Strange Brouhaha

Monday, January 30, 2006

Here's a joke to tell all your friends

I heard this joke I-do-not-recall-where. I find it funny.

Delivery is very important for this one. When delivering the punch line, you need to shrug a little and give a little moue. Okay, here goes.

Q: How many dull people does it take to change a light bulb?

A: One.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Is THAT what it's supposed to look like?

Our television machine has been on the fritz recently. The symptoms included heavy static on the vast majority of channels, and varying amounts of interference on the ones that weren't cut out completely. Since the Most Important Channels were not that bad (Disney, Toon Disney, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network) I was kind of dragging my feet. Sure, we were missing NBC (no Law and Order, Tonight Show or SNL!), but it's not like I needed to watch TV.

It got a lot worse in the last couple of days, though. Combine that with a report that there's been some rabbitular activity near the spot where the cable comes into the house and you have trouble. I went out to inspect it, and sure enough, there was about an inch of insulation chewed right off the coax connection.

The cable guy came yesterday and fixed everything up, splicing the cable and putting in a junction box on the outside of our house. (His comment: "Now, unless that rabbit can jump two and a half feet in the air and open this box, it should be okay.") It's been so long since we've seen a clear picture that I've been cycling through the channels with no clear aim other than to say "Gosh, everything looks so good."

I only wish that I had taken a picture of the cable. Frickin' rabbits.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Last Flight of STS 51-L

It's the 20th anniversary of the Challenger explosion.

So let's talk about manned spaceflight.

It's been thirty years since we've seen the moon. Where's my moonbase? That's what I want out of spaceflight. Sticking to LEO and doing flatworm experiments and repairing satellites and doing cargo runs to the ISS is fine, I guess, but it also seems like a huge waste when we could be out exploring the solar system. The shuttle is something we should be using to haul things up to a space station for transfer to space freighters on regular runs to the Moon and Mars, it should be a transfer vehicle.

We should have a permanent Mars facility by this time, too. Rovers are all fine and good--I know that folks like Bob Park think that all exploration should be done robotically--but imagine what kind of rovers we could build if we didn't have to worry about them having to survive reentry and bouncing around in an airbag sandwich.

Of course, there's no way that's going to happen now, not with hundreds of billions of dollars that we "didn't have" when it came to science, education, welfare, social security and medicare (and the list goes on and on) being spent on Halliburton. I mean, the "effort to bring democracy to Iraq, with Iran and Syria to follow." Well, no, I mean Halliburton.

I seem to have diverged from my intended topic. C'est la vie, I guess.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

You did WHAT?

Tonight, we went to see the Russian National Ballet perform Swan Lake at the boondoggle. (That's not the "you did WHAT?" part.) It was okay. The boondoggle's stage is not the largest in the world; if I were a betting man, I'd bet that it just met the touring company's minimum size requirements. Everything looked and felt cramped, and as a result, it seemed like the dancers were holding back. (It may not have been the stage, though--a quick Google for "Russian National Ballet" reveals that they've been that way for a while.) Even for someone like me who isn't really into ballet and dance, the performance felt restrained and noncommittal--and, at two hours, dreadfully truncated.

At least they had the non-bogus ending. I'm not sitting there for two hours to have the Prince not get the girl and kick the badguy's ass. (Also, the lighting was fantastic. I don't know what it is, but the lighting has been just great for every show we've seen there.)

Anyway, the "you did WHAT?" part of the evening was this: Lani's ballet class was on one side of town, and my office is on the other, with the boondoggle in between. We planned to have Sir F. Crisp kick me out of his car as we rolled through town, whereupon I would stalk and kill my own prey for dinner, and Savannah and Lani would take care of themselves before driving into town, and we'd meet up close to the venue.

As I walked up State Street, I assessed my options. I had been thinking that I'd go to a "Japanese" restaurant, but there I figured there'd be no way I'd get in and out in the time I had available to me. (Also, the "Japanese" restaurant is not inexpensive.) My only real option was Noodles & Company, and frankly, giving up one chain (the "Japanese" place) for another wasn't real high on my list.

So what did I do? Totally without thinking?

Yes, that's right. I was going to be jammed into a crowded hall with people right up close in all directions, so naturally I went to Parthenon and had a gyro. STUFFED WITH ONIONS.

I wanted to die; I felt so stupid. I wanted to apologize to all the people around me. All the fryers and grills at Parthie's were going non-stop the whole time, so I was doused in Greek food. I washed my hands three times and I could still smell the onions. Not that the food wasn't good--heck, it was great as always--but the last thing you want to do is smell like an onion for a crowded concert hall.

Every time I caught a whiff of my hands, I said to myself "Oh my GOD, what is that sm...oh." Sigh.

Monday, January 23, 2006

A maze of twisty little passages...

If you ever played one of the old Infocom text adventures, like any of the Zork games, or Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy (requires Java, but you can ENJOY POETRY if you have it), or some of the other classics, then you'll appreciate the text-adventure version of the Bush Presidency.

Be sure to read some of the comments. My favorite? "We need more grass-roots Activision in this country."

Friday, January 20, 2006

"You're going to need a bigger boat."

Look at the size of this jellyfish.

Four. Hundred. Pounds.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

From an anonymous conspiracy theorist

A friend writes, "Isn't it convenient that there's a new bin Laden tape just as the Emperor is attempting to get his power-grab-supporting Supreme Court nominee approved?"

Why yes, yes it is. Protect us, oh mighty Emperor! L'etat, c'est y'all!

In other news, Google is refusing to comply with a subpoena for their search records. Who's subpoenaing them? The Sun King, of course. Silly peasant. YOU WILL COMPLY WITH THE EMPEROR. THAT IS ALL.

Update: Come, Google, repent your traitorous ways before God strikes you down! Others have already complied! (The boingboing article actually has some good information on the subject. What a stupid, useless request.)

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Why I Hate Barbie

It has nothing to do with the "unrealistic body image" stuff. I don't buy into that notion--that girls who play with Barbies somehow think that they have to be like a Barbie doll. I think good parenting negates that mindset.

No, the reason I hate Barbie is all in the packaging. As the father of a girl, I have had multiple opportunities over the years to wrestle 11-inch plastic women (and occasionally men) from cardboard-and-plastic boxes, and I have this question to ask: What the hell do they think they're protecting? It's a $10 doll, not the Ark Of The Covenant, but the damn things are wired down at waist, arms and legs, the hair is sewed down, tabbed in with plastic AND taped down, the accessories are wired in and the clothes are sewed down and taped in. It takes a good fifteen minutes to get doll and accoutrements free, and you've got a pile of crap to deal with after you're done.

I'm bringing this up now because one of Lani's gifts this year was a Barbie, NM-in-box, from 1997. We just got around to opening it, and it was almost like a breath of fresh air: six or seven wires, two threads and one bit of tape. It was almost no fuss at all.

I'm at a loss to explain just what the heck it is Mattel thinks it's accomplishing.

Fantasy Nerds Can Shut Up

No, not *that* kind of fantasy. Fantasy baseball. Seems that the major fantasy baseball outfits are suing MLB for the right to free access to stats. Apparently, MLB took over licensing rights for stats and profiles from the MLBPA--no doubt, they were after the money from the lucrative video game industry, although it makes a person wonder why the MLBPA would give that up.

Not that I necessarily want to side with a huge corporation, but I think MLB is in the right here. They pay to have the stats compiled, they can do as they please with them. Sure, stats are "historical facts," but the effort that MLB puts forth in compiling them isn't.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

My soul dies a little bit every time

I'm working on a project right now that requires that I religiously use the Oxford comma, and every time I put a comma in front of an "and" or an "or," a little piece of my soul dies. I can't really articulate why; the Oxford comma is accepted by half the major style guides and (of course) rejected by the other half, so it's not like it's wrong. Or, in fact, right. I just don't like it! My soul cries out against it.

(Perhaps it's because the worldwide supply of commas is finite and I want to conserve the ones we have available to us. Pretty soon, we'll have to start tapping into the National Comma Reserve.)

Friday, January 13, 2006

Programming Languages To Learn

Intercal has been on my list for a while now, and I finally--in a fit of madness--downloaded C-INTERCAL and set about trying it out. My favorite "features" of Intercal:

  • The compiler intentionally inserts errors at random. You never know if your code will actually run, or if it will need to be recompiled.

  • The compiler forces you to be polite...but not TOO polite. If your ratio of PLEASE to DO is too high, you're forced to recompile.

  • If you need to enter a number, you spell out the digits. 4092 is FOUR OH NINE TWO. ESR's implementation also accepts NINER for NINE, in case you're in an airplane.

  • Output is in Roman numerals.

Here's the first Intercal program I wrote. I admit, it's trivial; I just wanted to make sure I was able to get the compiler to work.

DO .392 <- #0$#100

It prints out 5136. You get that because the big money operator ($) interleaves the bits of 0 (0000000000000000) with the bits of 100 (0000000001100100) to get...well, I'm not writing out all 32 bits, but it's 5136 in decimal. That gets shoved into the 16-bit variable .1, and it all gets printed as a Roman numeral. (I obscured it up a little bit after that.)

We're not even getting into character output.

ESR's Intercal page also has some links to other languages that I've been meaning to mess with, like Brainfuck (here's a complete program, supposedly: ,+[-.,+] ).

Also of interest is Whitespace, a language whose elements consist of various combinations of whitespace (spaces, tabs and newlines). The only reason I'm not jumping all over it is because I don't really want to install Haskell (another language, required to compile the interpreter).

It's just an amusing little pastime.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

And So It Begins

The great processor switch begins with the MacBook Pro, Apple's new Intel-based notebook.

I'm conflicted. I mean, we've known for a while that the switch was in the offing. Now that it's here, I'm deluged with memories of getting screwed, hard, by the last processor switch.

Now is definitely not the time to buy a new Macintosh, that's for certain: that Mac Mini you've been drooling over? Wait until the Intel-based Mini comes out. In fact, if you're considering a new Macintosh...wait for a year while software catches up, unless you're also going to commit to using only Apple software.

(Okay...I'm tempted by the new iMac. But until Eclipse and NeoOffice/J will run natively, count me out.)

Monday, January 09, 2006

I'm speechless. Here's why.

Say goodbye to your First Amendment right to anonymously criticize the government, now that Congress has passed the DoJ appropriations bill and the Emperor has signed it into law. Why? Well, because it inexplicably contains a rider that prohibits anyone from using the Internet anonymously "with intent to annoy." CNET has a good article on the subject.

While I think that it would be just fine if we could trust that the law would be interpreted as intended (in other words, as a way to stop anonymous harassment), the fact is that we can't. And "annoy" is such a nebulous word. When we were running the late, lamented Chunky Boy's FA server, we had a lot of annoying users. I wouldn't wish jail on any of them (with one notable exception). The thing is, though, that the cynic in me says that this law isn't there to protect people from harassment.

It's there to quash dissent.

The Internet used to be able to provide at least the illusion of anonymity, and the First Amendment used to work. Now...not so much.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Not Rude, Just Good

If you haven't been reading The Rude Pundit lately, you really should go check him out. The last few days, he's been running some articles on his recent trip to the utterly destroyed sections of Louisiana, where it's still worse than a Third World country.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Star Trek characters

We've been having an interesting email discussion, apparently inspired by something on some TiVo forum, about the five worst Star Trek characters. You get to pick one from each series. Here are mine.

  • TOS: This was tough. I can't think of a TOS character I actively disliked. Rand was annoying in "Miri," and Kevin Reilly was annoying in "The Naked Time," so I picked them.

  • TNG: Similarly tough, because the list is so long. Q heads the list of course, but there are so many that I hated that it would probably be easier to pick one I liked, of which more anon. Still, I pick Q without a doubt, followed closely by Data and Troi and Picard and Riker. And the Borg.

  • DS9: Quark or Dr. Bashir, with special mention to Odo under the heading of "crappy reimplementation of Star Trek archetype." (Dis)honorable mention to Q.

  • VOY: Seven of Nine. I think Jeri Ryan was a good actor--not for *those* reasons!--but Seven pretty much ruined the show in more than one way. Data with no charm (and Data already had no charm), Spock without the logic, Odo without the shapeshifting: file her under crappy reimplementation of archetypes as well. (Dis)honorable mention to Q.

  • ENT: There were characters on that show? I'd pick Q, but they didn't put him on the show. Reed or Mayweather, I suppose. Enterprise was a ball of nothing.

We've also been trying to name the five best Star Trek characters.

  • TOS: Captain Kirk.

  • TNG: I liked the little mind-control worms who were all set to invade the Federation before the writers dropped one of the few good ideas they ever had. I also liked the black oozy thing that killed Tasha Yar. There's not really much I liked about TNG, so picking a "best" character from that show is, for me, sort of like trying to pick the warmest rock in a snowbank.

  • DS9: Chief O'Brien.

  • VOY: Captain Janeway. Yeah, I said it. She was a good Kirk implementation, I thought.

  • ENT: Doctor Phlox. I'm unsure, though, whether I liked the character or the actor. Regardless, the show was only really good when he was onscreen.

Really...I only liked Star Trek. So trying to pick the best and worst of the other series was actually pretty tough.

While I'm on the subject: PLEASE, Paramount, stop making Trek until the 50th anniversary. Then come out with something good, made by people who don't hate Star Trek. Thank you.