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Recently on Spam as Folk Art: Spam!: The Musical and The Honesty Spam

Beautiful Soup Job: If you want to make some money writing a Beautiful Soup program, send me email and I'll hook you up with a guy who's got a project.

Astronomical Edge Cases: I am feeling burned out right now, and unable to write, so I'm just going to point out some more of the weird things in the universe and the social constructs people come up with to deal with them:

: Oh, here's one I forgot: peaks of eternal light.

Ambush Bugaroo Banzai: Sumana and I went to Midtown Comics and I bought some Ambush Bug comics, including the two specials, which I hadn't read before. Now my collection is complete! IN MY MIND. On my bookshelf I've only got four comic books.

These were the first comic books I've ever bought, so this is a big step for me. I also got an issue of Hero Squared, written by Ambush Bug creator Keith Giffen. It's kind of funny in a wacky-sitcom way but lacks the Marx Brothers anarchy of Ambush Bug which is what made me actually go out and buy a comic book. I also got an issue of the aforementioned Buckaroo Banzai comic book, which is not really very funny at all but is great if you like Earl Mac Rauch's Buckaroo Banzai worldbuilding. Though the passage of time has made Buckaroo Banzai seem less eccentric, and more isolated from society and even vaguely sinister.

Totally Gross!: My fear has come true. Jake's gross-out candy idea has been assimilated. At least it took four years.

Totally gross! You know what we're talking about. You've skinned your elbow while crashing your bicycle getting extreme over a gnarly jump in your neighborhood.

I never meant to get extreme! It was all a big misunderstanding!

Stop the Motion!: The best thing about the crop of online video storage sites (YouTube, Google Video, et al.) is that it's a perfect medium for sharing, on someone else's dime, old short films that otherwise no one would ever see. There's the old proto-Muppet coffee commercials, and yesterday Andy Baio pointed to an Art Clokey pre-Gumby film which has a great Lovecraftian Roadside Picnic feel.

Gumbasia reminded me of old films like the ones I saw at the Exploratorium, so I went digging. I found Norman McLaren's Synchromy, which is still excellent though on my computer it was slightly... out of sync. Oskar Fischinger's Composition in Blue I could not find, but there is another film of his, seemingly a commercial that anthropomorphizes cigarettes. It's fun except it was made in 1934 and you're all the time worried it's going to turn into a cigarette Nuremberg rally. Which is totally unfair because Oskar Fischinger's art was degenerate and unwelcome, and he left Germany for Hollywood in 1936, so why am I thinking that?

There's also Norman McLaren's Neighbors, which some crackpot Wired article claimed was one of the inspirations for Star Wars. Why, because there's a swordfight? (Note: I don't feel like finding the reference because the Wired article might actually have a point, and then where would I be?)

[Comments] (1) Unit Testing The Whole World!: One of the quality control measures I introduced for the Ruby Cookbook was automatically testing the code in the recipes. Most of the recipes contain worked examples, and the examples can be treated as a partial unit test suite for the forgoing code. I wrote doctest-like code that treated those examples like unit tests and used the results to find bugs in the recipes. You can still see the reports linked from the unofficial Ruby Cookbook page.

I think this technique is pretty interesting and I'm really happy with the quality improvements and extra confidence I got out of it. I even considered going to RubyConf and giving a talk about it. But going to RubyConf to give a talk costs me money, money I don't have, whereas writing an article on the same topic would earn me a pitifully small amount of money. I decided to write an article. This is the sort of business acumen that has made me the financial giant I am today.

Now the article's been published: "Unit testing your documentation". Original title was the less-prescriptive "Unit testing a book", which got changed to the even-less-prescriptive "Unit testing the Ruby Cookbook" but now it seems I'm prescripting away! Whee!

Hello, My Ragtime Gal!: Wow, it looks like I forgot about and stopped reading the webcomic adaptation of The Frogs right around the point where Michigan J. became a central character. Comic also seems to have Jabberjaw for some reason.

Calculating God: I liked this book a lot, and I recommended it to Sumana as well, which I think covers a pretty big chunk of your possible science fiction readership. The best thing was its relentlessly mundane treatment of alien contact (though the way the aliens flaunted their pop culture knowledge got kind of tiresome[0]). The second best thing was the Burgess Shale. But the second half of the book kept upping the ante in increasingly disturbing shock-twists, eventually turning into this big Arthur C. Clarke thing, and that wasn't what I was interested in. The plot held together well, despite some hurtful American-stereotyping (sniff).

[0] Tiresome but not neccessarily unrealistic. I could definitely imagine aliens in real life constantly flaunting their pop culture knowledge, but it would also be tiresome in real life.

: After a month of rewrites I resubmitted "Mallory" to Futurismic; hopefully they'll accept it this time. I'm working on another story that's turning into a novella, but who'd publish a whole novella from the slush pile? Seems pretty unlikely. Of course, I could always turn to my good friends at Orion Nebula Publishing.

Recently in SAFA: It Pays to Increase Your Spam Power, and Kevan's hilarious Multiple Explosions

Picnic: Today I planned and executed a birthday picnic for Sumana in Astoria Park. Verdict: awesome picnic! Nothin' else to say about it, it was just a fun picnic with sliced tomatoes.

A Theory of Fun For Game Design: I'd been holding off on reading this book so I could savor it. But I think I was anticipating it would be more full of stuff than it is. It's only got a couple of ideas and those ideas were kind of in my head already. Reading the book did make those ideas much more concrete. And man, it has hilarious crocodile cartoons. There's one (where the crocodile is reading the newspaper) that makes me laugh every time I see it.

[Comments] (1) Pythagoras Facts: Someone at the picnic-party saw the book I'm reading, Philosophy Before Socrates (I got it from Zack) and asked if I was reading it for a class. In the way that implies that no one would read that kind of book unless someone was forcing them to. But actually I'm reading it because it's interesting. Before there were standards for judging hypotheses, how did philosophers explain the world? Phase 1: myths. Phase 2: coming up with stories and then kind of discussing how plausible they are.

A lesser known fact is that pre-Socratic philosophy is freaking hilarious. Both phases yield funny results (Everything is made of water! No, earth and water! No, air!). They sound ridiculous now but "everything is made of air" was actually a pretty sophisticated model; it supposed that you got other materials by compressing air to greater or lesser densities. Occasionally the book gives out kudos: "[Anaximenes's] view that the stars give no warmth because of their great distance contradicts Anaximander's theory that the stars are closer to earth than the moon and sun are. It is also true." I believe this author was the first to discover that Anaximenes and Anaximander were actually different people.

I just got to the chapter on Pythagoras, who is portrayed as an L. Ron Hubbard/Paul Bunyan/Chuck Norris figure of folklore and Internet meme. Here are some useful Pythagoras Facts (p79):

His followers were devoted to his sayings, which they collected, memorized, and passed down. He was a charismatic figure who became the subject of legends: he killed a poisionous snake by biting it; a river hailed him by name; he made predictions; he appeared simultaneously in two different places; he had a golden thigh. The people of Croton addressed him as Hyperborean Apollo. Pythagoreans identified three types of rational beings: gods, humans, and beings like Pythagoras.

More Amazing Pre-Socratic Philosophy: Brendan praised my Sept. 12 entries from previous years, placing me under pressure, but really I got nothing. I can however posit a hypothesis that Heraclitus was the first crackpot philosopher. The Pythagoreans pioneered the proud hacker/crackpot tradition of trying to reduce everything to a single concept, but they chose "number", a concept which has meaning even if you don't accept the philosophy. Aristotle liked number okay, but didn't like the Pythagoreans, and he pointed out the many foibles that result when you say that all is number. It looks like Heraclitus saw this coming and avoided it by explaining everything in terms of a really vague concept: the logos, which in this context seems to mean "system of physics".

My first reaction is to mock Heraclitus for saying that if you just figure out how the universe works you'll see how the universe works; but one thing this book has taught me is that these ideas had to be invented, and it looks like Heraclitus might have invented the idea that there is such a system. Plus he has this to say about phase two of philosophy: "Let us not make random conjectures about the greatest matters."

[Comments] (2) Arrested Development as Self-Referential Metaphor: There's no news hook for this, but I've been meaning to write this for a while so now's as good a time as any. I like Arrested Development because it's obsessed with continuity and what I can only call intratextuality (see entry not yet written on The Colbert Report). But what I haven't seen anyone point out is that the plot of the show is a metaphor for the production of the show, and for television in general.

To refresh your memory, the basic plot is that a real estate company is trying to make money by building houses. In the pilot, the company has only a model home: an incomplete shell of a house designed to sell other houses. Over the course of the series they build more houses, but their fortunes never improve, because the company is run by incompetents who care only about polishing their egos and stabbing each other in the back. Now, I'm not a big reader of Variety (or, as I believe it's now called, More of the Same), so I'm not up on all the industry gossip, but that dysfunctional environment seems a lot the one in which you put together a television show. Especially a relatively highbrow show that lacks support from the network.

Maybe the reason no one has pointed this out before is that over time the metaphor was presented in more and more blatant ways, making it seem obvious. The most famous intrusion is at the beginning of the third season (which was cut from 22 episodes to 13), where it's revealed that the company had a contract to build 22 houses but it's been cut to 13. As the show's fortunes got worse and worse, more and more of its fans' anguish and desperate, doomed attempts to save the show bled into the fiction as attempts to save the real estate company. But I think the basic metaphor (Bluth company = Arrested Development, building houses = producing television) was there from the very beginning.

: Sumana's parents are in town, so no time to write a real entry. Instead I give you not-really-random-at-all astronomy link: The Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy. I'm reading Voyage to the Great Attractor in conjunction with my pre-Socratic philosophers and it's great.

[Comments] (1) Too Little Too Late: I just realized that the Gobots would have been much more interesting if they'd been marketed as the Godots.

[Comments] (2) Where's Eris?: In honor of the official naming of the scattered disk object formerly known as 2003UB313, I'm writing a short story called "The Fungi From Eris" (it's almost done, thanks). I'm pretty sure it's not publishable, so I'll probably just put it up on Crummy, but let me know if you can think of an outlet that might take a near-future semi-Mythos story with a news hook.

Anyway, while trying to bring to my story the scrupulous concern for scientific accuracy that is the hallmark of the Lovecraftian style, I became curious about where Eris is, exactly. Fourmilab's Solar System Live orrery only shows the nine textbook planets, but you can show an additional object on the map by pasting in its orbital elements.

Orbital elements are sets of astronomical measurements that resemble the tables used to enforce copyright protection in old computer games. The orbital elements are published, Kilgore Trout-style, in dirty magazines such as the IAU's Minor Planet Electronic Circular. It is rawther difficult to use the IAU site to find the MPEC issue for a particular minor planet, but it's easy if you use a Google site: search. Eris's orbital elements were published in MPEC 2005-041, and they are as follows:

2003 UB313
Epoch 2005 Aug. 18.0 TT = JDT 2453600.5                 MPC
M 197.53790              (2000.0)            P               Q
n   0.00176902     Peri.  151.31153     -0.91258509     -0.02028701
a  67.7091000      Node    35.87500     -0.34877687     -0.48266077
e   0.4416129      Incl.   44.17700     +0.21340843     -0.87557240
P 557              H   -1.1           G   0.15           U   5

Paste that into Solar System Live and you'll see that Eris is currently in the general direction of Neptune, as seen in the accompanying graphic.

What is the crackpot?: Earlier I called Heraclitus the first crackpot philosopher, due to his technique of explaining the whole universe with one vague idea. This is a common technique among philosophers who try to arrive at the truth about the universe by thinking really hard about it, rather than poking at bits of it. In this entry I speculate why the ancient Greeks produced so many ideas that now seem crackpot, rather than just nonsensical.

Maybe there's nothing to explain. These guys weren't dumb, so their ideas are usually internally consistent. But they didn't know as much as we do, so it's easy for us to pick holes in their cosmologies. Except that it was also easy for people like Cicero to pick holes in their cosmologies, mainly using the rhetorical form of Something Awful-type mockery. Also, once I got past Parmenides in my book, I stopped seeing general crackpot ideas and started seeing ones that looked a lot like modern crackpot ideas I'd encountered before. I believe that crackpottery took a great leap with the founder of the Eleatic school.

Parmenides was so impressed with deductive logic, he personified it as a goddess. According to my book this was the Greek method of dealing with "anything that exists independently of human will or effort, which is everlasting and has effects beyond human control". I actually think Parmenides himself was not a crackpot, though he had a really weird way of expressing his ideas. He looks to me like a radical skeptic.

Parmenides's goddess of logic convinced him that the universe consists of only one thing, which cannot move, has no parts or distinguishing features, and which is the only possible object of thought. Parmenides's monist universe reminds me a lot of the universe you inhabit when reading Descartes, at least until the third Meditation where Descartes totally sells out. Your senses can't be trusted and the knowable universe consists of your mind, about which you know nothing except that it's a thing that thinks... about itself. The radical skeptic arguments are, IMO, impossible to refute and this issue has never been totally resolved (not even by Prof. Hsu).

But radical skepticism is not very interesting. Your sense impressions keep on having parties and you sit idly by, not trusting them enough to join in. The successors of Permenides can't ignore the radical skeptical arguments, but they also want to do some philosophy. So everyone from that point talks about the unreliability of the senses, but except for the Eleatics (like Zeno), they posit a universe containing multiple things. These two conditions, I believe, formed fertile ground for the Golden Age of Crackpotism.

I think the defining feature of a crackpot idea is that its author expects their idea to explain the universe, but they aren't interested in poking at the universe to affirm or disprove the idea. They would rather use pure reason to determine what qualities the universe must have. Except that their pure reason is not so pure: it incorporates premises that were originally acquired through poking.

The Eleatics didn't bother poking the universe because nothing reliable would come out of it, and anyway there's only one thing, it's alredy been explained, motion is impossible, and nothing exists that might do the poking. Because of the force of these arguments, non-Eleatics were also wary of the value of poking. But unlike Parmenides, these guys took as their starting point for their pure reason exercises the behavior of everyday materials, the weather, and atronomical phenomena. Their theories are brittle because they're based not on pure reason (which would give you radical skepticism) but on a small number of sense impressions.

This is not really the Presocratics' fault, because the topic of organized ex post facto universe-poking didn't come up for many centuries (even Aristotle didn't have a good handle on it). But now that we have it, when someone ignores it and does what the Presocratics did (sense impressions -> theory -X-> more sense impressions), we call it crackpot.

The guy who really made me start thinking about this was Anaxagoras, who believed that the fundamental forces of the universe are Love and Strife. Love makes like attract unlike; Strife makes like attract like. Really elegant. More elegant, in fact, than the similar modern crackpot theory (don't remember whose) that posited Suck and Blow as the two fundamental forces.

Also: Democritus, in addition to writing a dialogue between the mind and the senses, came up with his famous atomic theory. This theory started out pretty well, but ran into huge problems because of his insistence that everything is made of atoms. Even energy and ideas. When you see something or think about something, your atoms are colliding with atoms from the thing you're seeing or thinking about.

This reminds me a lot of a crackpot that I think Martin Gardner discussed in Fads and Fallacies. Said crackpot claimed that sound was a particle and not a wave. Sample argument: it's absurd that a cricket would be able to move such a huge volume of air that you could hear it from far away. Instead, the cricket is filling that same huge volume of air with particles, and you hear the particles.

Incidentally, check out the G.O.B.-like behavior of Empedocles, the non-Eleatic who firmly established the now-canonical four elements that show up in video games.

[One story of his death] is that he leapt into the crater of Mt. Elna "wishing to confirm the report about him that he had become a god." ... Empedocles' ego and flair for showmanship. In public he wore a purple robe, a gold crown, bronze shoes, and a laurel wreath. He wore his hair long, had a retinue of boys to attend him, and adopted a grave demeanor. He was known as a physician and magician (professons by no means distinct in antiquity). According to a widely known story he kept a woman alive for thirty days without breathing or pulse.

No, Socrates, it's my illusion!

[Comments] (1) : I couldn't fit this anywhere in the previous entry. Today when I come up with an invalid cosmology I generally let it die. But when I was younger I would come up with science fiction stories about it (I had a pretty good one about the planetary model of the atom). Eventually my definition of "science fiction" shifted to exclude this kind of counterfactual, but lately others have been using them.

One of the three stories I liked in Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others took place in the cosmology of ancient Babylon. In ancient Babylon, the story would have been a 50s pulp story with a lame twist at the end. But because we know the universe doesn't work that way, it was an exploration of large-scale counterfactuals, as big as the ones you get in grand space opera. So this pre-Socratics book is making me think about going back to messing with the cosmology in stories. Except not the way I did when I was twelve.

But also I was thinking, if science fiction had been around in antiquity, it might have explored the plethora of cosmologies offered by the Greeks. Aliens would not just look different from us or have a different psychology; they'd be from a different cosmology. For instance, Diogenes thought that air was the motive force behind life and intelligence. How would that work? What if a person from that cosmology spent a lot of time breathing the same air as someone from our cosmology? I guess we could still find out.

Solomon Kane: Enough of this gay banter. Let's get lowbrow! I was reading a book of Conan stories and I learned that Robert Howard had created a Puritan swordsman character almost exactly like the character I created in Degeneracy. One day I needed to buy a book at retail or face the terrible fate of being bored on the subway. I bought an edition of Howard's Solomon Kane tales and read 'em.

Okay, dude is so not a Puritan. He wears a big hat, and accasionally he remembers he's Christian. That's about it. Maybe a Puritan swordsman would be interested in... purifying the church? Imposing the priesthood of all believers? Kicking popery's ass? No, Solomon Kane cares not for these things. He does the same stuff as Howard's other heroes, except he does it in a dour brooding way. Current mood: stern.

Solomon Kane spends a lot of time in Africa. He discovers lost civilizations. He fights the undead. He has a magical staff his witch doctor buddy gave him. He's Conan, except smarter and not as fun to be around. The 1920s pulp great-chain-of-being racism stands out in stark relief here; it's not as noticeable when Conan is the viewpoint character.

Solomon Kane's schtick is protecting the weak. His modus operandi is to wander the earth, he knows not why, until he finds or hears about someone who's weak (inevitably a woman), and then he protects the hell out of that person to the exclusion of all other activities. His most interesting trait is this obsessiveness. In these stories he tracks people down for years to get revenge on someone who wronged a weak. More than any of the two-cents-a-word descriptions, this is the bit of characterization that makes Solomon Kane come alive.

The stories are never boring, there's some nice cosmos-mixing, and a great moment where Solomon Kane is the victim of great-chain-of-being racism. But I was really disappointed with the way the character was used. He's written as an AD&D paladin, full of do-gooding crusader spirit but with no specific religious beliefs. And the stories are mostly "lost continent" adventure tales divorced from the historical context. If I'd written these stories I'd have him fighting the Royalists. Okay, undead Royalists.

WADL I do?: I put stupid puns on the names of technical standards in my entry titles in preparation for the popularization writing I plan to do about WADL. Depending on who's publishing it, that often requires coming up with stupid puns for section titles. Today I took back up the cause of wadl.rb and improved it a bit. There are still two big features I need to add, but it's good to write software again instead of book.

Brendan wrote his own version of "The Fungi From Eris", based on my prelimenary notes.

In related notes, I recently tried to catch the science fiction zeitgeist by writing a transhumance story, but it didn't work out well.

Amazing Discoveries: Universal Nut Sheller

The Science of Sleep: Sumana and I saw this movie yesterday. She didn't like it that much because the protagonist is messed up in ways that she doesn't sympathize with. I did sympathize, and liked the film a lot, though the ending glosses over the fact that long-term there's no way things can work out for this guy.

Unstrangely, the night after seeing this movie I had several very vivid dreams, including one that took the form of a MST3K skit. This is fitting because the movie's aesthetic was very MST3Kish. In my dream Joel went off somewhere to fight a space monster. The bots were worried about him, and when he came back unharmed they clamored to hear the story of the fight. Joel gathered them around in his parental way and started rambling on and on about strategy and fight psychology and everything but the fight itself. "And, you know, I'm not double-jointed or anything, us Hodgsons [sic] have always fought with the one set of joints." Etc. I'm not that big of a guy, but I'll crawl ya. The dream also involved Tom Servo's head being used as a disco ball.

[Comments] (1) Voyage to the Great Attractor: I think the only books I'd read about cosmology were Steven Hawking's two. They left me with an incomplete picture of the universe. I knew that science had determined that there was a universe, and it was full of galaxies, but I had little idea of the large-scale (supergalactic) structure. But a while ago I looked at this map and all that changed. There are clusters and superclusters of galaxies, and creepy megastructures like the Great Attractor that are dragging our local group through the sky. What do these huge clumps of matter want?

Voyage to the Great Attractor does not answer these teleological questions. It tells of the discovery of the Great Attractor and of the subsequent attempts to demonstrate that the Great Attractor really exists and is not just observational error. Because the G.A. is hard to see: it turns out to be right in the part of the sky blocked from view by the Milky Way. Dastardly attractor! (I wonder whether or not this orientation is an accident. I can do a thought experiment where this happens naturally, but I can also poke big holes in the thought experiment. Since the book contains no speculation on this topic, I'm assuming it's an accident.)

Unlike the Hawking books, this book focuses less on results and more on the observing and computer-programming and arguing leading up to the results. Along the way you get a good overview of current (1990s) cosmology. The book also explains in detail concepts I was fuzzy on but that are neccessary for astronomers to do their work: what the red-shift is used for, why the cosmic microwave background is the frequency it is, etc.

This book contains no string theory, so if you don't believe in string theory you can learn all about the large-scale structure of the universe without having someone's unfalsifiable theory of its small-scale structure crammed down your throat. I'm going for the real niche markets here.

: Buncha Long Now Foundation talks on Google Video.

[Comments] (8) Giving Up: I haven't written about this because I was hoping it would have a happier ending. Back in May, after my mother died, we kids divided up her things for our inheritance (actually we did this before she died, with her badgering us to take more stuff). I shipped my things USPS to my address in New York. The low-value things like Tupperware and sheets and books I packed into cardboard boxes or fruit crates. The high-value things -- the compact OED, the scrapbooks my mother made for me, the French oven, the pitcher, the bedside lamp I had when I was young -- I packed into durable plastic tubs and mailed with insurance.

Most of the low-value stuff arrived within a week. The high-value stuff and two-thirds of the books disappeared off the face of the earth. I didn't buy tracking on the packages, so I can't track them from the USPS web site, but the post office has a way of tracking insured packages. They show the packages being accepted into the Bakersfield post office on May 17 and 19. That's it. My inheritance is gone.

As with any disaster I'm always revisiting what I could have done to avoid it. The most obvious thing is that I should have written my address directly on the plastic tubs. That way, no matter what happened I would eventually get the tubs along with whatever was in them at the time. The other obvious thing I should have done is not used USPS. I spent about $200 on postage, and it was only that low thanks to my liberal use of media mail. But the stuff I cared enough to insure -- especially the scrapbooks -- I should have cared enough to send UPS or FedEx.

After much badgering and form-filling and asking people here and in Bakersfield to check the back room, I've given up. After much more badgering and form-filling, today I got the post office to accept my insurance claims. In a few weeks they'll either find my packages or send me some money orders. I didn't buy a lot of insurance: just enough to (I thought) make the post office take my valuable packages seriously. But at least I'll get some closure.

When someone you love dies, the things they leave behind can keep your memories of them alive if you incorporate them into your own life. For a long time the only thing I had of my father's was one of his shirts, which is why I was so happy to find his postcards. Right now it looks like the tangible reminders of my mother's life are just more things that are gone forever.

[Comments] (1) : How come my account is never pre-disapproved?

Drag It On Over: The WADL Ruby library is up-to-date with the latest WADL standard, and fairly usable despite a lack of syntactic sugar. See especially this example, which turns NewsBruiser into a HTTP+POX web application over the objections of my previous self. Now I'm going to go back to my previous task of writing about why anyone should care about WADL.

Incidentally, WADL, and the Java implementation by its creator, now has its own webpage.

[Comments] (1) Wired Nextfest: Nextfest Nextfest. Nextfest '89. Nextfest Nextfest. I went with Sumana and friends to this alleged fest, thinking it would be a mini World's Fair. I mainly thought this because it featured a corporate mega-sponor with its own "GE Pavilion", including -- I am not kidding -- "The Kitchen of the Future".

However the most prominent feature of Nextfest was the big-ass line that took an hour to get through. You really need to buy a ticket online. Okay, that ordeal over, there was some cool stuff in the various pavillions. For instance, Atari (??) had a pavillion full of entertainment stuff like a Claymation terrarium studio and a real-world fighting game, both products of Finnish ingenuity.

There were also many disappointments. Many exhibits had, instead of a thing, a flat-screen TV showing what the thing would look like if they were here. Example: the Lifestraw, one of the greatest inventions of this century, which is tiny and costs about $5 but they didn't have one on display. Ben was excited about seeing the "hybrid locomotive", until (according to him) he discovered that there was only a small model of said locomotive, and a picture of someone standing next to a larger model of the locomotive.

The "Exploration" (ie. "Space") section was kind of a disappointment -- as, indeed, has exploration itself been recently. There was a good exhibit on the Orion capsule, and according to the brochure an exhibit on detecting black holes which I missed.

I will forever consider the biggest rip-off "The Kitchen of the Future". You may have noticed a pattern here where you see something promised in the glossy color ad, with a description written by the same people who write quick, pat descriptions of new technology for Wired, but the thing itself is nowhere to be seen. There was no kitchen.

"Oh but it's not the future yet Giblets" you say, "You just need to wait til the video of the present becomes the kitchen of the future." Maybe it was the present this afternoon but now it's the future and still no kitchen!

What's more, when you call something "The Kitchen of the Future" and only provide a video, you're calling up memories of all those 1950s and 1960s videos on the same topic: Design For Dreaming et cetera. Here's a good historical overview that includes the new video. We expect some camp or at least some style. But this video was dull and creepy. You seemed to be inside some monolothic kitchen appliance, looking out at the people tapping on the touch-screen interface and following the recipe instructions displayed thereon. Both you and they seemed trapped.

And what are the benefits of this kitchen? RFID readers in the fridge, meal suggestions, shopping lists, automatic oven setting. The same things that these kitchens have been promising us forever; only the terminology has changed. I wrote a song eight years ago (called, yes, "The Kitchen of the Future") making fun of this exact thing. The song isn't very good, which is why no one but Jake has seen it, but I think I've made my point by now. If you can't get to the future in fifty years, then if it's world peace or artificial intelligence you should keep trying, but if it's a new kind of kitchen I think you should take a break and rethink the whole project.

Anyway, so as not to by totally cynical, an honestly cool thing about this kitchen of the future: the mega-appliance manages its energy by tricks like "using oven heat to warm dishwater". I've often thought that people could save a lot of energy with a lightweight, portable heat sink that plugs in elsewhere as a heat source. That's probably not possible though.

Looking through the catalog for other cool things I saw... Laser harp! Not really "future" but certainly futuristic and festive. Oh, we went to a demonstration on robots as entertainment, where we saw a great video from robotlab. They program industrial arm-robots to draw portraits, tune them so that you can play music on them, and so on. Lots of odd musical instruments in this show. The equivalent of the .org Pavillion here was "Robot Row", which was full of robots, including robots built by high school students to compete against other robots in a basketball-type game. That was a lot of fun, though I don't really get robots. You may have noticed that I'm not really a hardware guy.

Cool-sounding stuff I didn't see: text-free user interface, some kind of cameraphone-based barcode reader for doing your microloan business paperwork (?), a biofeedback game, and Pixelroller.

PS: here's a Wikitravel guide to the most recent World's Fair.

PPS: There were a bunch of cars. Boring. Except they were hybrid cars. Sensiboring. Some of them ran on ethanol. This was demonstrated by patches of corn surrounding the exhibit. The corn was fake, ie. plastic, ie. made from oil. Secret of ethanol -- revealed!

PPPS: Here's Design For Dreaming and I'm also gonna toss in a link to Explosives: Tools For Progress just on the basis of the name.

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