Sunday, December 21, 2008

Elitist Liberals Visit The Creation Museum

I am not particularly unusual in wanting to be there when history is unfolding. Last month I was excited about playing a tiny, tiny role in Obama's victory over John McCain. A few weeks ago, I went to the Creation Museum with my wife, two friends, and 3 of the friends' kids: one a junior in high school, another a seventh grader, the other ten years old. A bunch of smirky liberal-types making a trip to mock the Creation Museum was definitely not an historic event, but it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, we can look on the existence of such an embarrassing abomination in our nation as a 'high water mark' for the fundies' efforts to take over the show. Yeah, high water mark, Noah, ha ha.

I may be completely wrong about that. I hope not. What I do know is we wanted to see this thing for ourselves, and since it is merely a few hours away, it was no big problem to fit a visit into a Saturday. The museum is located near where Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky meet, and Kentucky was the big loser here, as it is located within that state. There's some question as to whether the locals are happy about it, as evidenced by the bullet holes in a sign near the Museum (see above. Notice the Stop sign is unscathed).

Our first impression: it is a rather large building, and the grounds with the topiary christmas-light adorned dinosaurs are extensive. The parking lot was maybe half full. There were security guys out front directing traffic, assisted by their bloodhound. A couple times during the day we saw security running through the museum, but I have no idea why. It was spooky and vaguely totalitarian.

Inside there was sticker shock when confronted by the ticket cost, which is about $20 a person, but we coughed it up. I'm sure some will be horrified I gave money to these folks, but I did it for science, so cut me some slack. The Amish or Mennonite people in front of us had no trouble with the admission, and we saw other patrons sporting beards or bonnets (but never both) throughout the day, so it appears to have caught on with that demographic, as well as with Ohio State graduates. We sure saw a lot of OSU sweatshirts that day.

Our first encounter with the generally helpful and friendly staff was with a guy named Steve. He told us the place was really only half finished; there were big things in the works. My wife said 'so, you're evolving?' and he said 'yeah', and told us about a soon-to-come attraction that was secret, but he could tell us it involved a man and a boat. We did the math, and I know that you, the reader, can too. We inquired about the 'Live Nativity' at 2pm. He told us the one at 2pm had no drama, but there was one at 6pm 'with drama'. It involved traveling to Bethlehem with a Roman Centurion so you could be taxed, and on the way you could see the baby Jesus and the manger and all that.

We got tickets not only for the museum but for something called 'created cosmos' in the Planetarium. More on that later. Near the ticket counter was a planetarium which apparently was involved in the space program somehow. It seemed rather random as it wasn't part of a bigger exhibit and didn't seem to have much to do with dinosaurs or floods, but it looked pretty sciencey I suppose.

We didn't have to walk far before encountering the first of many animatronic exhibits. A girl with a sly smirk fed a squirrel a carrot while a dinosaur who was clearly a carnivore hung out nearby, and across from them an Apatosaurus munched on some greens and made roaring noises. Here's a picture of the happy milieu:

To give you a better idea of the 'Uncanny Valley' quality of a lot of the humans, here's a close-up:

This was the first of many times I was really happy I'd left my 5-year-old daughter in the care of her grandparents.

Near this area we got schooled as to the many ways Adam's sins messed up life for everybody, causing everything from a switch from a strict vegetarian diet to Meat-Lovers Mania to the sudden transformation of once-harmless frogs to poisonous frogs:

This is in direct contradiction to the claims of a later room, where the theme is 'designed to _______'. Designed to swim. Designed to fly. Designed to cause bloody diarrhea and death. Just kidding about the last one - Ebola is not featured in the creation museum. We are to believe animals with teeth obviously 'designed' to tear flesh from bones used these teeth for vegan diets before Adam sinned.

After these insults to intelligence and common sense (the kids, particularly Alex, repeatedly remarked that the museum made them angry because some of the assertions made were so dazzlingly stupid), we went to an exhibit about the Grand Canyon. The main point of this exhibit seemed to be that no, it did not take millions of years to create the Grand Canyon, because sometimes when there's flooding a ditch can be created in a few hours. This was illustrated via a looping video which was about 40 seconds long. We watched it a few times because we wondered if we were missing something, but we weren't. There was nothing there. Repeating loops of audio or video were used rather liberally throughout the museum. It felt a bit like brainwashing.

Next we saw an exhibit about a fundie paleontologist and his Asian heathen friend. The Asian heathen is a recurring theme of the Creationists - a book in the gift shop tells the story of a young Christian girl whose Asian friend develops leukemia - caused, of course, by Adam's sin. The point here, such as it is, is that the two 'scientists' draw different conclusions because they have 'different starting points'. The Asian guy uses the scientific method, and the creationist says all the fossilized animals died in the flood because that's what it says in the Bible. Why he bothers getting dirty when he already knows all the answers is a question this exhibit doesn't answer.

It's not really clear what the point of this exhibit is. At the typical natural history museum, there are awesome skeletons of real dinosaurs, not mannequins representing imaginary paleontologists, let alone real ones, but again, this is not your typical museum, it is like a museum but without any of the science.

Later, we see a vision of what happens when the world 'turns its back on God'. Apparently, it looks like the alley of a big city, only, as my wife pointed out, 'without the urine smell'. She jokingly suggested I could fix that, but I did not. This city featured a preacher's idea of what graffiti looked like, and instead of fliers for bands, articles about Terry Schiavo and 'Gay Teens' were plastered on the walls. Apparently the theory of Evolution makes teens gay. At the end of this section, there's a bit showing pictures of Asian(?!) soldiers, a woman screaming, and audio of a Hitler speech, so Evolution is responsible for Hitler, too. Apparently the creationists aren't too up on Godwin's Law, and several signs like this suggest technology in general vexes them:

At least they have a sense of humor about it.

There was generally too much reliance on signage throughout the museum. Some rooms contained nothing but sign after sign regurgitating text from the Bible or the various ad hoc paste-on hypotheses young Earth creationists have used to paper over the gaping holes in their view of the Universe. As a museum, it really lacked the visual appeal and inspiration I got from the favorite haunts of my nerdly youth: Indianapolis' Children's Museum was chock-full of hands-on exhibits to demonstrate concepts and let a youngster experience them directly, Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry had A REAL GERMAN U-BOAT YOU CAN GO INSIDE!, the Field Museum of Natural History featured huge, honest-to-goodness dinosaur skeletons, and the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum had its assortment of air and spacecraft. Those were places that told young me it was an unbelievably rich and wonderful, unfathomably old world I lived in, not a world that serves merely as a bothersome stop on the way to a Disneyland in the sky. The world those museums showed me was a world where, while we knew a lot, there was no shortage of unanswered questions, not a world where if you asked questions you put your immortal soul at terrible risk. I felt really bad for kids who, unlike the youngsters we'd brought along with us, get dragged to this place on a regular basis because their parents bought an annual pass.

The 'Created Cosmos' show at the Planetarium was also cognitive-dissonance inducing. After walking around for a few hours, it was great to sit back in the chairs, but the show was somewhat blurry. I later noticed the lens was dirty - this blunted the dazzling effects of the Cosmos. The show discussed the nearly unfathomable scale of the Universe, and interestingly enough didn't gloss over the fact that the Earth is not the center of the Universe, or even the Galaxy. Several facts are raised as 'big trouble for secular Astronomers', without much elaboration - more a sign the makers of the film had a sorry lack of understanding of how science works than anything else. There were observations that were 'big trouble' for the 'secular Newtonian theories of Physics', but fortunately his books weren't all burned, instead Einstein's Theory of Relativity explained many of the problems with Newtonian Physics, which is still fine and dandy at sub 1/10 the speed of light.

What really caused the dissonance for me was the assertion that 'here, in this corner of one of many galaxies, is the jewel of God's creation' - that's right, Earth. Everything else, all that empty space, all those galaxies? Something for the chosen people to look at at night, something they could use for navigation. Somehow, we are also to believe godless heathens like myself, fully aware of the grand scale of the universe and our tiny insignificant place in the grand scheme of things, both time and space wise, 'only believe in ourselves' or 'worship ourselves', yet here I was being expected to have some kind of orgasm of self-importance because the whole universe is all about little old me. I suppose after this I, too, was angry.

After that show, we all went out and checked out the gardens featuring topiary dinosaurs and a live Nativity scene (the baby Jesus was fake, which is good because it was so cold), and when Joseph asked what brought us to Bethlehem and my wife said 'the path' to his befuddlement, it made me laugh a bit, and the sheer absurdity of the whole place made me think maybe, just maybe reason will win out over ignorance in the end. If not, the world is going to turn into a big city alley that smells like piss, I fear.

I leave you with a delightful image of Adam hanging out in the Garden of Eden with all the animals of the world, including a penguin! WTF is a penguin doing there? God put him there, you Theologodummy!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Python 3.0 and making it happen on MacOSX

Python 3.0 was released last week to much commentary both pro and con. I would place myself in the pro column, for reasons best articulated here: Let’s talk about Python 3.0. The story about the monkeys beating up each other is one you'll want to file away for use someday, in the event you haven't already heard it.

The big deals seem to be the all Unicode all the time, dammit, text and extensive restructuring of little annoyances and things the Python people wish they had done differently, knowing now what they do. The fact that it's admittedly 10% slower than v2 is driving some people nutty. To others, the idea of stepping back and restructuring Python so that the foundation is more sound is a worthwhile effort, especially to those of us watching the Perl saga unfold, with no schadenfreude at all in my case (I still think Perl is awesome. Perl is the language used to build the web, and in fact the universe). Having read a very long and acrimonious discussion thread re: why the hell is Perl 6 taking so long written in...2004, one of the big takeaway points was that Perl 5 had reached a point where the limit had been reached as far as building on it and tweaking it and so forth. Having not plumbed the internals of Perl 5, I can only say the guy saying 'the internals of Perl 5 are a disaster' appears to know his topic really well.

So anyway if you'd like to try out Python 3.0 and like me are a MacOSX user, there's some immediate annoyance in your future. You've got to build the thing from source, not a terrible thing, but a DMG installer would be nice. Additionally, caution is necessary if you are just wanting to install alongside 2.x, as is the case unless you are completely mad. This article provides helpful guidance. It's all well and good, unless like me you have been just using the python that 'came with' and never went through the business of getting Darwinports installed, installing readline, and so on and so forth. After a bit of Googling, this article over on zopyx proved most helpful, and now I'm up and running.

In the event Google brought you here because of similar woes, now you should have what you need.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Kids say the you-are-damndest things!

Yesterday I discovered an exciting sub-genre of youTube videos, the 'Baby Preacher' video. The kid preacher in 'Jesus Camp' apparently went over so well, they are expanding the outreach to infants.

Probably the most famous of the baby preacher videos is this one, Kanon Tipton. There's nothing that quite puts the shivers in your soul like somebody who craps his own pants telling you you're going straight to hell.

This one's billed as 'baby TD Jakes', but he's maybe 8 or 9. When he talks about losing all his money, you can tell he's been there.

Here's 'The Little Man of God', rockin' an awesome pink suit. I want that suit. More importantly, I want that band to punctuate everything I say with a stab.

Back to the infants now, here's Ethan, rockin a more conservative suit. I have to listen to what he says, because he says it loud, and he's well dressed:

These all remind me of a bit Andy Kaufman used to do where he spoke complete gibberish, but with the phrasing, gestures, and facial expressions a comedian would use. Though there were no intelligible jokes, it was funny, and people laughed, thanks to a lifetime of being trained that in that setting, when somebody on stage talks like that and moves like that, it's supposed to be funny. The words don't really matter, as it turns out.

Of course, by analyzing it, I drained all humor value from it, but trust me, it was funny.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pakistan's Truck art is like the sticker of Calvin, pissing on US truck art

Via the wonderful web urbanist blog, I was introduced today to the beautiful Truck Art of Pakistan.
The under-appreciated, indigenous Pakistani tradition of truck painting has an extraordinary history, starting in the days of the Raj. As early as the 1920’s, competing transportation companies would hire craftsmen to adorn their buses in the hopes that these moving canvases would attract more passengers.
Seriously, look at this:
Contrast this with a sample of American Truck Art:

Globalization and the Internet, once again providing a splash of cold water in the face telling us to try harder.

For more beautiful truck art, see:

Pakistani Truck Art
Art On Wheels Pakistan (flickr)

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Really Minor But Not Completely Insignificant Part I Played in the Great Victory for the US, and the World.

As Election Day approached I found myself increasingly anxious and agitated. Things looked OK over on, but it was still too close. The thought of four years of Bible Spice and Old Spice was unbearable. I thought of how I'd brought my poor daughter into a world where we had an incompetent moronic clown of a president who'd dragged us into an ill-advised, seemingly endless war. Sorry, wars. She certainly deserved better. My new nephew isn't going to be a baby forever, and I'd just as soon he not be sent overseas to die for some dubious cause. I had heard somebody say 'Obama is America's last chance. If we get this wrong, it's over', and it kept bouncing around in my head. It was unbearable. I had to do something.

So first I gave a bit of money to Obama's campaign. Not much, but as we saw, a whole lot of not much can be significant. Then I voted early as part of the effort to keep lines down on Election Day after being urged to do so by a friend. I knew people who were working the phones and knocking on doors for Obama's Get Out The Vote effort, but I found the prospect of interacting with potentially hostile strangers terrifying. I wanted to do SOMETHING, though, because time was running out, so I talked to a volunteer friend, and she said I could be a 'data captain' and possibly a driver on election day.

Saturday before Election Day I reported for data captain duty. This essentially amounted to data entry work, using an ASP.NET (!) application called votebuilder. Canvassers brought in packets detailing what they'd found out, and we'd record it so as not to waste further time with inaccessible people, people who'd moved, or McCain supporters. This was relatively easy, and hanging out at Bloomington campaign HQ was great for my general hope for the future. The kids (college kids) working there definitely were what you'd call kids who had their shit together, and the operation was being run better than many corporate operations I'd seen. It wasn't all kids, though - there were middle aged people like myself, and older folks, too. Food had been donated for lunch, and it was good - better than a standard catered meeting.

These folks had a sense of urgency and much energy, and it was being harnessed and used for good, while presumably folks in the other camp were e-mailing their latest twists on the Obama sounds like Osama joke back and forth to each other. This made me feel much better about the future. None of that 'when these kids take over, were fucked' mentality for me. I signed up to work on Election Day.

On Election Day I arrived in the morning and found the parking lot completely packed, but was directed to a 'secret parking lot' by a sleep-deprived but helpful volunteer. There wasn't much in the way of data entry needed, I was told, but I was encouraged to give canvassing a go, frightening as it seemed. I hesitated for a few seconds at most, then grabbed a packet.

We were given a brief training session, which was mostly a pep talk. We were told 'if we can even get it where Indiana is 'too close to call' late into the night, that'll be great'. Then we were sent off with 'Yes We Canvass!' Everybody cheered and moved out. It felt like the start of a marathon.

The packet had a handy Google Map on the front showing my territory. I was to cover part of 17th St on the West Side, spending most of my time at an apartment complex where most residents were students. More often than not, nobody answered, in which case I left the info about where they were to vote (Assembly Hall) on their doorknob (unless an earlier volunteer had already left the info on the doorknob).

I encountered several people who had voted for Obama or were intending to do so, and those contacts were pleasant enough. A couple people indicated they had voted for McCain, but were not jerky or confrontational. My fears of having an 'M' carved into my cheek were unfounded. A few people didn't answer their door - I could hear the TV and conversations in the room through the door. One woman talked to me through the door. One guy said 'hey, it's some old dude!' before opening the door, so I introduced myself as an old dude with the Obama campaign. A couple people made a point of saying 'you people have been here 3 or 4 times', which made me feel bad, because I hate the idea of being an annoying pest to people, and I was starting to wonder if all the repeated contacts were turning people off.

At one point a dog rushed up to me, but I didn't freak out, and the dog didn't bite me, he just sniffed around and moved on.

It took me maybe 2 hours to finish my list, at which point I had to record # of doors knocked and # of contacts made and return to campaign HQ.

Despite the general positive tone, as a super-introvert, my nerves were quite jangled by the experience, so I sought out a more 'back-office' task I could do. Data dude was still waiting for orders for a printing, and another option was working the phones, but I wasn't sure I wanted to do that either. I was told my assistance would be needed around noon and that I could check out all the free food in the meantime.

The spread was really great - local restaurants were very generous. I had some sandwiches from Jimmy John's, and some of the mashed potatoes donated by Bloomingfoods, which we were told were vegan. I wandered around a bit to see what was going on and take in the atmosphere. Most of the kids were operating on a couple of hours of sleep at most, and their nerves were maybe a bit frayed, but there was no reality show drama, everybody kept their cool (like Obama does) and kept going on some mixture of excitement, hope, enthusiasm, and energy drinks.

While I was out front, some coward in an SUV drove by and yelled 'you fucking socialist bastards!', and people kind of laughed at him and carried on with whatever they were doing - making calls, getting newly arrived volunteers settled in, or eating. He carried on reinforcing our nation's dependence on foreign oil.

I eventually worked up the courage to inquire about getting on the phone, but was told there were plenty of phone people. I offered to drive, and my number was added to a list of potential drivers. I called a woman who needed a ride to the polls and scheduled a time when I'd pick her up.

She had emphysema, and an oxygen tank. She got around in a wheelchair. She was sweet and was very excited to get a chance to participate in the historic election. The wheelchair fit in my Prius easily enough when it was folded up, and she knew exactly where the polling place was, so she acted as our navigator.

The line at the polling place was not long - a few people - and the attentive and helpful volunteers got her set up with a machine she could use. The morale amongst the volunteers at the polling place was good - they had to stay there from 6am to after 6pm, but they too had been provided with some really good food.

Everything went smoothly, and I took her home. She thanked me repeatedly, I thanked her repeatedly. It was a beautiful day, and being around all these great people all day really did wonderful things for my mood. I was ready to deal with the potential disappointment of watching election returns.

Only this time I wasn't disappointed. Oh no. It took a while for it to sink in that Obama had in fact done it. Sometime during his speech I finally was able to let go of the dread fear that things would turn horribly wrong. On 'twitterific', I read tweets from all over the world congratulating the USA on a job well done. The following morning, I pulled up, and where Tuesday morning there'd been a pink Indiana, today I saw it had turned blue. Yes we can. Yes we did.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Cold Gettin' Stupid or: Google Didn't Start The Fire

Back in July of this year, Encyclopedia Britannica board member Nicholas Carr's article 'Is Google Making Us Stupid?' appeared in The Atlantic. It was a phenomenal hit. As the new Borg, Google is the company to hate right now. Right now, hating Microsoft is as passe as hating N'Sync or The Spice Girls. It kind of has an air of un-necessary kick 'em when they're down meanness, even, like the Britney Spears jokes of last year. So, be like the cool kids, be like Nicholas Carr, who I must grudgingly admit has pretty good taste in music, and get on the Google-bashing bandwagon.

Another reason for the success of Carr's article is that stupidity is everywhere. Computers have boosted people's productivity in many ways, and in one category particularly computers have shined. They have enabled stupid people to do more faster, and reach a wider audience for their stupidity, than ever would have been thought possible as recently as 1983. The explosion in stupidity and all the technologies which have enabled stupid people to reach each other and be stupid and make stupid plans to do stupid shit has profound and far-reaching ramifications.

Facebook, for example, has a phenomenally, illogically stupid valuation based on essentially helping stupid people get in touch with morons they went to high school with, or other idiots who share their moronic passions, so that they might join together under the sacrament of most holy matrimony and bless the world with their stupid spawn. Facebook sucks the intelligent people into their vortex, even pulling some really smart people from Google, so that they may spend the best, most productive years of their brilliant, hot as the surface of the sun minds on things we didn't even know we wanted or needed, like Beacon or those gawdawful (except for the delightful, copyright-violating Scrabulous) widgets. Facebook (and Google, and Apple) suck the intelligent out of the brain pool to work on trivial, candy-ass bullshit.

There's a whole lot of stupid on display in the halls of academia, in our corporate boardrooms, on Wall Street, and in Congress. Somebody must be held responsible, because accountability is important, so how about Google? Google is the 12 million immigrants taking our jobs of stupidity.

Unfortunately, Nicholas Carr is full of shit. Google isn't making us stupid at all. It's aging that's making us stupid. The stars are not going out, the Astronomer's vision is failing. Look, son: that being the case, I can compensate for my failing (and it was never that great, let's be honest) memory via Google, just like I can get from here to Vermont really fast even though I have bad knees, thanks to a little thing called the airplane. Perhaps you've heard of it? Google Reader DOES overwhelm me, but I've resigned myself to the fact I can't read everything in my feeds, kind of like I resigned myself to the fact I wouldn't read every book in my little town's library when I WAS EIGHT YEARS OLD!

I still read books. Good writing still pulls me in. Maybe I read 8 books at once, jumping back and forth, but I read books. I will never give up the books. If I want to read for an extended period of time, I want paper, dammit! I even read Infinite Jest, and I even read the footnotes. All of them (R.I.P. and Infinite Respect, David Foster Wallace).

So from where I stand, as a kind of over the hill dude who in Roman times would be dead by now, and as recently as 1977 would have been pushed to the margins with the millions of other nerds whose profession hadn't been invented yet, I have to regard the Google-bashing with considerable skepticism.

Many people, mostly really, really bad comedians, like to mock the Amish because they shun technology. If, like me, they'd take the time to read the 10 page pamphlet you can pick up at the store in Amish Country for free (but don't be a cheap bastard, buy something), they'd know the Amish see the automobile as something that tears communities and families apart. It enables the construction of suburbs, artificial communities where one of the luxuries is not having to know or talk to your neighbors (you can talk to people on Facebook, remember), it encourages dependence on foreign oil, and it threatens our environment. Does this mean the automobile is evil?

Oh well, never mind. Rather than go further down that path maybe you should find some YouTube videos of a dude getting hit in the nuts with a football.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Rebel Girls You Are the Queens Of My World!

A couple tidbits on RNC '08, and then I'm getting the hell out of the crowded world of political blogging again. If you don't like it, go to Russia!

The shouting-heavy ending of McCain's acceptance speech reminded me a lot of Howard Dean's campaign-derailing 'We're going to New Hampshire! And Georgia! And Kentucky! and etc!' minus the 'WAHOO!' at the end. Everybody jumped all over Dean and even compared him to the H man for that. In this case I guess it showed the old man has got some life in him yet.

Every time I hear the GOP harp on 'we're close to victory' and 'don't give up when victory is in our grasp' I think of some schmuck up to his eyeballs in gambling debt begging his bookie to take one more bet. Pathetic.

The guy with the 'Mavrick' (sic) sign was good for some laffs.

The balloons were pretty.

The pink protestors are my heroes.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Django 1 is coming, so get ready

You can consider Django for inclusion in the category of things that make your life easier instead of more difficult if you find yourself needing/wanting to do web development for some specific purpose, but you find web development with Java based frameworks tedious, and consider PHP hokey (or, if, like me you are a former Perl freak who is still pissed at PHP for stealing Perl's thunder).

For all its greatness, it's been avoided by many for reasons including:

  • It's not Java based
  • It's not ASP.NET
  • It's not Ruby on Rails
  • It's not PHP
  • The version number < 1.0
The final item in the list can be scratched off soon as 1.0 is apparently out next week (the alphas and betas have been around for a while now). If you are in Mountain View, there's a release party.

Now that the magic 1 number has been reached those wishing to join in the fun can find out what it's about via this tutorial wherein SOFENG builds a blog. You will want to know Python, of course. The Django Book is nicely laid out and organized. It's worth purchasing, and is also freely available on-line.

It's 'the web framework for perfectionists with deadlines' (tm). From my own admittedly limited exposure to it so far, what this means is:

  • It's pretty easy to learn
  • It provides a really nice built-in admin framework saving you from having to write the same code you've written a hundred times before one more time
  • You can get the basic outline of your app up and running quickly.
  • It's got a nice template system
  • It's got modules for doing things like adding RSS or Atom feeds for your site with such ease it oughta be against the law.
This blog post has been far too lopsidedly positive. I hate it when the Herald-Times Editor does that Orchids and Onions thing, but doesn't give out Onions. Onions to Comcast for our overpriced internet connection that keeps dropping out. Onions to humidity. Onions to people on the cell phone while driving. I feel better now.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Sad Sad Story of Zines are Dead

Before the internet and outside academia, zines were a way somewhat disaffected and alienated people of like minds found and communicated with each other. The letters section of Maximum Rock-n-Roll, featuring writers from all points on the intelligence continuum debating everything from is racism bad to should you eat meat was a precursor to the punky's punk forums on the Web today. In Maximum Rock-n-Roll's Letters section you could read both the insane ramblings of GG Allin and the very poorly spelled rants of Courtney Love. You could also get your letter published even if you were an absolute nobody.

As a grad student in ultra-religious South Carolina, I could ignore the pile of Chick Tracts in the Post Office on the way to fetch a zine full of detourned comics written by a guy in the UK that I found out about in FactSheet 5. At $1-$2 a shot, they were low-risk, but since they weren't completely free you had to take that risk, however small, and hope for the best. More often than not, there'd be a brief personal note from the zine's author in the envelope (as were sometimes found in orders from Dischord or K records).

Bloomington's best Bookstore, Boxcar Books (now at the new location next to the Runcible Spoon) has a good-sized zine collection, but if you look closely you'll notice many of the zines are a year or more old. I picked up a couple of zines and didn't notice this until I got home. It's not bad that they're old, but why aren't there enough new zines to fill the shelves?

It's the foul internet that's destroyed them. has helpful info about signs you have gonorrhea or other STDs. There are plenty of e-zines, but they aren't made of paper. If you read a story about strange shit happening on a long Greyhound Bus ride, like I found in an issue of Big Hands, it works a lot better on pieces of paper that have been folded together and stapled by hand than on my MacBookPro's glossy screen. It might work on a library computer's monitor, but the kids doing their damn MySpace and playing games hog those terminals. Damn kids.

The internet is everywhere now, except maybe parts of Mongolia. You could start and publish an e-zine from Antarctica. You could keep up with what's going on in the outside world from Greenland. In some ways you can't be disconnected at all in the ways that made people want to publish and read zines at one time.

Of course being out of it I have no idea how alive and vibrant today's zine scene really is. People are publishing zines about Ruby on Rails and their favorite podcasts. Hypermilers publish zines that share tips for using as little gas as possible. Disaffected but comfortable white youngsters put out Zines about Ron Paul. Or something.

Well, I'd best turn it over to the youngsters. Here are some jumping off points:

Action Girl Newsletter - How do you find zines? How do you make zines? Plus: a manifesto.

Portland Zine Symposium
- You've already missed this year's. Plan ahead for 2009. - nicely designed. professional. multi-lingual

sordidzine - no idea. from page 23 of the Google search 'zines'

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Talk to your Doctor about Leon Redbone

I missed a lot of work this week due to Lianard Bones, something I got in my ankles from excessive running. I had not run for a long time because of ennui and knee pains, also people would not leave me alone all day at work, so I could get nothing done, and I was overwhelmed and paralyzed by guilt at not getting anything done. I did not deserve burritos. I did not even deserve browned iceberg lettuce and Ranch dressing. I could possibly eat Jalepeno Cheet-os, but I would hate myself afterwards.

The past couple of weeks the temperature has been down below 80 again. My horrible peeling sunburns were gone and forgotten. So I went out at lunch and ran hard. It felt good. Better than watching baseball highlights on the elliptical. Better than riding the bike downhill and keeping a car behind me for a while. It felt hard enough that I felt like I was struggling all the way, and that was great. The truly great part was when I returned and had some water and sat down. I felt fully narcoticized. I wanted to feel that way forever and never stop. So I ran too much and I fucked my bones up. Getting old really sucks.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Why oh why does anybody ask Rob Enderle about anything?

I was enjoying this article about a grad student's plans for a $12 computer until the Rob Enderle quote showed up on page 2. His appearance in an article or the sound of his voice on a 'Marketplace' segment is the signal to stop reading or listening. This 2002 (2002!) posting from Dave Winer explains it as well as anything:

Michael Williams: "That guy has always struck me as all hat and no cattle. Drives me nuts to see him quoted as an 'expert.' I'd be shocked if he's ever installed anything more than Windows on a laptop or written any code other than pseudo in an e-mail."

John Robb: "The guy is a carpetbagger quotemill of the worst sort. Nobody ever called him on it until today."

Joe Rotello: "Why don't we just replace him with a large switch marked OFF, and be done with it."

Assembly-line journalism

Got a couple of emails from Enderle, unfortunately he doesn't want them on the Web. They were long. I would love to publish them. See how the mind of a quote mill works. 1300 quotes per year. I guess he counts. Anyway, he's not that interesting. I hope Cydney writes a piece about this. And I also hope she keeps developing sources who know what they're talking about and avoids assembly-line journalism.
Actually according to this JargonWatch article on workbench, Enderle was the original quote mill. He's the DJ Kool Herc of sloppy tech journalism. The first of his kind.

Seeing as the article mentioned earlier was from ABC, we can maybe understand some newbie journalist not doing any kind of homework and thinking Enderle is some kind of authority on something, but you'd think a tech type company like Dell would know better. No such luck.

In other news, Dell has hired moron-hack-hall-of-famer Rob Enderle of "the Enderle Group" (also known as Rob and his Wife) to consult on their sure-to-fail iPod+iTunes competitor. Man, they sure are getting taken for a ride by this idiot.


That's astonishing. Michael Dell must have a screw loose somewhere. It could be a good thing, though, in the sense that it might shut down the "Enderle Quote Mill" that consistently spews out the most incorrect propaganda the Interwebs have ever seen. Who's going to go to him now? If he's on the DELL payroll, how can he pretend to be objective in his "anal-ysis"?


Rob gained a bit of fame in the hysterical hyperbole arena for comparing Linux users to terrorists in this really awesome tour de force of bad writing and bad logic fusing together like 'Wonder Twin Powers, ACTIVATE!' - 'Pros, Priests, and Zealots: The 3 Faces Of Linux'.

When he's not being wrong about Linux, he's leaving his peers in the dust being wrong about Apple. His wikipedia article, as of this writing, credits him with

predicting the demise of the Macintosh more times since 1995 than any other industry observer.

Technology observer John Gruber has described Enderle's predictions on Apple as "nearly always completely wrong (at least regarding Apple), and that "the only way it would be worthwhile for tech reporters to continue to press Enderle for quotes would be if they were willing to describe him as “almost always utterly wrong”, thus letting readers know that the opposite of what he claims is probably the case"
In conclusion, if you are reading an article or listening to a segment, when the name 'Enderle' comes on, treat what follows with the same reverence and seriousness you would give to investment advice from a cracked-out Amy Winehouse.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Cussinest Bunch Of Cuss Ever

Do you ever wonder what happened to the cuss words that got edited out of Eazy-E's first album and NWA's 'Straight Outta Compton' to make the clean radio versions?

They ended up in this lovely mix featured recently on the Coffee2Go podcast from WFMU (featuring Noah). Noah typically focuses on unsigned artists and his show succeeds when I listen while running or otherwise cardio-izing.

The sad thing is when I listen to this it's pretty easy to tell which song is which even though all that remains are the naughty words.

In related news, according to oneplusyou's cuss-o-meter, 22.3% of the postings on this blog contain foul language.

Take the wordsofadvice4young people challenge: play the cussy cuss mix very loudly outside the theater showing the premiere of Ice Cube's next family-friendly movie and you will win a wordsofadvice4young t-shirt.

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?
Created by OnePlusYou - Free Dating Site

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Top 10 record companies in my collection thus far, acc to

Warner Bros / Wea|35
Elektra / Wea|26
Matador Records|25
Merge Records|19
Polygram Records|17
Geffen Records|16
Reprise / Wea|16

Top Artists:

Sonic Youth|14
Yo La Tengo|12
The Chemical Brothers|10
Steely Dan|8
Super Furry Animals|8
Miles Davis|7
Aphex Twin|6
David Bowie|6

Beastie Boys|5
Kate Bush|5
Massive Attack|5
Stevie Wonder|5
The Beatles|5

Aimee Mann|4
Depeche Mode|4
Herbie Hancock|4
Johnny Cash|4
Jonathan Richman|4
Os Mutantes|4
Talking Heads|4
The B-52's|4
The New Pornographers|4
The Orb|4
The Velvet Underground|4
Thelonious Monk|4

A Tribe Called Quest|3
Béla Fleck & The Flecktones|3
Caetano Veloso|3
Charles Mingus|3
Cypress Hill|3
DJ Shadow|3
Ghostface Killah|3
Giant Sand|3
Guided by Voices|3
James Brown|3
King Missile|3
LL Cool J|3
Neil Young|3
Peter Gabriel|3
Rage Against the Machine|3
The Clash|3
The English Beat|3
The Golden Palominos|3
The Who|3
Tom Waits|3
Trans Am|3

Bebel Gilberto|2
Beth Orton|2
Bustle and Out Up|2
Cibo Matto|2
Darren Emerson|2
David Byrne|2
Dead Can Dance|2
Drive Like Jehu|2
Galaxie 500|2
Howe Gelb|2
J Dilla|2
Jimi Hendrix|2
John Coltrane|2
Joy Division|2
Kruder & Dorfmeister|2
Leonard Cohen|2
Lori Carson|2
MF Doom|2
Martin & Wood Medeski|2
Mazzy Star|2
Medeski Martin & Wood|2
Mission of Burma|2
Missy Elliott|2
Missy Misdemeanor Elliott|2
Mouse on Mars|2
Nine Inch Nails|2
Ozric Tentacles|2
Peter Tosh|2
Public Enemy|2
Roots Manuva|2
Shudder to Think|2
Sisters of Mercy|2
Skinny Puppy|2
Squirrel Nut Zippers|2
Stephen Malkmus|2
The Art of Noise|2
The Breeders|2
The Flaming Lips|2
The Jimi Hendrix Experience|2
The Sex Pistols|2
The Shamen|2
The Undertones|2
Thievery Corporation|2
Transglobal Underground|2
Velocity Girl|2
Weather Report|2

Friday, August 01, 2008

Meme-o-rama - the best album from each year I've been alive so far

1970 - The Stooges: Funhouse
1971 - Os Mutantes : Jardim Electrico
1972 - David Bowie: The Rise and Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars
1973 - The Stooges: Raw Power
1974 - Steely Dan: Pretzel Logic
1975 - Steely Dan: Katy Lied
1976 - Boston: Boston
1977 - Talking Heads: Talking Heads '77 (sorry Punk Rock)
1978 - Devo: Q: Are we not men? A: We are Devo!
1979 - Talking Heads: Fear Of Music
1980 - David Bowie: Scary Monsters
1981 - Rush: Moving Pictures
1982 - Kate Bush: The Dreaming
1983 - ZZ Top: Eliminator
1984 - The Minutemen: Double Nickels On The Dime
1985 - Sonic Youth: Bad Moon Rising
1986 - This Mortal Coil: Filigree and Shadow
1987 - Sonic Youth: Sister
1988 - Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation
1989 - Galaxie 500: On Fire
1990 - The Breeders: Pod
1991 - Superchunk: No Pocky For Kitty
1992 - Pavement: Slanted and Enchanted
1993 - Underworld: dubnobasswithmyheadman
1994 - Portastatic: I Hope Your Heart Is Not Brittle
1995 - Tricky: Maxinquaye
1996 - Beck: Odelay
1997 - Radiohead: OK Computer
1998 - Belle and Sebastian: The Boy With The Arab Strap
1999 - MF Doom: Operation: Doomsday
2000 - Deltron 3030: Deltron 3030
2001 - Super Furry Animals : Rings Around The World
2002 - Sigur Ros: ()
2003 - Super Furry Animals : Phantom Power
2004 - Madvillain: Madvillainy
2005 - Deerhoof : The Runners Four
2006 - Jay Dee (J Dilla): Donuts
2007 - Aesop Rock : None Shall Pass
2008 - ?

That took longer than I thought it would...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Kids Are Alright: CS Enrollment Way Down at US Universities

As I said a couple of weeks ago (or months ago, maybe), while talking about how wonderful Python is, I wouldn't really recommend Java to American programmers, particularly young ones, since Java programming jobs are so easily outsourced.

In the article 'The 'Anti-Java' Professor and The Jobless Programmers" (lamest Disney movie EVAR), Robert Dewar talks about the concurrent trends of increasingly focusing on Java in the college CS curriculum, and the decreasing enrollment in CS programs. Colleges appear to be responding to the trend by dumbing down their courses as fast as they can (dive! dive!) with some notable exceptions like the ever-reliable M.I.T. and Carnegie-Mellon.

Says Dewar:

“Furthermore, Java is mainly used in Web applications that are mostly fairly trivial,” Dewar says, with his characteristic candor. “If all we do is train students to be able to do simple Web programming in Java, they won't get jobs, since those are the jobs that can be easily outsourced. What we need are software engineers who understand how to build complex systems.”

“By the way Java has almost no presence in such systems. At least as of a few months ago, there was not a single line of safety-critical Java flying in commercial or military aircraft. I recently talked to a customer who had a medium-sized application in Java, which was to be adapted to be part of a safety-critical avionics system. They immediately decided that this meant it would have to be recoded in a suitable language, probably either C or Ada.”

This is, as far as I can tell, all true. Even if, like late 90's early 00's me, you score one of these cushy Java jobs, the tedium of essentially pulling stuff out of a database, putting it on a web page, pulling back the user's responses, putting them in the database really wears thin after a year or two. Also sez Dewar:
In response (to declining enrollment), colleges have compromised – heavily – to attract students. “So two things: reducing requirements and getting rid of annoying math courses and things like that. And also trying to make courses ‘fun.’ I believe that computer science should be fun, but the fun should come out of solving problems – not making pretty pictures. That’s the danger, I think.”
I would say this is not particularly worrisome - kids avoiding CS programs of the candy-ass variety who don't particularly have much interest in the topic to begin with are exercising good judgment. Dewar does say there will always be jobs for the hard-core types that take this stuff seriously. The problem is more the candy-assedness of the programs and the whole business of pretending graduates who can work with Java web framework of the month X aren't going to be competing with somebody who'll do it for $3/hour.

Particularly brilliant and inventive youngsters probably mastered Java in their pre-teen years, like the dude at Borders the other day whose voice hadn't changed yet who was deciding which book to buy with his Dad. Kids like that should maybe skip CS altogether and check out one of the hard sciences. That's some real shit! You don't see Physics professors with the little tassels on their loafers shaking all the time because they're so nervous about 'ooh, what will the CEO of JoeBlowCo think of my lecture today?'

See, very very occasionally I actually do have handy advice for the youngsters.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Crowd-Sourced Comedy: The American Family Association Boycotts McDonald's for being too nice to gays, or something.

McDonald's recently drew the wrath of the American Family Association after making an announcement that they'd joing the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. From the 'Boycott McDonald's' website:
According to McDonald’s CEO Jim Skinner, McDonald's will aggressively promote the homosexual agenda. In remarks on McDonald's Web site concerning the company becoming a member of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), Skinner wrote: "Being a socially responsible organization is a fundamental part of who we are. We have an obligation to use our size and resources to make a difference in the world … and we do."
The comment page is a treasure trove of unintentional laffs.

Some fall under the category of accidental double entendres:

"because McDonald's had taken a stand to support the activist gay agenda that is destroying the core of family values in the U.S. we will take a stand to support McDonald's competitors such as In-n-Out and Chick fil-A."

"I and my family will be buyers at burger king.. You need to change your gay position.."

Several commenters claim to eat at McDonald's with alarming frequency:

"I WAS a twice a week "eater" at McDonald's. That has changed now. I will NOT eat there again and will not take my grandchildren there. Since you have such a hate for christians and those not supporting the homosexual agenda, I'm sure you wouldn't want to take my money any more."

"My family has supported your business for well over 25 years. We have been loyal customers eating at your establishments 4 times/week. It pains me to say, but, I now will take my business and hard-earned money elsewhere. As much as we have enjoyed the food over the years, we will not continue to do so because of your close-minded leadership. We are amazed that your leadership is taking this stand. Such ashame. You will be losing nothing just to be neutral on same sex marriages. Now you WILL lose.... customers. The loss of revenue is completely YOUR choice.

"It was bad enough having to keep my Spanish to English dictionary handy every time I pulled up to your drive-thru window (to the tune of about $1,000 per year). But this is the final straw (and I guess the final Big Mac) for me. Your blatant disregard for the strongly held moral values most Americans hold dear has cost you my business. Yes, Wendy's, I will have a Frosty with that."

"My husband & I are ministers and we are so ashamed that McDonalds would rather support the Homosexual Agenda than the American families that have enjoyed eating at Mc Donalds down through the years. We have up until recently ate at McDonalds three to four times a week. WE will we no longer eat at Mcdonalds. Revs Joe & Arlene Rohrbacker"

Amidst repeated insincere pleas that this isn't about hate or homophobia are sprinkled some comments by the Fred Phelps Faction:

I'm very sorry to here that McDonalds supports the gay agenda. It was a great American restaurant, good for the whole family. I can't believe that they would rather support the 2% that makes up the faggots and not the 98% of the normal people"

"I am thrugh with eating at McDonalds. Will not eat with your Mac Queers"

"It is sad that McDonald's is not FOR the nuclear family. Please put Ronald Mc Donald in the closet."

"McDonald I am a regular customer in your store but I will not be eating in your store any more because of your open support of gay. I am a christianand God says they are an Abolition and God will deal with them. joyce"

"McDonald's targets 2 year old children to blackmail their parents into bringing them to McDonald's, & has helped to undermine & destroy the family by turning meal time into "play time." Now "IT" wants to foist a "gay" time on all Americans. This is beyond "hatred." This is arrogance & contempt for even basic human dignity. No McBuggers for me."

This guy's really pissed. First McDonald's acknowledged the existence of black people, and now this:

"McDonald's first turned me off as a Father when they decided to turn their advertisements from the family to an "urban image". Now they have really disenfranchised me with this. Your promotion of "Gay activism", and the assistance of those who want to cram their idea of what is right down my throat is the best reason I can think of to no longer patronize your "facilities".

McDonald's better watch out, these people apparently have already destroyed Starbucks and Ford:

"I will tell all my friends about this. McDonalds isnt the only game in town. We did the same thing with Starbucks and look what happened to them. They are closing them by the hundreds."

No more big macs or fries. My kids grew up with mcdonalds but since you support the gay agenda we will no longer visit mcdonalds. Ask FORD if it was really worth it?"

"Since you have decide to support homosexually totally and their Sodom and Gomorrah life style. This has given me an extremely good reason to stop the purchase of any of your food items from McDonalds as of today. I also have a very active Blog site and I will post data about your support of the homosexual gay agenda."

I am sure the American Family Association will be boycotting my very inactive Blog site soon, but I will survive. And I'm willing to bet the next time I take my daughter to 'Old McDonald's' on a Sunday, I'll feel way underdressed and there'll be no place to sit because the after-church crowd will be out in force as usual. Little will they know they are eating with a heathen and his heathen spawn!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Northern Hemisphere is totally kicking the Southern Hemisphere's Ass in the Programming Language Department

Check it.

Australian techies remain neither abashed nor humbled.

Leaving out Ruby (Japan) was a pretty big oversight, though, I have to say.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

LinkedIn Shows Us How Right Chris Rock's Mom Was

When I was a kid, my mother would never give money to a white bum. She'd take one look at him and say, "No reason for that." -Chris Rock
When I was 29, I was a bundle of nerves, having just made the worst move of my career up to that point (and since). Motivated as much by personality conflicts and enmity toward a certain individual as for any other reason, I left an otherwise OK position with a super big (but still involved in interesting and new technology, like the then-flashy Java) company for a position doing C++ for a small company with an application originally developed in COBOL for mainframes (gigantic red light warning sign I didn't see).

It didn't take too long to figure out the buffoonery and bumblefuckery was out of control at this place. Shitty as all-get-out code slapped together by long-gone contractors, co-workers who couldn't spell C++ in some cases, and in other cases were competent but so bitter and painful to be around it was like being in some program length anti-depressant commercial - the place was a real disaster.

A colleague's buddy gave some helpful third-party perspective: we were a bunch of losers on the bullet train to career oblivion. We had to get out of there or we were fucked, if we weren't already fucked. We needed to learn to drive trucks or bartending or something (both are perfectly fine, respectable occupations. The point is, the software thing was OVER).

As it turns out, we had nothing to worry about! I ended up finding a job somewhere else, and things have been fine ever since. And now thanks to LinkedIn, I know everybody else landed on their feet too, unhindered by incompetence or general cluelessness. The company itself went down the toilet for all I know. I bailed out long before the last circle of the drain.

To protect the identities of these individuals so they can continue milking the corporate gravy train, and because I love the now-over MethMinute39, I've changed their names to names of the Wang Warriors. I changed the name of the company where we all worked to Smegmatix.


Who he was:
A QA guy with no formal education. He sometimes tried to show people his novel he'd written. He was buddies with Hammer U, the Al Capone/shark hybrid QA manager, and thanks to this connection Spicy was given a job as lead developer. He was not particularly good at it, and after following Hammer U to another job, he washed out in a few months.

Where is he now:
Development Lead at REDACTED

Did he list Smegmatix in his profile:

Shokai the Dentist

Who he was:
Sad sack programmer who was pretty sure the company was going down the tubes in a hurry. He was right, but was hard to be around since he never had anything good to say about anything or anyone. Prone to long meandering gripes about why do people get to be on welfare when my life is so horrible.

Where is he now:
Systems Analyst at REDACTED

Did he list Smegmatix in his LinkedIn profile?

Li'l Shizz

Who he was:
Contractor famous for 'cranking out code fast'. It showed, as his code was full of some of the sloppiest half-assed moves imaginable, with no discernable logic or structure evident. I mean doing things like having variables named Store1, Store2, Store3 instead of using arrays or lists - lame-itude of that magnitude. I never met him, but I really hated his guts. I only found out who he was by asking around. He didn't put his name in the comments for some reason.

Where he is now:
SW Developer at REDACTED

Did he list Smegmatix in his profile?

Soil O' Boyle

Who he was:
Another contractor. Wrote a true abomination of a 'Calculation Engine', which was a sort of interpreter for a proprietary language for the app. It was an example of how you'd write such a thing if, instead of spending maybe at the very least an afternoon researching how other such engines had been put together, you just sat down and started writing code to see what happened. He was the source of much of Shokai the Dentist's misery, because Shokai inherited his crapware. Often Shokai would be unable to fix a problem a customer was screaming very loudly about, and so Soil would be brought back in for a couple of days at $200/hr, and he'd fail to fix the problem, too.

Where Is he now:
Information Systems Manager at (Government Entity)

Does he list Smegmatix in his profile?

Li'l Man Tate

Who he was:
Manager of the developers. Kind of looked like a turtle, and kind of acted like one, too, hiding in his office all the time. We wrote weekly status reports for him. After a couple of weeks it was clear he never read them, so I'd write about the cartoon characters I'd collaborated with. Mr. Peabody was worth his weight in gold and a real team player.

Where is he now:
Business Analyst at REDACTED

Does he list Smegmatix in his profile?


Q: When did you work there?
A: Approximately 10 years ago. So these white dudes have a whole decade of coasting here.

Q: Are you white?
A: Yes, I add support to Mrs. Rock's hypothesis.

Q: Did you, SDC, list Smegmatix in your profile?
A: No.

Q: What's your Wang Warrior name?
A: General Tso

Friday, June 27, 2008

Blogging About Twitter Is Like Swimming About Bathing

It took me a long time, but I've finally got into Freebase. No, not that freebase, actually I mean Freebase, 'an open, shared database of the world's knowledge.' It's shares similarities with wikipedia and Google Base. What's cool about it (to me) is the query language. Would you like to give your daughter some examples of powerful women? Show her a list of Female CEOs of Public Companies in order of Market Cap. If it weren't one of the sample queries you can just click on, here's the query in Metaweb query language that would extract that info:
"query" : [
"employment_history" : [
"company" : {
"/business/company/market_capitalization" : [
"amount" : null
"/business/company/ticker_symbol" : [
"ticker_symbol" : null
"id" : null,
"name" : null
"title" : "Chief Executive Officer"
"hide:/common/topic/image" : [
"hide:gender" : "female",
"id" : null,
"name" : null,
"sort" : "",
"type" : "/people/person"


I'm not being facetious here, I think it's great that they're making an effort to semi-structure the web and make searching for info less of a crap-shoot. It's part of that whole semantic web thingy.

Anyhow, this might inspire your daughter, and she'll need that inspiration to deal with being taken away from you after she goes to school and tells people Daddy uses freebase.

I'm not being entirely facetious there, either. Naming the thing after the drug associated with Richard Pryor setting himself on fire and that scary scene in 'Boogie Nights' might make it difficult for Metaweb to reach Mr. and Mrs. Front Porch, as Guy Grand would call them. Anyhow, I respect what they're doing and this is one of those things where I'd be happy to be wrong.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Oh yeah. I forgot to include the proof.

Re: a couple entries ago, the one where I engaged in EWD worship, I mentioned a nifty proof in his essay but left it out.

It's a cool proof because: 1) it requires no knowledge of math 2) it requires no knowledge of chess 3) it makes his point about looking at a set as a whole rather than bit by bit.

To recap, say you remove the 2 squares on opposite corners of a chess board. Prove you can't cover the remaining board w/ 2x1 dominoes.

The proof: those squares will be the same color (see chessboard). So you'll have 30 white and 32 black sq. Or 32 black and 30 white. It's not important which, the important thing is there are an unequal # of black and white squares.

Every 2x1 domino will cover a black and white square. So if there's a covering, there will be exactly the same number of black and white squares covered. Only there isn't the same number of black and white squares, so you can't. QED.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Battle of the Bands: Backyardigans vs. Vampire Weekend

As a parent of a now 4 1/2 year old, I occasionally write about matters of interest to parents.

This week we discuss the very important matter of music for kids. Many then-new parents were driven insane by the musical stylings of Barney the purple dinosaur in the 1990s. Making music that appeals to the very young without driving parents to suicide or merely to the ill-advised actions culminating in the great American Housing Bubble and SubPrime mortgage collapse may seem like rocket science, but music is supposedly a universal thing, so why should that be so? My daughter thinks Steely Dan is OK - if, like me, she hears 'drink Scotch whiskey all night long and die behind the wheel', like I did many times in 70s when I was a kid and it doesn't bother her, where's the harm? Neither one of us really wants to listen to the Veggie Tales.

Like (I'm guessing) a lot of parents I breathed a bit of a sigh of relief on discovering the music of The Backyardigans (musical director Evan Lurie - brother of fellow Lounge Lizard and star of 'Fishing with John' John Lurie). While the high-pitched voices take a bit of getting used to at first, they navigate from genre to genre with ease, not embarassing themselves like your friend in college whose band did a reggae song to show how down he was with black people, but is now an executive at a Fortune 500 firm who got embarrassed on 60 Minutes a couple years ago because he made those jokes about black jelly beans getting stuck to the bottom of the bowl.

Unsurprisingly my favorite track is the samba-esque 'Castaways', although I also really like 'Into The Thick Of It', which I'm not sure what genre it's supposed to be. It features a lot of strings, but not in a little Einsteins 'open wide, kids, we're gonna cram some classical music down your throat now' way. My daughter likes (surprise, surprise) Lady Tasha's 20's-ish 'Queens Are Never Wrong' and (somewhat surprising, but not really) - the mid-80's pre-gangsta hip hop of 'Cowboys Cowgirls' with some sweet singing in the mix by (I think) Tasha. Also a worthy effort is the very James Brown influenced 'Yeti Stomp' by Pablo, who shows beanie-wearing computer-generated penguins are much more adept at doing the James Brown thing than drunk white guys who want to be funky. 'Hear my Yeti yell/smell my yeti smell' is good for some laughs, too.

Vampire Weekend also throw some strings into the mix, in fact, some of their more moronic fans have been heard comparing them to 'the Strokes with Strings' a statement so stupid it nearly gives me a stroke with or without strings. Vampire Weekend are not morons - in a recent article about bands and their SAT averages, VW had one of the top scores. VW also make an effort to mix it up musically, with the aforementioned strings, and influences ranging from reggaeton (we are told, but I don't know reggaeton well enough to spot it) to South African 'township jive' (or possibly, Paul Simon's 'Graceland', which nobody could miss hearing for a couple years in the late 80s).

Vampire Weekend has some youthful, kid friendly vocals, and the lyrics - well, 'who gives a fuck about an Oxford Comma' isn't going to win them a gig scoring the next VeggieTales movie, but it's not showing an appallingly casual attitude about drunk driving ('drink driving' for my Irish readers) either. But they don't really stretch out and take the musical risks the Backyardigans do, and their popularity among very slow-witted hipsters (oh yeah - another reviewer called their album 'the 2008 version of 'Graceland'') is troubling. The Backyardigans seem to straddle the gap between parental and kid musical sensibilities much more skillfully, so in conclusion as helpful advice to other parents out there we will take the bold stand of recommending the Backyardigans over Vampire Weekend to those seeking music for the youngsters.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Statistics tells us what this blog is about

Hidden in the Google App Engine App Gallery among the me-too twitter-based apps and variants on 'save something so I can read it later' (I use Firefox plug-in Readeroo) is the glamorously named app 'Statistically Improbable Phrases'. Give it a URL, play with some sliders, and you're rewarded for your minutes of effort with a nifty tagcloud:

It seems a pretty accurate representation of what this blog's about. Notice there's love in there, but not love's opposite. I'm so positive and upbeat. Nice work Anand, whoever you are.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Radical Novelty - Edsger Dijkstra and what might have been

Edsger Dijkstra is known for his many contributions to computer science, including but not limited to the algorithm named after him, structured programming, and the shunting yard algorithm. He's also famous for his ninny-eviscerating essays like 'Go To Statement Considered Harmful' (1968) and 1975's even more wonderfully titled 'How Do We Tell The Truths That Hurt?' (there are likely many country and western songs that share this title), which contains such deathless truths as these:
  • Programming is one of the most difficult branches of applied mathematics; the poorer mathematicians had better remain pure mathematicians.
  • It is practically impossible to teach good programming to students that have had a prior exposure to BASIC: as potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration.
  • The use of COBOL cripples the mind; its teaching should, therefore, be regarded as a criminal offence.
  • Projects promoting programming in "natural language" are intrinsically doomed to fail.
Sadly, apparently nobody listened to him at all. Neither did anyone apparently listen to what he had to say in the equally brilliant 'On the cruelty of really teaching computer science', a 29-page manifesto whose words resonate so strongly with me 20 years later that I'm simultaneously thrilled and nauseated. Thrilled that somebody so brilliant would express ideas and attitudes similar to what's been boiling beneath my own impassive surface for years, nauseated by my tendency to go with the flow and firmly entrench myself as part of the problem. So what does he say? Well, for starters, he discusses the idea of a 'radical novelty', something that turns the world upside down and destroys the established order. In this case he's talking about computers. Dijkstra says when confronted with radical novelties we try to come up with analogies and metaphors to describe them in terms of our experience, but that in the case of a sharp discontinuity (a radical novelty) this approach is useless. The comparison he draws is to learning about quantum mechanics, a mind-fuck of an experience where thinking about Bobby and Suzy on a see-saw isn't going to do you a damn bit of good anymore. He then goes on to recount the suppression of and resistance to radical novelties throughout history: math's Michael Jordan, C.F. Gauss, is labeled a coward for keeping his discovery of non-Euclidean geometry to himself, fearing he'd get the Galileo treatment. He also recalls the story of King Ferdinand's visit to the conservative University of Cervena, where the King is assured by the Rector:
"Far be from us, Sire, the dangerous novelty of thinking."
Software Engineering comes under fire shortly after this. Though I've used the term (go with the flow), I've known real Engineers and what they do, and have considered it a bit of a joke myself (like calling a janitor a 'Sanitation Engineer'). Steve Ballmer and Microsoft side-step the controversy, preferring 'Developers'. Dijkstra's take:
Software engineering, of course, presents itself as another worthy cause, but that is eyewash: if you carefully read its literature and analyse what its devotees actually do, you will discover that software engineering has accepted as its charter "How to program if you cannot."
(It's funny because it's true.) Dijkstra then tells the truths that hurt about Artificial Intelligence:

Finally, to correct the possible impression that the inability to face radical novelty is confined to the industrial world, let me offer you an explanation of the --at least American-- popularity of Artificial Intelligence. One would expect people to feel threatened by the "giant brains or machines that think". In fact, the frightening computer becomes less frightening if it is used only to simulate a familiar noncomputer. I am sure that this explanation will remain controversial for quite some time, for Artificial Intelligence as mimicking the human mind prefers to view itself as at the front line, whereas my explanation relegates it to the rearguard. (The effort of using machines to mimic the human mind has always struck me as rather silly: I'd rather use them to mimic something better.)

So by this point Dijkstra has laid out that we have something completely new and incredibly powerful at hand, but by refusing to recognize it as such, we're blowing it, big time. Further, our efforts to get our heads around it by relying on analogies and metaphors are misguided at best, damaging at worst. As I look at my 'Desktop' and see icons representing 'Folders', I can see what he's talking about (but maybe I'm just too much of a die-hard command line UNIX guy). Since the essay promises something about teaching computer science being cruel, we are by this time wondering when Dijkstra will get around to that, and finally he does. He blasts traditional academia for buckling under the business elite, who dismiss traditional academics and intellectuals as largely irrelevant and powerless. He again rejects 'this guy talks to that guy' anthropomorphism of computers and presents a cool proof of the theorem that if you remove the two corner squares of a chessboard, it's impossible to cover what remains with dominoes that each cover two squares. Most would be tempted to use the fast and powerful computer to stupidly run thru all the permutations, Dijkstra shows that by thinking in terms of a set's definition (mathematical type thinking) instead of in terms of individual elements (brute force) - you can derive the answer much more quickly, just using your little brain. More importantly, the idea is if you think that way and try to approach the radical novelty that is the computer using ideas and thought processes from formal mathematics, you will see much better results than if you try to program a computer by connecting cartoonish machine icons to each other inside your IDE. What's funny to me (and I guess I'm alone here, I've really run on long I know, but this essay has been running through my mind all week now) is Dijkstra's proposed 'appropriate way to teach computer science' essentially involves teaching formal mathematics and providing a programming language that 'has not been implemented on campus so that students are protected from the temptation to test their programs'. Radical indeed, but familiar in concept to the math geeks out there. Sadly, today the focus and method is as far from Dijkstra's vision as it could possibly be. The focus is on teaching languages used in industry, with non-industry languages like Scheme used in some programs regarded as hoops to jump through and hazing to suffer through. Throughout the industry there's a profound dearth of imagination, a slog-through-it mentality, misplaced pride in taking what little one has bothered to learn to absurd extremes rather than to step back and think of a better, maybe even simpler, way. It's too bad, really, because in the words of the man himself:
Teaching to unsuspecting youngsters the effective use of formal methods is one of the joys of life because it is so extremely rewarding. Within a few months, they find their way in a new world with a justified degree of confidence that is radically novel for them; within a few months, their concept of intellectual culture has acquired a radically novel dimension. To my taste and style, that is what education is about. Universities should not be afraid of teaching radical novelties; on the contrary, it is their calling to welcome the opportunity to do so. Their willingness to do so is our main safeguard against dictatorships, be they of the proletariat, of the scientific establishment, or of the corporate elite.
So there you have it. Edsger W. Dijkstra is my lunatic fringe preacher, and I'm going to keep going to his church, consequences be damned!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

OK Kid, Get Off The Couch and Learn iMovie Already

Clay Shirky spoke recently about something I have pondered - the tragic waste of mental energy that's sunk into TV watching. Rather than suggest Nuremburg-type Trials for TV producers, as I did, Mr. Shirky has a much brighter and optimistic outlook, predicting a future where the people who once sat on the couch watching TV get out into the world (or onto the internet, more or less the same thing) and start producing something. We will finally take advantage of what Clay calls a 'cognitive surplus'. Coincidentally, Clay has a book out, 'Here Comes Everybody'.

Clay concludes with a story about a 4-yr-old watching Dora The Explora who, in the middle of the show, gets up and starts 'looking for the mouse'. Sez Clay:
"Here's something four-year-olds know: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken. Here's something four-year-olds know: Media that's targeted at you but doesn't include you may not be worth sitting still for. Those are things that make me believe that this is a one-way change. Because four year olds, the people who are soaking most deeply in the current environment, who won't have to go through the trauma that I have to go through of trying to unlearn a childhood spent watching Gilligan's Island, they just assume that media includes consuming, producing and sharing."
I like Clay's ideas, and I hope he's right (love his hair, hope he wins), but as somebody who caught more than enough of a 'My Little Pony' DVD recently, I'm not sure the 4-yr-olds have totally broken free of the cathode-ray chains. Perhaps I am shirking (ow!) my responsibilities as a parent letting her watch that show, but maybe I'm trapped, paralyzed even, trying to keep up with the feeds on my RSS reader (Google Reader), or emails from work, or whatever (you can't blame the blog, though - I only write here when she's asleep or somewhere else).

Further, though I've enjoyed my iPod and am on board with the goodness podcasting brings, I had a disturbing thought recently. If you're on the phone, talking to somebody, listening to music or podcasts or whatever from the minute you get out of bed until you lose consciousness, how would you even know if there were voices in your head? When would they get a word in?

The situation is still undeniably better than it was 50 years ago. For one thing, 50 years ago I did not even exist. There was no MF Doom, or even Ghostface Killah, and yogurt was still disgusting and fit for consumption only by Greenlanders living in the 1300s. Today the potential is there to do many a worthwhile or interesting or at least participatory or engaging thing (as Shirky points out, the biggest loser sitting in his basement in his underwear pretending to be an elf is still exercising better judgement about what to do with his free time than the middle manager sitting on a really nice couch watching 'The Biggest Loser'.) Even writing this entry which nobody is gonna read or firing off <140 character 'tweets' that scroll up a couple of follower's twitterific windows is better than sitting in a chair smoking a pipe or whatever it was Mr. Cleaver did between dinner and hopping into his twin bed next to June's twin bed. It's just that sometimes I feel overwhelmed by choice. Maybe televised trials of sweating big-media executives would ease the pain a bit and provide a nice distraction for all us poor schlubs after all.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

I was in Vermont this past week

(written whilst internetless)

We ran into that 'Rambo' guy, he had one tooth and a bushy beard and a very sad story from 'nam - he had been told to stay in the tent that night and not go anywhere, but he disobeyed and went in search of a 'piece of tail'. When he came back - you know what's coming - everyone was gone, they had been attacked and killed (I feel bad for the gut reaction of wanting to go on Snopes to check out his story, but there you have it).

Today he was more interested in reminiscing about the spring day in 1968 when there was a big snow fall, so he ditched school to go snowmobiling. Spring of 1968 - the Prague Spring, the student uprisings in Paris, Vietnam, the White Album, and snowmobiling.

This was followed by a visit to the Vermont Country Store, a delightful place full of penny candy for eight hundred and ninety-five pennies a pound, practical and not so practical clothes, all sorts of gag type gifts (joy buzzer, butterfly that flies out of a book when opened, etc)
, and now a vibrator/kegel exerciser section. That and some great cheese, too. Across the street there's another store, where I bought some 'coffee soda' from a micro-soda-brewery in Vermont. It was kind of odd, I'm not sure I'd do it again. The woman behid the counter gave it a similar review.

I haven't had internet access all day, and haven't given a fuck about it. I guess I'll have to wait to see what sort of cleverness people are coming up with on Twitter and there's a hope in hell I'll read some books instead of RSS feeds. Fuck you Vint Cerf, fuck you Larry Page, fuck you Sergey Brin, and facebook guy, you rate an F and I'm not spending any more energy on you. I'd just as soon not go back. You hear me? I said I'm not going back. To the internet I mean. I wouldn't last a month here in rural Vermont. I have callous-free hands and thirty-seven years of avoiding physical type labor. Too late to kid myself about going 'off the grid'. I'd last a few hours, tops. People think Vermont is all lattes and liberals since that commercial with the old bitter constipated Republicans griping about Howard Dean, but it's not like that at all.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Recommending Free Stuff since we have that Recession going

I am recommending free stuff not only because of the Recession, but also because too much of human interaction (esp. on the internet) is about 'oh hey, I bought this'. 'You bought that? Cool'. 'I'm gonna buy this other thing.' As I type this on my MacBook Pro, I realize I'm as guilty of this as anyone.

The flip side (the Jedi side, the punk rock before 1991 side, the Jesus before Fallwell got into him side) of the Internet is that largely it is about free shit. Not just free music, but free (as in beer and in speech) software, like Linux and all the Gnu stuff and Firefox and this NodeBox thing I've been playing w/ lately, which is Mac-only (ha!). It embeds Python in a self-contained app you can use to experiment w/ generating 2D graphics and perhaps even simple games. Fun for the would be hyperformalists out there. Start with 2d, then make the leap to 3.

Freebie #2 comes to us from Brazil, and it's the Loronix blog. It took a beating at the hands of pranksters/hackers/the RIAA recently, but zecalouro's rebuilding it. It's a good place to hear music outside of the well-known Caetano Veloso/Gilberto Gil/Joao Gilberto/etc circle, as he makes available music that you could otherwise only hear if you know a Brazilian person with a record player and a good record collection.

Item #3 is the Podcast The Sound Of Young America at The name is a bit misleading as it's not a Youth Radio type deal where the oldest person involved in the production is still in high school (not that there's anything wrong with that - Youth Radio on WFHB is great), rather it's America's Radio Sweetheart Jesse Thorn interviewing a good mix of people I've heard of (Patton Oswalt, Upright Citizen's Brigade, Steven Wright, Colin Hay aka the singer from Men at Work, 2 guys from The Wire, etc) and people I had never heard of (The hosts of '7 second delay', Dan Deacon, etc) previously, but am glad that I now have. It is consistently good and hopefully Jesse achieves radio domination much like Ira Glass before him.

Items #4 and #5 are Frederator and its retro counterpart, re-Frederator.

Frederator hosts the series 'Meth Minute39' by animator Dan Meth, which has provided the world with such gems as 'Mike Tyson's Brunch-Out!', 'The Wang Warriors', and the classic mixture of real watermelon footage and unbelievably catchy music that is 'Watermelon Nights'. The weekly podcast compiles collections of cartoons by various artists, and is a mixed bag, but worth subscribing to for animation fans. If you are an eggplant, you wouldn't dig it, man.

Re-Frederator also puts out a podcast, this one focusing on very old cartoons, as in cartoons from the 30's and 40's. My daughter and I have bonded over the antics of Ub Iwerks' 'Flip The Frog' and have found that Little Lulu's 'Bargain Counter Attack' still works for 4-year-old girls in 2008, who have been brought up watching the likes of Dora, Bob The Builder, and the Backyardigans (who IMHO are far superior to Dora and Bob).

Re-Frederator doesn't whitewash (ha.) the past, and has featured old cartoons with stereotypes and attitudes from the 30s and 40s, including 'Plane Dumb' and 'Little Black Sambo'. These are interesting to watch now, although with people like Imus and Michael 'He's a N*****! He's a N******!' Richards running around, we probably can't look down on how it was in grandpa or great grandpa's day as much as we'd like. On the other hand, it is true they didn't have the Internet back then, and that really had to suck.

The End!

Be back hopefully in less than several weeks!