22 August 2008


Ryan North's Dinosaur Comics never fails to crack me up. I'm linking this one, because the pattern is classic: polysyllabic discussion of psychological or philosophical analysis of a pertinent issue, ended with an utterance that reverses that impression. So, while those around me struggle to discern what the set-up means, I'm chuckling about "Boners Ahoy" and yet feeling smug because I think I understand something intellectual.

15 August 2008

Prescience & Caffeine

Somewhere in the past, I blathered on here about making adjectives from names, and used Kafka's name as an example. At one point, I tried to coin the term "Kafkarotic" and combine my limited knowledge of the author with pornographic stories.

Today, I noticed mention that Kafka indeed collected The Amethyst/Opals, which the article seems to indicate is a porn magazine.

The scholars interviewed didn't seem as shocked as the opening few paragraphs expected. I'm intrigued about the magazine itself. That's a cool title. Of course, the first person I ever had sex with was born in February, and collected amethysts (the birth stone for February), so perhaps I associate that word with the erotic for that reason. Whatever.

13 August 2008

Song of the South

In our neighborhood, there are at least four people whose job consists of pedaling a cart around all the side alleys and lanes, calling for junk. They buy old bottles, broken appliances, and God-only-knows what else1.

The reason I mention them is because the other day, a previously unheard voice went by, and as I lay here, trying not to die (the heat and humidity are that bad), my brain tricked me into believing that he was singing, and that I ought to recognize that tune. So, he pedaled around, asking for washing machine parts, and finally, I blurted out the next line of an old Flock of Seagulls song: "I was falling in love."

About an hour later, a woman went by, and I swear she was singing the tune for "Here Comes the Bride" with Chinese lyrics.

After a couple of hours of naming those tunes, I started to wonder if there was something wrong with that activity. Might it be racist in some way to hear only echoes of synthpop in the local language?

Then Sweetness came home, and as we were playing cards, she heard them outside, and said, "Southerners sound like they're singing all the time when they talk."

"What are they saying?" I asked.

"Who knows?"

1 - I suppose anyone who speaks the same dialect knows what they buy, but I know about two dozen words of Mandarin, let alone unknown southerner talk.

The creative spark

I just saw this video (I'm assuming it will embed above this text) of Josh Lesnick creating the latest installment of Girly. Artists fascinate me. The process fascinates me. A blank page (or screen) getting filled with the results of gestures, and those results suggest a form beyond a two-dimensional, black-and-white bit of scribbling is just short of miraculous to me. Maybe it's because my own attempts didn't turn out this way, so I gave up.

Oh, that's right, I didn't mention the Ira Glass videos. He says, somewhere in there, that it's important to keep on with whatever endeavor you start with, even if you suck at it, because continued practice is the only way to eventually not suck. It's one of those concepts that you hear from birth (or very nearly) and never really comprehend until you're over 40, far from home, and drinking heavily because everything you attempt falls short of your desires.

So, the Wacom tablet will become more than a replacement for the dying touch-pad on this machine, until I realize I'm using that notion as a mental dodge to get around doing the work writing requires. Oh well.

12 August 2008

The Principled Peter

Today's link is titled "Why Jargon Feeds on Lazy Minds." The writer suggests that every "business writer, guru, or executive" should be forced to read Orwell's essay Politics And The English Language every morning before work.

I would also propose the following phrases be eliminated from the language:
  • value your input really means, "want you to do my work."
  • thinking outside the box When you hear this, it will be from someone who is neither, even if it's meant to be ironic.
  • touch base If you forget this is a baseball metaphor, it sounds sexual. If you are aware that it's a baseball term, it's confusing, because what's being demanded doesn't resemble "touching base" so much as "being trapped in another pointless meeting only to make some idiot feel important."
  • standardized on really means "all forced to use/do." e.g. "Our company is standardized on MS Office." or "Can we standardize on arriving 30 minutes early in case anyone has issues to discuss?"
I'm sure there is an endless supply of these, as idiotic gasbags seem to be abundant, and prone to gather and trade such gems among their own kind. Thinking that made me depressed, so I'm off to see if there's a new Homestar Runner cartoon.

10 August 2008

You will. (or else?)

I watched the videos for the Aurora browser, and then several related videos for the same idea applied to a different problem set. In the end, they're not compelling. All of them use the basic concept that a 3D interface will make shopping easier. This is important because we all want to keep the economy strong to support the troops, but all that not-sitting-in-front-of-TV is too hard. I mean, if we were meant to have that much walking around and stuff, God wouldn't have invented liposuction.

Really, I watched videos demonstrating three different "next generation" browsers, and they all revolved around Amazon or eBay either in 3D or combined with some master database that KNOWS EVERYTHING YOU EVER READ OR THOUGHT.

First off, do west-coast farmers talk smack to each other? I grew up around farmers, and they mostly just asked each other, "How are you doing these days?" with some measure of concern, because they all had a rough enough time of it.

And the mouse-in-the-air thing? She's trading one repetitive stress injury for another. Great wrists, but her shoulder will need replacing.

In the last video, two men are discussing what to get a little girl for her seventh birthday, and they call her mother, who agrees to send a full inventory of the kid's room and a profile. Many commenters noted that it was a little creepy that Mom had a profile and did RFID scans of her bedroom's contents. What I want to know is why the gay uncle couldn't talk to the little girl and ask what she wanted, and wasn't it enough that his twink room-mate catered the event, spending all night making Spongebob characters from arugula, carrots, and melon?

There was another video where a man with a heavy accent wanted to buy a toy for (presumably) the same kid, and wanted it to last more than a week. Again, why not look at the damn thing, and see if it appears sturdy enough for that child's use. If you honestly don't know, get a gift certificate from the toy store and find a humorous card to attach it to.

Then there's voice command. (not in the Aurora videos, I'm going off on a tangent now. Sensitive viewers may wish to leave the web site) Joe Data-Entry is trying to update the catalog description for the "Sun Yellow" line of swimwear on the company web site. "Not 'son,' 'sun'," he says to his computer. He repeats it louder and slower. He sighs, then growls when the sigh is transcribed as some convulsion of letters and subsequently marked as misspelled. Now imagine a cube farm, with 1,500 people, none of whom have had proper training, all trying to convince their desktop that they really and truly know the difference between "crab" and "crap" and that they just have a head-cold, for Christ's sake.

It's bad enough that we have speakerphones but not private offices. There's always some "important" guy who not only has to use the speaker, at top volume (I mean, so that it distorts more than Hendrix's Marshalls at Woodstock) but also mutter aloud, "Let's see if my wife stayed at home today like a good girl..." I always pray that there's no answer, so that I can mutter, "She's probably off fucking some guy who has a three digit I.Q."

Back to user interfaces--I have given up on GUIs. I even gave up on mc. I have some files backed up on DVD-RW, and in one directory, there are several versions of every Amiga program ever made (apart from games, which take another entire DVD). I keep forgetting how painful GUI use can be until I double-click on that folder, and it takes ten frustrating, no, it's twelve now, unless it stops doing anything for five minutes, then it says twenty-three, but changed back to twelve minutes a second later, and finally eighteen minutes to display "thumbnails" of the contents. Why thumbnails? Is "LHA" a suffix used for pictures in Windows? I learned to use the command line for everything. I even switched to using vim and LaTeX for writing.

09 August 2008

Thanks for the education, Internet!

Firefox has this wonderful option to open the tabs I had last time when I start it again. Things I think are potentially fascinating but too long for my fatigue level are left there in the stack until I manage to go through all the items in google reader (because we can't have RSS feeds in China) and the list of comics I read every day ("open all in tabs" is another wonderful feature) and check my various and sundry email accounts.

So today, I finally managed to get back to Pablo Defendini's article on faster-than-light travel and related topics. It made for interesting reading, though nothing I hadn't seen before. Then I noticed some of the words were hyperlinked and clicked on "noosphere" (though it's properly spelled with an umlaut). That led to wikipedia, which is outside the great firewall, so I copied the word into the search bar on The Free Dictionary (which includes a wikipedia mirror).

I was searching through the explanation of noosphere, and saw mention of Stewart Brand and, in the references, Serial Experiment: Lain. Now, I've watched Lain some number of times I'm not comfortable disclosing, but I still read the entire article, on the chance that it would give me yet another angle of looking at the story I hadn't noticed before. It did, but that's not the point here. One of the themes mentioned in the article was Dissociative Identity Disorder. I wasn't familiar with that term, as I only studied psychology for a brief time, back when your parents were still in middle school. So, off we went to another page, and I saw mention of "Borderline Personality Disorder" which led me to another page and then several ancillary searches, and now I have a fairly confident diagnosis for an acquaintance I've had entirely too much interaction with.

A character in Alice in Wonderland said "I try to believe ten impossible things before breakfast." Before I finished my morning coffee, I feel as though I had lessons in Postmodernism, Literary Theory, and Psychology. If I could keep up this pace until lunch, I might consider grad school.

06 August 2008

as I stood 'neath the marquee moon...hesitating

There are three aisles in the corner of Hy-Mall (now called Tesco after the merger, but in my heart, it will always be pronounced Le Go) and the first is for wine, the second for beer, and the last baijiu. The fact that this bottle came from the third aisle and I haven't died yet are my only indications that I am not drinking aftershave right now.

13 April 2008

You got a pretty mouth

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Inland North

You may think you speak "Standard English straight out of the dictionary" but when you step away from the Great Lakes you get asked annoying questions like "Are you from Wisconsin?" or "Are you from Chicago?" Chances are you call carbonated drinks "pop."

The Midland
The Northeast
The South
The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

OK, all the technology the world could amass and connect together, and it can tell me I talk like I'm from Rochester. I'm actually impressed. Most folks can't pin down my origin nearly so well.

23 March 2008

Another month?

Hmm, youtube just reappeared as mysteriously as it vanished a few days ago. I found a site for extracting clips to files (because there's no web access in the classrooms*) and grabbed a few things for a colleague, then the following day, there were blank spaces in many pages where the video clips ought to be. My question is: was it blocked in the whole country, or did I just do something stupid that prevented flv files from playing? And if the latter, how would changing out the theme for Firefox (the only change to the system) fix things?

11 February 2008

Deer me!

So, I was mindlessly cruising around the web, minding my own business, or rather, gawking at everyone else's business, and I run across something called "The Endless Forest". Instead of reading all the words in their prescribed order, I poke at the thing and notice a ruined castle getting mentioned, and Halloween, so I thought, "Here's an online game I might really enjoy right out-of-the-box."

The game is pretending to be a deer. You give them a name, and they twist your name into a symbol that begs a "artist formerly known as..." joke, but I'm not stooping that low today, because my back is acting up. I would play along with that, if you could talk to the other deer, but they don't allow English, because (and I'm vaguely paraphrasing) that would lead to slang and out-of-character behavior. Pardon me, but I wasn't auditioning for amateur dinner theater. I only want to do something interesting while trying to find someone to chat with, and Second Life has been making my video card overheat. Does anyone know how to open up a Sony laptop to remove the dust? I'm certain that's my problem.

Seriously, deer do, in my estimation, four things:
  1. eat vegetation.
  2. poop.
  3. fuck.
  4. get shot by rednecks.
That's not much of a game, really, or a least nothing I would play online. Some people (furries) would be really into #3, but normal people have seen enough of that shit on Wild Kingdom to last until Marlin Perkins rises from his grave to be Mutual of Omaha's zombie overlord.

28 January 2008


Today (or very recently), Mr. Sante posed the question of what Greek-derived term refers to the collecting of rejection slips from publishers. I'm pretty sure those count as ephemera, but I don't know how to suffix the word to mean "collects it as a hobby."

Years ago, when all information about music came in print form (either cheap pulp covered in severe attitude, or slick pages obfuscated by marketing), I read an article about R.E.M. and in particular, I was struck by the mention of Michael Stipe carrying a paperback book and a few old envelopes with him to the interview. In retrospect, it doesn't sound so impressive, but the notion it implanted in my head was that ephemera could become a fashion or decor accessory. The idea spun out into a full-blown fetish, and I eventually ended up amassing a few old manual typewriters, boxes of 'zines, comic books, and paperbacks, some old postcards and boxes of correspondence, and at one point, a large crate of unused stationery. I never believed that such stuff was required for or facilitated writing, but it did help.

Actually, it also caused problems. The process I developed became so ritualized that when I was removed from those trappings, and was discouraged from keeping tobacco or liquor in my desk (or on my person), writing became needlessly difficult. It was only finding a copy of Roughdraft and the VTPortableRemington font that I made peace with the idea of word processing again. If there were only a way I could set the font for the "notes" pane of the window, I would be really happy. And such thinking leads me to look at the Ion X Window manager, and then at installing linux, in case I can't make cygwin conform to my vision, and pretty soon, I discover that I've started looking at Forth sites, because it's obvious that I have to write everything myself to get exactly what I need, and I might as well learn that language once and for all, but then I would have to figure out either linux or windows APIs, so I get the latest version of WinUAE and start looking for development kits I can download for free, and by that point, the vacation is half over, and jumping from the window to my death starts to appeal to me more than I'm comfortable admitting.

So, I found a really good, really cheap fountain pen, and a bottle of black ink that's scented, so it stirs scent-based memories. I had a dozen moleskines shipped here at one point, but now I find that A4 paper, cut in half and stacked on a clipboard, works just as well for my purposes. It all has to get typed afterward, and edited, so I no longer care that the scrawled first drafts are incoherent shit. Maybe someone in the distant future will find some of that material and be able to read English and my handwriting, or perhaps they will only be entranced by the exotic markings on the really old paper. Maybe they'll be inspired to write something themselves, or just set about collecting strange paper debris and making collages.

06 January 2008

Happy New Whatever whatever

Depressed alcoholics are less likely to stop drinking, so it says here. How much did someone budget to come up with that stunning breakthrough? Yeah yeah yeah, you have to go through the motions rather than accept conventional wisdom, but don't write it up like you expect a Nobel prize. You just make a brief note saying that you found that results were in line with expectations, then get on with trying to accomplish something of value, like finding a way of treating the depression that won't lead to a worse condition.

Finally, someone else said what I couldn't about Asimov's three laws of robotics. Warren Ellis hit it exactly, and in a tone that assures me that when the robots finally reach a level of sophistication where this issue becomes relevant, they will be closer to Bender than Data. Usually, these discussions draw out the deviated septum, overweight dwellers in Mom & Dad's basement (no, I will not call it your "Dungeon") who argue at laughable length and ferocity about why all androids must be built to adhere strictly (maybe they repeat "strictly" three times in case you possibly didn't notice how they emphasized the term) to the triad of commandments (the SAT is coming up, so it doesn't hurt to get in those synonyms).

On a personal note, I will now point out the absurdity of sending an email, in 48-point, red letters, demanding that I phone you about something vitally important. The fact that I don't answer my phone is a hint that I can't talk on the phone for some reason, like when I'm in class. When I look at the email, you have my attention, so the giant red text, in all capital letters (I hope to God gmail doesn't support the blink tag) is unnecessary. Tell me, politely and concisely, what your trouble is, and ask your question. Remember that when you are asking someone a favor, even a tiny one, being polite will expedite matters; criticizing my grammar, calling names, or telling me I "better get back re:this piece of shit software" I recommended pretty much guarantees that I have something much more important to tend to for the rest of your life.