kisrael.com | archive | 2007 nov

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(28) rabbit rabbit rabbit
2007.11.01
It's really tough to dress for an autumnal commute that's split between riding a bike (cold and windy) and a T-ride (warm and toasty).

I bought some serious bike gloves, with rubber grips and odd padding, like my hand was wearing falsies. So now that I'm bundling up with those gloves and my Nokia winter hat, I guess it's time to give up the sandals. Plus, my toes were frickin' freezing.

List of the Moment
Slate's running a bunch of excerpts from Military Blogs, people stationed in Iraq, and I found the list of "good-to-have equipment" captivating, its mix of humdrum civilian goods (MP3 players, 12V car chargers) and military specialty needs (Drop Leg Holster, non-sand-attacting weapons lube).

Quote of the Moment
"The one serious conviction that a man should have is that nothing is to be taken too seriously."
--Nicholas Butler. Sometimes I feel that's my modus operandi, but then I think the problem is that I take EVERYTHING too seriously, or rather, I just proceed from one narrow, momentarily all-encompassing-pursuit to another, and so the side effect is that when everything is taken so seriously, nothing is.

Literary Mystery of the Moment
Ugh, I'm turning into such a Slate groupie. Anyway, here's Slate's Joshua Glen tackling a literary mystery I hadn't heard of, the "little nameless object" manufactured in Woollett, Mass, in Henry James' The Ambassadors. He makes a good case, and covers the history of the mystery very well.


(3) ¡día de los muertos!
2007.11.02

Happy Day of the Dead!
Take the time to engage a bit with your dearly departed.
They live on in this world through you,
so live it up a bit on their behalf!



(7) no please, but lots of snow
2007.11.03
I now work for Nokia, after my previous company was acquired.

They've had a few introductory events to get us use to both big company life in general, and the idiosyncrasies of Nokia in general. It's a Finnish company by its origin and its heart, though I suspect its tempered somewhat by being international.

One chestnut from yesterday is "the Finnish don't have a word for please". That sounded a bit like an urban legend, and this page of 'Please' in many languages has some possible counter-examples, but I don't know if they're widely used, or not a direct vocabulary map, or what.

Googling for that I found a fairly convincing article that the Finns do have over 40 words for Snow and then a piece by an Australian on how laconic the Finns tend to be.

Quote of the Moment
"Why is it that our memory is good enough to retain the least triviality that happens to us, and yet not good enough to recollect how often we have told it to the same person?"
--Francois de La Rochefoucauld. Man, I was worried that was just me!

Sports Trashtalking of the Moment
At the risk of sounding like I'm looking for another Boston bandwagon to hop on - the Celtics finally show huge promise, but I don't think I'll ever really dig basketball or any constant movement sport like that, Hockey, Soccer etc - the following bit of trashtalking was on the TV at a bar last night. Looks like the show was quoting Washington Wizards'* Gilbert Arenas'** blog:
So anyway, since everybody is back on the Boston bandwagon it brought back old memories. So listen here. On November 2nd, we're going to go into that building, we're opening up Boston. Right now I'm telling the Boston fans: You guys are going to lose. It's not going to be a victory for Boston. You might as well just cheer for me, because Boston isn't winning in Boston for the season opener. I'm sorry.
Oddly enough, he did look pretty sorry on the floor. Celtics, 103. Bullets, 83. Next time, Arenas, try to pick a night when your team isn't setting an NBA record for failed three point shots (0 for 16) and you yourself aren't 5-for-20.
* man, they were so much cooler as the Washington Bullets -- Wikipedia cites David Letterman as saying if "Washington Bullets" sounded too violent, couldn't they just be "The Bullets"?
** what a confusing last name for an athlete!



(17) sunrise/sunset
2007.11.04
Jimminy crickets! If I didn't have one of those auto-set alarm clocks, I never would have know the clocks were being pushed back today.

My surprise helped spur me into making the following:

To view this content, you need to install Java from java.com
sunrise/sunset | source/perl/data | via processing

This is probably one of the least interesting java programs that I've posted here, but it's something I've been meaning to make for years, literally. It's a simple graph showing how the sunrise and sunset times shift throughout the year. (As an afterthought, I added "civil twilight", which is the dark curve behind.) The data is for Boson and comes from the US Naval Observatory Data Services page.

The red line indicates where you are in the year, and is the only remotely dynamic part of the program. (I ignore leapyears, so for 2008 it will be off by a pixel.) The yellow lines mark 6am, noon, and 6pm, with the appropriate daylight savings break. UPDATE: for LAN3 I added a dotted line indicating the midway point between sunrise and sunset.

I was kind of hoping the curve would be a bit more like a compressed sine wave, a visual confirmation of how quickly the change from long days to short days seems to happen once it gets going. It looks more linear than I expected, though some of that is a matter of scale, there might not be a single correct answer for how to scale a 365-day year against a 24 hour day. (Which is an interesting philosophical, or psychological, or design point; on the one hand, a year is so much longer than a day that it seems like the y-axis should be much longer. On the other hand, you can experience the length of a single day, and feel the loss of an hour of daylight, in a way that you really can't with an entire year.)

Sports Fan Trashtalk of the Moment
Big football game today! First time two undefeated-in-7-or-more game teams have faced off. And after, there will be one undefeated team in the NFL. Slate had a high-spirited debate between a Pats fan and a Colts fan. My favorite part:
This isn't the 2006 Patriots receiving corps, which was constructed like a fifth-grade diorama: a Little Tikes figurine holding down the slot, a broken G.I. Joe guy slung out wide, and glitter-soaked cotton balls used to create "atmosphere." The 2007 Pats receivers are a thermonuclear weapon with a seven-second timer. There are three colorful wires coming out of that bomb: Welker, Stallworth, and Moss. It's like an action film: Can the Colts clip all three of those wires or get to the quarterback before the timer runs out? I don't think so.
The diorama bit made me laugh out loud. Of course I'm biased, but I think the New England fan was a much more lively writer than the guy pitching the Colts.


(16) promoting human empathy through self-coddling self-diagnosis of shadow syndromes
2007.11.05
A "how Asperger-y are you?" quiz is making the rounds. A friend of mine LJ'd her results and there was some interesting followup conversation. This was my (somewhat jumbled) response:
I emerged as rather more neurotypical than I expected taking this. I kind of like the idea of shadow syndromes; I *think* - but am absolutely not sure - that neurotypical folks can feel some hint of empathy w/ people w/ many conditions, that relatively few mental states and disorders are 100% foreign and distinct from the basic human condition: for myself, I've had incidents that have reminded me of the forgetfulness and lapses of alzheimers, the alienation and sensory overload of aspergers, the raging id and weird interaction of tourette's, the hardcore ebbs and flow of focus of ADD, the odd mixups and phonetic swaps of dyslexia. (especially the last one, but it's not nearly as trendy as it used to be.) Not to say that the difference is just one of quantity not quality, there is a giant world of difference with people for whom these "shadow" symptoms are controllable and workable and just an intermittent, lightweight "huh thats funny" and people for whom its a major, almost identity-defining and socially crippling characteristic -- and maybe this whole concept of similarity is more misleading than I realize, unrelated conditions similar only in surface aspect. But still, I'm not so down on potentially self-coddling self-diagnosis of shadow syndromes, if only how it can promote human empathy with those who absolutely have the condition.
So this weekend... Rockport work was rained out so my weekend was full of "creative leisure": some miscellaneous online tasks, starting work on this one intensely geekish game-project "CAoleslaw", writing yesterdays "sunrise/sunset" tool-- and then some great leisure-leisure, finishing the Xbox 360 game Bioshock (after a month or so of intermittent play), watching the Patriots come from behind to win this year's "Game of the Century of the Decade" despite some lousy officiating - I defer to the commentators, and when THEY say it was "tough call", my self-righteous ire gets up in arms. But generally I've decided I need to work on cultivating equanimity in my team's success or failure, especially seeing how little it has to do with me, or anything of major importance...

Quote of the Moment
"If you can't laugh at yourself, you're a fool."
--Entertainer Robert Goulet, RIP

Link of the Moment
A cute little WW2 book for kids about how they can help win the war. It ends with a pitch for buying bonds... what stunned me is that, according to an online inflation calculator, the $18.75 a bond costs is about $250 in today's money. Man!


(10) fifty-fifth street!
2007.11.06
Kate lives on Fifth Street. For some god-awful reason, "Fifth" was Monticello Middle School's favorite euphemism for the F-word, circa 1988 or so. Saying you saw some classmates mom "on Fifty-Fifth Street" was the height of merriment, implying she was a streetwalker. (in retrospect there may have been some racist overtones in that, some of Cleveland's tougher neighborhoods fell around that area, given Cleveland's numeric street naming scheme.)

At some point our instrumental music directory Ms. Beale (great, great teacher. Her raging against DRGC, the dirty rotten gum chewers, remains in my mind to this day.) showed us the perfectly legitimate music theory conceptualization tool The Circle of Fifths, and we thought it was hilarious.

Quote Fest of the Moment
"Labour without joy is base. Labour without sorrow is base. Sorrow without labour is base. Joy without labour is base."

"Taste is not only a part and index of morality, it is the only morality. The first, and last, and closest trial question to any living creature is 'What do you like?' Tell me what you like, I'll tell you what you are."

"The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion, all in one."

--John Ruskin. The first quote I saw in the final book of the His Dark Materials trilogy. The other two I found while Googling. I think the final one overstates the case. I think it caught my eye because the first sentence seems to be in praise of my "humanist spiritual mission" of sharing and recording interesting thoughts on this website, but then I realized I don't feel quite the grandeur he goes on to describe.

Lateral Thinking of the Moment
--I think I counted about 13 laterals in this ESPN video of Trinity (TX) scoring a touchdown. It looked more like a playground game.



(13) hello my name is KIRK
2007.11.07
Like many big companies, Nokia uses name badges for its employees.

When I was younger, I used to hate having to wear a "Hello, my name is..." style tag. Typical adolescent "rebel against conformity!" type stuff, I guess. Now I've mellowed and I just see them as a friendly gesture, a polite hint in a world full of casual acquaintances with good intentions but poor memories.

The Nokia badge has my headshot on it, and while it's not bad as far as those photographs go, I do feel a little extra dorky wearing it. Kind of like those commercial Halloween costumes that put the name and face of the character right smack dab in the center of the chest. They print the first name a little bigger than the last on the IDs. In my case, that makes my first name exactly as wide as my last, which is a nice aesthetic touch.

I'm a little wary of accidentally keeping this thing on on the subway, letting people who don't know me achieve a faux-familiarity by calling me by name.

Exchange of the Moment
"You ever spend time among the witches?"
"Yes. And among academicians, and among spirits. I found folly everywhere, but there were grains of wisdom in every stream of it. No doubt there was much more wisdom that I failed to recognize. Life is hard, Mr. Scoresby, but we cling to it all the same."
--Lee Scoresby and Stanislaus Grumman in Phillip Pullman's "The Subtle Knife"

Design of the Moment
The current issue of Time magazine has a best inventions of 2007 feature. Its almost worth picking up the print version for the better presentation, as well as the rendering of what someone getting all the functionality of an iPhone with circa-1988 technology would be toting around (pushing a unicycle contraption with PC, thermometer, rolodex, telephone, TV, boombox, a holster with a bunch of maps, a backpack structure with a mailbox, small satellite dish, framed photo, and a car battery and power strip to power it all...)


(7) other kids suck
2007.11.08
The other day Slashdot had an article Robot Becomes One of the Kids, how a bunch of toddlers were willing to accept a robot as one of their own inside of a playgroup. This comment of mine got up to +5, Funny:
I was an only child in a neighborhood without many kids.
I really liked "Alphie", this game playing robot (circa 1979).
Had him for years, then let some other kids play with him and he broke.

Lesson learned: other kids suck.
True story, that. Alphie was pretty cool, and he'd beep his lights and you could play little board games he came with.

Art Sequel of the Moment
At NickB's request, I made a new version of conwayice. It might have even stricter hardware requirements than the first version. It has a bigger screen, mouse now zooms in rather than regenerates, and you can set various parameters including the original grid layout, allowing experiments with classic Life layouts. I also made it so you can save your starting arrangements, though I'm not sure how much use it will get.

Article of the Moment
The 50 Greatest Game Design Innovations, making the rounds. Includes guesses to first appearances, as well as most famous examples.


(9) scraping for new material
2007.11.09
Oy, I'm in a hurry, and nothing's jumping out at me from the backlog, so here is a convo I found amusing despite a rather unseemly dependency on "gay" jokes.

K: but you know
K: a guy only has so much funny in him
K: 'specially before his coffee
J: is true... try tea.. that's where the majick starts
K: DO I LOOK LIKE A LITTLE OLD LADY OR FOPPISH ENGLISHMAN? LIKE A SICKLY CHILD PERHAPS. NAY, I TELL THEE SIR, COFFEE IS THE ONLY DRINK FOR A ROUSTABOUT SUCH AS ME
J: I hear gay men like tea.. thought that may have applied :-p
J: hmm I'm rude.. sorry
J: since clearly that's not true
K: Dude, you're the one talking about the "majick" of tea.
J: I realized that as well
K: That's like 2 steps away from rainbow toting unicorns



(5) works in more places
2007.11.10
Here's the billboard I would like to see.
Seriously. Sometimes I am stunned by the sheer chutzpah of the AT&T marketing division. It's reminiscent of Soviet Propaganda in how it feels like the best way to deal with a politically inconvenient truth is to boldly proclaim the opposite with as many banners as possible. If it wasn't for the word-of-mouth, I might've believed that AT&T had a superior network, but it just ain't so.

Plus, their curiously constrained claims always tend to leave them open to ridicule. With their current campaign, "Works in more fictional places" is the obvious rejoinder. Or with the whole "Fewer Dropped Calls" - sure, if your customers can't make as many calls in the first place, fewer are going to drop. (And besides that, even the core claim seemed suspect based on my 4 months with an iPhone; back with Sprint they were an anomaly, but now sitting at my desk, a call will go along with out a hitch, 'til suddenly, silence.)

I'm willing to believe maybe the iPhone makes it worse. I wanna like AT&T, Deathstar and all. But, bleh.

(3) so cold
2007.11.11
Video of the Moment
Slate Video breaking down that Trinity Lateral Play. Very clever!

Quote of the Moment
"People don't need three meals a day... I think two twinkies and a couple glasses of scotch is a pretty good dinner."
--EBM


(2) da bears
2007.11.12
Thanks go out to the veterans today. Wish we lived in a world where we didn't have a need to ask so much from you...

Other thoughts: I had to enjoy Indy's humiliating, 6-INT loss to the San Diego Chargers, especially because it made both teams look really bad. I was watching that while doing the comic below...

Finally I decided to participate in OLPC (one laptop per child's) Give One/Get One project. They probably aren't encouraging geeks to get one to tool around with, for risk of creating an unfortunate secondary market, but they realize it's well-nigh unavoidable. It's supposed to go for a child in your life, and I guess they have to let "inner children" count. It looks like a cool little platform, I don't know if will live up to what a $400 PC laptop could do, but it might (or might not) be a decent spare browser. We'll see.

Comic Page of the Moment

My Page 10 for Sketchbook Conspiracy's Less Filling Comic Jam. (You can see my thoughts about my previous page here.)

It's interesting comparing my experience doing comic pages vs. my photography composition class. In my interestingness-tinted lenses, I'd have to say comics might have more potential for me as an expressive form... you have so many options when you do a comic in terms of layout, pacing, dialog, design, etc, whereas my experience with photography is trying to make an optimal shot of something from real life, even if there's some staging involved.


(11) pac-manners
2007.11.13
The video game magazine The Gamer's Quarter has message boards I've been hanging out at for a while now. They have an ongoing Share Your Banner thread where they solicit 500x100 video game related banners from people. 500x100 is an odd aspect ratio, and regulars on the site seem to like finding oddball and compelling screenshots and associated gaming materials.

These are (kind of bad snapshots, I didn't have a scanner handy) taken from the book "Programmers at Work", from the interview with Toru Iwatani, the inventor of Pacman. They are doodles he made over the course of the interview in his dayplanner:





(click for full size, each is a bit shrunk to fit here.)

I always like behind-the-scenes type sketches like these. The first is showing how the image of Pac-Man evolved from the Japanese word for mouth (along with the old "he took a slice from a pizza, and there was Pac-man" story,) the second is why they didn't add eyes to Pac-Man (then they'd want to add glasses, maybe a mustache, etc -- though some bootleggers did just that with the game that became Ms.Pac-Man) as well as how friendly the ghost monsters are, relatively speaking, and the final one shows some of the "ghost psychology", since a relentless, head-towards-the-player attack would be boring.

Article of the Moment
NY Times on How T-Mobile's iPhone killer ain't. Short answer: it's the software, stupid, and since they say they're using Windows Mobile I'd have to agree.

iPhones are frustrating sometimes; it benefits from a design that seems very unwilling to compromise, but sometimes features get left out. A lot of people would like to see a little counter showing you how many characters into a 160-character TXT have been typed. I wouldn't be surprised if that has been dismissed as "clutter", no matter how useful people would find it.

Quote of the Moment
"The trouble with being poor is that it takes up all of your time." --Willem de Kooning. (Yes, another damn quotationspage.com QotD.) I'd upgrade that to "the trouble with not being independently wealthy".


(8) 9-0, 6-0, 7-in-a-row
2007.11.14
Wow. Major Boston-area teams (i.e. including the "New England" Patriots) in sports played with a ball (i.e. excluding those stumblebum Bruins) haven't lost a game since Game 4 of the ALCS, back on October 16. Since then, the Sox took the next 3 games and swept the World Series, the Patriots added three to their lossless season and the Celtics with their "big three" have come roaring out to a 6-0 start.

Not to tempt Murphy by pointing that out, but that's kind of crazy! Boston is really fortunate right now.

Quote of the Moment
And thus we learn fascinating things. Did you know, for example, that Adam is responsible not only for the fall of man, but also for the creation of venom? It didn't exist in the Garden of Eden, because, well. Why would it? Weeds? Adam's fault. Carnivorous animals (and, one assumes, the occasional carnivorous plant)? Adam again. Entropy? You guessed it: Adam. Think about that, won't you; eat one piece of fruit and suddenly you're responsible for the inevitable heat death of the universe. God's kind of mean.
--Scalzi visits the Creation Museum, via Bill.

Also from the Splutmeister: The 25 most baffling toys.


Snark of the Moment
Boingboing had a bit on the One Laptop Per Child Give One/Get One program that I'm participating in. It had this picture which captured the cross-cultural nature of the endeavor:

My favorite comment was "Landowner"'s:
I'm no expert, but that girl clearly has no idea how to use that computer.
Hee.

(3) the snarkish gene
2007.11.15
So warm out! Lovely.

Lines from "The Selfish Gene" that I Find Mildly Amusing When Taken Out of Context of the Moment
  • "Baby bird screams do not become infinitely loud, because of other considerations."
  • "There is no reason why a man should not inherit a tendency to develop a long penis from his mother."
  • "The word excess has no meaning for a male."
  • "An individual wolf, therefore, is a vehicle worthy of the name."
Skepticism of the Moment
The John "Dead Guy Whisperer" Edward Cold Reading Bingo -- has a nice description of a lot of the chutzpah-laden techniques he uses to make his (semi-obvious) guesses seem more like actual supernatural communication. (via Nick B)


(5) oy
2007.11.16
Quote of the Moment
"I wonder what life is all about. It seems to me we have a few tragedies or we win a few prizes and then it is all over."
--Jill Schultz, Charles Schultz' adopted daughter (after being injured by her pony) via the Slate slideshow about the new Schultz biography. (Bought it, haven't had time to get to it yet.)


(5) iTins
2007.11.17
I really don't think Apple is that great at UI, or at least they don't put out much effort in iTunes. (I've probably griped on similar themes before.) Just little touches, like how if you're sorting by star-ranking, and then rerank a song, it jumps away from the mouse to its new homes, instantly, and if you're worried you misranked it, you have to hunt it down with the search engine and check. Or if you rip a CD it knows nothing about the album, artist, etc are blank. To then enter the information by hand, you have to click in this special "magic area" on the left of the blank space. (If they had a placeholder, as they do for the songs ("Track 01" etc) then you could click anywhere on the placeholder.

Seriously. Even as I try to give groups the benefit of the doubt in turns of technical or alternate-use considerations I'm not aware of, sometimes it feels like I'm the only person who cares about good UI.

Speaking of that, would you trust your web design to this man?



Just wondering. Not sure what I was googling for when I found that guy, but I dig the late 90s vibe of it all, the effort to reach out to non-techie businessmen (note the golf course in the background) and collaborate on them to make sites that ignore the new traditions of what websites look like and make it feel "familiar" like TV. (No hard feelings, Mr. Price, maybe this link will help with the Google placement in some small way...)

Quote of the Moment
"My soul, do not seek eternal life, but exhaust the realm of the possible."
--Pindar

Sports of the Moment
Robert Weintraub on how NFL teams need to get back to basics. I was only a bit aware of how simple the Patriots' offensive scheme had become (though a little nervous about them becoming dependent on Randy Moss -- but then again in other situations it still seems like Brady is mixing it up, receiver-wise.) Makes me think of Vince Lombardi's "We will give the opposition our game plan and we will still beat them, because we will out execute them." I'm sure it's not as simple as that, but still. It's nice that part of being really smart is knowing when to be simple, elegant, and a bit dumb.


(2) roshambuggin'
2007.11.18
I made a game yesterday, for GloriousTrainwrecks.com's Klik of the Month. It's called

ROSHAMBUG
Roshambo is another word for "Rock Paper Scissors", which is what you're playing against the cloud in the sky. The Cloud fires those things at the ground, and you have to defend bu firing back the appropriate defense. If you win, you get a point, if you lose, you lose a point, and if the cloud's attack reaches the ground you lose one of your 10 lives. Plus "Like a Prayer" is playing in the background.

(Actually, this morning I made remix version that plays about the same, except the bug is fixed in placed but you can aim anywhere on the screen with the mouse. Plus, to justify the dumb pun "whistle command" it plays a bad ringtone loop of "The Whistle Song".)

Article of the Moment
Fascinating article from National Geographic on Extreme Cases of Memory: AJ, who remembers everything, and EP who remembers nothing.
Though we curse these failures of memory on an almost daily basis, Schacter says, that's only because we don't see their benefits. Each sin is really the flip side of a virtue, "a price we pay for processes and functions that serve us well in many respects." There are good evolutionary reasons why our memories fail us in the specific ways they do. If everything we looked at, smelled, heard, or thought about was immediately filed away in the enormous database that is our long-term memory, we'd be drowning in irrelevant information.
I hope that's true. I sometimes try to console myself that my iffy memory is a byproduct of or enabler for the somewhat large amount of tangential thinking and creativity I have to work with.

Interesting that AJ has become a nostalgia fiend; it's not enough for her to remember all the details, she craves visual aids and external memory holders.


(3) lets go atari
2007.11.19
Busy and sad day.

Trivia of the Moment
A few days ago I posted some Pac-Man sketch banners that I put together for Gamers Quarter... here are some I made a while back, from an Atari catalog, some Atari Force comic books, and the manual for Centipede. The cropping was really kind of difficult, but fun. (Click for full size.)








(3) robotic life on mars
2007.11.20
Quote of the Moment
"While you can, do."
--Charles J. Peterman Jr., 1934-2007, RIP. (That is the sadness I've been obliquely referring to as of late.)

Link of the Moment
Interview with a Mars Robot driver, the "best job on 2 worlds". Amazing how cautious they have to be, like walking on interplanetary eggshells.

It made me realize that Spirit and Opportunity are bigger ("the size of a golf cart") than I realized. I found this page of specs with this photo that illustrated how I was probably thinking of them as "Sojourner" sized, but the earlier probe was quite a bit smaller.


(6) citation so damn needed
2007.11.21
I was thinking about Wikipedia's No Original Research policy, the rule that launched a thousand [citation needed]s.

I remember some science fiction book where history and archeology had devolved into a mere meta-research, collating and analyzing former historical studies to synthesize the truth. That was considered true scholarship, not actually going and digging up things yourself. (Wish I could remember the title.)

I understand Wikipedia's need to not be a sounding board for every Internet yahoo with an axe to grind, but in some ways it seems to be a ducking of responsibly. I mean, it has the right to determine just what its role is and firmly stake out a place low on the pantheon of "real" academics and actual discovery.

Quote of the Moment
Now here we are in the age of too much information. The landscape lined with guardrails. Warnings on everything: "Do not touch when hot." "Sharp: may penetrate skin if pressed." "Open with an extreme sense of foreboding."
--Garrison Keillor

Menu of the Moment
--The Gail Ann Coffee Shop, right across the street from me. Great donuts, but this sign made me think of that Monty Python skit. "Err... do you have something without cheese in it?"

(3) happy thanksgiving
2007.11.22

Happy Thanksgiving!
(Turkey of Love shamelessly recycled from this month's Love Blender)


(5) physics, chemistry, and rhetoric
2007.11.23
For a while my Gtalk status was "pi^2=~10". Which is true, pi times itself is roughly ten. But of course I was probably hoping someone would ask what that was all about, and JZ obliged. This was my response.
it comes from a physics class
walking us through a problem, the teacher rhetorically asked permission to replace pi^2 with 10
we were aghast, because in most of the problems, you keep the pi in there and it cancels out later
and also it seemed like a crude approximation
but he showed us that since we use "10" for the force of gravity instead of the more typically correct 9.8, just because it makes the math easier, that pi^2 was even closer to ten than that
Mr. Reno was one of those "been around the block" science teachers and I admired how obviously (in restrospect) he was totally prepared for our objection, even though he played it innocent.

Similarly Mr. Von Banken, our chemistry teacher, would develop a reputation for entertaining demos in class, often explosive (but fun with liquid nitrogen, from shattering things to sending a little puddle of flaming liquid natural gas across the highway floor was memorable too) and had his class management well in hand as well:
"Blow something up, Von!" we'd cry.
[Von pulls out and inflates balloon]
"OK, I blew something up. Now can we go on?"
"No! Make something explode!"
[Von pops balloon]
"OK, now can we go on?"
Good teachers. I was blessed with a high school that, while struggling in a lot of ways, had made in an effort to keep a top-notch "honors" track.

Article of the Moment
Clearly written with a fans love and affection, Lore went over Original Star Trek's 10 Cheesiest Creatures for Wired.com.


(3) attack of the speedbitch
2007.11.24
For over half a decade EB and I have been playing head-to-head Tetris Attack. (With a recent trend towards 3-player Dr. Mario when his wife wants to join in, a game also favored by my Aunt and Mom.)

EB and I have noted a difference in our approaches to this kind of game. EB is a more deliberate planner, aiming to set up longer combos and chains and then sending over many damaging "garbage" blocks all at once. In recognition of my approach's humbler yet annoyingly effective nature, I've taking to calling what I do "being the speedbitch". I favor speed over cleverness. Over the years, as our Tetris Attack arms race increased (at this point we're both past our primes, not sinking quite as much relaxation time into the pursuit of rising blocks) I would of course add in new "types" of move to my arsenal, but at its core I'm all about process efficiency. (I'm also oddly blind to certain clear-outs, especially horizontal ones.)

It might not be too much of a stretch to see an echo of the speedbitch vs. the planner in how EB and I live our respective lives. I tend to shun most long-range plans-- which can go wrong, after all-- and seek to maximize short- to medium-term contentment. And I'm good at recognizing and optimizing for that. (A parallel ability to refactor and re-engineer to increase usability and efficiency is also one of my programming and UI strengths.) EB is more of a planner. There have been times (when Mo and I seemed to have found something stable and pleasant and possibly edging him out salary wise despite his equivalent smarts and having stuck around for his Masters degree) where my pseudo-Dao-ist, aimless approach irked him. Now that I'm a single guy, in a bit of a pleasant career rut, and he's accomplishing life goals in family-making as well as moving up to management (which, for an engineer, isn't all peaches and rainbows, but still) the strategic comparison has a different tone.

(By a curious bit of synchronicity, recently I've found out that a parallel "supply chain efficiency" is one of the things Nokia does really well, and has helped it achieve an international market percentage in the high-30s. They make beloved-high-end equipment too, but they're able to retail some of their bread-and-butter phones for less than some companies can make 'em.)

Like I've rambled about before, I'm increasingly of the opinion that I'm not that smart, just a very quick and somewhat tangential thinker with a fragile ego and poor memory for disconnected detail.


(5) decluttering for our mortal selves
2007.11.25
Decluttering holds a melancholy reminder of our finite lifespans and stockpile of attention. There are so many things that would be, perhaps, worth coming back to: a book unread, a video unwatched, a toy unplayed with, a tchotchkes unadmired. But there's just enough time, and we are compelled to choose, and to clear out things that don't make the cut lest they interfere with the things that do, or with life in general.

(Oh, and in my virtual mortal coil: the bookmarks unfollowed.)

Article of the Moment
--from a great quick NY Times piece on the Presidential Campaign Logos. Why are the Republicans so much better at this? (Oh, plus SlateV on the TV spots.)



(4) omen, omen the range
2007.11.26
I'm not superstitious by nature but I long for some kind of oracle. Sometimes I look for meaning in what songs my iPhone's shuffle comes up with. Kind of an "iChing". (Apparently I'm not even the first Kirk to think like that. Plus here's a similar Tarot-centric approach.)

Similarly when I bike to work (not so much lately, with the poor weather) I would count it a good omen when I passed other bikers, but a poorer omen when they passed me, or rather I'd do a bit of arithmetic of passing vs being passed. (Some of the bad omen was mitigated if they were all up in biker gear, the tight black pants etc.) It's akin to the narrator looking for streaks of red cars in "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time". But of course, my mythology had a nice side-effect of encouraging me to bike faster so as to make more of my own luck.

I also have my "lucky numbers" that I count as good fortune to find... 222, which was the street of my highschool (and which led our renaming of its jazz band,) a number that shows up more often than you might think. And the final digits of the year of my birth, and graduations.

I don't know how seriously I buy into this homebrew attempts to tap into synchronicity. But like (Neils Bohr's? Lord Rutherford's?) horsehoe; maybe it works even if you don't believe in it.

Illustration of the Moment
--Slate's historical look at children's books is kind of rambling, but Sendak not illustrating "The Hobbit" is a tragic missed opportunity.

(6) i just like saying "untergunther"
2007.11.27
Bill the Splut linked to a MetaFilter article on whether dogs think. This was my response on his comments forum:
Don't have time now to read through the whole MeFi thing on Animals and Consciousness... but...

I guess my bar for "conscious" might be lower than for some people: basically, being sophisticated enough to have a mental map of your surroundings, and put your self in that map, and this is a standard many mammals live up to.

The language issue gets into some odd philosophical areas (I'm rereading a great compilation for a UU church discussion group, "The Mind's I", so this stuff is on my mind as of late.) So one way to get animals to communicate is through the use of plastic colored chips, arranging them in certain orders to mean certain things, and you can even see animals understanding a rough grammar with them. The thing is, you can get college students to do the same thing, but when you talk with them after, they haven't necessarily made the connection to language, for them it's just arranging chips!

Or, maybe I should lower the bar for this too and say that's all language is, a fancy arranging of plastic colored chips.

There's certainly a bit of self-serving-ness in the clear splits of people vs animals. People don't want to be forced to say "yes, I eat animals, and some of those animals might have feelings and not want to be eaten, but that's the way the universe is set up, and I'm not willing to confront that." Or even "we will give humans special consideration over other animals (not eating them, 'human' rights in general) not because humans are that unique, but because we're humans and it's human to play favorites like that".

Guerrilla Project of the Moment
Underground group Untergunther broke into the Panthéon's and fixed its historic clock which had been rusting and rotting since the 1960s.

The group and its parent UX sound so cool:
Klausmann and his crew are connaisseurs of the Parisian underworld. Since the 1990s they have restored crypts, staged readings and plays in monuments at night, and organised rock concerts in quarries. The network was unknown to the authorities until 2004, when the police discovered an underground cinema, complete with bar and restaurant, under the Seine. They have tried to track them down ever since.
It's like "Fight Club" done right.


(5) rubberbabyipodbumpers
2007.11.28
I was going to ramble about how surprised I am at the prevalence of iPod and iPhone bumpers, how these are very aesthetically pleasing and elegant devices, and wrapping them in rubber or vinyl really takes its toll on their slimness and overall feel. I asbsent-mindedly turn my iPhone over and over in my hand, a very expensive worry stone.

Then I found this guy who encased his iPod in a block of resin -- and it still works! (Not the touch dial, but through the port exposed at the bottom.)
So those "rubber baby ipod bumpers" folk got nothing on him.

Quote of the Moment
"My life is a furious ball of nothing."
--Dilbert

Charity of the Moment
But in an attempt to get beyond the furious ball of nothing... charity!

I repeated my family's donation to Beau's Salvation Army Virtual Christmas Kettle. Like i said last year, the Salvation Army really is an excellent choice for your charity dollar, great bang for the buck in terms of helping people out. Beau would like to raise $500, and he's over halfway there...


(6) the discrete charm of the green line at rush hour
2007.11.29
After work yesterday I had to head out right at the crack of five for my final photography class.

Arlington Station was crowded.

I love the subterfuge of the conductors as they try to urge people not to jam the already packed cars any further... "there's another train coming!" Well, duh, of course, it's a frickin' subway! There's always another train coming, it's when that's the question, and in this case the answer was "not for ten minutes or so", until that side of the station was getting so packed people were queuing on the stairs.

Also, people who get on at Boylston Station inbound during rush hour are idiots. The entrance to Park Street is, literally, a stone's throw away (err, if you had a really good arm at least) so either you're jamming into a car to save 50 yards of walking for 10 minutes of waiting, or if your destination is further down the Green Line, you'd find it 2 or 3 times less crowded getting on board at Park Street once all the people aiming for the Red Line disembark.

Job Description of the Moment
Qualified individuals will possess at least 2-3 years of prior commercial collections experience in a fast paced corporate environment, strong verbal communication and organization skills. Prior experience in commercial collections required. Great Plains experience is a plus. The ideal candidate will have exceptional Excel skills, excellent analytical skills, and a persuasive, yet professional demeanor.
--I've never bothered taking myself off "The Career Place's" mailing list, so I still get intermittent notification of job openings, though rarely anything that's up my alley. Still, this one for "Credit and Collections Specialist (Newton)" caught my eye, if only because of the euphemistic glory of "a persuasive, yet professional demeanor".


(15) oh you're just the smartest bestest cleverest kid in the whole world
2007.11.30
Yet more self-involved blather, very loud introspection. But there's a very good video after. You might want to skip to that.

Man, this Scientific American article on The Secret to Raising Smart Kids rang more than a few bells for me...
Our society worships talent, and many people assume that possessing superior intelligence or ability-- along with confidence in that ability-- is a recipe for success. In fact, however, more than 30 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings.

The result plays out in children like Jonathan, who coast through the early grades under the dangerous notion that no-effort academic achievement defines them as smart or gifted. Such children hold an implicit belief that intelligence is innate and fixed, making striving to learn seem far less important than being (or looking) smart. This belief also makes them see challenges, mistakes and even the need to exert effort as threats to their ego rather than as opportunities to improve. And it causes them to lose confidence and motivation when the work is no longer easy for them.
That's similar to something I wrote a year ago.

So: It's not the self-esteem, stupid! Maybe we have too much of that, with our kids who are, internationally speaking, among the worst at math but think that they're the best.

I think almost any kid who is the smartest kid in his peer group ends up thinking they're the smartest kid, period. Even as they grow, and are smart enough to intellectually realize the absurdity of this thought, they don't feel it.

As crazy as it is, it's still a bit of a problem for me. But I managed to shake it off in a lot of ways and think I should be proud of that. I think back to my school history: skipped second grade, got put back when I changed districts... in sixth grade I started doing well on standardized tests but was always in the mid-quarter "D&F Club" after school program. I managed to get some level of a work ethic through middle and high school, though it didn't really gel 'til college, with most visible bumps in high school classes that required the work of memorization, chemistry and calculus.

But it's not like I blame my folks. I remember fiercely resisting my mom trying to get me to set specific goals during middle school... I much preferred a promise to put in a good effort, and seeing what came of that. Now I see what a defensive strategy that was. If anything, I suspect schools aren't particularly well set-up for "Gifted and Talented" programs: smart kids don't get the challenges to put their abilities in a reasonable context, and it's likely that recent standardized testing initiatives is making that problem worse, with school districts having to do more scrambling for tough cases (no matter how poorly motivated or difficult the student) as well as having the smart kids feel like frickin' geniuses when the normalized tests seem like a breeze.

Now I'm still pretty "risk adverse". I can be a good worker, but sometimes my diligence is inversely proportional to the chance of failure... if I'm not confident of it being a cakewalk (even if a long and tedious one) I'm more likely to start employing avoidance strategies.

Marching Band of the Moment
--Thinking of school days... the Cal Band rocks! Such a damn clever program! Especially the first bit, 0:40-1:30. Too bad it's shot from the Visitor's side. (There's also this right-side-up but skewed and partial view of the same show.)


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