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"But, Professor, the Cardassians!": Sumana pointed me to Faustfeathers, the Marx Brothers adaptation of Faust. It's fun, and this is as good a time as any to say that my favorite neo-Marxist effort has always been Warp Happy (here's part 2), the Marx Brothers movie that's also an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Beautiful Soup 3.0.7a: Tiny bugfix that makes it work with Python 2.3. Enjoy, you Python 2.3-using saps.

[Comments] (2) : For years I've been wanting to build a PVR and get rid of our Tivo. Partly because I like hacking things and it's really hard to hack the Tivo. Partly because over time our compliance with the Tivo lifestyle has declined precipitously, as we get more of our recorded entertainment from prepackaged and online sources, and less from Spontaneous Dissemination. But Linux PVR distributions are several years behind Linux in general, in terms of ease-of-use and hardware support, and I didn't relish the idea of going through a 1999-style install and configuration process.

Sumana got me off the metaphorical couch (and onto the actual couch) with this DevChix article which defined a hardware build that appealed to me. I used Mythbuntu instead of Mythdora, and the process was around 2002-2003: allegedly pushbutton but actually with a lot of configuration needed afterwards to get everything working. I'll post later about the problems I ran into, for reference by future web searchers.

Now it works! We've got music and games and non-lame web scheduling and everything in the living room. Eventually I plan to rip all our DVDs and put them into a huge RAID array, but not until the price of such RAID arrays comes down a little bit. What I am saying is, if you've been putting this kind of project off, now's a good time to try it.

Eh, might as well talk about the problems here. First problem was the remote control. I bought a Hauppage DVR-150 card and it came with a remote, but it's not a Hauppage remote and claiming it's a Hauppage remote in setup will yield you only anguish. It's a Windows Media Center Edition 98 or whatever remote. I don't really like this remote and I plan to program the Tivo remote instead, though that might interfere with my other plan to sell the Tivo on Craigslist for $50.

Second problem was that the computer kept turning off when we watched full-screen video. Installation of sensor software indicated that the CPU was overheating. The case I bought (which is much bigger than I expected) has two fans, each controlled individually by a switch that dangles from a wire inside the case. They were both set to Low. I set them to High and no more overheating.

Those were the two big problems. There was also some driver stuff I don't remember to get sound working.

PS: Sumana asks why I chose Mythbuntu over Mythdora. This is a good question since Mythdora apparently is more user-friendly. The answer is that I wanted to continue my streak of never using RPMs again the rest of my life.

[Comments] (2) "He said to take any rug in the house.": I. Saw. Iron. Man. with Sumana. It was pretty fun. Sumana was hoping I would be blown away, and it was probably the best superhero movie I could hope to see, but I don't really like superheroes or movies made about them. If you go to Kris's old video where he figures out the exact dates he collected Iron Man back issues, that was the opposite of my childhood. It was like the childhood of someone whose religious parents forbad comic books as Satanic, except my parents weren't like that. I thought there was something wrong with comic books on my own.

I've grown up and I no longer think there's anything wrong with comic books per se, but I find superhero comics ridiculous. Super-inventor Tony Stark basically invents cold fusion and his first priority is to use it to power his robot exoskeleton so he can beat up terrorists. That logic may work in four colors in the 1960s, or even in a stylized format today, but it doesn't hold up well in a live-action movie. Now, they actually did a good job of depicting someone for whom that would be the first priority, but nobody else in the movie tried to present alternate possibilities.

Anyway, Jeff Bridges is always fun, and after the movie we went to the comic book shop and spent a total of $17.76 on comic books. Happy Fourth!

The Truth Is Out There: Oh, here's the real reason the PVR was overheating. I didn't take the little plastic condom off the heatsink before installing it. So the CPU wasn't actually sinking much heat--it was just shrink-wrapping the heatsink. I removed the plastic and there was some slight loss of thermal compound, but everything seems to be working fine now.

As you can tell, I don't put together a lot of computers these days.

: Excellent! The car from "One Piece at a Time" was actually built as a publicity gimmick, by a guy at this company. However, according to a Wikipedia talk page, surely one of the least reliable sources imaginable, "the car pictured never ran".

[Comments] (1) Watch Out: They put up an apartment building that blocks our view of the fireworks so we're watching them on TV, with all the pointless musical numbers and bizarre close-up shots of random patriotic things that implies. "Suddenly, giant American flags invaded. It was the perfect invasion! No one would fight back against an American flag. Soon they had overrun the country!"

[Comments] (1) Request Weblog: Memex and Memory: Way back when I invited people to tell me what weblog entries to write (this is a standing invitation, BTW). In addition to prying into my reading habits a la USA-PATRIOT Act, Evan asked:

The memex machine described by Vannevar Bush has inspired a number of projects along the lines of "record all my interactions with the world".

Is it a deep mistrust of one's subconscious that inspires someone to work on this sort of a project, a deeper desire to hold on to ephemeral things, or just a ramping up of the same knack that leads folks to keep 5+ years of e-mail history ("just in case..")?

Well, different people do this for different reasons. I can think of two really smart people who did or are doing this: R. Buckminster Fuller (source) and Ted Nelson (source). Fuller is the fox par excellence with hundreds of random ideas, and Nelson the hedgehog par excellence with the big idea of hypertext. Plus there are several more contemporary hedgehogs whose one big idea is recording all one's interactions with the world: Gordon Bell, Justin Kan, and random Media Lab dudes whose names I don't know. Somewhere in between is Lion Kimbro.

I bring this back up because today Sumana and I went with Evan and Stuart to a Bucky Fuller exhibit at the Whitney museum. I don't think the Whitney really knows how to deal with Fuller. I don't know how to deal with Fuller either, but if I were doing an exhibit on him I certainly wouldn't tiptoe around the fact that he was crazy.

I don't really say this pejoratively. Being smart and crazy is a great way to have transcendent ideas. It's not polite to say that people are crazy, and I guess I could see skimming over an artist's craziness, but it's rare that an artist literally tries to change society with specific works of art, and art isn't judged by the same standards as math or architecture. I would have liked to see a plaque besides some of Fuller's stuff with a guess as to what was crazy and what was a good idea.

I find it difficult even now to tell whether certain of Fuller's ideas are crazy. He was really bad at business, and apart from one-off jobs building domes for festivals, most of his commercial ventures failed. But his prefab home ideas, for instance, seem really good. The prefab homes we ended up getting were lame and difficult to build and not modular, because Fuller's business failed and after the war there was a period, which might be ending now, where we as a society weren't willing to try new things housing-wise. I don't have the ability to judge Fuller's architecture, and the Whitney didn't really try.

And to bring it back to Evan's initial query, I don't think the Dymaxion Chronofile can answer this kind of question. I don't think recording everything you do or everything that happens to you accomplishes anything beyond creating a useful historical document. The process of idea generation happens inside your head and isn't captured. The value of a successful idea has repercussions beyond your personal Dymaxion Chronofile. The value of an unsuccessful idea exists in the realm of the hypothetical, so the Chronofile won't help you much if you want to figure out what might have been. So I'm pretty skeptical of the whole thing.

[Comments] (2) Birthday Present: Beautiful Soup used to nail an arms dealer.

: Remote controlled Mechagodzilla. That's one monster remote control! I plan to infiltrate the hideout and make off with Mechagodzilla.

: I just got email from Charles Coleman Finlay about my May speculations that he'd written 'a cross between "Absent Qualia, Fading Qualia, Dancing Qualia", Zombies: The Movie, and (dare we hope?) Pamela Sergeant's Nebula-winning "Danny Goes To Mars".':

Yes, that's it exactly. Well, exactly minus the Pamela Sergeant. I think you're the only reader in the world who got the reference, and I understand that you got it without ever reading the story. But I'm pleased that somebody got it.

The relevant anthology is now on my "shall purchase" list. Also, now (rather than after I finish the issue) is a good time to tell you that the August issue of F&SF includes "The Political Prisoner", Finlay's sequel to "The Political Officer". You know it's good. Plus you can now get TPO for free.

[Comments] (4) : As I often do when I don't have anything to write in NYCB, I've prepared some pictures for you. These are old pictures and the theme is birthdays. The one to your right is my dad, probably when he was in high school in the mid-sixties. Here's Susanna turning four amidst a cultural museum of Richardson family lore: the kitsch shelf, the needlepoint, the teddy bear poster, the very 80s breakfast table, the distinctive style of cake frosting, and the coveted ice cream scoop.

As a palate cleanser, a non-birthday picture: six men who can't all be my dad's college roommates. Picture taken forty years ago, as you can tell by the primitive (but very handy) timestamp on the side of the photograph. Man, all those guys are old and retired now.

: Josh Lesnick has reverted to doing random comics, at his Livejournal. Pretty Batman-heavy so far.

[Comments] (1) : Hilarious spam-weblog review of RESTful Web Services:

Have you been looking for RESTful Web Services? If so, then I’ve got some goof news for you... I looked at a few competitors and am here to say that for the price RESTful Web Services can’t be beat. So what exactly did I like? Mainly, the quality and price. What about the negatives? Well, there are better products, but they cost a WHOLE lot more.

I gotta say, I'm sold! Words cannot describe the unremarkable taste!

[Comments] (8) Birthday.: Today, as Andy pointed out, begins the thirtieth year of Leonard.

[Comments] (4) Daniel: Sumana took me to dinner at Daniel, one of New York's fanciest restaurants. I took some pictures but I didn't start until the end of the meal for reasons that will become (or are already) apparent.

The meal started with a little tray of treats. My favorite was a tiny Parmesan basket with some kind of mousse inside it, which gave the impression of eating a cheese-flavored Frito dipped in sour cream.

I started with sweet pea-ricotta tortelloni, with "savory emulsion" (aka FOAM). It was truly excellent. At intervals a guy came around with a basket of assorted breads, urging us to sample his wares. There was a terrific three-seed bread and little mini-baguettes.

Then there was duck breast, which was good on its own but came with some very strange things, including a hollow gelatinous cube that I'm not entirely sure was food, and what I think might have been foie gras taquitos. I ate it all; my general rule at a restaurant this expensive is that I might as well try everything that shows up because I've already paid for it. The taquitos were good, and as moral crises go the crisis of whether I may have eaten some foie gras taquitos is pretty small potatoes.

Sumana had a cauliflower soup and then the tortelloni as an entree. Then the restaurant really outdid its collective self. We ordered dessert: I the brownie and Sumana the chocolate biscuit (except they actually gave her the mousse). This came, and then came this crazy mango-three-ways thing with a birthday candle and a greeting to me piped on the plate in chocolate!

Maybe you get something nice like this every birthday, but the last free restaurant birthday dessert I remember was chocolate mousse served in a fake flowerpot with crumbled-up Oreo cookies to look like dirt. Unlike that, this was great and it was a total surprise; Sumana had told the restaurant staff beforehand that this was a birthday dinner.

But they weren't done showering us with dessert. Oh no. A waiter brought us a big basket of hot madelines. We ate some. They were delicious. I said, "This reminds me of the time I had a madeline at Evan's house." Then they brought us a platter of eight bite-sized treats, including the world's tiniest lemon meringue pie, a weird meringue Like Like with jam inside, a marshmallow covered in toasted coconut, etc. etc.

Sumana said "If they come around with a wafer-thin mint, I'm through." Fortunately no mints were forthcoming; they left us alone with our plates and plates of dessert until we'd finished most of it. Then, the check. Suffice to say that it cost a lot of money. I don't think I'd eat there again given the price, but I said the same about WD-50 and I wouldn't mind going there again now.

Reviews of Old Science Fiction Magazines: F&SF 1987/05: Not the best issue of a magazine I've ever read. There's a whole lot of stories in here and none of them are great. The cover story is James Morrow's "Spelling God with the Wrong Blocks", which is a James Morrow story. Morrow's stories appeal to me on an intellectual level but it's kind of like the kind of conceptual art where once you've read a description of the art there's no need to see the actual art. Towing Jehovah was excellent but it can stand in for all his stuff as far as I'm concerned. This story was the equivalent of a really snarky weblog entry.

None of the other stories left an impression on me, except for "The Extra", an SF horror story by Michael Shea. "The Extra" doesn't make sense in the way that horror stories don't make sense, and I started out really wanting to dislike it because of its heavy use of future-jive (no kidding!), but it had a lot of action and split-second decision making and you know what, the real reason I liked it was it was like Smash TV. Not a bad theme for a story. Also worth mentioning is Brad Strickland's "Oh Tin Man, Tin Man, There's No Place Like Home", which is a bit similar to Tim Pratt's Hugo-winning Impossible Dreams. Felix C. Gotschalk's "Menage a Super-Trois" started out nicely disturbing but then didn't have a plot.

In nonfiction, Isaac Asimov rambles on for a while--did you know he's self-deprecating about his own huge ego? The cover promises "Harlan Ellison on Star Trek", which portends a bloodbath, but Ellison keeps it down to a slow, controlled stream of blood that you couldn't even wash dishes with. Interesting fact: Ellison disliked The Wrath of Khan but considered The Search For Spock "a decent piece of work". (My own heretical Star Trek movie opinion is that The Motion Picture would be really good if you were to cut it down to about 105 minutes.)

Sighted in book reviews: A Hidden Place, Robert Charles Wilson's first novel, which I'd never heard of; and The Handmaid's Tale.

: Today was yet another day of birthday celebrations, or as Penny Arcade would put it, "That Grim Reckoning: Part Three". A bunch of friends gathered for brunch and then we went to Make and had a big thing-painting party. They don't have coasters anymore, but Sumana and I each painted a bowl to replace the bowls we've lost to attrition. Everyone had a good time, and it turns out that among a random sample of friends, most can paint a lot better than I can. Pictures don't lie. Except for pictures of the liar's paradox.

[Comments] (4) : Why would a day tripper only buy a one-way ticket?

[Comments] (3) Reviews of Non-Old Science Fiction Magazines: F&SF 2008/08: As seen previously. Man, this magazine should be publishing my stuff. Also, I should actually send them more stuff. I finished reading "The Political Prisoner" and it was great all the way through, worth the price of the magazine by itself.

"Childrun" is a decent fantasy story, except... Look, characters in horror movies nowadays have seen horror movies and have some knowledge of how to avoid stupid mistakes. But almost nobody in fantasy stories has read any fantasy stories, usually because these stories tend to take place in a pre-printing-press world. But there's still myths and folklore, so I dunno. "Childrun"'s backstory wouldn't have gotten very far if some of its characters had read some fantasy stories. Or seen some horror movies, actually. Imagine being a character in a joke, and living for years and years in between the last line of the setup and the punchline, and not noticing anything unusual. That's the thing that bugs me about these stories, as well as any story in which prophecy is fulfilled.

"But Wait! There's More!" is a fantasy story whose characters (living in the present day) probably have read fantasy stories, and the story is better for it. There's no "this is just like such-and-such a story" but there's also no making obvious mistakes because the characters didn't keep up on the literature. Incidentally, this is part of what makes "The Political Prisoner" so great: the main character knows basically what's happening and why it's happening, but that doesn't reduce the horror or give him much power over the situation.

(Prove me wrong, but it also seems like characters in science fiction stories generally haven't read much science fiction, even when they're astronauts or computer programmers. This bothers me and I try to do the opposite, but it doesn't bother me as much as the equivalent in fantasy stories, because the universe of a science fiction story is rarely teleological, and in fantasy it often is. It's admittedly difficult and/or cheesy for an author to employ the tropes of science fiction in a supposedly realistic story when their characters will notice those tropes, but we live in a science fictional society right now, and navigate it in part with our knowledge of science fiction stories. So it's clearly possible.)

PS: Great cover art for "The Political Prisoner", which cover art incorporates a 1950s aesthetic that I don't think is justified anywhere in the text, a la the new BSG. Also, two of the people on the cover have just been shot but they look like they're just having fun with their friends in the parking lot.

PPS: Now that I think about it, "But Wait! There's More!" might have no fantasy element whatsoever.

[Comments] (3) B5 Silliness: "Come, Captain. The greatest nightmare of our time is waiting for you."

S: "At Vorlon Farms."

L: "Vorlons? In Berkeley? ffshffshwhrrmngffsh Yes."

(Needs so much hyperlinking I don't even know if I should post it, but it made Sumana snort-laugh.)

: BOOM! Studios have put some of their COMICS! online to read for free. Unfortunately they haven't put up their best work, the MST3K-esque and out of stock "What Were They Thinking?" series. Oh, probably because there's a trade paperback. Cool.

: Since my weblog reaches a few people who don't know about this already let me point to Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, which is 1) very entertaining and Narbonic-esque, and 2) an example along with Cinematic Titanic of TV professionals moving into low-budget features with Internet distribution. As with Cinematic Titanic, the writer's strike was the catalyst.

: Fully five years ago I was laughing it up at a satirically useless lego piece called a BURP. Well, the the BURP is an actual piece. Big Ugly Rock Piece. (Official name: Rock Panel Rectangular) The joke is on me, except the joke is that there's no real joke.

[Comments] (3) Subway, Maps: One problem with maps throughout history is the way they depict subway stations. The oldest known maps don't show subway stations at all. In the 20th century things got a little better, and now subway stations show up even on fancy zoomable online maps. But the zoomable maps still have a map/territory problem that doesn't need to exist anymore.

Here's Union Square, one of my favorite places in New York, home to the subway station I like so much I have a mug of it. (That's on Google Maps. I tried to show on other popular map services, but Yahoo's map system seems to not be addressable, and Everyblock's and Microsoft's maps of NYC don't show subway stations at all. Anyway.) Most maps (including the NYC subway map) show one subway station there on 14th street. Google Maps shows two subway stations there on 14th street (which there kind of are, but it doesn't mention that they're connected). All maps show the subway stop(s) as a point on the map.

But in the real world we don't go to a point and that point's the subway station. This works for bus stops (which are legion on Google Maps), but subway stations typically have multiple entrance stairways, and sometimes also elevators. There are six different entrances to the Union Square station in a three-block radius, for a total of (I think) eight stairways and an elevator. Each of those comes out at a different place on the street. It takes experience to know where all the entrances to a subway station are, and a better map would save people time. In today's world of zoomable maps and infinite detail there's no reason not to signal where all the entrances are and even have a cutaway that shows in outline how the station looks under the ground, a la Dwarf Fortress.

: "Then, as the final step to all of this, I checked to see if anyone had done this before." I've been there.

See also: Beautiful Soup comics.

Need More Poutine: I'm off to Montreal again.

: And here I am. Et je suis ici. Sign seen taped to important piece of equipment: "Password 1234."

: I think my warranty just expired.

[Comments] (3) SET TABLE: I tire of lame science-fictional computers and robots that take your every utterance maddeningly literally. What about devices that take you maddeningly metaphorically?

Presumably the Children of Tamar would have such computers. Poet from Suspended gives cryptic output but interprets his input literally. I'm picturing comic-relief characters brought in for short scenes that end with the human saying "I mean that literally, you bucket of bolts!" Whereupon the computer, understanding the malfunctionist connotations of "bucket of bolts", would weep.

[Comments] (3) Douglas, Get Your Paws Off My Notwithstanding Clause: Evan requested that I talk about my trip to Montreal. It was mostly work stuff and wishing I was home, but I will say that the inviting, irregularly-shaped park in the middle of the city--the "Parc Mont Royal" if you will--is a park because it's a freaking mountain and it would be too expensive to develop it. Always check the topographical map!

Native Canadian wit: "What time is it?" "It's gettin' later."

I dunno. The poutine was not as good as last time. Maybe someone at the farmer's market sells cheese curds and I can make my own.

The Making of the Atomic Bomb: A huge book you should read. Bought on Rachel Chalmers's recommendation though I can't find a link. (Update: aha) Some tidbits:

[Comments] (3) Bar: Bah: Remind me not to go to events held at bars.

[Comments] (1) It Has Been Confirmed: Just so I don't leave NYCB alone all night with that depressing entry at top, check this out. The PSP game Secret Agent Clank includes a robotfindskitten minigame. Thanks, Gerard Green of High Impact Games. You can also check out some new ports including a 68k Mac one.

Incidentally, once again, the official name of the game is robotfindskitten, not Robot Finds Kitten. Just thought you should know. And by "know" I mean "submit to my will".

The System of the World Wide Web: The first thing I ever wrote for RESTful Web Services was a short chapter about why the Web beat two competitors that had a head start on it, and what that implies about the general utility of the Web technologies. It was inspired by Rohit Khare's "Who Killed Gopher? An Extensible Murder Mystery", which I've mentioned before, but it's got ten more years of perspective, it covers FTP, and it goes into more detail about the technical differences between HTTP and Gopher.

I cut the chapter because it's only about 7 pages long, and being historical in nature (and dealing with protocols most programmers haven't used in years or even heard of) it wasn't necessary. I've always thought it was interesting, though, and I turned it into a standalone essay. I tried for a while to get some money for it by publishing it on one of the O'Reilly sites, but that never went anywhere. So this morning I say "screw it" and give you the link.

It's called "The System of the World Wide Web", I guess because I thought a nerdy joke in the title would sell it; I think used to be called "How the Web Won". It's free for you to enjoy.

Since I wrote that essay I met Rohit and we became friends. (Also, that weblog entry is serious foreshadowing for this one.) He also read the essay and said "Come on!", G.O.B.-style, about a part where I implied he didn't appreciate why Gopher selectors were technically inferior to URIs, so I made a small update. Riveting stuff--did you know that I also took frozen food off his hands when he moved back to California?

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