where the heart wasn'tart

(13 comments)
August 1, 2006

In general I'm a lazy guy, but when I get the idea for something that seems interesting and do-able, it almost doesn't matter how much effort it's going to take, I attack it like a pitbull. Case in point...

Project of the Moment
OK, this requires a bit of explanation. In 1990 there was a pretty nifty film callled Where The Heart Is-- unfortunately it has sort of been eclipsed by the film of the same name made a decade later.

It was an uneven film (one reviewer pointed out it would have made more sense if it had stayed set in London) but great in many ways. It's the story of 3 adult children (and some of their friends they enlist to help out) whose real-estate mogul father forces them to support themselves while living in an ugly-ish Brooklyn building they fought to save from his wrecking crew. One daughter, Chloe, is commisioned to make create and photograph a series of these lovely, large-scale trompe l'oeil works for an insurance calendar. The paintings feature a subject in body paint that causes them to match the backgrounds... it's quite a great effect. Many of the paintings seem to reference famous works, but I'm too much of a lout to get most of them.

It turns out that the artwork was actually by Timna Woollard... but information about her is very difficult to come by. I would gladly have paid for a small book or copy of the calendar, but there's nothing to be found online. (And, you know... if Google doesn't know about it it must not exist.)

The paintings are shown as a series at the end of the movie, behind the credits. But the credits are pretty distracting... so this weekend I made up a custom Java program to help me extract the background by splicing lines from frames where the text isn't. It was a lot of work.

<geekness level="severe" type="artsy">My first attempts were a simple program that let me select the sections by hand, but that was error prone, and annoying, and too much work in general. I tried a few more approaches, "averaging" the pixels over a series of frames (which, as expected, led to a big blur in the middle), an odd "voting" system where a pixel becomes the color it is the most often (left odd color sparkles all over the place, because of how I broke up the R/G/B information) until finally I made up a kind of primitive AI filter that could take a guess about whether or not a scanline currently had text on it (counting the areas of sharp contrast.) The end result still needed some hand-tweaking in picking out extra frames to import and rejecting 1 or 2 that could fool the heuristic, but it was much, much easier than what I tried to do originally.</geekness>

So here is the series, one day at a time. (Or more quickly if you enjoy hacking URLs) I think a reasonable Fair-Use argument can be made for it, or at least that no one yells at me for it. Once the series is finished I plan to make a simple app displaying the images together, with the option of embedding them in a calendar for any given year.

Art of the Moment

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"January" by Timna Woollard
from Where The Heart Is.


Painting Suggestion of the Moment
Stampede of Nudes

The trouble with most paintings of nudes is that there isn't enough nudity. It's usually just one woman lying there, and you're looking around going, 'Aren't there any more nudes?' This idea solves that.

What has frightened these nudes? Is it the lightning in the background? Or did one of the nudes just spook? You don't know, and this creates tension.

--Jack Handy, from this New Yorker Shouts and Murmurs that I heard him read on Studio360.

lights out, uh-huh

(3 comments)
August 2, 2006

Strolling from the local second run cinema last night, the lights went out on the block...then on, then out. It was a very localized problem, though. You forget how rarely you see a street without any lights on, just headlights from cars going past making crazy twisted shadows. Disturbing on a visceral level. (Especially with vague, Y2K-hangover neuroticism about some sort of EMP taking out the grid for a prolonged time.)

Quote of the Moment
"She had a Mount Rushmore T-shirt on. Those guys never looked so good. Kind of bloated. But happy. Especially Jefferson and Lincoln."
--Guy Noir in "A Prairie Home Companion". I'm not sure of the transcription, the two different references I could find put the Jefferson and Lincoln reference a little earlier.

Good flick though, unhurried, a bit melancholy and aware of its own finite nature. And some good music.


Art of the Moment

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"February", by Timna Woollard
from Where The Heart Is.


Politics of the Moment
I was feeling kind of smug, hearing about how Castro was handing over power not to some technocrat, but to his brother. Reminded me a bit of North Korea too. Suddenly having a father/son set of presidents with only one political opponent between them doesn't seem so bad! So take that, communist dictatorships!

Music of the Moment
I had never heard of the show UFO 'til Bill wrote about it, but I agree, it has some of the hippest music ever, as you can hear in this UFO audio / Star Trek visual mashup.

The other thing that video reminds me of... those visuals of the Enterprise passing a planet must have been pretty amazing for TV in the '60s.

scanlines live in vain

(4 comments)
August 3, 2006

It was so hot for sleeping the other night. My sleep was very fitful, and I remember one of those reality/dream merges where somehow working with scanlines would help me get to sleep... similar to the scanline work I did for my Artsy Project over the weekend. (Hmmm... is the relationship between "Art" and "Artsy Project" similar to the relationship between "Truth" and "Truthiness"?)

Art of the Moment

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"March", by Timna Woollard
from Where The Heart Is.


Toy of the Moment
So dessgeega, the same gamer who pointed me to the creator of Crossroads and wrote the brilliant old school game Invader has a regular column on gamesetwatch.com about freeware games called Free Play.

I was really impessed by the toys and games of D_of_I, especially because he sometimes works in the same environment I do for Java called processing. (I just wish I could read Japanese to get the rest of his site!) The main point of this entry is that you really need to try World of Sand, a literal "sandbox" toy, where you can blend particle elements such as water, fire, sand, plant, wall and I think ceramic as they fall through space. It's really cool to come up with different setups and see what happens. (Cannon Cat, a windows download, seemed pretty cool but I couldn't figure out if it was just a 3-level demo or I wasn't pressing the right menu option or what.)

UPDATE: LAN3 pointed out this variation of the game, which has some new additions (and subtractions), which is on what seems to be some kind of fansite.

Article of the Moment
A well-thought-out defense of the word "sucks".

comscan has detected an energy field pro---

(12 comments)
August 4, 2006

So the heatwave broke.

In retrospect, I probably chose the wrong time to switch away from antipersperant and just to deoderant, but in practice it seems to work out ok.

I guess it's just the clogging your glands for cosmetic effect seems a little rude.

Art of the Moment

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"April", by Timna Woollard
from Where The Heart Is.


Video of the Moment
This video of a smartass Darth Vader (acting a bit more like Dr. Evil from Austin Powers) is the funniest recut of a movie scene that I've seen... the guy who made it has perfect comedic timing.

stays heroic in milk!

(5 comments)
August 5, 2006

I found out I'm going to San Francisco for work next week. For a day. I was trying to figure out why people at work were double checking to make sure it was ok with me 'til both FoSO and my mom pointed out it's a lot of flying in a short time. In fact I guess it's the "red eye" back, arriving at 7am Boston time. And turn around time in SF is less than 24 hours.

At least I'll get to say I've been to California (and Vegas, for an hour stopover) and might be able to read a bit.

Art of the Moment

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"May", by Timna Woollard
from Where The Heart Is.


Slogan of the Moment
"JUSTICE is a DISH best serve PIPING HOT!"
--The Champions of Breakfast... miller's breakfast themed legion of heroes in the online game City of Heroes. Some of the identities the players made are really clever.... "Belgian Waffler", "Eggs Benedict Arnold", "Southern Grits", "Huevos Rancheros"...

Project of the Moment
Bocce!

I remember the (at the time, seemingly weird) affection for the game some of my high school friends expressed. We've played it at a family reunion or two since then, and it is a lot of fun.

It also had an appearance in my favorite movie Henry & June.

that's even scarier than the time garfield got feline leukemia!

(6 comments)
August 6, 2006

I always thought it was weird that Encyclopedia Brown's first name was actually "Leroy". Because that would make him the Baddest Man in this Whole Damn Town, and that just doesn't seem like a likely future for such a bookish fella.

Art of the Moment

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"June", by Timna Woollard
from Where The Heart Is.


Weirdness of the Moment
I have to admit the Garfield cartoon boingboing covers are really disturbing... the YTMND audio/visual presentation might be the best introduction to it... the idea of the entire Garfield series being the deranged imaginings of a cat, alone and starving in a decrepit house, is extremely spooky. Via Google I found the color version of the strips before the boingboing update mentioned them. I got confused by the UI and thought this strip came just before that run, which seemed to go along with the existential kind of vibe, though really that strip was years later.

(Odd that some of the strips in the mid-90s aren't colorized, but the ones back in 1978 have been. And so amazing how much the first Garfield looks just like Kliban's Cats.)

the seventh already?

(3 comments)
August 7, 2006

I'm always alarmed at how quickly the first part of a month goes by. Of course, I'm amazed at the ability of a year to slip by in general, but I think the first part is the worst, just because you say to youself "heck I have this whole month in front of me!" but one week later, and you're barely in the single digits...

Art of the Moment

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"July", by Timna Woollard
from Where The Heart Is.


Toy of the Moment
Now this is BRILLIANT... Goggles, a little overhead airplane game based on Google Maps. (Thanks Nick B!)

moneymoneymoneymoneymoney

(4 comments)
August 8, 2006

I'm on the road this morning, so I'm prepublishing this...

There's no question that everyone would like to be rich, but I think that most people aren't willing or are incapable to become the kind of people that seek wealth with the neccesary kind of verve, chutzpah, focus, and callousness. Most of us still are still kind of looking for that "one big break" that's going to put them on easy street. I know I am, but I have no idea what that is. Sometimes I have daydreams of some insanely rich person tapping of some small percentage of their wealth to let me retire NOW, maybe because of some passing interest they have in some project I've done. But of course, that's not the way the world works, and the people who do have that kind of money wouldn't have for it long if they were prone to that kind of indulgence.

(That was response to this LJ post by Nick B)

Art of the Moment

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"August", by Timna Woollard
from Where The Heart Is.


a visit from the laissez-fairies

(2 comments)
August 9, 2006

Assuming that no film exec already has his eyes on "The Tragedy of Flight 66" documentary, I should stumbling into Boston this morning.

UPDATE: I'm back safe and relatively sound but rather weary. Why on earth is what sounds like a practicing bagpipe player at the church across the street? Shouldn't he go very, very far away to refine his craft?

Why is the USA seemingly so much more into "Laissez-Faire" than Europe? Is it our history of "rugged individualism"? Some hangover from the red scares of the 50s? I guess it predates that.

It's funny to realize that "it doesn't have to be this way". I'm sure libertarians think it's not nearly enough that way, and other groups might wish there was more co-operation in general.

I guess in general our system tried to minimize the "Tragedy of the Commons"... it's "sink or swim" for many of us, but with enough legislation to try to avoid the abuses that a completely hands off system might lead to.

Art of the Moment

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"September", by Timna Woollard
from Where The Heart Is.


eraserhead meets pumpkinhead

(9 comments)
August 10, 2006

Getting to California was a bit of a fiasco. A three hour delay pushed me from making a connection to Oakland that night to a 6am flight to San Francisco the next morning.

UPDATE: wow, I wrote this (and in fact was safely home) well before all the Heathrow Bruhaha... I'm glad to be home before the security got cranked up another notch. I did have my shoes selected off of the conveyer belt for what seemed like some sort of chemical test, and my sympathies are with the security personnel who had to run that.)

On the flight over, I thought I'd forego the inflight entertainment "Mission Impossible 3" (worried that the sheer charisma of Tom Cruise might turn me into a scientologist, and besides, being an airplane screening, they'd cut out any interesting naughty bits) and carefully perched my oversized work laptop to watch that utterly bizarre David Lynch (if you'll pardon the redundancy) film "Eraserhead". Ksenia and I had started watching it, but it was starting to freak her out, understandably so.

So watching that movie was either a huge mistake or a huge...err, whatever the opposite of a mistake is, (Sorry I'm typing this bleary-eyed on a jostling bouncing hotel shuttle bus, though the transferal to kisrael might end up delayed)

Anyway, the synchronicity between "Eraserhead" and "my flight" was impressive and threefold, to whit: There were some other minor passing similarities too, like the hair of Mr. "Eraserhead" and mine after trying to sleep a bit by resting my head on the seatback in front of me, but those were really the big three.

Art of the Moment

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"October", by Timna Woollard
from Where The Heart Is.


liquids pastes -n- gels

(5 comments)
August 11, 2006

So, big terrorism scare, albeit one that seems to have been foiled.

Still, it definitely woke me up about the upcoming half-decade anniversary of 9/11. There's certainly a chance that this was just one facet of a multifaceted attack. It also shows the desperate importance of treating the "War Against Islamic Fascism" as a police affair more than a military one.

New idea for a business: a series of stores called "Liquids Pastes -N- Gels" to be placed right around incoming flight gates, with a gigantic selection of toiletries and booze, so travellers can replace anything they had to leave behind.

Art of the Moment

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"November", by Timna Woollard
from Where The Heart Is.


Quotes of the Moment
I got the chance to catch up on some reading this week, and one of the books was Nick Hornby's "The Polysyllabic Spree", from a monthly column about the books he read, and the books he bought. He quotes some of them himself:

"The truly cultured are capable of owning thousands of unread books without losing their composure or their desire for more."
--Gabriel Zaid... very self-referential, that.

At one point Lewis describes an older trader throwing a ten-dollar bill at a young colleague about to take a business flight. "Hey, take out some crash insurance for yourself in my name," the older guy says, "I feel luck." As a metaphor for what happens on the trading floor, that's pretty hard to beat.
--Nick Hornby on Michael Lewis' "Liar's Poker"

begining to give up her fightramble

(12 comments)
August 12, 2006

There's no denying it, while I was in California New England switched from blistering heat to a definite feeling that summer is thinking about packing up the beachtowel back in the canvas bag, taking down the umbrella, and trying to think of a nice place to go for dinner, some place with decent wine, or maybe just good sangria.

FoSO and I had this exchange,starting with me:
I don't dig the end of summer. Just because I'm so mediocre at taking advantage of the season as a whole.
what a strange reason. i don't like summer because it's generally too hot and sticky. fall is what i'm all about. that end of summertime feel to the air makes me all nostalgic for school and new jeans and notebooks and pencils. and i can't wait for apples and fall leaves and all that goodness! mmmm.
For me Summer is all about long days and doing whatever the hell you want for most of it.
It's the smell of sunblock and sweat after a day of roller coasters and fair food, the girl in the tanktop, rubbing in aloe to soothe the touch of sunburn and huddling together under a comforter to hide from the just a bit-too-much-AC room while watching some vageuly-artsy comedy movie on video.
Fall is...well, early fall is ok, where it combines the long days and energy of late summer with the clean slate of a new school year, but then the season progresses and nature sheds its lushness and gets ready for hibernation.
I guess it almost strikes me as odd that people can have different favorite seasons, given that I see summer as such a clear champ. So what about it, what's your favorite season, and why?

(Speaking of seasons, today is the final in the "Where The Heart Is" series, which means I should go ahead and make that calendar program I was planning to with it...)

Art of the Moment

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"December", by Timna Woollard
from Where The Heart Is.


Game of the Moment
DICEWARS is a nice little Risk-type game. It's pretty much self-explanatory, except you get extra dice armies based on how many connected territories you own. <SPOILER type="strategy" method="highlight to read">the trick is to play it pretty defensive for the most part. Always putting up a good front is more important than maximizng territory</SPOILER>

around and around we go

(3 comments)
August 13, 2006

Woo, really busy today. I'll try to post more later.

Joke of the Moment
You are driving in a car at a constant speed on a curvy road.

On your right side is a valley and on your left side is a fire engine traveling at the same speed as you.

You see a giant galloping pig, the same size as your car, in front of you.. Behind you is a helicopter flying at ground level.

Both the giant pig and the helicopter are also traveling at the same speed as you, and the accelerator seems to be stuck, so you can't evade them.

What must you do to safely get out of this highly dangerous situation?

Answer:

Get off the children's Merry-Go-Round, bozo! You're drunk!

--Mitchell.J.Edelman on rec.humor.funny

the schooner famephotos

(3 comments)
August 14, 2006

So for our 2-year date-a-versary Ksenia and I went on the Schooner "Fame", which, oddly, was immediately below my room's window at Taxware, since it launches from Pickering Wharf in Salem,but I never took advantage of it. We'd strongly recommend this trip over the regular Boston cruises... Salem is in many ways friendlier and more interesting than that part of Boston, there's something lovely about moving by windpower alone, and overall the operation is a very...well, if not "family" affair, it's a small, tight-knit-but-friendly group making up its crew. It was built 3 years ago as the reconstruction of an old privateer vessel. (Privateering is interesting... I had kind of forgotten it was essentially government-authorized piracy.)

The view setting out was kind of amazing... hard to believe that's where I worked all those years.











Random sail photos, guess I did a poor job of winnowing them out...










After we walked around Salem. In many ways the area seems to have the potential to be "the next Harvard Square, you know, before it got all commercial" but they really have to work on that "almost every store closed by 8 on a Summer Saturday night" thing. (Oh, I guess "being right next to the 'hood" and "overwhelmed with corny witch and monster motifs" aren't such good things either.)

There was one fantastic shop that was still open-- Derby Square Book Store. The piles of books are a must-see kind of thing, teetering towers that make grabbing a book in the middle a daring adventure. Even at the front counter, you deal with the owner through a gap between two of the towers that itself is only a big paperback or so wide. Unfortunately the owner says he's aiming to close by the end of the year... too many 80 hours weeks, he says, not enough time spent sitting around and watching cartoons. In the meantime the place has some very good discounts.

We went to a new restaurant there, "Fresh Taste of Asia". The menu had two sides, one more or less typical "pan-Asian", the other more Sushi oriented. The Sushi side only had one dish with a little "chef's choice" smiley face, the Tuna Tar Tar, though the waitress wasn't sure what it was. But it was so good! Lovely fresh tuna on these tasty light chip bowl things, with some kind of nice lightly spicy orange sauce on the plate... I took a picture just so I'd remember to mention it.



A lovely time in all.

Indecent Proposal of the Moment
As if people in a "blue state" state of mind didn't have enough reason to dislike the red... according to CNN and businesswire, comedia Jeff Foxworthy is... well, let me quote:
In celebration of Jeff Foxworthy's "new baby," his new CMT sketch comedy television show FOXWORTHY'S BIG NIGHT OUT, CMT is awarding $50,000 for a BIG NIGHT OUT to the mother of the first baby born in America during the premiere of the show at 8:30 pm ET(a) on Friday, September 1, 2006. As part of FOXWORTHY'S BIG NIGHT OUT on CMT Baby Bounty cash giveaway, CMT will also award an additional $55,000 -- $5,000 each week -- to the mother of the first baby born in America during the premiere of the 11 subsequent new episodes of FOXWORTHY'S BIG NIGHT OUT airing Fridays at 8:30 pm ET(a) on CMT.
This mix of good-old-boy "wouldn't it be funny if..." jocularity, shameless huxturism, medically poor ideas, and desperation of the people who might really struggle to hit the deadline (or, almost as bad, couples who aim for the deadline 'all in fun') is mind-blowing.

Are their doctors willing to go along with this? Could this be a new medical specialty, on-demand baby delivery? Ugh.

the more clever you *think* you sound...

(15 comments)
August 15, 2006

I've been carpooling with Tim since I started my new job. The conversations during the trip make it worthwhile... often techie, sometimes political, almost always geeky...

This morning we were talking about the popularity and feature set of various OSes. (Random side note... I've noticed a lot of Russians who say that's short for "Operational System". Funny how I notice that "ing" to "ional" change so much, even though it barely makes a difference in meaning.) He's a strong Linux advocate on many fronts, using Windows because he has to for work (though even there he uses OpenOffice instead of Microsoft's offering, and is delighted that no one ever seems to notice) and for games, while I'm kind of a Windows guy, sort of coasting on the way Windows really was a superior alternative in 1995.

I consider myself a bit of poweruser with OSes, very deft in several areas, from commandline quick-and-dirty scripts in Unix and Windows to setting up shortcuts in ways that let me start most of my favorite applications in 2 keystrokes (but without relying on 3rd party installs), from using Windows without a mouse (a skill honed from when I was leaning wayback in a papasan chair and couldn't reach the mouse easily) to just generally flying around the various folders throughout my harddrives.

When it comes to UIs in general, I tend to be intensely conservative. I dial back Windows XP so it looks the way 95 did. OSX and various flavor os Linux GUI have never really clicked for me. I still use this ancient version of Paint Shop Pro that I've been using for a decade, despite some limitations and irritations with it. You would think I would have the skills to pick up these new systems fairly easily, but I realize there's a single underlying theme in all of this... I'm good at the UI I use not because it's a good UI, or I like UIs, but because the UI of the OS is intensely uninteresting to me, strictly a means to an end, and any time I notice or think too much about the UI, it's probably a bad thing. Similarly, I don't like Mr. Ibis' route of customizing Windows desktop to "powerize" them, because then I'd be more dependent on those modifications, and my skillset less transferable to other people's PCs, as well as uppping what it takes to feel comfortable in a new workspace of my own.

Video of the Moment

--by "MissQOKC"... she wrote me and mentioned embedding my quotes in a little video she made. She was kind of apologetic about it, saying she was just taking her son Johnny Mack's viewpoint but thought the quotes were good. I think they're both right. UPDATE: dang, the one day I pick to post this is the one youtube is down for repair or upgrades or something....

Quote of the Moment
[On Billy Beane realizing that many good baseball players are discarded by the major leagues because they don't look like good players] The latter discovery in particular struck a chord with me because my football career has been blighted by exactly that sort of prejudice. English scouts visiting my Friday morning five-a-side game have (presumably) discounted me on peripheral grounds of age, weight, speed, amount of time spent lying on the ground weeping with exhaustion, etc.; what they're not looking at is performance, which is of course is the only thing that counts. They'd have made a film called Head It Like Hornby by now if Billy Beane were working over here. (And if I were any good at heading, another overrated and peripheral skill.)
--Nick Hornby, "The Polysyllabic Spree"

it's good to be the king

(2 comments)
August 16, 2006

For lack of something better to say... is this, what seems to be a stock photo, used on this pawnshop / check cashing software site the worst ever, or what?



I'M KING OF A FINANCIALLY
APOCOLYPTIC WORLD, BABY!


Link of the Moment
Speaking of the end of the world, it's A Brief History of the Apocalypse. I have to admit all those fails prophecies are kind of comforting. (On the other hand, I suppose they only have to be right once...)

Obscure Idea of the Moment
"If only 2^(7/12) were equal to 3/2, music would sound a lot better."
--David B. Thomas, .sig on alt.hackers. I'm pretty sure I understand the temperament of what he's getting at, it's an interesting kind of "what-if".

eyes as black as ink

(15 comments)
August 17, 2006

It's been said (some movie, can't remember where) that everyone is either an Elvis fan or Beatles fan, that you can't like both equally, even if you appreciate both. (Rob at work disagrees, citing himself as a counter-example, but still.) Anyway, I think the same thing is true for late night: either you're either Jay Leno or David Letterman, and you really don't "get" the other side.

CNN Screenshot of the Moment


Yesterday's big headline feature on CNN was a link to this article about kidnapping victim Jill Carroll's story via the Christian Science Monitor. It's the headline that gets me:
Captor's eyes were black as ink with a heart to match
CNN... for when you just wish the news wasn't so darn "newsy". (Actually, usually I expect better from them.)

UPDATE: In this other CNN story we see that they just don't make Buddhist Monks like they used to.

Tattoo of the Moment
So the only TV I'm watching these days is "Project Runway". One of the current contestants has a big old tattoo on his neck, some kind of script writing... I managed to google up the explanation, it's is his son's name, "Harrison Detroit", followed by "The Love of My Life" in Italian. I also found this Blog that seems to just be about the show. Weird.

xena warrior planetart

(2 comments)
August 18, 2006

You know, reading how about rather than demote Pluto from planethood they're going to be adding in 3 more planets, and how that's going to mess up the mnemonics (especially "Xena", though at least for a while that should be a wellspring of "Warrior Princess" jokes) I just had to say... I think the mnemonic I learned, "My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine Planets" is far superior and appropriate than ones that have her serving pickles or nine pizzas or any of that.

Project of the Moment
So last weekend I finished up my Where The Heart Is Reclamation Project with easier all-on-one-page views and a calendar application. I almost doubt that anyone will use it, not to mention all the customization features, but... it's there. It was the feature on this month's very late Blender of Love.

I also sent it to BoingBoing but it didn't seem to attract any interest. I think I've gotten BoingBoing'd twice, the gamebuttons link ("just about the coolest goddamned webthing, ever") was sent in by Eli the Bearded, who I think is a friend of the site but I know from alt.hackers, and then my laser sloths book ("Killer!") was an add-on to a previous entry. Anyway, I think that it's tough for someone submitting something they've done to get attention from the posters there.

Hmm, maybe I shoulda been trying my luck as a Metafilterer. Or admit I'm not always the best judge of what other people will find fascinating, though it's only every once in a while that I have something I feel is boingboingable.

a grand unifying theory of kirky's brainramble

(10 comments)
August 19, 2006

This might be another one of those big old self-centered introspection rambles. Actually, it feels like I haven't done one of these in a while, but I'm not sure. Oddly, that uncertainty ties into the theme of the ramble: I'm vigorously trying to figure out what are the strengths and weaknesses of my brain, and from there, me as a person (in particular, as a techie kind of person.) And I know from experience that I don't always have the best recall of what I've written, or sometimes what I've read, even when the topic was that topic of greatest personal interest, Me. (In the year or so after the divorce, I think Mo might have gotten the worst of that weird forgetfulness, and she ended up feeling like I was asking her to say the same things over and over again via e-mail.)

It's surprisingly difficult to objectively determine my strengths and weaknesses. Whether that's just a fundamental limitation of self-aware beings, or from years of going through a school system that sometimes valued self-esteem over personal achievement, or self-evaluation being one of my personal "weak" areas, or what, I'm not sure.

What started me musing on this lately is this dumb Atari Age flamewar. "Random Terrain" (who reports to have Asperger's Syndrome) thought that my dislike of pretending that the ship in Asteroids was actually piloted by the Star Wars guys, or thinking that "Pitfall!" might not have been inspired by "Raiders of the Lost Ark" because Pitfall Henry has none of the visual cues of Indiana Jones implies that I suffer from a certain rigidity in thinking (a condition he has himself struggled with.)

This accusation irked me to no end. And so I've been trying to think of solid examples of good flexible thinking in my life. Of course, the first things I think of our my limitations. Like listening to Paul Simon... I feel like there's a tiny chance I could have picked up on "Slip-Slidin' Away" as a lyric, but I don't think I could have thought to follow it up with "The nearer your destination, the more you're slip-slidin' away." Tim points out that trying to go against Paul Simon as a lyricist is kind of like berating myself for not being able to hold my own against Michael Jordan in one-on-one, but still. (I don't have the book in front of me, but one idea in Horby's "Polysyllabic Spree" that blew me away is that he thinks it's not coming up with content that's difficult, it's the writing itself. The main reason I don't write much fiction is that I can't think of the plot, or the point of what I want to say. And if writing is though part, why does so much literature feel semi-autobiographical?) )

These ideas really seem to important to me as my profession as a software developer, since in some ways it is the "life of the mind"... the geek mind, but still the mind. On many fronts I suffer in comparison to Tim, who has a very powerful recollection and an ADD-fueled ability to see the forest and the trees at the same time. I really envy his memory sometimes; mine seems terrible, and I'm constantly having to supplement my own weak one with written text files and little databases. (Of course, he rightly thinks that my biggest problem as a developer is lack of confidence, which ties into how I get intimidated by any project that might show I'm not as smart as I like to assume I am.)

But... I fancy myself a smart guy. But if it's not memory, and if I'm not particularly good at puzzles, and maybe not even imaginative thinking, what the hell am I good at?

I think I'm good at seeing connections. My thought patterns tend to be tremendously tangential, so it stands to reason that I might be better than average at tracing thoughts and seeing connections.

Mentally, I'm pretty fast. They say there's a tremendous correlation between reading speed and standardized test scores. I always had time to go back and double check every answer, and then some.

Wow.

You know what that means? Maybe I'm smart in the same way a computer is good at chess. Not really smart-smart, not particularly great with patterns or new ideas, but able to spin out a whirlwind of permutations and combinations and tangents, discarding bad ideas with filters on the fly, and fast, fast, fast. Maybe this IS one of my introspection Holy Grails: the Grand Unifying Theory of my brain. I'll have to live with this idea for a while and see what I make of it over time. I know it help explains a certain type of joke I make frequently, where I mishear something, autocorrect it, but notice that the misheard version is a bit funny, and then act as if that's what I thought was said.

This really gets me wondering, how different can brains be, like on a physiological basis? You hear stories where people lose half their brain matter, but the rest learns to compensate. And because we have so much in common, language, human experience in general, it's easy to think that the processes underneath those layers are pretty much the same. But who knows... maybe as we construct our brains growing up (a biological constructive imperative, like a spider is compelled to make webs), we end up with brains that are really quit different, even if they all fit somewhere on the same bellcurves of multiple intelligence.

truth + love = justice

(7 comments)
August 20, 2006

Years ago I was grumbling about the Windows key, and it still strikes me as an invention of tremendous hubris on behalf of Microsoft. To leap across the software/hardware boundary for a bit of marketing in the guise of "usability"... that's really something. (On the other hand, it is a bit useful for me as a way of quickly launching programs without resorting to the mouse...)

Doesn't it annoy the heck out of people using other operating systems on PC hardware?

And FWIW, yesterday's doodle was a product of that Fujitsu Lifebook I was jonesing for and finally broke down and got, having reached my first goal of 20 lbs lost. I think the drawing/coloring style I "invented" on my Palm, using PalmPaint which seemed to lack a fill feature, works fairly well, and avoid the worst of the "made with Microsoft Paint" effect.

Geekery of the Moment
The fantasy computer game Ultima IV introduced a really interesting set virtues, setting the game apart from the "kill everything and take their money" approach of the earlier games, and of many other series.


The Avatar
Reading up on them at the Wikipedia Wikipedia page and this fan page I find I really like the "alchemy" behind. The basic principles are Truth, Love, and Courage (the pages go into greter detail about the symbols for each.) These are combined to form the 8 principles as follows:

Truth >>> Honesty
Love >>> Compassion
Courage >>> Valour
Truth + Love >>> Justice
Love + Courage >>> Sacrifice
Courage + Truth >>> Honour
Truth + Love + Courage >>> Spirituality
No Virtues >>> Pride, countered by Humility


Of course I had to really admire the Principles and Virtues of Mandrake the Bard.... the Principles are Wine, Women, and Song, and form the following:
Wine >>> Drunkenness
Women >>> Sensuality
Song >>> Harmony
Wine + Women >>> Lust
Wine + Song >>> Laziness
Women + Song >>> Dance
Wine + Women + Song >>> Indulgence
No Virtues >>> Sadness, countered by Happiness


i'm sorry, i can't hear you over the sound of how awesome i am

(14 comments)
August 21, 2006

Yesterday Ksenia and I finally cleaned up all the junk from my car, and then I took it to this place on Western Ave in Allston to get it detailed... for $30 (plus $8 for the wash) they do a great job, the interior looks pretty much new now. Plus you can go over to the Breakfast Club diner while you wait... it's funny how much of a hipster place that is, but the food was great.

In other news... Red Sox. Damn. Reading the accounts of last night, Schilling put them ahead 5-3 after a rain delay (which probably hurt), Papelbon then giving up a tying bloop single in the ninth (after not letting anything happen after inheriting fully loaded bases in the eight), coming this close to scoring in the bottom of the ninth... it really hurts, but already I'm hearing "wait 'til next year" in the back of my head. (What can I say, I'm a bit fair-weatherish, I know.) Man, do we need Varitek.

Gallery of the Moment

--from a gallery of great Trek "Motivational" Posters... good stuff.

Quote of the Moment
"Money can't buy happiness, but neither can poverty." --Leo Rosten... today's Quote of the Day on Google homepage.

xvex sberire!

(6 comments)
August 22, 2006

Years ago I wrote about ROT13, that simple reversible cypher for making text unreadable but decodable. Recently I introduced the idea to Rob, and he wrote me a note with it. It made me realize that we all have "ROT13 Names" of varying degrees of pronouncability and coolness. Rob's isn't so bad ("Ebo") but mine, "Xvex", just rocks. (Hmm. Ksenia's isn't so bad either, "Xfravn"... of course, the first part of her name looks a bit pre-ROT13d already.)

Complement of the Moment
"I'm so jealous.... you have such long eyelashes... like a cow!"
--Ksenia, 2006/8/20. She then went on to explain how she really meant it as a true complement.

A day or two later I realized it was making me think of Mimi's (slightly deranged sounding) sister from this one episode of "The Drew Carey Show", where she starts stroking Kate's hair and says "You have such nice soft hair... like a
bear's"

Guess you had to be there.


Music Video of the Moment

--WeAreTheWeb.org... fighting for Net Neutrality! I'm most impressed by the work of Leslie Hall, whose Gem Sweater Galleries with her modeling the sweaters with these amazing gold pants and the same flat expression made her a little famous. (Heh, according to Wikipedia, A. she's only like 25 or so and B. went to the School of the MFA.) I also appreciate the willingness of Tron Guy (who even has his own Atari game made by fans) and Randy "Peter Pan" Constant to exploit their net celebritidom for a good cause, and to be in good spirits about the whole thing.

...he's gone! but he left a note in the mailbox... surely that will explain everything.

(3 comments)
August 23, 2006

Damn, just had my vacation requests more or less denied because a biggish contract that needs attending to at work. I'm sure my company will try to make it up to me but still.

Site of the Moment
Bill the Splut pointed out a great snarky site, The Comics Curmudgeon. Kind of one of those sites that seems obvious in retrospect... there is so much weirdness and lame-osity in the comics section these days. Bill says it can't compare to the defunct Baltimore City Paper's "Funny Pages" but I like it better, since it doesn't try to summarize EVERY comic, and shows the comics right in place. Plus there's an index to sort by individual comic. If you're in a hurry, this day's commentary on Family Circus captures the tone of the blog pretty well.

what you need, when you need it

(6 comments)
August 24, 2006

I'm getting sick of those domain squatters that are pretending to be useful, so they can get a bit of ad revenue, but contain a stupid mismash of vaguely relevant but pretty much useless links. Especially the one with the slogan "What you need, when you need it." (Of course, now that I want to kvetch about it, I can't find one with that particular slogan on it.)

Of course, eBay started it. Maybe. All those stupid text ads, showing up in the search results for nearly anything:
Random Crap
Whatever you're looking for
you can get it on eBay.
www.eBay.com
They used to be inadvertantly funny before they got smarter about filtering, so you'd see stuff like "Child Abuse - find it on Ebay".

Video Game Image of the Moment

--The original graphpaper plotting of the Space Invaders, along with the HG Wells inspiration, from this interview with some Taito pioneers.

Quote of the Moment
"If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised."
--Dorothy Parker. That is a great line even after all these years.

News of the Moment
Wah, Pluto. Having eight planets just feels so wrong to me.

by book or by crook

(3 comments)
August 25, 2006

Reorganizing my bookshelves. Conducting another medium-sized purge, actually.

Facing the age old dilemna: should you push the books back, so that they touch the rear of the shelf, or keep them all forward?

Link of the Moment
Squashed Philosophers... sort of like the Readers Digest Condensed versions of some terrific works of sheer thought.

mathblasters

(11 comments)
August 26, 2006

So my plan for at least half a week at my family's place in Ocean Grove, New Jersey with Ksenia was cut off at the knees by my company's need to have someone tear through this quick project for an important customer, a project that will send me to Denver for a week, the final week of Ksenia's school break. GoshDAMN but I am terrible at taking vacations. Note to self: schedule stuff for early in the season, so this crap matters less. To make it worse, it's a customer we're very anxious to please, we haven't the exact same setup that the customer has to run the application I made this week, and also the dresscode there is one notch higher than my previous gigs on client sites (which is then 2 or 3 notches than my usual engineer-ware)... not quite suite and ties, but one level down from that.

To make it worse, yesterday there was a fair number of hours when it looked like there would be a switch in the project and I wouldn't have to go next week, or maybe even at all (if there was a technology change) but no, it was just a cruel tease.

I actually feel this weird mix of resentment and sympathy for my boss. Resentment because he was slow to square with me when giving me a tentative ok for my plans, but then this kind of roundabout sympathy for him as he tries to suggest alternate plans, like seeing what Ksenia has free around Columbus Day. I just had to say, No, Sorry, this really does break my vacation, it was already going to be on the chilly side for the beach, and there isn't going to be any similar batch of days when she and I are both free anytime soon. I actually have deep-seated discomfort watching someone feeling guilty or sympathetic and try to help a situation that's essentially "unhelpable". (And I hate being on the other side of the situation as well.)

Math of the Moment
"Hamilton contributed over fifty per cent; the Russian, Perelman, about twenty-five per cent; and the Chinese, Yau, Zhu, and Cao et al., about thirty per cent."
--The Mathemetician Shing-Tung Yau from this terrific New Yorker piece on some of the current drama among mathemeticians. (I know it's kind of dumb to giggle at such fudged guesstimate arithmetic, but still.)

I'm actually happy to see the Poincaré and the situation with Perelman getting as much play as it is; it gives me hope how the culture pays at least lip service to a respect for science and math.


glooster? glowster? glue-sister?

(25 comments)
August 27, 2006

Yesterday had a very pleasant afternoon at this beachhouse in Gloucester FoSO and FoSOSO have been renting. FoSO was pretty adament that no one feel constrained to do any particular damn thing, which was fine by us. Ksenia and I started walking, and after failing to navigate to the nearby beach, thought
Well, this isn't too bad for a lazy Saturday afternoon... but how can we make it even lazier?
The answer, of course... with less walking! So we got in the car (actually we made the decision consulting with the GPS in the sun-warmed car after coming in from the rather chilly outside) and drove into town.


photo from Rocky Neck Art Colony Site
On the way in we found Turtle Alley Chocolates, which had some absolutely great stuff. Especially the "Chipolte Bark", dark chocolate with hot pepper that had this wonderful burn after.

Ksenia was able to call her friend from school, local to the area, who works at a cool vintage store called Banana's. Got some nifty stuff there as well, a Hawaain Shirt, Ksenia got a dress and some shoes, that kind of thing.

The one thing is I keep forgetting how to pronounce "Gloucester", pronouncing it like "Worcester"... I just can't keep my "sounds nothing like it's spelled" New England towns straight.

the air we breathe

(1 comment)
August 28, 2006

Ugh. Off to Colorado. Not sure if I'll have time to make real entries!

Above is what I pre-published. It's kind of weird that I'm so gung-ho about not missing days... actually, some of the scripts that support the site may kind of depend on that, I'm not certain.

I was trying to figure out if it was my imagination, or if the breeze actually felt... I dunno, less dense than at lower altitudes. It seems unlikely that I'd be able to really sense that, so it's probably wishful thinking. At one point I felt a tad lightheaded, but then again, is it the alititude or just a day of work and travel after 5 1/2 hours of sleep?

Quote of the Moment
The Onion: Is there a God?

Jimmy Kimmel: Uh, I think so, yeah. Sure. I was praying for Him to kill me last night as I was vomiting up my lobster pasta. I can't take this altitude: I've been [at the Aspen Comedy Arts Festival] for four days--three last year and one this year--and I've vomited on three of those days.

O: Yeah, the altitude can wreak havoc...

JK: Well, I use the altitude as an excuse, but it's really the 17 shots of whatever people hand me.

--That's been deep in my Palm journal since 2000. Just following "On July 28, 1945, an Air Force B-25 bomber crashed into the Empire State Building on the 79th floor. That's kind of funny.". Hmm, now... not so funny. I remember recalling that fact right when I first heard about 9/11, back for that brief time when we thought it might have just been an accident.

underdogpile

(3 comments)
August 29, 2006

The one thing about being in a consultant role, at least one hired on account of the company you work for rather than some kind of superstar they're craving, is that you really get the sense of how you're kind of a second-class citizen.

Videos of the Moment
Heavily-Miked High-Fashion on an attractive model. I like how she-- err, Zora Star-- kind of has fun with with audio elements. It's also funny how she just barely fits into some of that stuff. (WARNING: BOOBIES.)

Quote of the Moment
"[Separating religion and politics is] wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers."
--Some Random Iranian Ayatollah? Or Katherine Harris, aka "The Hand of God in the 2000 election"?

No kidding, that is some scary shit for a national politician to be spouting.

norton sucks

(12 comments)
August 30, 2006

Jeez, Norton Antivirus sucks.

I took it off my work laptop when it was clogging my Java build process (sometimes software guys kick off builds that make lots and lots of small temporary files... to which Norton would go "ooh another new file... gotta scan it! Maybe there's a virus in it! Ooh... another new file! Gotta scan it! Maybe there's a virus in it!")

But the place I'm consulting has a strict policy about Antivirus. It needs to be there, and up to date, or no Net For You! So last night I downloaded the software, and today I ran it... it clogged my computer the whole day, scanning the 3 million or so files to find... exactly bupkis.

It seems like such the wrong way to go about protecting computers (especially since Virus writers specifically code to be stealthy with the leading brands of Antivirus.) Just watching it go through all the files...yeah, I'm sure someone hid a virus in that .BMP clipart that came bundled with Microsoft Word.

I don't know how to implement the "right" way of protection, which is to be more interested in virus- and worm-like activity rather than specific patterns of code. But doing that badly probably ends up with something like the say Windows Vista beta is like, all these popups telling you about "suspicious activity", 'til finally you just mindlessly click "OK" without trying to figure out if bad stuff is going on or not.

Ksenia Quote of the Moment
"You're so calm, always...like a tractor."
Ksenia continues with the similes... (She also added "[...] Like an elephant.") I think she was berating me for not sounding all sad and missing her after like, 2 days... still, I like tractor, I wouldn't have thought of that one.

the merry merry marriott

(6 comments)
August 31, 2006

So I've been staying at the JW Marriott Denver at Cherry Creek, a kind of snooty high-rent district. My hotel room has some odd touches of luxury. For whatever reason I got one of the "executive" rooms, which means besides what ever internal perks it has, I can go up to the top floor for breakfast, or at night for a nightcap and dessert. (Plus, I have to use my roomkey to get the elevator to go to my floor. Take that you damn hoi polloi! Sure it's a mild inconvenience every time I want to go to my room, especially when the cardreader doesn't take 'til the 3rd or 4th try, but isn't it worth it?)

Of course, one of the best parts of the hotel is that it's about 20 yards from the company I'm consulting for, which is why my company gets the sweetheart rates.


Would you buy a duvet cover from this lady?
The layout is pretty typical, 2 beds, high, and with great bed coverings. But the weird thing is they put a catalog on each bed, carefully replacing it each time the bed is made, offering the bedding, art, "aromatherapy" toiletries etc for sale. (Though not the grapefruit & mint shower gel, which was the only toiletry I really liked here.)

The bathroom is pretty huge, with a tub and a nice separate standup shower in the corner, glass walls on the other two sides. That's pretty cool.


Nice views though! Denver's there in a photo that doesn't do the Rockies justice.
For a cheapskate like me (even if it's on the company's dime), not knowing what comes with the room and what would be an extra fee is annoying. The chocolates, I assume, are free, but there are some glass bottles of "Jelly Belly" jellybeans and some yogurt-covered somethings that are labeled at $12 a pop. The minibar is likely way overpriced (especially with that free booze at night upstairs) but there are two types of bottled water... the "Fiji" is clearly marked at $6 (though I know it's generally priced higher than most other bottled water) but I'm hoping the other, more generic bottles are complementary.

Finally, there was a damn rose on my bed when I came in after work the first day. (Joined by a second the next day...ok, I get it.) My first upon seeing it was, and I kid you not, "crap, I'm in the wrong room." There was no other reason to think I was in the wrong room, it just seemed so odd.

Heh. It would be nice to think that the roses are actually a message from the housekeeping staff, something along the lines of "hey, you weren't a disgusting pig last night, thanks for that" and that people that were more messy didn't get one.

In general, I think it's great karma to not do anything to make the housekeeping staff resent you.

Link of the Moment
Boingboing had this nifty link of Early 19th Century Vocabulary My favorite was "Hissian", slang term for a goose. Though over all it doesn't feel like things have changed that much over 200 years. 200 years before that, say, is like Shakespeare times, and that seems much more different. I guess English has been stabilizing a bit, probably with more global communication and less regionalization.