in West Virginia. "It is true you're the son of one of our wealthiest men?" asked one of the miners there. Kennedy admitted that this was true.

"Is it true that you've never wanted for anything and had everything you wanted?"

"I guess so."

"Is it true you've never done a day's work with your hands all your life?"

Kennedy nodded.

"Well, let me tell you this," said the miner. "You haven't missed a thing."

more longwinded angst, delivered right to your door!

(12 comments)
December 5, 2006
Last night I had another small introspective break through. Lately I've been thinking about two central and separate concerns:

One is that I employ several non-helpful, fretful and angsty avoidance strategies to put off work that I feel even remotely insecure about. For a while I've been working with the assumption that this springs from a need to protect a weirdly inflated subconscious image I have of myself of being the smartest guy in the room.... that it seems better to not try and have something fail than to give it my best, still fail, and then be "dangerously aware" of my personal limitations.

Two is an abject fear of being helpless, and also being unable to help someone else who is helpless. I've always though this might have sprung from seeing my dad get sick and die when I was a young teenager. It's almost a little trite to blame the death of a parent, but still that was a very harsh lesson that things don't always work out for the best.

But...what if the self-limiting behaviors of the first point spring less from this inflated ego thing -- because I know I'm at least consciously able to have a realistic idea of my place under the bell curve, despite being an only child -- and are actually just a response to the fears of the second? Could there be this element that I'm afraid a given tactical situation, like at work, might be "the one", the intractable problem that just can't be solved by me, or the group, within the parameters of time and resources of the assignment? That I'm not seeking to avoid knowledge of my own limitations, but of the fact that the universe has no obligation to seem "fair" to me?

I guess the negative behaviors probably spring from both concepts, protection of an inflated ego, and from knowledge of an callously indifferent world. But the thought of a "fear of helplessness" might have reverberations even in my day-to-day worklife was a wake-up.

I guess that's an advantage people with faith in an Activist kind of God have: a fallback position that no matter how craptacular any given situation seems, someones got their back, or failing that, it's a negative part of some positive master plan, or failing that, it doesn't have too much of an impact on the only thing that really matters, which is one's eternal fate.

Icons of the Moment
So I'm heading to Delaware tonight. I'll be staying again at the Brandywine Suites, near the trainstation there. I just have to say, I enjoyed this big mass of icons that shows up on their "Check Availability" page, even though there are some repeats. It's just such a nice study in minimalist iconography.... each icon is on a little 13x13 canvas, and I know from experience that that's not a lot to work with.

choochoo

December 6, 2006
The Acela is a heck of a way to travel. People are kind of dressed up a little, like the folks who work downtown... but it's on rails! So many Blackberries.

Raunchy Quote of the Moment
Guy #1: I'd totally hit that.
Guy #2: Dude, I'd hit that so hard whoever could pull me out would become the King of England.
--College Walk, Columbia University, from OverheardInNewYork

ride 'em, codeboy

(7 comments)
December 7, 2006
Yesterday I had a small situation that had a reasonably happy ending, but reminded me why some of my concerns about "intractable problems at work" exist. It's hard to explain without going into details... basically, I have to ramp on webservices, a lesser-used corner of my company's project that this client is interested in. So I started with some example code we had kicking around, but the code was rough, and took a lot of manhandling just to get it in runnable shape. And all through it, I didn't have 100% faith in the system, but I figured I just need to adjust some things that had been hardcoded in order to fit in with my laptop environment, and get a few files that were left out of the distribution, and then just take a look and figure out what was going on.

So I ran into a problem, fixed my code, ran into another problem, tried a few things, fixed the problem, etc. But I ran into a problem I didn't think I understood at all, but probably was an issue with my code, so I asked my manager about it, and he said the symptom was of a specific breed of bug, but he thought they had cleared those out... and indeed, it turns out I was running the test software against a slightly older version of the product. The bug wasn't in the code I was working on but as a result of using an older version of the product.

So problem solved, right? Well sure, but take my manager out of the equation, and I'm potentially beating my head against this error message for hours. Well, frankly it just couldn't be done, not by me in the time frame I had allotted, and not without working up a damn profound knowledge of some sections of my company's product's infrastructure. And that was after I gave up trying to fix my local code, figuring that the problem was most likely there.

This story has an ok ending, but... I dunno. The concept of not knowing if I should throw up my hands or persevere concerns me very much.

Yeesh. If I had been one of those guys who like, played sports in high school, or just in the neighborhood, is this one of the lessons I would have learned? Learning to deal with other teams that are just better, and playing on through situations that may or may not be utterly hopeless?

Image of the Moment
--of all these kitties, this one, sans caption was my favorite. Invisible Bike was pretty amazing though.

A lot of the photos are plays on "im in ur base, killing ur d00ds", here's an explanation... but this page has a different theory about the origin, claiming it was a novice player killing his own forces. It's a more satisfying story, but is that likely to happen in Starcraft?

darn you alarm clock, darn you to heck!

December 8, 2006
Ugh, ever have one of those mornings where your primary reaction to the alarm clock is one of disbelief? I think the first words out of my mouth this morning might well have been "No F'in Way"... I thought I'd been sleeping ok this trip, but I don't know what was going on this morning. Maybe it's a "no quite as far West in the timezone" thing, so it's darker than I expected? I dunno.

Quote of the Moment
"Books have the same enemies as people: fire, humidity, animals, weather, and their own content."
--Paul Valery

Video of the Moment

--A Hamster in a live action version of the old C=64 game Monty on the Run... I wasn't too familiar with it, but I have respect for the guy who wrote the music... Rob Hubbard. (I especially like his theme to Skate or Die... I should download one of those SID players...)

bee to the zee!

(2 comments)
December 9, 2006
Busy, busy, buys...I'll try to make up for this later.

Video of the Moment
Why it would be very difficult to keep an octopus in prison.

Quote of the Moment
"The truth does not make it easier to understand."
--Sophie's Choice

it's not just how big it is. it's how close you are to it.

(2 comments)
December 10, 2006
For a while I was wondering if there was a good way to compare the sizes of various screens in my life, from my projector's pulldown screen in my living room, to my monitor at home, to what I get when I go to the movies. I know that the important thing wasn't the physical size of the screen, but a factor of that and how far away you're sitting from it...how many degree degrees of my personal viewspace a screen fills. I couldn't think if a convenient way of measuring that, until the other day: I extend my hand directly in front of my face as if I was thumbing my nose at the screen, then put the pointer finger of my ohter hand perpendicular to the pinky, and line that up against the corner of the screen. I can then get a width or height measured in "finger". It's not an exact science, but it's pretty good.

Advice of the Moment
2. If you're invited to a private party, don't out your host to his neighbors by walking up the sidewalk wearing nothing but a thong, a leash, and a leather hood.
--BDSM "scene" advice from Seattle's "The Stranger". It's always kind of funny reading about how a group tries to police itself, you can imagine some of the bozo-ry they have to put up with.

maybe there is nothing, ever, that can equal the recollection of having been young together

(12 comments)
December 11, 2006
It seems so dark these days, but I console myself with the reminder that these are very near darkest days of the year, that the sine wave of daytime has pretty much peaked, axial tilt is doing its worse and we're surviving, and for the most part it will only get better from here.

Literary Passage of the Moment
"Venture too far for love, she tells herself, and you renounce citzenship in the country you've made for yourself. You end up just sailing from port to port. Still, there is this sense of missed opportunity. Maybe there is nothing, ever, that can equal the recollection of having been young together. Maybe it's as simple as that. Richard was the person Clarissa loved at her most optimistic moment. [...] It had seemed like the beginning of happiness, and Clarissa is still sometimes shocked, more than thirty years later, to realize that it was happiness; that the entire experience lay in a kiss and a walk, the anticipation of dinner and a book. [...] What lives undimmed in Clarissa's mind more than three decades later is a kiss at dusk on a patch of dead grass, and a walk around a pond as mosquitoes droned in the darkening air. There is still that singular perfection, and it's perfect in part because it seemed, at the time, so clearly to promise more. Now she knows: That was the moment, right then. There has been no other."
--The Hours, Michael Cunningham, recommended by FoSO (who pointed out the sentence used as today's title) and excerpted by Cutter Girl.

Comparing the excerpt to the full passage from the book, it seems like it does a pretty good job, removing the bits that are more subjective, and that the reader would need to take in more of the book to catch the setting. But then another side of me wonders if those subjective details are what it's all about, what sets the scene first, with the more universal analysis built on top of that.


Article of the Moment
Slate on Sudhir Venkatesh's new book on the ghetto economy and sociology. It's a fascinating article, but it almost sounds too good to be true, like one of those personal stories where the main character turns out to be completely made up by the author.

the mostest me

(10 comments)
December 12, 2006
Five and a half years ago (yikes, I must be a slow thinker) I mentioned this idea how felt forced to claim satisfaction with every bit of history that happened up 'til the moment I was conceived, the thought being that if any "flap of the butterfly's wing" had been different, I might not have been. But there's an interesting assumption, at least for someone who isn't sure about a separable soul: how different could I be from what I am now, and still be "me"?

Is there some golden thread that connects me to a certain subset of "alternate universe Kirks", but not others? It would seem so... I wouldn't expect an identity crisis if, say, yesterday I had a extra large iced coffee rather than a large. I would find a lot in common with that alternate Kirk... maybe he had slept a tad more poorly but everything else was the same, and so there's no question that he's still me.

But if, say, a different spermatozoa had won that race back in 1973, and carried a different genetic payload? Maybe even an X chromosome? (call her Kirkella... actually my folks didn't have a great girl's name in store, so...) That "alternate Kirk" would have a different enough experience that I don't think they'd be, they would likely have been molded into an entirely different person.

So, barring the idea of a soul in common, there's somewhere between "Kirk of the XL coffee" and "Kirkella" where there's a transition. Or, maybe it's shades of grey, and "me-ness" is only a spectrum. I guess that is the answer to this, actually: according to guys like Daniel Dennett, the notion that there's a distinct Me might actually be a sneaky bit of Cartesian dualism, that there's some bit or pattern of brain stuff that's "the real me" and the rest of my head is just there for support.

Oh well. I'm here, and the time is now, and that's important.

Link of the Moment
As Hillary Rodham Clinton starts preparing to run for the Democratic presidential nomination, Republicans start pointing out that the full name of her top competitor is Barack Hussein Obama. The Zeitgeist has a feeling that even if his name were Barack Hussein Hitler Stalin Milosevic Satan Osama Obama, Republicans would still prefer to face Hillary in the general election.
--Slate's Washington Zeitgeist, which generally has a chuckle here or there as it covers what Washington is thinking about.

Photo of the Moment
--Could New Hampshire's lamented Old Man of the Mountains have reappeared in China? (via cellar.org Image of the Day)

fo net ick lee

(1 comment)
December 13, 2006
On a Business Trip... might not have time to update, so here's a bit of GTalk I sent at FoSO...

Your pointing out my dodgey spelling has made me try to analyze it a bit.
Most mistakes with words like "privelege" are phonetic.
I say that word closer to pri-vel-ledge than pri-ville-lidge, and that's what comes out when I type.
Other typos of mine, like my infamous word substitution, and the m<->b swap have phonetic aspects as well
What bugs me, is that I don't know if that indicates "I'm a verbal thinker, and my writing is dominated by the sound of the words I hear" or "I'm a visual thinker, so when I write things I do a half assed job" . Similarly I'm unsure of what to make of how I have to close my eyes to reduce stimulus when trying to speak a complex thought.
These seem like very blatant indicators on the visual/audio spectrum, but I'm not sure of what!

Quote of the Moment
Maturity is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything.
--Kurt Vonnegut

get busy with it

December 14, 2006
This business trip is running into a bunch of technical issues.

Bleh, looks like I'm going to be staying an additional night and half day.

GEEK POINT: The way Oracle JDBC drivers didn't have seamless support for reading a CLOB as a String until a few years ago is a crime against programmerkind. There's no reason a general developer shouldn't have always had the option of not thinking about that, it should have been abstracted away from the get go. Grrr.


Video of the Moment

--Note to self: get into making electronic music, at least enough to codify those basslines you invented all those years ago in highschool.

i can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life

(13 comments)
December 15, 2006
I use gmail now. Because I direct all mail from all of my domains to the same account, a lot of spam leaks through. But after looking at a few spam messages on my work's Outlook, I realize that gmail makes spam look less appealing by not showing the images inline... it shows a thumbnail and you have to click to see full. So just on the level of being attention grabbing, spam has an easier time with Outlook.

Tim at work thinks Outlook is much more widely used, even by home users, than the various webmail programs. I'm not sure.

Passage of the Moment
I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn't a second at all, it stretches on forever, like an ocean of time... For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout camp, watching falling stars... And yellow leaves, from the maple trees, that lined my street... Or my grandmother's hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper... And the first time I saw my cousin Tony's brand new Firebird... And Janie... And Janie... And... Carolyn. I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me... but it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst... And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life... You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry... you will someday.
--American Beauty. Surprised it hadn't made it into any of my journals before; I love this passage.

Showerhead of the Moment
I just wanted to mention that this is the oddest, most techno-organic looking showerhead I remember using. I thouught that on certain settings the middle shower was actually undulating, but it turns out it was just spinning. Still... weird. But it had a nice shaving mirror attached, so there was that.

*pop*

(5 comments)
December 16, 2006
Bleh, projector bulb done blow up. Gotta figure out if there's some place in the area to get a new one or if I have to do it online...

Article of the MOment
Via slashdot, it's The Ten Most Dangerous Touys of All Time. Seriously, why would someone want a belt-buckle mounted capgun?

gravy trains to nowhere

December 17, 2006
Poem of the Moment
been down these roads
a long while now
saw a lot of friendly faces
working it all out

too many times
i've been finding easy gravy trains
making those gravy train angels
sweeping our arms
facing the sky
laying down by the side of the trail
--A rough recreation of a "Paul Simon lyric" I read in a dream last night. The most memorable part was the idea of making "snow angels" in gravy, and how that plus the "gravy train" was a metaphor for taking romance too casually, and too much for granted.

It seemed a lot more meaningful in the dream.


i'm just glad to be here. i just want to help the club any way I can.

(4 comments)
December 18, 2006
Oof-dah. Between the holiday hectics and back-to-back business trips, it's a challenge to make this site interesting... my apologies for that!

Baseball of the Moment
1. I'm just glad to be here. I just want to help the club any way I can.
2. Baseball's a funny game.
3. I'd rather be lucky than good.
4. We're going to take the season one game at a time.
5. You're only as good as your last game (last at-bat).
6. This game has really changed.
7. If we stay healthy we should be right there.
8. It takes 24 (25) players.
9. We need two more players to take us over the top: Babe Ruth & Lou Gehrig.
10. We have a different hero every day.
11. We'll get 'em tomorrow.
12. This team seems ready to gel.
13. With a couple breaks, we win that game.
14. That All-Star voting is a joke.
15. The catcher and I were on the same wavelength.
16. I just went right at 'em.
17. I did my best and that's all I can do.
18. You just can't pitch behind.
19. That's the name of the game.
20. We've got to have fun.
21. I didn't have my good stuff, but I battled 'em.
22. Give the guy some credit; he hit a good pitch.
23. He, we were due to catch a break or two.
24. Yes.
25. No.
26. That's why they pay him _____ million dollars.
27. Even I could have hit that pitch.
28. I know you are but what am I?
29. I was getting my off-speed stuff over so they couldn't sit on the fastball.
30. I have my at 'em ball going today.
31. I have some great plays made behind me tonight.
32. I couldn't have done it without my teammates.
33. You saw it... write it.
34. I just wanted to go as hard as I could as long as I could.
35. I'm seeing the ball real good.
36. I hit that ball good.
37. I don't get paid to hit.
--Pitcher Don Carman's 1990 "Report Responses"... said to be a handwritten note posted above his locker with a note for reports "You saw the game ... take what you need."

I guess that might have been some of the inspiration for that bit in "Bull Durham" where the rookie gets taught all the happy talk... I couuldn't find the whole routine online though.


Billboard of the Moment
After actually thinking a few months prior that it seemed like that Abercrombie model in a billboard at Porter Square would be getting pretty damn cold, I was entertained that they gave the guy a coat. (Someone else was less amused, this board replaced the same one that had been vandalized with either tomatoes or maybe a paintball gun.) Still, I think the funniest take on the whole "why are we using naked male posers to sell clothing even to men" thing was that one men store's ad that showed two shlubs playing some touch football, running circles around the black and white models too busy posing with footballs in slo-mo to actually do anything.

dude, where's your job?

(4 comments)
December 19, 2006
One of my favorite knock-knock jokes comes from a Dilbert cartoon
"Knock Knock"
"Who's there?"
"Not you anymore."
Which is my of saying...I'm gainfully unemployed! Work had a layoff, which depending on your perspective was either small (2 developers and a part time HR type) or big (1/4 of the company).

So I'm surprisingly relaxed about it, which is either because it hasn't really sunk in, or it seems like the best hiring environment that I've ever been laidoff in. (This is my 3rd layoff... first was classic dotcom, second was my supposed "safety job" still suffering an office closing, despite the division doing very well... heh, that might be one of the few recent cases of jobs being moved wholesale to Detroit...)

I really, really need some level of break. I jumped straight from my last gig to this one a year and a week ago, and I was terrible at setting up significant stretches of vacation early enough that I'd get approval from my manager at both places...I'd have to check my journal but I'm not sure sure if I've had more than a full week off for a long time, and even full weeks have been pretty rare over the last 2 or 3 years. So this break is, for the time being, welcome.

War Commentary of the Moment
In other words, the alternative was never between a tranquil if despotic Iraq and a destabilizing foreign intervention, but it was, rather, a race to see which kind of intervention there would be.
--Christopher Hitchens in this Slate piece on Iraq's neighbors getting involved, albeit in a faction-centric way. That's a pretty bold claim, that variations on the staus quo just were not possible in Iraq, but I guess I can't think of convincing evidence that Saddam's regime was that unstable, sanctions and all.

Video of the Moment

--Tony vs Paul in a stop action supernatural powers duel! Thanks Evil B!

job jibba jabba

(12 comments)
December 20, 2006
Gosh, I'm living at such a transitional time.

I really don't want to jump with both feet into the job hunt, but of course recruiters (and even one potential business partner) feel otherwise.

First step: I want to get everything else in my life together. I want to act on my impulse to divest myself of extraneous possessions, get my financial life settled, put in good habits in life-maintenance stuff where currently chaos reigns.

I think I also want to play a few videogames.

Epitaph of the Moment
"If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl."
--H.L. Mencken

Photo of the Moment

--Subway map at Porter Square, with Central helpfully labeled "Crack City". But it looks like some meta-graffiti erased a word in between, I wonder what it was? Something hateful?

on the road again

(2 comments)
December 21, 2006
Just a quick note before driving with MELM (my ever lovin' Mom) to around her new digs in Nyack. Wikipedia seems to claim it's just coincidence that the place sounds like "New York" as said with a speech impediment.

Pachabel Canon of the Moment

--Very funny and musically nifty! The tuba had a similar part on that song, though more Bass-y and less Harmonyish than the Cello bit. I have to say I didn't mind it so much.

One random musical memory I'll have is watching Chuck Daellenbach of the Canadian Brass sitting midstage, on the floor, playing the bass line almost as a lullabye, rocking back and forth, the foundation for the rest of the group on that number.


a pressing issue

(8 comments)
December 22, 2006
My latest UI gripe: physical buttons that change their function when you press and hold, versus just pressing. Three case studies as of late:
  • One grey lining to the silver cloud of the Wii's innovative controller schemes is that they've ditched the traditional "start" button, and while every game seems to respect the "home" button that takes you to a system menu and offers to totally reset the game (almost like power-cycling), there doesn't seem to be a single convention for an "in game pause menu" that might offer to, say, end the current match and return to the previous menu. The Plus button seems to be a non-universal standard for it, but games like "Super Monkey Ball" ignored it. Or seemed to... through trial and much error I finally figured out it's press and hold of the Plus button. That's irritating! The button serves no other use during the game, and it's not in place where it's likely to be pressed accidentally. So why do that? What possible benefit is there in making people think "this button does nothing"? Is the needed prolonged hold a way of expressing the sincerity of our desire to stop the game?
  • My car radio's tuning feature. By default, pressing up or down adjusts the tuning .2 degrees on FM or whatever. Like most modern cars, it has a "seek" function, which kicks in after a second or two after pressing and holding the button. Now, given what a huge percentage of the time is spent driving near home, and at any given moment people likely have a big selection of strong radio signals to choose from (rather than having to fiddle and tuning in a station that's almost out of range), how smart is it to have the default be "tweak this tuning" rather than "find me another damn station"? And when you're trying to "channel surf" radio stations, the extra second of delay is infuriating. You listen, judge the content in like a quarter to half a second, go to move on, and listen to whatever crap you just rejected for another second or so, 'til the thing beeps and moves on to the next station...
  • Ksenia's grandfather's radio... he asked me to set the clock for it. Now, clock-setting is a whole 'nother ball of bad-UI wax, but having to press. And hold. And hold the button labeled "Clock/Sleep/Timer" was just not something Ksenia's grandfather was going to stumble on by himself.
In some cases I can see why the designer does this, sees "press and hold" as a way of reusing buttons, adding functionality without the "clutter" cost or physical cost of extra buttons there. But there's no real iconography or concise language for "press and hold for function X", so it just makes these functions more obscure. (And in the case of Monkey Ball, there's absolutely no excuse. Games are all about reacting to input, providing feedback. If you press every button on a controller looking for a command you think you should be there, you should activate every command, not have to press and hold everything for an indetrminate period like some sort of mad functionality Easter Egg hunt.)

Dumb UI designers: making your life a little worse in a thousand little ways.

i hear you

(9 comments)
December 23, 2006
I've started semi-deliberately using phrases like "I hear you" and "I get what you're saying" as a response during discussions, especially ones that have a point of contention. And really, I do try to get the persective of the person I might be disagreeing with. But I'm not sure if its perceived as a legitimate reassurance and validation, or just a sort of rheotorical trick.

What do you think? Is using that kind of language actually useful in expressing viewpoint empathy, or does it ring too hollow?

RetroGeekChic of the Moment
The same guy who did Metroid Cubed and other lovely extensions of old Nintendo ROM data has done Hyrule Planetoids. (Thanks Nick B)

Video of the Moment
Slate had an interesting little bit of clips called The Power and the Glory of the Rocky Montage. I decided to commemorate Stallone's Awesome One-Handed-Pushup Ability in Animated GIF form. (A smaller version of which I'll add to the small gif cinema.)

South Park has a great montage parody...I hadn't realized it kind of started with Rocky. It's interesting how it pays lip service to, but covers up, the sheer monotony and drudgery of putting in the time to get good at nearly anything...

the abominable tale of mr. snowman at the s+s

(15 comments)
December 24, 2006
So last night I went to the S+S with Miller, Kate, and Tammy. We decided to do a round of "Mr. Snowman", a game Mr. Ibis independently taught to both Miller and me. "Mr. Snowman" is a collaborative kind of game for 2 or more players, where half the people draw attacks (melting or otherwise) of the snowman that has been drawn, and the other half draw defenses to counter the various attacks. (At that point, the attacking team can try a new attack, or draw a counter to the counter, and so on and so forth.)

We made a 4-player variant, with Kate and I defending the attacks drawn by Tammy and Miller. Ideally this game is played at one of those restaurants with paper tablecloths and crayons, or at least paper placemats, but I suppose sticking with the napkin at hand made for some easier scanning.

This was the result of the first round:


I started by drawing the hapless Snowman. Miller quickly drew a basic bonfire underneath for insidious melting purposes. Kate countered with rain above to douse the flames.

At this point there was a fork... a bit later in the game, Miller drew an umbrella to let the flames continue their nefarious work, to which Kate had no choice but to draw a helpful dog on mailbox pushing a bucket of water to extinguish that damn bonfire. A bit later Miller invoked the "it's ok to make fun of your own culture" rule and drew a Filipino restaurant (top right) to turn the poor dog into lunch. Kate then drew a health inspector to close the restaurant and that was the end of that thread.

The other fork was Tammy upgrading the storm with thunder and lightning, there on the left. I deftly drew Benjamin Franklin to bring the fearsome electrical energies into his famous kite and key. I believe Miller than drew a large quantity of butter to lure Ol' Ben to an early coronary grave. Kate decided to fight butter with more fire to melt it. Miller thought this could be the perfect time to draw in some lobster, but Kate argued that it didn't seem like a single lobster would be that unhealthy of a food, and so this thread ended, and the Snowman lived on!

At some point Tammy drew a stick of dynamite (ignominiously jammed into the Snowman's side) with a trailing fuse wire and plunger box, and arrows showing the plunger being pressed. I ignored Miller's suggestion to merely redraw the arrows going the other way, and instead drew how the plunger was being operated by (a very, very poorly drawn version of) Wile E. Coyote. Mr. Snowman is a bit loose with temporal issues, so I felt ok showing both Wile E before pressing the plunger, and after, where he's a big exploded mess holding a sign saying "OUCH".

Tammy drew a very lovely dragon, slain by my less lovely St. George. She also drew an oncoming train. I drew a damsel in distress, tied to the rails, and then a hero to throw the switch that would divert the train. In a nod to the non-hetero-normative make up of our group, I decided the hero(ine) was actually Delila Do-Right, said Damsel's girlfriend. It may have been at this point that Tammy bemoaned about being seated right before me in the rotation, given my MAD THWARTING SKILLZ, though admittedly I seem to have more than my fair share of celebrities fighting for my cause.

When Tammy later drew a letter from the hospital informing Mr. Snowman that he had Cancer, I had to counter with an IV drip for chemotherapy, and would have made our survivor snowman bald, except that he was already. (There was some talk of drawing a phonecall indicating that the letter was a prank, but that seemed a little abstract to me.)

The other long thread was Tammy realizing that the poor beleaguered snowman was despondent, and suicidal, and firing a gun into his own head! I was able to draw the bottle of booze responsible for both this rash decision and for causing the snowman to miss. However, Miller pointed out that it wasn't a bottle of booze, but non-alcoholic swill of some sort, possibly O'Doules. Kate then drew the box of blanks that the gun had actually been loaded with. (I think, chronologically, this may have been when the cancer letter occurred, with the idea that the letter may have provoked the suicidal thoughts.) Later Miller drew a newspaper with a story telling of how those blanks were being recalled...for being live ammunition after all! Kate then drew a blowtorch to sever the snowman's gun arm entirely. The rest of the table thought this was a pyrrhic victory, but what the hell, it's just a snowman, and it shouldn't be that hard to find a replacement stick anyway.

But, alas, the endgame was nigh. Tammy drew a large firecracker going, as she said, "up his butt". My lack of attention proved sadly fatal, as I didn't look at what she had placed new on the page and, based on her comment, thought she was talking about the dynamite sticking into his side (with the Wile E. defense, I had been more focused on the plunger.) So my not-so-clever scissors snipping the fuse was for naught, and given how we had pretty much filled the napkin anyway, we decided that that was the end of poor Mr. Snowman. I have to believe that he's in a better place.

Anyway, I heartily recommend this game as a great accompaniment to nearly any restaurant meal.

we wish you, etc

(2 comments)
December 25, 2006
Literary Bit of the Day
Nicholas Was...

older than sin, and his beard could grow no whiter. He wanted to die.

The dwarfish natives of the Arctic caverns did not speak his language, but conversed in their own, twittering tongue, conducted incomprehensible rituals, when they were not actually working in the factories.

Once every year they forced him, sobbing and protesting, into Endless Night. During the journey he would stand near every child in the world, leave one of the dwarves' invisible gifts by its bedside. The children slept, frozen into time.

He envied Prometheus and Loki, Sisyphus and Judas. His punishment was harsher.

Ho.
Ho.
Ho.

--Neil Gaiman

Music of the Day
Evil Chrismas Carols (vol 1) -- simple piano arrangements of the classic songs made twisted by putting them in a minor key. I've never quite understood what that means, musically (transposing without changing the key signature?) but Marty Witczak used to do the same thing to "Linus and Lucy" and it was morbidly fantastic. The Christmas songs are great though... not evil evil, but dark and burlesque. (FOLLOWUP: Oh, hey, there's a Volume 2 and Lo and Behold... it ends with Linus and Lucy! Nice)

Followup of the Moment
In Yesterday's Snowman battle description I left out one attack and counter. Miller had drawn a UFO charging up its deathray, which Kate had defended with a "Lybia Air" plane primed to explode. Between the drawing above the fold, and a few questions about the logic of "Lybia Air" explodability, we decided to kind of retrocon the exchange out and keep it to the original playing surface.

Still, you have to appreciate Miller's "wub wub wub" sound effect for the charging deathray.

i feel bad!

(16 comments)
December 26, 2006
RIP James Brown, the godfather of soul.

Can't say we had to like everything about him, but damn he had soul.

Snarky News Comment of the Moment
I accidentally flipped on CBS news and got this story about a hospital experimenting with a live harpist, to see if the music would help in the hospital recovery unit. The story has this line:
Since many people equate a harp with heaven you might expect a little anxiety among patients waking up from life-saving surgery, but nurses say they get the opposite reaction.
Err, like "Wow, I must be in hell!"?

Website Gripe of the Moment
You know, tv.yahoo.com used to rock, far and away the easiest and quickest way to find out what's playing, but now it pretty much sucks. The frontpage is just celebrity bla-bla-bla, you have to dig and scroll for the listings, and then they seem to be doing some javascript-ish crap so that the whole page doesn't load all at once, the lower part of the page doesn't seem to try and load 'til you scroll down to see it... so it totally breaks the browsers in-page search, and it's own search engine was worthless for letting me know what channel the NFL game I had heard about might be on.

It's like crap for crap's sake.

I miss tvgrid.com. It was great.

K.I.S.S., you boneheads.

(It's kind of funny, though, that I still can't remember which channel is which, despite the fact that all I seem to watch is Bravo, Comedy Central, Cartoon Network, Fox, and wherever there might be an NFL game on.)

Video of the Moment

--James Brown on Ed Sullivan (with bad A/V synching?) IMO, the contrast with Ed makes it the most interesting video from this recent tribute page. Watching his stuff makes me realize where Deee-lite got so much of its stuff from in the early 90s. But Ed seems to be trying a little hard to justify James Brown, emphaisizing the gospel roots, and hard work ethic it springs from (well, he was the Hardest Working Man in Show Business... I love his role as bandleader, and that whole call and response bit.

"Can I count it off?"
    "Go ahead!"
"Can I count it off?"
    "Go ahead!"
"Can I count it off?"
    "Go ahead!"
"1 2 3 4!"
    *bop* *bop* *bop* *badop*


spin, think, dance

(10 comments)
December 27, 2006
The other week I had trouble with my projector, the bulb blew out. In checking out the situation I got reminded that DLP projectors use spinning disks to apply the colors to the greyscale image being shown through.

That concept sounded familiar, and I realized that some of the early TV prototypes also used rapdidly spinning disks. When I first heard that factoid, years ago, the idea of a spinning disk in a television seemed absolutely corny, but it would seem my scoffing was misplaced, and forms the foundation of the lovely big video image I enjoy in my living room now.

Articles of the Moment
I guess I'm supersticious enough to think that if I see two seperate pieces on the same subject in unrelated places, that's a bit of synchronicity that should pop them to the top of my kisrael queue.

So while waiting for a haircut yesterday I read this Time magazine debate between Richard Dawkins, stalwart atheist, and Francis Collins, genetic researcher and Christian convert from atheism.

Shortly before that, Bill the Splut had posted 10 myths -- and 10 truths -- about atheism. I thought they were pretty thoughtful responses to some common complaints about a lack of belief in the divine.

Video of the Moment

--Strangely sweet video of this one guy doing the same goofy little dance all over the world, via Break.com. The one downside is it reminds me what a craptastic taker of vacations I am.

what did the five fingers say to the face?

(10 comments)
December 28, 2006
Why do I find couches so comfortable to sleep on?

For a while I had a theory that it keeps me sleeping on my back, instead of rolling over. Now I'm not so sure.

Video of the Moment

--A lot less "feel good" than yesterday's video, but very cool: a slap in slow motion. Who knew that a face is so flexible!

way up north

(2 comments)
December 29, 2006
Another minimalist update... off to see Jane in Maine!

Video of the Moment
The Evolution of Video Games... a little uneven, and missing the middle generations, but cool...

by the wyland whaling wall

December 30, 2006







--Jane and I horsing around by the Wyland Whaling Wall by the docks in Portland, Maine. (I don't know who the artists are for the sculpture or chalk art shown in two of the photos, alas.)

groove is in lady miss kier

(29 comments)
December 31, 2006


Lady Miss Kier in Groove is in the Heart

I spent a few too many hours making these, but it was fun, and "productive" in its way. Mostly I wanted to point out the slinky little move on the right... it's not quite the same without the slide whistle, but you get the general idea...


<<prev
next >>