31 August 2007

Emerald Sword

Every year, there is a contest known as the Labor Day Novel writing marathon. In short: write an entire "novel" (with a beginning, middle, and end) in three days. In practice, the actual stories tend to be in the range of 25-30k, which is more of a novelette - but close enough for marathon purposes! It starts tomorrow and ends Monday night.

Also, Emerald Sword by Rhapsody of Fire is a great song for inspiring fantasy stories:

Its lyrics are available at LyricWiki.org.

My good friend Robert has decided to write a novel based on the song for Labor Day Novel this year.

Unfortunately, his enthusiasm is contagious, and so despite the many excuses that come immediately to mind for why I shouldn't do this, both I and an innocent bystander (alcar) are going to write stories based on Emerald Sword this weekend too.

Any of my esteemed readers want in on this last-minute madness too? Drop a comment here. Write a Ficlet if you have no time for anything bigger. :)

30 August 2007

Three Short Things

1. I now have a more or less functional website of HTML forms with PHP as a middleman between it and the postgreSQL database. It's not pretty, but it basically does what I need it to do.

2. Jigsawdoku. I'm so doomed. This is all Websudoku's fault for providing a link to it.

3. I need a tshirt that says "I'll let you know when I care what you think of the way I look" for the times I visit the trendy smoothie shop and gourmet deli.

29 August 2007

My Standard Stuffed Baked Potato

One Large Potato - Must be fresh. Potatoes keep for a really long time, but their taste goes downhill after a while. Rinse off the dirt, poke it full of holes with a fork, and toss it into a 400-450oF toaster oven for an hour.

An hour later, slice it open with the fork, push in the ends so the potato innards crumble and you end up with a more or less round opening, and add:

Butter - I'm a big fan of "real" food. Margarine is manufactured food. Anything made solely by partially dehydrogenating something is not real food.

Black Pepper - Freshly ground is the best way to go.

Cheddar Cheese - I've found that slices are the most convenient. Shredded spoils too fast, and blocks take too much work. For a baked potato, I just fold a slice into quarters to break it apart, then insert the pieces into the potato and wait until they melt before adding more things.

Sour Cream - Cream is a type of fat. Reduced-fat or non-fat fat is obviously not real food (see butter). Also, if the ingredients include guar gum, carageenan, plastic, or anything other than milk, cream, and enzymes ... it's not worth eating. If you don't like fat, plain yogurt is good too - different in taste, but still good.

Diced Ham - I'm too lazy to mess with bacon.

Fresh Chives - I'm the proud owner of a one-pot herb garden that I started after buying some potted chives on a whim at the grocery store. Lucky for me they turned out to be rather hardy. Chives lose their flavor very quickly after being cut from the plant, so it's good to not harvest until the last minute. I rinse mine under some water, then cut them up with scissors.

Once everything is added, use the fork to mash it all together. Eat.

For slightly more work (in that it requires turning on a stove), I've also enjoyed baked potatoes stuffed with:

Diced Onions

Sliced Mushrooms

Minced Garlic

Fry them in a pan (adding in the above order) with some olive oil, salt, and black pepper, then pour over the potato. This mixture doesn't really mix well with the first list.

28 August 2007



They're like junk food. Each one is tiny, scrumptious, and generally useless if one hopes to do something meaningful with writing. As a whole, they're addictive good fun, possibly for the whole family. For some people it's a good break from 'real' writing. For others, they're too small to be worth cranking up ye olde literary digestive system.

I've sucked in two other people from a smallish writing community, and we keep adding to an increasingly silly story about a tree. One of them has started a separate one about a forsaken holy cow, and I have ideas in mind for that, too. :)

I blame John Scalzi for all this. His technical difficulties on Whatever, followed by its full shutdown until mid-September, has left me with a social void. I miss reading his posts every day, but moreso I miss the peanut gallery of commenters. There was Patrick M.'s attempts to grok politics via football, and Jim Wright's salmon fishing in Alaska. There was the group hounding of our fearless leader to visit the Creation Museum like he'd promised (and we'd paid for!).

In some ways it's like having a roleplaying game go on hiatus. We're all left hanging mid-story, but we also know that the fun will come back someday. We just have to find other ways to fill the void in the meantime.



26 August 2007

On Plagiarism

Fundamentally, the problem with plagiarism isn't about whether someone else will ever make money off of my creative works. That's the main purpose of copyright, but plagiarism isn't just a problem of copyright.

I've written something that other people have liked so much that they've copied it without telling me. In and of itself, that doesn't upset me - it's flattering to have created something of enough value that anyone would want to copy it. It also doesn't upset me per se if they don't credit me for the work I did - if they want to note "Anonymous," for example. The problem comes when someone else tries to pass off my work as their own - when there is no note at all, and the implication is that they did the work themselves.

So it isn't credit that I want. It's miscredit that I don't want. And the best way to avoid miscredit is to insist on credit. That's what attribution is really about. It's a subtle distinction, but I suspect it's a significant one for a lot of people who create things, at least down here in the trenches of creative works that don't make a profit and/or aren't ever intended to make a profit. Once money enters into things, we go back to the conventional copyright and trademark laws.

25 August 2007


This adult female golden silk spider (Nephila clavipes) was living next to my local dumpster. I thought it was pretty so I took some pictures. It's about three inches long, top feet to bottom feet.

spider side view spider tummy view

There's a smaller one living in my mailbox, which just had a bunch of baby spiders. But it doesn't come out to be photographed. I occasionally see some of its legs through the grate, and lots of yellow web.

23 August 2007

Moon phases and places

The waxing half moon is on the western horizon at midnight.

This means that it's on the eastern horizon at noon. And that the waning half moon is on the eastern horizon at midnight and the western horizon at noon.

And it only took me two months of not paying much attention to figure this out. :)

22 August 2007

fuzzy steering wheel covers

Fuzzy steering wheel covers are great for all seasons. In the winter they keep the steering wheel from being icy cold, and in the summer they keep it from being searing hot. They can be tossed in the washer. They come in all sorts of colors and patterns, they're cheap, and they're sold in fine automotive stores everywhere. Plus they're fuzzy - can't beat that.

Mine broke. Now my hands suffer until I have time to get another one.

21 August 2007

Snoodoku postmortem

As Word of Mouse games seem to go, the shareware only allows a certain number of higher level games before it won't let you play anymore. This number is large enough to make sure that you're thoroughly addicted by the time it runs out.

My Snoodoku ran out last night. Now I'm stuck with "easy." Having just spent an entire week where I did nothing else with my non-work waking hours, this is probably a good thing.

Was it all a colossal waste of time? At the risk of sounding like I'm rationalizing: I would say no, because I learned things. I went from being so utterly clueless that I couldn't even complete a "child" puzzle correctly, to doing "evil" puzzles in as little as 25 minutes. I learned how to look at all Snood possibilities for each box, and then I learned it was faster to look at all box possibilities for each Snood. I learned and invented terms for a number of recurring situations that help winnow them down: singlets, line eliminations, mated pairs, orphans. In my last two allotted evil games, I began noticing some emergent patterning properties, which would probably become more clear if there were 4x4 games (16 possible Snoods in 256 possible boxes) or 5x5 games (25 possible Snoods in 625 possible boxes) - but so far as I know, Sudoku is only ever 3x3.

Were any of the things I learned important?

Well, yes. For the same reasons that IQ tests are based on discerning patterns. For the same reasons that one learns maths more advanced than arithmetic in school, even if one will never use them again. Puzzle games are logic exercises. Ways of thinking learned from puzzle games can be applied elsewhere in arcane, unexpected ways. They can even be the foundations of entire paradigms. ("Life is like a game of Snood because..." etc.)

Also, mental stretching of any kind is always good. The brain is like any other part of the body - use it and become more powerful, or lose it.

Or, in my case since I'm as done with the learning as I can get without paying, and no longer have access to the levels that require thinking, it now becomes one of those mindless things I do with my hands while I'm thinking about other things.

20 August 2007

AP desperately needs copy editors. Also, a good word for Wikinews

Here's the second and third paragraphs of an article about medical benefits for disabled pro athletes, with errors fixed:
    Yet Johnston sympathizes with broken-down former players who need help with medical bills and aren't getting it. His own experience with the system showed was eye-opening.

    So the former Dallas Cowboys star and current Fox NFL analyst jumped into the ongoing battle over disability payments on Monday, albeit with a twist. Rather than continuing CONTINUE the name-calling that has overshadowed many of the issues, Johnston went with a new tactic by making a plea to commissioner Roger Goodell.

These sorts of things used to merely annoy me when I went past them. Nowadays I'm spoiled by Wikipedia's "anyone can edit anything!" feature, so now I'm also twitchy.

On the bright side, there now exists Wikinews. It's a Wikimedia wiki of news, written by normal people on topics of their choosing. News by the people for the people, and of interest to the people! News that doesn't omit world events having nothing to do with the U.S.! News written without a U.S.-centric slant! News that normal people actually care about, and not just what official news sources say we should care about! News that isn't propaganda by shady governmental conspiracies! News that isn't outright lies!

It's still a relatively small project, but for people who are jaded by professional news sources for whatever reason, Wikinews is shaping up to be a pretty good alternative.

(Disclaimers: Wikinews and Wikipedia are both Wikimedia projects but their communities aren't closely related other than that. I don't contribute much myself; I'm just there to read.)

18 August 2007


It's not that I don't have any thoughts. Honestly, I do. Some of them are even interesting enough to write down. I've just been neglecting to do so this past week; the lure of Snoodoku outweighs the lure of blogging (and everything else).

16 August 2007

Coding Blues Haiku

Today I must learn
some PHP 101
I'm so very screwed

This sample script has
I don't understand

HTML forms:
The part of HTML
that I never learned

Queries of SQL
I can do simple statements
Long ones? Not so much

Why oh why oh why
can't talking to computers
all be one language?

I'll use PHP
to build a website of forms
all of it from scratch

Putting data in
to a SQL database
shouldn't be by hand

Getting data out
of a SQL database
needn't be either

Easy GUIs**
No more command prompt typing
once the website's done

research can commence
Data within easy reach
science moves forward

Instead I sit here
not reading the manual

Playing Snoodoku
surfing, instant messaging
writing bad haiku

My brain is gridlocked
Way too many languages
all of them at once

Matlab 6.5
makes perfect logical sense
compared to all this

But enough blogging
It's time to go back to work
PHP awaits

*pronounced like "sequel"
** pronounced "Gee You Eye"

14 August 2007


Snood is a puzzle game that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike Tetris.

Snoodoku is a puzzle game that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike Minesweeper.

I've been playing the former for at least a decade and have a win rate on the "evil" setting of around 70%. The latter I downloaded a few days ago, much to the detriment of every other hobby presently in my life. There are a bunch more games by the same guy at Word of Mouse Games, but I think I'm set for another decade.

John McCain

note: video is 68 minutes long.

John McCain sees a world with absolute good and absolute evil. The U.S. is good and the terrorists are evil. From that opening premise he forms the basis of his political ideology.

What I found most interesting about him was that, although I completely disagree with his opening premise, and start my own political thoughts from very different premises, we still seem to reach many of the same conclusions on what actual actions should be taken. Namely: less military might, more diplomatic talking things out.

Also, after nearly eight years of Bush Jr., it was refreshing to see someone capable of intelligent, rational thought from the conservative end of the political spectrum (even if I disagree with the specifics).

12 August 2007

On the quality of journalistic writing from AP these days

The opening sentence of an AP article about the death of a woman in Illinois:

A woman whose death in a gene therapy study shut it down and prompted a review of the safety of 28 other studies was experiencing multiple organ failure when she got to the hospital, a spokesman said.

Wow. What a terrible sentence. I had to stop and admire how awesomely convoluted it was.

10 August 2007

Creek Mary's Blood

Creek Mary's Blood is a symphonic metal song by Nightwish. I first heard it on Pandora. Here's a beautiful video of it, made by Ivan of Estonia with footage from the miniseries Into the West:

(Downloadable high resolution version available)

While the song itself didn't immediately catch my attention, the spoken poem at the end did. I was instantly fascinated with who the speaker was and what he was saying.

What he was saying turned out to be a poem that Tuomas originally wrote in English, then John Two-Hawks translated into Lakota. And then someone on Youtube posted a translation back into English, which in some parts I like even better than the original version:
    I still dream all night long with the wolves, the horses, these endless meadows
    the unquiet winds over the mountain
    the safe and sound frontier of the good friends and relatives
    I still believe in the sacred earth where the Great Spirit inhabits
    Every night
    Every day
    I am like the elk
    And you as the wolves that make me stronger
    We have no obligation to you
    Our only debt is a life for our Mother
    Good times when we could sing to her

    our spirits were here long time before yours
    long time even before us
    and for a long time it still will be
    until the day your pride leads you to your own end.

Here's the video where the above translation was posted, of a live performance where John Two-Hawks steals the show:

The "prelude" before the Nightwish song in this version of the video is actually the tail end of a song written and performed by Two-Hawks (full performance here). The video itself is from a DVD of the entire concert, End of an Era.

As for who the speaker was...

I watched those End of an Era videos until I had them memorized, and I couldn't take my eyes off him the first several hundred times.

I read both of his websites in their entirety, then Googled everything else I could find about him.

I wrote him a Wikipedia article. It was how I got sucked into Wikipedia in the first place.

I suddenly redeveloped a childhood interest in American Indians. Back then, I had to stop looking because it just got too depressing (the good guys are supposed to win!!). Now, I'm delighted to have discovered that they're still with us and in some ways even thriving.

I am inspired to stand up straight by watching his posture, which will no doubt please my mother to no end.

I signed up to receive his monthly newsletter and am still too chicken (nearly six months later) to actually try talking to him directly.

09 August 2007

The Joy of Checkbook Balancing

One of the nice things about financial stability is the luxury of not having to worry about exact bank balances. So long as the amount in the bank is even slightly more than the amount needed to cover monthly expenses, plus the minimum balance to avoid fees, everything is covered and there are no fees. It's like having a cushion - I can make small accounting mistakes on my home ledger, not notice that it doesn't exactly match what the bank says, and it won't hurt me. If it's a big cushion I might not even notice at all.

Last month I removed most of my cushion, thinking it ought to be hanging out in savings where it could earn some interest. Today I received my monthly bank statement. There were fees on it. It turns out I have $212.33 less than I thought.

Furthermore, it's been that way for well over two years.

It isn't one big thing I forgot to write down. It's lots of little things. Probably all "withdraw quarters to do laundry." I've dug back to the end of 2004 in bank statements, and I think it's time to give up and do what a friend says: record it as "experience."

08 August 2007

Cult of Robert

Robert is a writer and artist. His words inspire and contain little grains of truths. Every time he says something, people flock around him and communities grow.

Robert isn't a website I can point to in my list of Interesting Places to Visit. He isn't a mountain where people can go, from where he dispenses his wisdom from on high. He's a mountain that moves among the people, dropping wisdom everywhere he goes.

Robert has blogs on LiveJournal, DeviantArt, Hobgoblin, and many other online communities. He contributes his lengthy rambles to all kinds of forums large and small. People like me follow him around, and no matter how long his posts, we read them all.

Robert isn't trying to be a cult at all. He does nothing to cultivate followers. He just lives his life, being true to himself, and shares some of it with others so we can learn from his experiences too.

07 August 2007

The Most Beautiful Salt Marsh in the World

While I was stuck in traffic for an hour on the causeway yesterday, I amused myself by taking pictures of the salt marsh. This is what I see twice a day every weekday. The pictures are on the south side of the road, shown in order from east to west.

It was between 2pm and 3pm EST during a neap high tide.

06 August 2007

Perhaps too tough and not always fair

There are sometimes days where, for no particular reason, maybe because of a minor comment someone made somewhere, I feel like I'm being attacked from all sides. Including within, where I re-examine everything about myself and how I do things in the world, how I respond to the world, how the world responds to me, and how this compares to the way others do these things. The one little comment colors the whole rest of my day.

It wasn't even meant as an attack from the person who made the comment, and they were careful to be clear on that point. But I have to wonder on the roots of its existence and ponder whether to do something about it, what to do about it, whether I once more need to change. In the meanwhile, every other disagreement I have anywhere else becomes overwhelming.

03 August 2007

The swamps are alive with the sound of froggies...

It's been raining all week and will be all weekend, too. Savannah is a place where rain normally happens for minutes at a time, not days. It used to be that rain happened in the afternoons, every afternoon for about twenty minutes. Nowadays it isn't quite so predictable anymore. And this year, it's a lot like we're having a tropical storm going by every other week.

At least the frogs sound happy. They're all over the road, small pale triangles that sometimes hop, and it's impossible not to squish a few while driving home.

How to have a well-run research cruise

1. First, it's good to remember to take your station logbook with you, so you can remember to write down important basic info about each station. Like, where it was, what day it was, what time, how deep the water was, etc. Ideally this should be written on sheets of paper with preprinted forms on them, and not a wad of sticky notes.

2. Having a station logbook also helps you avoid giving more than one station the same number.

3. Not to mention it probably helps remind you that stations ought to have numbers in the first place, or at least some kind of distinct name.

4. A cruise plan is good too. That way you don't have to go back to previous stations because you forgot to do something.

5. Second, a CTD depth profile is not actually supposed to be a race to the bottom. You really do want the instruments to take more than one measurement per meter or two.

6. Additionally, if you're hoping to have any useful data from the top 1.0 meters, try to do the CTD presoak shallower than 1.5 meters.

7. Yes, it turns out that the presoak actually is a requirement. Remember: not a race.

8. Third, the time to discover that some of the sensor calibrations are on crack should not be while the cruise is underway.

9. Fourth, it's helpful to have all of the equipment on the boat recording time in the same time zone.

10. And finally, remember that water never has a density of -2.

p.s. Not related to actual cruises, just to the data workup afterward: be aware that all of your Matlab pre-7 scripts will break in Matlab 7 in astoundingly stupid ways.

02 August 2007

The Beauty of Wikipedia

Yesterday evening, a bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota collapsed. Before that, its article on Wikipedia was a two-paragraph stub.

Now, several hundred edits later, it has a detailed description, a fairly comprehensive history section, and full information about the collapse itself and aftermath - all of it backed up with nearly 50 references. Plus it's chock full of excellent photos from both before and after.

The discussion page is the usual chaos of laws and sausages, with two key points standing out: the fact that under heavy public scrutiny it was crucial to make sure everything was completely accurate (suddenly "citation needed" makes perfect sense doesn't it) and written with a neutral point of view as befit an encyclopedia; and that it was the time for dumping as much info into it as possible, and not the time for revising anything back out again (aside from the frequent obvious vandal edits and uncited potentially misleading info).

But that's behind the scenes and below the surface. In the public eye it's an impressively well-written, professional looking article. Out of total chaos in just 24 hours, we now have something that's well on its way to earning a lucky special gold star as a Featured Article.

01 August 2007


There's a tiny smudge of dirt on my desk that is shaped like a hawk in flight. It's too small to photograph with anything I have. It's been here for months. For some reason, I can't quite bring myself to clean it off.