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Applesauce: Recently I've been baking sweets with applesauce instead of butter to make them more healthy. I've had very good results with cakelike substances like brownies (that recipe discovered while I was staying with Jake), but cookies eluded me. I think the explanation is that applesauce can make a cookie moist, but it can't bind the cookie together. Applesauce cookies end up squishy.

Fortunately, you can use a separate binder that's tasty and goes will with cookies: oatmeal. I got this idea from the fatless cookies at a weird restaurant near Sumana's work that caters to bodybuilders. Today I made these cookies that use an insane amount of oatmeal. And they're pretty good. Applesauce brownies make a pretty good substitute for butter brownies. These cookies are a different animal from a typical oatmeal cookie, but they're definitely tasty.

[Comments] (3) : Netflix has a contest going to improve their recommendation engine's ranking by a certain amount. I've gotta say it's the best-specified contest I've ever seen. I'm leery of these contests because the rules usually have a "we own all your ideas even if you don't win" clause. This one just has a "we can use your idea even if you don't win" clause, which is less onerous. And the prize is a cool million, rather than the more traditional prize of a candy bar.

Since I have previously dabbled in recommendation engine design, some friends have asked me if I'm going to go for this prize. Well, I don't really need the money -- just now I got email telling me I'd won $2,500,000.00 -- but more importantly I don't think my Ultra Gleeper ideas are applicable to this domain. They mainly focus on improving the recommendations, whereas this contest is very tightly focused around predicting users' opinions given specific recommendations.

Not to say I don't have ideas. If I were going for the prize I would use IMDB and Amazon data for the movies to gather hypotheses about why people rate a movie high or low. I would then build profiles for the users, using the set of hypotheses as a basis. Then I would predict the users' future actions based on the profile. That sounds like handwaving but the basic idea (which others have seized on as well) is using objective data about the movies, instead of trying to figure out connections between them solely by how Netflix users rate them. And weighted vectors would probably be involved.

Of course, for all I know Netflix already uses external data to run their recommendation engine, so don't just run with this idea and expect to get anywhere.

: BibliOdyssey has turned up history's first Penny Arcade cartoon.

[Comments] (1) Back to the Drawing Board: My low-budget teen monster movie, The Regular-Sized Gila Monster, has flopped. Blahlahlahlahlah.

: I keep having weird ideas tonight and not being able to sleep until I investigate them. Example: Erdös-Bacon numbers. Other example: I figured out how old I was the time I went to the hospital by looking up the release date for Young Einstein, which was advertised heavily on television while I was there. I'd just turned nine, which is weird; I remember it happening a lot later. Also I'd been hoping all this time that Young Einstein was a fever dream and not a real movie.

[Comments] (3) : Sumana informed me of the latest trend: ego-searching Google Code Search to see how widely your software and memes have been incorporated. My name is mostly in peoples' copies of Beautiful Soup, but I did find a Python implementation of a robotfindskitten game from 2004, long predating my own Python implementation. It's called pirhanafindshappiness and it is a bit different from stock rfk. There's also a dice-rolling program I wrote in QBasic in 1993, which ended up on Da Warren.

[Comments] (6) Powers of 2 Breakfast: I make this for Sumana a couple times a week.

Drain beans and mash with peppers. Scramble eggs. Serve on warm tortillas. Add anything that you would put on a burrito: salsa, yogurt, cheese, greens, guacamole, etc. It's filling and tasty.

Entertainment by Proxy: I hope I don't turn into the kind of person who just posts video links on his weblog, but here's a video of Joel Hodgson's low-energy prop comedy. Almost exactly the same as his first SNL guest shot, if you've seen that. Includes John Candy, which I wasn't expecting.

: Kids' letters to God

Dear God,

If you let the dinasor not exstinct we would not have a country. You did the right thing.

Jonathan

That's tough but fair!

As We Did Think: Some old computer-stuff links:

: Doing work on the Pocket Wisherman today I looked at my mother's old wish list and saw that it had Dr. Seuss Goes to War, a collection of Seuss's WWII editorial cartoons. A little searching revealed that these cartoons are all online and nicely categorized.

: Achievements of Ancient High Civilizations. Really interesting, but:

[T]hese ancient people achieved much, yet were clearly prevented from achieving more by reason of a certain attitude of mind which seems to have been responsible for their failure to develop the scientific method.

If the pre-Socratic philosophers have taught me one thing, it's that motion is impossible. Also that the scientific method is not something lying around that any civilization would see were it not for attitudes of mind. It's a technology with a lot of prerequisites which must be developed. It's still being developed. We didn't get falsifiability until the 20th century.

If there is an attitude of mind that you have to get rid of, I'd say it's the attitude that induction is cheating or doesn't count towards knowledge. That if you thought really hard about things you could deduce the teleological reasons behind them. It takes a really long time for people to give up on this idea, but I'm skeptical that you'd get the scientific method much sooner by deciding to give it up.

Amateur philosophy of science now ends.

Flame Design: Sumana reads aggregation websites like Reddit and shows me cool things like the candle flame in microgravity. I tell her she should bruise these things. She says, "no, you should!" Even though she's the one what found it. Anyway, candle flame. More generally, Microgravity Combustion Science. I dunno, man. It is really neat, but I'm sad that microgravity is such a scarce resource that you can still do high school science fair-type experiments and get interesting results.

I Answer Your Search Requests:

At's-a backed up!: Today I saw a plumbing truck that had a picture of Mario on the side.

[Comments] (2) : Today's linkdump theme is psyop, the nonlethal military tactic that is either a brilliant way to militarize the skills of drafted philatelists and comic book nerds, or one of your smaller-scale government boondoggles. I can't form an informed opinion because, as with other kinds of spam, there's little information available about the response rate. (I thought everyone knew about psyop, but Evan didn't, and I'm guessing he stands in for a chunk of the NYCB-reading audience.)

I've been browsing psyop sites like this one which is frequently updated, not just when there's a war; and this link-filled one. You can spend many a disturbing hour reading through those articles and browsing the scanned propaganda leaflets.

Two of my favorite articles are these WWII case studies: Gray and Black Radio Propaganda against Nazi Germany and H.M.G.'s Secret Pornographer. "In 1939 it never occurred to me that one day my turn would come to wage war on Hitler by pornography." Click through if you like, but there's no topping that sentence.

I can't find my favorite leaflet, but it was put out by the Germans in 1945 and it basically said "Don't get killed in the last five minutes of the war! We've already lost, so give yourself up and stay safe in a POW camp until Germany officially surrenders!" Not really on message; I think oversight was getting a little lax by that point.

[Comments] (4) : I came up with a new genre of game by combining two game genres I really like in the abstract, but which cause me only frustration when I play them. These would be the gravity game so beloved of the Finns (old-school example: Lunar Lander) and the robot programming game (old-school example: Core Wars). In the hybrid game, you would program a spaceship to fly through the spaceship caves of Finland, destroying other spaceships and not crashing into the walls. Sounds exciting! Sounds boring.

Some Lists of Games: We went to Connecticut today -- a totally different state -- and then came back. Doesn't make sense.

NES games: Top 100, bottom 20 with obviousness filters applied. All selections arbitrary.

[Comments] (4) Elemental: Can't seem to get games out of my head; maybe because games are fun or something. I was thinking about how often games use the classical model of the elements as a game element. D&D is probably the first game to do this, with its elemental planes, but it also happens in Final Fantasy, ADOM, and probably about 25% of other games with fantasy settings.

Not sure how this happened; I'd blame Captain Planet, but I can't get the chronology to work out. Anyway, I'm tired of this so I was thinking of ways to improve on the concept. The obvious one is to use the modern elements, but that adds about a hundred new gameplay... elements, only a few of which are interesting. Another way is to go with the four fundamental forces. That would lead to some interesting gameplay. This is the Temple of the Strong Nuclear Force!

Guest Entry: Sumana's weblog is down, so I have given her this space to show you a link.

Hi all! Wife here. The folks competing for the Netflix prizes are having machine-learning fun with a big ol' dataset. There's Customer 305344, who rated more than 17,000 movies. There's constant wishing and jibing about getting a lower root mean squared error. And there's the question: why is Miss Congeniality the most-rated movie on Netflix?

The answer lies at the end of a lovely little essay by benjismith, which includes the SQL command ORDER BY hatred. As it turns out, Miss Congeniality shares something with Fahrenheit 9/11, The Passion of the Christ, and Con Air.

: Niklaus Wirth's "Good Ideas -- Through The Looking Glass" is a really interesting survey of computer science ideas that didn't pan out, either by consensus or by Wirth fiat. I thought it would only be kind of interesting, but I got sucked in.

: Early history of Atari:

In case anyone is mistaken in thinking Grand Theft Auto was the first videogame to have players willingly commit a felony, Watergate Caper tempted gamers to “Break Into Watergate Yourself” 30 years prior.

Here's a Watergate Caper flyer.

Sumana Guest Entry #2:

Planespotting geeks have been instrumental in breaking the CIA secret prisons story. This doesn't endear them to the military:

A few months later, Ray learned through "back channels" that his post about the Base Camp planes had caused heads to roll somewhere in the shadowy world of military "black ops." Apparently, someone, somewhere, had lost a job because of Ray's photos. At a desert bar, one of his friends -- a man with an unspecified connection to Base Camp -- warned him over beers to "stop messing with those Base Camp guys or you'll wind up dead in the desert with two bullets in the back of your head."

"Wouldn't one bullet be enough?" asked Ray.

Leonard suggests that even the Lone Gunmen would not have said anything so nerdy. I find in Ray's response a kinship to the old joke about the lawyer, the doctor, and the engineer about to be guillotined. The blade doesn't drop on the first two, so they're freed. Then the engineer lies down and says, "Well, there's your problem...."

[Comments] (5) Trivia: Did you know that the Three Stooges were briefly Nethack characters?

[Comments] (1) The Perfect Powerpoint Slide: If you've worked with me in any professional capacity you know that I have a habit of not finishing sentences when I write. I'll get an idea and skip ahead in the paragraph to jot it down. Sometimes I never come back to the sentence I was originally working on.

This happens within a sentence too. I'll start a sentence, then go somewhere else and tack something on to another sentence. Then, considering the start of the sentence to be a trivial corollary of the thing I just tacked on, I'll get right to work on the subordinate clause. Fortunately, the problem bottoms out here; I don't start writing a word and then go running off to write another word somewhere else.

I bring this up by way of introduction to this sentence I found just now in a book chapter, lying at the end of a paragraph like a gnawed bone:

If we , and , then when

Thanks a lot, prior self.

Coming Soon to Off-Broadway: The Phantom of the Toolbooth

: I discovered Game Set Watch when it did an article on robotfindskitten, and since then it has maintained a similar level of quality. In the past couple days it's linked to two interesting and related items: Cory Arcangel's Super Mario Movie and I, Mario.

I went looking all over for a video of Super Mario Movie, but of course it's not a video, it's an NES cartridge. Get it from Cory's site. It's 15 minutes long and if I'd done it it would be about 7 minutes, but it's pretty fun and has great 8-bit music. You can also get the source, which reveals that there's a BASIC-like language for the 6502. Here's some info from a class on Game Design for the NES.

I, Mario is pretty funny but less interesting. Rather than making new things with the original Mario graphics, it retells the Mario story as accurately as possible within modern game conventions and using modern, anti-cartoon graphics. Rather like the disturbingly literal paintings of video games that if you know what I'm talking about you know what I'm talking about, and if you don't you probably shouldn't try to find out. It's a good concept but it suffers from a surfeit of world-building and belief that this will turn into a real game, and a shortage of people like the aforementioned painter who will just force their vision on the idea and let the chips fall where they may.

[Comments] (1) : Not since two-years-ago's beached mola mola, or a-year-ago-today's text adventure documentary, have so many people let me know about something as the Sun server farm in a shipping container. A million cyberpunk fantasies--fulfilled!

[Comments] (11) YAAP: Today, after over 15 years of playing Nethack, I finally won the game. I came back to Nethack a week ago after a year or so of playing Slash'EM and ToME, and found that my "crazy wizard" strategy was working a lot better than it used to. After a number of frustrating late-game deaths I managed to get a powerhouse of a crazy wizard who, despite (or because of) my careful planning, tore through the late game with nary a scratch. The charm monster spell is astonishingly effective in the late game.

Anyway, I've now joined the ranks of the ascended. Now to work on that foodless zen pacifist caveman.

Three counts suspicion of cowabunga: I don't know where I got this dumb idea that I would do reviews of the websites that are advertising on Starslip Crisis, but was clicking around and I found a great 20-minute movie called Laser Force. Laser Force is a movie made by Texans with props from American Science and Surplus. It's cheaper than but greatly superior to that other famous Texan movie, Manos: The Hands of Fate. The mangling of language in the first half is excellent; then it goes a little off the rails. It's a fun watch though.

Also advertising on Starslip: This usually-funny raytraced comic, and a thing I'm not going to link to because it seems pretty sketchy, though it might just be arbitrage.

[Comments] (2) : Shuttle launch seen from the ISS an unspecified point further up than said launch.

: A neat tool I'd never seen before: c64ize degrades an image so it looks like it would on a C64.

[Comments] (3) : Hey, Dan, what do you think about Coderific?

: I was interviewed about stock spam for an edition of Marketplace that aired yesterday. In a pleasing departure from the norm, I talked for about half an hour and they used three sentences. That's a whole paragraph!

I used the interview as an excuse to update the Stock Spam Effectiveness Monitor main page to reflect some of the stock spam discoveries and developments in the past two years.

Metadata and Maps... Together at Last!: Ok, here are some proper pictures from the ISS.

To pity the fool, and for other purposes: Sumana came in wanting to talk about Barack Obama thinking about running for president.

I said "To get more votes, he should change his name to B.A. Barackus Obama."

Sumana said "You have to post this." So I did.

Update: Then we started talking about economics and I said "I pity the greater fool!" And she said I had to post that too. I don't want to turn this into a Mr. T version of mola mola day, so hopefully it will stop here.

[Comments] (3) Oppo, You're The Laziest Man On Mars:

"Senator Bedfellow says he's for American jobs. But this one time, he ate a Toblerone! What's next, Senator--the killing of adorable kittens?"

Note to self: never claim that something would be "too flimsy to use in a campaign ad".

Belated Birthday Entry: Back in September I asked Ryan North to make Sumana a comic for her birthday, and he came through! AWESOME. Ryan also has an auction-based ad system that looks pretty nice.

: I made another stupid Nethack patch.

: Almost to the point where I can reveal my new book project to the world. Also quixotically working on a new SF story that might or might not be publishable.

Sumana and I have started sharing a private notebook, which turns visibly into sharing a del.icio.us account. Today she found for me a statement of the principles of URI design in rant form. You know that I'm a connoisseur of rants about things that aren't really designed to be ranted about.

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