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: At last, the not-incredibly-slow version of Rubyful Soup is released! Just gem install rubyful_soup once the list of gems refreshes on RubyForge. Also includes a new way of programming the parser for better performance, which I need to document. But first I need to make the documentation page not look horribly ugly.

Beautiful Soup needs an update, too, which will come probably this weekend.

If Only We Could Delay Starting The Work: Sumana sent me Why I Hate Frameworks

The Lack of Sunshine State: Xena: It's Bigger Than Pluto. Not a great tourism slogan.

: More DS9 art from Brandon Bird: Of Bajor.

: Some links found while going through a month's worth of RSS feeds:

[Comments] (1) Ambiguously-Titled Project Gutenberg Texts:

Neither as interesting as you'd think on first glance.

Also of interest: The New York Subway: Its Construction and Equipment. And from the classics section I recommend My Bondage and my Freedom, which among other things includes a novel reason for not revealing spoilers:

Keen is the scent of the slaveholder; like the fangs of the rattlesnake, his malice retains its poison long; and, although it is now nearly seventeen years since I made my escape, it is well to be careful, in dealing with the circumstances relating to it.

Shoot the Messenger: Today instead of writing the book I wrote rules for a game (don't worry, Lyle is okay. I mean, don't worry, I got my book quota for the day done eventually). It's called Shoot The Messenger and it still needs some work, but it's got an interesting mechanic (simulating a language barrier using the inaccuracies introduced by online translation services) and a good source of paranoia. A lot of the games the Dispatch people come up with have a theme of paranoia. I wonder why that is. I wonder who else wonders why that is.

: I was pretty excited about Polynomial Hierarchy Collapse, but then the PDF loaded and it was just une histoire drôle like the kind I used to write for Segfault. Pretty drôle, though.

[Comments] (2) : Today I wrote a poem:

Shake and shake the ketchup bottle
None will come, then Quetzlcoatl

The Games They Are A'Roundup: Now with babbling about game design problems and death!

[Comments] (4) Home Improvement Questions: For my mother to answer.

  1. I know you're not supposed to ever ever cut paper with the sewing scissors. But can you cut cloth with scissors designed for cutting paper, or kitchen shears? I don't want to have to buy sewing scissors just to make the curtains.
  2. What are the names of the parts of the hardware that I need to hang pots from the ceiling? O-hooks and S-hooks?

: More items from my attempted RSS feed cleanup, still in progress. Enjoy this seemingly endless chain of NYCB entries full of lists.

The Thin Man: The basic cable package here includes 2 million channels, give or take a million. These include a couple that we actually like, like TCM and a channel that only shows science documentaries, whose mascot should be Professor Science. So we are Tivoing old movies which we will eventually watch. First up was The Thin Man, which was really funny. Man, the main characters were constantly drinking! Even by the standards of their time, Nick and Nora were such lushes that TCM felt the need to follow the movie with an anti-drunk-driving short as a chaser.

In said short, the Highway Patrol officer of "one of our western states" solemnly told us that, even though you may not feel anything, scienticians have proven that a mere four cocktails can affect your reflexes.

The mystery in the movie wasn't that interesting but we kept laughing and laughing at the character studies. We loved the dysfunctional Arrested Development-type family, including Lucille; a classic Buster+George Michael+Tobias; and Cesar Romero, probably my favorite movie-grade-spanning actor, as George Sr.+G.O.B. As Joel Hodgson once said, "Render unto Cesar what is Cesar's!" Also, there was a cop who gave a good impression of what Clark Kent would be like if he wasn't also Superman.

[Comments] (4) Cool Charts: Sumana's got this big wall chart of human civilization ("Hammond Ultimate Civilization Chart") which we hung up in the living room and it's pretty nice but it's got a couple big problems. One is a big blob of something I don't know what it is or want to touch stuck to it. The other problem is that even though the copyright date is 1989, it was obviously made in the 1970s:

According to the chart, civilization stopped in the 1970s. Which it did, but it started back up again a bit later, and I'd like a chart that reflects that. Also, it's got some fossils of errors that died out in the 1970s. One of the first items of civilization is "Negroes move into Africa from Asia". Uh, no. It also looks like the 1970s, and in general I try to banish the 1970s from my house.

So I'm wondering what kind of cool wall charts you people know of. I've found various sites for updated charts, but I don't know which one's better, or what else is out there. Basically I want something for people to stare at if they're visiting us and they become incredibly bored, because sometimes that happens to me at other peoples' houses and things to stare at are much appreciated. The other main thing I want to get is the National Geographic map of the universe.

[Comments] (1) : Went to the NY Tech Meetup, which was fun. I found some reviewers for the book and met Max, who'd sent me a Beautiful Soup patch (which I haven't done anything with yet, but it's a good patch).

Reading John Henry Days, which is hilarious. "One Eye had been blinded in a tragic ironic quotes accident a few years before." I wish I could write like that. Like David Foster Wallace, but with more jokes instead of just wit.

[Comments] (2) Coolest Thing Ever: Dinosaurs insta-buried and fossilized while fighting.

: Andy came over today with girlfriend Trudy. I'm surprised at how much more social activity we're doing now that we live away from most of our friends. We had a good time w/Andy and Trudy. I made lasagna which was great, and chocolate souffles which were pretty good.

I discovered that if you're making lasagna noodles you should roll them out as you build the lasagna. I rolled out all my noodles real thin, and folded them up for compact storage while I got the rest of the stuff ready. Then I discovered that my noodles had fused back together into thick skinny noodles, and I had to roll them out again. Great noodles though.

[Comments] (2) : The best part about writing a book is coming up with totally ridiculous examples for the code samples. Today I reviewed the four elements ("Fire: Perhaps the most overrated element."), and just now I wrote the phrase "Oh, MySQL, you're the only one who really understands me.". Probably some of them will be cut, but I hope not; I think they make good mneumonic devices. You can remember "Oh yeah, that was the recipe with Brunching Shuttlecocks-style reviews of the elements," and search for "water".

[Comments] (1) : If NaNoWriMo is not extreme enough for you, try The 3-Day Novel Contest.

[Comments] (1) Anacrusish #4: I missed the deadline for The Ultimate Genre Challenge because it was buried in my RSS feeds, but I was intrigued by its premise: to write a coherent story containing dragons, spaceships, and vampires. Here is my belated entry, which contains one of each. It scores relatively few points (six to eight, depending), but I think it's a pretty good story for 100 words. Because that's Anacrusis-length, I give it the Anacrusish title of


"I'll have you know I find this whole thing very distasteful," says Charmed. Slaved to the ship's fins, his wings carve microgravity.

"What part of 'thrall' don't you understand?" says Malcolm. "Ten minutes before last time. Do it n-- as soon as is safe." His voice commands; he can no longer seduce.

Charmed visualizes a familiar point in spacetime. He yawns wide and breathes neutrinos.

Just before last time, Malcolm wails as he dyes Malcolm's lips red. "Diffbuhphting," says Malcolm, but he cannot allow the plague to spread. Each time he does this, his new shape feels a little older.

Ruby Database Access Technique Fight: Does anyone here think that Ruby's DBI module is abandonware and should be shunned in favor of database-specific Ruby bindings? I have heard this opinion and it seems bizarre to me. Even if DBI is abandonware, it's stable and it seems to work fine. Plus it's got features like prepared statements, which are otherwise a big database-specific pain. So are we going to be passé if we write recipes for the Cookbook using ActiveRecord and DBI instead of ActiveRecord and database-specific Ruby bindings?

[Comments] (4) : I'm having a lot of fun playing with this game that uses Super Mario Bros. 3 as a game engine. It really messes with your preconceptions of what a Mario game is like. Reminds me of the first ZZT game you play that uses the weirder features of the ZZT Toolkit or whatever that was called. Highly recommended.

[Comments] (1) Snow: We finally got the snow the weird TV news has been predicting since we got here (one of the TV news shows has a piece of technology called the "Doppler 2 Million", which sounds like a zombie army). It's a lot of snow, but we're fine and from peoples' reactions this is about as bad as it gets. Tonight we went out in the parking lot behind the building and played in the snow, but it was insufficiently clumpy to make good playing material.

Snow is really interesting; it's like a visualization of statistical distributions.

: Buncha game clones. I dunno, I got nothing. Once again I've stayed up too late.

[Comments] (1) : Work work work, all day. Wrote three recipes, edited three more. 90% of the recipes are now done. This book is starting to get on my nerves. Oh well, time to sleep.

[Comments] (4) : All these procedural dramas; why no object-oriented dramas?

[Comments] (1) Naptime: Good advice.

Cargo Cults: I read an article once that the Melenasian cargo cults had died out but -- this was the interesting part -- recently resurrected as a tourism thing. So that people were putting on reenactments of cargo cult rituals because doing so made people come to their islands and spend money.

But according to this Smithsonian article, the John Frum cult is still active and is gradually turning into a real religion (Leonard's heuristic for cults turning into real religions: the eschatalogical event predicted by the cult keeps not happening, so it gets moved off into the indefinite future or the realm of metaphor). And I can't find the other article, so I guess the Smithsonian one wins. Probably there's just a few people doing cargo cult demonstrations on the side. It doesn't seem like they could support the whole tourist economy.

: I thought I had me a breakthrough but apparently the only true breakthrough is spray-on solar-power cells.

Link cleanup:

Bonus quote:

"'Make money in your spare time?'"
"More like 'Make money by working in what would otherwise be your spare time.'"

Dude, The Day Was So Wasted: I intended to start work on the book intro today, but instead I wasted most of the day watching videos of speed runs for old video games. The most amazing was one for a SMB1 hack called Air, a pathologically difficult game that you can only win by ruthless exploitation of bugs in the engine. Beautiful. The author has a bunch of other Mario hacks I haven't looked at. Maybe I can use one of them instead of the book intro.

[Comments] (2) Where Are My Pants? An Editorial: That's the headline of a news story in the recipe I just finished. Kind of a callback to "Microsoft Stole My Pants", which I think was my first Segfault story. I just find it really funny when somebody uses the bully pulpit to complain that their pants are missing.

That's not what I wanted to talk to you about. I wanted to talk to you about Elvis sandwiches. I'll do that in another entry.

Elvis Sandwiches: There's a restaurant near NYU that only sells different kinds of peanut butter sandwiches. Well, they sell other sandwiches, but they're a kind of sop thrown to someone who has been dragged there by peanut butter obsessed people. I went there last week for lunch with Sumana and Adam.

Generally I don't order stuff at restaurants when I can make a superior version myself, and a peanut butter sandwich is well within my reach. So I decided to order "The Elvis", which I could make at home but never actually had. This is a peanut butter sandwich with bananas, honey, and bacon, which gets fried.

It was okay. The experience, and the recent visit of the Elvis sandwich to the Minutillo household, got me thinking: why couldn't I make my own Elvis sandwich? I decided to try it.

It was good; better than the restaurant one, certainly. While making it I figured out a couple of things about the Elvis sandwich. Longtime readers (that is, since December) may remember Eggnog Transitive Closure, where it was revealed that eggnog, ice cream, and French toast have the same ingredients. Well, an Elvis sandwich is basically French toast minus eggnog.

Peanut butter, bacon, bananas, and honey are all things that could reasonably go into the middle of a piece of french toast before you dip it in the eggnog and fry it. Load up a piece of french toast with all of those things, and don't dip it in the eggnog, and you've got an Elvis sandwich. The chain of foods continues apace! Chain chain chain, chain of foods.

: The Ruby Cookbook is now available for pre-order on Amazon. If I were Neal Stephenson this would get on Slashdot. But, as I think I've noted before, if I were Neal Stephenson a lot of things would be different.

[Comments] (2) : Kind of worked on my story tonight but I was really just typing stuff up from notebooks. Does that count?

Anyway, here's a Windows game that looks pretty cool.

: We were over in Jackson Heights doing a Craigslist adventure to fill in the missing spaces in our furnishings (sofa, filing cabinet, etc.) and we ate at the Afghan Kebab House IV. You're saying to yourself "I never saw the first three Afghan Kebab House", and that's because those are somewhere else. I'd never had Afghan food before; except for the bread (which was great) I would have believed it to be Indian food. It was really good ,though that specific restaurant was kind of pricey.

[Comments] (1) : For a while I've been looking for a word or phrase that has a very common incorrect variant. So common an incorrect variant that you can't use the naive "Google them both and see which one gets more hits" trick to figure out which one's right. But not so common that descriptivists would argue that the "incorrect" one is actually right because that's how people use it. Anyway, I finally found one: Aye, there's the rub gets 127k hits, and Ay, there's the rub gets 150k.

Meaningless Milestone #2: Or #3, or #4, depending on just how meaningless you want 'em. Today we passed 300 Cookbook recipes in fact, we way passed it: we have 305 now.

QOTD: "That guy talks in tags!"

Occupation by more than 868 persons unlawful: Today I went to lunch with Josh Lerner, Rich Mintz, et al. at Jing Fong, a dim sum restaurant. This was the largest restauraunt I have ever been in. It was huge. There were ladies who rolled carts full of food from table to table and foisted food onto us. But it was very cheap: five people ate a huge amount of food for about $45.

I am not a huge fan of dim sum because honestly I find genuine Chinese food kind of weird. I feel that this is in some sense okay because I read an article in Gourmet about the article writer taking some visiting top Chinese chefs to the French Laundry and other fancy Bay Area restaurants, and them generally thinking everything was gross and weird (though one chef liked the oysters at a Fisherman's Wharf oyster bar). I figure if it's okay for actual chefs to be that un-cosmopolitan, I can be too.

Not that I went hungry. I like the sticky pork buns a lot, so I had two of those. There was also a vegetable of the brocolli/cauliflower/brussel sprout family which was also very good, and a dessert bun with red bean paste. But some of the other stuff I tried made me queasy. And I always felt like a friend's mother was coming around with a cart every few minutes urging me to eat more.

Unpopular Games #2: "Salivator Action"

[Comments] (8) Stereotype New York: Car #1 wants to turn left. It is blocked by car #2, which is trying to go straight in the opposite direction but is blocked by traffic all the way to the next light. Car #2 can't move, and it's blocking the intersection. So of course car #1 honks at it. Cars behind car #1 honk at it because its deadlocked desire to turn left is preventing them from going straight. Honk honk.

The occupants of cars #1 and #2 now roll down their windows and begin to argue. Who knows what about.

This argument continues long after the light in front of car #2 turns green, and the cars in front of it have moved on. Now car #2 could move too, but the driver's still arguing with the driver of car #1. Everyone loses! Honk honk. Thats's New York.

[Comments] (2) CONSTRAINED WRITING COMICS: I submitted a set of constrained constraints to Jack Masters of Flag on the Moon, and he wrote a comic incorporating my constraints! Awesome! Not sure why I think it's so awesome since that's basically what he said he'd do. Oh wait, it's the comic itself that's awesome. (The constraints on my constraints are listed here).

I think Crow is made out of a nickel alloy, but I can't find a source for that. All I could find was a non-canon Bill Corbett saying Crow is "some strange gold alloy". But the inclusion of Crow in the comic makes up for any inaccuracies. Anyway, clearly he should be made of chromium. Chroooomium.

[Comments] (1) : I'm done with my Cookbook recipes (the rest are contributors' or Lucas's), so I'm writing some additional recipes about really cool things. This because 1) such things are, by definition, really cool, and 2) I hope that their very presence will make people want to buy the book. They will leap out at you from the table of contents and say "I am awesome! Buy this book at once!". That's the plan, anyway.

Today's cool thing is Ruby's midilib, the... wait for it... Ruby interface to MIDI files. I did a recipe that shows how to visualize data as a MIDI file, and how to compose algorithmic music (sample composition).

While learning about midilib I came up with an observation about MIDI, which is that it's good for accurately representing what happens when you play a real instrument. It's kind of frustrating and unnormalized if you need to programatically compose music. I ended up taking a tip from the excellent MIDI Scripter project, and showing how to write a little wrapper on top of midilib that makes composition easier.

The experience gave me a huge number of ideas for musical programming projects. With my near-total lack of theoretical training, I will be unencumbered by traditional notions of "harmony" and "taste". For one, I plan to get into fractal music, though probably not the way the author of that web page defines it. Hard to tell, with that color scheme.

Sports in the Hive Mind: I just recycled a Honey Nut Cheerios box which has a cartoon on the back about a baseball game played by bees (probably against the bees of another hive). The Honey Nut Cheerios mascot, a worker named Buzz (I guess they'd all be named Buzz) has to save the game in a Casey at the Bat style scenario, but she's[0] been illicitly dipping into the hive's honey supply and is a little... buzzed.

Actually no. I'm just making stuff up to make the comic more interesting while keeping it in its chosen genre of dumb comedy. There's a really interesting idea here about how team sports would work when the players are all part of a hive superorganism. But the actual cartoon takes up the entire back of a cereal box and the payoff is a dumb sight gag and a couple lame puns. Plus it violates the rules of baseball. I may ask Jack Masters for another metaconstrained comic that does this idea better.

[0] The cartoon refers to Buzz as "he", but "he" has a stinger => worker bee => female.

: I had an idea. Can you make ghee in the microwave? Yes you can.

[Comments] (5) : Today's cool things: Ruby encryption libraries! Crypt, which is pure Ruby, and EzCrypto, a wrapper around the user-unfriendly OpenSSL bindings. Dunno why I didn't think of an encryption recipe until so late in the project. Also, only today did I really put all the pieces together about how public-key encryption works. The only difference from single secret key encryption is that there are two ways of getting to the key. Is that right?

Update: I don't know anything.

We will win through bee telepathy and motivational posters!: My Honey Nut Cheerios bitching has been turned into yet another excellent metaconstrained comic. That's a sneaky-looking queen bee.

Soon I'm going to make some chapati, because how hard could it be?

[Comments] (1) : Incidentally, I'd like to try my hand at doing the constrained comics myself, so if someone wants to give me some constraints I'll give it a try this weekend. Also this weekend: Sumana and I are going to be extras in an episode of Uncle Morty's Dub Shack.

CONSTRAINED COMICS COMICS: Jack Masters gave me a fun set of constraints and the result is a two-page comic (click the first page to get the second page).

The constraints were:

  1. The comic must be non-linear
  2. The Xth panel of the comic must contain a character who's name starts with letter X of the alphabet. See below for a full list.
  3. The comic must be a murder mystery, and for every character in the comic there must be an ending where they are revealed to be the murderer
  4. You and I must be in the comic. I couldn't find any pictures of Jack, so I represented him by the kangaroo from the movie "Kangaroo Jack".
  5. The comic must advertize WHAMMO, made by satan's minions

Sumana requested a suggested order for the panels, to deal with the non-linearity. The best I can do is 4-9-5-1-11-12, and then 7 as the PSA at the end. The rest of the panels are just possible endings.

List of characters: Adam (played by Adam Kaplan), Beelzebub, Cerberus, the Devil (in snake form), Eve (played by a character from the video game Parasite Eve; probably not actually named Eve), Furfur (look it up! I did!), Giant Anthropomorphic Pineapple, Hastur, Imp, Jack Masters, Kraken, and yours truly.

That Touch Of Mink: Not sure why we're Tivoing so many Cary Grant movies. This one painted the early 60s as a time where people were insane or sociopathic in very retro ways, in a rather creepier way than, say, The Apartment did. Pretty funny, but also disturbing. When did the Hayes Office shut down? Wikipedia says 1967. It's the kind of movie that makes you ask that question.

[Comments] (6) : Sumana said my comic was too crowded and complicated and therefore not funny. I can't do anything about the complicatedness at this point, but I can do something about the crowdedness. Crowdedness is my great artistic sin, especially when it comes to collage. So I went back and got rid of some unneccessary graphical elements and improved the colors for the JPEG output while I was at it. Still no guarantees as to funniness, though I did treat a couple really overused jokes as "unneccessary graphical elements".

[Comments] (1) Kris: Kris was in town for ComicCon, so we hung out today. Lots of fun, but not much to report. I'm going to go back to California in March after the first draft of the book is done, but I'm mainly just going to be in Bakersfield, so I probably won't get to see anybody except family.

: Argh. All my energy is going into book writing, leaving only scraps for NYCB. I don't even have link dumps to show you, unless you like looking at random parts of the Flickr and GTK API documentation.

"I'll teach you how to make cheese," he said. It was a lie. "My hand slipped," he'd say. "It's thermodynamically impossible." Always something. She'd had enough of the excuses, the anthills left by unfinished projects on the back porch.

It had to stop, so she stopped it. With biscuits. The sour milk, the sawdust. She cleaned it all up, not the way a woman usually does, but for the first and last time.

"Look," she said then. "I've invented fiberboard."

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