Sun Jan 01 2006 02:03 PST:
It's 2006, year of the crazy scheme! I'm all set to go with my plan to create a utopian society built on platforms suspended by hot-air balloons. The seafaring utopian society always gets busted up by the Tongan Navy, and the Lagrance point utopian society isn't feasible yet, so I'm taking a middle ground (as it were) to feel out the investor interest in something a little more orbital.
Mon Jan 02 2006 21:48 PST:
Hacking Matter, online without cost. So awesome, it's impossible to download it because everyone is already downloading it.
(1) Tue Jan 03 2006 09:03 PST Battle of the Bertrand Russell Anecdotes:
I thought I'd do something useful today, so I'm going to put a new fact on the Internet. There's an anecdote about Bertrand Russell which goes like this:
Around the time when Cold War started, Bertrand Russell was giving a
lecture on politics in England. Being a leftist in a conservative
women's club, he was not received well at all: the ladies came up to
him and started attacking him with whatever they could get their hands
on. The guard, being an English gentleman, did not want to be rough
to the ladies and yet needed to save Russell from them. He said, "But
he is a great mathematician!" The ladies ignored him. The guard said
again, "But he is a great philosopher!" The ladies ignore him again.
In desperation, finally, he said, "But his brother is an earl!" Bert
Bertrand Russell's autobiography is presumably the original source for this anecdote. Here's the event as described in the autobiography (fake paragraphing inserted for clarity). According to the biography, it actually happened some time prior to 1918.
It was decided at Leeds to attempt to form organizations in the various districts of England and Scotland with a view to promoting workers' and soldiers' councils on the Russian model. In London a meeting for this purpose was held at the Brotherhood Church in Southgate Road. Patriotic newspapers distributed leavelts in all the neighbouring public houses (the district is a very poor one) saying that we were in communication with the Germans and signalled to their aeroplanes as to where to drop bombs. This made us somewhat unpopular in the neighbouthood, and a mob presently besieged the church. ...
The mob burst in led by a few officers; all except the officers were more or less drunk. The fiercest were viragos who used wooden boards full of rusty nails. An attempt was made by the officers to induce the women among us to retire first so that they might deal as they thought fit with the pacifist men, whom they supposed to be cowards. ...
Two of the drunken viragos began to attack me with their boards full of nails. While I was wondering how one defended oneself against this type of attack, one of the ladies among us went up to the police and suggested that they should defend me. The police, however, merely shrugged their shoulders. "But he is an eminent philosopher," said the lady, and the police still shrugged. "But he is famous all over the world as a man of learning," she continued. The police remained unmoved. "But he is the brother of an earl," she finally cried. At this the police rushed to my assistance. They were, however, too late to be of any service, and I owe my life to a young woman whom I did not know, who interposed herself between me and the viragos long enough for me to make my escape.
All the elements are in the original: the chivalry, the attacks with random objects, the comical deference to hierarchy. But the anecdote has undergone some well-placed mutations:
- The mob and the women are merged. This means fewer characters to remember and simpler interactions between them. It also changes the tone of the story from sinister (mob of toughs with nail-boards, police won't do anything) to somewhat comical (mob of elderly garden club ladies pummeling Bertrand Russell with their handbags, police try to politely stop them).
- The roles of the policemen and the women are switched. This also changes the tone: the rough chivalry of the mob ("Ladies, please leave so we can beat up the menfolk!") is replaced by the more gallant chivalry of the policemen. The only loss is the final bit of the anecdote, where a woman exploits the mob's chivalry to help Russell escape.
Altogether, I must say the later version is more memetically fit. Therefore, that's what actually happened. Another blow for the old primary sources, Jack. How long can they continue to be given their current respect when mutated versions are so much better?
Wed Jan 04 2006 20:03 PST:
When I was young and bored, or just young, I would while away the minutes by writing stories using only words that could be spelled using the chemical abbreviations for elements. Now that there's a comprehensive list of such words, I must sadly shake my head and pronounce the medium dead. When anybody can simply look up which words meet this arbitrary criteria, how can art survive?
(1) Thu Jan 05 2006 21:34 PST Bill the Galactic Hero:
Funny, well detailed over-the-top '60s satire from Harry Harrison, who wrote the story that became Soylent Green. Has the same thermodynamically bizarre attitude towards overconsumption as Soylent Green. I was (SPOILER) fairly disappointed that Bill never actually became a Galactic Hero, but that was probably intentional. I thought it captured a Paranoia-type mood much better than the Paranoia novelization.
Fri Jan 06 2006 22:48 PST:
We went to Mountain View today to say goodbye to Andrew and Claudia. Lots of saying goodbye recently. I will miss my ability to team up with Andrew to spout forth nonstop jokes, but Andy Schile lives in New York and I have the same ability with him. Andy rarely shows up in NYCB until now because I haven't seen him since 1998, but you'll probably see a lot more of him in the coming decades. Anyway, here's a cool link I stole from Kevan about dead whales as oases in the deep ocean.
Tomorrow: more saying goodbye to people. Goodbye!
Sat Jan 07 2006 18:31 PST:
Today: loaded stuff up. Strained back slightly. Can't think of anything else to write. Ideas?
(3) Sat Jan 07 2006 20:22 PST:
Susan McCarthy came over and we talked a bit. Her agent says that books about the sea are really hot right now, but she doesn't have any ideas for such books. I came up with a couple ideas but I guess I should write them instead of her. I bet you could do a project on whale falls (q.v.) and write a book about that. Also I think a book about the deep sea would be a real hot seller.
I don't know much about the deep sea so I was thinking of writing a book that was just full of lies. Some people might call this "fiction" but these would be real actual lies. It would be okay because they would be funny lies, like the coffinfish interview. Actually this is starting to sound like an interesting book project, though somewhat different from the book ideas I brainstormed with Michael yesterday.
(5) Sun Jan 08 2006 22:07 PST Thought Experiment:
Which single Unicode character would convey the most information, say, on a sign?
(2) Wed Jan 11 2006 08:48 PST Durian Milkshake:
We are moved out. We're in Bakersfield now. I drove us down last night rather than spend another dismal night in our empty apartment. Sumana has details if you want them. I would rather talk about the durian milkshake.
Yesterday I went with Dan, Beril, and Kevin to the Vietnamese restaurant near CollabNet. They (the restaurant) recently changed their name and rearranged their menu a little, so now it features clip art and pixellated pictures of food. It also features milkshakes that star the fruits of southeast Asia, including a durian milkshake. I ordered a durian milkshake.
The durian milkshake didn't smell bad (probably made from frozen durian) and it didn't taste good (turns out I don't like durian), so it was an all-around disappointment. But it's a cheap and harmless way to claim you've eaten durian.
(3) Thu Jan 12 2006 17:56 PST Phrases as Slogans:
I was thinking of perfectly normal English phrases that could be used as advertising slogans if said in the ad voiceover tone of voice. The only one I have thought of so far is "connect to the wireless network", but there are probably a lot of them. Unlike last year's quest, which has yet to reveal a single pair of jokes with the same punchline.
Fri Jan 13 2006 21:56 PST robot gone wild:
Today I learned from a robotfindskitten user that there appears to be a bug in Python's curses interface to Mac OS X. It seems you can't hide the cursor on a Mac terminal with curs_set. Calling it returns ERR, and Python's curses.wrapper can't handle the ERR. So you crash. Has anyone else experienced this?
Also, robot finds panties
(1) Fri Jan 13 2006 22:07 PST:
Here's a bunch of public domain movies you can download with BitTorrent. Speaking of which, I was looking around to see if you could download all of the Project Gutenberg files with BitTorrent. This site alleges to be the official tracker, and an 88 gigabyte download sounds within the right order of magnitude.
Sat Jan 14 2006 18:49 PST Spam Tunes:
Over at Adam's house with Kris and Kim. We are about to go to the airport. We whiled away the afternoon writing music for spams. We finished two with Adam playing guitar, me singing, and everyone else doing occasionally appropriate backup vocals.
I wrote one more which I'll re-record once I get set up in New York. Goodbye, California.
(1) Sun Jan 15 2006 10:02:
Okay, I live in New York now. But first, sleep.
(5) Sun Jan 15 2006 18:42 California Burger:
We spent most of the day in Astoria looking at apartments. We ate dinner at a diner which had on its menu a "California Burger". Now, in California a "California X" has avocado on it. But there was to be no avocado on this California Burger. So what made it Californian? Two things I could see:
- It came with lettuce and tomato, instead of that costing extra.
- It came with "raw onions" (ie. onions) instead of onion rings. Onion rings! Onion rings are a side dish, not a topping!
So clearly we have a thing like the British use of "salad" going on here. This diner's version of "California Burger" is more accurate, but less delicious than California's. Hamburgers in California don't have avocado on them by default, but they do have lettuce and tomato and onions by default. Not at this diner. This only confirms my suspicions that fresh vegetables are as rare spices here in the Northeast.
(3) Mon Jan 16 2006 20:31 A Survey of Mutant Miceology, and Other Topics Biological:
Today was more looking at interesting things and less at apartments. We met up with Andy Schile! I hadn't seen him for almost ten years, but there he was, or at least a convincing animatronic simalcrum. Together we went to the Natural History Museum. We saw the special exhibit on the life of Darwin, which was cool: they had a bunch of skull casts for all the known hominids, arranged in an evolutionary tree. Actually the whole museum was arranged around evolutionary trees. One exhibit took up the entire fourth floor with the Vertebrates' Greatest Hits, organized cladistically.
We walked through Central Park to a Japanese restaurant that Andy likes. While we ate, he brought us up to speed on his research into the creation of mutant mice. He creates a mutant mouse by taking a mouse embryo and replacing the DNA inside some of its stem cells. The mouse develops with two sets of DNA (it's a "chimeric" mouse), and you check the color of its coat.
The mouse embryo would naturally have, say, a white coat, and the new DNA is for a mouse with a black coat. If the chimeric mouse has a dark coat then it's a good bet that most of its cells came from the modified stem cells. Specifically, its sex cells probably came from the modified stem cells. This means you can breed it with another chimeric mouse and get a mutant mouse.
A mutant mouse comes from a modified sperm and a modified egg, so it's not a chimera. It's what you would have gotten if all the cells of the original mouse had come from modified stem cells.
Here is the part I'm not as clear on. Andy is trying to breed mutant mice which have a certain gene truncated. The truncated gene will not be able to produce a certain protein. The protein is in charge of attaching a chemical tag to cells that need to be garbage-collected (or maybe the protein is, in fact, that chemical tag; I'm not sure). So if Andy's mad plan succeeds, these mutant mice will not be able to engage in cell death.
At this point in the pop science article I would talk about the applications of this revolutionary new technique for "the fight against aging" and leave it at that. However I have two other things to tell you. The first is that these mice will not be immortal just because they can't kill their own cells. They will probably get some sort of anti-cancer and die (I speculated as such and Andy didn't correct me). The second thing is that this is not a really new ability. You can already create a mouse whose cells don't die by giving the mouse a new gene, one copied in from a virus. I don't remember what the virus gene does, but obviously it works differently from Andy's technique; I think it might prevent cells from accepting the garbage-collection tag. Andy's technique has the same end result, but it doesn't require genes from other organisms. Once he gets some mice whose cells behave in an interesting way (or he fails in an interesting way), he can write his dissertation and he's Dr. Andy.
I wrote this mainly as a writing excercise, but it's a pretty interesting set of hacks and I never really understood how genetic engineering works, so maybe you'll find this interesting too. Rewiring mice stem cells sounds like a pretty dull job to me, but Andy likes it. I have more interesting stuff to write from our conversation, such as the operations you can perform on a gene or genome, and when you can copy a gene from one species to another. I will write this other entry if people are interested, or if I am bored.
In the museum I told Andy lots of trivia about prehistoric animals and evolution which I'd think he would know, as a biology major, but he was appreciative of the trivia. Maybe he was just humoring me. For instance, they had an Irish elk skeleton. I told him how biologists used to think the Irish elk demonstrated that evolution could get stuck in a rut, with the male Irish elk getting larger and larger antlers long after it ceased being any kind of advantage. This continued until the males couldn't lift their heads anymore, leading to extinction.
This page yields some more Irish elk trivia. For instance, the antlers of the Irish elk are not particularly large for its size. They just look abnormally large because the animal is so big. And the Irish elk also figured in a more prominent scientific argument: whether or not animals could go extinct at all.
(4) Tue Jan 17 2006 21:18 Blood Orange Juice:
We have an apartment now, though we probably won't actually move in until the end of the week. It's in a nice part of Astoria which we wandered around today to get the lay of the land. There's a really crowded grocery store, which will probably be our main grocery store since it's right near the subway stop, but a couple blocks off to the side there's a nearly deserted grocery store specializing in Eastern European stuff. I took a shine to this grocery store since it wasn't crowded with people, and peeked at its goods. When I saw the Tetra-Pak containers of juice I had to scour them for the long-lost treasure of the past: blood orange juice! They have it! It's $2 a quart, much more expensive than the stuff Susanna brought back from Romania if you ignore the cost of going to Romania to get it; but it's delicious (not as good as the Romanian stuff; maybe I need to try another brand).
(2) Wed Jan 18 2006 17:36:
People have been complaining that Rubyful Soup is too slow. Bah! What do they know? Except they're right; it is too slow. Today I fought back the sickness that has consumed my corporeal form, and stayed in the hotel room all day and profiled the bugger (bonus: I can write a profiling recipe for the cookbook at the same time). I sped it up by a factor of three, which I think is about as good as I can do without going down a level and optimizing the SGML parser. I don't have the wherewithall to rebuild the gem since the gemspec is on my other computer, but you'll get it soon enough.
(4) Thu Jan 19 2006 21:20:
Still sick. Jake, I don't think I can make your show tomorrow because I need to unload the shipping container tomorrow and I may not survive. How long are you in town? Can we meet some other way?
(1) Sat Jan 21 2006 12:28 Hello:
Still alive. We moved into our apartment yesterday, which was exhausting but it looks okay now. We won't have Internet for the next few days, so I'm just going to be quietly writing book recipes and exploring Astoria, which looks more and more like a good neighborhood for me to live in. I keep typing but nothing interesting comes to mind, so I'm going to run Crummy through the Eater of Meaning and look for fun phrases. "Hi, I'm Leopard." Okay, that cheered me up. "Rubles Souls is tool slowest."
(1) Mon Jan 23 2006 11:19:
Yesterday I spent some quality time with Jake Berendes; the first time we'd met or talked on the phone in the nine years we've known each other. We ate some pitas, walked around Astoria, and because I don't have my guitars yet the closest thing we could do to a jam session was to make up drum loops with Hydrogen. When I was with Jake I felt the laws of comedy compelling me to be Oliver Hardy, because Jake is such an outlier on the Stan Laurel side of the scale.
We are Internet squatters, taking a little bit of bandwidth from our neighbor NETGEAR. I am back to work on the Cookbook, which is now available! That is, the embarassing rough draft we're still working on is now available, thanks to O'Reilly's perfidious new "Rough Cuts" program. You can read my writing this very minute and then complain about it directly to me. There's one really awful recipe which I was hoping to replace with a better one before this happened, but I didn't get to it in time. Anyway, it'll improve the final quality of the book, though I'm a little distressed by the estimated publication date of September. I was hoping it would be out around July.
(9) Wed Jan 25 2006 20:06 Chat 'n' Chew:
Kevin said that when in New York I should check out the restaurant Chat 'n' Chew, for what he calls "the correct burger experience". Many hours have I suffered listening to Mr. Maples expound his crackpot hamburger theories. According to him the correct burger experience is just a plain burger with nothing fancy. Well, the Chat 'n' Chew serves trailer trash food (one of their specials is called the "TV Dinner"), and they've got a non-fancy hamburger. The problem with Kevin's theory is that a restaurant that doesn't make fancy hamburgers may also cut corners when it comes to the non-fancy hamburgers. What you really want is a basic hamburger from a place that also sells fancy hamburgers.
There was good ambience and lots of good-looking stuff in the restaurant, like macaroni and cheese and grilled sandwiches, but the hamburger was charred and, though it came with some vegetable fixings they were not very healthy-looking. There was no mustard or mayonaise to counteract the dryness of the patty. The french fries were okay but not great. Sumana's meal (green bean casserole and grilled sweet potato; yes, sweet potato cut in half and put on the grill) was far superior.
And what is the customer supposed to do? You can't complain that you got lowbrow food at a self-consciously lowbrow restaurant. You're trapped. Well played, Mr. Maples, well played. You'll be the death of me yet.
The CnC seems expensive to me (that burger cost $9) but it's probably average for Manhattan. The other stuff on the menu looked good, especially the wide variety of trashy desserts, so I'll probably go again eventually. It's near Union Square.
Sat Jan 28 2006 19:53 Tristram Shandy:
We are having fun going to Manhattan for some purpose or other and getting in some wandering around time. I am discovering that some places are more fun to wander around than others; some have interesting things like Japanese pastry shops and some have nothing but expensive trattorias.
Today we came fr'over the short sea to see Tristram Shandy, which started out really well and then it got all Adaptiony which I could have done without. All extant material on this film (including the film itself) alleges that the source material is "unfilmable", but they were doing a really good job of filming it until they decided to stop. I'm going to be charitable and say they just didn't have enough money to film the whole thing as a period piece. It reminded me that I need to read the book, though. It's kind of sad how public domain books I download don't actually go into my book queue because of the physical stacks of non-public-domain books taking up space in my house and bugging me to read them.
I really like the idea of the Japanese pastry shop, but the thing I tried (a sherbet jelly made of grapes) just tastes like an Otter Pop. Here's some of the other stuff they had.
Sun Jan 29 2006 16:44 Sunday Fun:
The meeting-people juggernaut rolls on as today we hung out with Camille! She showed us around Brooklyn and we ate brunch at a Southernish restaurant called Enid's, a "Williamsburg hipster HQ" according to a website I just found while Googling for an epithet to give it. There were a lot of hipster-looking folk there, including one Camille had had an unpleasant encounter with earlier. She was a little worried but not much because "it's not very hipster to exact revenge."
Then we went to another restaurant for dessert but the portions were really small. Camille vows that next time we will do things old-fashioned Brooklyn diner style so we can have huge pieces of pie.
Camille is somehow representing or works to book gigs for musicians. She was trying to expand her business and branch out, but then she decided to just go for a niche and own it. Her niche is "eclectic" musicians (eclectic as a group, or, I suppose, individually), so she'll find gigs for you if your act is just a guy with a zither and a girl with a triangle. Very vaudeville-like.
We also went over to see this exhibition of black-box analog synthesizers. Most of them did not respond well to my twiddlings, but I got a good sound out of one of them: a sort of funky metronome beat with Star Trek: TOS ship effects on top of it. People I thought about telling about this exhibit in a gloating manner: Jake, Seth, Brian Behlendorf. Then I decided that doing that would be equivalent to gloating that I lived in New York, rather than that I had gotten a chunk of culture into my otherwise philistine system, which isn't something I should gloat about.
(3) Tue Jan 31 2006 12:42:
Ah, sweet Internet. So full of lies. What would I do without you?
(2) Tue Jan 31 2006 21:24 Food for Kevin:
Bacon Snack Bars. Made from bacon, corn syrup, and Tang. "YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY: The Original Munch Mix." If you're insane.
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