A place for random thoughts that I must express, to no one in particular.
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21 Dec 2002
New colors. I received a heap of scorn from some fellow netizens for my previous brown/flesh scheme. Hopefully blue + white won't offend anyone.
20 Dec 2002
Stupid Mozilla Tricks
How to be a better researcher using Mozilla
The 'g < search terms here >' trick is priceless, I use it constantly.
17 Dec 2002
Bowling for Columbine
I had seen mixed reviews, but I think this movie, aside from being entertaining, is excellent and important. Michael Moore does not always hit the mark, in my opinion, in terms where to put the blame for the problems in America. Fortunately, Bowling for Columbine is a wide-ranging inquiry without a cut-and-dried conclusion.
His illumination of Americans' generalized fear of everything is resonant. Personally I suspect that the reason Americans are so afraid of each other has its roots in our history of slavery. The current Trent Lott fiasco is a pretty vivid illustration that we're a long way from having it all worked out. My current theory, inspired by the "brief history of America" from the movie (and The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron), is that deep down, despite any protestations to the contrary, white America generally feels it's gotten away with something at the expense of black America. And that makes whitey, subconsciously or not, wonder, “why wouldn't black people be angry at me? Why wouldn't they try to steal my stuff and do violence to me? I would, if I were in their shoes.” Hence this generalized fear and resentment of the inner city, entitlement programs, rap music, gun control. And when it doesn't come out as fear and resentment, it comes out as guilt.
It's pretty messed up.
17 Dec 2002
tulrich In The News
Scott McCloud (http://www.scottmccloud.com) of Understanding Comics fame, has incorporated yours truly into his one-page comic/column in Computer Gaming World, January 2003 issue. The topic is "Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control: The Dynamics of Innovation", and features my game “The Dueling Machine” from the 0th Indie Game Jam (http://indiegamejam.com). Woohoo!
14 Nov 2002
Better Programming Languages
Thesis: There are no better programming languages than the popular ones in use today. Languages such as C, C++, Assembler, Java, Perl, Visual Basic, PHP, Python and a few others are better than anything else you can find.
Here's why: first, let me define "better". Language X is better than language Y if, by using X instead of Y, you solve your problems with less time and effort, or you solve problems that you couldn't otherwise solve. In my opinion, "better" is based strictly on utility; factors such as fun, beauty, conceptual integrity, etc are relevant only to the extent that those factors are directly related to the problems you're solving. So, if your problem happens to be "to make something beautiful", then a programming language that helps you do that has utility. Otherwise, I don't want to hear it.
Obviously, it makes a big difference who "you" are, and what exactly are your "problems". I define "you" to mean a development team plus an active user base. This can range from a single person (both programmer and user) working on some personal project (for example, maybe a script to generate a report), to a gigantic effort like the MS Word team (dev team) + practically the entire technoliterate world (user base). The reason I emphasize the user base being part of "you" is because my definition of "better" is based on utility. If no one's using your program, then, I'm sorry to inform you, it's useless, and whatever language you used to produce it scores no points.
Pinning down a definition of "problems" is a little tougher, but for a working definition I'll appeal to utility again: if some user is voluntarily using a program, then that program evidently has some utility, and therefore we can reasonably assume it's solving a problem. If lots of people are using a program a lot of the time, then it evidently has lots of utility, so that program is a really good problem solver. That's a little dubious as far as the meaning of the English word "problem" goes, but I think it actually is a very relevant definition for this argument.
So, on average, "better" programming languages are the ones used to write the programs that are often used by people using computers. In other words, the best programming languages are the ones listed above: programs written in those languages solve the vast majority of the problems for the vast majority of users in the world.
That may sound like a really stupid statement, and this whole argument may sound silly or tautological, but my belief after long consideration is that it's true. And, if you're interested in programming languages, very important.
The reason it's important is because programming language arguments often focus on questions like:
Why is Visual Basic (a crappy language) popular, while Common Lisp (a very advanced and powerful language) isn't?
Such arguments are off on the wrong foot from the get-go. Instead, we need to be asking:
Why is Visual Basic a better programming language than Lisp?
I admit it pains me to put that question into words, but if we're trying to be honest about understanding and improving programming languages, I think we have to face the fact that Visual Basic is a better language, in a very real and true sense, than Lisp. Only then can we productively study all the interesting issues about why that's the case.
Now, I admit that "better" is not a one-dimensional quantitative measure, and it's a stretch to take programming languages "on average" and draw conclusions. Yes, there are definitely plenty of dev teams, user bases, and problems for which Lisp is a better programming language than Visual Basic. But, dismissing Visual Basic because it's disgusting is not going to fly; tons of real programmers are using it to solve a lot of real problems for millions of real users, so it clearly has tremendous utility.
Todd Proebsting of Microsoft Research on Disruptive Programming Language Technologies (pdf format). He works for the Borg (boo!), and doesn't provide an HTML version of these slides (hiss!), but he has the advantage of being right. My rant above is kind of a long-winded less-interesting restatement of part of his talk.
Paul Graham, a very smart programmer, on his Lisp-derived language Arc. This is an interesting and articulate example of everything that's wrong with programming language research.
Macromedia Flash, along with its goofy little language ActionScript, is a Disruptive Programming Language Technology, as described above in Todd Proebsting's talk. As a programming language, ActionScript has a much brighter future than, say, OCaml.
14 Oct 2002
Dave Moore at work turned me on to these excellent articles, which are a sort of combination “Law for Hackers” and close look at the Eldred v. Ashcroft case that's before the Supreme Court:
http://research.yale.edu/lawmeme/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=364 http://research.yale.edu/lawmeme/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=382 http://research.yale.edu/lawmeme/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=396
The LawMeme site in general has lots of interesting stuff about copyright and the Internet.
There are a couple things about this issue that surprise me: 1) that I find it so interesting (Julie also found that surprising, and perhaps a tiny little wee bit tiresome), and 2) that Lawrence Lessig (http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/lessig/) has groupies. Whoah.
I think one reason the topic interests me so much is because as a software developer who believes in both getting paid and in the value of a creative commons (viz open source), these issues hit pretty close to things I've thought about every day for many years in the course of doing my work.
Another reason is because it has a lot to do with the present and future of creative expression in general, not just software. It's a super cliche, but it's true: the Internet creates tons of problems/opportunities for our existing laws and institutions, and vice versa. For a few years there, lots of vested interests had no idea what was going on, but pretty much everyone with big money at stake has caught on by now. Now the various factions are starting to duke it out in earnest.
'Nuff said on this; we'll be inundated with coverage of these battles in the media and elsewhere for years to come.
It wasn't until pretty recently that I got a little bit of a handle on why lefties are so upset about the WTO. I lean well to the left politically, but I also consider myself a capitalist. Cynical about the propaganda, yes, but I believe in the concepts. In general I see free trade as a positive thing. So I've often felt fairly unsympathetic to the widows-and-orphans rhetoric and drum-circle diplomacy from the anti-WTO folks.
I was watching a debate on the NewsHour between a guy from The Economist (pro WTO, capitalism, etc), and some woman from the Toronto Globe and Mail (representing the more liberal viewpoint). Actually, here's the transcript... God bless the web. The guy is Adrian Wooldridge, the chick is Naomi Klein.
Often on the NewsHour, they have a couple of ideologues trading heavily-coded sound bites and trying to score rhetorical zingers. Possibly throw in some paralytically nervous jargon-monger restating the obvious in an unintelligible way, or maybe a bunch of Presidential Historians (gag) trying to out-trivia each other.
This was one of those all-too-rare NewsHour interviews where understandable and reasonable points were actually made by both sides. I'm not going to try to summarize, so if you're interested, you should just read the transcript (or watch the thing -- it's available online from the link above). Anyway, Naomi, who was otherwise very clear and persuasive, missed a chance at a good rejoinder at the end of the debate, so here's my snappy, six-weeks-later comeback.
Adrian (aka Invisible Hand fanboy) said this: “The IMF is democratically accountable to the people who provide the funds for the IMF, most of which are sovereign states, most of which are democratically elected states [...] But you can't simply borrow money from people and lay down your own conditions to it. I would love to do that to my own bank manager but I don't expect it to happen.”
So, the West (therefore the management of the IMF) is democratically accountable -- good, like chocolate. The IMF is like Adrian's bank manager, and therefore represents the workings of free-market capitalism -- good, like peanut butter. Capitalism and democracy, two good things, that go great together... chocoloate and peanut butter... Mmm....
But no! A fallacy: Adrian's bank operates in the context of a democratic society, including Adrian. I.e. his bank is subject to laws created by a democratic process, and both parties have access to a justice system in case of grievances, and social choices can be debated by all the citizens. In fact, this context is crucial to the smooth workings of free-market capitalism. If Adrian's bank manager turns out to be a loan shark, Adrian has recourse. The rules under which Adrian's house can be foreclosed are regulated by his democratic government, backed up by centuries of experience. Etc. On the other hand, the IMF vis a vis third world governments (and in particular Jose Q. Public), have a very different relationship. There's no common democratic context! There's no external, shared justice system to appeal to! The directors of the IMF (arguably) have democracy among themselves, but they don't share it with their customers. All there is, really, between the two parties is the power of capital. Capitalism and democracy are not the same thing!
No wonder people are getting hosed, and getting pissed. It's capitalism without democracy! Peanut butter with no chocolate!
As to the question of why I require food analogies in order to understand geopolitics, I will leave that for another rant...
11 Oct 2002
This post is about a programming language contest. Interest not piqued? Skip to the next entry. You know who you are.
The ICFP 2002 context results have been posted, see http://icfpcontest.cse.ogi.edu/ if you're a geek. I'm kind of annoyed that they don't seem to provide a sorted list of results, with the programming language used, team name, etc, so I used the info they give and made this table of results.
1 Oct 2002
MP3s you can listen to right now
I continue to get fooled by good mp3's from bad bands. I browse some music site, like http://www.epitonic.com, download some (legitimate!) mp3's, discover some song I like by some band I don't know, buy the band's CD, and discover that they're terrible, except for that one song. No, I don't believe in "file sharing" a la Napster, so I'm not going to download a whole album to see if I like it. Yes, I'm a square.
I'm not going to mention any particular bands, because I'm afraid you'll remember the band name but not that I said they were generally terrible, and fall into the same trap. On the other hand, a good song is (theoretically) still good even if the band is mostly bad. But on the third hand, enough bad stuff by the same artist can forever taint the association for me. E.g. Sting's solo career making The Police unlistenable.
I also tend to get fooled by mp3 songs seeming a lot better than they are... that is, I sift through lots of drivel from the 'net and the minute I hear a song that isn't completely and entirely garbage, I think it must be great. On the other hand, for some reason when I play an actual CD, particularly one I've just paid full price for, my brain is suddenly calibrated and junk sounds like junk. I don't think this has anything to do with the audio qualities of mp3 -- I'm pretty sure it's entirely context.
This actually isn't a new phenomenon. I had both of these same problems with college radio, back when I used to listen to music on the radio.
So, what non-terrible bands have I discovered via mp3's? Good question. Here are a few certified "Thatcher listened to an mp3, bought one or more CDs, and was happy" bands, with links to where I found their mp3s:
Smoking Popes “Morrisey fronts the Ramones” is not a bad summary. Double Zero Records | on epitonic
Slimer Yeah, pop punk again, but really good IMO. on epitonic
The Jealous Sound Emo, ex-Knapsack. home page | on epitonic
While I'm at it, here are some other worthy bands that have handy mp3s on the net (old hat I'm sure for most people reading this, i.e. my three friends):
Drive Like Jehu Devoted cult following, for cause. on epitonic | can't go wrong with a Google search
Hot Snakes For my money, they sound just like DLJ, which is a very good thing. home page | on insound -- scroll down for mp3 of "Who Died"
New Sweet Breath The Strokes are NSB wannabes. Recovery Records | on epitonic | RER catalog : Welcome mp3 : B-Liner mp3
Built To Spill If you insist on listening to indie rock, it might as well not totally suck. home page | on epitonic
Treepeople Precursor of Built To Spill, notable for great surreal cover art, fabulous T-shirts, Boise heritage, and overall rulage. Treepeople is to Built To Spill as Jawbreaker is to Jets To Brazil -- earlier, noisier, naiver, greater. on epitonic
Ambush At Junction Rock Undeservedly obscure. The essence of insane, inspired basement rock music. home page
19 Sep 2002
In my opinion, the two best short story writers in the history of science fiction are J. G. Ballard and R. A. Lafferty. I think it's just coincidence that they both have initials for first names. What may not be coincidence is that while their stories are great, their novels are mostly unreadable.
J. G. Ballard did write two great novels though, Empire Of The Sun, and The Kindness Of Women. They're both autobiographical, and both stunning. Neither are science fiction, exactly. Aside from those two, the rule with Ballard is the shorter, the better. Chronopolis is a fantastic anthology, for example, and Powell's has used copies for a few bucks:
There's also a J. G. Ballard fan site: http://www.jgballard.com
Sometimes when I'm reading a great book, I imagine what it would be like as a movie. Imagined movies tend to be a lot better than real ones. Steven Spielberg made a movie of The Empire Of The Sun, which I'm watching right now. It's not too great. In fact it's kind of infuriating -- it's like "atrocity lite" or something. The John Williams score is totally inappropriate. But Ben Stiller is in it! And Joe Pantoliano. I had no idea.
R. A. Lafferty wrote at least one great novel, Okla Hannali. It's not science fiction; it's sort of a historical fable about the Choctaws in Oklahoma in the 19th century. Powell's seems to be a little short on Lafferty, so here are Amazon links to Okla Hannali and Nine Hundred Grandmothers, which is an excellent anthology:
While surfing the web looking up Ballard and Lafferty info, I discovered this writer, Nicholas Royle, who's very much in the Ballard mold. Here are some links:
OK, one more reading recommendation. Empire Of The Sun is over, and I'm half-watching some show on PBS about the Conquistadores. The British host is retracing Cortez' path through Mexico to conquer the Aztecs. A few years ago I got really interested in Aztec culture, and the Spanish conquest of Mexico. I even designed a video game around the topic. Anyway, the best book I read about it is The Conquest of New Spain, by Bernal Diaz. Bernal Diaz was a soldier, one of Cortez' compadres, and a gripping storyteller. It's a first hand contemporary account of one of the most remarkable events in history.
3 Sep 2002
Pokey likes mountain biking. I mean, she likes running circles around me while I ride my bike through the woods. I literally can't outbike her on a dirt road. She stayed with me for an hour yesterday in the rain, with extra forays into the bushes chasing rodents, and didn't want to come inside when we were done. I think she's a bit sore today though, heh!
Veloci battery life has improved with a few charges. I can reliably get to the Hollywood Video and back, even into some serious wind, and it's a great ride. To prove I'm not exaggerating about the wind, here are some photos I took recently, of some person kite-surfing at State Beach:
Right across the street from Hollywood Video in Edgartown is Underground Records. Surprisingly, it doesn't suck. I was pretty sure any little record store in MV would carry mostly reggae and Dead bootlegs, but this one has some decent selections. I found a couple things I wanted, including:
Hot Snakes “Suicide Invoice”
12 Aug 2002
I recently got a new toy, an electric motorbike called the “Voloci” (http://voloci.com). This is the latest in the line of alternative vehicles made by Nova Cruz, the people who brought you the Xootr kick scooter (http://xootr.com). People who, in the interest of full disclosure, I am closely related to (i.e. both my brothers & a sister in law are involved with the venture).
I'm a die-hard bicycle nerd. To be honest, I never saw myself owning any type of motorized cycle, and without the family connection I probably wouldn't have given the Voloci a second thought. However, I have to say that after zipping around some, I'm fairly giddy about this thing. The bullet points:
sleek and (relatively) light, about 70 lbs.
In short, a lean mean beach-going machine. With any luck, vehicles like this will help keep the beach in the picture, a 10-minute Voloci ride from our house here on Martha's Vineyard, from being underwater by the time I retire. I'm not kidding -- here's what the EPA has to say about rising sea levels: http://www.epa.gov/globalwarming/impacts/coastal/index.html . It'd be nice to have the Kyoto Accord, but while I'm waiting, the Voloci is a lot more fun.
So about the machine. It goes about 25 mph with me on it. I'm pretty heavy, so I get less range and speed than most. So far it looks like I get about 10-15 miles at full speed. It's pretty hard to resist full speed. It recharges on regular house current in two or three hours. The battery comes out, with it's own little latching handle, so it's easy to leave the charger in the house and just bring the battery in.
The pick-up is very swift, even with me on it. The number one drawback is range. Trips from my house in Oak Bluffs to downtown, or the beaches in town or towards Edgartown are no problem at all. A round trip to the A&P in Edgartown is a little dicey though. In fact, I tried it and ran out of juice about a mile from home. I discovered I can kick the bike along, a la kick scooter, but it's a bit awkward and takes a lot of the fun out of it... Reportedly the battery takes a few charges to break in, and I had been going full speed all the way to Edgartown, so hopefully by next week I'll be able to pull it off. I'm looking into some other options as well, maybe another battery pack or something.
I also hear from my brother Nate that the electronics in the bike are programmable. There's an "economy" switch on the handlebar, which kicks the on-board computer into a different mode. I think there are a few tweaks I'd like to try in the programming for that; maybe I can squeeze out some miles without hurting performance too much.
The ride is smooth and solid, and it sports serious disc brakes. I have lots of bicycle experience, but almost none on a motorbike. The Voloci is very easy to ride; I was comfortable within a few minutes. There are no gears to worry about, the controls are simple, and it's very comfortable and well balanced. It feels much safer than I expected, and I have no qualms about riding in traffic. It's got an easy-to-use turn signal, lights, and mirrors. It has a convenient motorcycle-style kickstand, and a key-lock ignition, so for trips to the post office or whatever, I just pull up, roll onto the kickstand, and pull the key out.
I noticed something about having a quiet motorbike -- I'm not shy about venturing down the little side streets and dirt roads in my neighborhood, because the bike is not loud enough to annoy the neighbors. I explored more of my neighborhood within 24 hours of owning a Voloci than in the previous 3 years, by a long shot. There are a couple key differences between a bicycle and the Voloci for this kind of exploring. For one thing, the Voloci cuts through the sandy and bumpy parts of a dirt road with ease -- a lot better than even my fat-tired bicycle. The other thing is that finding a dead end (there are a lot of them around here) is no problem; it just means I get to turn around and ride some more.
I'm sure that's enough blabbing about the Voloci. If you want more, send me an email.
6 Aug 2002
New geek stuff
Chris Hecker has posted source code and more info about the Indie Game Jam 0, which I participated in last March. Basically a demo party for game programmers, designed to encourage experimentation & innovation. See http://indiegamejam.com for info and downloads. My contribution is called "The Dueling Machine", inspired by the book of the same name by Ben Bova (he's got a website: http://www.benbova.net).
In other news, I've posted an updated version of my Chunked LOD terrain demo.
25 July 2002
Back from SIGGRAPH
San Antonio isn't too bad -- the convention center, hotels and downtown stuff is pretty packed in so I didn't really need (or want) a car. For my tastes, the Riverwalk is a little too much like your average mall with a really big water feature, but then again I guess that's the modern condition of the prosperous American urban district. A car might have been nice for finding a taqueria, but I did manage to locate Market Square within walking distance which has some slightly more mom n' pop type options, including stands selling homemade gorditas (wow!), tacos tripitos (tripe tacos -- fried tripe is like a cross between pork rinds and bacon so I guess I should really love it, but I admit I preferred the gordita), and some other delicacies I was too full to try. And deafening dueling Tejano bands. One of them featured a 13-year-old boy accordion virtuoso, who, I have to admit, creeped me out a little. He had a sort of unsettling super-focused, autistic look to him, though his accordion playing was in fact virtuous. I forgot to bring my camera, so sorry -- no pics.
There's a movement afoot to buy the source code for Blender3D, and GPL it. See http://www.blender3d.com to donate a few bucks. It looks like they may pull it off: their threshold is $100K and they're almost halfway to it. Blender3D is a featureful 3D modeler that has some possibilities as a 3DStudio Max replacement for those who are too cheap, too scrupulous, or too Linux-bound to get ahold of Max.
9 July 2002
I just finished reading Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. It's really good; a lot more than just a sensational account of how gross the food industry is. In fact the graphic "this is how they butcher cows" stuff is pretty unsalacious. What is totally mindblowing and salacious is what he tells us about how the industry works, in terms of labor (i.e. exploitative), marketing (i.e. to children) and politics (i.e. crass). There are a lot of good mini-biographies of different people he met during research; Carl of Carl's Jr, a former NHL player who got injured and opened a Little Caesars, a UK couple who got sued by McDonalds for libel and turned the tables, plus ranchers, executives, meat processing workers, etc.
Schlosser comes off as totally reasonable and rational. For example, he says, "During the two years spent researching this book, I ate an enormous amount of fast food. Most of it tasted pretty good." Clearly he's not completely wacked.
26 June 2002
Guilt Free AC
My brother Karl turned me on to this: if you live in New York or Pennsylvania, you can now buy wind powered electricity for your house. It costs 2.5 cents more per kWh than the regular stuff; other than that, the only difference is that it displaces the fossil-fuel electricity you've been consuming all along.
This is not some flaky hairy-legged hippie-commune setup; it's the same eletricity we already use from the same power grid. The way it works is, we pay some money to "New Wind Energy", a wind-power company, and they use our money to subsidize some of their their power on the wholesale market. The power we subsidize directly replaces some electricity that would come from some other power source (natural gas, oil, coal, nuke, hydro or whatever).
New Wind Energy generates their power using giant hi-tech windmills, typically sited in the middle of a (conventional) farm on the top of some hill upstate. The owner of the land gets a bunch of rent, and can still run their farm (they just have to steer the tractor around the base of the windmill, 20' x 20' or so). Basically free money for the farmer. The windmills don't burn fuel; they just sit there and churn out power. Totally clean, totally low impact.
In our case, it costs about $10/month to be completely wind powered. Ha! Turn up that AC! Here's the link to New Wind Energy; you can do the transaction on the web: http://www.newwindenergy.com
19 June 2002
Nextel has got the worst customer service on the planet. I won't bore you with my litany of complaints, I'll just relate the latest indignity: they want to charge me $200 to cancel my non-functioning service! Do not sign up with Nextel if you have a choice.
[Update: the cancellation lady did some research, figured out how to restore the service, and called back so I didn't have to sit there on hold forever. Fair enough; someone with a clue as the last line of defense...]
4 June 2002
Installing Debian GNU/Linux: I got sick of hacking and patching and chasing down RPMs for my installation of the much maligned Red Hat 7.0, and still not being able to run up-to-date drivers (e.g. for a WiFi card) or software (Galeon, Mozilla, GnuCash, new KDE stuff). So I took the plunge and installed Debian, in hopes of reaching apt-get nirvana. Thoughts:
Debian rules. apt-get, dpkg, dselect etc are truly a move in the right direction. It's not so much those apps themselves that are remarkable, as it is how they embody the principles of a massive decentralized and parallel software effort. It boggles my mind how amazingly well it all works; there's some serious elbow grease invested in making Debian happen. Imagine if there were a database of the top 3000 Windows apps, legacy DOS programs, device drivers, dev tools, UI doohickeys, and OS DLLs from Win98 through WinXP, and you could select any combination you wanted for automatic download, installation, configuration, update and de-installation. Now imagine that this database and all the software within it were A) amazingly high quality, and B) being constantly maintained, scanned for security problems, and updated by an army of software experts, and C) available for free from a global network of high-bandwidth servers. That is approximately what Debian is.
There is an entertaining Neal Stephenson essay/book called In The Beginning was the Command Line (http://www.spack.org/words/commandline.html), which expresses this concept (along with many other interesting ideas) very nicely and much more thoroughly. I've been a Red Hat user for a few years, generally dig Linux, and had heard the Debian propaganda numerous times, but there's something very different about experiencing it firsthand. The Debian experience is so much more empowering and humanizing, and potentially destabilizing, relative to anything I've used before, that it's remarkable how low a profile it has in the mainstream consciousness. If it were a stock, I'd buy it for my retirement portfolio, 'cause it's got a long upward trajectory ahead.
Debian (and Linux in general) is still way too hard to install! Numerous pitfalls await the newbie such as myself.
Martha's Vineyard restaurants: there's some delicious food here. Nothing to compare with the variety in NYC of course, but still pretty good, considering how small a place it is. Giordano's in Oak Bluffs serves a very good variety of thin "slabateria-style" pizza. I like the pizza at The Circuit Cafe also; it's more in the "thick with too much cheese made by stoned hippies" style. The Copacabana has an incredibly toothsome buffet of Brazilian stews, cassaroles, barbecued meats, strange salads, etc. Nancy's makes an art out of fast-food style seafood, burgers & dogs. The fried calamari portion is modest in size, but fresher and more tender than I've had anywhere else. When you're on an island off the coast of Massachusetts, I guess the seafood in general is a pretty good bet :) Whew.
16 May 2002
The people next door are moving, and over the past few days have been leaving a bunch of junk out front. The other night I poked through some CDs in their trash. Lots of crap; clearly a case of lightening the load before a big move. (When Julie and I moved, I threw out a lot of stuff after the move, while unpacking. Duh.) Anyway, I scored a promo disc of the Smoking Popes major-label sellout, Destination Failure. The Smoking Popes catalog is a recent obsession of mine... something I missed the first time. Nearly all the choruses contain the word "love". So sacharrine, so emo, yet punk and great!
Destination Failure has a touch of “Destination Filler” to it, with a couple of re-arranged versions of earlier hits, a cover or two, a song about the evils of the industry, and slightly too-glossy production. But there are a couple of anthemic masterpieces that I've been listening to over and over and over. Plus, I got it out of the trash, how life affirming is that!
Other recent obsessions:
links.net -- I met Justin Hall at the indie game jam ( http://www.indiegamejam.com ) where Chris Hecker introduced him as “well, he's just this random guy...” Anyway, he was cool & funny in person, made me a bunch of sprites for my game, and his site rocks. And he is pretty random...
Speaking of random, I love the game RoShamBo (rock, paper, scissors). I had no idea it was fertile ground for game theory, but check out this site: The Second International RoShamBo Programming Competition. My personal roshambo strategy has always tended towards "Optimal", i.e. play as randomly as possible, which also describes my strategy in many other less appropriate games, like chess. But it's kind of nutty that the "optimal" strategy never wins tournaments! Someone needs to make a really good interface so humans can play these AI bots... clicking a mouse is not the same. How about a web-cam vision interface? It's almost too perfect of a technical problem, someone must have done it...
I work with a bunch of brainy former physicists... someone sent out this link: http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/0203101 It's a paper that surveys some discoveries in pointy-headed physics which I don't understand, but somehow convinces me that real, honest-to-god science is turning into pulpy science fiction! We really are living in "The Matrix"...
22 Apr 2002
Prediction: Microsoft is going to eventually open-source most of their OS's. I'm not sure about the applications. Security considerations alone will push them to do it -- there's no way they can plug all those holes without some help, and furthermore, they're starting to face some uphill battles with European and Chinese government customers because governments there don't totally trust that there aren't back doors in US-made closed-source software.
But also, MS has always been able to recognize a good bandwagon when it bonks them over the head. There's no way they can make .NET totally ubiquitous without reaching Linux, Mac, mainframes, etc. Thus their new "shared source" initiative. Also:
Apple has paved the way - MS can't bear to be left out
Deep in its heart of hearts, MS wants to be cool. Apple, IBM (!) and AOL (!!) have stolen a lot of geek cool points by doing big open source things.
Linux/GNU is going to take over the embedded market unless MS does something dramatic. And if there's anything that MS hates on a primal level, it's GNU.
It will be interesting to see how they embrace-n-extend the open source philosophy and turn it into a cash cow. I guess they'll follow their usual pattern: try a few things that don't work, and keep at it until they eventually find the thing that does.
3 Jan 2002
Happy New Year!
On Tuesday I had a Day Of Trains. The house I grew up in, in Durham NH, has a train track that runs nearby. For as long as I can remember, it only carried freight trains. They would rumble past at all hours, blowing their horns, squashing pennies, scaring the University's cows. Passenger service had been suspended from before I was born, and the train station in Durham was converted to "The Dairy Bar", an ice-cream & burger stand where in my teens I got a minimum wage job as a short-order cook.
Anyway, as of about a month ago, Amtrak has resumed passenger service on that track. Four Downeaster trains a day run from Boston to Portland, ME and back.
So last Sunday, I paid $13 for a ticket, boarded the Downeaster at Boston's North Station, sat in a large comfortable seat, plugged in my laptop, and watched the towns, rivers, lakes and forests pass by until the train pulled up next to the Dairy Bar in Durham.
At the New Year's Eve party I discovered that many of my high school friends are also Downeaster groupies, and had actually ridden it all the way to Portland and back just for fun.
Which brings me to my Day Of Trains. I started on the Downeaster, from Exeter NH to Boston's North Station; about 1hour 15min. North Station via Green Line trolley to Park Street, then Red Line subway to South Station, about 20min. Lunch in Chinatown, then the Acela Express from Boston to New York's Penn Station, about 3.5 hours. That thing really hauls (until it gets to Connecticut, my transportation nemesis state). 150 mph may not sound like much compared to flying, but when you're passing within feet of the surrounding scenery, it feels like a Relativity demonstration. So then, from Penn Station to the A Train subway to Brooklyn, and then the F Train to Carroll Street, two blocks from my apartment, about 45min (damn A took forever).
No jet lag, no traffic jams, no sardine-like seating, no waiting in line to check baggage; beautiful scenery most of the way. I look forward to the next Day Of Trains.
Neighborhood Chinese-food update: the Empire Garden on Court St is good.
30 Nov 2001
There goes the First Amendment. A NY appeals court has ruled that
Excerpt: "The court spends 10 pages arguing that code is free speech," said Cindy Cohn, legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Then, in the second half, they say, well, because the Internet is a more efficient way for people to get information and because it is more easy to use, we are going to give it less protection."
Read the doublethink yourself here:
Gotta get me one of those ACLU cards. Meanwhile, God bless California, where an appeals court ruled on Nov 1 that the First Amendment does mean something:
27 Nov 2001
There is some unspeakably foul Chinese food in our neighborhood here in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, NY. I'm staring at a plate of Radioactive Garlic Chicken from Red Apple II, weighing my options. It's frustrating because the Thai and Japanese restaurants that I've been to in the neighborhood are very good. (I fed Pokey a few pieces of the chicken, and even she was a little apprehensive at first. Didn't stop her though. Of course, she'll also eat household garbage if you leave it around -- it makes me wonder what they put in dog food...)
6 Nov 2001
For your breaded steak, rice & beans, & fried plantains needs, might I suggest El Nuevo Portal, on Smith St in Brooklyn. Mmmm...
I did some exploratory Lua programming recently. here are my notes... executive summary: Lua + LuaSWIG + SDL fulfills the promise of quick prototyping and lower cognitive programming load. Modulo the caveats named and explicated in the aforementioned notes.
The fruits of that exercise comprise a (very simple) videogame, "Meteor Shower". Yes, an Asteroids clone, but with gravity and rock collisions. You can check it out via this link. It can probably be compiled and run under Linux, but I haven't verified that yet so it'd likely take some Makefile hacking.
25 Oct 2001
A list of things that are great:
The staggering variety of delicious foodstuffs that are mere steps away from our new apartment here in Brooklyn NY. And all the restaurants deliver, fast! It's really quite amazing.
The mutt email client, because I don't have to use the mouse, and I can use emacs to type my mail, and I can back up and restore my email folders which are in a standard, stable, text-based format when I change computers, and I don't get stupid Outlook Express viruses, etc.
Cygwin -- makes Windows almost as good as some parts of Linux.
Opera web browser. One great great feature towers above all others: I can disable GIF animation!!! The web, made readable. That alone is definitely worth $30. There are many more less insanely great features that I like about it (like, the button to turn off images is right up there in the button bar, and the file downloader will resume interrupted downloads if possible), but you're probably only interested in those if you are a super geek.
Naturally, each of these things has a few aspects that suck, but pretend I didn't mention that.
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