log (2000/03/10 to 2000/03/16)

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Thursday, March 16, 2000

Meta-meta: latest pointers from Phil Agre's RRE (computing and society, privacy, education, etc); The Parking Lot is Full (a twisted comic strip, true, but I'm sending you there for the recently-updated "recommended readings" page; lots of worthwhile links to follow); Ethel the Blog (rambles on about interesting stuff about like I do, but has the sense not to update as often).

Forget about the year 2000, we still live in 1703 (translated from the German). A conspiracy theory I hadn't heard before; apparently almost 300 years were surrepitiously added to the date some time in the seventh century. Cool! (from psychoceramics, via a chain of forwarders)

The Gallery of Regrettable Food (from at least two different sources; this one seems to be making the rounds). Bad food ideas from the past, with period illustrations!

SAM'S BEET 'N' BACON SANDWICH: Drain pickled beets (with or without onions) and chop fine. Spread on slices of enriched bread that have been spread with butter or margarine. Top with crisply fried Swift's Premium Bacon slices.

It's food like this that makes eating a habit!

Interesting thoughts: "calm technology" (from the RRE pointers above, and at least one other list)

Playing God: everyone who's ever loved Myst or Riven has dreamed of ginning up their own incredible worlds (or at least gorgeously rendered snapshots of them). Turns out that people all over the Net are starting to do just that. Maybe everyone but me already knows about MetaCreations' "Bryce"; I just discovered it while being impressed by the (sometimes quite Riven-like) renderings in the galleries of Calyxa's Pearl. The Bryce product page is pretty boring (you'd think that a page about a program that produces amazing graphics would contain an amazing graphic or two, eh?), but there are whole online galleries posted and maintained by users and fans of the program.

I'm sure it's hard to create the really fancy images that make it into the Judged Galleries. On the other hand, it's really trivial to produce less awe-inspring but still way-cool ones. I downloaded the 19MB demo (it's missing a few features, and puts an obvious MetaCreations watermark all over images that it generates), and made your typical "enigmatic Mystian island" in about five minutes (and another five minutes or so final rendering time). Click on the thumbnail to the left there for the 50K jpeg.

Should I spend US$200 to get a program that would probably consume what little free time I have left, and possibly ruin my life entirely? Probably not.   *8)

Queued for future logs: Wikis and validation, and the next chapter of "readers type the darnest things". For early warning, and things that don't quite make it into the main log, see of course gLog and openlog; both places that I stash stuff that I might get back to later. (You can stash stuff in them too, if you want!)

Wednesday, March 15, 2000

Attribution: that nice toaster graphic in the left margin yesterday is from here. I suppose I'm confessing to a copyright infringement here, although I can't actually tell if I've grabbed a copy of the actual image they're selling, or just a little sketch or thumbnail that they're using to sell the real image.

Happiness: sitting by someone you love, listening for that soft change in breathing that means sleep.

We're trying to get the little boy to sleep reliably in his own bed (rather than in a sleeping bag on the floor of our bedroom). Going pretty well so far, touch wood. I have very fond memories of hours spent sitting on the couch in the little daughter's room, with a laptop or a book (and book-light), waiting for her to go to sleep. Sometimes I'd fall asleep myself, and M would eventually tiptoe in and wake me up.

Prediction is very hard, especially when it's about the future (Yogi Berra). For the little girl's something interesting the other night, I told her about how amazing her real-time stereo-music 3D version of Frogger would have seemed to someone twenty years ago, and asked her to think about things that might happen twenty years from now that'd be equally amazing to her. She suggested a truly immersive interface ("a room that you could go into and be in the program" is roughly what she said). A pretty good first cut, I think!   *8)

So at lunch here at the Lab, we talked about what sorts of things will happen that would be amazing to us now, in the sense that they'll change fundamental things, or that we can't really see from here how they're going to work. Not necessarily in twenty years, but sometime surprisingly soon. My two favorites are:

  • It will become impossible, or at least very very rare, to lose anything. (Because the things tell us where they are, or because the dust tells us where things are, or because there aren't "things" anymore; who knows?)
  • Closer in, it will be possible for something the size of a pen to do video output over an area that has at least the same subjective size as a modern laptop display (via projection onto your eyeglasses, directly onto the retina, magic holograms, who knows?)

A reader writes:

"Toasted Cheese" always reminds me of Big Gay Al from South Park, which in turn reminds me of something I only recently learned is not a universal cliché - the old joke about gay people getting a free toaster oven when they "recruit" someone... I've been surprised lately at having to explain the expression "getting a toaster oven" to people - as in, "No one's gotten a toaster oven off me, yet." Now admit it, Chess, there are about 4 people who ever respond to these things, and that's why you keep quoting me. Right? Or am I really that special?

Beats me!   *8)   I try to ignore the hostnames from which people fill in my forms, so I dunno how many of you there are. Mebbe every single reader I quote is the same person! I doubt it, though. You're all too idiosyncratic for that. (Idiosyncracy rules OK!)

The best SF writer of the XXth Centurty is L. Ron Hubbard! Har har har har har har har har har. Web challenge of the day: find plausible evidence of the connection between the "American Book Readers Association" and the Church of Scientology.

One more comic link: Sequential Tart (cited on randomwalks). Like the links yesterday, this is more an "industry news" sort of site than a "theory of sequential art" site; anyone who knows of any of the latter, please send it in!

Tuesday, March 14, 2000

The empty hills and the cool brown earth
  have their own slow poetry

-- from Proper Lyrics

Having put (very briefly!) some of my internal lyrics onto Metababy, I decided it'd be fun to type in more of them; see Proper Lyrics for some more. I used to write poetry reasonably often, but my grown-up self seems to have mostly stopped. We should teach poetry, and drawing, roughly as thoroughly as we teach mathematics.

Things Readers Kiss! Very few things, actually; c'mon, don't be shy! One "that would be telling". One "I kiss nothing", which is kind of transcendant, eh?

In kissing nothing,
I kiss the ten thousand things.
The grass is snoring.

"My large Peruvian bug encased in glass" was one of the very few substantive entries; thanks for that insight! "Wait, wait, I know: Soda cans!" is a good answer to the riddle. And finally (at least for today): "I don't kiss inanimate objects anymore. I used to. I should more often. The people that I'd like to kiss are all far away right now. I have a mouth full of kisses and nowhere to put them." Kinda sad; hope they get closer soon!

Eccentric today, aren't we? One reader wrote, in yesterday's "Toasted Cheese?" box:

Just tried it. My toaster caught fire after a few seconds and now, after liberal doses of water (and unplugging it when that caused even worse problems), the toaster is full of some new material that is at least as hard as epoxy and smells like old socks. I am suing this web site.

I think that's silly, don't you? I mean, really!

Some recent links:

The latter three links are all from LarkFarm, which has been very good lately; go give Mike a look.

Monday, March 13, 2000

"Dirk: the fundamental interconnectedness of all things", at interconnected.org.

Brother is connected to Bassoon because some brothers torture their older sisters by playing the bassoon

More comic links: Psylum, Inc. runs Psycomic.com (about American comics) and Psymanga.com (about English and translated manga). Some good information there.

Spinning a variation on the element toy, here's another:

www. .com

The story about the Ohio mother indicted for taking bathtime pictures of her daughter that I covered the other day and that sparked an informative thread in Mouth Organ has had more Web coverage than I realized (I must have searched badly the first time). The case was mentioned briefly in this Salon article, and covered extensively in this piece in The Nation in 1999. See also this brief AP story, this feature in ArtStar, this Ohio Chronicle-Telegram piece (Google cache-copy), and this item in the newsletter of an Ohio nudist group. This page on a local county website suggests a strong distinction, and a certain amount of distrust, between "liberal" Oberlin and its neighbooring communities; ouch.

Perhaps most interesting, though, is this online copy of the docket sheet for the case in Lorain County court. The trial itself has apparently been postponed until some time in May. All my recent reading reinforces my impression that this is a prosecutor with a screw loose, not a sinister case of child-exploitation in suburbia. How do we fix this?

On a lighter note, Nomic! I remind players again of Rules 86 and 99: there were an unusual number of attempted moves this quantum that failed to be Valid Moves either because they lacked a "g", or because their associated integer was either even or prime.

I'm also ignoring a couple of suggestions that would require the Scribe, or the entire universe, to say various things or use various forms of address in various conditions, as being a bit too sweeping; and I'm ignoring one suggestion that identified the Rule to be amended only by number, when there are in fact two Rules with the given number (Rule 2 requires that the suggested change be expressed unambiguously).

After that winnowing, I have only one move to Apply at this time!

proposal = Amend rule 666 to say 'deducted' rather than 'deduced' which makes a little more sense. "Ah, ha, David my old mate, from that I deduce you have 20 points"
name = gerph
integer = 789

Now the only "g" in this Valid Move is the first letter of the Name, but I see no reason that should not satisfy Rule 86. gerph is now tied with Hillary Clinton for second place!   *8)

Tomorrow: Things readers kiss. (There's still time to make your voice heard!)

Sunday, March 12, 2000

What would happen if you made the cheese sauce with chocolate milk?


  • Truth
  • Beauty

  • True things
  • False things
  • False things that remind you of truths
  • True things that remind you of falsehoods

  • Almost-true things
  • Trivially-true things
  • Things so false they might as well be true

  • Beautiful things
  • Ugly things
  • Beautiful things that make you think of ugliness
  • Ugly things that remind you of beauty
  • Things so lovely they repel you
  • Things so ugly they fascinate

  • False descriptions of beauty
  • True descriptions of ugliness
  • True stories
  • False stories
  • Lovely stories
  • Horrible stories

  • Things to which truth and beauty are irrelevant
  • Things that somehow transcend both truth and beauty, falsehood and ugliness, while still partaking strongly of their essences, filling the world with meaning

  • Beautiful Lies
  • Ugly Truths
  • Ugly Lies
  • Beautiful Truths

What inanimate object(s) do you most often kiss?

Saturday, March 11, 2000

Dane Carlson ferreted around on the Reason Magazine website, and was kind enough to forward the URL of the Norman Borlaug interview I cited yesterday: Reason Interview with Norman Borlaug.

It's worth a read. The little daughter's something interesting last night was about Norman Borlaug, and how a small number of clever people working on something really important can save millions of lives.

From Matt and Laura Copel, a recent cool MIT hack: the Great Droid. Nice to know the Spirit Still Lives (when's IAP 2000?).

Rebel hackers, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Institvte.

I know you're all itching to hear what the readers think of the readability of this log! (Do take the survey if you haven't already; I'm still taking them.) Here are the results so far (open the pulldowns for the numbers). [N is 33, which I figure means I have between sixty and a couple of hundred regular readers (I should really verify that from the server logs sometime; it'd be interesting to know the response rate for the survey).]

I'm reading this on using . Design-wise, this log is Oh, and the text "responses greatly appreciated" appear in a funny "brush" font.

Interesting that no one is using a textual browser like Lynx. The readability curve humps nicely over "perfectly OK." Both of the "somewhat painful to read" responses were from Mac users (although the other three Mac users all said "perfectly OK"). I'll be reading through the comments also to see if they suggest any interesting changes. Fortunately, though, I'm not like trying to sell anything here, so I don't have to be totally devoted to getting every last reader to come back daily! I suspect my most regular readers are a few sigmas away from various means in any case

Oh, and Ian says I can put his answers to the questions online also, so here they are. Odd fellow, Ian; fits right in...

Friday, March 10, 2000

Newly-discovered Weblog of the day: lorem ipsum. It's from the UK, it has a clever name: what more could one ask?

(What does "lorem ipsum dolor" mean?)

Naughty story of the day: Tommy Allen and the Intergalactic Cavern of Doom.

"Mercy," I gasped, "Mercy!" I could feel my insides liquifying already at her touch. Magnficent mouth pursed, she stood for a moment, considering my pleas.

"What do you think, Princess?" she asked over her shoulder. But the erstwhile Goon Princess had already pardoned the brave Captain Tom, and the two of them were rolling sociably on the floor, tickling each other and giggling.

The latest Reason Magazine (whose content isn't on their website yet) has a very interesting interview with Norman Borlaug about food and biotechnology. Who's Norman Borlaug, you say? I'd never heard of him until yesterday, either. See this piece in The Atlantic: Forgotten Benefactor of Humanity.

Perhaps more than anyone else, Borlaug is responsible for the fact that throughout the postwar era, except in sub-Saharan Africa, global food production has expanded faster than the human population, averting the mass starvations that were widely predicted -- for example, in the 1967 best seller Famine -- 1975! The form of agriculture that Borlaug preaches may have prevented a billion deaths.

And on a related note, Nobel Prize Winners Endorse Agricultural Biotechnology

On the speakers: What Alanis wants you to hear.

New York City: nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to be arrested there. Arresting the Innocent / Giuliani Justice.

The New York City seal should be amended to include: "The Presumption of Innocence Stops Here."

Odd site of the day: The Evangelical Adventures of Minerva Walker. I have no comment at this time. (from Nubbin)

Metacubed thinks he's so very meta, with his "brief guide to lists of weblogs". But I have a list of lists of lists of weblogs!

Who will watch the watcher watchers?

Today's brief obsession: for some reason I suddenly wanted to produce ASCII art from images. I wrote this:

use GD(); # and use strict, and my's and stuff

my $c = "@%&MakdqmOQCUXcuxt\(1}]-+<il;^' ";

my $im1 = newFromGif GD::Image(STDIN) or die;
my ($w,$h) = $im1->getBounds();

for ($x=0;$x<$h;$x++) {
  print STDERR "$x of $h\n";
  for ($y=0;$y<$w;$y++) {
    $thiscol = $im1->getPixel($y,$x);
    ($r,$g,$b) = $im1->rgb($thiscol);
    $val = (($r + $g + $b) * 31 ) / (255+255+255) ;
    print substr($c,31-$val,1);
  print "\n";

and, as anyone who's ever played with this concept is now thinking, the result was horrible (I couldn't make even one worth posting). I suspect it's subtler than the probably-poor choices of how many and which characters to use (I cribbed a set off of some ASCII-art tutorial page, and then cut them down to 32).

Turns out there's a whole field of ASCII art, including the alt.ascii-art newsgroup, and innumerable Web pages. The kind of simple conversion I'm trying to do is of course looked down upon by true ASCII artists; it's called "gifscii", and although there's quite a bit of information floating around on the Web, I rather quickly got the idea that it's non-trivial, and I should probably not put too many hours into it.

It actually occurs to me that apathy probably knows all about this, as he's an ASCII ace. Mebbe I'll write him...

Remember! If you answer yesterday's questions, you're supposed to send me a copy. (Or at least send me the URL...) Jessamyn and Ian have already been good.   *8)

On the speakers now: AirWaves India.


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