2005 July❮❮prevnext❯❯

chicago photos - reflections

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With uncertain web access this weekend, I thought I'd highlight some photos from Chicago for the next four days. Or you can just see all of the photos in three sets. UPDATE: the link now has a bit more text describing the days we were there.

Reflections from Chicago
Ksenia getting ready for the day:

Elevator down in the Sears Tower:

Cloud Gate at Millennium Park...unfortunately it's still kind of an ongoing process, so we could only see one end sticking out of a protective tent:

News of the Moment
Oh boy, here come the Supreme Court Retirings. And wasn't she generally a moderate, my favorite outlook? It's kind of dry reading but Slate has the Supreme Shortlist. Lets see if Bush has any chance of nominating someone who fairly represents this 50/50 nation of ours... (yeah, right. If he was "all or nothing" when it came to recreational substances, why should he start understaing "moderation" now?)

chicago photos - portraits

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Flash Toy of the Moment
Yesterday boingboing posted a link to what might be the freakiest flash animation ever...a ragdoll woman manuequin falling through and sliding over an infinite amount of spheres. (You can grab the figure with the mouse and help her if she gets caught in a dead end.) EERIE.

Photos of the Moment
A few portraits of sorts taken during a recent trip to Chicago:

At the Häagen-Dazs at Navy Pier:

Afterwards, tired while walking around downtown searching for the Blue Line:(yet another "reflection")

chicago photos - night

Some evening and night photos from a recent trip to Chicago:

View from the Sears Tower at Twilight:
(great time to go, the lights come on
but it's not too dark to see the detail.)

Not sure what building this is, near the Sears Tower:

Navy Pier on a Foggy Night:

chicago photos - random

Some very random photos from a recent trip to Chicago:

an american childhood

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Excerpts from "An American Childhood"
[After a huge childhood run, a scientific test just to make SURE that people couldn't fly by running and flapping their arms] "What could touch me now? For what were the people on Penn avenue to me, or what was I to myself, really, but a witness to any boldness I could muster, or any cowardice if it came to that, any giving up on heaven for the sake of diginity on earth? I had not seen a great deal accomplished in the name of dignity, ever."
Annie Dillard. Maybe that's why I've never been particularly defensive of my dignity. Sort of another take on that old "Weird Al" line "I'll be mellow when I'm dead."
"Do you advocate the overthrow of the United States government by force or violence?"
Annie Dillard reporting on her mom's regarding even bureaucratic forms as straight lines.
Before I had watched [the amoeba, now caught by microscope] at all, I ran upstairs. My parents were still at table, drinking coffee. They, too, could see the famous amoeba. I told them, bursting, that he was all set up, that they should hurry before his water dried. It was the chance of the lifetime.

Father had stretched out his long legs and was tilting back in his chair. Mother sat with her knees crossed, in blue snacks, smoking a Chesterfield. The dessert dishes were still on the table. My sisters were nowhere in evidence. It was a warm evening; the big dining-room windows gave onto blooming rhododendrons.

Mother regarded me warmly. She gave me to understand that she was glad I had found what I had been loking for, but that she and Father were happy to sit with their coffee, and would not be coming down.

She did not say, but I understood at once, that they had their pursuits (coffee?) and I had mine. She did not say, but I began to understand then, that you do what you do out of your private passion for the thing itself.
Annie Dillard
I guess this is how I feel about relationships in general...I mean, I also crave a bit of admiration, and for recognition that "hey, that IS cool..." but besides that, pursuits are personal and don't always need to be shared to a non-trivial extent.

wart of the worlds

Yikes, did I get sunburned on Saturday. At the risk of Too Much Information, sunburned to the extent of "hey, aren't nipples supposed to be a different color than the surrounding skin?" Note to my future self: whenever you start noticing any parallels from that one trip to Florida high school freshman year, when you burnt yourself to a crisp on the last day because it had been overcast the rest of the week, with backs-of-knees burnt so much that you couldn't fully stretch your legs, it's time to not be getting so much sun. The kind of burn your heading for is not the one they mean when they suggest sun exposure is beneficial for heart reasons and even against cancer.

Movie Review of the Moment
Saw the new "War of the Worlds" this weekend. Gotta say, didn't live up to the reviews for it. I mean, I know it's not going to be the "hard scifi" I might've been wishing for, a real "what if aliens really did invade." At times it almost felt like "the aliens are out to get Tom Cruise" (not that I'd blame 'em, but still.)

<SPOILERS type="minor" surprise-revealing="false">There were just too many "why"s...Why would the aliens bury their war machines and let them lie dormant for centuries and centuries? And buried in urban, presumably well-excavated areas to boot...why didn't we notice 'em? Why was that one camcorder working when all the electronics were fried? (Just to look cool, I know.) Why were all stalled cars conveniently pushed by the wayside so Tom Cruise never had to take it offroad? Why did a jumbo-jet just happen to crash at Tom Cruise's Ex's house? Why would a newscrew be scavaging food, and why would they think a plane wreck was such a great place to scavange food in a residential neighborhood? Why were people all over Tom Cruise's minivan, when the ferry seemed full of other still-working vehicles? The flaming train, sure, maybe it would keep running, but the array of flaming humvees? (Another 'just to look cool' I guess, like the train wasn't enough) What was so special about that basement, anyway, other than the fact Tom Cruise was hunkering down in it?

A straight, slightly steampunk "alternate history" port of the original story would have been so much cooler. The book (I just read the e-text) was fairly realistic, actually, almost all you have to grant is the idea of aliens from Mars. The human weapons are outmatched with no need of an invulnerability shield, and the aliens learn and counter our tactics. (Actually, you could play some cool "What Ifs" putting up original War of the Worlds tech against our modern military...might make a better battle than "Independence Day" which agains relies on force fields. It has been noted that ID4 was, in fact, a retelling of the original War of the Worlds, right down to the "virus" that takes 'em out.)</SPOILERS>

So I know I'm not reviewing this film in terms of what Spielberg was aiming for, but still...sometimes his drive to parallel real-life horrors like WTC just got in the way of the potential of this story. The trailer I saw, with a neighborhood being woken up by terrible, unknown sounds and lights in the far distance, was much cooler than the movie itself.

Photoshop of the Moment

--"Christina's War of the Worlds", from betaland. I was googling for some "War of the Worlds" ships to make a "Have You Seen Me?" poster for the previous ramble, but this seemed much better anyway.

more troubles

Oy, terror in London. I guess what I find most distrubing about it is, in general, London is pretty careful about this stuff, after years of "The Troubles" and the IRA.

Distraction of the Moment
If you like your nudity tiny, low-rez, and plentiful, BoingBoing linked to 500 nude sunbathers in one 1024*768 shot, ready for use as desktop wallpaper.

Also, here for no other reason than it lightly amuses me, Bush runs his bike into a Scottish policeman.

Current Events Commentary of the Moment
The natural state of the English is a kind of gloomy diligence, which is why they do so well in hard times. In 1940, Londoners went dutifully on with their business while the Luftwaffe bombed the hell out of them. Today, most of them are doing the same. I was in Washington for 9/11, and the whole city went into a panic. Offices emptied, stores shut, downtown D.C. became a ghost town. But in London today, everyone still has a cell phone clutched to their ear. The delivery vans are still racing about, seeking shortcuts around all the street closures. The Starbucks is packed.
This kind of thing strengthens my distrust and, frankly, hatred of Fundamentalist religion. People who follow the liberal religious outlook think that their meta-belief might encompass pretty much every outlook, but it really doesn't; any belief system that mistakes faith for fact and acts accordingly is the enemy of the Moderates' viewpoint.

dream a little dream

Very strange dream last night...there's some kind of 2-bus tour group travelling around the USA with the pope, and I'm on it...except I'm one of a small group who has to stop the three suicide bombers. The good guys have some kind of x-ray to see the vests of explosives the three are wearing....and one of the three is my girlfriend from high school, "Randi". (In the dream I ask if she still goes by that name like she did in high school, rather than her given name, which caused everyone to do a bad Sting impression and tell her that she don't have to put out the red light.) The funny thing is, at one point I don't even need the X-ray information to know she's one of the bombers, her tanktop is riding a little low in front and I can see the blue roll-of-coins-like explosives right there. I remember trying to think of a way of stopping them without having to take the blast myself.

Idea of the Moment
I've been stuck at my current weight for way too long...I had an increase around the holiday season of 2003 and I'm cruising at about 20 pounds more than I had been for some years before that. I'm thinking about seeing if bribing myself works; I've been on the fence about getting a new PC, so maybe I can say "lose 10 pounds and you get to buy the PC, lose the next 20 and we'll think of something more". I dunno, can that work? Along side my mantra of "I'm just tired of being this heavy".

Geekery of the Moment
They said it couldn't be done...they said it shouldn't be done...but Fred Quimby is starting work on a BASIC compiler for the Atari 2600...it takes programs written in a very specific subset of BASIC and converts it into the assembly code needed to make a game that can run on an actual Atari. I'm trying to figure out how I can help this effort...to make truly impressive games you need to work at lower levels, but this idea has a ton of potential, helping newbies get started and all that.

UPDDATE: Actually I've started making the Semi-Official Batari BASIC homepage...check it out!


Blast from the Past of the Moment
"Pierre A. von Kaenel" writes:
> "Simplify, simplify, simplify" - Thoreau

Shouldn't that be just "Simplify"?
Dave Sill, I wrote that down in like April of 1998, but it goes with my current attempts at simplifying my life, mostly by means of decluttering...

Amusement of the Moment
Yesterday a co-worker pointed out that, with Windows XP at least, you can set the wallpaper to an animated GIF and it will indeed animate. I don't know how long Windows has been doing this. (For some reason it doesn't work if you just right click on a web image and hit use as wallpaper, my usual method.)

Of course, a stretched or tiled animated image can be VERY annoying, and will use up like at least 1/3 of your processor. Still it can be amusing in small doses. Here's the technique:
  1. Find a suitable image. For something neat but discrete I'd suggest my own small gif cinema. For big fun, the previously kisrael'd b3ta dicussion has a bunch of cool ones.
  2. Right click on the animation and "Save Image As..." to someplace convenient on your local drive.
  3. Right click on a blank part of the desktop, hit "Properties" and go to the "Desktop" tab.
  4. "Browse" to the image and select it. Make sure to select "Tiled" "Centered" or "Stretched" along with the correct color. (white works well with most of those b3ta animations)
Enjoy! It can be very cool, very annoying, or even both!

geekery on the high seas

More strange dreams...an urban center overrun by gangs of black youth playing dodgeball, for keeps...the rallying cry "where can a fellow find a game?!?" warned before an outbreak. (Sometimes fellow was replaced with the N-word.) Then, two, an oddly short Dr. Ruth (who changed her last name, maybe because she got married) who had her entire lower body replaced with white plastic cyberlegs...very odd.

Geek Tool of the Moment
There are lots of decent tools out there to show you the "diff"erence between two text files, which lines are different, but only a very small percentage of them are good at showing you what's different for any particular pair of lines...they view lines as being "atomic", so to speak.

Enter diffline v0.1! It starts from both ends and shows you what part in the middle is different. This is especially useful when you have lots of junk on a single line, like with a PATH or CLASSPATH variable comparision. It's a bit primitive (I mean, it's not smart enough to know that abXcdYef and abXYcdYZef have that "cd" in common) but very useful to a certain small set of circumstances I think.

This and several other geek tools available on ths kisrael tools page.

Star Wars Figure of the Moment
--Heheheh... from the same spot that served up that woman falling through bubbles toy...

answers please

AIM of the Moment
candi: i have a random question for you
kirk: ok, i'll give you a random answer
kirk: actually you dont even need the question
kirk: the answer is "dolphins"
kirk: ok, my cleverness here is done.
--Candi and me, June 5, 2005. Aliases changed to protect the guilty.

Quote of the Moment
Engineers aren't boring people; we just get excited over boring things.
Sigfile of "sagenumen" on slashdot

Link of the Moment
Boingboing linked to some Carny Lingo. Cool stuff.

Webgeek Tool of the Moment
Note to self: (and everyone else) I used to rely on (the now defunct?) domainsurfer.com to do partial string searches on registered domains, but it seems like namedroppers.com is doing a better job of it.

rock and roll

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Horoscope of the Moment
Taurus: (April. 20-May 20)
Please stop comparing your own experiences to those of Sisyphus, who, unlike you, at least tried to get stuff done.
Old Onion Horoscope

Political Statement of the Moment
Bush when directly asked if he will live up to his pledge to dismiss any leakers in the CIA officer case, when that leaker turns out to be his advisor Karl Rove.
[Insert usual political jab about "bringing integrity to the whitehouse here"]

Geek Anecdote of the Moment
You know, I remember Friendster was always so, so dang slow.

And I also noticed that, judging by the URLs on the site, they were using Java/JSP.

I've updated my profile recently. And the site seems pretty responsive.

And the URLs indicated it's now in PHP.

I'm just sayin', is all...and yet it's still Java that brings in the big bucks, roughly speaking and at least for the time being.

i don't know much about art. but i know what i like.

Interactive Art of the Moment

click here

"Oh" // Source code // Built with Processing
    Interactive art... I was caught by the images from this Wired piece (which seem to be from this site). The work uses an idiosyncratic UI, each change in horizontal mouse pointer direction advances to the next image.

lying, which war robe?

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I just finished "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe"...I've had a boxed set of all 7 "Narnia" books for the longest time, but, like my reaction to Asimov's Foundation trilogy, something about it intimidated me when I was a kid, and I never got around to tackling them since. Probably a preview for the upcoming movie adapation got me to look at them again.

My question is this: the entire book is a pretty clear metaphor for Jesus' death and then the battles of Revelation. There are a lot of things that map pretty clearly to the Christian life and the story...one detail, though...there's this "other lion", a statue in the Witch's courtyard that Aslan frees, that says stuff like "Did you hear what he said? Us lions. That means him and me. Us lions." It seems like this lion (that Edmund previously assumed was the statuefied Aslan) is a metaphor for something, but I have no idea what. Anyone remember and care to guess?

Slate Articles of the Moment
Slate on the meaning of sunglasses. I love my current prescription pairs almost as much as the convenience of my old clip-ons...black plastic is just the classic way to go.

Also a good photo-essay on the snapshot art of Lee Friedlander. I know I risk sounding like a total Plebe or Rube or whatever when I say this, but does my lack of care about lenses and exposure time and what not prevent my photos from being "art"? (Not "good art", but still...) People are so dismissive of "just snapshots" but I dunno...give a little thought to subject matter and framing and keep an eye open for interesting light conditions and what not, and it certainly feels like it starts to approach "art"...seems like it ain't rocket science, or at least it doesn't have to be.

Quote of the Moment
The little girl expects no declaration of tenderness from her doll. She loves it -- and that's all. It is thus that we should love.
DeGourmont. I don't think it's that simple, but still.

towards a better comments spam filter

Lately I've been cleaning up kisrael.com in preperation for transferring to a new webhost. (Hi FoSO!) It's a generally pretty satisfying exerience..my goal has kind of been simplifying what's in the "root" directory of my site.

But there was one other task that I brought on my self...clean up the tens of thousands of spam links that were clogging up the comments for much of 2003 and 2004. The dirty rotten spammers like to have lots of links to their sites so they gain prestige with naive search engines that follow a bastardized version of the Google-esque ideal that incoming links = good sites, and they seem to prefer filling up old comments pages that search engines see just fine but some site owners won't notice for a while. They'll take a day, then, and have their scripts fill it with like 35-30 entries of 20-30 links each. I found out the scale of the problem when I made that view delayed comments feature a few months ago, and spent like 5 or 6 hours last night cleaning...and using a lot of custom scripts and macros to help that.

For now I'm using a simple filter...if you don't have a link in your comment, no filtering. If you DO have "http://" in your post, then the following is a list of forbidden words:
high low
blue deer
purple bike
slot machine
black jack
health insurance
Pretty brutal, but, maybe a temporary message (more on that below.) A message will come up repeating this list if you trigger the block. Cleaning out the old comments, there were only like 4 or 5 "false positives" of non-spam comments that would have triggered a block.

I have a (possibly) better idea for a block that, after a few days of seeing how this method works, I might install. It's tough thinking of good blocking methods that won't block people as well. One assumption I was making before is that the spammer downloaded my comments form once, and then just had their slave botscripts run the "submit comments" feature. If that were true, then I could use a simple token method. Loading the comments form generates a special one time key, the key is stored on the server, and then passed back to the server on the submit. Two downsides: one is having a lot of disused keys on my server, for people who just view comments and/or the form without entering a comment. But there's a chance that the assumption that the dirty rotten comments spammer is use a "stale" version of my form might be wrong...maybe they're downloading a fresh form each time, so they'd get a fresh token for each of their nasty, stinking, grasping writhing cesspool chunks of spamlinks.

Other people try to use javascript cleverness, but there's nothing stopping a spammer from always running your filter through a javascript engine.

So one idea is this; there's a good chance the spammers look for a field labeled "comments" or "name", or just look for a big textarea followed by a smaller one line text box, or something like that. But what if each time you generated a random name for your textarea, and then have some other hidden variable tell the script which name to find the comment in? It seems like a spammer might not bother to follow that kind of indirection, and it can be made a little stronger by increasing the levels of indirection (you always have one variable "foo" that tells it the first variable to look in, which carries the name of the second variable (randomly generated), which carries the name of the the third, which then points to the actual name generated for the textarea. This method won't stand up if they're just looking for "grab all variables and fill the textarea variable", though I'm not sure if they're that clever...maybe I could include 3 textareas, and hide the other 2 with CSS. That too could be scripted away...in which case I'm back to simple content filtering.

Ugh, what a mess! Comment spammers are an incredibly low lifeform. I'm lucky, since I do all the coding myself, and am just one site, if I come up with a clever idea I'm a low-value target, relative to an attack that works on bajillions of blogs using the same scripts.

UPDATE: in September I started getting odd, no-link one liner comments. They might be test mesages or something. So as a patch, I've added some phrases that get rejected if they're the sole content of the message. See this day's entry for a bit more info. Admittedly this is very much a "one off" kind of response, but we'll see how it goes, since so far the href+buzzword filter has done well.

Link of the Moment
After all that crap, you deserve a nice link: la Pate a Son is a lovely applet for making musical Rube Goldberg-meets-that-old-"Pipe Dreams"-game setups. I think that it is tweaked to make it almost too hard to make ugly sounds, but it's still pretty cool. (Makes me think that I should try to do a Java or other technology port of that old SimTunes game.)

Oh, I blogged this a long time ago, check out their main site, especially experimental zoo, especially the giraffes. (A bit like that woman falling through bubbles, come to think of it, but years earlier.)

joisey shore and alewife

Photos of the Moment

houston, we have a party

So Ksenia and I went to a pretty big housewarming party last night. Not that's it's saying much but it's probably the biggest one I'd gone to in years, maybe ever. And they really went all out with the theme, "Apollo '69" -- lots of tinfoil around, people dressing up in odd mishmashes of camp scifi and 60s-wear, all rooms labeled with faux-Nasa placards, even a 2 story rocket in the back. There was a lot of lights, a pro or semi-pro DJ, a tended bar, pretty impressive. We only knew like two other people there, but still it was a decent time and we got some dancing in.

Online Toys of the Moment
I've struck up a bit of a friendship with "VL-Tone" (at least that's one of his online handles), the guy who made that Metroid Cubed demo back in the day. The relationship was possibly cemented when I sent him a Casio SK-8 keyboard from my youth that I hardly ever brought out of retirement (even though it was really fun to mess with its ability to sample 4 sounds at once, and was very good about "looping" patterns so they could become basslines) that he plans to use for circuit bending

He's been up to more cool stuff. Most recently his Super Mario 64 Peach's Castle demo has been making the rounds (Thanks, Nick). He's managed to extract the polygon and textures data from the old N64 game and built an engine to display it. You can fly around anywhere the castle grounds, and there are a few other levels extracted as well. It has a few clipping problems but still it's cool to be able to fly straight up and look straight down, as well as duck under bridges and whatnot.

One his more obscure but very pleasant little creations is ElektroAqua--check it out! It is a copy/spinoff of one of the modes in the upcoming Nintendo DS game ElectroPlankton. I was mentioning SimTunes the other day...turns out ElectroPlankton is by Toshio Iwai, the same guy who did SimTunes. VL-Tone also mentioned a lost SNES title "Sound Fantasy".

Its surprisingly tough to find recent information on Toshio Iwai online but I did find this article on his work with Nintendo, including the lost SNES title "Sound Fantasy". It also some pictures with him onstage with Nintendo legend Miyamoto, and video of a violinist / ElectroPlankton duet of sorts. Nifty! Maybe I'll have to get one of those DSes, now that they're finally really taking advantage of the touch screen.

the pursuit of metahappiness

Last December I rambled about a happiness hypothetical: if you could have some sort of procedure that was guaranteed to make you happy but dumb, would you do it?

This morning, musing about some of the recent sidebar talk about video games and other distractions, it occurred to me that it's a decent thinking point, but might be better if it was less blunt, more true-to-life. Hypothesis: "True Happiness" requires an alignment of happiness and meta-happiness. You want to be happy in "real time": entertained or just content. You also want to be happy "for the right reasons", happy in ways that seem philosophically or socially acceptable.

Something that works at the base "plain happiness" level but not above that is a "guilty pleasure". I don't think we have as good a label for the opposite, but I think many of us have felt that "I want to like this more that I actually do" feeling...when I was a pre-adolescent I tried to foster an appreciation for classical music and later jazz but in reality I didn't really have a feel for either. It took me years to admit myself I only like either when it's fast, has a lot of percussion and/or "hooks".

I guess there's a choice to be made, assuming we're not lucky enough to have the two levels in perfect alignment but smart enough to be bothered by that: There is a lot of back-and-forth between the two levels. Veg out in front of the TV and you'll enjoy yourself, and it's easy to justify that on the meta- level by the very real need to "just unwind". However, keep at it too long and the gradual decrease in the meta-satisfaction can taint the base level, and you won't be happy. Similarly, cleaning your house can be an absolute grind but the meta-rewards, and the satisfaction goes well beyond just have an orderly environment...you probably feel like you've done what you should do.

In practice, for guys in modern times the base happiness level often involves following "adolescent" pursuits like video games or even skirt chasing. The meta-happiness involves "growing up", getting a good career, being a good family man. (In its negative sense, being a "geek" (in the Star Trek-lovin', fat slob never-talk-to-a-girl-without-a-credit-card stereotype) is all about the former without being tempered by the latter, and society is pretty damn harsh on that path.)

For me right now, it seems like I'm more inclined to stake out the former path; do what I like, then figure out the justifications. My key to fostering a sense meta-satisfaction from my pursuits is that they are some times "creative" (or, rather, "creationary") and the idea of "creating" ranks highly on the meta-level. I play video games (not as much as I used to) but I also create games. (Though I've also developed some pretty decent justifications for why gaming interests me so much.) Kisrael.com also provides a framework for two other pursuits of mine, musing and browsing, and lets me produce a tangible reward for it, something that other people seem to enjoy as well.

What about being a family man? I don't know. I understand that it can entail a giant sacrifice of most of those "trivial pursuits". I've also been told that having a child the most cosmic thing a guy can do, I guess the meta-satisfaction is so overwhelming that it gushes over into the base levels of happiness. That seems like a giant leap of faith though, and I've never been crazy about irrevocable choices that pursuing that life would entail. On the other hand, I know I've enjoyed working with kids, seeing how their minds work, teaching them and also witnessing the world through fresher eyes.

Philosophically it's almost a dead heat; my tendency towards anxiety and a cheerful nihilism makes it easy to explain not wanting to bring a child into this world. On the other hand there's a fear of long term regret, that some day I'll look at my amusements and accomplishments and ask "was that all worth it?"

Well, let me know what you think. (Interestingly, there are very Google few hits for "meta-happiness" or "meta-satisfaction", either given as one word or two. Is there another word for the concept that I'm not thinking of, or is it relatively uncharted territory?)

so unlike anything, don't you know, if you know what i mean.

Quote of the Moment
If you come to think of it, what a queer thing life is! So unlike anything, don't you know, if you know what I mean.
P.G. Wodehouse.
Via yesterday's Boston Globe "Sidekick". The "Sidekick" is an interesting idea, a small section like the "Weekender" insert (or whatever they call it) where they put daily happenings as well as the stuff from the comics page. On the one hand, it is a more covenient form factor, and I like not having to search so much for the comics. On the other hand, it feels like I'm reading a more tabloid-y newpaper, and it forces me to admit to myself that I mostly check out the Globe for the comics. (I remember reading how shocked newspapers were that one of the reasons young people don't subscribe is simply they don't want that much raw material coming into their house and possibly piling up. Seemed like a very natural concern to me!)

"whoa - i know origami"

Animated GIF of the Moment
--via Big-Boys.com

Science Links of the Moment
Making the rounds, Google has a tribute to the moonlandings...the same interface they have for maps with satellite views, they have for earth's original satellite. (As people are quick to point out, be sure to zoom in all the way to get a real good look.) Slate discusses that new version of the Periodic table that's making the rounds, and finally not quite science, but still smart, a new chess variant (by Bobby Fisher...interesting) that tries to blow away the memorization of openings that is such a factor in the game as it's played at the highest levels.

the funky drumma

Geektivity of the Moment
So I'm really getting into this batari BASIC for the Atari 2600, even though the language is still very much a work in progress. The 0.2 release made it much easier to right fairly readable code, losing the need for line numbers and letting variables have arbitrary names instead of being A-Z. I've made that webpage for it, and got Al from AtariAge.com to give bB its own forum. (Actually he made me a moderator of it, which is kind of a novelty for me.)

In about one evening I was able to put together an idea I'd been thinking about for a while, a simple "drumpad" program using the joystick as a simple bass/snare/cymbal drumset. (The game was inspired by Dance Dance Revolution, especially when the steps seem to control the music directly.) That's the screen shot here...it uses the "Pac-Pilgrim" logo of the New England Classic Gamers (minus the beer in one hand and joystick in the other.) You can get the binary here, I'm feeling too lazy to explain how to run it in an emulator. Also, it points out a serious limitation in most emulators: the sound has a noticeable "lag", so the drumming isn't nearly as much fun. In fact, it sort of sucks...I really need to try running this on a real 2600.

I have some slightly mixed feelings about Batari BASIC. On the one hand, it's great, it probably would have taken at least a week for me to program it in assembly language, probably longer to get my chops back, and maybe I never would have gotten up the energy for it. And this BASIC variant is opening up programming to a bunch of Atari fans. The game environment is a bit limited (right now it's two players, two missile graphics, and a score, though he's made up a big pixel "screen memory" that lets you draw on the screen like the old 8-bit computers of the 80s which opens the field to some cool game play ideas) but already boundaries are being stretched.

I know I could make a semi-passable version of JoustPong in this, even better with the features expected in future releases. The games made in Batari BASIC probably won't be as polished as their "true homebrew" brothers, but still, the will be original games that run on real hardware. (Actually people are a little worried about a flood of mediocre homebrews.)

It's funny of think of my alternate-reality self, living in a world where this came out in 2002 or so. (The language compiler itself ain't rocket science, it some ways it's just a big macro that takes simple BASIC statements and writes out the corresponding assembly.) I definitely would have written JoustPong in it, and it would have taken a lot less effort. And I'd probably even call myself an "Atari coder", even though I would have learned so much less and worked so much harder than I have here.

The previous barrier to learning how to code an Atari game really made it kind of elite thing, (even though I tried to lower it a bit with my 2600 101 tutorial) and that's shifted somewhat. It seems to be splitting hairs to say "I programmed a game for the 2600 in Assembly Language" vs "I programmed a game for the 2600" even though the former is a big achievement in a way the latter isn't. You used to have to gain this expertise in archaic things to make a game that could run on the real hardware...now the particulars of that pursuit seem a bit quaint and oddball, since there's a much better effort/reward ratio to just doing it in "BASIC".

this...is cnn

Gripe of the Moment
To some fanfare, CNN.com has made its website videos free. In general, that's not a big plus for me...you can't skim a video spot and it certainly has a lower information/time ratio than any written article. My gripe is that they don't have a special icon for video links, just the word "Watch:" which isn't much of an indicator, especially for the second link on the line it applies to. If I'm expecting an article, the video popup is a disapointment. (Plus, I tend to shift-click stories to get a new window, and that breaks their javascript. You would think a site like CNN would get someone who knew something about web UI.)

CNN is my default news source online. Google News just seems a bit hit or miss for me.

Quote of the Moment
It takes a Long time to count to '2' in Binary.

Article of the Moment
Slate's Fred Kaplan on the motivation of terrorists. It has more to do with classic struggle for homeland liberation. The implication at the end is interesting...the uprising in Iraq isn't just "Insurgents vs the USA", it's "Sunni Insurgents vs the Shiite government / USA partnership".

Dang, I just read a reference that 3 months before the latest Iraq war, Bush didn't know about the whole Sunni/Shiite thing. He just knows that they hate us because they hate freedom.

Hail to the chief.

Israel of the Moment
Bush appoints Chris Israel as "Piracy Czar" I gotta say, this is the first time I remember reading about a guy with the last name of "Israel" in the news. Heheheh...wonder if he's jewish. ("Not that it matters.")

love is a growing up

Quote of the Moment
Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.
James A. Baldwin, thanks Candi

Tool of the Moment
For people using AOL Instant Messenger (I'm "kirkjerk" on it), AOLfight is a way for you to rate your popularity against your buddies...or one buddy against another.

Kind of fun, though seems to me a slight privacy violation. Plus, though it seems they've got a good handle on AIM-spam (3 or 4 years ago it was getting pretty ugly) I wonder if telling a spammer which accounts are "popular" and which ones are dead accounts isn't counterproductive.

hunt hunt gather gather


basic is for the rest of you

Rant of the Moment
I'll come right out and say it : LOGO blows. So does Lisp, but at least you can actually write programs in Lisp, if you are masochistic enough. Forth is for engineer nerds who think FORTRAN 77 is too high level, Smalltalk is for liberal flannel wearing publishing geeks, Java is for abstraction wonks who like to make up phrases using odd words like 'facade' to describe perfectly ordinary comp sci stuff from 30 years ago that they have just now 'reinvented', C++ is for overly caffeinated control freaks who will argue for hours about inheritance and then go write it in crappy C syntax anyways when nobody is looking, assembler is for wierd ninja-geeks who sit around in dark rooms mumbling about cycles, straight C is for power tripping egomaniacal maniacs who would rather spend twenty hours rewriting ALL of your code BECAUSE YOU DID IT WRONG rather than spend an hour learning to use something somebody else wrote, Pascal is for teachers who flunked out of English class but still wanted to pretend to be superior.

And Basic? Basic? BASIC?

Basic is for the rest of you.

Game of the Moment
I while back I kisrael'd Zombie3...now there is Zombie4, and it feels a lot more like a game than a demo, relative to the previous version. Pretty tough though!

profit, see

Quote ofthe Moment
As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
H. L. Mencken, in the Baltimore Sun, July 26, 1920.
This misunderestimates the current man in office a bit but still...

burning sensation

(1 comment)
Quote of the Moment
The very existence of flame-throwers proves that some time, somewhere, someone said to themselves, you know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I'm just not close enough to get the job done.
George Carlin

Art of the Moment

--Julian Beever makes some really cool pavement drawings...the most interesting ones are the "3D illusion" ones like this shown here...check out the ones in the final full row, it's really amazing to see what looks 3D at one angle is all stretched out when seen from the top or side. (My Aunt forwarded a Word doc with most of the ones on that webpage)

man it's hot. it's like africa hot. tarzan couldn't take this kind of hot.

Random Snippet of the Moment
The formula for heat index is based on work completed in the late 1970s. R. G. Steadman wrote a paper called "The assessment of sultriness," in which he used a list of 20 factors to compute how hot you might feel on a given day.
I just love the idea that there's a scientific paper called "The assessment of sultriness". Though, much like "wind chill", "heat indexes" always seem a little indulgent; a way of letting us feel extra macho about whatever weather we happen to be stuck in.


Yeesh, most of this week has been pretty lame for this site. Sorry about that. I guess I'm just not up to being my cool self as usual.

Funny of the Moment
Heisenberg may have slept here.
Fortune file
Actually, we have scientifically determined that Heisenberg did indeed sleep exactly here. However, we have no idea whatsoever just how fast asleep he was.
Dave Aronson, alt.sysadmin.recovery

Observation of the Moment
This is probably too geek pseudo-deep for many kisraelites to get, but if you wanted a single, shining example of the fundamental difference in outlook between DOS/Windows and Unix, I'd say it can be condensed into the single fact that in a DOS Window you can type "cd.." without the space and it works.

To someone with more of a Microsoftish approach to life, it's a good example of a UI accomodating the user, but to someone steeped in the Unix tradition it violates the principle of doing that which surprises the (knowledgable) user least, breaking the guidelines set for using small sets of simple rules to do great things.

six ways of looking at a snail

I was having connectivity issues at home...almost worried about getting out a kisrael today! Not that this week has been so hot anyway.

Interesting party last night, my upstairs neighbor had a "roof" party, they set up a video projector and sheet (which had little flowers on it, amusingly enough) on the roof. No railings up there or anything, so it has that electricity of risk. I think I've heard that my grandfather had a weird kind of vertigo where he would be drawn to jumping in that kind of situation. I'm free of that feeling, but still, it's cool peering over the edge.

Six Slug Shots

smell of mystery

Had a mystery smell in my front room for the past week, maybe a bit less. Odd odor...if it hadn't shown up before I started catsitting Isis I would have been on the hunt for a wayward bit of cat poo. It seemed to be stronger from the window, so I also glanced outside to see if maybe a dog had left me a present, or if some "party-heartier" might have had booze that decided to come out the same way it came in. Or some wayward cheese.

Nothing. All clear outside, and all sniffs around the window area were to no avail. Fortunately the smell wasn't that strong to begin with, but still it was definately there, and rather off-putting when you caught a whiff.

Then of course you start to worry that it's one of Those Smells That Won't Go Away. (Like that old joke about the divorcing woman who hid rotting fish in the curtain rods of the house her ex-husband won in the court battle, 'til finally he sells it to her ten cents on the dollar, but in moving out brings the curtain rods with him.) Could it be a dead creature that got caught in the walls? Just some Splotch of Eternal Mystery?

Fortunately there is a happy ending to this. My nose finally realized the error of its ways...the smell wasn't from the window, but from my desk...two little plants that Ksenia had brought over during a move were kind of sitting there making their own gravy...the stagnant water in the plastic tray they were sitting in had a kind of brackish pungency to it.

And that was it! One thing for which I'm very grateful is that very few odors linger once the offending source material is removed. Very few smells have that skunk-like property of just hanging around and insisting on extreme measures. (Though I guess in the case of the skunk it's more the oil that gets stuck on stuff.) This makes up for the way it's so hard to localize a smell. Maybe they should make some machine that can detect odors part-per-million and play a little game of "hotter, colder" with you.

2005 July❮❮prevnext❯❯