# 01 Aug 2007, 12:53PM: Catenary:
While reading Leonard's retrospective of the future, I had reason to ask, "what's a catenary?"
Leonard went into the bedroom and emerged, holding one end of a cell phone charger cord high in each hand, like a mad scientist about to show them, show them all. "This is a catenary," he explained -- the shape a hanging cord or cable describes when its ends are held up but gravity pulls down the weight of the cord itself.
"So it's a parabola, right?" I asked. He said no, and I looked it up.
Galileo claimed that the curve of a chain hanging under gravity would be a parabola, but this was disproved by Jungius in a work published in 1669.
"I am so wrong," I said. "I was proved wrong in 1669!"
"On the other hand," Leonard pointed out, "you're as good as Galileo."
# 03 Aug 2007, 07:43AM: Ogden Nash = Hen Gonads:
Turns out that my pal Hal just read the diabolical poetry/playwriting parody The Holy Tango of Literature, which includes some of my favorite Modern Humorist bits. I loved "I WILL ALARM ISLAMIC OWLS" when I read it a zillion years ago; just now I read "KIN RIP PHALLI" and nearly woke Leonard up with laughter.
Anyway, I just realized that author Francis Heaney is the Francis I know, the sweetiepie of Rose White, and that I've had multiple meals/meetings with them since moving to NYC (they're friends with the EFF crowd we knew in SF). Wow! And Holy Tango is under a Creative Commons license.
In other poetry news: Jon Carroll alerts me to funny Billy Collins poetry criteria.
# 06 Aug 2007, 07:57PM: New MC Masala Column & Profanity, Privilege, Preacher:
ANG seems to have trouble getting my columns up on the web site. At all. So, for example, the last 3 columns of July (the ones where I was away on a farm and didn't have endless net time to email polite requests) have not been posted, so I can't give you links. This annoys me.
The most recent column is about said farming experience. Oh, that parsley:
"It's that good because it doesn't know it's in your stomach yet!" he replied with a gleeful twinkle in his eye.
Other interesting links today include my friend The Poor Man's profane-as-usual ranting:
Perhaps we could spend time looking at options in the excluded middle between "deferring to dictators" and "bombing the s*** out of indistinct rectangles that the CIA is like totally sure are full of terror"...
Hugo Schwyzer reminds us of how weird it always seems when a complacent, privileged class/gender/race/whatever meets the less privileged, hardworking, ambitious cream of the crop.
And Real Live Preacher knows what it's like to attempt writing honestly and publicly about your own life while you're still alive. He's taken more risks than I have.
For those of you who are my friends (in real life) and family and especially those of you who are a part of my faith community, I'm sorry if my writing makes things a little awkward between us. I'm trying to push the edges but also not go too far. I'm trying to write about one man's life, and mine is the only life I know well enough to write about. If I write about something and don't bring it up when we talk, I'd love it if we could both just let it go and not worry about it. If I need to talk about it, you know I will. But if you are worried about me, having read something at Real Live Preacher, feel free to ask me about it if you want to. If I write about it, you can ask about it. That's only fair.
I'm going to mull that and try to figure out a similar policy of hospitality for my blog, column, etc.
# 07 Aug 2007, 02:50AM: Recommendation:
From the Dungeons & Dragons game on Sunday: you must watch Grave of the Fireflies, and you must have My Neighbor Totoro ready to pop in and watch immediately after. I haven't yet watched the former; maybe I'll put myself in a stupor by watching it alongside Requiem for a Dream.
I like my D&D coplayers and dungeon master, but we don't get much time to chat, because we get together to play so seldom (maybe once a month). At one point we had a ten-day limit to raise one of our characters from the dead, and I cracked that it was a good thing the limit was ten in-game days. Also: a great way to get people off the phone so you can get back to your game is to tell the caller exactly what you're doing. "We have to find some giants or something to battle to get experience points, so that one of our clerics can level up and resurrect another member of our party from the dead." Don't call them; they'll call you.
Vera was such a horrible character that Stephen Colbert told me not to play her. Backtrack: I got to see The Colbert Report get filmed, and if you're free ALL DAY some Mon-Thurs weekday from 11am or noon till six, you can probably also get standby tickets by sitting in line outside the studio. For the quick Q&A session before the show, I asked Colbert what to do with a character whose lowest 4 (of 6) stats were 7, 8, 9, and 10 (out of 18). "Oh, you rolled a farmer!" Colbert exclaimed. He said that, in his D&D group, if someone rolled a character that bad, the player would announce that this character would take up farming, lay it aside (basically making it an NPC), and roll a new one. We also got to name off the six stats (he forgot one, I believe Wisdom) for the benefit of the studio audience.
I did create a new character, because everyone has two, because Vera sucked, because nearly everyone in this battle had fallen unconscious or worse and we might have needed someone to step in and save the day. Gordon* is a third-level fighter with pretty good dexterity and intelligence and only medium wisdom. He left the family farm seeking fortune and stories, got captured by slavers, and escaped only to run into The Intrepid Heroes (actual party name). Alignment: chaotic good, which I'm not really sure how to play except by being bouncy and helpful and feeling okay about stealing from dragons. Suggestions?
* Namesakes: Fog Creek office manager Liz Hall, née Liz Gordon, and Canadian-American children's/young adults' author Gordon Korman. Also it vaguely makes sense in tenth-century Europe.
# 07 Aug 2007, 10:54AM: Announcement (Bookend):
"Susan then poured the fish into a plastic bag so we could get a good look at it. Afterwards the fish didn't want to leave the bag because it had corners, and corners are safe. I said the fish was trapped in this tide pool, and Susan said this was the fish's territory. She compared the fish to someone who's always complaining about and wishing they could leave their home town, but when you say 'The bus leaves at four' they start making excuses for why they can't leave."
I'm no longer working at Fog Creek Software. It turns out it wasn't a good fit. I'll give you more details over the phone or email if you'd like. Bookend: the original move/new job post.
Leonard's work and search for work are going well so don't worry about us moneywise. I'm still learning some software development skills and finishing up my master's. More as it happens.
# 07 Aug 2007, 01:44PM: Re: Microsoft Research:
"Isn't it amazing that someone would create their own Xerox PARC and then treat it exactly as everyone treated Xerox PARC?" -me
Also by me: "J2EE: designed by committee, and used by committee."
# 09 Aug 2007, 08:16AM: Holding Out For Sub-Sub-Zero:
In May, I saw this SubZero ad in the TiVo showcase: "Stay up to date with everything that's fresh at Sub-Zero. Subscribe to our brand and we'lll send periodic updates and food preservation tips."
The heck? "Subscribe to our brand?" Then the other day someone accidentally said, "Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal flavor," and it all made sense.
# 09 Aug 2007, 11:30AM: Elated:
Yesterday Leonard and I stopped by a Greek market so he could get his yummy Greek yogurt for cheap. The deli had some sample cubes of cheese out, with a Greek name on the sign -- I didn't recognize it.
I tasted the cheese. "Neither soft nor very hard...salty....Is this made from sheep's milk?" The employee nodded.
I stepped into an aisle, out of his sight, before dancing in glee.
# (2) 11 Aug 2007, 08:34AM: Misc:
My pile of virtual stickies includes one with In Soviet Russia jokes:
9 stitches in time save 1
money is time
it's true because it's funny
and a bunch of possible web quizzes of the "Which X Are You?" format:
which bookstore are you?
Purchase order? Aspect of Soviet Russia? My previous self gets some pretty odd ideas.
supreme court justice
telegraph avenue business
dar williams song
what aspect of soviet russia are you?
website (google, amazon, &c.)
which purchase order are you?
# (1) 13 Aug 2007, 02:47PM: Last MC Masala Column Next Week:
I've had a column running weekly in several Bay Area newspapers for the past two years, including a year and a half where I lived on the other coast. MC Masala was pretty cool, but due to various mergers and reorganizations, my feature's going away. Last week's column was about farming:
"What kind is this?"
"Just plain Italian flat-leaf parsley."
"No, I mean, what variety is this that it tastes so good?"
"It's that good because it doesn't know it's in your stomach yet!" he replied with a gleeful twinkle in his eye.
and next week's column will be a farewell. Time to get my clips together and start applying/selling elsewhere.
# (2) 15 Aug 2007, 11:46AM: In DC:
I'm visiting my sister in Arlington, Virginia for her birthday. I think I'm free for most of the day tomorrow (Thursday) in case you know me and want to hang out.
# 15 Aug 2007, 11:53AM: MC Masala Extravaganza -- Columns You Missed:
My column archives now link to nine recent columns, including four that hadn't been up before:
Also: Rejected column titles. A picture of me being dramatic.
# 20 Aug 2007, 03:15PM: Notes To People I Saw Recently:
Riana: My friend Stuart is working on AltLaw, and it looks like the NYT heard about it.
John: Lincoln Shot First -- The Shirt. Also, The Whitest Kids U Know; I don't see any of the many Lincoln skits among their online clips, but I mentioned "Tattoo" to you and Jenny.
# (1) 21 Aug 2007, 04:29PM: Obsession:
Yesterday I read J. J. Weinman's insightful post on The Colbert Report. Like the Richardson/Harihareswara household, Weinman recognizes that Colbert is a farcical soap opera on the order of Arrested Development. I also watched an episode or two of Colbert while falling asleep.
So maybe that's why I had that really weird, possibly insightful dream about being in a Colbert live taping audience. And my old high school unfriend Suzanne R. was there. So now I have completely unfounded attitude changes towards the two of them. Intuition or hallucination?
# 24 Aug 2007, 09:17AM: Last MC Masala:
My last column talks about punk rock, perseverance, and rejected column names.
The Mountain Goats are a folk/punk rock band. I think. I always hesitate when labeling something "punk rock" for fear a more authentic person will jump out from behind a tree and say, "That's not punk rock!" In fact, I envision a film or book where two such persons cite bands, musicians, stories and concepts to each other, only to hear, "That's not punk rock! What's punk rock is..."
The final anecdote, the one the debaters would agree on as the pinnacle of punk rock, would be the story of Cole Porter's riding accident in 1937. While waiting for help to arrive, both his legs broken, Cole Porter -- so the story goes -- composed song lyrics. In tremendous pain, he composed!
# (1) 24 Aug 2007, 02:19PM: Switches & Junctions:
I finally hounded Leonard into moving to a reliable (read: commercial-grade) hosting provider. So now I can link to funny entries on his blog with confidence that you can click through and read them.
I got to hang out with some friends this week -- surprise, surprise, not all of it was in the context of D&D. For example, Michael and I made a creative writing pact to force ourselves to get some short fiction out. And I ran into Stuart at Columbia and he introduced me to his boss/collaborator, Tim Wu (dumpling madman).
It was an outrage. To my friends' embarrassment, I stood up and shouted at our waiter:
"What are these?"
"Dumplings," he said.
"These," I said, "are not dumplings. The skin is too thick. The meat is too small. It's been cooked too long. The folding is done all wrong." My friends begged me to stop, and the manager threatened to call the police.
All that net neutrality stuff is just a smokescreen. Wu's a single-issue lawyer and he's on a Christopher Kimball-esque crusade against bad dumplings.
Luis Villa, whom I've met a total of once but whose blog I'm still reading, reminded me that, oh yeah, Wu's a law celebrity. And that AltLaw is really tremendously cool. The ordinary layperson probably does not know that private corporations have this weird de facto monopoly on court decisions and thus on legal research. "Doesn't the Government Printing Office print everything so you can get at it?" I vaguely wondered when I heard about the troubles people have in getting to cases without Westlaw or Lexis-Nexis. No! So, go Project Gutenberg, go Open Library, go MathWorld, and in that same vein, go AltLaw.
# 27 Aug 2007, 11:40AM: Making Us Feel Old, Part II:
Part I still holds its own -- when I mention in conversations with friends that ST:TNG debuted a full two decades ago, it always results in a stunned moment of silence.
But! There is a newish Staples near my apartment. I've been there twice now, and both times I've thought the muzak wasn't that bad. So that means that the lower/middle-manager class now includes folks who find the rockin' tunes of my adolescence familiar and comforting. "My" music is now corporate store pap.
The rule goes that nothing will ever compare to the songs that were on the radio when you graduated from high school. Has it really been nine years since 1998?
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