August 1, 2007
Sweet day in the morning, August already?
Quote of the Moment
"Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays."
That's an interesting thought. Even for a skeptic it enters into the argument of the appropriateness of religious practice. (Of course that's a two-edged sword: there are certainly some mindsets where fostering dependency on action by an external agency rather than one's own effort is not a positive thing.
Once when discussing the merits of relatively casual (though not necessarily not-heartfelt) utterance of "I Love You" EB pointed out it's not always a reminder to the hearer, but the speaker as well.
Movie Poster of the Moment
|--Polish poster for the Hollywood movie "Working Girl", from this page of Polish posters from the 1940s on. Some recurring motifs, but also some interesting takes on familiar topics. Feels very dark and Cold War-y. Via Boingboing who also links to this poster shop.|
August 2, 2007
So, scary bridge tragedy in Minnesota.
Just the other week some public radio show had a piece on our infrastructure that is showing many signs of wear and tear.
It seems like this bridge had been recently inspected, but still. Seeing as how it coincided with the schedule groundbreaking of a new half-a-billion ballpark (that I think had some public funding controversies), I wonder if people will be re-evaluating that whole situation.
I guess there are some political cheapshots to be had here, about pouring billions into Iraq's infrastructure (and sometimes to very little avail, the number of failed projects there is alarming) and neglecting our own.
Alphabet of the Moment
|--Type the sky on slanted.de. An alphabet made from the negative space of neighboring buildings, looking up.|
Emoticons of the Moment
Amy Cohen, an author and a former dating columnist for The New York Observer, joked that she could "tell the whole story of a relationship in emoticons: Happy, happy, happy, sad, happy, sad, sad."
--from this NYTimes Article on Emoticons, and their increasing acceptability.
As the article points out (but with distracting commas) that's
:)  :)  :)  :(  :)  :(  :(
I learned something else: it seems common for Russians to forgo the eyes on smilies but multiply the smiles, and just do something like ))))
And like I kisrael'd a few years ago, Japanese online folk tend to do eye-centric, horizontal smilies, ^_^ but they're helped by a font with more characters.
August 3, 2007
There's a Rebecca's Cafe stand in the lobby at work with a sign that says something like "if we forget the receipt, it's free". And the person there never gives a receipt. But I'm kind of torn, because on the one hand, hey free stuff, but on the other by no means do I actually want a receipt. I'd merely be acting as a tool of the Rebecca's Cafe hegemony, putting up with a few moments of awkwardness in exchange for free yogurt and granola .
Or maybe there's a catch to it, like it's implicitly only "if you ask for it, and then we forget".
Video of the Moment
--this was probably making the rounds a long time ago. I first saw it it in a commercial (I think for some kind of financial services group) except they digitally altered it to be a box for some kind of toy robot. The scary thing was, I recognized it as a box for an N64 just from it's general size and maybe some of the color scheme.
My memory is so... selective? Or... I dunno. I'll remember little snippets of conversation that other people have long forgot, but then forget names and, just as irritatingly, little technical details that I haven't used in a while.
Movie Quote of the Moment
Ranger Brad: Oh, say... You don't believe those old legends about the Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, do you?
Dr. Roger Fleming: Ranger Brad, I'm a scientist, I don't believe in anything.
--The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, which I re-watched recently at Masukomi's place.
There was another good line, with extraterrestrial aliens trying to assimilate and make conversation:
Obviously there is much humor in what you say.I think this would make a good T-shirt, just the understated contradiction between the form and content of the phrase. (It reminds me a bit of not been on boats line Masukomi helped me turn into shirts a while back.)
August 4, 2007
In Rockport, work-a-day work-a-day.
Workplace Humor of the Moment
--Ellio and Jonathan and me, in our old shared office space.
Product of the Moment
My envy of Heelys continues unabated, because of or despite of this Slate piece on using the adult-sized version. If only I liked wearing sneakers or anything that isn't a sandal or shoe for work.
August 5, 2007
Still in Rockport, perhaps.
Essay and Response of the Moment
Mr. Ibis forwarded on a good Paul Graham Essay on "stuff"
Here's what I wrote on his comment board, though it got pretty buried:
Hmm. I wonder if books are that different.
Though they stack neatly on a shelf, unlike "random objects"
(Which ties in well with the "builds a mental model" theory, that if it's neatly on a shelf, you're more able to "chunk" it and consider it as a "full bookshelf" instead of "book a, book b, book c" etc. That said, I'm still skeptical about that theory, I think human attention tends to be more focused than that, that even cluttered surroundings can "fade out"... but a cluttered environment is more likely to throw random distractions at you.)
Do other media count get a pass as well? Video Games? DVDs?
(personally, I think at least one factor in the success of DVDs is how nice they look on a bookshelf)
Having just bought yet more bookshelves, I'm wondering. My (loosely applied) criteria is that a book must be at least one of the following:
- be something I'd actively recommend to someone else
- have a reasonable expectation of reading again, or at least refer to a specific bit of
- is by a favorite author, so it gets a pass
August 6, 2007
So, hot weekend in Rockport, and on Saturday Evil B and I knocked off early and headed to the beach (along with wife and child (not that you'd know from these photos)).
Open Photo Gallery
No man is an island but in still-but-salt-laden waters
I can do my best impression of one.
It's almost like a sensory deprivation tank there.
Here's a detail from the last one
of the stone seawall we then jumped off of:
EB showed me the way:
Finally EB took this one of me:
August 7, 2007
Looking at the Apple logo embedded on the back of my iPhone, shiny and reflective in contrast to the brushed metal around it, it occurs to me that if I were a fundamentalist, the bitten apple, with its clear forbidden fruit reference, appearing on more and more consumer devices (the iPod, no less, subverting millions of impressionable youth by isolating them into their own little musical worlds) would make me very suspicious.
Books that I didn't know needed to exist: Venereal Disease and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Feh, guess I'll wait for the softcover.
Factoid of the Moment
Until the nineteenth century, oddly enough, Americans almost never commented on the weather when describing public events.
--One Night Stands with American History, an amusing enough little book marred by some fairly blatant anti-Clinton editorializing at the end. This factoid comes from a the fact that there are conflicting reports as to the weather at George Washington's inauguration.
August 8, 2007
There's one anecdote I'll always keep with me... (in part because I noted it in my Palm journal) I was commuting on Memorial Drive one Tuesday morning in 1999, not far from that weird rotary at the end of the BU bridge, and was furious, letting myself get all road-ragey over the halted conditions. (In some ways I find it cathartic to let loose during that kind of situation, try to burn out all the irritations and frustrations of the day, but there's some real anger at the scene there as well.)
Anyway, I was ranting and raving over this Asian guy who had snuck in to the lane by tailgating the car in front of him -- in clear violation of the "alternate feeding" guidelines! -- that I thought were key to letting us all get through this mess.
So he looked at me in his rear view mirror, placed his hands on either side of his head, stuck out his tongue and waggled moose antlers.
I was completely disarmed. It was a perfect wordless Zen Koan, a reminder of just how seriously I should take the world and my current place in it.
Object of the Moment
In Rockport, Evil B and I thought maybe we had found the world's biggest bottle-opener. Lots of leverage with that thing!
Turns out it's more like a cane, with a metal top that unscrews and reattaches to become a bicycle-seat like top for a monopod stool... clever!
(Nice forearm, EB.)
Game of the Moment
Probably cooler in concept than execution, Design Your Own Deathstar.
August 9, 2007
This was my response to a post on a small private-ish conversation website a friend of mine runs... the original poster linked to this article on the need for universal healthcare. Many of the posters there seem to be libertarian in leaning, and so that influences my tone a bit.
Canadian's healthcare seems reasonably popular among most Canadians I know personally, though there's certainly a group of loudmouth activist detractors from the area.
Public health and sanitation has done more to increase life spans and quality of life than most other individual advances in medical technology, no matter how many anecdotes you think of to the contrary.
I certainly think the freemarket isn't living up to its hype when it comes to say, researching new drugs: the incentive is for companies to tweak old formulas and spend bajillions promoting the hell of stuff (including almost bribing doctors) before it becomes generic, so relatively little money and effort is spent on original, risky, ground breaking research, in lieu of these minor patentable improvements and marketing, marketing, marketing.
(generics; an interesting area for the laissez-fairest. Should we have drug patents or let anyone make any product they can figure out how to duplicate? Who will then bother to research new products? Should the protective role of the FDA go away, replaced, hopefully, by some private concerned folks looking to make a buck? Or just rely on quackery and reputation of medicine providers?)
For myself... well, if I had a reasonable healthcare system to fall back on, I'd feel a bit less constrained as to career paths. Right now, I don't consider any job w/o a big package of medical benefits, but if there were an acceptable fallback, and I mostly had to just plot out rent and food, my life would more free.
One time my doctor (whose practice is an awesome blend of hardcore western medicine rounded out by a respect for and use of some of the best of that hippy stuff; the dude was also my yoga instuctor for 3 years) complained that people accept that they might have to pay a couple hundred for a new exhaust system, but are very uptight about the same kind of money for appointments and treatment and what not. I pointed out to him later that, that's because car costs are ultimately bounded, but health care is not. Worst case scenario, a car is totaled and you have to buy a new one. For medicine though, even if "regular maintenance" is affordable, if something goes wrong, it might go really wrong, and since you can't buy a new body, you're going to be desperate for any treatment that holds promise to fix you. This is why people cling together for health insurance, and why some people think we might get better value-for-money and economics of scale by doing so on a national level.
August 10, 2007
Random observation: the crew at the Dunkin at Alewife are probably the most efficient I've seen.
Also: for a while it seemed like the ride home was more crowded than the ride to work, but then I realized that's because boarding at Alewife in the morning means I always have a seat and can than lose myself in a book, blissfully unaware of the crowds hunting for standing room.
Cyborg of the Moment
|--Cyborg Moth, from the first day of Slate's enjoyable coverage of DARPA's "mad-scientist" conference. Maybe those Iranian tales of spying squirrels weren't so far off!|
Exchange of the Moment
"He was in a small band, that was kind of like the Beatles."
"Kind of like? How are you kind of like the Beatles? Do you sing songs like 'I Want To Grab Your Elbow'? Instead of 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' it's 'Bobby on the Floor with Some Empty Beer Cans'?"
Article of Yesterday's Moment
Bush and Giuliani, and advocates of their plans, want to change the dynamic. They want to turn what has been a wholesale, buy-in-bulk business into a retail business. They want to replace a bunch of giant, sophisticated consumers possessing limited bargaining power with a mass of unsophisticated consumers possessing no bargaining power. For some reason, they think you and I can do a better job negotiating with Oxford and Aetna than Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola can.
--Continuing yesterday's theme here a bit, Slate on Giuliani and Bush's health care proposals. I think it's an interesting example of one of the over-riding issues of free economies, especially ones that have these potentially immortal and immensly virtual people known as corporations...
August 11, 2007
I'd like to make a show called "The Dusk Area". Here's a synopsis of the first episode, "At Last Enough Time":
Barry Hemis is a meek bank clerk who loves to read but is denied this pleasure by his shrewish wife and demanding boss. He alone escapes the nuclear holocaust when he sneaks off to the bank vault to read during his lunch break. Emerging, he despairs at the desolation and loneliness of the shattered landscape until he discovers a treasure trove of undamaged books at the public library... enough for him to read for years! Tragically, he accidentally breaks his eyeglasses and is left with nothing. But that's ok because he dies of radiation poisoning a few days later, and in fact barely notices the irony, what with his hair falling out in clumps, the bloody stool, and the constant vomiting.Pretty good, huh?
Video of the Moment
So until I get around to making that, here's Minesweeper: The Movie
"Why are you really here?"(via Mr. Ibis)
"I want to make this land safe!"
"Why are you here soldier??"
"I'M HERE BECAUSE I'M BORED!"
August 12, 2007
Today marks the 2418th day of kisrael.com. Here's a reminder of how I figured that. Now, why did I figure that? I'm not sure. But... it certainly is a lot of days, and a lot of kisrael.
Games of the Moment
I just read Dewdney's "The Planiverse", about a 2D universe (but with gravity... it reminded me a bit of the Adventures of Alfredo) and they mentioned Alak which in effect is one dimensional "Go".
Looking for that I found Tetris 1D which is slightly less fun than it sounds.
Backdrop of the Moment
|--This is a reassembled backdrop from an old Fleischer Superman short, via animation treasures 1. The urge to reconstruct this kind of backdrop is so fundamentally geeky, I love it.|
August 13, 2007
Interesting bit on public radio this morning, about the Brazilian community in Boston starting to dry up, thanks in part to the weak dollar and a perception of an increase in anti-immigrant feeling. Actually one of the guys heading back said that he thought the economy was in free-fall and didn't see it getting better in the next five years. That seemed like a pretty dire assessment!
Toy of the Moment
--News Ticker from Lore's Bad Gods. The description from its page
The Doo-Dah News Network brings you the finest headlines that you can sing to the tune of "Camptown Races" if you add "Doo-Dah" to the end.(I guess Lore used this trick before, but I think this is actually automated.)
I like how the author-insert Lore cartoons now include the drink recipe of what he's drinking (click on "Notes").
August 14, 2007
You know, thanks to the way perspectives and vanishing points work, when you look down a long straight road (like, say, the Minute Man Bike Path) it always looks a bit like you're going uphill, or at least it's difficult to judge what the angle is.
Though now that I've learned that you have to regularly reinflate bike tires, it's a lot easier overall.
Video of the Moment
Via Boingboing, a video of stoners videotaping other stoners getting investigated by security that is funnier than it should be.
Politics of the Moment
"A monarchy is like a merchantman. You get on board and ride the wind and tide in safety and elation but, by and by, you strike a reef and go down. But democracy is like a raft. You never sink, but, damn it, your feet are always in the water."
--Fisher Ames, 1795
August 15, 2007
I had a dentist appointment this morning.
Life with the dentist... well, the dental hygenist... has gotten better since I figured out I can kind of cooperate with her, think about what part of my mouth she's working on and try to angle things appropriately. It's much less painful than just trying to keep my mouth open as wide as possible the entire time.
I amused myself my trying to think of a story with a main character who found a dental checkup the most relaxing thing in the world and would try to generate excuses to go. But then I realized the only way that would seem realistic to me is if the character had such a screwed up and stressful life that having someone scrape and prod around the teeth and gums with sharp instruments was a nice distraction.
Quote of the Moment
"One of the best things to come out of the home computer revolution could be the general and widespread understanding of how severely limited logic really is."
Link of the Moment
I was amused by Slate's glossary of Hedge-Fund-ese.
Photo of the Moment
|--Slightly odd thing to see out your window, planes refueling over Back Bay... I also posted a brief video on Youtube that shows the whole scene.|
August 16, 2007
Minor upgrade to the site: I used some URL-rewriting cleverness so that past updates (daily, by month, or by year) all have the same interface:
kisrael.com/2001/01/17/ for the day,
kisrael.com/2001/01/ for the month,
kisrael.com/2001/ for a quick year reference.
Plus, I made it so the title in the header of a day's entry is also a permalink, but it doesn't show up with the underline until you put the mouse over it.
So not the biggest deal, but I like it, especially the /yyyy/mm/dd/ style archive.
Literary Bit of the Moment
Marco Polo describes a bridge, stone by stone.
"But which is the stone that supports the bridge?" Kublai Khan asks.
"The bridge is not supported by one stone or the other," Marco answers, "but by the line of the arch that they form."
Kublai Khan remains silent, reflecting. Then he adds: "Why do you speak to me of stones? It is only the arch that matters to me."
Polo answers: "Without stones there is no arch."
--Italo Calvino, from "Invisible Cities". Someone said it's the book the "Einstein's Dream" clearly cribbed from, but halfway through the former, I have to say I still hold the latter in higher regard for its visions of alternate modes of reality that are meditations on our own.
August 17, 2007
It's twelve after twelve Thursday night, I'm at my friend's birthday get-together at a karaoke bar, and I just sang a dang-near perfect "Ghost Riders in the Sky"... between a mild cold and shouting along to too many songs, I had a great cowboy timbre.
Oh, and the whisky sours.
Followup of the Moment
So yeah, that was written last night. Got in late. I knew I might not be on my A game this morning when I finally started to make the mistake I had been vaguely expecting for a few weeks now, grabbing the pre-shave splash-on stuff thinking it was mouthwash... (to be fair they're both green liquids in similar bottles.)
So recently I came up with the idea of using a different font for kisrael. Do people thing this looks better or worse than what I have currently? I know it can be hard to judge fairly because it's less familiar...
August 18, 2007
So last night I'm helping to watch a five-year-old cousin of mine, enlisting my Aunt's GameCube as co-babysitter. Caleb likes two player games but is absolutely shameless in asking to swap controllers whenever I get the least bit ahead.
My Aunt says he reminds me of him at that age.
So despite that, or possibly because of that, I try to help him get a sense of perspective.
"Hey, you know what happens if you lose?"
"Nothing! I still think you're a good kid. But you know what happens if you win?"
"Still nothing! It's just a silly game."
But winning in and of itself was more important than game logic to him and he freely reveled in victory even if it was the result of a last second swap. For some of the latter games I would quietly let him win, but still I wonder which is the best stance to take: to play along and make him happy, or to try and help him put losing a game into perspective.
For if I wasn't letting him win he would have LOST. Oh yes, he would have lost, and sweet victory would have been mine!
August 19, 2007
So a while back I was reading up on Zen, and while I haven't started a meditation practice or anything, I've taken some of the outlook to heart.
There's this one site, zen habits, an offshoot of the "Getting Things Done" movement. The last few entries have been a bit more about some Zen ideals (the vegetarianism, the sparse kitchen) but sometimes the site's reliance on lists like "23 Ways to Save on Groceries" and "The 20 Biggest Online Time Wasters, and 6 Strategies for Beating Them" seems to indicate a strikingly un-Zen approach.
Not that they're not good and useful ideas. Today I took the first step of this one closet trick: reverse all your hangers in the closet, but making sure subsequently washed clothing gets put on the "right" way. After a suitable interval (for both a warmer and colder season, I'd say) you can see what clothing was worn, and what wasn't, and make the appropriate decision.
Graffiti of the Moment
|--Two of my favorites from this collection of wall griffiti: an elevator Asteroids ship (cue "why didn't *I* think of that?") and a puzzled "What's This For?" by an odd twist of Pipe. (via Catherine)|
August 20, 2007
August is showing its cold side. It made me think of this poem:
I could compare you to a summer day ---Romana Machado, 6/28/95
No! Summer's beautiful, but full of doubt,
He smiles sweetly, but he'll never stay,
And Summer's cash is always running out.
He laughs with me, then he turns and burns,
He's cold for weeks, then he'll change his mind -
Fair? No, unfair! Unaware of my concerns,
Gorgeous? Sure, but stupid, random, blind.
Dear, when you say you'll stay, you always will,
And when you change, you always give a reason,
You're too fierce for time or death to kill!
How could I compare you to a season?
You will shine, as constant as a star,
When this poem is forgotten; most poems are.
I wonder what Romana Machado is up to these days... most of her online references are pretty old. She was profiled in an early Wired as a writer of encryption and Extropian who plans to live forever, or at least get frozen 'til she can be thawed out.
Great poem though.
Oddly enough I can search the second line up on Yahoo, but not Google. Wonder if it's slipping...
Diagram of the Moment
--Diagram linked from a Slate piece on a "physics" explanation of why poor nations stay poor. The core ideas are that A. rich countries tend to have a nice diversity of industries and B. it's easier to switch from related industry to another, so if most of your wealth is in outlier industries such as oil, it's going to be harder to diversify.
Huh. I would have guessed "textiles" would be closer to "garments" than "metallurgy".
August 21, 2007
The whole idea that the king is never actually captured in chess smacks of monarchism, some kind of kowtowing to the idea of the Divine Right. I'm almost surprised France or the United States didn't come up with some variation that made a big point of removing the king from the board as loudly and obnoxiously as possible.
There's that Italian proverb, "After the game, the king and pawn go into the same box." A nicely egalitarian thought, but one that doesn't really hold up as it applies metaphorically to people... the pawn goes into a plane pine box if that, and the king goes into some kind of ornate mausoleum, and beyond that concrete difference, the pawn is likely anonymous and forgotten after a few decades, while the king's legacy lives on one way or another, and has a name that'll be written down on a list forever.
Well, not that the (now dead) king notices.
Image of the Moment
|--I'm not one to go OMGSOCUTE -- squee!!! but... OMGSOCUTE -- squee!!!! The teacup is so perfect. (via cellar.org iotd)|
Poetic Revamp of the Moment
So as a followup to yesterday's poetic work, I googled up this weird variant:
You are my bright and happy summer days. Wait! Summer's beautiful, but full of doubt. You smile like sugar sweets, but never stay. Sometimes you make me want to scream and shout! Laughter is first than comes great disaster. From warm to cold will you not stop my pain? Unfair misery bitterness matter. Why do I love you so? This is so lame! And when we change, you always give reasons. Open my eyes to see the world of truth. So why do I compare you to seasons? You are too strong for death and full of youth. So help me I plea save me from despair! Yet I still love you like no other compare!It's signed Sin-Jin and I saw it on this guestbook. It takes the rough structure and some of the lines from its source, but then is more of a "Lover's Complaint" than a bit of praise. Still, as a bit of an authority on homebrew love poetry I gotta say... ugh.
August 22, 2007
Literature of the Moment
It's odd how a small passage or turn of phrase or scene from a book can stick with you. I've noticed that with Garrison Keillor's "WLT: A Radio Romance"
The Blue Movers had plenty of songs about losing women, drinking, losing their jobs, shooting people, riding freight trains, finding other kinds of women and then losing them, too, but not so many songs about Jesus, so Slim brought in a singer named Billie Ann Herschel, who had performed with the Shepherd Boys, to do the hymns segment. She was twenty-four. She stood at the microphone while Slim stood behind her, playing guitar and looking at her slim hips under the cotton dress. While singing hymns, she liked to shift her weight from side to side, and he found it hard to keep his mind off her, not that he tried to--For some reason, it's the visual image brought forth by a young woman at a microphone, "slim hips under the cotton dress".
Also, this one (Mom Warning, some indelicate language about breasts ahoy.)
"Well," Art said, glancing around. "For fooling around with, the girls with the flat chests are your hot babes [...] so you want a woman with nice little tittles. And a talker. You always want a woman with good chops on her. She'll give you a lot of yap but she'll give you a lot of hubba-hubba too."That was Uncle Art leading Franny "down the garden path". I don't know about the "yap"/"hubba-hubba" correlation, but I do appreciate good conversational skills in my companions, so...
Franny wanted to know more--what is hubba-hubba,for example--but he didn't want to betray ignorance.
Uncle Art also gives him the categorizations of women's breasts, with my favorite (strictly for the richness of language) being "shirtful of hooters".
Finally, a bit of Salvation Army-related fantasia:
"The performer I admired the most, I think, was Uncle Albert, actually my dad's uncle. We hired him about 1927 and he stayed for twelve years until he died. We hired him because he broke his leg and couldn't be a street preacher anymore with the Salvation Army, which he had been for forty years. He was one of General William Booth's old stalwarts, and when Booth came over from London, he and Uncle Albert would go nightclubbing in Chicago. Neither of them touched a drop, of course, but General Booth loved to dance. He was wild about the turkey trot, the foxtrot, and the Buffalo, but of course he couldn't dance with young women, lest it lead to carnal desire, so he danced with Uncle Albert. After a hard day among the down-and-out and a long evening service, the General'd lean over and whisper, `How about a little hoofing?' and off they'd go. Around the hot spots of Chicago, two men dancing together was definitely eccentric. In fact, it was so eccentric that people who were as drunk as everybody in the clubs didn't believe their eyes, and so the old gents, decked out in their somber Army regalia, flung themselves around the dance floor in happy abandon, and left refreshed, and woke up at dawn to resume the Lord's work."Given how straight-laced and anti-frivolity the 'Army was back then (I remember reading some Salvation Army book from the 1930s arguing that going to a circus was likely to be a distraction from the mission at hand.) this seems unlikely, but it does tie in with the apocryphal Booth quote, "Why should the devil have all the best tunes?" (on the subject of the Salvation Army co-opting secular tunes with new spiritual lyrics.)
August 23, 2007
Man. Walking the bikepath is such a drag now that I've gotten use to biking. It feels so slow and inefficient. Bikes zoom right past, and here I am using my legs like a sucker. On the other hand I am typing this on the way, so there's at least some fun to be had.
Bikepath trivia: the intersections of the bikepath and the regular road are marked by pairs of roadcone-like green plastic cylinders. These are spring loaded, popping back up after being pushed down... not for the the benefit of an errant rollerblader needing to come to a sudden stop before getting socked by a passing car, as I had first guessed, but so landscaping type vehicles can roll right over them.
It was a bit scary passing those slow moving vehicles on my bike, as both the riding mower and the pickup truck take up a majoprity of the bikepath.
Pamphlet of the Moment
--Boingboing linked to this instructional pamphlet (Warning, mildly NSFW links) on how to overthrow your office and create a new society of hippy harmony, to be stuffed into business reply envelopes. The artist's site also includes similar works such as "A Day at the Mall" and "Welcome to Geneva!".
Literary Bit of the Moment
But then, the sky! Blue, untained by a single cloud (the Ancients had such barbarous tastes given that their poets could have been inspired by such stupid, sloppy, silly-lingering clumps of vapor.)
--Yevgeny Zamyatin, "We" (Natasha Randall translation.) Interestingly, the book is shaping up to have similar themes as the last set of links.
August 24, 2007
Philosophy of the Moment
Why is it nice to think [that human qualities such as creativity, intuition, consciousness, esthetic or moral judgment, courage or even the ability to be intimidated by Deep Blue are beyond machines in the very long run]? Why isn't it just as nice--or nicer--to think that we human beings might succeed in designing and building brain-children that are even more wonderful than our biologically begotten children? The match between Kasparov and Deep Blue didn't settle any great metaphysical issue, but it certainly exposed the weakness in some widespread opinions. Many people still cling, white-knuckled, to a brittle vision of our minds as mysterious immaterial souls, or--just as romantic--as the products of brains composed of wonder tissue engaged in irreducible non-computational (perhaps alchemical?) processes. They often seem to think that if our brains were in fact just protein machines, we couldn't be responsible, lovable, valuable persons.Dennett is right to point out that saying "Deep Blue wasn't really playing chess, just running algorithms" is bunk. I also buy the idea that Kasparov is doing a similar search (albeit "chunked" differently, with more familiarity with patterns on a more macro scale) and that neither Deep Blue nor Kasparov are that "conscious" of their analytical process as it is happening. But even though the popular culture has an irritating tendency to keep raising the bar of what "Artificial Intelligence" is as soon as the AI researches come up with an approach that beats it, I think Dennett is a bit misleading in painting a symmetry in the training the two "thinking machines" have received:
Finding that conclusion attractive doesn't show a deep understanding of responsibility, love, and value; it shows a shallow appreciation of the powers of machines with trillions of moving parts.
--Daniel Dennett in this essay on the 10th Anniversary of Deep Blue beating Garry Kasparov in chess.
Much of this analytical work had been done for Deep Blue by its designers, but Kasparov had likewise benefited from hundreds of thousands of person-years of chess exploration transmitted to him by players, coaches, and books.It's quite reasonable to admire the human as a (for now) unique general purpose learning machine over a one trick pony like a chess-playing computer. Kasparov could probably learn to play a mean game of backgammon in short order, which is more than could be expected of Deep Blue. And even though I think the world champion of Backgammon is yet another computer program, if an entirely new strategy game were to be invented, Kasparov would again have the upper hand in picking it up.
There's an analogy to be made with flight, I think: humans playing chess are the Wright Brothers, learning how to fly. A computer that has been coded to play chess is akin to a bird, shaped by millenniums of evolution that it knows nothing of.
I don't think the difference is permanent: over the decades, we should learn to make better general-purpose learners, and their have been some interesting approaches to building a learner from the bottom up, like Cog and Cyc. Of course, as soon as we build a computer that can design its own smart sequel, we'll hit that Singularity Vinge and Kurzweil are on about.
(That singularity idea is fascinating, as it makes some of those corny old scifi "the computers are out to get us!" clichés a little more plausible, in much the same way I never would have expected a Star-Trekian "the computer is processing so furiously that it's draining the power from the lights!" to be echoed in the battery life of my laptop doing processor-intensive tasks.)
I liked the idea of Fischer Random Chess that Dennett mentions, although it seems a little less amazing to realize it only represents 960 different possible starting positions. (Still, in theory, that would be a 3-orders-of-magnitude increase in the "book") My intuition is that such a game would favor the way computers run through possibilities over the way human grandmasters do it, but maybe that comes from a shallow knowledge of simplistic "look ahead" algorithms.
August 25, 2007
The woman hawking Boston NOWs at Arlington Street Station is the first one I've seen who is friendly and tries to "sell" the paper, mentioning the cover story or other features, and I appreciate that. So I'll take one even though I'm at the end of my commute; I guess it makes for decent enough [insert clever but inoffensive euphemism for "bathroom reading" here].
Site Update of the Moment
I'm gradually updating the Blender of Love starting with a new look for the frontpage. Eventually I'd like to get lots of small improvements in there, from the logins to the long-awaited editing of previous posts. (I also redid the main animated Logo in something that ends up looking like the old Dr. Katz "squigglevision".)
Essay of the Moment
In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are - an army of occupation - and force our withdrawal.Nuance does not seem to be a predominant theme in current American policy. Now, I don't knowtow to the "boots on the ground" view just because it is that (since it might succumb to the forest/trees type problem) but their analysis sounds pretty thoughtful to me.
Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.
--A collection of infantrymen and noncommissioned officers in a recent (and almost unprecedented) NY Times Op-Ed piece, The War as We Saw It. (More analysis from Slate)
August 26, 2007
Not that my opinion is worth anything more than anyone is paying for it, but I think this Michael Vick dog-fighting thing is way overblown, and frankly smacks of racism, or at least cultural chauvinism.
Omnivores have ceded the moral highground already. While you might be able to mitigate the impact with "cruelty free" products, ultimately you've declared that the health and well-being of animals is not your number one priority, and that it takes a back seat to your culinary and possibly fashion desires.
As far as I can tell, these animals are bred so that they are born to love to fight. And while I'm not happy to hear about them being killed for failure in the ring or other reasons, they are hardly the only dogs out there whose lives are nasty, brutal, and short thanks to how humans have treated them.
I don't like dog fighting, I don't like the mistreatment of animals for entertainment, but in a world of boxing and factory livestock, I can't see that it should cost Vick his job or years in jail.
(Evil B. pointed out an odd resemblance between the Vick situation and the structure of that beloved kids' favorite Pokémon, which is a bit like dogfighting, albeit with fictional, imaginative creatures who just get knocked out if they lose.)
Convos of the Moment
Man, I don't IM as much as I used to, and so there's a bit less funny in my life.
Recently though I got the chance to talk to Sarah, who also happens to be a newish mom...
sarah: his lordship is definitely having high maintenance time right now... keeps kicking arm... hard to type this way...as he is lolling on other arm... naptime looms tho... so will be back
kirk:It's too bad that they can't encase babies in, say, a comfortable block of swaddling lucite.
kirk:with appropriate drainage holes
kirk: and the head free at top
sarah: that would be most helpful
OK, not hilarious, but I like the idea of "swaddling lucite".
Also, I have a modified screenshot I once set to my coworker Rob... for some reason in the IM client his messages were showing up with a rainbow and fluffy cloud backdrop. (I think some kind of system default, not his choice.) I'd post it, but I think the screenshot with a crudely drawn arrow and "HA HA U R GAY ! !" moused in via paintbrush might not actually put me in the best light, despite my ironic intent.
August 27, 2007
So some of the comments on yesterday's kisrael where enlightening. In particular, it led me to google up this page which leads me to believe I may have underestimated the brutality entailed.
So, if there is a part of the culture for whom this is OK, that indicates a kind of depressing cultural gap, a frightening morality chasm.
Music of the Moment
After the other week's Ghostriders reference, I found this page with dozens of versions of it, including the famous Vaughn Monroe version (which, frankly, I wasn't that crazy about) and a Spike Jones version that I have on CD that mocks Monroe a bit.
And the page is right... Johnny Cash changing "old cowpoke" to "old cowboy" is lame.
Useful Number of the Moment
Did you know about 888-5OPTOUT ? An automated system will let you opt-out of all those pre-approved credit card offers, and it's said to work fairly well. The system has some of the most advanced voice recognition software I've used. It would be nice if this stops the mail, those offers really add to the bulk of the mail I have to go through, plus I always try to be more careful in disposing of it.
Now if only I had a way to opt-out of those stupid newspaper-ish tabloid supermarket coupon fliers...
August 28, 2007
Ordered myself some pseudo-free (still have to pay for shipping, plus a few bucks to avoid the advertising on the back) business cards from VistaPrint:
I didn't actually want to print my home address on it, so I used the space for a haiku:
a haiku written needs a season to be real um... tree in blossom!
At one point I started having a chat with this one nice gal at the bus top, and ended up giving her one of my old business cards, but had to awkwardly scratch out the email on it. I have this possibly unlikely notion that having a card like this might be useful in similar social situations, but probably not so much as I think.
Crowd Control of the Moment
Slashdot had an article about the White House Crowd Control manual recently unearthed by the Washington Post. Here was my favorite bit from the PDF:
The rally squad's task is to use their signs and banners as shields between the demonstrators and the main press platform. If the demonstrators are yelling, rally squads can begin and lead supportive chants to drown out the protesters (USA! USA! USA!) As a last resort, security should remove the demonstrators from the event site. The rally squads can include, but are not limited to, college/young republican organizations, local athletic teams, and fraternities/sororities.I'm not sure which part I find less wholesome, the almost self-parodying use of yelling "USA! USA! USA!" or the idea of importing the local football team and/or frat to act as rhetorical muscle.
Games of the Moment
Gamasutra on 20 Really Difficult Games and the design lessons to be drawn from them. Some of these I haven't even heard of, and the only one I really got through was Blast Corps, which was absolutely terrific. (via slashdot)
August 29, 2007
In my heart of hearts, I have an bizarre little fantasy that some day my "human beatbox" skills will prove useful or even vital, like if accosted by some kind of urban gang I could use it to demonstrate my street cred and legitimate affection for and exposure to black culture.
Mostly, though, I just like making the noise. I suspect, though, that getting it to sound as good over a mike as it does when reverberating in one's own head is a trick. Maybe some week I should give it a shot.
Quote of the Moment
"Everyone is a virtuoso on his own instrument but together they add up to an intolerable cacophony."
--Thomas Bernard. Via my last read, "Not Even Wrong", a study on coping with the autism of a 3 yr old.
Idea of the Moment
I think I need to contact my congressman, or some congressman, and get nominated for the Nobel Prize in... I dunno, I think of something. Maybe peace. Also, I need to catch up on Raymond Chen's Old New Thing blog.
August 30, 2007
David Foster Wallace has a tremendous command of footnotes. He's also a hell of a writer, and his essay "Authority and American Usage" is causing me to rebalance my view on the whole Prescriptivism vs. Descriptivism debate. (My current thinking is that above all I want to be a Utilitarian, that the best use of language is what takes the least amount of mental energy to construct and the audience to parse. This might be hopelessly subjective.)
Anyways, I enjoy the footnotes, some of which go for pages, very much. In fact, I'm realizing that, really, the beauty of life is in the footnotes*. The small asides are what make it all worth while.
*I realize that there's a possible tension here with my other "overarching philosophy of life", that the goal is to have content expressed as economically as possible, that nuance and detail just isn't that important. But footnotes aren't details in this worldview, but rather novel ideas themselves, and so tend to increase the interestingness-density of whatever I'm reading.
Video of the Moment
--Making the rounds. Miss Teen South Carolina. Just... jawdropping. Nerves? Or just so pretty and so so dumb... (more at boingboing)
Products of the Moment
PepsiCo is snug in bed with Microsoft, promoting its exciting new Mountain Dew flavor, "Game Fuel," with a Halo 3 tie-in. The flavor is described on the bottle as "an invigorating blast of citrus cherry flavor," but it could also have reasonably been called "Unbelievably Vileberry," "Piña Colonic" or "Kool-Aid Man's Embalming Fluid."
--Lore, SjöbergReal Gamers Need Starship La-Z-Boy Cockpit Chairs
August 31, 2007
Latest harebrained dieting scheme: nothing but fruit and veggies (though stuff like baked potatoes and salads can have some reasonable level of accoutrement) unless I have a craving for it.
Of course the danger here is that I start redefining "craving", but currently I have a distinct pattern: Every few days I'll just get a severe hankering for something, generally something that I saw the day prior. Since I'm more of an opportunistic eater besides that, maybe I need to just roll with it, and make room for those cravings by minimizing everything else.
It has been a few months since I've had soda. I haven't seen the benefits that "even giving up diet soda!" is supposed to have had. I haven't missed it that much either, though I was momentarily caught off guard at the movie theater, figuring out what goes with popcorn. Luckily they had bottles of water floating right in front of me.
Exchange of the Moment
"Kirk, you're a horrible person."
"That's not what yo' mama said last night!"
"...I could see her not saying that."
--Jonathan and Me, 2007.08.30
"Shouldn't that be Jonathan and I?"
"No... you do the substitution... if I was quoting myself, I would write something like: [gestures]
'Now is the Time'
"Well, you could be a pirate... Iiiii."
"Pirates don't say 'Iiii'."
"Pirates don't say 'Aargh' either! They say 'Arrrr'. That's what they're known for saying."
"Then maybe you could be some kind of... ...fantasy creature. One that says 'Iiii'."
--Jonathan and I, immediately after previewing the transcription of the previous dialog.
Photo of the Moment
--EB catching his pride-and-joy at Arlington Center, 2007.08.29