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29 Dec 2007
I stopped reading The New Yorker a few months ago. It's been good. I think I reached my limit with that magazine; the thing that tipped me the most was reading a couple articles on topics I knew something about -- it became clear that the actual information conveyed in the typical New Yorker article, about a deep subject, is pretty much romanticized superficial wanking. E.g. there was something about guys who built a supercomputer, and a profile of the font designer Matthew Carter, and other stuff I can't remember right now. Or just about anything about Africa, or the human side of medicine, if I run it by Julie, she debunks it. Part of the fun of reading about an unfamiliar topic in the New Yorker is the feeling that you've actually learned something about that topic. But it's really just entertainment, and apart from general awareness, the knowledge you think you learned is probably worse than no knowledge at all.
Another problem is art vs. criticism. I think they should be in like a 5-to-1 ratio -- spend 5x as much time reading actual literature as opposed to criticism and commentary on literature. But there are so many words in The New Yorker that it was replacing my reading of actual literature -- I was reading commentary on authors I had barely heard of, not reading the actual writing of authors I liked.
So, I'll still buy an issue every month or two for a change of pace, but it's not my regular subway reading anymore.
What I've been reading instead:
currently an anthology of Haruki Murakami stories, which are very interesting both in content and technique, and despite all that, pretty fun to read.
currently also listening to audiobook of Herman Melville Typee, from librivox. Melville is total fun, a dreamy neurotic slacker.
James Tiptree Jr Up The Walls Of The World, pulpy sci fi about psionic powers and the end of the world and stuff like that, slightly awful at times but better than it sounds.
Heinlein Beyond This Horizon. Heinlein is such a skilled, pleasing writer with tons of great ideas, but also such a freak. This one is like 75% pleasing and 25% freak.
Lloyd Biggle Jr All The Colors Of Darkness. A pretentious title for a slightly comical and thumb-fingered 50's-ish sci-fi/detective novel.
A book of Theodore Cogsworth (not sure I got his name right) stories, from the 50's. These are kind of fun, lightweight Twilight Zone type plots.
Some anthology with Ray Bradbury (meh), Walter Miller (yeah) and others.
Orson Scott Card, _Ender's Game_. I'd never read it, it was pretty good.
I read those Baroque Cycle books by Neal Stephenson. They were sort of enjoyable but too long-winded and stylized. I suspect he's jumped the shark.
David Foster Wallace, The Girl With The Curious Hair. I didn't really care for it.
Walter Isaacson's Einstein biography, actually pretty good and readable, for biography. He deflates a lot of misconceptions, like Einstein wasn't good at schoolwork (he was great at it, but unruly), Einstein was a lovable teddy bear (he sounds pretty cold in his personal relationships and a bit of an insensitive jerk at times), Einstein didn't do anything useful after 1915 (I'm not a physicist but it sounds like he worked really hard to basically come up with a negative result; negative results are still very helpful results).
Mark Kurlansky, Cod. "Great sprawling New Yorker stuff", non-fiction, highlights in the history of codfish.
Lisa Carver, Drugs Are Nice. I grew up the next town over from Lisa "Suckdog" Carver, and floated around in some of the same circles, met her and saw her perform a couple times, and was a big fan of her zine Rollerderby. This is a very personal and compelling memoir about those confusing times.
28 Dec 2007
Another Thing I Hate
Time Warner Cable. Nuff said.
18 Dec 2007
Words And Phrases I Hate
"Take it to the next level"
8 December 2007
I made a Gameography page, summarizing all the videogames I've created or significantly contributed to, in my career as a programmer and occasional game designer.
Misc Brain Dump
Hazel has the flu; she was a puking machine yesterday morning but seems to be coming out the other side. It's kind of impressive how much TV a sick little girl can consume. If she were feeling better she would eventually get antsy and start making a holy mess with some project, but she's mostly been lying in front of the tube or napping for two days straight.
Hazel is starting to "get it"; it's pretty fun. I don't buy into the cult of infants and toddlers; often they're cute and amusing but I don't really want to hang out with kids that young. On the other hand, I am bonkers for baby animals.
Pokey's leg got run over by a car. It happened before Thanksgiving; we had just pulled into our driveway in Oak Bluffs after driving from NY. I let Pokey out so she could sniff around, and started getting Haze out of the car. Meanwhile Julie was trying to unlock the house. Pokey saw something very interesting across Wing Rd (a bunny? the neighbor's cat?) and took off. She collided with the side of a minivan, whose rear wheel ran over her left front leg. Pokey yelped and ran back towards us, and starting hopping on three legs after the first step or two. She sat down near our car, holding her left front paw in the air, limply. It was grisly! Like a dog anatomy lesson. I could see bones, blood vessels, ligaments, flaps of skin. Luckily she wasn't bleeding much, I guess those vessels stayed together. Julie called the vet at Vineyard Veterinary Clinic in Edgartown and I took her in. Drs Williams and Dunnigan did a great job diagnosing her (no broken bones) and patching her up; Pokey started with a "wet-to-dry" dressing to help pull the grit out of the wound, and then Dr. Williams sutured the skin together a couple days later. Pokey (obviously) hates anesthesia etc; she moaned for about a day and half straight after the stitches went in. Anyway, she got the stiches out this week, the skin closed up very nicely with no infection, and she is acting more and more like herself. Her "wrist" is still very swollen and she's still limping, so I don't know how much function she will recover, but she is using it a little bit and it seems to be flexible, at least.
$38.16! That's how much the electric + gas bill costs per month, for a completely unoccupied NYC apartment, as I discovered (our regular apartment is awaiting repairs of fire damage). We used a tiny amount of energy; the rest of the bill is the monthly service charges and taxes for the privilege of being hooked up to the grid.
Props to HFSExplorer -- use it to read the files off a Mac-formatted ipod from a PC. GPL'd.
I'm using a 60GB ipod as my personal backup technology. I thought about buying an external drive, which obviously could have much more capacity, but I don't want another bulky noisy box with a wall-wart attached to it. My music collection is under 40GB, and I don't archive video or anything, so an ipod is pretty ideal for my purposes. I don't use it to listen to music because I abhor iTunes and refuse to let it back on my computer. My phone is a better mobile music device anyway.
Hazel is applying to Kindergarten, which in Manhattan is like applying for college. Our local public school (PS9) looks pretty decent so we may just go there. One thing Julie and I really don't like too much is the "Gifted and Talented" program in the NYC elementary schools. From what we've seen, in many schools it amounts to "separate but equal" which supposedly was outlawed in 1954 in this country. On the other hand, we live in a largely affluent neighborhood and the nearby big public housing projects conveniently fall into the adjacent school zone, so it's easy for us to be self-righteous. Seriously though, separating kids by "aptitude" at age 4 is just ridiculous, regardless of the circumstances.
Free sound bite for deficit-hawk candidates: "Bush gave the richer half of the country a $400 tax rebate. But he did it by raising the deficit. Would you borrow $400 from your grandkids?"
Ron Paul is the Republican Ralph Nader. I think he's amusing, but I find his politics pretty abhorrent. For example, his website says "Dr. Paul never votes for legislation unless the proposed measure is expressly authorized by the Constitution." On the same page, he says (of immigration) "End birthright citizenship." (http://www.ronpaul2008.com/issues/border-security-and-immigration-reform/)
Uh, dude, birthright citizenship is in the Constitution. I guess you only support the Constitution when you happen agree with it.
Speaking of Ron Paul, I'm sick of Libertarians. What libertarianism means to me: a philosophy that lets rich white people think they are being principled, when they are really just being self-interested.
(I suppose you could adapt that definition to other ideologies, like "Liberalism lets rich white people think they are being principled, when they are really just feeling guilty". Or "Conservatism lets rich white people think they are being principled, when they are really just being assholes". Etc.)
I enjoyed the video of Jon Blow's talk at MIGS 2007. My favorite part is where he points out that "Games define a Meaning Of Life". Good and inspiring insight; I'd never thought of it in those terms.
OK, I think that's enough for now.
29 October 2007
The scramble to repeal the AMT makes me laugh. All the repub candidates froth about instituting a flat tax, and rail against the AMT. Democrats are getting in on the action too. Hey, guess what the AMT is? It's a flat tax! Just repeal the rest of the tax code -- mission accomplished!
[Google is the curse of originality; it turns out someone has thought of this before.]
The First Female President
My other non-original political thought for the day -- suppose Hilary wins the 2008 election. Huzzah, a woman President-elect! Further suppose that around the time of the election, Bush/Cheney are found to have done something so unconscionable, so far beyond the pale, that Congress unifies behind impeachment (it's hard to imagine what they could do to trigger such a reaction, given what they've already done, but presumably it would be something completely irrelevant to the country's well-being).
Anyway, so it's holiday season 2008, and Bush/Cheney are thrown out of office. The Speaker of the House is then sworn in -- Nancy Pelosi, first female president of the United States! Beating Hilary to that distinction by mere weeks. Heh.
27 October 2007
On September 11, I came home from work around 6pm. A few minutes after getting home I heard my neighbor downstairs yell "Fire!" I put on my shoes, got Pokey, and walked down the stairs and out the front door. On the way down I could see brown smoke pouring out of the door of the apartment just below ours.
Julie was out of town, and Hazel was down the street at her friend Sean's house. There was a crowd gathering on the sidewalk, gawking at the smoke coming out of our neighbor's apartment window, and orange flames visible flashing inside. The FDNY arrived within 5 minutes, with maybe three fire trucks, and ran a hose up the stairs and a ladder up to our window. Within another five minutes they were spraying water and climbing in and out of our apartment.
I don't really know how long it took to put the main fire out, probably not more than a few minutes, but they were in and out of the building over the next couple of hours finishing up. There were a dozen or two firefighters, including a lady, and it was quite a sight to see them sitting on the sidewalk afterwards, all sweaty and sooty and exhausted.
The scene on the street was like some kind of festival. In addition to our neighbors from the building, a huge crowd had gathered as people exited the nearby subway station on their way home, and stopped to gawk. The restaurant across the street continued doing a brisk business, dinner and a show. Some friends had been walking by on their way to dinner nearby, saw the fire in our building, and we met up on the street corner. Hazel's purple mosquito net from Botswana fluttered in the breeze out her window that had been smashed open. I kind of wish, now, that I had taken some photos but at the time I didn't really feel like it.
When I finally got a look inside, around 8pm, the building was a mess, with water and broken glass all through the central stairway. They had smashed the glass skylight at the top of the stairs, smashed in several doors (fortunately I had left our apt door unlocked, though it still had some damage), smashed and removed dozens of windows in various apartments, etc. Water was dripping down the walls of the apartments on lower floors. The apartment on the fourth floor, where the fire had started, was a black sooty cave. Our apartment, directly above, had most of its windows smashed, and the kitchen was a disaster, with the sink ripped off the wall, the fridge pulled out, and holes axed into the walls and ceiling, where the firefighters had checked to make sure the fire was out. It smelled like the inside of beelzebub. Fortunately, nothing inside our apartment was really burned. Kudos to the fire department. The fire itself had been largely confined to the apartment where it started.
How did it start? Our neighbor, the one who had shouted "fire", had explained that he heard his breakers pop, and went into his kitchen to discover a fireball in progress.
I grabbed some smoked clothes for myself and Hazel, and Pokey and I walked over to Sean's house. We spent the night there on our friends' couch.
The aftermath has been one big bureaucratic odyssey of misery. Our insurance company had initially dragged their feet, until we hired an independent adjuster to help us file a claim. The insurance situation is complicated because the co-op owns the structure, various individual residents like us own the interiors of the apartments and shares in the co-op, and other residents rent from landlords who own co-op shares. There are some lawsuits brewing, for no good reason that I can discern. Meanwhile our apartment is boarded up with sooty, damp stink wafting up from the holes in the kitchen, while we wait for the go-ahead to fix up.
We moved into a tiny, exhorbitant short-term furnished rental for a month, and just a couple weeks ago moved into a much better but still exhorbitant rental, where we'll be until it all blows over.
On the plus side, we are all fine, and insured, and gotten plenty of help from friends, family and neighbors, and life goes on.
30 August 2007
iPhone vs. Nokia E70
I have a Nokia E70 that I wrote about earlier and Julie recently got an iPhone. Some dude wrote a hilarious comparison of the two, putting down the iPhone, but the truth is the iPhone is superior. The main differences:
iPhone is easy to use
iPhone screen is much bigger and easier to read
iPhone web browser is much faster, more solid and usable
E70 wins in a few areas; the keyboard is better, it's a bit lighter & smaller, a bit more affordable, and it's not locked to AT&T.
The bottom line is, when we're out in the world and I need to browse the web or look at Google Maps, I ask to borrow Julie's iPhone.
31 July 2007
If you get a call from the "Disabled Firefighters Fund", asking for a few dollars to help the widows and orphans etc, it is basically a scam! I've been paying these jerks for years but today, before I wrote a check, I finally got around to checking into them.
I typed "Disabled Firefighters Fund" into the NJ Attorney General website search at http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/charity/chardir.htm and got this financial summary:
DISABLED FIREFIGHTERS FUND 2521 N GRAND AVE STE D, SANTA ANA CA, 92705 Phone: 877-970-5094 Income Expenses Direct Public Contributions: $2,239,198.00 Program Expenses: $129,950.00 Indirect Public Contributions: 0.00 Management Expenses: $193,343.00 Government Grants: 0.00 Fund Raising: $1,920,380.00 Program Service Revenue: 0.00 Payments to Affiliates: 0.00 Other Support: $-3,248.00 Total Expenses: $2,243,673.00 Total Revenue: $2,235,950.00 Registration Number: CH2239000 Report in File: 12/31/06
In other words, last year the public gave them $2.2M, they spent less than 6% of it on "Program Expenses", which might actually go to some charitable purpose, and the rest went to overhead. The lions share of it goes to fund raising. According to the fine print on the back of their donation slip, they use a "paid professional fundraiser", Neighborhood Outreach at 7709 New Utrecht Ave, Brooklyn NY.
I poked around the web some more, and found some more background, such as this CBS expose: http://cbs2.com/goldstein/local_story_326214128.html and this one from the Orange County Register: http://www.ocregister.com/ocregister/news/atoz/article_1036195.php
There is a whole family of scams like this. If you are suspicious, search for the charity's name on the NJ website (http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/charity/chardir.htm).
5 June 2007
I wrote up some notes about my new phone/toy.
9 May 2007
Some knuckleheads from Intel have patented a grid of loose octrees.
Some things wrong with this patent:
Filed in 2002
A more general framework for nesting spatial indexes has been known and in use since at least 1988 (e.g. see Ray Tracing News, Volume 1 Number 1!)
Poorly written/incomplete (they don't explain the motivation or caveats for what is essentially omitting the top few levels of a loose octree)
They don't cite my loose octree article from Game Programming Gems (2000), or my stuff on the interweb (http://www.tulrich.com/geekstuff/partitioning.html 1998-1999)
My suggestion for patent reform: if it contains the words "computer" or "program", it should be presumed invalid.
1 April 2007
Calcispongiae on Threadless
I have another design in the running at Threadless. I borrowed a crazy sponge image from a 19th century naturalist; anyway click the image to read all about it. All proceeds to the Wikimedia Foundation. Give it a high score please.
(sigh, broken link)
17 March 2007
I'm On Team Hecker
Back story: Chris Hecker ranted about the underpowered Wii (e.g. http://wii.ign.com/articles/771/771051p1.html) at a rants panel at GDC, which was followed by a fanboy blogosphere flame-a-thon. His point is that increasing computing power will allow new and exciting forms of play, and that the Wii is weak in CPU which hampers these efforts. It's an issue worth thinking about, and kudos to him for having the guts to be provocative. It's ironic that his point got lost by him making it too emphatically.
15 March 2007
I finally got around to hacking up a game using the Google Maps API. Try it out: helipop!
The game itself is none too exciting, but I'm very happy with how easy it was to make (including a level editor, AJAX-y junk included), and that it runs in a browser. Please feel free to steal the code etc, it's Public Domain.
12 Feb 2007
My 2006 movie awards:
Best Picture -- (tied) The Departed / An Inconvenient Truth
Best Picture, Indie -- Brick
Best Comedy -- Borat
Best Action-Horror Movie -- The Descent
Best Guilty Pleasure -- The Devil Wears Prada
Best Kid Movie -- Cars
Best Bond Flick -- The Matador
Best Movie In Or About Africa -- Tsotsi
Best Picture Starring Scarlett Johansen -- Match Point
Biggest Disappointment -- A Scanner Darkly
Slowest Art Flick -- Mutual Appreciation
Worst Hairstyle -- The Da Vinci Code
Worst Wachowski Brothers Project -- V For Vendetta
Movies I Didn't See That Are On My List -- 13 Tzameti, Factotum, Beerfest, Idiocracy, American Hardcore, Jackass Number Two, Jet Li's Fearless, The Prestige, Volver, Sleeping Dogs Lie
11 Feb 2007
Return of Tuffy
Julie commented, "Of all your weird hobbies, making fonts is the weirdest".
14 Jan 2007
I Wanna See The Movies Of My Dreams
I think Chris Crawford is kind of a cheesy lunatic. But the prospects for Interactive Fiction are not totally barren. It occurs to me (amidst a marathon session of watching the adventures of nerdy goofball J.D. on Scrubs) that some of the most affecting fiction gets its power from the parallels between the protagonist and the reader/viewer. That also helps explain why the most popular works (Star Wars, The New Testament, LOTR, etc) hinge on personal but commonplace themes of being unique and special but vulnerable, fantasies of unexpected power, etc.
OK, of course, duh. But it also occured to me after waking from a particularly vivid dream, that Interactive Fiction offers the possibility of making a work even more personalized and affecting than the popular works of literature that draw on universal themes. The trick would be to take characters and relationships and details from the viewer's own life and somehow embed them in a story. I don't think agency (the usual obsession of Interactive Fiction types) is necessary at all.
I guess this idea isn't very original either since it's summed up in a lyric to "Car" by Built To Spill: "I wanna see the movies of my dreams."
But hey, that would be cool, wouldn't it?
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