Strange Brouhaha

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Hard disks

Slashdot linked today to a Newsweek/MSNBC article about the first hard disk. Five megabytes, the size of two refrigerators, and you didn't own it, you leased it. For a quarter of a milllion dollars a year--or whatever $250,000 in today's money was fifty years ago.

Today a quarter of a million dollars will buy you over 450 terabytes, and that's if you buy the most expensive 750GB SATA drives. Buy cheaper drives, get more storage. Today, you can buy two hundred times the storage of that first hard drive--and it's the size of a couple of sticks of gum and costs fifty bucks.

I remember the first hard drive I ever bought. It was 1988 and I paid six hundred bucks for a 30MB SCSI hard drive. Today, you can get a 320GB hard drive--that's TEN THOUSAND times the storage--for a hundred bucks. (I remember thinking, about that 30MB, "God, I'll NEVER use all of that space!" Which is the same thing I thought, fifteen years later, about the 60GB in my notebook [almost full] and the 40GB in my iPod [almost full].)

What's the point? Shoot, I don't know. It was tough enough making coherent sentences. I suppose I could come up with something about the march of technology, but...damn, maybe I should have waited twenty years before spending that six hundred bucks.


Does the world need another portable media device, no matter who's making it?

I guess that's why I'm not a bigshot executive. I'd rather see Microsoft make tons of money off of stuff that's actually neat, like Photosynth, which David talked about a bit the other day, than have them put out some snoozefest gadget.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Best game EVER

Having been addicted to several MUDs and MMORPGs, I have first-hand knowledge of the power of games to entrance and enthrall. I don't really need another game to get addicted to, but against all reason, I have found another game to play.

It's called Progress Quest.

The character creation mode is incredibly deep, the quests more involving than anything I've played before. It's an amazing, amazing game, with superb graphics. And the best part is, there are both online and offline modes, so you can play with other people or not, as you choose.

Download it and play it now.

(Oh, wait--did I forget to mention that this game is clearly a parody of MMORPG treadmill games? Because it is. You create a character and start the game and it runs all by itself. You don't interact with it at all; the "graphics" are all progress bars moving at various rates. I find it hilarious...YMMV.)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Book found in bog

In case you missed it on CNN, a guy with a backhoe discovered a medieval book of psalms in a bog in Ireland. That's just so cool.


The new Organic Raisin Bran from Kellogg's was on sale at the market for just about a dime more than the same quantity of the non-organic version, so I what-the-hecked it into the cart.

The worst raisin and bran cereal I have ever had is the Whole Foods 365 Raisin Bran, which tastes kind of like cardboard and rocks. Or maybe drywall and rocks--it is undeniably crunchy-like for a little while.

The stuff from Kellogg's is not nearly that bad, but it's a lot closer in taste to the Whole Foods cereal than it is to its non-organic older brother. Chalk that up to the Kellogg's people having been in the cereal business for a longer time, I guess.

Anyway, as I was eating the cereal, I mused for a moment on the nature of food. I asked myself the following question: "Which is worse--the way the cereal tastes, or the fact that we've become so used to the artificial colors, flavors and preservatives that something that doesn't have (as much of) those things tastes wrong?"

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Desert Island...what?

I was watching something on the television device the other day. It's the Futurama where Bender goes Luddite, gets himself a wooden body and returns to destroy New New York.

In one portion of the episode, Bender is playing some music on a desert island, and the other robots there ask what it is. Bender says something like, "It's one of my desert island discs. I never thought I'd actually get to use it."

I thought, "Ooo, that's something I can write about," and I tried to come up with a list of discs. Then I started thinking about the entire concept of the Desert Island Disc.

Is it even relevant anymore in the age of the iPod? Why pick out ten albums without which you cannot live when you can fit thirty times that (or more) on an MP3 player? Why choose, for example, one Rush album, when you can have all of them and then some?

Movies, too. Since this fantastical desert island is going to have the power to play CDs or DVDs, why not just pack along a PC with a terabyte's worth of disk space that contains all of your DVDs? (Shoot, all the DVDs we have in our house wouldn't take up nearly that much space, even without the benefit of reencoding.)

And books...look, if all you want is something to read, you can start with the entire contents of the Project Gutenberg archives. Or the stuff on Blackmask. Or the Baen Free Library. You would not run out of reading material.

The problem with all this theorizing, of course, is that your collection of CDs and DVDs, and the collection of books available for free on the Internet, might not contain everything that you would consider essential. There's still some legitimacy to the idea of Desert Island Media. But there's also some support for the argument that it's on its way out--after all, if you have three hundred albums on your iPod, is it really going to impact your Desert Island Enjoyment if one of them doesn't happen to be "Kind of Blue"?

It might be interesting to think about "Desert Island Companions," ten people (alive or dead) that you would want to be trapped on a desert island with. The only rule, I think, would have to be that they'd have to be people you don't know. Something to think about.

Don't try this at home

I really only have two words: Backyard Ballistics.

A lot of this stuff is available on the Internet, of course, but I still like this book. A lot.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Savor the irony

I saw a person today, alone, driving a GMC Yukon. This is an SUV that is one of the worst polluters on the highway. It gets, depending on the model, 11-16mpg in the city. This particular Yukon was clearly a suburban-only vehicle, one of those off-road models where the closest it's ever been to off-road was a driveway.

What irony, you ask?

Why, the license plate: SV R ERTH.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Heat exhaustion?

I'm not criticizing Michelle Wie for getting sick at the John Deere. It happens. But...heat exhaustion? Where is she from again?

We don't want to do it like THAT

There's an article on about The Little Emperor expressing his hopes that Russia will model its own democracy on whatever they've got in Iraq. I loved Putin's reply: "We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy that they have in Iraq."

Friday, July 14, 2006

Blitz recap

I try not to be a prima donna about my work. I understand the realities of the constraints under which the Blitz operates.

But what was done tonight with my name attached to it was *not* what I wrote. It just wasn't.

The carefully-crafted set, the carefully-chosen words, the carefully-planted we'll-refer-to-you-later callback lines...stomped on and torn up. I should have known better than to try to write something funny.

So now I'm the guy who wrote a couple of furry porn jokes bracketing a big blob of WTF.

Yay, me.

Writing for the Blitz

I had my writing session for Blitz VII last night. It went well, almost too well--it makes me nervous.

This year we had a "Mentor," rather than just a minder. I have to admit that I was skeptical at first: "I don't need an editor!" But it was a really valuable experience, and I ended up being glad that Rob was there to interact with. His suggestions were great, and while I didn't use all of them, I think my play was stronger for them. It also made the whole process easier.

Even better, though, was that this year we got the speech on keeping the plays to a reasonable (10-15 minute) length. We didn't get that last year, and so we had some plays that were...long. Not so this year.

We'll see what happens at the performance tonight. I'm looking forward to it!

Monday, July 10, 2006

R.I.P June Allyson

June Allyson died Saturday. The best June Allyson movie you've probably never seen: Good News.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Stephen Hawking's question

(As Gwar said, "Follow the herd, just another cow.")

As has been mentioned all over the place, Yahoo! Answers posted a question from Stephen Hawking: "In a world that is in chaos politically, socially and environmentally, how can the human race sustain another 100 years?" It's gotten nearly 20,000 answers as of a few minutes ago, answers ranging from the really stupid to the considered and thoughtful.

Mine will probably be right in the middle of that range. Here goes.

Is the question "how can the human race possibly survive?" or is it "what ways will the human race find to survive?" The world has been in political, social and environmental chaos for centuries, after all. There was certainly a great deal of chaos at this time in the twentieth century, with more to come. And the human race survived.

I don't think that chaos is necessarily the problem; on the macro and micro levels, chaos is a part of life. The problem is *crisis*. I realize that I'm nitpicking terms, but when kooks like Kim Jong Il and George W. Bush have access to nuclear weapons, that's not chaos; when the ice caps are melting and the Earth is warming up more and faster, that's not chaos; when genocidal maniacs like the Sudanese gang or Donald Rumsfeld are allowed to run rampant, that's not chaos.

Anyway, we've got two separate questions to answer. "How can the human race possibly survive?" just will. It's what we do. It's what we're built for. It's why we have big brains. We create order out of that chaos and we call it civilization. You can't get all weighty and philosophical about it: it just is what we are.

The more interesting question, then, becomes "Well, how are we going to accomplish that?" There are a lot of answers to that one. It would be nice to give some pie-in-the-sky answer like "Well, once we realize that there's a problem, everyone will pull together and get the world fed, clothed and educated," but I doubt that would happen. It would also be nice to be able to say, "One critical invention will change life as we know it," but I don't think that's the answer either. It's an interesting question...but I don't know the answer.

I know, a lot of words to say "I dunno, we just will." But that's the nature of interesting questions: sometimes they don't really have answers. Yahoo! Answers really the place to ask this kind of thing? I mean, it's a bunch of ungrammatical crap, as far as I can tell, with people either asking stupid questions, insulting questions, or stupidly insulting questions. In short, since it itself is so chaotic, it's not really the venue to say "all this chaos is BAD."

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


It's our wedding anniversary today. Since your tenth anniversary doesn't come around every day, we decided that we would treat ourselves to dinner at L'Etoile, which is probably the best restaurant in Madison. It certainly has the best reputation; its founder and former owner, Odessa Piper, is a regional Beard award winner and, I think, was one of the first chefs in Wisconsin to embrace the idea of a "local" cuisine, using primarily seasonal ingredients supplied by local farms. The current executive chef was Chef de Cuisine under Piper.

It's a nice place, and I have mostly the same things to say about the ambience that I had to say about the ambience in my review of 12th Ave Grill in Hawaii: no gewgaws and you can focus on the food. L'Etoile is a small place--they probably have about a dozen tables on a regular night. Unfortunately for us, this wasn't a regular night, or at least I don't think it was. There were two large parties there tonight, each one at least a 12- or 14-top. As a result, it was pretty loud in there and it was difficult to have a conversation, especially since the table right next to us was having a tasting menu and wine expert (I heard "we at Gourmet Magazine" mentioned, I think), and so had to be even louder.

After we were seated, the server brought each of us a tiny dollop of herbed chevre with hazelnut on a cracker. As soon as we tasted it, we knew we had come to the right spot. After we ordered, we were given a couple of pieces of Epi bread--basically, a baguette roll--with a dish of butter, as well as an "amuse" of goat cheese, tomatoes, and something else. (Like a fool, I forgot my notebook, so I'm really going to fail to remember a lot.)

For starters, Savannah had an onion soup and I had a pulled duck confit salad. The soup looked beautiful and was served very nicely, poured from a small teapot at the table. In the center of the bowl was a cracker or shortbread topped with a rich, yellow tower of something--Savannah couldn't remember and I didn't taste it--that looked gorgeous floating in the middle of the light-brown broth. My salad was great--it had a variety of greens, a few slices of extremely fresh, tender strawberries, and shreds of duck that added a great almost-smoky flavor to the whole thing.

My entree was slices of expertly-trimmed grass-fed (and grain-finished) beef on a bed of spinach served with some excellent mashed potatoes on a red-wine reduction. It was fantastic. The beef--this was cut from a New York strip steak--was fork-tender and perfectly medium-rare. The potatoes were smooth and creamy, complemented well by the sauce and the beef. Savannah had a pan-seared chicken with a wild mushroom sauce over diced potatoes and chard. I found it to be a touch salty at first, but it was actually nicely done, the skin crisp and flavorful, the meat tender.

Along with our dinner, we had a half-bottle of D'Arenberg "Dead Arm" shiraz. (It's the exact one in the link, the 375ml '02.) I'm not usually a wine guy, but this was a good wine. When I asked the server about it to make sure that it would go with what we had ordered, she perked up and said "Oh, no, that's a lovely bottle." And it was. It was the perfect amount for us, too, as neither of us is really a wine drinker. Given my inexpertise, you can take my recommendation of this wine for whatever you think it's worth; it was very smooth and had a nice finish.

Then came the cheese course. Frankly, I think every restaurant should have a cheese course, even if it's just a couple of slices of Kraft cheddar or something. We made an error in judgement here by each ordering a cheese course, when we could easily have split one and been fine. I had the Bleu Mont Irish Gem cheddar, the 11-month Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve, and the Carr Valley Virgin Pine Native Blue. I swear I've had the Uplands cheese before; the taste and smell were familiar (and fantastic). The Irish Gem wasn't special, although it was just fine. The real surprise for me was the blue; I'm not a big fan of blue cheese, and I'm not a big fan of goat cheese, but the server got me intrigued when she called the cheese "interesting". I like interesting cheeses, and this one sure was interesting. The difference, she explained, was that the blue cheese mold was naturally-occuring, rather than induced. Whatever it was, it had a strong blue-cheese flavor that mixed very well with the goat cheese--the whole was definitely greater than the sum of the parts. It paired absolutely stunningly with the Pinot Gris that they recommended on the menu. In the short time I've been around, I've had very, very few foods that pair so perfectly with drinks the way these went together. (Savannah had the same Uplands cheese, as well as a fairly-standard 10-year cheddar and an uninspired blue that was nice and creamy but way too strong.)

For dessert, I had a slice of poundcake with vanilla ice cream and more of those gorgeous, tender strawberries. It was fine. Savannah's dessert, though, was absolutely incredible: small, warm doughnuts with a chocolate dipping sauce and a Door County cherry dipping sauce. The doughnuts were amazing: crisp on the outside, meltingly light on the inside. I wanted to hit her over the head and steal her dessert. I refrained, because it was our anniversary.

All in all, it was very good. It exceeded my expectations. We'll definitely go again.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

First, they closed the EPA libraries...

...and I did not protest, for I was not an EPA scientist.

(With a nod in the general direction of Martin Niemoller, of course.)

Monday, July 03, 2006

Is there NOTHING more important?

Congress is "troubled" because a Christian movie received a PG rating instead of a G.

How about being troubled by the fact that some members of Congress want to revoke the New York Times' press credentials? How about being troubled by the fact that at least one member is calling for outright government censorship of the news? (One assumes that Fox "News" would be exempt, as they're "not doing anything anti-American." How about being troubled by...oh, you know the litany.

Perhaps I'm unclear on the concept

My thermostat was flashing "LO BAT" at me, and while I thought for a moment that it was flashing "Lobot", it was pretty obvious that the thermostat was actually saying that its battery was low. I hadn't realized that it was battery powered, but that's ok--I'm assuming that the guy who installed it told me and I just forgot.

The problem was that there was no obvious way to open the case to get at the batteries. No catch, no latch, nothing. Laugh, because it's funny, but I was raised in a house where a thermostat was not exactly a necessity. Or even a presence.

I looked up the instructions online. They showed the unit with the cover off for installation, and instructed the user to "replace the cover", but no "press here to open". I was a little wary of just trying to pull the thing apart, because I could imagine the unit coming off the wall. When I finally gave up and went right up to the thing, I could see the following message in raised letters on the cover: "Battery powered - instructions inside cover."


So I just pulled, and I must have done something right because the cover popped off into my hand. Sure enough, there were instructions for opening the case and replacing the batteries...on the inside of the cover. Specific instructions, too, on the order of "these switches must be in this position in order to open the case."

Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems to me that that's not the ideal spot for that information.