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: I'm back and burned out. To stave you off for a bit, here's the article I wrote for IBM developerWorks about SQLObject, which got published recently.

Overheard In Caveman Times: "Come on, folks, let's not invent the wheel."

: Bathing elephants. Reminds me of the transitional whale form they had some bones of in the Tyrell museum.

[Comments] (3) : My second developerWorks article, on the Cheetah templating language, is now published. What's more, I'm actually getting paid for these articles! (Once I set up direct deposit with my agent.) This is an intriguing development because I still haven't seen one cent of my advance for the book, or even the paltry sum I've earned so far in Amazon referral commissions.

[Comments] (4) : One interesting feature of this list of recipes is that they have you sauteing things in vegetable broth instead of oil or fat. Does that work? If so, how do you use up vegetable broth a tablespoon at a time without it going bad? Freeze it into ice cubes?

[Comments] (2) Attack of the Killer Information: Vacations are good for reading; I took 5 books with me and read all of them plus two of the three I bought while on the vacation. Among these books I re-read (and finished this time) Snow Crash. It didn't bother me nearly as much as the first time I tried to read it. Because the book itself hasn't changed (NOT ONE WORD HAS BEEN OMITTED), and because outside events since then have not made the book look more realistic, the change is entirely due to my mental processes.

First, between my previous reading and now I have read approx. 2 million words of Neal Stephenson's other writing, and found it pretty good, so I'm better disposed to the book now. Second, I was probably in a cranky mood when I read it the first time, because I was camping out in Peter Hodgson's abandoned office at UCLA (a somewhat Snow Crash thing to do, now that I think about it) and that always felt weird to me.

Most importantly, thanks to a Crummy reader whose email I can't find, I now realize that Snow Crash is obviously a freaking satire, you dolt. It makes mock of the politics and the science fiction of the 1980s. It does not subscribe to your Earth notions of sci-fi plausibility because that would wrench it out of the Comedy Universe. My loyal reader drove this point home with some scathing commnent like "'Admiral Jim's National Security'? Come on!", which was of course absolutely correct. Seriously, when I read this person's email it was like when the Metallica parody song I wrote actually convinced Adam that Metallica is a pretentious band whose lyrics are foolish, and he stopped being a big Metallica fan. Words actually changed my mind, a feat rarely recorded in the annals of human endeavor. I realized I had to give Snow Crash another chance.

When approached in this light I found Snow Crash very good and funny and full of cute touches just like everyone says, with my previous complaints rendered mostly moot. It does not matter that it describes an utterly pointless computer network, because its pointlessness is the pointlessness of VRML. It does not matter that it describes an unworkable political metasystem, because its unworkability is the unworkability of the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace. The problem with the computer network was almost certainly unintentional but the political incongruity is the basis of the book's humor: that having lost the concept of the state, its characters create little cargo cult states out of for-profit corporations. It's funny and it demonstrates a point: that's satire.

The problem, and sorry that once again my analysis cleaves so closely to the utterly conventional, is the ending. In an amazing twist, the ending is the problem here even though I actually liked the ending! I found it the strongest and most satisfying of all the Stephenson endings except maybe the ending to Quicksilver (Zodiac's ending was perfectly fine, but Zodiac has a pretty short reach for a Stephenson novel). The problem is that the rest of the book sets up high-stakes stuff that should be handled by the ending but ends up ignored, like the final mines in an abandoned game of Minesweeper.

To wit: Snow Crash posits a previously undiscovered facet of human nature which is interesting and disturbing (probably also totally implausible, I wouldn't know), but its last act focuses on blowing things up and exploring motivation and getting the main characters out of the scrapes they're in. Which is great but what about the aftermath of this disturbing revelation? It's as though a Lovecraft story ended with the guy barely getting away from Yog-Sothoth or whatever, and then going back to Massachussets and resuming his math fellowship at the university, shaken by his experience but perfectly sane. What about the stars, man? The wheeling, uncaring stars? It is not covered in this story.

So if I may add one more unwelcome two-cent piece to the teetering pile of Stephenson ending analysis, I'd say you've got your choice of two Stephenson endings: "something new and amazing is about to enter the world, but the book is over now", and "something new and amazing has entered the world, but it shouldn't have any ongoing repercussions and fortunately none of the main characters were hurt". With The System of the World you get both endings simultaneously, which if you ask me is real value.

This theory is IMO the first to explain how these endings that so many people complain about, especially endings of the first type, can hold a visceral appeal to the author himself. Infinite Jest has a similar ending (and also similar satire; I read my old Snow Crash rant and it's like someone complaining that Subsidized Time won't work or raise enough money). It sets up the main characters to collide in a climactic scene, but omits the climactic scene. However it does start out with a scene taking place after the climactic scene, just to prove the author isn't cheating, which I think saved David Foster Wallace a lot of fanboy grief.

[Comments] (2) How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Just a list of things I want to talk about, so I don't forget. More information in additional NYCB entries available on request. Also available not on request but it'll take longer.

I think that covers everything.

: Continuing the trend of Ka-Ping Yee coming up with stuff that's obviously a total ripoff of my stuff, yet cooler, is Regender, which eats gender the way the Eater of Meaning eats... meaning. I especially like what it did to my Etiquette entry:

"If a man has a title of his own, he should be addressed as Dr. Michael Wilma." Even if that's not his name.

Update: I also like what it did to the part of this entry where I quote its output.

: A clickolinko mention made me go check out Brandon Bird again (I thought I bruised him before, but my archives say no). He does really good pop paintings in a variety of styles. And he keeps putting them out; the best of the new crop is The Death of Jennifer Sisko, which I would love a print of (see also previous, more understated, DS9-themed work The Lesson of the Geese). If I could afford it I'd commission Brandon Bird to do my "First pirate on the moon" painting, but as it is I'm stuck haggling with Kevin's cheapskate artist friend.

: Thank you, Lazyweb, for coming up with stuff I really had no interest in writing or even using, yet felt that it should exist: Dancing Monkeys analyzes MP3 files and generates Dance Dance Revolution step files for them. The end.

[Comments] (2) They Want The Crust From Your Sandwich: A bunch of old Audubon paintings (lithographs?) of birds at the online edition of Birds of America. Our vacation saw an insane amount of dinosaur-throwback behavior on the part of birds, though maybe we were just looking for it.

Also, continuing the trend of "museums try to get you to change your terminology", the Museum of the Rockies tried to get us to call birds "avian dinosaurs" and regular dinosaurs "non-avian dinosaurs". This may have made sense at one time but the time was 65 million years ago. If that terminology catches on, I demand to be referred to as a "mammalian cynodont", or "Roy Dalton Richardson Leonard Dalton Richardson".

: I wrote a review of Clara's Grand Tour. I tried to make it interesting but it was kind of a drag to write. Then on top of that, it got published under Sumana's name instead of mine. That's the way the rhinocerous-shaped cookie crumbles.

[Comments] (8) Unicode Roguelikes: Recently I saw signs that the bounty of Unicode characters is about to break into the world of roguelike games. Exhibit 1: Jean-Paul Calderone's primitive roguelike-looking game which endlessly recreates the boring "maze" levels of Nethack, but with Unicode monsters like the fearsome FISHEYE and VERY MUCH LESS-THAN. I tell ya, with Unicode you don't even have to come up with monster names. Just use the real character names.

More interesting (in fact, insanely addictive) as a game is chessrogue, in which the monsters move (and, if you have a Unicode terminal, look) like chess pieces. It actually feels a lot more like those "escape the robots" games than a Roguelike. Anyway, in chessrogue you have the Mega-Man like ability to acquire the powers of the pieces you capture. Unfortunately this is nothing beside your amazing power to screw up and get eaten by a pawn just when everything was going so well. There are no hit points or combat, no "The pawn hits!". You just get captured, like in chess, and the game is over.

When will Unicode start showing up in more Roguelikes? Some might say that the plethora of Unicode characters would make games hard to navigate, but I say bah. Lots of people play Roguelikes with little 16x16 bitmaps instead of ASCII characters. Now, there are 256^256 possible 256-color 16x16 bitmaps, a number so large that NYCB style guide forbids it from being spelled out here, but there are only 95,156 graphical Unicode characters. So it should actually be much easier to play a Roguelike with Unicode characters than with bitmaps.

After all this Unicode mania I started thinking about Unicode art. Surely this medium would be the annointed, universally accessible successor to ASCII art. But the Unicode art gallery has only three things in it, none of them very impressive. Is it the very limitations of the ASCII form that keep its practitioners penned within its 95 printable characters? Will the same prove true for Roguelikes?

[Comments] (1) : I am getting over a cold. But, a couple days ago I went to a party at Marc Canter's house and I hung out with Phillip Pearson, and it was really fun. We did the geeks-meeting thing where we talk about our projects and obsessions, and the people-from-different-countries-meeting thing where we compare and contrast our countries. It brought up a funny Canada anecdote which I should share with you, my readers (you'll get these anecdotes out of me eventually).

At the Tyrell Museum they had one of those stretched-penny machines to which my mother is addicted. It was imported from the US, and the coin mechanism had been modified to accept Canadian quarters. But it had not been modified to smash Canadian pennies! Because 1) that would be too hard, and 2) it is apparently illegal to smash Canadian pennies in Canada, unlike with American pennies where it just looks illegal because of the strenous disclaimers that tell you it is in fact legal.

So how does this machine work? Well, the museum keeps around a little dish of American pennies just so you can smash them into souvenirs. This kind defeats the purpose of these machines in the first place, since the idea is that you can get a souvenir out of stuff already in your pocket.

Battle of the Zoos: Is the Oakland zoo better than than the San Francisco zoo? I've never been to the former.

[Comments] (2) Talking Shop: del.icio.us has a recommendation engine now. Looking at the results it gives, I think I can guess at its inner workings. It feels a lot like the "related pages" you can get from a Google search, which makes sense because it's got a lot of the same constraints: it needs to give recommendations given a URL or a small number of URLs, and it doesn't have a way of keeping any recommendation feedback. Like the Google recommendations, it could use a good dose of the Indie Rock Peter Principle; many results it gives me just because they've been bookmarked by thousands of people and are somewhere near this URL in the graph. The IRPP can be applied without introducing a per-user scaling factor, unlike a lot of other ways of improving recommendations.

I just know I'm gonna turn into one of those crotchety computer geezers who had an idea back in 1972 and spends their whole life complaining that nobody Gets It.

[Comments] (1) : CherryPy for CGI Programmers, my third DeveloperWorks article, is published. I didn't get a chance to go through it for last-minute errors because I was coughing up blood--the blood of being incredibly lazy! So now I'm afraid to look at it.

Incidentally, if you want to make money writing, articles are where the money is at, not books. I made about 75% of my Python book advance writing those three articles, and it took me about 10% of the time. Plus my book advance still only exists in potentia, whereas I've already gotten and spent my article money.

Not feelin' good. Not gonna take it out on you.

[Comments] (3) March of the Penguins: This is a great movie. Very beautiful. However I think the narration anthropomorphized the penguins too much.

: Rubyful Soup is now usable. I did a lot more work adopting it to the Ruby idioms, but more importantly I hacked the REXML parser to ignore the most common case of bletchitude (wrong tag closing order).

: What is going on with Holy Shallot? It looks like a diagram of food affinity, something I've been working on in the background for a while.

: Mike Popovic wrote a poem with a mola mola and a calypso beat.

The Futurist Cookbook: I found this at the Fort Mason bookstore, which was lucky because I thought I'd have to special order it for an exorbitant fee. It's a combination art manifesto and cookbook. There are a bunch of rants against pasta, and then some sample dinners which are actually short-short stories, and then just when you think there will be no recipes there are recipes for the rest of the book.

After reading this book the main thing about Futurism I find interesting is the obsession with airplanes. People call themselves aeropainters and aeropoets. The Futurist Cookbook tells you to make aerofood, and to bake bread into the shape of airplanes, and names the dishes of a dinner after the stages of an airplane flight ("Taste Buds Take Off", anyone?). It reminded me a lot of contemporary artists who are obsessed with the Internet. The airplane stuff was kind of cargo cult and distracting from the real point of Futurism, which is actually good because as far as I can tell the real point is fascism. Good aesthetics (modulo airplane obsession), lousy politics.

My mother read the cookbook while she was here and deemed it "crazy". It is pretty crazy, but it seems to mark the first time food was treated primarily as an artistic statement (it's hard for me to pin down exactly what happened here for the first time because of all the stuff that went on in antiquity and medieval times, but it seems like something happened here for the first time). There were some recipes with great names like "Network in the Sky" (possibly interoperating with the Mashed Potato Cloud), and a recipe for risotto balls that sounds really good. Also it had the following anecdote:

The time set for sitting down at table had already passed and no one said anything about getting thie Lucullan feast underway. I got up to ...

— Look, my dear friend, in being late even you are passéists; I thought the Futurists, if only to do something new, would have started early but instead there's the usual boring wait just like at all the banquets in this bourgeois world.

He looks at me and smiles ironically — to eat in the future ... what's more Futurist than that?

[Comments] (2) Desk Set: Sumana borrowed this movie from the library. It's pretty funny and it has great corporate set design and booze-drenched office Christmas parties like The Apartment. The acting is good; you don't get good snort-laughing from today's top actresses the way you got with Katherine Hepburn. The whole story is an object lesson in not making really stupid design decisions, which got kind of frustrating. The romance seems kind of tacked on. Sumana watched the DVD commentary and reported that in the original play, there was no romance and it was a Man in the White Suit sort of comedy.

Incidentally, has anyone noticed that Kate Mulgrew really likes to play characters also named Kate? She's playing Katherine Hepburn live at some local theater, she played Kathryn Janeway of course, she played a Kate Columbo in an old mystery series, and I think there was another mystery series that only had a pilot where she played another Kate. It is odd.

[Comments] (1) Semiotics: Riana started a weblog about Search Engine Marketing, which I think is the flip side of the Search Engine Optimization business.

Speaking of marketing, to raise some extra scratch I've been forced to accept advertising in the Starslip Crisis RSS feed. Some might say, "Hey, shouldn't Kris be getting the money from that?", but those people don't recall that time in college when I lent Kris an infinite amount of money.

Friday Catt Blogging: "...and then the catt was lockt in the chamber, and kept a great mewing, and leapt upon the bed, which made me I could not sleep a great while."

Take That: "Intelligence is whatever humans can do but machines cannot."

[Comments] (1) And That's How You Narrate A Documentary: I may have been too hard on the narration of March of the Penguins. I'm slowly making my way through a Discovery Channel documentary I Tivoed and its narration is just ridiculous, full of bombast and unnecessary verbiage and what Mark Twain called the right word's second cousin. In fact that's why I Tivoed it, because I couldn't resist the title "What Killed The Mega Beasts?"

Outside of this documentary, mega beasts are known as megafauna, but clunky CGI renditions of the wolly mammoth and the buckeye giant beaver demand a clunky partial translation into English. Everything must be MEGA in this world of 64-ounce colas and ever-larger computers. Uh, computer monitors.

Quotes from the program so far, from memory:

I love how often a line of narration in this documentary has the structure of a joke, and is funny, but is not actually a joke.

Coming Soon: Hunt the Wumpus: The Movie

: I got phishing spam from "Wells Falgo". I think I am being spammed by the lisping kid from "The Music Man".

[Comments] (4) The Five Obstructions: I'd never heard of this movie or the other one but Sumana rented it and it was pretty good. A filmmaker holds his idol captive and compels him to do remakes of his 1967 film The Perfect Human, subject to arbitrary and ridiculous restrictions. It's got a real Bond villain feel to it in parts.

Most of the remakes are good (esp. the first one, which has the most arbitrary restrictions) but like all remakes not as good as the original, which is an extra on the DVD and is really amazing. You know who would really enjoy The Perfect Human is Kris. Kris, check it out and see if I lie.

[Comments] (6) Oakland Zoo: To answer my own question from earlier I went to the Oakland Zoo with Rachel. The SF zoo has more animals, but in general the animals at the Oakland zoo have better habitats, and it's sunnier. The primate cages at the Oakland zoo are much bigger and have more stuff. I wouldn't want to live in them, but I would if I were a squirrel monkey. (Last time I went to the SF zoo they were doing something to the monkey cages, so hopefully those will be better soon.) The fancy new habitats in SF (the savannah and the lemur habitat) are much better than their counterparts in Oakland.

Animal battle: the Oakland zoo has bats, elephants, alligators, and enormous tortoises. The SF zoo has kangaroos, gorillas, lemurs, and an anteater. The Oakland zoo has a really heavy emphasis on Africa and (to a lesser extent) southeast Asia; the SF zoo has animals from all over.

I don't think I'd ever seen a bat close up before; they're really odd creatures. I had seen approximately 12 million bats fly out of Carlsbad at eventime, but you don't get a good look at any particular bat when that happens. I bought a stuffed bat to hang from the ceiling along with my stuffed pterodactyl.

Number of dumb "Foo at the Zoo" jokes on a single notice board: 3. ("New", "Boo", and "Brew" (?!))

Primer: You can tell that this is one of those weeks when we borrow a bunch of movies from the library. I watched Primer by myself because Sumana doubted she would like it. I think she probably wouldn't have liked it. The plot is insanely complicated, which I found refreshing, but there's just one plot and on an emotional level it's pretty simple. There were enough technical twists to keep me interested, but I can see how someone else would just give up.

The DVD cover said the movie was rated PG-13 for "brief language", but then the DVD itself said the movie was rated R for the same reason, but if there was any "language" it was so "brief" that I didn't notice it. There's a lot of crosstalk in that movie.

Oh, at one point I paused the DVD and used the zoom feature to get a closer look at a detail. Then I forgot I'd done that and watched the rest of the movie in a zoomed state, never noticing that about 1/4 of the screen space was missing until the end when the credits were chopped off. It's got that kind of cinematography.

[Comments] (1) I Stole Zack's Stuff: Specifically, some books, and a tool chest. (Zack is moving to San Diego and doesn't want this stuff). We also played a fun Cheapass game called The Big Idea, which is kind of like Kevan's Prior Art-O-Matic... but with a card-matching interactive component! I triumphed with my "Beer Cow", a surefire hit at Midwestern university fraternity parties. It gives beer, and by the time it's empty, you're drunk enough to have a good time tipping it over.

[Comments] (1) : Rubyful Soup is basically ready. I just need to add in some of the other stuff of the Python version. The parser is now based on a port of Python's SGMLLib parser, which means the main problem (choking on bad XML) is now gone. In fact it handles bad XML better than the Python version.

I made deep-dish pizza in the cast-iron skillet and it was pretty good. I also made brownies with this egg/fat substitute made from prunes and they were quite acceptable, though not as good as other brownies I've made (Sumana disagrees; she says they're great). Also she says I should keep my cell phone on.

[Comments] (1) Two Makes A Genre: It's clobberin' time!

[Comments] (4) The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin: This is one of a block of British sitcoms that the San Mateo (?) public television station likes to show on Sundays. I really don't see what is great about the majority of British sitcoms shown on public television (eg. "As Time Goes By", which as far as I can tell doesn't even have any jokes in it) but this one is wonderful. It has a wide variety of types of humor, it's extremely plot-arc-driven, and it has a view of human nature that holds up well over the years. I recommend it.

[Comments] (2) : Ah, you're just in time to see me test my panspermia cannon. Stand back! Only seasoned professionals dare approach this potent geothermal-powered device! As a professional screenwriter and lifelong extropian I am uniquely qualified to build and operate and take the credit for this machine. Back, I say!

First, the apple test. Bang! As you can see, I have fulfilled mankind's eons-long dream of accelerating apples to escape velocity. With luck, that apple will land on a foreign planet and take root there. This device makes me the Johnny Appleseed of the cosmos!

Now, the plum. The cannon is now aimed directly at Mars. The Martian terraforming process begins now, with this plum! Bang!

What is it now? It seems my overzealous assistant, Behemoth Radix, has loaded the panspermia cannon with marshmallows. You fool! Marshmallows are not the seed of interplanetary life! Except perhaps in the ammonia clouds of certain gas giants... yes, yes. Behemoth, your progress astounds me. Let the cosmos be filled with gaseous marshmallow balloon-creatures! Bang!

What? Who dares disturb my demonstration export of picturesque Earth life to the universe? Ah, General, your question please. Yes, I suppose it could be used as a weapon, if the enemy lived on other planets, and if more than anything they hated having fresh fruit delivered through space to their door. I find your obsession with militarizing each of my inventions disturbing, to be honest. First it was my "fun bomb", which you thought could be modified to deploy munitions other than fun. Then, your ludicrous plan for my top-secret stealth glider. Frankly, your naivete astounds me. But keep those checks coming!

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