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Thatcher's rants and musings 2007

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29 Dec 2007

Reading Material

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:


28 Dec 2007

Another Thing I Hate

Time Warner Cable. Nuff said.

18 Dec 2007

Words And Phrases I Hate


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

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:

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

Charitable Scams

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
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

Nokia E70

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:

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

click here to buy a shirt!

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.

I find that FireBug makes JavaScript & browser hacking hugely more palatable. In fact, JavaScript is now my favorite scripting language (the topic of a rant for a different day).

12 Feb 2007

Movie Awards

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

2005 movie awards are here

11 Feb 2007

Return of Tuffy

See here.

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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