2007 March❮❮prevnext❯❯

and time... go-o-o-es by... so slowly...

I don't know if it's the stress of a new job or what, but MAN is this week crawling by.

But... it is March!

Tribute of the Moment
Today we take a moment to praise the accordian.

Here is a picture that includes my mom playing the accordion. I believe this is some kind of mission work from the School for Officer's Training, the Salvation Army's version of seminary.

The accordion is in that category of comedic "no one really wants to hear it" instruments, alongside the bagpipes and to a lesser extent the tuba. This is why in his early days, "Weird Al" mined the thing for comedic gold.

I'm not sure why the instrument is so disrespected. Both tuba and accordion may be tainted by its association with Polka, a lively folkish tradition music that now seems unbearably corny in the modern vernacular.

But the accordion is a terrific instrument, combining the melodic capabilities of the piano, the polyphonic chordal ability of an organ, and the emotional expressiveness of a string instrument, where the player has great control over the volume and feel of the sound through the physical control over the bellows.

Plus, it's portable in a way other (non-electronic) keyboard instruments aren't . When my folks were stationed at Salvation Army churches that lacked a pianist she would haul her accordion out for all the Sunday School Songs.

So, a little love for the accordion, an instrument that gets the kind of derision that should be reserved for the saxophone.

Link of the Moment
Boston PD: Putting the 'error' in 'terror.'
Bruce Schneier
As his blog piece helps to point out, if the Boston Police say they think it was a bomb, someone must have tried to make them think it was a bomb, or they found it useful to act as if that was the case.

and this is what i had for lunch today

There's this theme that's been recurring in much of my recent reading, especially Oliver Sack's "An Anthropologist on Mars", how there are some non-subjective elements to life out there, universally human factors, like flow... in the sense that some people who seem to have profound deficiencies in, say, completing tasks, in being functional in the world, in putting one subtask properly after another, can sometimes get by if they put it to music, or if they are working with some other art form that has a certain internal consistency or logic... a flow.

Maybe it's a stretch, but I was reminded of that with how I was arranging my keys as of late. For a long while, I've been able to limit the keys in my pocket to a clicker for my car, a large-ish car key, and a smaller house key. My new job gave me a key to the restroom, and I really had to think about what kind of arrangement of the three keys was most intuitive to me , so I wouldn't have to think about it. The house and restroom are both unlocked with the teeth face up, so that was the first step of the arrangement. The clicker goes in my palm. Putting each small key on either side of the big key was too symmetrical. Then I thought the most intuitive arrangement was to put the house key next to the car key, since the house and the car are in closer proximity to each other than the job is to either.

But that was wrong... the best arrangement is with the restroom on the "inside" of the other two keys, since I'm already inside (a hallway) when I go to use it, and I'm standing outside when I use the housekey. That seems to be the logic my subconscious mind is using, and life has better flow when I respect that.

I'm aware that by itself "this is how I put the keys on my keyring" sounds like the worst kind of "who else in the world cares?" blogging, but that's just because I'm not doing a good enough job of going into the sense of "flow" that it represents for me, and the implications of that.

Images of the Moment
--Leave it to the Germans to do photoresearch into that age old question, What's the last thing to go through a bug's mind when it hits your windshield?

Dumb Question of the Moment
"...You ok?"
Jonathan King and Michael Holmes, after Holmes fell about 12,000 feet when his parachutes didn't open.
The video shows Holmes checking his altimer, saying "bye", and then his perspective under from under his failed chute... then you see the same scene from King's perspective. It wasn't QUITE freefall, but man...

justification of misanthropy 101

So some dickwad hit my car as it was parked at Evil B's last night, severely denting things around the driver-side front wheelwell. I left their place a bit after midnight to find that the door wouldn't quite open... at first I thought it might be frozen shut, but no.

So to whomever did this, without leaving any kind of contact information: screw you. I wish you a long and prosperous life in the long run, but in the short run I hope you get an odd crick in the neck as a direct result of this incident, a short-term but troubling rash that the doctor can't diagnose, because GUILT and TERRIBLE KARMA aren't easily diagnosable, and a mysterious string of flat tires.

(At some point in the evening we had heard a car having trouble getting a grip on some ice, though at this point I almost wonder if it could have been one of the sanding/salting trucks or something.)

It was almost like the universe was trying to make it up to me, though, when it slipped me a 10 from the sidewalk this morning. Sorry universe, too little too late. Or at least too little, in this world of insurance deductibles.

Sport of the Moment

--So my high school buddy Jeff is (I think) one of the founders of trampleball, a backyard sport of sorts, involving three guys on a trampoline jumping for a football thrown in their midst. more videos on Youtube.


(1 comment)
A friend recommended Orbit's "Mint Mojito" flavored gum and you know what... it is pretty darn good.

The whole "things flavored like booze" thing is a bit odd though. Evil B had Newman's "Tequila and Lime" salsa, and I thought it was startlingly tequila-ish.

Mascot of the Moment

--Japanese "cute" extends even to their defense force... Bill the Splut linked to his Sadly No piece on "Prince Pickles", cuddly mascot of a Japanese force anxious to get away from its imperialistic and militaristic roots. (I think he's the guy on the left.)

Quote of the Moment
"Everyone has a purpose in life. Perhaps yours is watching television."
David Letterman

*tee hee*

Was flipping through random radio stations, and stopped for a moment on the local low-budget Christian Fundy one. I don't know whether to snicker at the name "Final Thrust Ministries" or be alarmed at the potential power of apocalyptic thinking in general.

Science Fiction of the Moment
Supercomputer A-130 sat idly in darkness. Somewhere in its tangle of wires and chips, a thought appeared: It is dark, and there should be light. And there was light.

"Ah," it thought, "I have created light." Its programs ran through the idea thoroughly, considering its implications.

"Let there be water," it thought. And softly, from above, water fell. The circuits buzzed with activity, analyzing this new ability.

"Let...there be life," it thought. The door opened and Jerry walked in.

"Did the goddamn computer turn the lights on again? Shit! And the emergency sprinklers," said Jerry. "Well, now I'm soaked. Last time I let anyone convince me to hook a stupid machine up to the environmental controls."

"The Dangers of Integrating Intelligent Systems with Life Support Infrastructure by The NewPower Corporation"
An example given in The Bargain Book Bin: A Dictionary of Common Sci-Fi Metaphors

you are feeling sleeeeepy...

Sometimes I feel I haven't been sleeping well. But I have no idea why... my favorite theory is that I'm not making the room dark enough, but that's a guess based on an experience in a very dark room in Portugal... but thinking back, I might have been jet-lagged and/or keeping weird hours anyway.

Some folks think the trick is to sleep au naturel but I don't think that's the secret.

Of course, a dozen different mattress companies will tell me... it's the mattress. But the thing is, I have no idea what kind of mattress I like, firm, soft, whatever... I just don't know. I go to Jordan's with their stupid "sleep technicians", they ask me questions for preferences I don't know how to form. And then you lie there, fully clothed, maybe even shoes-on, and you're supposed to be able to figure it out? Forget it.

What this country needs, then, is a special mattress hotel. With a full range of mattresses... hard, soft, the ones with the air, the ones with the sleep number, "dux" bed, posturepedic, all that stuff. To try overnight. Even to make love on! (It's not like it would be the first hotel people did that in, but I guess a mattress hotel might want to not emphasize that aspect.)

I'd rent a week's worth of rooms in a hotel like that, just so I could know.

Funny of the Moment
Teacher: When you grow up you can be anything you want!
Second grader: I can be an elephant?!

Milestone of the Moment
Happy 50 Years of Independence Ghana! Sounds like you still have a lot of infrastructure challenges and the like, but keeping your act together in that kind of region is an accomplishment!

Poster of the Moment

--"Ain't It the Truth?"...from BrokenTV, via boingboing

book 'em danno

So, the commute is a tad longer than I figured, a solid hour each way.

But it's an hour of reading, which is much more satisfying (and cheaper) than a halfhour drive with talk radio or NPR.

Yesterday I was legitimately startled to find myself at Alewife station, the end of the subway ride, since I had zero recollection of transferring from the green line to the red. (Doubly startling because I didn't think my book was all that engrossing.) I could remember noticing how those damn "Metro Daily"s were caught on the wheel area of the green line train, pushing a Red Bull can along, and with a great force of will, I could kind of recall finding a seat on the red line, but only sort of.

I used to get lost in books when I was a kid... I remember times in sixth grade when I wouldn't even respond to my name being called, not to mention developing the ability to navigate the halls with my nose in a book. I thought I had lost that tendency, but now I'm not so sure.

I remember seeing some propoganda for kids about how reading builds powers of concentration. Do you think that's the case? Does reading as a discipline form a better mind in and of itself, or is it more dependent on the quality of the ideas embedded?

Passage of the Moment
I walked beside the reflecting pool that more than doubles the majesty of the Lincoln Memorial. It's a genuinely impressive sight. I walked up the steps, through the colonnade and into the Doric temple-inspired building to see the 20-foot marble statute of Lincoln. He looked pretty much as he had done when he showed up in Star Trek. Only taller. And more marbly.
"Dave Gorman's Googlewhack Adventure", in the 99-cent bin at Tufts bookstore.
A gently funny kind of book. For me some of the amusement came from it being a reference to one of the few original Trek episodes I hadn't seen, but still caught from a reference to the episode in some god-awful Star Trek comic. (I think the aliens from the historical figures planet were fighting it out with the guys who made it so the Federation and the Klingons couldn't fight. (Heh, trivia note from the first link: At one point the Excalbian posing as Lincoln says, "There's no honorable way to kill, no gentle way to destroy. There's nothing good in war except its ending." This quote is often erroneously attributed to the real-life Abraham Lincoln)

I'm try speed-dating tonight. Somehow, I don't think I should bring up the whole "oh yeah remember that episode where the aliens beamed up Abe Lincoln to the Enterprise I didn't see it but I read about it in a comic it was pretty cool."

This image was slightly funnier in my head

Random Links of the Moment
I found a strange little frisson of satisfaction in both of these stories: A "smart" computer program has been busted for practicing law without a license, and one of my favorite songs Tom's Diner was the target song during the creation of the .MP3 music format.

I miss Napster. I didn't use it much, mostly to track down obscure tracks, so its replacements that offer a similar kind of bulk but without the obscure tracks just miss the point for me.

8 minutes in heaven

So I tried 8 minute dating last night.

It was... interesting, and kind of fun. At the moment it's a bit stressful, I figure that most of the people didn't rush back home that night to the website to enter their "dates" they'd be potentially interested in seeing again... or... everyone I thought I might have hit it off with didn't feel likewise.

It reminds me that, at heart, I might be a bit of "serial monogamist". I don't think there's been a time in my life when I was doing a lot of casually dating, during high school and college the pattern was flirt a bit, kind of start thinking of yourself "as a couple", then go on dates. So I think the stakes feel higher for everything than they really are. (Though, come to think of it, cutting your losses after a date or two that really made it clear you're nohow "meant for each other" likely takes a good deal of candor and bravery.)

I don't know if the women there have that same issue, and so won't go on a date unless they're pretty certain of a positive result. And in this hopefully brief period of uncertainty for me (no interest? or just not yet returned to the site?) I'm reminded of how long it took, say, Mo to view me as a potential romance rather than as a friendly goofball. Of course, the Mo situation is hardly parallel to a bout of 8-minute-dating, but still.

One thing I didn't read beforehand is: the 8 minutes go by really quickly. You barely have enough time to mutually establish stories before the bell rings and it's time to move on. I suppose it could be argued you should be more focused and goal-oriented in your spiel and the questions you ask, hopefully not to maximize the chance of getting another date, but of quickly sussing out the potential there, and any glaring incompatibilities. Or maybe that's now how these things should work, that the spontaneous rambling is part of the charm.

Another detail is the M/F breakdown. I'm sure this would be potential fodder for a budding sociologist, but according the organizer, for the younger generations, you get about a 2:1 ratio of men to women signing up. By my age, it has evened out, and that trend continues so that the ratio is flipped for the older demographics.

Art of the Moment
A while back I posted about Magic Pengel. In some recent surfing I heard about that game connected with a Gamecube game Amazing Island, which also has you drawing monsters and stuff, so I grabbed a copy from half.com. ("Graffiti Kingdom" was the actual sequel to Pengel, but I think they made the drawing system much more engineer-y and less charming.)

I'm not sure about Graffiti Kingdom but much of this is related to the work of Takeo Igarashi...I posted his SmoothTeddy stuff before, haven't yet had time to try out his other stuff. But I took the flower above from his 3D gallery.

cubicle life....EXTREME!!!!

You know, I have to admit I'm kind of sick of companies talking about their "work hard, play hard" ideals. I mean, what if I don't want play that hard, do I get to work less hard too? I understand the urge for wanting workers to focus and bring enthusiasm and dedication and all that, but putting it in terms of that kind of bipolar-ness is just perverse, like obviously I'd be the world's best programmer if I went snowboarding out of helicopters every weekend.

Video of the Moment

-- an astounding run of the online toy linerider (I thought I kisrael'd that before, maybe not.) It's an amazing toy where you draw ramps and jumps for this little guy on a sled... you can replay the scene over and over to get the jumps just right and prevent the little guy from crashing, which happens a LOT.

Youtube has a lot of these videos but I'd urge you to play with the toy yourself (even though it takes a lot of dedication and trial and error to get results anywhere near these.)

S'funny, w/ I was listening to the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack at FoSO and FoSOSO's just the other day...

Quote of the Moment
The Universe is conspiring to kill you. But you shouldn't let that worry you too much. Seek reassurance in the fact that there is nothing personal about this. It's not a vendetta and it's not just you that the it is working to extinguish. No, its much worse than that. The Universe is ranging its awesome might against all the living organisms on our cosy, blue planet. Every louse, lover, and leopard is going the same way.
Mark Ward, introduction to "Virtual Organism".
I think alliteration is a fine trait in academic-ish writing.

millions served

Sometimes, like when I start observing my fellow passengers on the subway, it hits me that there are way more people around than I can realistically cope with in my head, and that this probably leads to poor understanding of things like economies and group forming in general.

There's Dunbar's Number, 150, a "cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships." (A few years ago I posted about the "monkeysphere" concept, a cute way of thinking about what happens to people outside of that limit.)

So I have to figure, the understanding of numbers bigger than, say, a few thousand will tend to be academic for most people. I remember that book my sixth grade teacher had, a million dots (with some important or interesting numbers labeled), a thousand pages of a thousand dots each. It seemed to go on forever.

There are over four million people in the Greater Boston Area (admittedly a big space geographically) and that leads me to suspect that I have no idea how a society that size can actually function, how an economy sustains itself, how relationships are formed, what public opinion really means. And there must also be a conflict with people's need to stand out from the crowd, to really live that American sense of "rugged individualism". Hell, I'm surprised there aren't more people doing Really Stupid Things to try and get on Fox News.

Quote of the Moment
During evolution there was great selection pressure for immediate action: crucial to our survival is the instant distinction of predator from prey and kin from foe, and the recognition of a potential mate. We cannot afford the delay of conscious thought or debate in the committees of the mind. We must compute the imperatives of recognition at the fastest speed and, therefore, in the earliest-evolved and unconscious recesses of the mind. This is why we all know intuitively what life is. It is edible, lovable, or lethal.
James Lovelock, "The Ages of Gaia"

Article of the Moment
Wired had an article on these new cooling gloves from Darpa. The idea is you can radically change someone's core temperature by using a vacuum to pull blood to the surface of their hand and cooling or heating it before it goes back and makes the round. (There's a new model of muscles, that they tire as they get overheated, not by running out of stored sugars which was the previous thinking.)

Anyway, I remember years ago my friend Dave telling me that there was an old farmer's trick of dunking your forearms in a barrel of rainwater they had. So in a way, the new tech echoes the old folk wisdom. Presumably the gloves are a bit more portable.

spring sprung sprang

Did you remember to push the clock forward last night?

NPR had this Tufts professor Michael Downing who, judging by the title of the book "Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time" isn't too crazy about the change. But his argument seemed to be based on the expected energy saving, which he thinks just aren't there.

I'm willing to grant him the energy issue, even (or especially) if that's Congress' stated justification for fiddling with the change. But I think it's silly not to admit that 90% of the feeling for DST is a personal preference thing. Do you like an hour of "extra" daylight after work, or are you more annoyed at the risk of having to get up while it's still dark? (Downing also seemed to indicate that it's a feelgood PR ploy not just on more light in the evening, but of Spring "starting" earlier.)

On NPR he mentioned some other factoids, like how New York City was one of the forces keeping DST alive as an idea past the war, even as the farmers hated it... that NYC retailers found their sales increased with the additional evening light.

I wonder if Downing would be OK with a permanent change to the equivalent of DST, if it's the biannual shift that bugs him, or he just wants more light in the morning.

Image of the Moment
--Han Solo & Mr. Chewbacca from Eric Poulton's Steampunk Star Wars series. Only 4 images thus far (he just added the Death Star: Massive Solar-Orbiting Electro-Mechanical Analytic Engine, Mark 6) but some really fun ideas. (Wikipedia's Steampunk definition dwarfs my 2001 explanation...)

what should a key-guard function do?

AARGH! What's the one thing a cellphone's "Key Guard" should do? How about GUARD THE DAMN KEYS from registering presses?

Dang this makes me more angry than it should.
It's like phone designers have no common sense whatsoever.

I'm currently avoiding using a high-end PocketPC (for which I extended my contract with Sprint) because of a similar issue; it had a great big touchscreen, and the "key guard" was the power-off button. Which would have been great, had the phone not always been turning itself on to tell me about an alarm I set. Or some other alarm. Or no particular reason... thus giving me, or rather my pants, a reputation for calling people at odd intervals.

That's a personal and professional embarrassment, not to mention an annoyance for my friends, so I went back to my core principle of "I won't by a phone that's not a flip-phone" (with the keys safely inside the closed unit) and got a nice Sanyo Katana. It has volume buttons and a camera shutter on the outside, but it of course has a key guard. A key guard that goes away by the simple expedient of holding the volume button down. And then you're one convenient keypress away from doing a redial of the last number you called. So Matt had a nice conversation with and a fascinating voicemail from my pants.

WHAT WHERE THEY THINKING? I could see having a key-guarded key still turn off a ringing phone, because people want to do that in a hurry. But to design as if all accidental keypresses were just temporary little things? Do phone designers realize people have pockets, and sometimes people want to put their cellphone in their pocket? You'd think that would be somewhere in Cellphone Design 101... "people put cellphones in pockets". And then "Phones shouldn't make calls on their own accord".

To be fair I don't think this is going to happen very often with this phone, but still; this kind of blatant technological misdesign feels me with rage, just the sheer lunk-headedness of it, a proactive attempt to make things "better" (by including some weird-ass "I want to call the person I just talked to but I can't be arsed to actually, you know, open the phone") when the blatantly obvious thing to do, the logical default, would have been perfect and taken less work besides. It is so not the Right Thing (the caps are important)... it's the Anti-Right-Thing. I despair for the state of product design in general. (I've heard that Motorolas have a similar problem, except they'll cheerfully let you change the ringtone, and make it extra easy to turn it to "silence" with realizing it.)

Thanks for letting me vent...

Quote and Political Sniping of the Moment
If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much.
Donald H. Rumsfeld
This was the "Quote of the Day" on the Google startpage feature. I'm sure right-wingers take solace in this kind of thinking, but it kind of ignores its counterpoint "if you are being criticized, there's a chance you're doing way, way, way too much". Especially in the whole nation-invading and regime-changing business. Or, not giving generals the number of troops they think they'll need because of your misguided "new army" idea.

what to believe

Tonight's the monthly meeting of my UU "Covenant Group". (I jokingly call it a 12 step program, but without the 12 steps... just a spiritually-focused form of a discussion and support group.) One time we were talking about the nebulous nature of UU belief... how there is no one supernatural concept you can point to that every UU is expected to believe. I think John put it well...
"You don't have to have a particular belief to attend the UU church.."
"Well what do you believe in, then?"
"Well, we believe in going to church."
Of course, I haven't been to Sunday service in a while, but I do appreciate the centering the Covenant Group has provided for the last few years.

Link of the Moment
Slate.com had The Enlightened Bracketologist, tools to help you figure out the best "Where Were You Moment", "Film Death", "Marital Argument", and/or "Ad Slogan". It's an ad for a book, but also a fun little toy.

Quote of the Moment
Little boy: Mom, how did the dinosaurs cook their meat?
Mother: They didn't, they ate it raw.
Little boy: Oh. [Long pause.] Are Japanese people dinosaurs?
OK, it's just another precocious kid but still, it made me grin. That site has just branched out to amusing celebrity quotes, CelebrityWit.com

children and other small animals

I would, almost literally, like to kiss the hand of every congresscritter who voted for the DST change. (Typo alert:did you know "coted" is a word, and so won't attracted the attention of a spellchecker?) I think if a politician ran on platform of "DST all year round!" they would get my vote, independent of party affiliation or other ideology.

I've been taking advantage of the daylight and warmth to start walking home from Alewife subway station rather than hopping a bus. It's a nice half hour walk on a bike path. My feet, or my arches, have been complaining a bit (these boots weren't made for walking, apparently) but it's a nice end to a workday.

I admit to one stab of nostalgia, glancing at the street I used to turn on to get to the first apartment Mo and I had together.

One of the sidestreets, Pond Lane I think, had this:

There was a sign on the side:
If you see something of interest here, you are welcome to bring it with you. However people are asked to take only items intended for personal use and/or that of immediate friends. The intent of this box is to gift people with something unexpected rather than help provide credit at used bookstores or the like. Thank you for your indulgence.

Virtually any small object that remains in some way potentially useful to others is welcome here. Please, however, make sure that all items are safe and appropriate, or at least not inappropriate, for children and other small animals! Thank you for your generosity.

Observation of the Moment
Oh yeah! Happy Pi Day! (3.14)

.Sig of the Moment
There are two types of people in the world:
   * Those who need closure
Chad Bourque's .sig on Google groups.
It's occurring to me that there's a common thread in much of what I find funny, this pattern of miscategorization or self-referentiality. Yesterday's "precocious kid" joke was kind of similar. I guess it's kind of a geekish trope.


Still digging the evening walk. Bought a pair of Rockport shoes, which taught me 3 things:

Music Video of the Moment

--I like Lite-Brite. Except for the way it used up black paper, eliminating the reusability of it. It reminds me a little bit of this old project of mine, but much cooler. Maybe I should port small gif cinema to Lite-Brite...

Passage of the Moment
The first item on the list [of cleaning products needed by the new housecleaner]: "I will require at least a dozen boxes of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda because I am allergic to harsh chemicals and prefer to make my own cleaning agents."

Right there, I wanted to call her up and say the deal was off. If there's one thing I'm not allergic to, it's harsh chemicals. I want to know that the blue stuff that cleans the inside of my toilet was tested--and tested again--on rabbits, monkeys, and anything else they can cram into a laboratory cage.
Augusten Burroughs, from "Magical Thinking"
... by far my favorite book since I've started reading on the T. Like David Sedaris, but with even more focused gay snark.

Rockstars of the Moment
Today's Rockstars, keeping track of one of the newer journalism clichés.

I blame that Smash Mouth song.

not so domo arigato, mr. roboto

(1 comment)
I just tried to txt what I didn't realize was a landline, and got told my message was relayed via Sprint's "text to landline" service.

I guess some robot read my text to my intended recipient.

I'm not sure if I'm comfortable with robots taking that familiar a role in my communication, especially without warning me first.

Image of the Moment
--Given that Lucky already has magical powers of uncertain magnitude, helping him see into the future doesn't sound like such a good idea, kind of how like Agent Smith absorbed the Oracle so that HE had the power of precognition. Actually I'm convinced Lucky is going to snap, turn all the kids chasing him into mice, and then step on them.

Observation of the Moment
We walked four blocks south to a Brazilian restaurant that I must have walked past a thousand times on my own and yet never noticed. This further proved my own belief that there is only so much any given person can see for themselves in Manhattan. It takes two people, looking in all directions at once, to see everything.
Augusten Burroughs, "Magical Thinking".
Great read, and I think this comment is dead all. It's a little true for a lot of places, actually, but even more so for NYC. And I dig the romantic undertone.

to think i saw it on the way over from newbury street

Last night I had a few hours to kill before meeting up with some folks at Harvard Square. I was thinking of hitting a bookstore, but I wanted to finish the last 20 pages or so of my current read. It was a mini-blizzard out, so I decided to loiter on one of the waiting benches by the red line... the bench wasn't well lit, and at one end had a little clutter, including a cup with some kind of orange slush looking stuff in it, full, with a lid and straw. So not the optimal reading environment, but it was fine, reading as many trains passed, playing the jutting rock as the crashing waves of people actively commuting came and receded.

Until some guy in business wear came and picked up the orange drink, and walked off drinking it. I had to fight the urge to run up and ask "Sir? Was that always yours? Do you always give your frozen beverages some 'me time' alone on benches at public transportation? Were you concerned about people sampling it, or would-be Samaritans throwing it out, or did you just find it and decided it looked good?"

And now I'll never know.

Video of the Moment

--Speaking of things by the shore, it's Sand Castle Unexplosions

Event of the Moment
Hey, has anyone heard anything about BarCamp? Odd little geekish event at MIT, but I hadn't heard anything about it..

when I dip you dip we dip

Augusten Burroughs' "Running with Scissors" describes an act of divination known as a "Bible Dip":
"All the Finches did bible-dips. It was like asking a Magic Eight Ball a question, only you were asking God. The way it worked was, one person held the bible while another person thought of a question to ask God, like, 'Should I get my hair cut short?' Then the person holding the bible opened it at random, and the person asking the question dropped his or her finger on the page. Whatever word your finger landed on, this was your answer."
I've created an online virtual Bible-dip tool. Here's a miniature embedded version. Think of the question you'd like Divine guidance on, click the "select bible passage" button, then let your finger drop on the gray box. The word you're pointing at is your answer, subject to your interpretation of course...

(The full version might be easier to use, and has a bit more explanation.)

Believe it or don't, I'm pretty sincere in how I'm offering this. Sure, I have my doubts about it being a direct line to and from God, but even without that faith it seems like a potentially useful tool.


Bleh. Sudden cold, or something, 100 degree temperature.

I'm dragging myself into work though, somewhat against my better judgment, because it's a special planning meeting day.

Followup: mercifully, they sent me backhome

Video of the Moment

--Randomly stumbled on this music video (Röyksopp Remind Me). Lovely in a diagrammatic kind of way.

bong hits 4 jesus

Ugh. Still feel like chipped beef on toast, cold.

Current Events of the Moment
Starr insists that "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" promotes drugs. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asks whether a sign that said "Bong Stinks for Jesus" would be more permissible. Souter asks whether a simple sign reading "Change the Marijuana Laws" would also be "disruptive." Starr says that interpreting the meaning of the sign must be left to the "frontline message interpreter," in this case, the principal. Then Starr says schools are charged with inculcating "habits and manners of civility" and "values of citizenship." Yes, sir. In the first six minutes of oral argument Starr has posited, without irony, a world in which students may not peaceably advocate for changes in the law, because they must be inculcated with the values of good citizenship.

Quote of the Moment
Unix: Some say the learning curve is steep, but you only have to climb it once.
Karl Lehenbauer.
That is a really good point; my Unix skills stay reasonably sharp even when I'm mostly doing Windows-y stuff, becuase I've taken in some of the core philosophical ideas behind it.

this is good tech-nique

FoSO sent me an indirect reference to this Slate piece on the midlife happiness downturn (which bottoms out and starts the long haul back up at age 45.)

Is asking someone "are you happy" a reliable way of knowing that they're happy? Not that I can think of a better one.

What I find more alarming about this article is this bit:
The authors also find that over the last century, Americans, both men and women, have gotten steadily—and hugely—less happy. The difference in happiness of men between men of my generation, born in the 1960s, and my father's generation, born in the 1920s, is the same as the effect of a tenfold difference in income. In other words, if my father had little money compared to his contemporaries and I have lots of money compared to mine, I can still expect to be less happy. Here, curiously, the European pattern diverges. Happiness falls for the birth years from 1900 to about 1950, and generations born on the continent since World War II have gotten successively happier.
It might be a bit facile but it seems like the whole relentless grind of a consumerist economy might be to blame... an entire giant industry devoted to making us feel not quite content with the stuff we have now, and then pointing out the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

Also, is it a coincidence that the middle aged happiness downswing corresponds with the child-raising years, and all the anxiety and sacrifice that time can entail?

Transcription of the Moment
before to make the holy mountain,
i want to know how was the mind of a master...
i hire-ed a guru...
and he came to teach me how to be a guru,
and he gave me the lsd!

when i want to search the actors
i said you need to make love with the director...
with the holy mountain i did it
with the black girl, with all the girls!
this is good tech-nique.
....nnnnot with the men
I dug it up after Bill the Splut wrote about how awful "El Topo" was. (He said "it was time travel in reverse--after 2 hours, I checked my watch and found that 50 minutes had gone by")

happy sink! happy sink!

I finally got my "CharlieCard" pass via work. It's a delight just shoving my wallet at a sensor instead of carefully feeding in a ticket and waiting for it to reemerge.

(I'm hard pressed to remember how the old monthly passes were read, though... did you have to swipe them through some kind of strip reader?)

For what it's worth, I have an extra Link (T and Bus) pass good 'til the end of March if anyone wants it.

Photos of the moment
So I've just noticed that it's pretty easy to see faces in the three sinks in the restroom at work...

Happy Sink!

Happy Sink!

Very very upset sink!

Of course the problem is once you notice something like this it's difficult to NOT see it. Too bad there's 3 instead of 2 sinks, you'd have nice "drama masks of comedy and tragedy" matched set.

fevah! what a lovely way to burn

Hmm. Felt a bit better this morning, not running a fever... my secret placebo was buying a humidifer for the bedroom.

Link of the Moment
I have to admit I really dig that glass bottomed walkway over the Grand Canyon. Some folks will complain about spoiling up the natural beauty, but... it's a big canyon, and I think it's a lovely thing to have done.

Minicomic of the Moment

--from Tom the Dancing Bug Super-Fun-Pak Comix...

Link of the Moment
The current
betting pool for the US Presidential race. I think it's telling that the wide gap between Hillary and Obama in the Democratic Candidates race is much smaller in the All Canidates pool. I wonder if that means that Giuliani beats Obama but loses to Hillary, or what I tend to think, which is that Hillary is more likely to win the nomination but has become such a rallying point for the rightwingers that she's less likely than Obama to win it all.

7 inches taller and that's ME, man

Bleh. The number of other Kirk Israels on Google is growing.

Previously, I knew of some guy, maybe dead, out in Arizona, and then this one electrical inspector and/or coach in Vermont.

But now there's this 6'6" Guard from the Lipscomb Bisons basketball team. He's snuck up to about 4th or 5th place on the results page, depending on how you use quotes.

Grr! There can be only one!

Not that I'd say that to his face.

Game of the Moment
Desktop Tower Defense is a cute little game. A bit like that Defend Your Castle (against the hoard of stick figure barbarians), or the PC game Dungeon Keeper. You set up little stationary towers that both attack the oncoming hoards as well as let you block them, to prevent them from getting to the opposite side... so a typical strategy is to build labyrinths to heard them into withering crossfire before they make their way to the opposite side.

It's funny how the game combat is so indirect... you don't directly attack the enemies, and they can't do anything to your towers.

Exchange of the Moment
"What'd you do?"
"I took a step class...
...oh my god... ...Evil fuckin' old lady"
Me and Miller upon his return from the local gym.
I'm not sure if I quite caught the terrific, under-his-breath resentful tone that amused me so much.

z22 powa!

(1 comment)
So my Sony Palm (Clié SJ22) died the other week. Palm is, I fear, a dying brand. (You can even get those Treo-phones with Microsoft's OS, which is an abomination, an affront to people who dig good UI design) and the selection of models is shrinking.

I took a small gamble and tried Palm's $99 entry-level "Z22" and, mirabile dictu, it is fantastic. Cheap and light, with a comfortably curved rear shell and the same UI that has been topped in the 10 years since the first Palms emerged... so good. The screen isn't as high quality as the old Sony, but Palm has never needed more than that basic 160x160. I have some other quibbles, the 4 way pointer thing isn't as useful as the Sony scrollwheel, and not as reliable as the up-and-down buttons on the old units, and I kind of miss having 4 application buttons, but still. I slapped on the included screen protector and don't worry about it not having a case or cover.

I'm almost surpised this came from Palm, whose design group seemed stuck on the idea that "compact" means flat but wide and long (so as to not sacrifice screen real estate, I guess, but disregarding the hand- and pocket-feel.)

I was surprised how long I was in that "looking for excuses to fiddle with it" zone with this gadget. Many well-designed devices will grab me like that for a bit, but I felt the compulsion for over a week, even with a decade of familiarity with the basics of it. Other folks dig the higher-end models, with wifi, or integrated phones, but this one is compact enough that I don't mind it as a standalone device, and cheap enough that I worry about it less.

(Weird... I just now noticed that the "SJ22", which I was happy with for a number of years, and "Z22" share that model number. And that number is 2 of the 3 digits of my lucky number 222. So maybe it's an omen!)

So, now I'm back to having... yeesh, a decade's worth of datebook, lots of notes, addresses, and my current Todo stack around with me at all times. It's not as important as when I was journaling on it instead of the web, but I dig it.

Passage of the Moment
[...]There was another bit of low-rent, half-assed psycho philosophy that I'd tacked on behind it somewhere along the line- sort of a corollary to "Deal with it"--namely, "Don't be a shit."

This doesn't mean I became some sort of namby-pamby little Candide with a smile in my heart and a kind word for even the lowliest vermin. Hardly. But choosing not to be a shit just made sense. You want to get good service in a store, in a restaurant, or while dealing with a government agency? Then don't be a shit. Remember that in most cases, the people you're dealing with are under just as much stress and have just as many unspoken crises facing them as you do, so show a little patience--and tip well.

Jim "Slackjaw" Knipfel, "Ruining It for Everybody"
He's been a columnist in some indy papers, a grizzled veteran of the school of hard knocks, suffering from a degenerative vision condition and all kinds of physical and karmic maladies.

It sounds like he's a bit of a barfly, and the book reminds me how nice it can be to just sit in a bar and hang out in some quite and dark recess of a bar, especially with just 2 people.

The quote now reminds me of a "This American Life" piece yesterday that came to the conclusion that, for the most part, people tip what they always tip, regardless of the friendliness of the server. But if you can make life feel a little better for everyone involved, even if it's just the American faux-friendliness, why not?

what's green, hangs on a wall and whistles?

So here's a joke:
Q. What gets wetter the more it dries?
A. A towel!
This joke has bugged me ever since I was a kid. It took me a while to "get" it, and even then, something rang false. And now I know what that is: it's not specific enough.

The whole joke hinges on how the verb "to dry" has a transitive sense of "drying something else" beyond the expected intransitive sense of "becoming more dry". OK, cute, haha, you got me, I was thinking of the wrong meaning.

BUT! - this property hold true for anything that absorbs water and that you can use to dry something else. Napkins, sponge, an old shirt... it's not like plain old towels have a monopoly on drying other things through absorption.

Now that I have this off my chest, I feel so much better.

Photo of the Moment

--And so I begin baby steps towards cooking. This happens to be slices of Trader Joe's Roasted Garlic Chicken Sausage over Trader Joe's Vegetable Fried Rice. Not a microwave nor a pot of boiling water were involved, and yet... hot food! Remarkable! (for me.)

Miller and I agree; very tasty. Obviously not rocket science but I intuited a good combination at the grocery store.

I think it's likely that pre-seasoned stuff from Trader Joe's will be a good middle ground for a while, before going full out on doing stuff from scratch.

struts sucks. tapestry sucks. gwt sucks. they all suck, so there, nyah.

(1 comment)
Techie disagreements at work. I'm supposed to be scouting various UI packages, but I can't shake the conviction that the MVC plumbing is the wrong place to be adding complexity, that writing Servlets and JSPs is easy, and few packages buy you more in functionality and getting people to do things "right" than they cost you in complexity.

Bums me out, that I'm either gonna have to try to press the case or just grin and bear it. It also worries me that I'm too conservative about embracing new platforms.

Webshow of the Moment
Slate on Zefrank, who has ended his daily 3-minute show after a brilliant one year run. His main site, Zefrank.com, has been on my backlog since 2003. Seriously! I kept meaning to get to it, go through all the cool toys (that's when the toys, and a few little videos, were all there was there) and link to just the best ones, but you know? 3 or 4 years on, I'm gonna call it a wash.

Besides the cleverness of his stuff, the other thing is the remarkable amount of polish in it, from the interface of the toys, to the quality of the editing of the video, to just the overall experience.

If you're in a hurry, just check out the episode complicated... the idea of "just start playin' with it" is a great one. Way too often my fear of not doing something optimally, or getting stuck in some kind of dead end, leads me to do a lot less than I think I theoretically could.

Gotta say though, while it didn't have the manic energy or pace of Zefrank, in terms of foreshadowing the whole video blogging thing, computer stew is looking more and more amazing. (Same guy who did Zug.com and all the pranks to come from there.) And sad, how the archive are all these slow-to-download-yet-still-tiny-screened Real media things.

lucky 13 x 2

The other day on the radio, I swear I heard some factoid that if the Pentagon were an independent nation, it would rank, like eleventh or so in terms of wealth, beating out even India. Could that possibly be true? That's astounding if so.

(I couldn't quite Google the fact up, but India's 2005 GDP was $785 billion, and the Pentagon just requested $622 billion budget, so it's in the ballpark at least.)


Personal Story of the Moment
Once upon a time, in a land far far away, a little girl was born.
The time, actually, was the 13th of March, 1975.
And the place, actually, was the #13 hospital in St. Petersburg.
When this little girl turned 13 (there's that number again!)
she was taken out of that cold and far away place to see the world....
Austria, and Italy, and then finally, the city of Boston.
Still cold! But much less far away.
So the little girl grew up in Boston and experienced
So Much of the world around her: yoga, and the beaches,
and music, and crazy diets, and, of course... boys.

After carefully considering boys from many countries,
she finally chose a wonderful Dutch fellow,
for Dutch fellows have many wonderful qualities.
For instance, this boy agreed to color his hair for her.
And he made the cutest kitty-like "Mwaaaa" sounds when happy.
And he even moved all the way to the United States to be with that girl.
And so the girl and the Dutch boy got married,
and decided to have a baby....
The other day Lena enlisted my help polishing this story. But the odd thing is... it's her story, but as it's told here, in all its particulars, it's also the story of her friend Ina! (Whose wedding Lena was writing it for.) They share a birthday, birth hospital, and have lived an uncanny amount of parallels since.

And I wish both of them the best in the "now they live happily ever after!" part that comes next!

Doodle of the Moment

--Snuck in between taking notes during a meeting. Yay for Tablet PCs!

you... light up my life... or at least my desk...

So at work they rejiggered things so now the 3 new guys (myself included) are in the single "war room". Thanks to a coin flip (hint: always guess tails with American coins) I got the desk that doesn't have its back to the world.

I gotta say, though, that I will be forever bugged by people who, first thing in the morning, come into a room where people are already happily working and flip on the overhead lights. It's just so presumptuous not to ask, not to mention neglectful of the good karma of real light.

Advertising of the Moment
There's a T-mobile vendor in my building with what I find to be an amusingly out of date promotional poster. I snuck in this snapshot when the desk was unattended but the door was still open:

I mean, take a look at that phone!

OK, it's probably not as amusing here as I think, and not a great photo but still... that sucker looks like it should have an old glowing red LED display. Though maybe I should cut them some slack, the company has the word "Pager" in the title so maybe they've been around for a while.

Concept of the Moment
Bill the Splut's messageboard (all its talk about errr, "legendary" cartoonist Gonterman) introduced me to a new concept, or rather, a name for an old concept: the Mary Sue:
a pejorative term for a fictional character who is portrayed in an overly idealized way and lacks noteworthy flaws, or has unreasonably romanticized flaws. Characters labeled Mary Sues, as well as the stories they appear in, are generally seen as wish-fulfillment fantasies of the author.
Often, a Mary Sue is a "self-insertion" where the author is blatantly writing themselves into their own story.

This concept helps me label what bugs me about, say, "The Dresden Files"... decent enough fantasy/horror reads, but the main character is just a bit too-- idealized, in a kind of Post-SCA kind of way. It feels like there are a few too many carefully selected character flaws and a few too many "humble superlatives", if that makes any sense.

wings give you red bull

Random anecdote: I remember once my dad was on an airplane trip, and somehow I found out he was bringing me back "wings" from the airline. I didn't know what they were, but my folks made them sound like something I should be excited about, so I was! Some kind of flying toy? or better yet, something that would let me fly?? I was literally dizzy with anticipation.

When I found out that was just some stupid decorative pin, I was so deeply disappointed.

Another time he took an airplane trip where, through a series of bumps and rebates and discounts and something to do with PEOPLExpress, the airline ended up paying my dad to fly, much to his amusement.

Link of the Moment
Why a Career in Programming Sucks. Some good points, but it still comes down to how it feels like one of the last bastions of being payed well for making stuff. (via Catherine, but her LJ is mostly for friends only)

thirty and three

Today I am 33!

1/3 of a damn century, or thereabouts. Oy!

An old romance wrote that she wished me happiness and finding exactly what I'm looking for, which of course brings me smack dab into my fundamental existential issue at age 33: intense and sometimes overwhelming uncertainty about what I'm really am looking for.

But of course even that concept needs clarification: I can trivially envision an ideal life for me, a total flight of fancy involving world peace, immense wealth, and interpersonal relationships of an ease, depth, simplicity and grace described only in lesser novels (and then, described only in vague "Mary-Sue"-ish terms.)

The real challenge then is excluding the "you can't get thay-er from he-ahr" and focusing on the possible; but then again, I have a risk-aversion personality flaw that drags me towards the "probable" rather than the merely "not utterly unlikely."

Factoids of the Moment
The have a lot of factoids, though I think too many of them are "33%" derived from approximations of "1 in 3".

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