(show oldest first)

from September 14, 2016

On an impulse I bought this small but dope Magnavox old-school TV with completely transparent sides...

Cool seeing Loaded4Bear on real hardware, top to bottom.
Followup: a fellow old video game nerd points out that this tv, with its cool transparent case, was probably designed for use in prisons, where it can't easily hide contraband material, rather than being a hip iMac-influenced design.
Best new iOS 10 feature: the new set of keyboard sounds. Rather than having the same click for every key, normal keys, white space/shift, and delete all have different sound effects. The result is a delightful little blurble that gives subconscious feedback about what keys you're hitting, very pleasing in an ASMR kind of way.

from July 9, 2016

Last year for my Commodore 64 Gazette Galore! project I did a line-by-line analysis of Geza Lucz's type-in game Flood. Jim Gerrie ported it to the TRS-80 Micro Color Computer:

Oh yeah, see you at JP Porchfest! I'm playing with School of Honk, JP Honk, and Porch-i-Oke
Hopefully my website will once again withstand the onslaught! I actually made it so band photos are handled more efficiently. Also the mobile version of the website shows a locator where you are.
Spent the first two days home kind of free-falling from the meds / lack of meds and the paralyzing realization that nothing matters. Luckily that was followed by the motivating revelation that nothing matters.

from February 28, 2016

stuff.alienbill.com/amazonadder/ - Amazon has a thing where you can request an "Order Report", a CSV of all the stuff you've had shipped over the years (oddly, there seems to be no equivalent for digital orders.) Anyway, you can pull the data from them into a spreadsheet program, or if you're not so clever with spreadsheets, you can copy and paste the raw data into this new webtool I made. (All calculations are done inside your own browser, nothing is sent to any server)

The page gives you a chart of what you spent in each category per year, then a breakdown (sorted by total spent) by year, by month in year, and then by category where you can zoom in to total-sorted lists of what you bought.

My totals? Since 2004, about $16K. Trend definitely upwards - 70% of that's in the last three years. On the other hand, December is the biggest month for spending, so some big chunk of that is gifts.

Sigh, here's my top categories:
Electronics 4281.75
Personal Computers 1145.85
Video Game 1074.34
Paperback 1011.46
Toy 828.76

Paperback is around 1000 (hard cover is a bit below in the list, around 500) I really do wish Amazon included Kindle download data!

from January 21, 2016


--Various Easings as posted in my devblog

from wherefore art thou kirkjerk?

So, recently I was (again) asked about the actual "jerk" aspect implied by my once preferred nomme de web "kirkjerk". For the record, no, I do not view myself as a jerk (or at least feel I'm near the center of the bell curve of jerkness). But why that name? Just because of the rhyme?

Not quite! Back in the mid-90s there was a game for PCs called "Death Rally"... it was a fun overhead car-racing-with-guns game, kind of like that old board game Car Wars / Autoduel come to life. In action it looked like this:

The game had a lot of character - and specifically it had 20 characters, enemies you'd race against. Here's a leader board; I think "D3ATH" is probably the name selected by the person playing th game:

Those names were BOGUS BILL, FARMER TED, LIZ ARDEN, DIESEL JOE, MIC DAIR, MORI SATO, SUZY STOCK, IRON JOHN, CHER STONE, LEE VICE, DARK RYDER, GREG PECK, MAD MAC, MOTOR MARY, MATT MILER, CLINT WEST, NASTY NICK, JANE HONDA, SAM SPEED & DUKE NUKEM. (Yes, that Duke Nukem.... kind of a crossover. I further acknowledge this naming scheme would also work for Garbage Pail Kids.)

So, when it came time to pick my own username for the intraoffice online game play (4 players at once) I tried to match the scheme, and ended up with KIRKJERK (I also think it was constrained to 8 letters, so I was pleased to just fit it in under the wire).

I tend to prefer usernames based on "Kirk", rather than being cut from whole cloth; Kirkjerk, Kirkamundo, TheGreatKirkini. And "Kirkles" is probably one of my oldest lasting nicknames, bestowed in high school (when my teasing friends envisioned the romantic exchange "Oh Kirkles" "Oh, Lynnie-Poo") and still used by my best college buddy and his family.

Anyway, like I said, "Death Rally" had a ton of character. Some of it was in the form of "flavor text", these little evocative prose passages, narrated by "TRUE TOM":


and another example:


I'm not able to dig up the evidence, but I have vague memories of corresponding with the guy who gave voice to "TRUE TOM"; he said it was kind of an independent effort they threw in, rather than being part of the design from the outset, and there were all kinds of character constraints they were dealing with.

Once upon a time I dug up this Lore of Geek's usernames. Back before FB and Google's emphasis on "real names", online handles were even more important (I guess they still have a big role in tumblr and twitter.) Of course, we've also seen how pseudo-anonymity can be abused, and jerk-enabling.
Over the past few years I've realized that I use an idiosyncratic visualization for certain kinds of time; I see the cyclic nature of the twelve months of a year and the seven days of a week in the form of a circle, both going counter-clockwise. I spent some time today generating images reflecting this view. Here's a reflection of what a week is like for me:

I guess the specific rotation and counter-clockwise direction reflects a dash of synesthesia, and also how important physical layout is to my sense of recall -- if I'm trying to do a week-based day calculation, I'll often use my hand to as an arrow to mark my place in the week, in the same way I'll still unconsciously shape an "L" with my left hand to recall which direction is which.

I'm less certain why I place the weekend down. My best guess is see that as the start and stop of a week, and is either "heavier" or "where the week meets the road" (to stretch the physical metaphor, since I view myself as moving in the fixed week-wheel rather than it moving to accommodate me.) The counter-clockwise motion then springs from that - I read left-to-right, so the Saturday-Sunday "start" to the week is in that "forward" direction, and thus drives the rest of the loop.

Years are even more strongly laid out in my mind's eye:
Here the calendar starts at the top, as one might expect, but I think that's because I view a year as progressing from school year to school year, with the loveliness of summer vacation anchoring as the base (though a separate desire to have the numeric transition be straight up tilts the thing a bit.)

Neither visual is strongly color-coded for me, but week vs weekend and the various seasons have a different ephemeral feel, here color-coded for grins.

As a side note, I used a new technology for this, p5.js -- the same processing.js I've used for years, but now as pure javascript, rather than going through some weird java-to-js convertor. Highly recommended! You can check out the working page and source code if so inclined.
It would be fair to say that the concept of a forest is simpler than the concept of a tree.
Ray Kurzweil, "How to Create a Mind"
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My bike lock succumbed to salt and I replaced it with a Wordlock brand steel cable lock, where you can choose your own 4-letter word, with each letter drawn from a pool of 10 possibilities.

Here was each set of letters:

I ran that against a list of the 5,000 most frequent words in English, and in order the 360-odd make-able words were:

that, they, from, that, what, make, will, time, when, them, some, take, than, like, then, more, want, look, more, find, here, many, well, tell, work, last, feel, when, most, mean, same, seem, help, talk, turn, hand, part, most, week, work, play, like, hold, must, home, book, word, head, line, lose, meet, team, best, lead, sure, walk, food, foot, send, home, fall, plan, late, hard, pass, sell, mind, pull, free, less, full, form, site, base, land, wall, test, film, tree, look, soon, less, term, well, fire, bank, west, seek, deal, past, fill, drop, plan, fine, than, dead, fund, list, hard, loss, deal, bill, miss, sort, dark, help, form, seat, that, firm, ball, talk, head, base, play, best, deep, past, heat, fall, whom, test, beat, tend, task, shot, born, wind, fast, like, bird, hurt, turn, date, hole, park, boat, wood, farm, band, tool, wild, tiny, feed, shop, folk, warm, past, deny, burn, shoe, bone, wine, mean, hell, fire, hire, will, lean, tall, hate, male, lots, fuel, pool, lead, salt, poll, desk, like, last, mark, loan, deep, male, meal, link, file, duty, wake, warn, meat, late, part, host, hall, tank, bond, file, mean, seed, busy, mass, tone, hill, hand, land, milk, mind, weak, list, wrap, mark, diet, post, dark, bike, link, mass, lake, bend, walk, sand, pose, sale, mine, tale, pass, dust, sure, boss, mood, boot, bean, peak, wire, holy, toss, bury, pray, pure, belt, moon, soon, line, date, pink, poem, bind, mine, drop, fast, flat, snap, teen, bell, beat, wind, lost, like, pant, port, dirt, pole, bake, sink, tire, free, hold, mask, load, fate, poet, mere, pale, load, flee, plot, palm, pile, fund, mall, heel, tent, bite, pine, boom, host, wise, firm, sake, dare, mess, hunt, pill, bare, shop, pump, slam, melt, park, fold, dose, trap, lens, lend, warm, last, leap, past, pond, dump, tune, harm, horn, beam, fork, disk, hook, mild, doll, hers, bite, fist, bold, tune, hint, peel, bias, feel, lamp, pump, silk, wake, hook, seal, sink, trap, fool, mate, slap, heat, barn, post, lane, seal, bull, loop, pork, seat, lion, harm, sort, soap, shed, heal, damn, mill, hike, tray, sole, weed, deem, pile, fame, toll, butt, bulk, part, poke, fare, soak, slot, tile, till, bolt, till. Oddly the word I chose was a real world that wasn't on the list, so maybe my method wasn't so good.

I know this lock isn't too secure, but A. I want more flexibility than with a U-shaped lock, B. my old steel cable lock probably was only a minor inconvenience for a thief and C. it's a cheap bike.
He would see this country burn if he could be king of the ashes
Varys on Littlefinger in Game of Thrones

The old scholar was watching the noisy young people around him and it suddenly occurred to him that he was the only one in the whole audience who had the privilege of freedom, for he was old. Only when a person reaches old age can he stop caring about the opinions of his fellows, or of the public, or of the future. He is alone with approaching death and death has no ears and does not need to be pleased. In the face of death a man an do and say what pleases his own self.
Milan Kundera, from "Life is Elsewhere"

This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as barrels...

via-- man that's a tall bike!
http://www.buzzfeed.com/awesomer/photos-you-really-need-to-look-at-to-understand Lauren Garside's new favorite thing.
So almost 20 years ago I did a small programming challenge with my Freshman roommate Rob... we came up with a simplistic bidding game (a slightly simplified version of a card game) and we decided to write programs and see whose program would do better at it. Each program had the values 1-10 and it could use each value once, and then they would bid for the values 1-10 coming out in random order.

Ideally, you would write a program that would know what it was holding, and what was left on the pile, and what the opponent still had available to bid, but Rob and I both punted and just mapped a static ordering. If I remember correctly his program was a bit better than mine.

I realized that the "static ordering" method meant some patterns would be more successful at the games then others, and I made up a "survival of the fittest" game of it in QuickBasic, but it didn't get very far in figuring out the "champion". I then thought it would be cool to fight ALL the permutations against all the other permutations and graph it out, but I couldn't think of a good way of generating all the permutations. So I wrote this email to my Computer Science 101 professor asking for help. (The email is a little tough for me to read now, just because it's such an ugly mix of faux humbleness and precociousness. And even beyond my aparent love for Unix style 8-character usernames.)

The good-ish news is that, in the 20 or so years since then, I have the tools (both mental and computer) to write a solution for the problem in a few hours. (Using a simple brute force method to count from 00000 to 99999 or so, and then seeing which of those numbers were "legal patterns" using each digit from 1 to 5 once.) The result looks like this:

It's kind of nice and fractal-y. In running it I learned the straight forward, bid what each thing is worth pattern (12345) is the best bet, winning 104 out of 120 battles. It ties with 12345 (of course) 13542 23145 32415 42351 and loses to 12453 13425 13452 14352 21453 23415 23451 23541 24351 31452 32451. You can see it on the top horizontal line, with red indicating a victory for the horizontal player, blue meaning a loss, and gray a tie.

I also generated the version with 6 bids:. Plotting that shows the pretty fractal-ness more clearly, though my crude algorithm takes a little longer to show at first. (It's 720x720. The next size up would be 5040x5040, which is higher rez than monitors I have handy.) It has a pleasing irregular quilt-like quality
Make love when you can. It's good for you.
Kurt Vonnegut

I feel that the right technology can solve any problem, including us.

We are born between feces and urine.
St. Augustine. Man, old school Christianity can be such a bummer sometimes!
So I was reading TV Tropes page on Loophole Abuse when I found this gem:
Apparently, the official rules of chess once had a loophole that rendered the game 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nc6 3.Qxf7 mate a victory for White. Although the White Queen cannot move this way legally, checkmate ended the game. The other side could only claim an illegal move while the game was in play. After a checkmate, legal move or not, it was too late. This is just the most famous example of how this major flaw in the rules could be exploited.
So I like the deviousness of it, but didn't know Chess notation enough to understand the moves. Joseph Larson (of Cymon's Games, a site I haven't paid nearly enough attention to, check out his well-thought-out and history-aware video homage to the original Star Control) was kind enough to get some diagrams worked up for me...






So thanks Joe! The engineer in me kind of doesn't dig chess notation. It has so many assumptions about which piece made the move built into it... I guess it's optimized for people who really know the game. (It reminds me how grandmaster chess players aren't nearly so grand if you put them on a board with pieces arranged randomly, in a way that would never show up during a real game.)

I just love how the "game is over, so you can protest the blatant cheating" offends my sensibilities (but without really mattering, especially now that they've changed the rules.)

http://blogof.francescomugnai.com/2010/10/35-of-the-most-incredible-and-creative-bookshelves-ever/ - need something for my desk at work...
How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is clearly Ocean.
Arthur C. Clarke
Kjersten sent this along:
10/GUI - 10 Finger Multitouch User Interface - Kind of intriguing, a nice split-the-difference between Minority Report and Real World kind of stuff. (Though I wonder how many people who deal just fine with a mouse and keyboard might have problems with this, either because of missing digits or arthritis and the like.)

I'll use this to ramble a bit about something which will sound insanely stupid but: I really love my iPhone. To the extent that sometimes it's a motivational tool; I urge myself to be worthy of having such a nifty device.

And it's not just its beautiful and elegant design that I want to be "worthy" of- though that plays a part of it. This little, well-night featureless (and Star Trek TNG "PADD"-like device) also acts as a focus for nearly the whole of the web. And all the good parts of the music collection I've amassed over the past 20 or so years. And the ability to keep ToDos and a datebook and random notes with me, though Palm had that pretty well covered since 1996. So it's all those things to live up to, that I should hunker and focus down and be a worthy recipient of so many of humanity's creative fruits.

Relationships have a similar effect on me. I make my bed, try (marginally succesfully) to keep my apartment and car neater, try to make more interesting and pretty things all 'cause I'm smitten with Amber.

I suppose Religion, getting right with God, can have a similar effect for some, though that can be so abstract, and Jesus et al provide such a high target to shoot for...

(Sigh. I think I've managed to roughly equate, or draw big parallels among, the iPhone, my girlfriend, and God. This is likely to displease at least someone...)

If you aren't fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm.
Vince Lombardi

http://wallofpaul.com/swiss-krissly-yours - I'm kind of weirdly fascinated with Louis Armstrong's love of laxative.
Wow - just got a backup for my Fujitsu P1510D, old but durable netbook-sized tablet, for $260 buy-it-now from Techreplay@ebay. Good deal!
I recognize that this is me fighting a fight that no one else cares about, or even thinks of as a fight, but... I dunno. Somehow mulling over the similarities of my iPhone and the Palm of days of yore, I got to thinking about the whole "PDA is dead" thing that was such a mantra a few years ago. And as much disbelief as I had about it back then, they were right, the standalone PDA has pretty much gone the way of the Dodo.

But I guess you have to specify, "the standalone PDA", because I'm thinking that form-factor-wise (which is hyper-important, as some of the early success of the Palm points to) smartphones are MUCH more like PDAs circa 1998 than cellphones circa...well, ever. For me it's mostly about the touchscreen. I love me devices w/ touchscreens, it's such a fun and more direct way of interacting with a gadget. (Though I think Nokia makes some decent smartphones that make do without... and some Blackberries. Though of course that Storm seems kind of interesting. But googling up this pretty blatant bit of shilling was amusing.) The phone part really is secondary to the other ways it helps me organize my life. (Maybe I'm a freak; iPhone lets you pick 4 functions/programs for the icon bar that appears on every page of icons of the home menu, and for me that's Todo, Datebook, Browser and iPod... not the icon that actually let's me use it as a phone.)

I know the argument "look people! It's much better to think of these gizmos as PDAs that do cellphone stuff than cellphones that do PDA stuff!" is a descent into faux-Aspergers-y geekdom, but still.

Advice of the Moment
--referenced in the Scot "Dilbert" Adams book, panel via here... an obvious take on "You gotta sing like you don't need the money / Love like you'll never get hurt / You gotta dance like there's nobody watching / It's gotta come from the heart If you want it to work"... though I prefer the first version of that I encountered somewhere in cyberspace that replaced sing, love, dance with program, compile, run...

laptop on lap, top chef on projector, baileys on ice. there are worse ways to cocoon...
A donut on a plate acquired a seriousness and dignity that it would not have without that plate.
This whole "market boom or bust starting in the last hour" is getting might old. What, are those guys sleeping until 3?
Angsty about the Dow. Skipping UU sci+spirituality group after EB calls. Purposefully spending a bit at Rodney's used books at Central.
5 year low for the Dow. Good news: well we haven't suffered through a recent giant terrorist attack. Bad news: so what's our excuse? (Bush?)
masukomi Is that all 4 player and stuff? Should we try to get a group together?
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For a while my Gtalk status was "pi^2=~10". Which is true, pi times itself is roughly ten. But of course I was probably hoping someone would ask what that was all about, and JZ obliged. This was my response.
it comes from a physics class
walking us through a problem, the teacher rhetorically asked permission to replace pi^2 with 10
we were aghast, because in most of the problems, you keep the pi in there and it cancels out later
and also it seemed like a crude approximation
but he showed us that since we use "10" for the force of gravity instead of the more typically correct 9.8, just because it makes the math easier, that pi^2 was even closer to ten than that
Mr. Reno was one of those "been around the block" science teachers and I admired how obviously (in restrospect) he was totally prepared for our objection, even though he played it innocent.

Similarly Mr. Von Banken, our chemistry teacher, would develop a reputation for entertaining demos in class, often explosive (but fun with liquid nitrogen, from shattering things to sending a little puddle of flaming liquid natural gas across the highway floor was memorable too) and had his class management well in hand as well:
"Blow something up, Von!" we'd cry.
[Von pulls out and inflates balloon]
"OK, I blew something up. Now can we go on?"
"No! Make something explode!"
[Von pops balloon]
"OK, now can we go on?"
Good teachers. I was blessed with a high school that, while struggling in a lot of ways, had made in an effort to keep a top-notch "honors" track.

Article of the Moment
Clearly written with a fans love and affection, Lore went over Original Star Trek's 10 Cheesiest Creatures for Wired.com.

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So, uh, hi -- this is the commentary track for the special collector's edition of yesterday's kisrael. I'm Kirk, I write and make and arrange pretty much all of the site-- so here we go.

Announcement: I will never be able to spell "seperately" correctly on the first try. The problem may be phonetic.

That was just a little thing from my backlog, I didn't really have a lot to say, but I like starting off with a comment in my own voice, instead of diving into the links or whatever. Maybe I should've talked about Joe Torre. I probably wouldn't even notice how often I get that word wrong if it wasn't for the spellcheck Firefox throws in there.

That is all.

Just trying to make the pointlessness of it into self-conscious joke.

Inexplicable Objects of the Moment
You know, not to long before I wrote this I was talking about how few injokes the site has, but this is one of them. I steal links from Bill the Splut all the time. He used to do the "InExOb", or Inexplicable Object of the Week, so this was kind of a shout out to that. Actually, if you Google on "InExOb" my name shows up on the first page of results, where he thanks me for some online poll script I had written for him.

Hmm. When did fire alarms start spouting sideburns? Oh, and: ewww. (Taken in the Arlington Street Station hallway.)
Yeah, that was pretty gross. I kind of like "Oh, and: ewww", as if it took a second for a visceral reaction of disgust to set in. Still: the sideburns were pretty cool.

USE THIS PRODUCT MAY MAKE ENGLISH NOT TO SO GOOD! (Taken at the South End 7-11 magazine rack.)
I was on a sort of kind of not-really double date with Jonathan at the time, and this one gal he's gone out with, and her friend from back in Texas. I guess more hanging out. We did a lousy job buying drinks. That whole "go dutch? offer to pay?" is such a potential minefield of miscommunication.

I think of the whole "parody of the idiots around us" shtick here as kind of a Bill the Splut homage, he does it really well.

Special Deleted Scenes of the Moment

So, making fun of badly written signs, the "WRAPER" thing. But it seems a little mean spirited, and wasn't that funny, so I left it out.

This was a photo I took for my Photo Composition class, trying to think about light, and exposure, stuff like that. The teacher seemed to dig it, the negative space of the buildings, but I've posted pictures like it before that I like better, like this summer at Davis Square, and in Chicago. Plus I kind of had a "square cropping" theme going with the other photos, and so it didn't make the cut.

Music of the Moment
All of the Beatles' LPs condensed into an hour of extremely weird and fast music.
This is a BoingBoing link, but frankly I still so many links from there that sometimes I get shy about the proper attribution, lest people think I'm just a BoingBoingFilter. It was a good link though, I also liked the other soundclips of what happens if you reverse the speedup, a lot of the information gets dropped and so it sounds really funky.

Anyway, that wraps it up. Hope you enjoyed a little behind-the-scenes look at kisrael, and maybe we'll see you on tomorrow's entry!

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.
Last recommendation for making Windows better: forget that taskbar rearrangement program I talked about earlier: right click, uncheck "lock the taskbar", and then drag it to the right hand side of the screen:

I started doing this with my work laptop. Like a lot of new laptops, its screen is in "widescreen" format. It turns out this screen is nearly as wide as my desktop's, but about 3/4 the height. Since my documents are longer than they are wide, and I usually don't do much side-by-side windowing, this makes things feel a bit cramped... making the taskbar a sidebar is a big improvement. Other benefits: I decided I like the bar on the right rather than the left, because I don't like the way it shoves around the desktop icons when on the left.

The biggest downside, then, is the Start button... the annoying thing is that the little arrows indicating a lurking submenu are always pointing to the right, even when its obvious the submenu is going to have to pop up on the left...

So this weekend I plowed through my 2004 kisrael.com entries and got 104 new quotes for my Quote-O-Matic viewer. Not quite so many gems, as far as I can tell, but some worthy entries.

Also I made an issue of the Blender of Love and did a little statistical analysis on what were the most popular categories for works. The feature page goes into more detail about each one, but here's a sorted summary:
Something Else 13411
Love Lost 1349
Love Found 948
It's Never Simple 892
Other Factors Interfere 437
Just Plain Admiring 408
'I Will Survive!' 396
A Metaphor 354
Confused 337
Lonely 318
Really, Really happy 285
Live for Today 283
Between Friendship and Romance 280
Still Life 253
Admiring From Afar 244
Love On The Net 113
Love Taking Away Freedom 103
Lonely But Happy. 101
Life as Second Fiddle 51
Mostly though I was proud of this chart:
It looks kind of like a rug.

Oh and Happy Birthday Ksenia!

Diplomacy of the Moment
The other week BoingBoing linked to this list of International Faux Pas, a topic that I've always found interesting, though the list wasn't quite as juicy as I had hoped. A bit later then BoingBoing linked to stories of American Soldiers making similar kind of cultural mistakes, even when they mean well. That last link is part of a Oral History of Reporting Iraq by the Columbia Journalism Review... they're still doling out the various chapters but it's some good stuff.

Book Review of the Moment
"How I Became Stupid" is a bad book. And I'm not the only person to think so. Note to self, don't fall for burbs like "A harmonious & surprising mixture of optimism and nihilism" again. Especially if the author is French.

Sometimes I think I'm surprisingly worse at using bad UIs than my peers.

On the one hand, compared to, say, some people in my family, I'm pretty good, and sometimes my mom will trust me to help her navigate through a computer program or gadget that's new to both of us. And usually it's not too tough: figure out what the program does, figure out what information the program probably needs to do it, and then try to match what's onscreen UI-wise against those expectations.

But I'm easily misled, and dumb when some expectations (especially in labeling, or how controls are associated with other controls aren't met.) Here's an example:

The other day I wanted to find a hotel near the Wilmington Train Station. My boss recommended Google maps, which I was of course familiar with... I looked up the address of the station and entered it:

I think I figured out that I should click on "Find Business" easily enough, but for some reason this screen of interface stumped me:

As it turns out, it's easy enough, just enter "hotel" in the box on the left. But for some reason I Just Didn't Get It. It's like I needed the "near" prompt between the two textboxes, or something.

Maybe I was confused by how much it looked like the "Get Directions" symmetrical box pair, which I was more familiar with:

That, at least, has a little two-way-arrow icon (albeit a functional one that also swaps the start/finish locations).

But wait! I just realized that when I hit "Find Business" or "Get Directions", and then change the Map/Satellite/Hybrid view, there's a prompt ("What e.g., 'pizza'") that made it all obvious:

I gotta say, I think having that kind of "what to type" prompt appear when doing another arbitrary function (switch to Satellite view) and not when switching to that search is a definite UI bug on Google's part.

So anyway, Lately at work I've been experimenting with "load balancing" programs, software that will hit your website or application over and over and over. But I just feel like I'm the wrong guy for it sometimes, because I'm just not that gifted at picking up a new, not-well-documented or obscure UI in a hurry.

Musical Judgement of the Moment
I'm not anti-Phil Collins. I'm just pro-Peter Gabriel.
FoSO, just now.
I have no idea why I find this amusing.
This evening I'm heading out on a last-minute business trip...I'm taking the Acela to Delaware. I've heard people speaking highly of travel by train, and I haven't taken one since this one terrible red-eye with Dylan back in the day, like in the late-80s, so I'm looking forward to it over all.

Cars of the Moment
I was gratified to see my car (albeit in a different color) as the big front-and-center image on Slate.com yeserday with the teaser My Teeny-Tiny Supercheap New Car. The article explains that the "low-end" for cars ain't as low as it used to be in the bad old Yugo days, even accounting for inflation, but still.

The Scion xA does well (though I think his concerns about the after-market-mod branding is a little unfounded)

the scion xA

the honda fit
but the champion is the Honda Fit... the Fit wasn't around when I was in the market, and the xA is going away, so they'll only be competing for a few seasons. It seems like the Fit does some things better (especially in having reconfigurable seats, and in my mom's minivan I saw how terrific Stow-and-Go seating can be) but design-wise I think it's not as good as the Scion. Hmm, trying to analyze that, I think the wheels look a bit too small on the Fit, and I'm not crazy about how the windows taper in the back. The Scion actually has rather pronounced bulges for the wheel well (is that what it's called?) and a good use of black trim around the rear side windows that give it a sturdier chunky look.

(It's funny how foreshortening affects cars like this. I have a short and stumpy automobile but from the side, it seems kind of long...)

I barely understand why there's a "midsize" market... small cars just make so much more sense to me, and they've really gotten good over the past few decades. Cheaper to buy, cheaper to run, quick off the line, park like a dream, and hatchbacks carry more than their fairshare of stuff. I think my xA is fine for the highways, like the guy at Slate says. And my Scion has more headroom than a lot of much larger cars I've been in... but I guess I've always just liked small cars, like Veronika's Renault Twingo when we visited her in Germany. (Heh... though Smart is coming to the USA soon... I'm not sure if that would be ok on the highways or not, but if I ever get more money than I know what to do with, I'd consider their convertible as a kind of toy car to have around on summer days in the city...)

Damn. It turns out my ebay'd Samsung i500 phone didn't work out. The refurbished model I bought had some hardware problems, caveat ebayer, but really it was the software integration that just wasn't ready for primetime. There might be solutions for all those things, like a seperate app for text messaging, but when the usually rock-solid Palm "ToDo" app starts crashing, the karma just plunges through the floor. Pity that.

So I'm going back to my old Samsung video phone, the VM-A680. I was compiling a big snarky list of faults with it, I was going to start a feature called "the En-suck-lopedia", but then I found workarounds for what I thought were the more egregious UI crimes, so what was left sounded kind of petty, and the star-based "suckage" rating system was total overkill.

But no sense letting all the ranting go totally to waste, so here are the faults as I sees them: That said, it is a decent phone. The hardware is excellent, I like some of its features like "video wallpaper" (I recorded some fireworks in Euclid, OH that I get to see whenever I open the phone), clamshell with flip-to-talk is great (you can see who it is on the outside screen), you can configure the arrowkeys to quicklaunch different features (though not every feature of the phone, pity) and it's a much more reliable alarm clock than my Palm.

I've been thinking that the only PDA functions I need these days are a decent datebook, a ToDo with categories (not priorities) and something I can put a few light memos in. My beloved Palm is overkill these days, but the phones aren't good enough yet. I guess you can download apps for this thing, but they all seem to be in Java. As much as I like Java, I'm not sure if it's really the greatest thing for small devices...no handheld gizmo should subject you to notice-able "Loading Please Wait" screens.


Quote of the Moment
There is a coherent plan in the universe, though I don't know what it's a plan for.
Fred Hoyle
I think that's one thing that most "Intelligent Design" people gloss over...they not trying to say "this could have a purpose" but also "and I'm confident I know what this purpose is"

Link of the Moment
Physician, heal thyself: an extremely cluttered site about decluttering...and advice like
Since you can access the Web and send and receive your own email without owning a computer (and for free when using access at a public library), think carefully if you need to get your own computer and Internet account.
should tell me it's a "same planet, different worlds" kind of thing for me anyway.

I've been thinking about the conventional wisdom concerning the similarities between Apple and Nintendo. (Heh, back in 1988 then Apple-president identified "Nintendo!" as Apple's biggest threat.) Neither is the market leader in their fields, but both are well-respected, with a rabid fanbase (plus a few naysayers), and producing some really striking design work.

It was when I was temporarily unable to recall the name of the iPod "Shuffle" that it hit me how many products Apple has churned out lately. I suppose many companies churn out wide product lines, but no one combines the innovation and sense of design of Apple. (The effect may be exaggerated by my personal sense of "time speeding up"...I couldn't find a complete product timeline.) Consider the online Apple Store... desktop-wise there were those old fruity iMacs (which of course harkened back to the original Macintosh, which was probably the most innovative thing of all!) and that was it for a while (except for the brilliant but ill-fated silent Mac cube...) but more recently there was that one with the swinging arm (no longer sold I guess), the other one where the CPU, DVD etc are built into the back of the screen (an idea I saw on a few PCs in the 90s, but crappily done), and the Mini. Laptop-wise, less distinction but great execution, and I admire their realization that some people prefer smaller, more lappable laptops (and shouldn't pay hugely inflated prices for it, ala Sony's pintsized models.)

iPod-wise, it was that one for a long while, then came the Mini (now totally eclipsed by the Nano, which is probably why Ksenia was able to get a 100% rebate on one when she bought her powerbook), the screenless "stick of gum" Shuffle, the impressive Nano, and then newer models with screens and, finally, video.

I can't think of any company that has matched, though Nintendo comes close. Most famously they're known for the terrible flop of the Virtual Boy (strain your neck peering through the binocular-like, ugly red goggles, and just generally feel like a total tool even further removed from the real world...) but they've done a lot of industry-advancing things...cross pad arrangement of buttons and shoulder buttons on the SNES controller, analog stick with 4 built-in ports on the N64, the cool clamshell of the GBA SP, and the twinscreen / touchscreen of the DS.

Nintendo seems to be taking another gamble with the "Revolution" and its controllers. Initial images of the remote-control looking controllers are almost alarmingly reminiscent of the Phillips CDi system. (My Aunt enjoyed the Backgammon game, but that's about it.) Supposedly, though, they're very good at tracking position and rotation. They used similar gimmicks on certain GBA titles (most notably "WarioWare Twisted") and the responsiveness of the new "in space" controllers should be much better than similar gadgets in the past.

These should allow for some unique and distinctive gameplay forms, ones that might have an appeal to a huge swath of gamers. Nintendo is fighting against the "elitism" of games (described by Raph Koster in his "Theory of Fun" book) where game designers start catering to their hardcore fan-base 'til finally the barriers to entry are surprisingly high. Anyone could step-up to Pac-Man or Space Invaders and start interacting, but not so much for, say, Halo or Mario Sunshine. It's a gamble, but it's refreshing--especially since Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PS3 seem geared around "more of the same, but prettier."

Hmm. I'm not sure if I have much of a point with all this, except...Hooray for scrappy companies doing good design!

Thought of the Moment
Can you make an Impressionist game? A game where the formal system conveys the following?
  • The object you seek to understand is not visible or depicted.
  • Negative space is more important than shape.
  • Repetition with variation is central to understanding.
The answer is, of course you can. It's called Minesweeper.
Raph Koster, "A Theory of Fun for Game Design"
He's talking about Impressionist art in different media and how Games could follow some of the same ideas.
I've been thinking about what my perfect "TODO" program would look like. Recently I reorganized the Todo category on my Palm, taking a cue from David "Getting Things Done" Allen's "What's on my Palm" article. (It used to be a simple webpage, now they made it a crappy PDF "free download" that you have to "Add To Cart" and go through a full checkout process to get. Way to be customer-friendly there, guys.)

The general idea is organizing tasks largely by where they need to get done, and then segregating out the "maybe/somedays". So I have categories There's also "Someday/Maybe" and a few legacy categories that are usually just a different flavor of "Someday". He also suggests a category for big projects that have multiple subtasks, but I haven't started to follow that approach yet.

The native Palm Todo definately isn't my ideal. For instance, I'd like to view all tasks in all categories on a single page, but when I do that on Palm it gives no indication what the category for each task is. There are some other shortfalls as well, including poor integration with a datebook. Here's what would make up an ideal TODO app for me: I guess that's about it. Dang, this got to be a long and rather eccentric entry, I hope some percentage of the regulars find it at least skim-worthy. Feel free to chime in with your counterpoints or new ideas. I'm not sure if I'll ever get to doing this, or what language I should write it in...maybe one of those specialty simple Form-based languages for Palm?

UPDATE:13 years later and I'm still thinking about this
Even thoough I have tons of stuff I "should" be doing, from decluttering my apartment to attending to the loveblender, I've been spending my freetime "tecnoslacking"...no, not playing video games, though come to think of it, it is assembling tools and information about games.

I made one page that aggregates the results from 5 "Top 100 Video Games of All Time" lists...EGM 1997 and 2002, Game Informer 2001, and IGN.com 2003 and 2005. Here's the top ten from the "powerlist" I assembled.
  Name EGM
1. Tetris        \/ 1 \/ 1 \/ 1 /\ 1
2. Super Mario 64        \/ 1 12 \/ 7 /\ 7 =
3. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past        = 23 \/ 20 /\ 17 11 \/ 5
4. Super Metroid        /\ 5 29 \/ 28 /\ 26 10 \/ 7
5. Street Fighter II        13 \/ 8 22 \/ 9 10 /\ 12 /\ 2
6. Super Mario Bros. 37        22 /\ 15 /\ 20 /\ 1 =
7. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night 12        /\ 8 18 \/ 14 17 /\ 1 16 /\ 1
8. Chrono Trigger 29        26 /\ 3 15 /\ 11 12 /\ 3 13 \/ 1
9. Super Mario Kart 15        44 \/ 29 35 /\ 9 14 /\ 21 15 \/ 1
10. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time --          11 \/ 3 /\ 9 =
I made it so you can compare any subset of the 5 lists, like to see how EGM changed, or just to view a single rating by itself.

I'm also working on a basic tutorial for writing music on the Atari 2600 (called "do re bB", bB being the batari BASIC language it's focusing on.). I'm pretty proud of this little HTML keyboard I made for a web front end to a "calculate the note" command line program called "Tune2600"...
You can see the full keyboard at webTune2600.
Geek Ramble of the Moment
You know, I just thought of one major lack of Java, and to be fair, most C-derived programming languages: a function can have many input parameters but only one return value. That's a really odd asymmetry to have to put up with.

Perl, for example, handles it much better...it's no problem to write something like

($foo, $bar, $baz) = somefunction($a,$b,$c);

In Java, though, you'd have two ugly workarounds: create a wrapper object that contains each thing you want to return, or if the objects are complex, sometimes you can have the calling program create an object, pass it in, and let the called function fill in the blanks. (Kind of like Oracle's "INOUT" parameters.)

Personally, I think this lack is something that provokes over use of Exceptions, which really do horrendous things to understanding a programs flow of execution.

Seriously, would it be so hard to add a syntax so something like this would work?

int foo;
String bar;
(foo,bar,String baz) = somefunction();

public int,String,String somefunction(){
   return (5,"hey","ho");

Does anyone know if any of the other C-derived languages handle this case better? C# or any of that? I know they're hyper-conservative about adding this kind of structure to Java, since it breaks old compilers and what not. But still, it seems like one of those things that actually is pretty stupid and only around for legacy reasons but that everyone just kind of accepts.

Quote of the Moment
The more sensitive you are, the more likely you are to be brutalised, develop scabs, never evolve. Never allow yourself to feel anything, because you always feel too much.
Marlon Brando, via Candi
An odd if depressing idea, but it seems like not allowing yourself to feel anything is a kind of scab in and of itself, a protective barrier. I guess I like the more mild message of Janeane Garofalo's line "Cultivate the Switzerland of your soul and remain delightfully detached."

Analysis of the Moment
So just how badly is Iraq going for us? What a dumbass idea the occupation has been. Neocons live in a dreamland.

Photo of the Moment

--Hurrican Ivan as seen from the International Space Station. I like how my eye misread this at first, seeing the solar panels as buildings, with the menacing cloud in the apocalyptic sky above...

Geekery of the Moment
So, this is really pretty geeky, even by my high standards. A lot of Atari 2600 coders on the Stella list thought that my ongoing JoustPong game could benefit mightily from "fractional movement", meaning the game keeps track of object speed and position in smaller-than-pixel detail. So I finally got up the guts to give the 16-bit-math it requires a try, and the results so far are very promising.

But I've had to reacquaint myself with a bit of semi-hardcore computery known as "Two's Complement Notation". It's a way of letting computers easily work with negative numbers, very cool in a mathy-geeky-philisophical way. But it's kind of a pain in the butt to convert a negatic number into binary this way by hand: you have to convert to binary, flip the bits, and then add 1. So I wanted an automated tool to do it for me, as I experiment with different values for Gravity and Flap Power in JoustPong.
decimal value:
number of bytes:


break on bytes
high bytes first
I'm sure someone's already made this kind of tool, but I couldn't find it, and it was kind of fun to do by hand. I'm sure I did it the most difficult way possible, one binary digit at a time in javascript...still, I couldn't think of any other way to make it work with specific number of bytes.

Cartoon of the Moment

Harharhar, get it?

Highlight the following text for the explanation (or hit Ctrl-A), but think about it for a bit first:
It's a two...saying something nice...a compliment in fact...two's compliment...look at the rest of the page...get it now? Look, I didn't say it was very good. The "harharhar" was sarcastic.

Article of the Moment
More fodder for my neuroses, The Pentagon's Weather Nightmare, strategizing about what to do if Climate Change et al. brings us to the brink of a Mad Max-esque scenario...

Quick Link of the Moment
Fun with state shapes.
Oy...the one thing about starting your day by bringing a blood-laced kitty pee sample to the vets: you can have high hopes that everything else in the day will be an improvement.

Gaming Link of the Moment
Cool! ClassicGaming.com published my review of Crossroads I & II, with emulator downloads. This was a great pair of games for the Commodore 64, but not very well known, since they were released with a magazine COMPUTE!'s Gazette. I'm glad they'll be getting more attention on this site, they're kind of a pet cause of mine.

Link of the Moment
On slate.com: somewhere between the rosy future of Idealism and the throw-up-your-hands-hopelessness of Skepticism lies The Practical View of Negativism. I think it's a pretty good outlook.

Quote of the Moment
'They can ta'k our live but they can never ta'k our freedom!' Now there's a battle cry not designed by a clear thinker...
Terry Pratchett on Braveheart in alt.fan.pratchett
(1 comment)
A few months ago I wanted an alarm clock-radio that had digital tuning, so it would stay locked onto my favorite NPR station without drifting. The Radio Shack model I found tunes well enough and looks attractive, but is actively user hostile in design. Alarm clocks should be usable by sleepy people in the dark. Setting this clock's alarm and making sure it's on is a chore even in the daylight. Here's the control panel:
Strike One: all the buttons are the same size and shape. Eventually I trained my hand to know that top row, second one in from the gap is SLEEP (90 minutes of radio before turning itself off) but come on'it shouldn't be that hard.

Strike Two: I could not figure out how to set the alarm. It's as if they worked to make the button labels as unhelpful as possible...not only that, but it's easier to set the time than the alarm. The rocker switch on the front is labeled both tune up/down and hours/minutes, so obviously it has something to do with it. But none of the other button labels said 'set' or 'alarm'. Now, hitting 'MODE' seemed promising, because on the front panel it started flashing 'SET ON'. Hitting the hour/minutes button did nothing though. This is when I had to download a PDF copy of the manual. It turns out to set the alarm you have to also hold MEMORY/TIME down. Now, since that button on the front does double duty for tuning and time setting, it makes sense that you have to hold down another button or the clock has to be in 'set mode'. But both? Why is that? A little experimenting reveals the answer'if you hold MEMORY/TIME down and press the front button when not in 'set mode', you change the time. Not the alarm, the time. That means it's about twice as easy to change the time than to change the alarm. Now, which one do you think people do more often?

My college roomie Brian used to add or subtract hours to the time setting of his alarm clock rather than change the alarm time itself. For years I assumed he did it because of a sense of surreal-ness it added to everything. Now I'm wondering if he had a clock as user hostile as mine.

Strike Three: If there's one thing an alarm clock should do, it's wake you up on time. This clock has a little icon on the front panel. When you hit the [ALARM] ON/OFF button, this icon goes on and off. One might assume that this means the alarm is on, or that the alarm is off, accordingly. No. Because, see, if that switch on the left is on [RADIO] OFF, your alarm clock will not wake you up for love nor money. It might display its little alarm icon, lulling you into a false sense of security, but next morning that radio will not play. The stupidity of this design overwhelms me. I can see the half-assed logic (wanting to separate turning the alarm off in the morning from just hitting snooze) but' jeez. Your clock shouldn't lie to you.

For the exact same manufacturing costs, I could've designed a better UI than this. Just making labels less misleading would be a start. (I still don't know what '+5' does.) Changing a few behaviors (making it easier to change the alarm than the time setting, not showing the alarm icon if the alarm is turned off because of the switch) would be even better. Changing a few more electronic readouts could actually make it intuitive!

I hate to sound like a curmudgeon about this thing, but it really is bad. I'll try to justify my rant with this next quote:

Quote of the Moment
If people were going to use computers all day, everyday, the design of such machines was not solely a technical problem-- it was also an aesthetic one. A lousy interface would mean a lousy life.
Myron Krueger

News of the Moment
Salon article: Judge rules no webcast of McVeigh's execution. Now I'm against the death penalty. But if you're going to go for it, you should really go for it. Don't try to pretend there's some kind of dignity here. Go full tilt for the bread and circuses. If the people demand revenge in cold blood, give it to them! In full color! And Dolby Stereo! On national tv! Really get that "deterence" message out there!