2008 February❮❮prevnext❯❯

grand central stoppage

(1 comment)
Ooh, a few more moments of by 15-minutes of Warholian fame: Boingboing gadgets accepted my link submission on yesterday's anchor bands post. Best reader suggestion for a possible replacement: velcro.

Video of the Moment

--BRILLIANT! 200-odd folks descend on Grand Central Station and....freeze. That's it. Surreal, I'd love to see or be part of something like this... I wonder how they synchronized it all.

Article of the Moment
Slate on what political ads that acknowledged politics might be like.

Quote of the Moment
Geologists are never at a loss for paperweights.
Bill Bryson


Yay. Weekend.

Blog of the Moment

--from the FAIL blog - the Fail macros are kind of a cousin of LOLCats. Funny stuff, if sometimes in a kind of mean way.

Huh. I need to figure out how to make that kind of lettering, with the outlines...

Bryson of the Moment
So Bryson talks about Thomas Midgely Jr., an Ohio inventor ("with an instinct for the regrettable that was almost uncanny") who brought us both leaded gasoline (great for stopping engine knock, but does terrible things to people, especially children... and the industry's coverup makes the tobacco lobby look like a bunch of saints) and chlorofluorocarbons, aka CFCs (again with a laudable goal, a stable, nonflammable, non-corrosive, and safe-to-breathe gas that might have prevented a 1929 refrigerator leak at a Cleveland Hospital that killed over a hundred -- but the damage these things have wrecked on the ozone layer is horrendous!)

Unfortunately, it's hard to make a punchy illustration for the FAIL of CFCs and leaded gas...


Hey, I heard there's some kind of football game on today.

Factoid of the Moment
The most striking thing about our atmosphere is that there isn't very much of it. It extends upward for about 120 miles, which might seem reasonably bounteous when viewed from ground level, but if you shrank the Earth to the size of a standard desktop globe it would only be about the thickness of a couple of coats of varnish.
Bill Bryson, "A Short History of Nearly Everything"

tom brady and the heartbreakers

Wow, that really stunk.

4th down, 13 yards to go, in long FG range... they decide to try for first down... what? WHAT? Seriously. You have a young kicker with a solid leg; give him a chance. Or punt. Going for just showed a disrespectful overconfidence that completely killed the game for the Patriots.

What a disaster! Congratulations Giants, you did things no else did against the Patriots this year.


I'm almost wondering if playing in what is otherwise the worst division in football is hurting the Patriots; they do have at least 6 winnable games every season.

Science of the Moment
We sometimes find when we get up in the morning, by a rise of an inch in the barometer, that nearly half a ton has been quietly piled upon us during the night, but we experience no inconvenience, rather a feeling of exhilaration and buoyancy, since it requires a little less exertion to move our bodies in the denser medium.
Wyville Thomson, quoted in the Bryson book.
(Tomorrow will mark my last day of quoting from it, along with some commentary.)
Video of the Moment
--Bill the Splut posted some Raymond Scott stuff, but I gotta admit I enjoy the full-Orchestra version of "Powerhouse" more than Raymond Scott's smaller quintent.

super duper tuesday

Got up this morning and voted for Obama. (I hadn't heard much about the other levels of campaigning going on so I declined to guess and vote.)

My reasons for supporting Obama are a bipolar mix of the cynical (Unfair as it maybe, I think Hillary Clinton would be too much of a rallying point for the opposition. Plus, Obama is a handsome devil, and I am PROFOUNDLY cynical about that aspect. Plus I think the USA lets itself be more sexist than racist.) the high spirited (Obama does seem to represent what I'd like to see as a new zeitgeist in politics, and I've seen more grassroots campaigning inspired for him than any other candidate. One friend sent me this Washington Post editorial Obama vs the Phobocracy.)

Tangent: Obama's campaign appears to have raised the bar for yard signs. They've gone up from small little pickets to mini-billboards.

Bryson Critique of the Moment
This 500 page volume isn't an exposition of science. It's a bumper book of jaw-dropping facts transformed into a jaunty narrative by a professional writer. There is almost no attempt to explain anything that could be called a scientific principle or to show what follows from it. Newton's universal law of gravitation gets a paragraph; thermodynamics is covered in a footnote. And a number of errors make one wonder whether its author always grasped what he was told. Peter Medawar once epitomised a virus as "a piece of bad news wrapped in protein." Bryson calls it a memorable phrase but by misquoting it as "a piece of nucleic acid surrounded by bad news" robs it of both sense and wit.
Now, I have to say I'm not sure I agree with the assessment of the rephrasing; it's catchier, and as far as I can tell still makes sense. (Yes, it probably is the nucleic acid that forms the "bad news", but I think there's some leeway there, since the delivery mechanism is certainly part of the badness.) Also I'd be surprised if Bryson came up with the rephrasing himself.

I do confess that his science is a little spotty at places, I myself noticed when he brought out that old "you can see that glass is a liquid because old Stained Glass windows are bigger at the bottom" myth.

many-worlds interpretation of save states

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I'm not sure if I'm a fair-weather fan, just reeling from a horrendous, bad-decisions, other-team-awesome loss, if it's the gap before "Pitchers and Catchers" or some kind of seachange but... I'm digging NPR again, over the sports radio thats been it for me for a couple of years now.

Video Game Quantum Physics Thinkpiece of the Moment

--So this is rather brilliant. This is a play through of a fan-built, very very difficult level of Super Mario World -- you can watch the standard playthrough, showing failure after failure, to get a feel for how it usually looks. Now, one trick modern game emulators can do is "Save States" -- you can save periodically, and when you mess up you get to rewind and do as many "do-overs" as you need, resetting the whole game universe to the point of the save. The genius of this video is letting you see all those failed attempts while still watching the successful run through. The end result is very parallel to the Many Worlds interpretation of Quantum Physics, where every possible option (at the quantum level) splits the universe into multiple branches. More Explanation by the author of this technical and philosophical feat here. (thanks Nick B)

press the button and hope

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I so greatly admire the "push to cross street" button near the Starbucks at Mass Ave and Medford St. You press it, instantly the traffic light turns yellow, then red and you get to cross! It's like some miracle of responsive technological design, I feel so empowered-- I have a simmering suspicion that every other button of this type is a mere placebo.

Comic of the Moment

--My latest entry to the Sketchbook Conspiracy Less Filling Comic Jam. I was a little grumpy that 2 people had to defer their involvement so I had to do mine much sooner than I would have otherwise, and that explains some of the crapness. (Also I tried just just penciling it as a single sheet, and attempted some shading.) I like this version to the cleaned up higher contrast version Miller made.

because time goes by

Just Read: "The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loaca", Umberto Eco. Italian Book Antiquarian loses a tremendous chunk of his personal history after a coma, and looks over a lot of neat boyhood popculture stuff from pre-WW2 Italy (the novel has tons of interesting illustrations.) The book is great when it's about a guy coping with humor and intelligence with having forgotten so much about life that we take for granted, but eventually gets a bit bogged down. It was translated from the Italian by Geoffery Bock, including a lot of lyrics, in rhyme. Impressive, but almost makes me suspicious...

Display Advertising of the Moment
--This great 80s relic is inside of a camera story right by my bus stop. I love the morbid undertone with "Because time goes by"... so get takin' pictures 'cause pretty soon you'll be FRICKIN' OLD! But mostly, I love how the slogan is highlighted by this:
How better to note the passing of time than with an advertisement for an obsolete and discontinued type of film camera?

moral clairitin

Rockport Rocks! Rockport Rocks!

Politics of the Moment
If America's Cold War presidents had adopted Bush's strategic post-9/11 strategic outlook, they would have attacked the Soviet Union at some point during the long standoff, on the grounds that Communism was the "root cause" of many problems. If Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill had thought the way Bush did while planning the strategy for World War II, they would not have formed an alliance with the Soviet Union in order to beat Nazi Germany, because Communism, especially Josef Stalin's version of it, was evil, too. They might even have declared war on both Russia and Germany--and, in their high moral dudgeon, suffered catastrophic defeat.

The great divide in thinking about American foreign policy these past few years is not so much between Realists and Neoconservatives; it's between realists (with a small r) and fantasists. The split lies not in what is desirable over the long run but in what is possible here and now. It is a debate about not so much what America should do as what it can do--bout the limits of American power in the post-Cold War world, about whether there are limits, about the way the world works.

last minute

Ooh, almost forgot to do the site today. It's easy to get distracted these days...

Link of the Moment
TVTropes is really absorbing... it's all the little clichés and tricks you see again on TV, in comics, and in other media. I really admire being people who are able to generalize and find instances when they show up, because I don't think I'm particularly good at it. I also like the clever names they come up with, as well as the relaxed style, refreshingly un-Wikipedia-ish and loose. The comic book section might be the best. It's all a little dangerous because it's so enjoyable to follow all the cross references. (Thanks Nick B)

toilet humor

Ah, brutally winter weather. Yay.

Illustration of the Moment
--Paint-covered toilet from Peter Spier's "Oh, Were They Ever Happy!" I found this book while assisting EvilB, and immediately thought about my impression of this image when I was a kid... something about it, or the paint-dripping brush atop, seemed especially lurid.

Thematically Related Anecdote of the Moment
Gas related humor warning: The other night I was composing a kisrael entry on a laptop, sitting on the floor near the couch where EvilB was folding some laundry. To my immediate horror, EvilB (inadvertently, he assures me) let one fly, and I promptly scurried to safety on the other side of living room. When I glanced back to check on the laptop, THE ENTRY WAS GONE. What is the power of this man's gaseous emissions that he might wipe out blogs ACROSS THE VERY INTERNET ITSELF?

I was duly impressed. Still am.

bodies have more fun

Sometimes I feel like I'm weirdly snobbish about reading books over magazines... there's definitely a hierarchy, like how I do record the books I read and movies I watch over the course of a year but not magazines, and I'm not sure that's justified. There are smart magazines, just like there are dumb books. And magazines put you more in touch with your time.

I keep thinking about that old line "Time: the magazine for people who can't think, and Life: the magazine for people who can't read."

Mashup of the Moment

--James Brown & Pavarotti??? Wow. Thought I heard about that on Morning Edition this morning but wasn't quite sure if it was just something from a dream... James Brown has a pretty amazing voice.

Quote of the Moment
Human beings are divided into mind and body. The mind embraces all the nobler apparitions, like poetry and philosophy. But, the body has all the fun.
Woody Allen, "Love and Death".
The top-of-the-page-quote for the Valentine's version of the Blender of Love, which I finally got done last night. The thing is I don't really agree with the sentiment, I think the mind is plenty entertaining and entertainable itself.

spam ftw :-(

So my email was bouncing yesterday. Then I found out my domain provider had turned off my "catchall" email forwarding, it was just getting too much spam and it was hurting the "reputation" of their servers.

It's temporarily back, but it looks like I'll have to give up my decade+ long luxury of saying "sure, anything @alienbill.com gets to me, so just use whatever username you find most amusing."

Lately I have been giving the same email to companies who ask for one, but there are still a lot of email addresses I'd ideally like to support, and I'm trying to think of ways to best determine which ones that should be.

It's really sad that the spammers are winning like this. The geek archivist purist in me longs for email addresses to be eternal.

Courtroom Exchange of the Moment
Attorney: So you saw that, did you?
Witness: Yes, I did.
Attorney: That was pretty far from you. How far can you see?
Witness: I can see the moon, how far is that?
It's a good point! Most of us can see for lightyears, for certain values of "see".

Interview of the Moment
Blacktron Renegade
This guy had the Lego Job I so coveted as a 12 year old. I was about 6 years too young by the sound of it! His "Blacktron" stuff (especially the asymmetrical "Renegade" shown here) was really the first stuff to push the envelope from a design standpoint.

Nowadays, man, it's clear really brilliant fanfolks are working there. I've heard about the strenuous audition process Lego has developed, and much of the sets they come up with (especially with all the new joint and lever type pieces) seem cooler than anything I would throw together.

hair is a part of you

(1 comment)
Happy Valentine's Everybody!

Quote of the Moment
Hair is a part of you. It is not a part of me, because I am a frog.
... just read "Sesame Street Unpaved", a book about the show so many of us grew up with. Cool to see the "behind the scenes" kind of information.

Video of the Moment

--OK, maybe not as captivating, or captivating in the wrong ways, as the Daft Hands version, but still a bit mesmerizing.

yay samosas

So a year ago I wrote about a small vending stand at Alewife station... I thought the stuff was "tourist food" though as Eric pointed out, I was eating it, so obviously it's good for commuters as well. (I'm still surprised at how cheap it is, that they can sell enough of it to make it worth their while.)

So the owners have upgraded from their pushcart-style stall to one of the newsstand-type installations there. Plus they added vegetable Samosas for a buck and similar beef-filled pockets for $1.50. I know its all on the fried-side but either can make a really tasty and distinctive breakfast treat. (It looks like they start to set up a full small Indian buffet for the lunch crowd, but I haven't been around to see it.)

So Hoo-ray for small business!

Video of the Moment
Reading TVTropes.org's entry on video game Nightmare Fuel I learned about Mimi, a character in the recent Super Paper Mario game... looking up more I found this list of scary Nintendo moments and then this video, starting about 3:45 or so....

Like TVTropes says:
The true form of Mimi from the same game deserves an honorable mention -- if she weren't done in a cartoony art-style loosely inspired by NES games, the appearance of a little girl with a bizarrely-warped, upside-down head with spider legs coming out of it, and her now limp and useless body dangling below her in Homage to The Thing, would be grade-A Nightmare Fuel, and it still manages to be creepy even with that art style.
Yeah! Daddy longelags are pretty spooky anyway.

OSes made easy

Snark of the Moment

--from ftw... (warning lots of really weird and sometimes obscene stuff there, it's as much wtf as ftw.

Dang, did they never get to finishing that Tron Man: Buffer Overrun game for the Atari 2600?

one must imagine sisyphus happy


(click for remade version)

virtual sisyphus
source - built in processing

grape-grabbin', water-sippin' excitement!


To view this content, you need to install Java from java.com

virtual tantalus
source - built in processing

hungry hungry eagles!


To view this content, you need to install Java from java.com

virtual prometheus bound
source - built in processing


So after three days of sophomoric pseudo-existentialist interactive art "humor" we now continue with our regularly scheduled naval gazing!

Went to the Dentist today. And I had a damn cavity! Such an unpleasant start to the morning. And it wasn't just the pain, or the sound... but the smell. A little bit like a wood burning kit, but with the knowledge that it's my poor teeth bearing the brunt.

I suppose it's good that my dentist sticks with good old novocaine but sometimes I wish I had a guy who would use laughing gas instead.

Article of the Moment
Everybody knows that hindsight is 20-20, and those of us who worked on "Operation What Could Go Wrong?" — which was subsequently rechristened "Operation Nothing to Worry About" and then slightly modified and relaunched as "Operation Aiiiieeeeeeeee! Run!" — cannot help but notice, every time we pick up a newspaper or turn on a newscast or watch a late-night comedy show, that everyone is suddenly a big, gosh-darned expert on how to shoot down a spy satellite.
You know I didn't know the satellite in question is the size of a bus... I was thinking these things are more like washing machines or that scale of large appliance. (thanks Bill the Splut)

Quote of the Moment
We're all in this alone.
Lily Tomlin

goats gruff

Anyone catch the lunar eclipse last night? I only saw a bit of it on its way out. It's cool how you can suddenly kind of get a better model of the solar system in your head, mentally lining up the sun, earth, and moon, and internalize the whole clockwork wonder of it all.

Reading of the Moment
It was Homaira and me against the world. And I'll tell you this, Amir jan: In the end, the world always wins. That's just the way of things.
Rahim Khan in "The Kite Runner".
Just read that, a good read. Tough to get through; not so much because of the infamous rape scene, but because of how the main character fails to stand up for his friend, and then in his shame rejects his friend's absolute loyalty.

Article of the Moment
I liked hearing about this guy and his goats; "My three goats won't stop jeering me, and I love them for it."

big ten inch

(1 comment)
Big Ten Inch Snowstorm to Give Boston the Blues!

Animation of the Moment
--So this would be from HappyToast (alas they've taken their animations down.) The link was from Felisdemens' post what's in your clipboard survey, an idea brilliant in its balance of simplicity and utter randomness.

One-Sentence Horror Story of the Moment
All those spiders - they weren't running UP her leg.
Nice to have such clever and creative and pithy friends.

are they made of real girl scouts?

Girl Scouts... their cookies seem to be in full effect once again at Alewife.

I'm always surprised at how young Girl Scouts are, because I remember in elementary school... the girls who were the age I was then were just "Brownies" or whatever, and the girls at the tables don't seem much older than that.

Then again, I guess having "Brownies Cookies" would just be confusing.

Advice of the Moment
Scalzi with Unasked-For Advice to New Writers About Money.

Quote of the Moment
"Everyone is born with genius, but most people only keep it a few minutes."
Edgard Varese.
That's an interesting take on the "tabla rosa" idea of infancy.

i don't understand how the last card is played / but somehow the vital connection is made

Aargh, my server here on kisrael has been giving me so many "connection refused" messages as of late. It's driving me nuts.

Poem of the Moment
Let me cook you some dinner.
Sit down and take off your shoes
and socks and in fact the rest
of your clothes, have a daiquiri,
turn on some music and dance
around the house, inside and out,
it's night and the the neighbors
are sleeping, those dolts, and
the stars are shining bright,
and I've got the burners lit
for you, you hungry thing.
"The Love Cook", Ron Padgett

a is for ASPI

Random webfun: if so inclined, and your browser has a Google search box with autocomplete, go through each letter of the alphabet and post the first thing that shows up. (Which isn't quite alphabetically "fair", I realized; the lists actually are alphabetical, but sorted with all the capitals coming before any lower case letters. Which I guess tends to bias the results for things that I've cut and paste to search on, since generally I'll skip pressing shift. (unless I'm WRITING IN ALL CAPS FOR NO APPARENT REASON.))

Chris Hansen saying "why don't you have a seat over there"
Dasepo Girls
Gary Weiss wikipedia
Harrison Bergeron
I hope you still feel small when you stand by the ocean,
James Bonfield
K B toys
la perla
Obama's hopeful change speech
Quake Wars
Requiem, the mysterious and much-debated final episode of Dungeons and Dragons -
xbox 360 mercenaries
youtube seau

So, post a comment if you feel like doing the same.

Video of the Moment
Mike Huckabee on SNL -- There's something unsettling about the forced-smile populism of politicians on SNL. You know there are probably strict limits to the jokes being made, but still, it seems like a weird length to go to to prove your "just plain folks." Still, this bit made me laugh.

Political Commentary of the Moment
And consider how modest the administration's standard of success has become. Can there be any doubt that they would go for a reduction to 100,000 troops—and claim victory—if they had any confidence at all that the gains they brag about would hold at that level of support? The proper comparison isn't to the situation a year ago. It's to the situation before we got there. Imagine that you had been told in 2003 that when George W. Bush finished his second term, dozens of American soldiers and hundreds of Iraqis would be dying violently every month; that a major American goal would be getting the Iraqi government to temper its "de-Baathification" campaign so that Saddam Hussein's former henchmen could start running things again (because they know how); and "only" 100,000 American troops would be needed to sustain this equilibrium. You might have several words to describe this situation, but success would not be one of them.
--Michael Kinsley, Defining Victory Downward: No, the surge is not a success.

yen for yen

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Gotta get my butt to the bank and exchanging some currency. My trip to Japan is in like 2 weeks and a few days! YIKES.

News of the Moment
Headline, Coffee break for Starbucks' 135,000 baristas:
Starbucks, which last week announced 600 layoffs, plans to temporarily close its 7,100 U.S. stores on Tuesday for three hours of employee training.
"Employee Training"??? Or something much more sinister???
"The Onion", harsh satire, or prophet of our times?

Fashion of the Moment
The sad, dumb history of our Failed assassination attempts against Castro. General, stick with the military garbs. I just don't think the Adidas tracksuit is getting you where you want to be. (thanks Bill)

zen and the art of intellectual maintenance

Now Reading: "Thank You and OK! An American Zen Failure in Japan"

I'm always intrigued by Zen ideals. (Current incessant Zen meme: Comparisons are Odious.) Alas, I've never demonstrated enough commitment to a Zazen sitting meditation practice, said to be the one indispensable part of Zen.

Today I started wondering about the parallels between meditation and reading. Both are ways of letting the mind seal itself from outside distractions, though reading is invariably about something-- something external to current moment and place-- and meditation is thought best when "about" as little as possible.

(Probably one reason I've been so bad at starting a practice of ritualistically clearing my mind is, fundamentally, I don't want to. Letting my thoughts ramble and tangentially meander is such a pleasant and productive experience that deliberately shutting that off seems like blasphemy. I guess I previously noted that about the Yoga "corpse pose")

Having a grand variety of reading material available at prices most people can afford is a recent phenomenon. At the risk of oversimplifying, reading a book seems like such a more intellectually worthy pursuit than watching television or a movie, or even most conversation, that it's tough to keep a disparaging historical context in mind. I think back to the old penny-dreadful days, how just about all novels were considered such trash reading. And I suppose to a non-secular society, any time engaged in reading non-religious writing will be deemed less worthy than hitting the holy scriptures.

So what does it mean that we can so easily immerse ourselves in other times and other places? At the risk of sounding like a mid-80s public service announcement, reading really can be an adventure, our mind's ability to take itself out of the current moment and into an elsewhere is quite remarkable. An offshoot of our evolved abilities to think in terms of hypothetical situations, to successfully model situations so that we can estimate the outcomes at a fraction of the cost and risk of actually going and doing it. My first thought was that the recent phenomenon of cheap books was an unprecedented revolution, but now I wonder if there isn't a tie-in with humanity's love of telling one another stories. (You can almost think of some shamanistic storyteller at the camp fire disapproving of the solitary pleasure of a book; sort of an intellectual "solitary vice".)

Anyway, back to Zen.

I think I'm confused about Zen as it should be practiced; specifically, I think I tend to over estimate its drive for pure stoicism. For example, it's said that when you're eating, you should just be eating, not conversing, not reading, just focused on the task at hand. But is the goal to then enjoy the food, and the sensations there entailed, or are you seeking a kind of non-judgmental emotional flatness, accepting it for what it is and only that, so as to avoid the path of desire and suffering, if only by contrast? I think I should be more sure of the answer to that by now.

As long as we're on the topic of my dimestore interpretations of Asian spiritual practice... at the most recent meeting of my UU Covenant Group, the topic was "spirituality in the workplace." I think that entails something different for a programmer than for most other professions. While quality relationships with your peers and management staff and others is crucial, it is fundamentally less personal interaction based than many other careers. Coders are some of the last modern craftsmen/artisans out there, so it's our relationship to the computer and our software that matters the most.

This is less dehumanizing or "robotic" than it sounds; any programming code base worth getting paid to maintain and extend is so complex, so difficult to fathom, with so many interactions that modern programming is something akin to biology. Programmers spend huge swaths of time and energy finding out why the programs aren't meeting their expectations. I wonder, then, if a more appropriate model might be that of Shintoism. My knowledge of the faith isn't deep, but from what I know of its animistic approach, being respectful and maybe a bit ritualistic about dealing with the spirit of your tools and materials, there might be a useful parallel there. Computers with their "ghost in the machine" feel a lot more like Shinto than, say, Confucianism and its strict sense of rules, order, and predictability!

giant heap of meh

Bleh, Upset stomach, some minor chills.

Dunno what it is. I know people tend to categorize everything as "the flu" or "a cold" but jimminy crickets there seems to be a lot of everything going around this season.

Comic of the Moment
--a cartoon guide to the story behind the subprime mortgage meltdown. (Warning, cussin')

Article of the Moment
The life and times of America's greatest hoaxer, Alan Abel.

happy leap day!

Happy Leap Day y'all.

I spent it being sick, sick, sick. I was in bed 'til like 3:30, bar one trip to CVS for Saltines and Gatorade.

Thank goodness this only happens one day in 4 years.

Web Comic of the Moment
--Garfield minus Garfield "Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolor disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life?"

2008 February❮❮prevnext❯❯