2006 April❮❮prevnext❯❯

i pity the april fool

(1 comment)
Link of the Moment
I've been finding some new (to me) videogame links I liked lately... Here's a detailed tribute page to an obscure favorite of mine, Time Pilot '84. The game had a great sci-fi style, along with a "Raid on Bungeling Bay"-esque feeling as if life in the evil empire was going on off-screen, throwing tons of enemy fighters, and bosses at the player, who had a nifty homing missle feature to defend himself...the best defense being a good offense, and all that.

The site includes a neat little applet letting you scroll over the map detail, and the locations for all the goodies. It's so funny seeing such obsessive geek detail...I was thinking about reviewing this game for classicgaming.com, to go along with my review of Crossroads and Crossroads II but never got beyond making animated GIFs for it...which I dug up here, and added a few more for a fuller set. Amazing what they could do with a 16*16 grid, and 16 colors...

It's funny, I only saw the game at this little funky ice cream parlor in Cleveland Heights (you could bring in anything and they'd turn it into icecream so long as you promised to buy a certain amount of it) and when I see that page, I get a bit of sensory impression of that old place, even though I was only there a few times.

kirk "sweet life" israel

Holy cow, it's Daylight Saving Time? I only heard about it once on the radio beforehand. (Hmm, though if it's always the first Sunday of April, I can program that logic into my Palm.)

Dream of the Moment
I had an odd dream last night. Dizzy Gillespie was giving some kind of concert playing multiple pianos at once, big stride piano stuff. (yes I know that wasn't his primary instrument.) Something happened to him and he wasn't able to finish, so they did some kind of operation to me that copied his skillset so I was able to take over the show... finishing up Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor he had started (don't know what happened to the stride piano stuff) in front of an audience on these multiple pianos, but they were specially rigged so that they had some organ keys as well. It was very athletic, moving from piano to piano, and my general memory of the piece helped keep things moving as I read the sheet music, though my ability to play piano like that was new from the operation.

Afterwards there was an audience Q+A though most people were hoping to have asked a Dizzy a question, not me.

Finally some guy was encouraging me to take a middle nickname for myself. He explained that back in the day, talented performers would take a name that implied their ability to put themselves on easy street, though recently the practice had fallen out of vogue because people didn't want to tempt fate that way. So I chose the name Kirk "Sweet Life" Israel.

Link of the Moment
Continuing my miniset of new (to me) video game links, Hardcore Gaming 101 reviews some old highly-regarded favorites, with a special emphasis on series of a single title, including the ports to the various systems.


More odd dreams last night! This time I was some sort of liason to (a presumably pre-war) Iraq. Saddam was showing me around a rather college campus-like collection of buildings, and showing me where he did some light martial arts training etc. But overall he was just kind of dumb old guy.

Link of the Moment
Completing the miniset of game links, I was Googling up some information on Archon and came up with this page, The Secrets of Archon. For the most part it's not so much secrets as in-depth analysis, but still. Archon was a great game, sort of like that little "hologoraphic monster chess" game R2D2 and Chewbacca play in Star Wars come to life in the early 80s. (BTW, someone should really try to make that game a reality...I think the problem is it's not clear what that game is called, it's tough to Google for) Archon was a good example of balanced-but-not-mirrored forces and one-on-one combat that appeared again in "Star Control" (by some of the same people, by and large.)

Anyway, that article is from a newish site, VintageComputing.com. It's a well-written blog about our not-too-long-ago electronic past, both with home computers and with gaming.


Quote of the Moment
"I'm not saying my mother drank a lot, but I was 30 before I learned Peppermint Schnapps isn't generally considered a cure for menstrual cramps."
MELAS (My Ever Lovin' Aunt Susan, at my recent birthday dinner.)
Apparently I have a taste for whisky sours that echoes my grandmothers... though in some small way it comes from Garrison "Drinking whiskey sours with a Catholic girl and thinking lustful thoughts, I had earned death three times over" Keillor.

Geekery of the Moment
Yesterday I mentioned it was tough to get info on that holographic monster game R2D2 and Chewbacca play in the first Star Wars movie, but I guess I wasn't Googling hard enough. I guess the title is "Dejarik Holochess" and like all things Star Warsy, fanboys have tried to make it more of a reality... here's a French guy making it out of clay (click on Dejarik at top, the dork doesn't support direct linking), here's some info with a screenshot, and here's even more details.

01:02:03 04/05/06

Time of the Moment
My mom forwarded me this note:

This Wednesday, at two minutes and three seconds after 1:00 in the morning, the time and date will be 01:02:03 04/05/06.

That won't happen again for a thousand years.
...But as far as I can April Fifth 2106 would be written the same way under this system, so it's only 100 years to go. Or am I missing something? (I've seen another site that I thought was claiming "this would never happen again" but it turns out they meant "for you, unless you become a really old geezer")

Personally I think it was a lot less unique than 11/19/1999, which was the last date with all odd digits until 3111. And today's interesting date relies on a date notation I don't like that much, mm/dd/yy.

Clock of the Moment
Speaking of time, if it wasn't for that rant about a terrible design for my alarm clock that I wrote here about 5 years ago, I don't think I would have figured out how to set it forward for DST. I still have the clock though, doing adequate service as a radio as I shower and shave and letting me know how late I'm running in the morning.

Ranting can be very useful!

Quote of the Moment
If you aren't tall, rich, or smart, then funny may be your best shot.
"Dentyne-ism #102".
I wasn't expecting such decent fortune cookie-like quotes from my gum. Also, the gum comes in a swing-down fold out pack...a lot more elegant than the push-through foil and plastic sheets that are so popular for gum these days.

Image of the Moment

--Not my ideal for April 5th. Though judging by this kisrael entry, we've had it as late as the 26th some years.


Tool of the Moment
Another specialty tool, k/grep is a primitive version of grep functionality. (Print only the lines from a bunch of text containing a specific substring.)

Exchange of the Moment
"Tranquility Base, you're cleared for liftoff."
"Roger, we're number one on the runway."
NASA's "Houston" and Buzz Aldrin
...that's a pretty funny thing for an astronaut to say.

Update of the Moment
At the moment I'm on the Tufts campus, a little time to spare before the memorial service for Prof. Schmolze, so I thought I'd check out a few things that are usually closed during the evenings and weekends I'm usually back here.

Like Eaton Computer Lab...different use of the space, though it's still a huge room, guess they never acted on the idea of adding a second level. They've moved the Macs here as well, rather than the old PC/VT100 split. I was actually student manager of the PC labs when I was here, and the people manning the counter are pretty indulgent of some silly questions "is it still like that?" and "you know, I was on the team that helped bring Internet to all the dorms! For most of my time here I had to use a modem!"

Funny to think about how much richer the 'net is these days in terms of interesting things, in particular the web. Hell I was here through the school's teething pains as students decided to get on this e-mail thing en masse, and saw the first few web browsers we had up. That Mosaic...whew! Pictures and text...too bad we only have it on these big ol' Sun X-terminals.

I still have to ask what's substituting for those boisterous washing-machine size line printers all the Stats students would print out reams and reams of data with.

Phew, I'm gettin' old. Better than the alternative, as attending the memorial service of a former teacher who didn't make it to his mid-50s brings home.

UPDATE: actually, they did add a second level after all, but wisely decided to renovate the classrooms that were lurking underneath the lab into additional PC space, and then build stairs going down into that.

Exchange of a Far Past Moment
She's immortal!"
"You're amoral?"
"You're a mural??"
"You're a moray eel???
Dining Hall silliness between Rick H. and myself in like 1994, though I'm not 100% sure who had which line.

running away to see the circus

It turns out that it's harder than you might expect to give away tickets to the Circus, at least on a Thursday. But in the end I'm glad Ksenia decided to go... her class got cancelled anyway, and all I had to do was duck out a tad early from Prof. Schmolze's memorial service (I guess I could try to rationalize it as fitting in the "celebrating life" mandate for the service, though that's pretty transparent.)

underpasses are for going under

Driving Directions of the Moment
You'll be on 3N for about 11 miles. Go past the Lowell connector. Then past the 495 exits, under the underpasses. Don't go over the underpasses, I can't stress this point enough, the underpasses are for going under.
Jim Graves e-mailing directions to his house for "Psychotronic Movie Night" a long time ago
...for some reason "underpasses are for going UNDER" comes to me everytime I hear the phrase underpass... it was an especially lovely bit of gratuitous goofiness, since there was no way in particular to get over on those underpasses from that road.

busy busy busy

Probably not much on kisrael today... too many things going on, but I wanted just to say...hey.

stretch the world

--The world as stretched by incoming tourism... linked to by cellar.. this and many more at worldmapper

Aside of the Moment
Previously I had kisrael'd my preference for Dunkin' Donuts over Starbucks, framing it as kind of a classwar thing. It has another angle as well, as I discovered in Washington DC, where it was either Krispy Kreme or Au Bon Pain as my main morning options... I really prefer the way DD will have their people add the milk and sugar for you. I find something satisfying in be handed a cup of ready to drink coffee, rather than something I have to take over to a little counter, open up, open the pack of sugar, add it, find the right kind of cream or milk, add it, stir, and seal it all back up.

The former feels more like buying a finished product rather than just handed a blank cup of coffee, and I'm not so sensitive about the "perfect" amount of cream or sugar that I feel the need to micromanage it.

Judging by their radio spots, McDonalds hs figured this out as well, because they're giving "we add the cream and sugar for you!" as a selling point.


Video of the Moment
I think it's a "viral" marketing campaign for the camera, but Bad Quality Office Chairs is worth a giggle. If you check the behind the scenes shots...that's a pretty high quality light truck it looks like they have there. Plus it seems a little odd to be advertising a high-def camera with compressed quicktime video, but still.... the Superglue video is also done well but a bit predictable, and the Hydraulics one is just kind of pointless. (Thanks Mr. Ibis!)

give me liberty or give me breasts

Breasts of the Moment
Boingbong reported that one of the French protestors re-enacted Eugène Delacroix's "Liberty Leading the People", bare-breasts and all. (I remember my mom answering questions I had about that painting with explanations of how it was kind of like a metaphor for freedom.) This is kind of a cool collision of sex, politics, and art, though I keep thinking how much her hat (seen better in some of the other links from the BoingBoing article) looks like what Papa Smurf was wearing.

Game Link of the Moment
Of intense interest to a small subset of people who keep up with kisrael... a page on StarFox 2, the unreleased SNES sequel to the classic, with a 45 minute gameplay movie. It looks like an outstanding game, a real pity that it got pushed-aside for the much prettier but entirely more pedestrian Starfox 64. This game has an interesting framework where you have to travel on a map screen, zooming into battle as enemies keep advancing in real-time on the map. Kind of like a supercharged version of the old 2600 game Space Attack.

Quote of the Moment
Love is the difficult realization that something other than oneself is real.
Iris Murdoch

interview with steve harter, creator of crossroads and crossroads ii

A while back ClassicGaming.com published my review of the obscure-ish C=64 classics Crossroads and Crossroads II... but somehow I neglected to mention the games author, Steve Harter. Recently I found a different tribute page by a gal named dessgeega... (her site is also the source of yesterday's Starfox 2 link)...in later correspondance she mentioned that Steve Harter had written her about her site. It turns out Steve was amenable to an e-mail conversation with me, and agreed to let me edit into the interview format below. (Anything that doesn't seem to flow, that's due to my faults as an interview editor...)
How old were you when you wrote Crossroads? Did you do anything else for the C=64, or any other of those systems?

I was 17 at the time when I developed CR1. I also did a couple more "magazine" games unrelated to Crossroads for the C64. They basically helped my pay for college (in computer science of course).

Really?? How well did those magazines pay?

I said "helped pay" ;) For CR2 it was like $5,000 including upfront and royalties but back in the 80s that went a long way...

I kick myself though for not trying to make Crossroads a bit better and getting a cartridge publisher -- I assume the royalties would have been much better.

Could be! Though I never thought of the C=64 as being much of a cartridge machine. And, in retrospect, I think Crossroads was retro even then or maybe... arcade-y, relative to that era's trend of longer games with bigger and more involved worlds.

I wonder if I worked on the cartridge version if I would have tried to do a big world too... something with a story line or an arena playoff theme perhaps with a real ending (not just a game over) --

How well was the game received?

I got a few fan letters forwarded from Compute -- for one kid I gave him a workaround so he could have more than 9 shields because he was upset that the other characters could have more than 9 (he was right).

As a gamer, I'm mostly interested in multiplayer games through the ages, and Crossroads has a fantastic Co-op or Compete factor. Plus I've noticed that most any game that does a good job of throwing a swarm of enemies at you tends to catch my attention. I've always said that Crossroads was special for making you feel like just one more monster type among other monsters....

I really enjoy playing games with other (human) players -- all of the four games I created for the C64 were two-player simultaneous that basically limited the game to an overhead view (before split screen became feasible)

I've always admired how skillfully Crossroads uses the C=64's character graphics, especially with having characters move in half-character steps, other character-based games weren't so fine-grained... Did your ideas about the possibilities of character-based graphics drive the design of the game, or vice-versa?

The idea of a lot of characters moving around the screen with AI interested me such as Robotron and Wizard of Wor. But making a Robotron-style game perform for the c64 would have been impossible due to all of the pixel blits and collision detection needed since there could only be 8 sprites. So I started tinkering with a Wizard of Wor style game that could use characters instead of pixel blits or sprites and thus thought of using one- and two-character transition animation.

Did you come up with all the monsters and names on your own?

I created all everything in the game on my own (characters, sounds, etc) but Compute named the characters and did the magazine artwork.

Do you recall how the monster allies/enemies rules worked? Were some especially bitter rivals? How did the AI work in general?

Well the yellow, red and blue were friends, light tan guy and horse thing were friends, two grey soldiers were friends, I think the rest were enemies. Nothing in the AI for being more bitter over one enemy vs. another

The core AI aspects of CR are based on how far he can see, if he runs or chases other enemies and who the friends are. I wish I could have done more here, such as worms that would take up more than one character block. I also wish I would have made one change to the game: for an "eating" character I wish I would have given him an extra shield every time he took one from someone. It would have completely changed the game.

That snake I idea sounds awesome... but those eating lemonsharks were tough already!

How did you manage to keep the players moving at a constant speed, even as the monsters were slogged down?

For the constant speed of the two players and their bullets, I basically set a "heartbeat" variable in the interrupt loop (every 1\60th sec) that the main (infinite) loop checked after every non-player character was displayed. The player's bullets move at full speed so if you look at the player's bullets every 1\60th of a second they move one half of a character. There is also an algorithm used to speed up the other characters over time based upon another heartbeat variable.

Oh, so the speedup isn't just a byproduct of a fully loaded processor? I was thinking about Lore Sjoeberg's Book of Ratings quote about Space Invaders:
As you killed off the low-res interplanetary menace, the remaining would-be conquerors, fueled by revenge and freed-up CPU cycles, would steadily increase in speed, until one last Invader would be zipping across your screen like a Yorkie on crystal meth.
I always thought that applied to CR as well...

It does increase in speed if characters are killed too fast, but eventually will slow down if you don't keep killing more of them too fast. I don't remember the algorithm off the top of my head, but it adjusts a tiny bit faster\slower every few seconds to try to find the best fit for the current level and how long you have been playing the current level. The first level starts out painfully slow for the little players, and I think by level 16 or so it is running at full speed even with a few enemies.

Such attention to detail!

What about those cool explosions? Are those sprites, or direct pixel drawing, or what?

The explosions\implosions are sprites. I now wish I wouldn't have displayed the score at the end though -- too korny. To save magazine space, the sprites are randomly created during bootstrapping so are different every time you run the game. I think there are four sets of explosions generated so they also vary for a single game session too.

Did that mean there were only 8 explosions possible at once?

Yes, they just cycle through

Did you do line of site for monsters? I was thinking that limited vision, besides being more realistic, also would mean less computation.

Yes I think the blue fleas could only see like 4-5 spaces which definitely cut down on the computation

I remember trying to pick up assembly programming on the C=64 but it totally kicked my pre-adolescent butt... I finally manged to make my own game for the Atari 2600 in ASM, and even though it's known to be a tough platform, in some ways the stripped-down environment might be easier to get a handle on...

I would dread coding the 2600, I agree that it would be harder IMO to write a playable game on the 2600 than the C64. The C64's support for customizable character set, SID, sprites, smooth scrolling and memory size just made it an awesome game machine at the time. I learned ASM because BASIC was just too slow for anything. Two books I couldn't have lived without were "mapping the 64" and a 6510 assembly language reference (I still have these). I actually used Compute's crappy free LADS assembler because I was too poor to buy one (thus the reason why I got into cheap paper magazine games).

Other tidbits about the game:
1) In CR2 the dog at level 20 becoming stronger and aggressive
2) I put my initials in one of the mazes in CR2, as did Randy T. did for the sample maze in the Maze Editor he wrote for CR2
3) There is also a rare bug that causes a hidden wall to be added, but I didn't try too hard to fix that since I thought it was an interesting effect
4) CR1 doesn't have my name in the game because Compute blanked it out before publishing. The CR2 version I sent Compute did not have my name scroll by, but if someone typed in the program from the magazine or if the game detected the loader for those who bought the disk then my name was shown. The check for the typed-in program worked because Compute always put 0's in the last few fill bytes of the last line of program but they were normally 255's in memory. So I basically got my name there without them knowing about it.

That's really clever, I love it! About that loyal dog... would it ever turn on you if you shot it? (Or am I just thinking of Nethack?)

No it doesn't turn on you... It would have been funny though. It's been a while since I've gotten to level 20+ though...

What do you think of the Crossroads fansites, and the interest in retro gaming in general?

Just a couple years ago I installed a C64 emulator with the CR2 ROM and got teary eyed (it was probably 10 years prior to that the last time I fired up my C64 and played it). I also got teary eyed the first time I got MAME working and played some old classics. So I definitely understand this retro gaming thing. Today I enjoy playing CR2 via emulator with my 7-year old son -- it's funny but he can beat me at Mario Kart but doesn't have a chance against me in CR2.

Have you seen XRoads, a port of the game to X-Windows?

I never tried try the XRoads port but would like to. I gotta get started on the port to a modern console ;-) I think it would be cool though to create the retro port plus a newer, online version of the game where each character could be a real person.

Well, thanks very much for your time and insightful answers!

Thank you, it's been fun talking about this
Dessgeega's tribute page has a video of the gameplay, and my classicgaming.com review has the downloads...it's worth checking out, this game didn't receive nearly enough attention.

book 'em danno

Well, glad to see yesterday's interview got a little bit of feedback... I realize that it's rather esoteric for the bulk of the regulars here. It's nice to have a place to put stuff like that though, where it can get a little attention.

Link of the Moment
The sheer chutzpah of OneRedPaperclip is a wonder to behold. A guy starts with a single red paperclip and a plan to try to use it to barter his way to a house. A house! He got some sweetheart deals, especially early on, but through 10 trades he's already up to a year's free rent in Phoenix. Like million dollar homepage, this is probably one of those "why didn't I think of that" one-time-only tricks. Still pretty cool, and the writeups are fun to read.

Decluttering of the Moment
This past weekend I helped EB and his wife move. There were some extenuating circumstances that forced us to get everything moved in a hurry without all the weeding out they had hoped to get to. Although I don't think I'm as clutter-iffic as that, I'm trying to capitalize on an undercurrent of wanting to get rid of the extraneous stuff. I'm trying to foster a mantra that getting rid of the cruft will leave more room for the stuff I really love. I can almost envision my personal belonings get a little nervous as I give various shelves the evil eye, envisioning what I could live without...

Of course, the toughest thing has always been books. I've gone through a few weedings, but never a major purge. (Part of the difficulty is, of course, that I think of books as kind of a hallmark of being a smart person.) I've been trying to think of what harsher criteria I could apply:
  1. If I can recall quoting the book, or feel I have a non-trivial emotional response when I see it now, it stays.
  2. If I have an honest expectation of being able to read it within the next few years, it can stay.
  3. Books that might not meet those criteria, but are in a collection of other books by the same favorite author can get a pass.
  4. Books that are there mostly because they look impressive should not stay.
  5. Everything else should probably go.
Books usually aren't too clutter-iffic beause they stay neatly on shelves for the most part, but my thinking is a bit warped by the amount of moving I did last weekend, and realizing how bulky and heavy they can be en masse. Again it comes down to thinking I could scale down into a room or two as a living arrangement if there was some reason to do so.

Politics of the Moment
Retired Generals against Rumsfeld. S'funny, last night "En Pointe" (I think) had a thing on the 31 days of the Gerald Ford presidency, and they mentioned how the neocons, especially Rumsfeld and Cheney, were just begining to gather power and formulating an ideology to replace the Realpolitik of Kissinger. (I love the fundamental ideal of realpolitik, that practical concerns and goals should outweigh broad ideological ideals, though in practice there are some big questions with acting on that.)

had had had had

Puncuation Fun of the Moment
Puncuate the following so that it makes sense...if you give up, hit Ctrl-A or highlight the text (with its ten HADs) and reveal the puncuation:


My coworker Tim showed that to me yesterday, I HADn't seen it before.

Kittens of the Moment
Ksenia's family is catsitting Mia, a mamacat who just had herself a batch of kittens...last night FoSO, FoSOSO, Ksenia and I headed over for some kitten therapy. I was going to dole the photos out one per day but Ksenia accused me of being too stingy, so here you go all at once...

for all your century old needs

Link of the Moment
The 1902 Sears Roebuck Catalog makes for some mighty fine blogging.

Kid Art of the Moment
--as BoingBoing points out, the MC Escher winner of the Worth1000 contest of great artists works as children has elements from Concave And Convex, Waterfall, and Belvedere. "D- SEE ME", heheh.

quotes quotes quotes

Political Jab of the Moment
"Bush seems to be wrapped in bubbles, surrounded by sycophants. Bush was in Tampa today in front of one of those invited audiences he speaks to. The first question, this is not a joke, said the nation was blessed to have Bush as president. That was a question. The second one called Jeb 'your great brother.' You know, at least when Clinton got blown it was in private."
Bill Maher

News Article Not Getting It of the Moment
He said one of his main interests was the online role-playing game "Kingdom of Loathing," in which stick figures battle one another.
Apparently that terribly misleading description combined with the site's title is evidence enough to make "Kingdom of Loathing" the sub-headline for what a depressed and loser-ish guy he is. KoL is a very goofy, friendly parody of traditional RPGs. "Ooh look the game encourages people to become 'Seal Clubbers'... oh the humanity!... And the currency is meat, and this guy was trying to become a cannibal! Eegads!"

More Politics of the Moment
It unfortunately appears that two of the retired generals do not understand the true nature of this radical ideology, Islamic extremism, and why we fight in Iraq. We suggest they listen to the tapes of United 93.
OK, I have to admit that the number of generals who have spoken up is pretty small. But some of these arguments! "We suggest they listen to the tapes of United 93"...right, as if that's the issue. Those tapes possibly indicate the urgency of the situation, that we're facing some really awful people, and is not a validation that our current path is correct, especially in regards to Iraq.

If these generals are correct in pinning some of the anti-Rumsfeld sentiment as stodgey, anti-"joint expeditionary force" thinking, well.... so what. It's clear Rumsfeld hoped stuff like Iraq could be done on the cheap, and he was largely wrong, and they fired guys who tried to speak up and say that it was going to be more expensive than the Administration wanted to hear.

Finally, the whole "shut up because this is a time of War!" thing is Orwellian to a scary degree. Even if we weren't actively engaged in Iraq, we're still in a "War Against Terror" that HAS NO FORESEEABLE CONCLUSION. Assuming a retired general is a civillian, I don't see how there comments go against our nation's sacred tradition of civilian-bossed military forces.

News of the Moment
I know it's foolish to think it would be otherwise but I actively enjoy how the wheelchair Marathoners are much faster than the people doing it on foot.

angry and lacrosse

I know I'm being small-minded in several ways by thinking like this, but hearing about the Duke University lacrosse players makes me think.... Lacrosse? Why are schools getting so serious about a sport with such a niche place in the popular consciousness?

Quote of the Moment
One ought never to turn one's back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half.
Winston Churchill
It's a great point... less of an exaggeration than it might first sound... and I'm trying to apply to my life at work, especially when there's a task I feel intimidated by. I tend to want to run and hide in those cases, and that's really not a useful strategy.

As FoSO can attest, I found the quote while looking for that famous Churchill exchange, "Sir, you're drunk!" "Yes, Madam, I am. But *BLLAAAAAARGH* blu ble prtooey....."

Link of the Moment
Niiiice, a a kind of "alt.humor.best-of-slashdot", SeenOnSlash.

beep bop boop

Game and Map of the Moment

--I made this map playing through INVADER... you play a little lost Space Invader trying to get home, with only John Wu-style dual-wielded laser guns for protection. It's a lovely short story of a homebrew retrogame, a great way to spend an evening. It has an interesting mechanic where you can only shoot sideways, sports finely-tuned boards where you can just barely squeak by, and a forgiving nature where you can keep trying a level 'til you get it. It's Windows-only (and a few PCs seem to have trouble with it and its DirectX nature... plus sometimes it take a bit to load after you start it up) but it's a great download (headed by the same gal who did the Crossroads page I linked to a few days back...she may also be plotting a sequel to that.)

Anecdote of the Moment
I gave Ksenia a lift to the T this morning. Since I'm going to my yoga class after work, I was carrying my PJ-style pants I wear for that. She said "Nice Pants". I was going to suggest that she follow that up with the rest of that pick-up line, "bet they'd look great on my bedroom floor!" but then I realized, no, she's already seen these pants on the bedroom floor... along with too many other clothes, especially when we let the laundry go to long, and to be honest they don't look all that great there.

Video of the Moment
Via boingboing, India Traffic...wow.

the beep symphony


We're here to invite you to an unprecedented investment opportunity, You'll not only be in a position to get an excellent return on investment, you'll be helping to support the arts. And not just any arts, but innovative performance art; automotive music on a scale never imagined previously. The Beep Orchestra will stand as a unique series of events in the histories of both Autocology and Art.

It's an audacious undertaking, but we have an ace in the hole; the entire affair will be led by the world famous drunken mechanic Ivan Ivanov. The musical might of the mechanical maestro, this marvelous maven of music, his engineering expertise and explosive euphonious enthusiasm as seen in his excellent engines and exceedingly engaging edits is known around the world, along with his well-neigh superhuman abilities to consume alcohol in quantities so vast that his bar tab has been compared to the budget of some small nations, Ivanov has been heralded around the world and is cherished and beloved by millions of fans across the planet. His admirers range from bitter music school dropouts who are moved to tears by his ability to construct a harmony so beautiful it can only be played by an electronic musician (any human musician is moved to tears before the melody's haunting conclusion) to crusty old mechanics who have heard the tales of how he retrofitted a classic VW bug with a New York City transit bus' mighty diesel engine, from children who forever remember the Christmas saved by the surprise gift of a solar powered music box, to housewives who have been utterly charmed by his gruff manner and manly good looks.

We're proposing a travelling road show, a core of 500 drivers and their vehicles going across the country, joined by another 500 local artistic visionaries at each performance location. Concerts will be in local sports arenas, with no venue seating less than 30,000 being considered.

Recruiting will be intense. Posters in mechanic's shops will be key; we're going to offer free repairs for people whose vehicles are failing in ways that have certain desired acoustic properties. (The mechanics, many of whom were apprentices to Ivanov, others who have taken his online correspondence course, will receive special instruction in recognizing candidate vehicles, and then in how to persuade their owners to join in the magnificent caravan we are here proposing.) Also, Gas Stations and Junk Yards will sport magnificent banners in brilliant colors, proudly informing people of the mechanical musical mandate that compels us to this tremendous, unprecedented work of performance art.

Perhaps a quick review of the five sections of the Beep Orchestra's Symphony is in order, to take our vision from dry abstraction to visceral imagination, before we push forward and make it historic reality:

Ivanov will find the inner beauty of the horn of every vehicle, from the tiniest tinbox import to the mightiest hulking semitruck. He will make tuning adjustments when needed, and then group every vehicle into large harmonic groups. Ivanov was in a drunken snooze when we went to find out exactly how many groups, but we've heard estimates of between 20 and 30. It's been estimated that Mozart in his prime could have written for about 16 modern car horns, and that calculating the fifth or sixth level harmonics would leave the world's fastest and largest supercomputers as smoldering, hulking wrecks.... and yet this is exactly what Ivanov will do. We're already preparing the requisite crates of schnapps and cranberry flavored vodka he has ordered for the final time of composition.

Here, the mighty trucks will reflect the existential sorrow of an irrational world! Ivanov has already completed a melody of exceeding sadness and soul-stirring beauty. He will configure a bevy of giant semitrucks (and possibly the engine of a freight train, depending on the arrangements available at the local arena) to perform this work....moving in both the literal and figurative senses. Specially constructed megaphones will allow the precise asynchronicity of the engines to generate the saddest song the audience will have ever heard. Ivanov will direct the precision drivers in the revving of their awesome engines to produce this unprecedented emotional event.

After the sadness of the previous movement, the Symphony will move into an spiritually uplifting Aria. Unlike the previous movements, this work will be all about cars in motion and emotion, driving in a tremendous asphalt oval, especially engineered to be reassembled at each arena (carried to the location by the same trucks that featured so prominently in the previous movement) Through a diabolically clever series of stoplights and lane merging signs, a gloriously joyful song will emerge, with heavily miked windshield wipers providing a flowing percussive undercurrent. At every moment, cars will be on the verge of colliding, turning into fireballs of metal and steel, but the ability of these drivers and their cars to survive and prosper will be a testament to the strength of the human spirit under trying conditions.

Only Ivanov would be able to draw out the beauty and music that lies between the stations on an average car radio. An entire series of car radios will be wired into a specially modified keyboard where Ivanov will take direct control over the happenings. In preparation, Ivanov will have both consumed no less than 3 gallons of the local microbrewed beer as well as listened to at least 5 hours of the local radio spectrum, absorbing the local flavor and plotting a unique piece that will be electric for the audience, in a literal and figurative sense.

The triumphant conclusion to the evening's mechanomusical events...these vehicles will generally be old cars and trucks, each badly in need of a tuneup. Ivanov will carefully adjust and modify each engine to backfire in a precisely choreographed way. Similar in form to the Dirge that preceded it, but utterly different in the sense of mood and spirit, the Backfire Chorus will bring the audience to its feet, women throwing babies up in the air, men cheering until their throats are raw like beef tartare. Never again in the history of music or engines will there be a moment of such intensity... the audience will pass the tale of this experience onto their children, and future generations will speak of the legendary Beep Orchestra led by the demigod known as Ivanov.

Obviously an endeavor such as this will be a tremendous challenge....the logistics of engineering, importation of fine liqueurs, securing the appropriate insurance, and publicizing and training the artists to a sufficient degree is enough to make Hercules think about going and finding a nice corner to sit and weep for a bit. But we don't have Hercules...we have Ivanov, and thus the success of this adventure is guaranteed.

We need funding. Already major oil companies are lining up for sponsorship, and every major auto manufacturer, foreign and domestic, are jousting to be more prominently represented in the assembly of cars. With these organizations, as well as other interested investors such as yourself, we will be able to get the financing the Beep Symphony will require. The pre-order tickets have already accounted for half of the necessary total; investors are projected to get four or five times their money back.

Be part of the Beep Symphony. Be part of the mechanomusical history of mankind.

--For an artschool project, Ksenia asked me to whip up some raw text for an idea she had. She's supposed to make up various promotional media for a hypothetical event Unfortunately, this kind of text wasn't the more mundane planning material the teacher was looking for, but I had fun with it anyway. The artwork is hers.

such a card!

Hope yesterday's work wasn't too much of a slog for people, or if they just blew it off...I had a lot of fun writing it a few weeks ago

Lyric and Digression and Link of the Moment
I know that the spades are the swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that's not the shape of my heart
Sting, "Shape of My Heart"
It's a good song and all, but it occurs to me as a little unbalanced, how half the suits (♠,♣) are related to fighting, with only and otherwise. It seems like...I dunno, having spades me the "tool of the farmer" or something would be more balanced, then you'd have food, fight, money, love, which seems to cover more conceptual territory than fight, fight, money, love.

Anyway, I enjoyed Wikipedia's entry on the history of Playing Cards. There's definately some kind of magic to all that I think.

Decoration of the Moment

--I hadn't realized the card suits were built into browser character sets; I like it. Reminds me a little of making art and "screenshots" with special characters on the old 8bits.

day of the earth

Link of the Moment
Happy Earth Day from Jeffrey Ventrella... he wrapped several Cellular Automata that he previously evolved around an interesting globe display with appropriate "earth tones", so to speak.

Animation of the Moment

    --Another Small GIF Cinema...
doesn't loop too well, but... kitten!

remember, kids, it's all thanks to *science*!

So the other day I decided to go catch the Boston Museum of Science Star Wars exhibit before it headed out of town, pay a bit of homage to the Trilogy that still has such a visceral grasp on my imagination, with Ksenia in tow.

monkey boogie

Video and Quote of the Moment
"Monkeys whose brains have evolved to such an umanageable size that it's now pretty much impossible for them to stay happy for any length of time. In fact, they're the only animals that think they're supposed to be happy. All the other animals can just be. But it's not that simple, for the monkeys..."
I liked the (literally) old school slide format, with the little "beep" for each slide. (I also liked how it pointed out in terms of nuclear war, "so the monkeys wage war... the monkeys make hydrogen bombs... the monkeys have got their entire planet wired up to explode... the monkeys just can't help it.") (Thanks FoSO!)

Quote of the Moment
"Man, as we know him, is a poor creature; but he is halfway between an ape and a god and he is traveling in the right direction."
Dean William R. Inge
... a similar if slightly more optimistic sentiment than the above video's

i gaze upon the cellphone options before me, and weep

My cellphone kind of died the other day, it refused to take a charge, and there was a whiff of smoke around it.

Before settling on bringing it in for repair, or rather replacement, I took a look at the handset offerings from Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint.

Man, cellphone design in this country ain't a vast wasteland, but it's no Garden of Eden either.

No one makes "nice and compact" a priority these days. Even the phones out to make themselves super-thin end up being tall and wide. And then everyphone has to stuff itself so full of gizmos that it ends up fat and bulky...especially with the clamshell design, which is the only type I'll go for. (I'm tempted to go back to my 2001 Samsung but I guess it doesn't do text messaging. But now I appreciate its design; compact screen, and a flip design with a thin cover that merely protects the keypad rather than having the keys embedded in it.)

T-Mobile had the Motorola PEBL... as you can see by the "artsy" timedisplay it seems like they're giving a lot more thought to the aesthetics of it... the appeal for me was the nice rubberized texture of the outer shell. But even with that I'd worry about the strength of the cute little special hinge it has.

But Sprint/Nextel swapped my phone for free, and I couldn't really justify the expense of a new phone...it's not a bad model despite my gripes with it. (Pity that Samsung/Palm hybrid was such crap software-wise.) I had to manually move numbers over, and I lost the video of the Euclid municipal Fireworks that was my "video wallpaper". Oh well.

Oh, and I have one more new grip about the current phone: I can assign custom ringers to individuals in my phonebook, and there's a feature for a distinct ringer "with caller id" vs "no caller id", but no distinct setting for "in phonebook" vs "not in phonebook", which would actually be useful to me, instead I'd have to set the ringer for each phonebook entry seperately.

Am I that much of a UI prima donna, and/or assuming too much that people work the way I do, or are the people who make these things just not all that bright?

Sports Quote of the Moment
Baseball is the only major sport that appears backwards in a mirror.
George Carlin

Scariness of the Moment
Dunkin' Donuts is spreading its wings. The chain is expanding nationwide and plans to triple in size within the next 10 years.
Ugh, maybe Candi is right, this is like a mold. I like the vibe relative to Starbucks, but still... they're frickin' everywhere, popping up in stripmalls and inside regular malls and other places that still seem weird to me.

Gotta give them props for They Might Be Giants tunage though.


It hits me that I'm generally overdue for deciding about how I feel about having kids. Historically, my thinking has been that having kids is this weirdly cosmic thing that you can't really grok 'til it happens to you, and that's what possibly made it worth the price of admission of your old life, your old life with its relative abundance of free time and free cash. This was countered by my general sense of anxiety, worried about being so completely responsible for another being, and also uncertainty about the World As We Know It continuing on its merry way.

Lately, though, as the generation just ahead of me begins to have major issues with aging parents, I'm begining to wonder if kids are becoming de facto retirement policies (especially given uncertainties with Social Security and what not.) I've heard so many stories about families dealing with older members who are experiencing alzheimers and other conditions that I wonder what's happening to the old folks who don't have that kind of support system, and what the odds are that I'll end up one of them if I stay on my current course...


Quote of the Moment
The way to have good ideas is to have lots of ideas.
Linus Pauling
Pauling is the discoverer of how atoms bond with other atoms, later known for his peace activism, and they say second only to Einstein in terms of scientist public recognition... (I would say his fame has not been as long lasting though)

I'm reading Alan "Einstein's Dreams" Lightman's "The Discoveries". The author was supposed to be at my last United Universalist Science and Spirituality discussion group meeting, but couldn't make it at the last minute.

Video of the Moment
I kisrael'd some of Paul Robertsons art, which turns out was all prep work for this most amazing Video Game that never was, Pirate Baby's Cabana Battle Street Fight 2006. 112 megs, but so worth it for anyone who has ever played that old "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" Arcade game.

who's a widdle biddy blue bomber... oh yes you are!

--via Geek on Stun. I really had nothing interesting to say this morning, and it's been a few days since we've had pictures, and they review the new "kiddy" Mega Man game, and it's SOOOOO CUTE, so there you are.


Worked on decluttering last night. What a slog!

Random Kirk Anecdote: when I was in first or second grade or so my elementary school (St. Pats, in Salamanca, NY) decided to have a fundraiser by getting us kids to sell plastic tumblers. They gathered us all in the gym for some salesguy's demonstration. Part of the act was hurling a tumbler fullforce against a wall. Now I'm willing to give the guy the benefit of the doubt and believe his story that that particular tumbler had been his demo model for a bit too long, and believe that those tumblers were indeed reasonably durable, but the end of that sucker sheared right off.

For some reason I had some fool idea in my head about constructing steam-engine-y machines (I don't remember the details, I was pretty young) and though that the tumbler would make a good chimney. Or something. Anyway, I asked the guy for it, and he of course refused, looking kind of angry. And I can't blame the guy, he probably assumed I wanted to show off how durable the tumbler wasn't, and was probably a annoyed that his demonstration hadn't gone off as planned anyway.

Anyway, the moral I'm currently trying to take from that story is this: I need to tell myself to stop saving crap just because I have some fool idea in my head about making it useful at some uncertain point in the future. If the stuff needs to be unearthed, if it's been that far from the frontburner for so long, it's extremely unlikely to have a big utility in my life at any point. In fact, if the only reason I'm aware of it is the current decluttering effort, then its pretty easy to posit that in effect, the thing hasn't even really been existing for me, except in some ability to add to the clutter in my life.

The other lesson, without an anecdote at the moment, is I really don't need to be nostalgic about so much of the detritus of my life. Over the past few years I've gotten pretty good at recording life as it and I groove along. I have an electronic datebook with entries back to Spring of 1997, a "mundane journal" going back to June of 2000, a list of all the media I've worked through since 2000, and a website that I've updated daily since 2001. It's a well-documented life, I'm going to have plenty to look back on.

My guiding hope and principle is, the more inconsequential stuff I can ditch, the more mental and physical and emotional space there will be for the stuff I really find worthy.

It's sometimes tough to explain my burning desire to declutter to Ksenia, whose old life in Russia wasn't so immersed in goods of various types. (Though I remember her expressing mild amazement that all the stuff in my apartment was for one person.) Ditto for me not wanting to keep a full fridge... for me a full fridge is just a lot of temptation to distract myself with food, for her an empty fridge is a source of concern.

Link of the Moment
I was having a hard time conceptualizing inductive vs deductive reasoning, the diagrams and explanation on this page on Deduction & Induction came in handy.

night of the living fundamentalists

Pessimism of the Moment
I did not come away from watching United 93 feeling optimistic about the triumph of the human spirit and the superior resilience of enlightenment values. Quite the opposite. I came away with a feeling that history has been hijacked by a cult of the undead, or the wannabe dead, suicidal mass murderers driven by theocratic savagery.
I think he's a bit too pessimistic, I think the eternal vigilence the endless "War Against Terror" requires is going to be a pain in the ass, and there may well be tremendous acts of destruction in the future, but I don't see it as the "end of enlightenment civilization".

The article draws a parallel between "Day of the Dead", with its images of people in TV control rooms watching helplessly as the world they knew gets torn apart by undead zombies and our present situation with its risk from death-worshipping "We Love Death while You Love Life" assholes.

Damn, actually, that makes me scared and angry about religion in general. When you get in the habit of faith over "show me" skepticism, there might not BE a particularly strong reason for a culture to prefer life-affirming, positive belief over martyrdom-seeking "this world is nothing compared to the next" fantasylands. Maybe Dawkins was right, "To fill a world with religion, or religions of the Abrahamic kind, is like littering the streets with loaded guns."
After writing the above the other day, I read this Atlantic piece about how badly the administration has played Iran. It's a difficult situation that needed a much defter touch than our president and crew has ever displayed. Iran pretty much has us by the economic balls.

Another note.... how many more hardline hardcore Islamic fundamentalist governments have to get elected before we realize that widespread democracy might not be our friend in the Middle East? By coincidence, I added an old political pin to my courier bag from a collection my dad had made... "President Nixon / Now More Than Ever". I like it because it can both be used as a sly-ish commentary on the people currently in office, but it also kind of reflects my belief that we would have been better served by a Kissinger-esque sense of "realpolitik" post-9-11 than what we ended up with.

I recently heard an interpretation that states Islam has been in kind of a dark ages for centuries now. It seems to me that there's an inverse relationship between fundamentalism and human advancement. I suspect a balance between faith and science is useful to a society, but looking at how the secularist enlightenment brought Europe out of its Dark Ages.... of course the trouble is that there's not much stopping the fundamentalists from co-opting the technology and other forms of progress a more balanced approach applies... this has been going on for a long time in the Middle East and I think can be applied to some of the political situation here and now.

mainstream religion from various perspectives

T-Shirt Slogan of the Moment
If the world hates you, remember it hated me first.
Jesus as paraphrased on a T-shirt by Vicar Martin Ramshaw's Anglican ministry for Goths.

Cartoon Weirdess of the Moment
Yesterday I was at Ksenia's folks' house and her youngish brother was watching Boomerang, this channel with lots of old cartoons. I got to see snippets of Yogi's Ark Lark, the oddest, most vaguely sacrilegious mainstream cartoon I've seen in a long while.
"Yogi Bear and Boo Boo, joined by Magilla Gorilla, Wally Gator, Quick Draw McGraw and others, help Cap'n Noah in his quest to rid the world of environmental dangers while travelling around in a flying ark."
Modern cartoon casts and religious archetypes are kind of a weird combination...it reminded me of that folded out Disney mugbox a girlfriend of mine had as highschool locker decoration, where a stylized Mickey arm and glove seemed to have clear and obvious stigmata...I thought "Mickey Christ" was a bit much then too.

Those Hanna-Barbarians!

Blue Law of the Moment
This morning I thought to pop into Trader Joe's to pick up a bit of beer for a BBQ later, since I was in the neighborhood. I thought that the statewide prohibition on booze sales on Sunday, not just modified to allow sales after noon...

I just don't get it. For better or worse, we live in a convenience society. While in general we probably have more convenience than is good for us, arbitrary restrictions on that convenience need a good explanation, and paying homage to one particular religous tradition (as opposed to Jewish, Moslem, or I guess Seventh-Day Adventists) isn't sufficient. (I hate the counter-argument that goes like "c'mon, can't you give it a rest and give up the booze for one day/half-a-day?" Well, unless you have a good explanation for what that day should be, no. A similar argument, I guess, Hi Bill, is sometimes made for liquor store workers...and while I have sympathy for workers, it's not clear why that kind of worker should be singled out.)

I dunno. Maybe as an extremist moderate I should support what sounds like a not completely barking mad compromise between people to whom the restriction is symbolically important and...well, nearly everyone else. And the Wikipedia entry on Blue Laws claims that "the ubiquitous 'weekend' is also a result of blue laws", so maybe historically there's something to it. (Ever since seeing some bumper stickers pointing out the role Organized Labor has had in weekends and the 40-hour workweek, I'm kind of... I dunno, nervous about the alternate universe where that never happened.)

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