Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Daily Headshaker

Wired News has a story about a British computer nerd who went on a personal mission of finding the truth about UFOs and is now facing charges for hacking into computers at the Pentagon, NASA, the Johnson Space Center, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force (and heaven knows what else).

"He said it was easy, despite being only a rank amateur. Using the hacking name 'Solo,' he discovered that many U.S. top-security systems were using an insecure Microsoft Windows program and had no password protection at all."

The Illusory Nature of Consciousness

Interesting comments at Haiku Factory on Tor Nørretranders' book, The User Illusion:

"The book looks at consciousness from a largely Information Theory viewpoint, which throws into light some pretty astonishing numbers. Via some clever experiments, scientists have been able to estimate that our consciousness is only able to actively handle about 10 to 40 bits of information per second, even though our perceptual systems take in well over a hundred million bits per second. Even more astonishing, the latency of consciousness is around 500 ms -- that is, we cannot become conscious of things until half a second after they happen. The actions we take that seem to happen in less time than that simply don't. We start to take actions before we consciously make the decision to do so. If you will your finger to move, it starts moving before you think you are telling it to. Our mind creates an illusion of consciousness in the here-and-now, processing all the information we've received, but it's simply a fiction."

Added to my Amazon Wish List.

Standing inside a broken Pompeiian bath with a camera in my hand

Standing inside a broken Pompeiian bath with camera in my hand.

A shot I took in Pompeii in 2004.

The Sweet September Rain

One of my favorite pop discs of all time is Prefab Sprout's Two Wheels Good, excellently produced by Thomas Dolby in 1985. Every review notes the album's real title is Steve McQueen, which is the case everywhere outside the United States; problems with the McQueen estate translated into the title Two Wheels Good here.

Every best tracks list should include the first four: Faron, Bonny, Appetite and When Love Breaks Down. It's a mellow work; jazzy, dreamy, introspective, earnest and poetic. The inspiration for this post is my stumbling upon a video for When Love Breaks Down on YouTube (a site that seems to have no shortage of visual surprises).

2006 SIGGRAPH Papers

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Dr. Hugo on eBay seems to keep offering a steady flow of supercool antique specs, especially the motorcyle glasses from the 20s and 30s.

Just don't outbid me on anything, okay?

The Stadium Filter

Interesting image filter. It will transform an image into a stadium crowd holding signs.

The site is in Japanese, but you shouldn't find it too difficult to upload your images if you can't read it.


Email Classification from Good to Bad

If you've never read Paul Graham's classic A Plan For Spam, you may find it interesting. In a nutshell, filtering spam amounts to estimating probability of spam based on the proportions of "spam-like" words and "non-spam-like" words in a message. Messages receive a score and based on that score, a line is drawn and a call is made: spam or not spam.

Rather than a binary yes/no, more and more I find myself wishing I could score my email on a scale of desirability / importance. A scale from -10 to +10 might work. Negative scores would indicate spam and such as being completely undesirable and unimportant (toss it!). High positive scores would indicate something that's really important. As with spam filters, with training, the system would learn to score messages automatically.

Having the classifier support more classes (-10 to +10 or whatever) would make it possible to, for example, set a threshold for those annoying little Outlook pop up messages that occur in the lower right corner, which I don't shut off completely because they offer the benefit of alerting me to important messages at the cost of alerting me to the unimportant messages in the majority.

Desktop interruptions seem to be a growing problem. What's really needed is the equivalent of a virtual receptionist that can intelligently screen interruptions and prioritize incoming information.

Say Goodnight and Go

Mentioned here before, I find Imogen Heap one of the most refreshing new voices in a great while, and I'm looking forward to seeing her play later this month.

Here's a link to her new video, Say Goodnight and Go in QT format.

(via Arjan Writes)

Paul Fusco's Chernobyl Pictures

Paul Fusco narrates his slideshow of photographs from Chernobyl, 20 years after the world's worst nuclear disaster. It's truly saddening and horrifying; which is why I feel people need to see it, especially when the idea of using nuclear weapons is being foolishly discussed.

(via antipixel)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Walk the Line

Finally found time for Walk the Line. Even though my expections were pretty high, it surpassed them. A great film, very well done. Both Joaqin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon did amazing jobs. Having already seen Capote and Good Night, and Good Luck, I can finally make an informed comment about this year's award for Best Actor: Really tough call. Strathairn, Hoffman and Phoenix were all incredible.

Nail Gun Headache

"Didja ever take a nail gun and shoot a dozen nails in your head and get a really bad headache?"
"Oooh, ow, ouch! I hate when that happens!"*

Failed nail gun suicide causes a headache (New Scientist)

*cf. Billy Crystal - I Hate When that Happens

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Talent Show

I don't believe Google's PageRank can be the final solution as far search rankings go. The reason for this belief is similar to my reason for believing oligarchies are unlikely to produce the fittest rulers (not a good sampling, not meritocratic, etc.)

Much has been said about the role of power law distributions on the Net. Although things begin democratic and meritocratic with PageRank, over time, I believe things eventually become oligarchic, and the resulting system is one in which the rich get richer at a rate that far more often than not outpaces challengers.

Lately, Google's rankings have seemed more erratic than usual. Results and PageRanks seem much less correlated than they used to be. I wonder if that means I'm seeing shapes in the search result clouds, or if it means Google's been jiggering its algorithms more than usual.

A problem with PageRank is that once the power structures and establishment are in place, we're left with the question of what happens when the best results to a particular search have a really low PageRank.

In such cases, if PageRank is strictly followed, the best results will probably never be found; likewise, the probability of anyone linking to them will be much lower than the probability of someone linking to someone who's already at the top.

No matter how I look at it, PageRank seems to be necessarily a suboptimal strategy, if the objective is providing users with the best search results possible.

One obvious corrective to me is a search engine equivalent of a talent show; i.e., algorithms that give search result unknowns a chance to compete for the big time. Such a strategy would involve mixing the usual results up a bit with low ranking candidates that appear to have potential. If one of these candidates is selected by users and it seems to satisfy them (i.e., they don't come back for more), the rank of the candidate could be increased.

Update (4/26/2006): Wattakoinkidink! This just popped up in my RSS reader:
Shuffling a Stacked Deck: The Case for Partially Randomized Ranking of Search Engine Results


"In-degree, PageRank, number of visits and other measures of Web page popularity significantly influence the ranking of search results by modern search engines. The assumption is that popularity is closely correlated with quality, a more elusive concept that is difficult to measure directly. Unfortunately, the correlation between popularity and quality is very weak for newly-created pages that have yet to receive many visits and/or in-links. Worse, since discovery of new content is largely done by querying search engines, and because users usually focus their attention on the top few results, newly-created but high-quality pages are effectively ``shut out,'' and it can take a very long time before they become popular."

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Cathedral in April


I took this photo from the James J. Hill House in St. Paul, Minnesota. It's at the East end of Summit Avenue. If you're a fan of Fitzgerald and you're in town looking for something to do, I recommend a trip down this famous Gilded Age street still haunted by the ghosts of Gatsby.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Pop Music in the Naughties

Every other Friday, I get killed with a long day of work and 250 miles of driving. This is one of those Fridays, but, in spite of my exhaustion, I feel compelled to post something.

I once mentioned making a list of favorite pop discs from the first half of the "naughties" (again, not sure what we call the 00s, but I'm pushing for "naughties").

My main criterion is a simple question:

What from 2000 to 2004 am I still listening to?

Many a disc is appealing the first few times around, but many a disc, like fish and company, smells in three days.

Here are five discs from 2000-2004 that make the cut, in random order.

First, Badly Drawn Boy's The Hour of Bewilderbeast. In spite of his overconfidence, Damon Gough is a talented fellow who makes great music. As heretical as it might seem to some fans, it's a tough call for me between this one and the About a Boy soundtrack. Favorites include The Shining with its french horn and the wa wa guitar in Once Around the Block.

Coldplay's second usually garners a higher rating, but Parachutes is my favorite. Yes, Yellow was played to death, but that's one of the reasons I rarely listen to the radio.

John Mayer's Room for Squares. After all these years, I still love No Such Thing, Why Georgia , Neon, 83 and the rest of the tracks. One talented individual. Saw Graham Colton + Counting Crows + John Mayer in concert a few years ago--amazing show.

I saw Pete Yorn play Musicforthemorningafter at the tiny 7th Street Entry (attached to 1st Ave) in 2001. An excellent disc with Life on a Chain, Strange Condition, Black and many other great tracks.

In my possession are three of Beth Orton's discs, and I've heard all of her releases a number of times. In a contest, Central Reservation gets my vote. Never heard it? At a minimum, I think Stolen Car and the title track demand a listen.

There are more, I may even be able to get to ten, but for now, I'll leave you with these five.

Not sure what the PFM folks would say about this, but, imho, if ever there was a definition of unduly pretentious... If you want to be more pretentious than Harold Bloom, at least move out of your parents' basement first. :)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Every Day is Like Thursday

This dude can juggle.

Next, a word or two on a question involving game theory. In an idiosyncratic lapse, perhaps, I decided to make a bid on eBay for these Lloydesque bakelite sunglasses from the twenties.

I was high bidder for quite some time at 99 cents (as if it would stay there), but suddenly somebody bid them up to a little over twenty bucks. So, in perhaps a second idiosyncratic lapse, I decided I wanted to jump bid to forty in hopes of scaring people away.

For the life of me, I can't figure out how to do it. With infinite (or should I say questionable) wisdom, eBay simply wants my maximum bid so it can helpfully keep slowly upping the ante for me all the way up to my max bid.

In the process of trying to figure this out, I stumbled onto the following curious paper:
An Analysis of Strategic Behavior in eBay Auctions

If your faith in humanity needs a little jump start, you can now download video of Milgram experiments. (via Vision Nary?)

And, finally, It's Jerry Time! gets a 2006 Emmy nom. Congratulations! (If you've never seen Jerry, try his latest video, The Karate Date)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

oJoy, oBoy, eBay!

Did a little window shopping on eBay tonight. Here are the contenders...

Billy Joe Bob,,, Himself! is waiting to make a personalized video for you. $35.00. Must see sample video on the page!

Got an ex? Got an ex knife set?

This ad claims to pay bills with misspelled eBay items! (Wait a minute, they spelled "misspelled" correctly!)

Where else can you get a bag full of sapphires for $15.95?


From the people who brought you Double your I.Q. or no money back!

(via Life Can Be Seriously Funny)

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

Great interview with Richard Feynman on Google video.

(via Pharyngula)

Every day is...

Sheryl Crow might beg to differ...

Monday, April 17, 2006

Projector Phone

"A South Korean company developed a coin-size laser video projector module that can fit into portable gadgets such as mobile phones and digital cameras.

Iljin Display Thursday demonstrated various prototypes of mini-size projectors, which use its Single LCD Panel technology. Using the technology, users can project photos and video images on the wall from the built-in projector, making a seven-inch, full-color screen."

Korea Times

(via Imaging Resource)

Six Stages of Kohlberg

This is ostensibly a blog about computer graphics, image processing, computational photography, &c. but my mind wanders quite a bit while I'm waiting for new material. Given the recent meanderings, maybe I ought to change my blog's mission statement. Oh well, if I can come up with something thought provoking from time to time, I'll consider this project a success. This post will [probably] be the last philosophical post for a while.

Today's question:

Are there Stages of Moral Development?

After a dose of Hume ("Reason is the slave of passion") and Ayer ("Boo-Hooray" emotivism), let's look at a moral and psychological theory that's perhaps a little more hopeful, the work of Lawrence Kohlberg.

Kohlberg was a professor at U of Chicago and Harvard. Heavily influenced by Piaget, Kohlberg's studies led him to a theory of moral development consisting of six stages (1, 2, 3, 4). Given his role as a psychologist, the nature of the work wasn't prescriptive (he didn't say what people should do); rather, it was descriptive (he simply looked at what people actually do).

In his studies, Kohlberg, presented moral dilemmas and asked subjects not only what should be done but also the reasoning behind their conclusions. After analysing the answers provided by his subjects, Kohlberg identified the following six stages:

1. Obedience and Punishment Orientation
2. Individualism and Exchange
3. Good Interpersonal Relationships
4. Maintaining Social Order
5. Social Contract and Individual Rights
6. Universal Principles

Kohlberg believed individuals must proceed sequentially from one stage to the next; that is, he believed it was impossible to skip Stage 3 by jumping from Stage 2 to Stage 4.

It's hard to get much of an idea of the theory from the short list offered above. Two good synopses are this one and this one. (The latter includes more criticism.)

In the interest of brevity, that's all I'm really going to say right now. I'll probably reference this in the future, and I'll leave the bonus reading and thinking up you.

The Ethical Brain

I've been following mirror neurons (1,2), especially as they relate to the ideas of Hume and other moral sense theorists. Another reference on the subject:

The American Journal of Psychiatry reviews The Ethical Brain by Dartmouth cognitive neuroscientist Michael S. Gazzaniga:

"Gazzaniga concludes his book with a discussion of how human empathy originates. He thinks it is likely that 'mirror neurons' give a person the ability to put himself in another’s place and to figure out what the other person would want in a given situation. Gazzaniga sees this neurologically grounded empathy as the basis for certain universal ethical principles. He believes that an understanding of those ethical principles all people carry inside will help people of different religions and belief systems to get along, even when they do not agree about individual ethical issues."


Sunday, April 16, 2006

One Red Paper Clip

If you start with one red paper clip and you trade it for something better and you keep trading up, can you wind up with a house in the end?

Here's a link to a great NYT article that tells the story of barterer extraordinaire Kyle MacDonald.


Comedian Lewis Black makes a strange sound demonstrating his reaction to incomprehensible insanity. He bows his shaking head a bit and makes a wuhblibubah sound. Nowadays, I find it hard to turn on the news without wanting to make that sound.

The political leanings of the Leiter Reports are hardly a secret, but the site is an excellent source of information that should raise concerns for everyone, regardless of political affilation.

Union of Concerned Scientists animation on Nuclear Bunker Busters.
Retired AF Colonel Sam Gardiner on CNN: Bush's Secret War on Iran.
WaPo: Rumsfeld Rebuked by Retired Generals.
The New Yorker: The Iran Plans.

Pointless Arguments, Godwin's Law, Etc.

Godwin's Law states:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

It's been literature / philosophy week around here. My post on Hume and recent comments left by various individuals over at P.Z. Meyers' blog have left me pondering both Godwin's Law and the thoughts of philosopher A.J. Ayer.

In his Language, Truth and Logic (1936), Oxford philosopher A.J. Ayer, following in the footsteps of Bertrand Russell, laid out an emotivist theory of ethics, often referred to as the Boo-Hooray theory, which maintains that ethical statements cannot be true or false but are rather statements of emotional attitudes; e.g., when someone says "Thrift is a vice!" what they're essentially saying is "Boo thrift!" and likewise "Thrift is a virtue!" translates to "Hooray thrift!"

In Chapter 6, Critique of Ethics and Theology, Ayer offers his take on the nature of arguments between individuals working from different value premises, noting how and why such arguments degenerate into name calling and a smug sense of superiority.

"When someone disagrees with us about the moral value of a certain action or type of action, we do admittedly resort to argument in order to win him over to our way of thinking. But we do not attempt to show by our argument that he has the 'wrong' ethical feeling... we attempt to show that he is mistaken about the facts of the case. We argue that he has misjudged the effects of the agent's motive: or that he has misjudged the effects of the action, or its probable effects in view of the agent's knowledge... We do this in the hope that we have only to get our opponent to agree with us about the nature of the empirical facts for him to adopt the same moral attitude towards them as we do... But if our opponent happens to have undergone a different process of moral 'conditioning' from ourselves, so that, even when he acknowledges all the facts, he still disagrees with us about the moral value of the actions under discussion, then we abandon the attempt to convince him by argument. We say that it is impossible to argue with him because he has a distorted or undeveloped moral sense; which signifies merely that he employs a different set of values from our own. We feel that our own system of values is superior, and therefore speak in derogatory terms of his... It is because argument fails us when we come to deal with pure questions of value, as distinct from questions of fact, that we finally resort to mere abuse." (pb. 110-111)

In the process of refreshing my memory for this post, I looked at the Wikipedia entry for Ayer and found an amusing anecdote in the process:

"[Ayer] taught or lectured several times in the United States, including serving as a visiting professor at Bard College in the fall of 1987. At a party that same year held by fashion designer Fernando Sanchez, Ayer, then 77, confronted Mike Tyson harassing Naomi Campbell. When Ayer demanded that Tyson stop, the boxer said: "Do you know who the f*** I am? I'm the heavyweight champion of the world," to which Ayer replied: "And I am the former Wykeham Professor of Logic. We are both pre-eminent in our field. I suggest that we talk about this like rational men" (Rogers 1999:344)."

Ayer's head butting didn't stop with Mike Tyson. He believed many of the questions traditionally considered inside the domain of philosophy couldn't be solved by philosophy and that it was pointless for philosophers to talk about them; unsurprisingly, this perspective wasn't particularly popular with many of his fellow philosophers.

Only Humean

I like PZ Meyers and agree with him on the existential plane, but when it comes to ethical claims, I feel he often seems to abandon Reason for and opt for towing of the party line. It surprises me when scientists seem so dogmatic on moral questions.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think there's anything wrong with being passionate about one's beliefs (in fact, I tend to admire it), but at the same time, I think such passion needs to be tempered with "Reasonable people can disagree," especially in ethical matters.

Perhaps, he should include a little more Hume in his diet. :)

"Hume's position in ethics, which is based on his empiricist theory of the mind, is best known for asserting four theses: (1) Reason alone cannot be a motive to the will, but rather is the “slave of the passions” (see Section 3) (2) Morals are not derived from reason (see Section 4). (3) Morals are derived from the moral sentiments: feelings of approval (esteem, praise) and disapproval (blame) felt by spectators who contemplate a character trait or action (see Section 7). (4) While some virtues and vices are natural (see Section 13), others, including justice, are artificial (see Section 9). There is heated debate about what Hume intends by each of these theses and how he argues for them. They are best understood in the context of Hume's meta-ethical theory and his ethic of virtue and vice."

Hume's Moral Philosophy, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

See also: E.O. Wilson on The Biological Basis of Morality.

One of Our Submarines

If you're 18 years old today, you were born the year the movie Die Hard was released, a fact that will probably make you shrug and some of us older folks twitch. The older one gets, the faster time flies; for me, it's already reached a speed that's absolutely horrifying.

Thanks to the joys of Y! Unlimited, I've been a musical time traveler for the past couple of days--venturing back, at times even before Die Hard was released. I really enjoyed listening to the multi-talented Thomas Dolby for the first time in a long time.

If you've never heard of him and you'd like a sample, try his biggest hit She Blinded Me with Science, One of our Submarines, and I Love You Goodbye.

After listening to several songs, I did a little surfing and found his web site: FLAT EARTH SOCIETY: Thomas Dolby. He has a blog, and he's currently on tour in the U.S. Definitely worth checking out.

Also: Check out John Peel's Festive 50s.

Devious Idea of the Day

Get your hands on a half cent and attempt to deposit it in your bank account...

Having worked as a teller (long time ago), I seriously doubt your bank's computers can handle deposits consisting of fractional cents.

Of course it would be absurd to attempt to deposit something so valuable at face value, but it could make for a good roll-your-own Candid Camera episode...

Or, it might get you a date, if you've got a thing for one of the tellers and she or he has a sense of humor.


Saturday, April 15, 2006

Tomorrow Morning

Tomorrow Morning

Strange Ways Here We Come...

Somebody get an exorcist now! Video of Large Happy Man holding Lil' Markie captive inside his body. (via Pharyngula)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Various Artists

Here's a well done trailer for the impossible sequel Titanic 2 (Ad Rants). Apple releases Aperture 1.1. Google Calendar is out of the bag. ABC/Disney planning free online TV by fall. Essays & Effluvia offers humorous looks at house values through the eyes of different individuals. Will Google be the death of cleverly titled articles? This Boring Headline is Written for Google (NYT). New CAPTCHA using kittens (BB). It's Jerry Time seems to be responsible for the bizarre Triumph of the Peeps. I would like to make a fresnel lens vs Peep video, but who has the time? Finally some good news, the CNN/Money career thing put software engineers at #1.

And now back to regularly scheduled programming...

A New Acquisition

The Straggler by Andrew King

It arrived today!

In Their Own Words...

Robert Frost reads Fire and Ice.
T.S. Eliot reads The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
Billy Collins reads Forgetfulness.
A wax cylinder recording of Walt Whitman reading four lines of America.

Stephen Crane

I saw a man pursuing the horizon;
Round and round they sped.
I was disturbed at this;
I accosted the man.
"It is futile,"
I said,"You can never -"

"You lie," he cried,
And ran on.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

H2O-melon + Canine in Emerald City

"I've been thinking about Fate a lot lately, perhaps because I just saw my Grandmother... probably for the last time. She's not sick or anything, she just bores the hell out of me.

But Fate, it's said, is like a fabric, woven with the threads of circumstance. Actually, it's more like a filthy rag, stained with the scum of coincidence. It hounds us all, the sons of man, like a Mormon missionary with an Amway franchise. Forgive the metaphor, but I love metaphors; they just come to me, like, like, ..., like something comes to something else, in a way...

Fate caught up with me, one day, in the city of Seattle; a lovely town, by the way, but oddly enough, it was raining the day I was there. I remember it well, the day, that it is. It was the 5th of July, an easy day for an American to remember, because it's the day after ten days before Bastille Day."

Thanks to the Internet Archive, a classic tale from one of my favorite humorists continues here.


"There is a time in the life of every boy when he for the first time takes the backward view of life. Perhaps that is the moment when he crosses the line into manhood. The boy is walking through the street of his town. He is thinking of the future and of the figure he will cut in the world. Ambitions and regrets awake within him. Suddenly something happens; he stops under a tree and waits as for a voice calling his name. Ghosts of old things creep into his consciousness; the voices outside of himself whisper a message concerning the limitations of life. From being quite sure of himself and his future he becomes not at all sure. If he be an imaginative boy a door is tom open and for the first time he looks out upon the world, seeing, as though they marched in procession before him, the countless figures of men who before his time have come out of nothingness into the world, lived their lives and again disappeared into nothingness. The sadness of sophistication has come to the boy. With a little gasp he sees himself as merely a leaf blown by the wind through the streets of his village. He knows that in spite of all the stout talk of his fellows he must live and die in uncertainty, a thing blown by the winds, a thing destined like corn to wilt in the sun. He shivers and looks eagerly about. The eighteen years he has lived seem but a moment, a breathing space in the long march of humanity. Already he hears death calling. With all his heart he wants to come close to some other human, touch someone with his hands, be touched by the hand of another. If he prefers that the other be a woman, that is because he believes that a woman will be gentle, that she will understand. He wants, most of all, understanding." Sophistication, concerning Helen White

from Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg Ohio (1919)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Plato's Republic

I've declared it literature week on this blog, and I am doing my best to keep my promise. The man of the hour is Plato. In addition to "Doesn't he kinda look like John Belushi?" there are many other interesting questions to ask.

For example in his dialogues when Socrates speaks, are we truly hearing the words of Socrates, or is Plato putting words in his master's mouth?

Many people find philosophy unappealing--it leaves them making the same face Tom Hanks made in Big when he was spitting out the beluga. But, verily, I say unto you, if you've never read Plato's Republic, you really should.

Get a decent translation, and it's more than readable, it's downright fun! Through the characters in this dialogue, Plato careens from one important philosophical question to the next, hitting all the big ones in the process.

Ancient Greece was home to a panoply of democratic experiments. Plato himself (can you say "Republic"?) wasn't a particularly big fan of democracy, and his assessment of degenerative societal stages in Book VIII is as unnerving as Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West.

Sample from Plato's Republic, Book VIII:

And democracy has her own good, of which the insatiable desire brings her to dissolution?

What good?
Freedom, I replied; which, as they tell you in a democracy, is the glory of the State --and that therefore in a democracy alone will the freeman of nature deign to dwell.

Yes; the saying is in everybody's mouth.
I was going to observe, that the insatiable desire of this and the neglect of other things introduces the change in democracy, which occasions a demand for tyranny.

How so?
When a democracy which is thirsting for freedom has evil cupbearers presiding over the feast, and has drunk too deeply of the strong wine of freedom, then, unless her rulers are very amenable and give a plentiful draught, she calls them to account and punishes them, and says that they are cursed oligarchs."

Consider the Pocket Watch

I have trouble finding the time to write a software essay, and I'm not sure I want to try; occasionally I write technical notes at work, so a software essay kinda feels like work I'm not getting paid for. Also, as far as it all goes, I'm more an aphorism guy than an essay guy (i.e., pro high-density). What follows is inspired by my opinions regarding object-oriented vs. procedural languages, system design and encapsulation. I'm not sure if it will contain any truths or pearls of wisdom, specific or general; standard disclaimers apply.

Consider the pocket watch...

It requires two things of us:
To be set.
To be wound full of energy.
In return, it gives us future time.

Some insist on saying
"Wind the watch"
While others insist on
"The watch wind."

Thing and action: TheWatch.Wind( );
Action and thing: Wind(TheWatch);
An argument of order,
And nothing more.

What matters to me
Is not the order of things said.
It is the complexity hidden

And the simplicity seen

Makin' Copy

Now, I'm sure Hamline is a fine university and all, but that doesn't mean I can't have a little fun with the people who write their copy.

The previous billboard boasted graduates could spell "sesquicentennial." (Something I taught to my 7-year-old in a two-minute fit of spite induced by bad copy.)

The target market has apparently moved from glacially slow learners to would-be resumé "embellishers" (aka "liars").

I see a couple of problems with this campaign. Aside from the fact that targeting the dishonest tends to sully one's reputation, I think there's an even more fatal flaw in the thinking. Rather than actually attending Hamline, won't those in the target market simply lie and say they did?

And if they can spell "sesquicentennial" how will they ever get caught? :)

Monday, April 10, 2006

Black & White

Spring is springing, leaving me busy doing sensible things. So much for wintry indolence. Lacking time, I'm leaving behind another literary reference. (Maybe it can be literature week at the blog of metamerist.) This time, some kind words on the subject of lawyers by another personal hero, Grand Master satirist Jonathan Swift:

"I said there was a Society of Men among us, bred up from their Youth in the Art of proving by Words multiplied for the Pleasure, that White is Black, and Black is White, according as they are paid. To this Society all the rest of the People are Slaves.

For Example, if my Neighbour hath a Mind to my Cow, he hires a Lawyer to prove that he ought to have my Cow from me. I must then hire another to defend my Right, it being against all Rules of Law that any Man should be allowed to speak for himself. Now in this Case, I who am the right Owner lie under two great Disadvantages. First, my Lawyer being practiced almost from his Cradle in defending Falshood; is quite out of his Element when he would be an Advocate for Justice, which as an Office unnatural, he always attempts with great Awkwardness if not with Ill-will. The second Disadvantage is, that my Lawyer must proceed with great Caution: Or else he will be reprimanded by the Judges, and abhorred by his Brethren, as one that would lessen the Practice of the Law. And therefore I have but two Methods to preserve my Cow. The first is, to gain over my Adversary's Lawyer with a double Fee; who will then betray his Client by insinuating that he hath Justice on his Side. The second way is for my Lawyer to make my Cause appear as unjust as he can; by the Cow to belong to my Adversary; and this, if it be skilfully done, will certainly bespeak the Favour of the Bench..."

The rest is here in Gulliver's Travels

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Divinest Sense

Almost Blue

MUCH madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
’T is the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur,—you ’re straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.

-- Emily Dickinson

Friday, April 07, 2006

Longing for a Typewriter

Last night we watched half of All the President's Men before the desire for sleep prevailed. Released in 1976, the story of Woodward, Bernstein and Deep Throat won 4 of the 8 Oscars for which it was nominated. Good Night and Good Luck was the impetus; as much as I liked it, I couldn't help measuring it on a yardstick from zero to All the President's Men, but it's been a while, so... there we go.

Strangely enough, one of my strongest impressions from the old Hoffman / Redford film was an unintended one: the typewriter. The Washington Post newsroom scenes filled with a chorus of typewriter rat-a-tat rekindled memories. As I meandered sleepily up the stairs to bed, I found myself longing for the old typewriter my parents used to own.

In terms of the "High Tech / High Touch" calculus, I think something was lost in translation with the demise of the typewriter, some sort of haptic connection with words, the force of the hammers striking one's thoughts on a page, the snapping sound, the connection of metal with paper, the stark contrast of the stamped ink left behind...

I wonder if my children will ever experience it.

Update: One more impression. An amazing thing you can learn from seventies films is that everyone in the 70s was anorexic. :)

Draining Friday

Today has been a day of travel, and tired I am. If you haven't seen the giant centipede eating the mouse, it's creepy, probably not for the squeamish and too time consuming for my taste; that said, it's scientifically fascinating, and there's an added bonus: after seeing it you might never sleep soundly in an exotic location again.

If you thought Dawkins was hard on religion, I think it's fair to say Penn & Teller are harder (Vision? Nary!) The photo of the penguin in the Smithsonian Magazine Photo contest is excellent (3QD). In Nat Geo, The Gospel of Judas paints Judas in a more favorable light (the excellent 3QD again). Gospel of Brutus, forthcoming? :)

SIGGRAPH 2006 Animation Festival winners announced (via Gamasutra). A few random tunes selected with relaxation in mind... Breathe by Telepopmusik. When Ye Go Away by the Waterboys. Forest Fire by Athlete.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Match Game

In light of Cynicor's publication of Sudoko and Jumble, I feel compelled to offer games and entertainment here as well.

So, anyhow, I've been slaving away all day over a hot stove to offer you Match Game, my first puzzle. Match the numbers with the letters.

Unfortunately, Shula's is out of my league. First place: 5 White Castles. Second place: 10 White Castles. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Apple's Boot Camp

Assuming it isn't a belated April Fools joke, I think this is a smart move by Apple:

"More and more people are buying and loving Macs. To make this choice simply irresistible, Apple will include technology in the next major release of Mac OS X, Leopard, that lets you install and run the Windows XP operating system on your Mac. Called Boot Camp (for now), you can download a public beta today."


(via Boing Boing)

eBay and RSS

The other day, I noticed RSS feeds are available for eBay searches. I'm not sure when this became an option, but it's very cool, and kudos to eBay for it. If there's something you tend to scan the classifieds for, this is a better solution.

That said, I still wish there were a Wanted section equivalent on eBay where one could explicitly list products and services wanted. (If there is such a thing, my apologies. I certainly may have missed it.)

Update: I just noticed there is a new Want It Now option on eBay. (4/15/2006)

I tried to think of a means of turning a For Sale auction into a Wanted auction, but I'm not sure I came up with any good solutions, or if it's even allowable on eBay. e.g.,

For Sale: $300 and a contract obligating you to paint my living room.

Anyone willing to paint my living room for $250 or more could then bid up to $50.


I've added some space for hosting things that Blogger doesn't seem to support very well, like animated GIF files:

I created this one quite some time ago using my son's Tony Hawk skateboarder toy and an Olympus C-5060 WZ.

It's really easy to make stop motion with a digital camera, especially if the you have a remote control (so you don't have to touch the camera between shots).

The Analects

A couple of years ago, I read Will Durant's The Greatest Minds of All Time. Confucius took Durant's top spot, and the following passage from The Analects was quoted. Now a personal favorite I offer it here in the spirit of ANFSCD*:

"...The illustrious ancients, when they wished to make clear and to propagate the highest virtues in the world, put their states in proper order. Before putting their states in proper order, they regulated their families. Before regulating their families, they cultivated their own selves. Before cultivating their own selves, they perfected their souls. Before perfecting their souls, they tried to be sincere in their thoughts. Before trying to be sincere in their thoughts, they extended to the utmost their knowledge. Such investigation of knowledge lay in the investigation of things, and in seeing them as they really were. When things were thus investigated, knowledge became complete. When knowledge was complete, their thoughts became sincere. When their thoughts were sincere, their souls became perfect. When their souls were perfect their own selves became cultivated. When their selves were cultivated, their families became regulated. When their families were regulated, their states came to be put in to proper order. When their states were in proper order, the whole world became peaceful and happy..." -- Confucius

*And Now For Something Completely Different

(Sigh, I just realized that this morning I accidentally posted a half-baked draft of a thought titled "Clockwork". In Blogger, it's so easy to click on the wrong button! I meant to save it as a draft.)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006




Researchers are still trying to understand this enigmatic thing we call gravity, hence this post at Ars Technica titled Gravity wave mash-up. I've done a few gravity experiments myself, and I'd like to add my findings to the scientific corpus.

When I put kiddie cups upside down in the top tray of my dishwasher, they flip rightside up and fill themselves with water. I believe contributing factors are the colorless nature of the liquid and the fact no damage can result from a spill.

If, on the other hand, I fill the same kiddie cups with grape juice, there's a high probability they will flip upside down and create massive, permanent purple stains. If I put them on a new white table cloth, I doubt any forces in the universe could counteract the resultant gravitational forces.

Weird stuff, gravity.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Smoke snaking through of a pile of irons

I am suffering from a case of too many irons in the fire.

But never mind that, a few links...

Grady Booch: "Hektor is based on the scriptographer plugin for Adobe Illustrator." (This graffiti-painting robot's been around for a while, but I hadn't seen it either.)

Lame April Fools let you down? Museum of Hoaxes Top 100 April Fools Hoaxes of All Time. The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest should help.

Joel Spolsky is collecting votes for Best Software Writing - Volume II. Nice to see some nominations for Steve Yegge.

Future's so bright, fly gotta wear shades. Science photo winner at Nat Geo. (via BB)

Finally, recent polls indicate 70% of Americans support the reunification of Iran and Iraq back into Iranq. (Okay, sorry, just kidding about that one.)