18 December 2008

Exit Diablo 2, Enter PackRat

Diablo 2, once you get done with the storyline and quests (and some people don't even bother with them the first time), is basically a game of item collection. You go around whacking the same key monsters over and over in the hopes that they drop interesting loot. Getting to the monsters can be time-consuming and boring, and experienced players eventually just skip past all the little treasure chests and smaller loot from lesser monsters killed along the way. Their paths are usually littered with unclaimed junk. (The most hardcore of them try to set up bots to automate all this, which Blizzard frowns heavily upon and thwarts with great vigor.)

Once interesting loot has been obtained, it often gets traded for higher level loot that other people have collected. At its peak, Diablo 2 had an entire economy based around the Stone of Jordan ring as its standard currency. The value of the SOJ fluctuated on a daily basis, just like in a real life stock market. And then one day it crashed - at which point, since they were worthless as money, someone gave me a couple to keep, which was the first I ever saw any. I wore them as rings; they weren't bad as actual items in actual use. There were other items like that as well - so valuable that nobody ever actually used them, because they were more useful for trading. (The Um rune comes to mind. Imagine my brother's horror whenever I talked about inserting ours into a hat....) Nowadays, as far as I know without knowing any hardcore players to keep me informed, it's back to old-fashioned barter.

Facebook PackRat takes all of the item collection and trading aspects of a game like Diablo 2, and turns it into a game all by itself. No longer must a player spend countless monotonous hours killing monsters to get to their loot - now you can just get them directly. No longer is there the flimsy excuse that collected items are supposed to do something for the player; once these are collected, they get put into a limitless-sized vault where they just sit there and look pretty for all eternity. It goes a step farther too - every few weeks the gamemakers introduce new sets of cards for players to collect, and retire the oldest sets - so there's always a rolling assortment of them no matter when you come in, and always something to do no matter how long you've been there. Trading, as I hear from the hardcore players, is heavy and fierce, especially for cards from expired sets.

I'd always thought of the item collecting aspects of Diablo 2 as kind of boring but required. Then again, the whole game is really kind of boring - but it gives me something to do with my hands when I'm too brainfried to do anything else. PackRat now does the same, except with all the boring parts of it streamlined out.

(Except for the waiting. All I need is one more %@#$& Farmer Stubbs and I can feat the Barnyard Ruckus set, and he hasn't been seen all day. -.- )

10 December 2008

Day Without A Gay

Day Without A Gay logo

Day Without A Gay is intended as a boycott and strike by all LBGTQ people and their supporters, to demonstrate our economic might. It coincides with International Human Rights Day.

Here's a condensed list of their suggestions on what to do on the day:

1. Don't go to work.
    That part is easy enough. Wednesdays are my midday weekend, when I don't go to work anyway. I'll have to stop in to sign my timesheet so I can get paid this month, since they're trying to close the books early for Christmas break. But I won't be working.

2. Don't spend any money, except at businesses that are clearly LBGTQ-friendly.
    Also easy enough. I planned ahead on groceries and gas.

3. Withdraw $80 from the bank and keep it pocketed all day.
    So, after I go in to sign the timesheet, I'll be visiting the bank.

4. Avoid advertising, such as from watching TV or browsing the Internet.
    That latter is going to be hard. o.O

5. Volunteer and/or join a nearby protest.
    I keep checking for opportunities on the official website, but there aren't any for Savannah. :( Of the local regular opportunities, all of them want me to commit lengthy periods of time that I don't have, and none want me to do something on the actual day. Likewise, we kind of sucked at the protesting back on Nov. 15, so unless I want to drive to Jacksonville, it looks like I'm out of luck there, too.

    What I will be doing to make myself visible is outing myself on Facebook, which I finally caved and signed up for a month ago. Dozens of people from 5-20 years ago have since found me there. So yes, this will be a scary prospect in front of ~73 family, friends, longlost acquaintances recently found again, etc. But what better time than now? It'll consist of a status message that clearly states why I'm offline for the day, with question-answering the following day when I'm back online.

6. Don't use cell phones.
    I'm not sure I understand this one. But I can turn it off for the day. Nobody calls me anyway except wrong numbers and phone companies wanting me to sign up.

Additionally, there's a suggestion from WhiteKnot.org:
7. Wear a ribbon with a white knot in the middle, as a symbol of support for marriage equality.
    I'll have one. And I'll be wearing it when I sign my timesheet. We'll see if anyone asks what it is...

Right then. I'll be back on the 11th. :)

08 December 2008

Ficlets: A Song

I originally wrote this in 1990. Why yes, I was a goth back before I knew what goths were. :) The original was exactly one character too long to be a ficlet, so I changed the word "beautiful" to "glorious." Seems to work out well that way, too.

A Song

A solitary figure walked across the darkening quad. Her eyes were hooded, her face expressionless – and yet, at closer glance, grief and her very aloneness haunted her countenance.

She lifted her arms to the wind as it strengthened, as she began to sing. The wind moaned in harmony, and those who might have listened heard an enchanting melody begin. The song pervaded the blackened quad, transforming the silence into glorious strains of music, charging the air with whispered excitement, and gradually it crescendoed into an intense, resounding cadenza of thunder and delight! She danced furiously as the wind whirled around and swept the dried, fallen leaves in circles about her feet. The music cascaded through the dusk; her features were captivating – ever onward the song flew on, into the night and away. Slowly, she became still.

The wind whispered, gently and softly, and then died. Echoes of an enchanting tune – tragic echoes – lingered, hinting of what had been, then disappeared. She was alone once more.

Sequel: Track Two by alcar

Across the quad he watched from shadows, hearing no enchantment in wind, catching fragments of song like static from a TV set. She was enchantment enough, that anyone would dance like that during the dark of night without reason. He made no sound, not wanting to break the spell.

There was a song inside him too (everyone has one, if they listen the right way), but to him the silences mattered more than the song, when it was just her moving, and the wind, and her singing without a voice as the song ran past him and away; it did not matter, to him the singer was more important. He held his silence, not daring to break the moment, feeling something ease inside his heart, or an old wound break open.

And he was too afraid, of her stillness and his silence, and did not ask her a name, nor tell her he watched, even when he returned the next few nights, in case she moved through stillness, or might have guessed his own song.

In a different story, he would have carried a knife.

This is not that story.

These are also licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.5 (as is/was everything posted on the Ficlets site).

07 December 2008

Thought of the Day: Stupidity

The problem with stupid people is that it takes an enormous amount of time and effort to refute their stupidity. Therefore, most people don't bother - so the stupidity just keeps getting repeated with no response from any smart people. And therefore the semismart people believe it.

This was originally posted as part of a comment at Stonekettle Station. Then Chris Gerrib decided he liked it enough to quote it on his own blog. So it made sense, to me at least, that I should quote myself on my own blog as well. :)

06 December 2008

Ficlets: The Tree Saga

Ficlets is going away early next year, and so now is a good time to preserve all the stories from it. Here's one set, mostly written by people in the SFFMuse writing community, that all started when I wrote a short throwaway Ficlet while checking out how the site worked.

The Life and Death of a Tree

Once upon a time there was a tree. It sprouted in a forest and grew tall and strong. Then one day a woodcutter came along and cut it down. Thereafter it was a park bench, several reams of paper, pulp waste, kindling, and sawdust. The woodcutter lived happily ever after. The End.

Sequel: The Tale of the Woodcutter's Wife by alcar

Years after the once upon a time, the woodcutter’s wife drove home at night through the rain and swerved to miss a squirrel that was doing a credible cat impression (had she known it was a squirrel, she would not have swerved). She hit a tree and died.

The park bench never knew what one of its acorns had accomplished. It might even be that it would not have cared—it is easier to be a park bench than a tree, after all. The woodcutter became quite good at his job, eventually climbing up the corporate ladder (while never once thinking it was wood) owning the company, cutting many trees and massacring many forests; refusing to put saplings where trees had been.

When people asked why, he told them it was for his wife and for all who’d died because of trees. Yet every other Friday afternoon he’d go down to a park, sit on a bench, and just think. He never wept, nor would have even if he’d known part of that long ago tree was the bench. His secrets remained his own, along with his sins and sorrows and laughter.

Prequel: One Brave Tree Stands Against Squirrel Domination by me

It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a ‘cat’ appeared. Her brakes screamed as she swerved off the road; so startled was she by its likeness to her own dear departed Fluffy that as she sped through the trees, she never saw the horde of squirrels trailing her wake.

Little did she know it was all part of their evil plan. Soon they would have her in their paws, where they would suck out her brain and replace it with nuts, nuts that had lain festering and mutating in a deep, dark swamp. Soon she would do their bidding as an assassin and spy in the world of corporate woodcutters. Soon, when all the woodcutters were eradicated, squirrels would rule the forests of the world.

But as she hurtled toward their evil laboratory, one brave tree rebelled. It alone took a stand against such crimes against humanity, against squirrel domination.

And so it was that the squirrels were thwarted, woodcutters everywhere kept their happily ever afters, and the trees began seeing genocide on a scale never seen before.

Prequel: Murder for Nuts by THX 0477

Along the side of a dimly lit road, a handful of squirrels huddled under a wide-spread fern. The chattered and groomed in their nervous way. All could feel the rumbling through the ground of a fast approaching human machine.

One of them shook his head back and forth. He could not participate. He would not. The others stopped in their grooming and chattering. Silence defied his defiance. But he was resolute.

Tiny paws struck out, urging him with domineering force to comply. He only shrunk away, unwilling to make himself a part of their plan but unable to stand up to so many. His beady black eyes darted through the rainy night for a place of refuge, a way to escape.

There was no escape. In an explosion of fur and bucked teeth the others were upon him. He could not even cry out so quickly did they overwhelm him. And thus he died, the scent of rotted acorns stinging in his nose and all hope for a better tomorrow gone. The squirrels would rise up, and he could do nothing to stop them.

Sequel to One Brave Tree: The Night of the Bushy Tails by Sammi

Only after most of the trees had been slaughtered did the woodcutters realize their mistake: squirrels are small and adaptable. The squirrels, armed with wood splinters and rusty nails, invaded the houses of the woodcutters. In one night, known as the Night of the Bushy Tails, over a hundred woodcutters and their families were killed in their beds. People found them weeks later (because woodcutters don’t get out much,) with their skulls full of nuts and elaborate claw markings on their bodies spelling out vulgar messages to humanity.

The trees were sympathetic to humans, despite the fact that the primates had preyed upon them for millennia, but they watched the bloodshed in silence, only occasionally whispering to each other.

Sequel to One Brave Tree: Fake Fake Intelligence by alcar

But that was not the end, because nothing truly ends and nothing truly begins. Indeed, even nothing does not last forever, and one of the coroners came to strange conclusions upon finding s dead woman’s head filled with nuts.

Biff eventually ran off to start an earth-based religion that quickly splintered on the issue of squirrel motivations and the deeper meanings behind Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons about squirrels, and it vanished into the oblivion that is the future of all things. (It wasn’t archived on the internet, after all.)

But a genius in the DA’s office looked deeper, perceiving rather than merely seeing, and eventually approached the squirrels with ideas, funding, and an innovative Multi-Level-Marketing program. They succumbed to his brochures and he hid them inside the computer he built to pass them off as the world’s first Artificial Intelligence.

The rest of the dray were kept busy killing those who tried to discover the truth, their heads filled with silicon nuts to be part of a new age.

Prequel to Life and Death of a Tree: They said I was a nut by codebunny

They said I was a nut, but that was long ago. I’ve seen how they treat us, taking our young and corrupting them. They undress them, paint them and stand them in obscene poses for others of their kind to admire, and abuse. Sometimes they are stood in windows and can be bought and sold on the open market. Their distorted images are shown in magazines. They are no more than objects of desire, or tools for pleasure and not considered living, breathing, feeling creatures. Once they are taken, their roots are lost. Their past life is gone and it is as if they are no more.

They said I was crazy, just like my sire. He was lucky, he told me, because he lived long and passed when he was old and tall and could taste the sky. He said others were less fortunate. He cried and wailed when he told me of our future.

They said I was insane, but not any more. Now they don’t say anything. They only tremble in the wind that grows each day and wait for the shouting men and their chainsaws to take them.

Sequel: I grow old by alcar

I grew tall, like my father, on hate and wind and rain. Never tears, because we do not have gods and our roots do not reach deep enough to remember old tales. The others vanished, taken one by one. Only I remained, alone, to tell them of the forest. Only I, naked, adorned with a sign about how very old I was that covered not a single root working up through the earth, exposed to their stares and whispers that could not replace other trees rustling in the wind.

If not for the aliens, I would never have learned of ficlets.

If not for the aliens, I would not have gained the power to protest horrible stories that undress trees, that bear us naked to the root, strip us of bark but are not considered mature content.

There are now saplings who will never grow tall and strong thanks to naked trees posturing in windows and on your computers.

I should click the link to report the previous story … and yet—and yet, the chainsaws haunt my waking dreams,and I do not wish to be like you.

I am no longer a nut.

Sequel: Googling yourself by alcar

Gaining intelligence and access to the internet was easier for the tree than those who lived in it. Trees bend before they break.

It was different for the squirrels. They kept checking webmaster tools, page ranks, amazon, but still they drifted further away, downward on the ranks. They read google help, and threatened pigeons for their page rank; but still they drifted towards obscurity as names and horrible websites replaced them.

Something had to be done.

And so they began the plot, that a woodcutter’s wife eventually became involved in, that the trees fought them. No one else understood why they’d been taking over humans, why so many died from them,why peanut butter allergies increased ten-fold.

But there were reasons, and vanity is a sin for all. Their page rank increased, but it wasn’t enough. Could never be enough, until they were supreme, until they were honored.

And so they watched the skies, praying and fearing the aliens would take away the intelligence they’d given before they succeeded.

Alcar and Codebunny are fellow writers from SFFMuse. Sammi is an RPoLian. I don't know who THX 0477 is outside of Ficlets.

All stories are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5.

30 November 2008

A Faulted Dike

In geology, a bedding plane is where sediments settled over a really long time and turned into layers of rock, with the oldest at the bottom and youngest at the top. Sometimes after this happens, the land shifts around so that the bedding plane isn't horizontal anymore, but might be tilted at an angle, or folded in curvy patterns.

A dike or sill is when a finger of molten rock penetrates through regular cooled, hard rock. If it's going in the same direction as the bedding plane, it's a sill. If it cuts across several of them, it's a dike.

A fault is when there's a really big crack that turns a bedding plane into two pieces, and one piece shifts position relative to the other piece.

And this:

is the sort of sight that would make your average roadside geologist swerve off the road while staring in fascination. That's a dike (or sill) that got cracked up into fragments. It's next to the Hoover Dam in Nevada/Arizona, where the land looks like it went through so much violent upheaval that there's no bedding plane at all anymore, it's all been crinkled into rubble. I imagine it's great fun trying to piece together what happened, and how, and in what order.

Note: I was on foot. No motorists or pedestrians were harmed in the taking of this picture. Also: click on the picture to get the full effect of its scale; those metal things at the top are electricity towers.

28 November 2008

Flowers in November

In the quad of the place where I work, there's a bush that seems to think it's spring, not late fall. Therefore, I took pictures, just so Michelle can see them. ;)

And here's one with trees against blue sky for Ilya if he happens to wander by. ;)

25 November 2008

Nanowrimo 2008

50,167 words at the bottom of the 24th. :)

24 November 2008

An Anecdote

At the beginning of some of my yoga classes, the instructor asks us to "pick an intention for your practice, a dedication to someone or something, a reason for why you're here today. Could be a part of your body that especially needs work, could be anything."

Mine tend to be about areas of my body that need work - neck, shoulders, that incessant ringing in my ears that started last December and refuses to go away. Sometimes I'll pick writing, either as a whole or a particular character that I'm writing for.

One day a few months back, something odd happened.

Me: "Hmmm... is my shoulder extra stiff today maybe?"
Voice1 in my head, suddenly speaking up: "God."
Me: "Huh?"
Voice: "GOD."
Me: "Umm. God? Why would I pick that?"
Voice: "GOD. GOD. GOD."
Me: "Okay, well, what kind of God? There are lots of different versions of--"
Voice: "Christian2 God."
Me: "But I'm not--"
Voice: "Specifically, the Catholic God."
Me: "..."
Voice: "GOD. Definitely GOD."
Me: "Well umm, I do have a character who is a knight templar, and that's how he'd feel about it, so, how about I just think of him then?"

This seemed acceptable to the voice in my head. The class moved on to the usual variety of poses and stretches, and I got too busy keeping track of proper posture to wonder why I was suddenly a devout worshipper of the Catholic God, when the most involvement I'd ever had with them before was to attend the occasional wedding or funeral in one of their churches.

After class, a young man three mats away from me started talking about a horrible car accident he was in several months ago. It was amazing that he was still alive, and although his back was seriously screwed up, he was lucky to be walking and not paralyzed. His father told him that the very first thing he said, upon waking up from his month-long coma, was "I was walking with God." The young man said, "I'm so thankful to God, I wouldn't still be here if it wasn't for Him."

A few days later, while I was driving home from a completely different yoga class (one that didn't have that young man in it, and where no voices suddenly insisted that I had a deep, hitherto unknown devotion to God), I finally thought (I'm slow that way sometimes): "...oh. So THAT'S where it came from."

Stuff like that happens to me all the time.

1It wasn't an actual, verbal voice. It was a sensation of strong conviction. One that as I poked at it trying to figure out what it was, I got more and more info out of it.

2Every religion (and Christian denomination) has a slightly different conception of God, which makes their 'feel' slightly different. This is most noticeable in their churches. God comes in a lot of different distinct flavors that are distinguishable once you've seen them enough to recognize them. Churches that are mainly used for worship by their members will convey their flavor strongly, while churches that allow lots of different views are more generalized, and churches that double as tourist attractions usually lose their signal to all the noise.

22 November 2008

Yay Activism!

The postcard I sent to Obama for Project Postcard:

I'm not sure what it says about me that I find all this political activism to be highly amusing. I'm just happy to be able to do something, I think. Plus it's the first I've participated in anything like it. Next up: Day Without a Gay - a boycott and strike that happens Dec. 10. Since it's on a Wednesday when I'm off work anyhow, that one should be pretty easy too.

20 November 2008

Pointless Thought for the Day

Magnets. They open up whole new categories of possible surfaces to put things on.

18 November 2008

Sunset over the Skidaway River

John Scalzi posted a picture of Sunset in Ohio today, to which Jim Wright counterposted a picture of Sunset in Alaska. In the best tradition of "Oh yeah?" everywhere, here's a picture of Sunset in Coastal Georgia. It may have no baying wolves or lowing mammoths in it, but it's more sunsetty than Jim's. :)

These pictures were taken in mid-September 2007.

And since the "links to this post" feature seems to be nonfunctional, here's a few more sunsets:
Sunset in Colorado
Sunset(?) in NYC
Sunset in Washington

17 November 2008

Gay Marriage Politics

Over the weekend there was a nation-wide protest of the passing of Prop 8 in California during the last election. (Actually there were a few participant cities outside of the U.S. as well. but it was mostly national.) Prop 8 is a ban on gay marriage. Individual states have been arguing for or against such a ban since 2004; Georgia, for example, passed such a ban into its constitution back then. This year there were several states asking its citizens the same question, including California - that famed bastion of gays and liberalness. Surprisingly, they voted to pass it.

So there was a protest. According to the overall organizer website, Savannah had one scheduled. We were to meet at the corner of Bull Street and Broughton Street and march to Johnson Square.

I didn't find out about this until an hour before. Also it was forecast to rain all day. But I went to check it out. Unfortunately, I was the only one there as far as I could tell:

After about half an hour of walking back and forth by myself (without the yelling or sign waving; I had no sign), I gave up and went home. It started raining heavily about five minutes after I was back in my car.

Fortunately for the rest of the nation, it looks like a lot of other cities had successful turnouts. Next time, whoever's in charge in Savannah (if there is anyone in charge, and I'm guessing there isn't) needs to give louder and earlier notice about such things.

Meanwhile, it would probably be more effective to bring the issue to the federal level and get a SCOTUS ruling for the entire nation instead of doing it piecemeal like this, one state at a time.

15 November 2008

Little Green Tomatoes

My tomato plants finally started making tomatoes after I moved them away from the chives. Apparently chive flowers are much more interesting to bees than tomato flowers.

I counted seven promising-looking tomato fruits this morning. Now I'm hoping they'll turn into something edible-sized before it gets too cold. :)

05 November 2008

Yes We Can

A year ago today, we had no hope. Our current president and his administration were committing atrocities on a nearly weekly basis, making a mockery of the Constitution he had sworn to uphold, and demonizing half of us to pander to the other half. The Congress we had elected in 2006 to stop him ... wasn't. Our leaders were too busy playing shell games with each other while feeding us lies and platitudes, and no one knew what to do about it. I doubt I was the only one who was waiting for a revolution to come.

A year ago today, the dominant race and culture of America had all the power, and they did not mean people like me when they talked about "real Americans." Every day in a thousand subtle ways they told me that I am not one of them, I am not the same. My voice is irrelevant because I am merely a guest here and I do not matter.

Then came a man with a voice from the other side. A man who has lived in the same America that I live in, who sees all of the flaws in it that are invisible to every leader that has come before, those that we're "supposed to" vote for by tradition (of the dominant race and culture). A man who speaks sincerely and plainly about the things that actually matter, a man who isn't trying to fill us with platitudes to hide his true agenda, a man who cuts straight to the truth.

Thank you, President Obama, for finding a way to bring on the revolution from within, for having the courage to reach across the Decider's divide, for volunteering to redeem us in the world's eyes. Thank you for daring to take a stand as a black man representing the voices of all minorities, for challenging us to add our voices to yours, for letting us take back the country that was and always has been ours. Thank you for showing the world that we are Real Americans too.

A year ago, we lived in fear. Now we have hope. A year ago, I was ashamed to be an American. Now I can be proud.

Yes we can.

03 November 2008

A funny thing happened to me on the way back from the grocery store ...

Today I saw a fire truck.

Its sirens were on, and its blinky flashy lights were blinking and flashing. Nobody was moving as it approached the intersection, but nevertheless it stopped at the red light.

This isn't unusual for a fire truck to do in this day and age. Back when I was a kid, emergency vehicles had every right to hit your car if you were too dumb to move out of the way. Park in an emergency no-parking zone and an emergency happens? Say bye bye to your car, and no you can't get them to pay for it because it was your own damn fault for putting it there.

I'm guessing people didn't like that much, and complained enough so that now, instead of barreling right through intersections no matter what light it is, they're all required to stop and look both ways before continuing on. An emergency vehicle looks really dumb when sitting at a full stop at an intersection with all of its sirens and lights going, but as I was saying, in this day and age it's normal emergency vehicle behavior.

So this fire truck stops at the intersection. Then it just sits there. And doesn't move. Nobody else does either, because, well, it's an emergency vehicle and we're supposed to all stop for those. After about half of the opposing green light time has passed us by, everyone apparently decides it's not going to move after all, and so they go back to normal driving.

THEN, right as its own light was finally about to turn green, it suddenly remembers: Hey, wait! I'm an emergency vehicle, and I'm on my way to an emergency! Lots of honking ensues, everyone swerves out of the way, and it finally barrels its way through.

I guess there's all kinds of being asleep at the wheel.

01 November 2008

Eating the Moon

Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the more important holidays in Chinese culture. It celebrates the largest full moon of the year, under whose bright light people can bring in their harvests. By the western calendar, this generally happens in mid-September.

Nowadays it's more about the eating of mooncakes.

Mooncakes (lotus seed paste filling) from John the Scientist who sent them from San Francisco, where they're sold year-round. Thanks John! :)

A mooncake is not a cake. It's a dense pastry with a thin outer crust and either bean paste or lotus seed paste filling the interior. Often there is a whole egg yolk in the middle. Bean paste is used in lots of Chinese bakery items that are available all the time, but lotus seed paste is only found in mooncakes. The latter is more expensive but also tastes better.

Mooncakes should not be confused with moon pies. Moon pies (which are not pies) are a popular chocolate and marshmallow snack item in the south-central U.S. They're yummy too. :)

26 October 2008

The road to insanity is in trying to use the ISP's email "features"

They say that one of the signs of insanity is where you keep doing the exact same thing over and over, and expect to get a different result.

What do you call it if you, say, hit the exact same button on Comcast's new SmartZone emailer multiple times and can never get the same result twice? Or, you think you've put the settings one way, and it even says the settings are that way, but they really aren't - so you have to repeat doing them three or four times and then obsessively check that they stay that way?

And have I mentioned how much I hate seeing ads on a service that I'm paying for? Especially if they're extra pushy and reduce functionality?

Comcast email, folks. It was basically nonfunctional when I first signed up for High Speed Internet, and I could only check it from a third-party website (mail2web.com FTW!). Then it was most of the way functional (if slightly irritating) for a good long while. Now it's back to being nonfunctional.


(On the bright side, Comcast is still more functional than Bellsouth's offerings. Over there, they had something like three slightly different glitz-covered websites overlapped on top of each other, and you couldn't find anything, ever, and neither could their phone support.)

23 October 2008

One of my favorite odes

An ode has a three-part structure: strophe, antistrophe, and epode. The strophe is a theme statement, and the antistrophe is a response to it. Within an ode, it might go back and forth between strophe and antistrophe several times before everything meets up in the middle and ends with the epode.

It turns out that my favorite Billy Joel song, Leningrad, is in the form of an ode. There are stanzas about Victor who lives in Leningrad, followed by response stanzas about Billy Joel growing up in America. They are set to very different musical themes. Then, the very last of those is about Billy Joel visiting Leningrad and meeting Victor - and it's set to the Russian theme. The epode has no words. Its music is completely different from either the strophe or antistrophe.


In general, I'm not a fan of poetry. But that may be because so little of it is as masterfully crafted as this song is.

20 October 2008

Summary of the Debunking of a Crank

So. There's this brand new shiny particle accelerator in Geneva, known as the Large Hadron Collider. There are also some concerned citizens who think that it might make black holes that will destroy the Earth. Two of these, Luis Sancho and Walter L. Wagner, filed for a restraining order against it in a court in Hawaii (note: Hawaii is nowhere near Geneva). It got tossed out of that court recently, but rumor has it that they're planning to file an appeal.

On what grounds is Mr. Wagner making these claims about black holes? How does he know? Well, he says he's a nuclear physicist. After a lengthy foray into researching his credentials over at John the Scientist's blog, however, it has become rather clear that he's not. The discussion there is longwinded and goes around in great big circles, so I'm making a clear summary of it here. Specifically, let's go line by line through the affidavit he filed with his restraining order in Hawaii...

I, Walter L. Wagner, affirm state and declare, under penalty of perjury of the laws of the State of Hawaii, as follows:

1. I am a nuclear physicist with extensive training in the field. I obtained my undergraduate degree in 1972 at Berkeley, California in the biological sciences with a physics minor, and graduate degree in 1978 in Sacramento, California in law.

a) The second sentence actually contradicts the first. "Physics minor" != "extensive training in the field of nuclear physics."
b) It turns out that his law degree is a JD, not a PhD, and it's from an unaccredited institution, the University of Northern California Lorenzo PatiƱo School of Law. Not only isn't he a nuclear physicist, he's also not a lawyer. He is not and has never been a member of the California Bar, the Hawaii Bar, and probably not any other state bars either.
c) His only actual degree is a BA in biology. (We think. So far we've not had reason to check whether he has even that...)
d) Despite the fact that he calls himself "Dr." everywhere, he doesn't actually have any right to claim that title.
2. Commencing in 1973 I worked extensively in cosmic radiation research at UC Berkeley, Physics Department, Space-Sciences, and am credited with discovery of a novel particle only previously theorized to exist [by Nobelist P.A.M. Dirac], namely a magnetic monopole. That discovery still remains controversial as to the identify of that novel particle, and numerous searches for magnetic monopoles are still currently underway, or proposed, including at the Large Hadron Collider [LHC].

a) The scientists who published the 1975 paper claiming it to be a magnetic monopole later retracted their claim in a 1978 paper.
b) He was a lowly lab tech that was hired to be a scanner. He was told what to look for by the real scientists, and had no part in the actual scientific conversation surrounding the unexplained particle. This is borne out by examining the authorship and acknowledgements of the papers in question. When he says "credited with", what he means is "mentioned in the acknowledgements for assistance." He also fails to mention that he wasn't the only hired scanner in the lab at the time.
c) Nowadays the discovery is viewed as a historical curiosity, not a controversy.
3. Commencing in 1979 I began employment as a federal nuclear safety officer with the US government, from which I am currently retired, though I remain in frequent contact with my former duty station. My federal duty station was with the US Veterans Administration, and I managed an extensive program of nuclear safety involving usages of ionizing radiations from machines [X-ray, CT, etc.], and from a wide variety of radioactive materials produced by particle accelerators, in nuclear reactors, or extracted from nature [principally uranium and its radio-daughter radium]. This work involved enforcement of the regulations of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the US Department of Energy, and the US Department of Transportation. Essentially, my job was to look for and root-out the safety flaws overlooked by scientific researchers as it pertained to nuclear physics, as a protection not only for the researcher’s own health, but for the visitors and population at large.

a) A nuclear radiation safety officer is a type of lab tech and bureaucrat. They do some simple labwork and lots of paperwork overseeing safety regulations. They don't do nuclear physics or any other kind of science.
b) They don't practice nuclear medicine, either. Not even if the job in question is in a hospital.
4. Following retirement from federal employment I embarked on teaching science and mathematics for many years to grade school and college students. I was noted for having obtained the highest test-score on the basic teacher credentialing examination in California [CBEST] where I initially began teaching. I am presently likewise retired from that field, though I still engage myself in formal programs for science education, including the Journey Through the Universe educational outreach program hosted annually by the Big Island astronomy community, where I live. Such
educational endeavors included periods of time as an instructor at Punahou, Iolani, and several other schools in the Honolulu district.

a) He successfully passed a standardized test for grade school teachers. (This, also, does not make him a nuclear physicist.)
b) Educational outreach likewise does not make one a nuclear physicist. A bachelors degree in biology would qualify him for the stuff he mentions.
5. I have remained active in the field of theoretical nuclear physics, and serve as a science editor for Wikipedia, having numerous articles and revisions in nuclear physics to my credit, and I am very familiar with the editing procedures and processes, and with the nuclear physics editors at Wikipedia. I have been active in the field of theoretical micro-black-holes being created by advanced colliders since publication of my work in Scientific American in July, 1999.

a) Becoming an editor at Wikipedia is approximately as difficult as becoming a member of Myspace. Signup is an automated process of choosing a name and password. Anyone can sign up and edit anything, and if they're sneaky about making themselves look authoritative and intelligent, they can insert all kinds of spurious, wildly inaccurate claims that go unchallenged for a very long time. This is why Wikipedia is not highly regarded as a citable source for in-depth information.
b) His claim for being active in the field of "theoretical micro-black-holes being created by advanced colliders"-ology appears to be based on the educational outreach mentioned in 4.
c) Scientific American is not a peer reviewed scientific journal.
d) His "publication" in it in July 1999 was a letter to the editor.

After two weeks of arguing with Wagner and his faithful minions, the general consensus among the UCF is that the man is mentally defective, possibly clinically insane.

As for the other guy, Luis Sancho, it doesn't take much of a look at all at his website to know where his sanity stands. If he was worldbuilding for some kind of cyberpunk story with sentient AIs in an alternate universe, that would be a great site, but, uhhh. I think that's all anyone really needs to say about that.

Meanwhile, has the Large Hadron Collider destroyed the world yet? Click here to check on the status of that.

Update: courtesy of Nathan, there's also this bit of excellently useful data:
song chart memes

One final note. Comments on this post will be heavily moderated because I don't want the arguments to wander over here, too. This article is meant to clarify things, not make everything all muddy. John is the official host of this particular circus, if you want to say something significantly in disagreement, do it over there. I will update this as things continue to progress at Refugees.

19 October 2008

American Voting

Traditionally, Americans vote by going on a certain day to a prearranged place in their general neighborhood. It might be an actual government building, a public school, or even a church. It can't be some other place than the assigned one, which is decided by home address, and it has to be between certain hours.

Once there, we might stand in long lines if we go at the same time as everyone else in the neighborhood. Then we are confronted with lots of names that we may have never heard of,* vying for obscure governmental positions that we may also have no clue about.** And at the end there are usually a bunch of questions about referendums, propositions, initiatives, constitutional amendments, etc. that are worded as confusingly as possible so that we have no idea what any of them would actually do if enacted.*** In Georgia, these tend to be about taxes. Shall we tax this group of people if they meet these particular qualifications? Shall we give tax breaks to this other group of people if they don't? etc.

But now we have the Internet! Furthermore, at least here in Georgia, we no longer need a reason to apply for an absentee ballot - we can get one for fun if we want. And since I want, this year I did. So I could look stuff up while I'm filling it out. Then send it back out in the mail at my leisure. It's working out a lot better this way overall. I'm not looking up as much stuff as I could,** but I like having the option. :)

* Seriously, the only time I ever got non-"vote for me!" pleas in the mail from a candidate at less than the federal level was 20 years ago back in Indiana. Her name was Vi Simpson, a state rep, and I kept voting for her simply because she actually tried to keep me up to date on what she was doing. Hers is also the only name I remember. Likewise why I vote for U.S. Rep John Barrow now - I get mail from him several times a year. (Well, that and the fact that up until this year, the other guy was this crazed rabidly anti-gay wacko...).

** This year there's tons of judges and assorted bureaucrats running unopposed. I'm too apathetic to figure out who they are or what their positions do.

*** To wit: just take a look at what the second one for this year says: "Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize community redevelopment and authorize counties, municipalities, and local boards of education to use tax funds for redevelopment purposes and programs?" To which I ask the obvious question, community redevelopment purposes such as ...? Now read the explanation under it. Does that clear it up at all? :p It sounds like they're saying "we should let developers steal tax money meant to run our public schools" to which I'd have to go with "no."

(But see also this blog post, which breaks it down a lot better than the official government-run site and also provides links to actual documentation. Where would we be without the Internet?)

11 October 2008

Open House 2008

Every year, the institute where I work has an Open House, wherein we let the general public mob the place. Allegedly they're there to learn what the institute does to deserve taxpayer money, and maybe some basic marine science too. In practice it's more a place for small children to get their faces painted and do crafts and run races and play inside a giant inflatable whale. We have a jazz band, and in some years people walking around in costumes of marine creatures (and from Spongebob Squarepants).

Even so, every year we try. This year I made a poster:

(click to read)

It was as dumbed down as I could get away with. The institute faculty don't seem to know how to explain things to the average carnival-minded layperson of casual non-interest, and the other posters were pretty technical. Mine had people standing in front of it longer than the others, so I call it a success. :)

10 October 2008


Sometimes it's better just to look at the world around you, enjoy it for what it is while it is, than to try to capture it on film.

This is especially true when you're armed only with a basic, automatic-everything point-and-shoot camera.

01 October 2008

My take on the ongoing total economic collapse

The people who have lost houses need houses.

The banks have lots of houses that they don't need or want.

The houses need people to take care of them, lest they fall apart and start losing in value.

So ... the banks should sell the houses back to their original owners at a fraction of the cost, and/or put them on sensible mortgages. The banks will probably lose lots of money if they did that, but since it was their greed that caused the problem in the first place, I don't see that as a problem.


Me : complex financial stuff :: Nathan : non-geometry math

(alternately, I like Jim Wright's plan.)

29 September 2008


1. The empty restaurant building across the street from me now has a sign that says:
Coming Soon
Cajun Grill Cafe
Bourbon Chicken !!

So. More chicken then. But at least it's not the battered and deep-fried kind, like the last two places (that failed there). If it's anything like the one at the mall food court, I'll probably eat there regularly. If not, well, I hope it will serve actual Cajun food, which the mall food court doesn't.

2. I stopped using the shoe lift.

You know how when one of your joints needs to be cracked, it feels sort of itchy and naggy (and eventually stabby) until you crack it? Well, that's what happens to an undefinable spot in the back left of my skull after a few weeks of shoe lifting. The chiropractor couldn't reach it. The backup chiropractor couldn't either. It takes weeks after I stop shoe lifting to work out on its own.

I think I'll save the shoe lift for times when I'm doing lots of touristing.

3. She is a dear, sweet little old lady. She was retired and gone, but says she found it not to her liking. Now she's unretired and back, and watching over us all once more.

4. Good things that have ended sometimes have epilogues and sequels.

Business at their wholesale seafood market is slow but growing steadily. The bun that came in February is now in China. The bun's brother, who was in China, is now here. A few of the original takeout customers have indeed found their way there. And apparently my Mandarin has improved due to those eight months of being unable to communicate with the new takeout staff otherwise.

5. The traffic light that hates me still hates me. For a while I was driving through the shopping center to go through the crosslight without having to make a U-turn. Then for a while it looked like it had changed its ways - so I lost the habit of driving through the shopping center. But it was all just a clever ploy! Now, this past week, it's back to the same inappropriate redness as before. T.T

6. Last year I was paid to skulk around a dormful of sleeping children. Last week they paid me to do it again. Next year I'm penciled in to do it a third time. Who says peace of mind is priceless?

7. Not only can I touch my toes without warming up, after today's yoga class I could touch my thumbs to the floor! Yay progress! :)

20 September 2008


You can trust someone with your life.
You can trust someone with your heart.
You can trust someone with your money.
These three things are not the same, and should not be confused with each other.

17 September 2008


There are really two kinds of depression. There's the emotional kind, which is when something bad happens and you're sad. Then there's the clinical kind, which is when your brain chemicals stop working quite right, and you think you're sad.

The world has an emotionscape, where all sorts of emotions are flying around everywhere all the time. As an empath who constantly experiences other people's emotions, I've come to understand the difference between an emotion that I myself am feeling, and an emotion from an external source. It's subtle, and the brain is naturally inclined to assign internal reasons for emotions that appear without one, which makes it all that much harder to distinguish. If anger appears, then my brain finds something to be mad about. If sadness appears, it finds reasons to be sad.

Last weekend I lost all will to do anything other than lie around staring at the wall. I didn't want to do anything else. I had no energy to write anything, or cook anything, go out for any reason, or otherwise engage in anything. Attempts to snap myself out of it by jumping into the apartment complex pool were fruitless. I played a lot of Bloons.

But I wasn't sad. I have nothing to be sad about. I just had every other symptom of a clinical depression. It went away sometime yesterday evening, possibly because I ate something specific that got my brain moving again (though I don't know for sure). Still, it was an interesting experience. It seems I've gotten so good at separating external emotions that now I can be depressed without being depressed.

11 September 2008

Things I Remember

I remember the world holding its breath, watching to see what we would do. I remember when we stood at the precipice, on the cusp of world unification, strength in togetherness, so many directions we could go, so many possibilities. All it needed was a great leader with the confidence to take that step forward. And I remember thinking, this man, the one who leads us, is not that man, and he will stumble and fall.

And he did.

I remember the aftermath when "we" decided strength came from standing alone. It's something a great many teenage boys start out thinking but eventually, as they mature, learn better and grow out of. I remember thinking that the one with the most power had not. Many people stall out somewhere along the way, for many reasons. It's unfortunate that one of those had come to that place of power, a scared little boy instead of a true adult.

I remember when we became "we" and eventually not "we." For me, it was when he declared war on "terror" - and I knew we would be tilting at windmills forevermore. That was when he lost me.

But I remember all the hope in that first perfect moment.

What I said last year also still applies.

Jim Wright's memories
Robert Sloan2's thoughts on the matter
Alcar's thoughts

10 September 2008

My Office

While I was taking keyboard pictures yesterday, I also took some of my office. Here's what my desk area looks like:

09 September 2008

Retarded keyboard arrangement of keys

The esc key so needs to move to that blank key above it. -.-

By popular demand, here's some more pictures of my keyboard(s). This one shows where the tilde is located:

And here's the whole keyboard, followed by my home keyboards. The work one is from Sun and goes with a Sunblade running Solaris (unix). The main home one is a wireless that came with my iMac G5. It's a piece of crap compared to the ADB that came with the Powermac in 1996. I really wish Apple would go back to whatever technology/company made their ADB keyboards back then...

04 September 2008

Deep End Geometry Revisited

(Note to Nathan: It's math again, but this time with no numbers at all! Only pictures! If it still doesn't make sense, well, the pictures are pretty....)

This is the type of picture I've been making for the past three weeks. That rainbow blob thing in the middle is made up of several thousand dots1. Wouldn't it be nice if I could stretch them out to fill the whole box instead of having them all jammed together in the middle?

Here's the direction I want to stretch them. The one on the right is a bird's eye view of the same thing. Unfortunately, I can't stretch them out that way. I can only stretch them in one of these ways:

Obviously, then, I should move the blob until it's pointing in a better direction. To be able to stretch them the way I want, it needs to be pointed like so:

See how easy that was in Photostudio? Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that when it's a bunch of dots on a grid. To do what I want, I need to either move the grid around to match the blob, or move the blob around to match the grid.

Lots of people made lots of suggestions, all of which had strange side effects, so in the end, I didn't end up using any of them. See, it turns out that although it's hard to rotate a blob of dots when you have them in a box, it's not at all hard when you've got them on a circle2. In fact, it's ridiculously easy.

Yep. That's what I call thinking outside the box. :) And it allows me to do this:

Footnotes for the advanced class:

1. 79,744 total data points. Which needed to be rotated 55 degrees counterclockwise.

2. Cartesian coordinates are X, Y, Z. Polar coordinates are directions with magnitudes (or angles with radii) (or, in 3D, it's azimuth and elevation to go with the radii). Rotating in polar is easy because all you do is add to the angle. So I converted from cartesian to polar, did some addition, and then converted from polar back to cartesian. Voila!

31 August 2008

Wanted: Greater Variety of Restaurants

The restaurants within walking distance to me are:

1. A southern-style diner with late hours. Lots of deep fried stuff. Good crab stew and hot wings. Expensive sandwiches. Fake scallops. Their food quality had plummeted the last couple times I was there, so I try to ignore it.

2. A Japanese restaurant. Good but not great sushi. Run by Mandarin-speaking Chinese people.

3. A Domino's.

4. A Pizza Hut that also has a WingStreet in it. Good wings, better pizza than Domino's, much farther walk.

5. A Sonic. This is a drive-in fast food place with burgers and shakes and stuff. It doesn't usually come to mind when I'm trying to decide on a restaurant to walk to.

Then there's an empty restaurant building. The last two restaurants in it were both deep fried chicken places. They probably went under from competition with the diner. The diner's food quality has probably plummeted due to lack of competition from the chicken places.

Me, I'd be thrilled to see something in it that offers food other than what we already have in the immediate area. A Chinese takeout, for example. Or maybe Mexican - we do have a fair number of Hispanics in the area. Or if someone could pull off an Indian takeout, or a Korean takeout, or Greek. I could do with a baklava stand. Anything besides more deep-fried chicken.

28 August 2008

Flowering Chives

My chives are in full flower. I saw some bees frolicking in them this afternoon, but neglected to take pictures while they were there. The tomatoes behind them are also doing well. Still no fruit and only a few flowers.

26 August 2008

Some Easy Arithmetic

Today I made graphs. Lots of graphs.

The goal was to make a two-month time series. I picked out 19 days. The figure for each day had four panels. Each panel had two lines. Each line had 110-190 dots.

So, that's 19 figures. 76 total panels. 152 total lines. 9,348 total dots.

Predictably, the first one was insanely difficult and took 5-6 hours. (Arrr Matlab.) After that, I had a script. The other 75 took maybe 20 total minutes (interspersed over a bunch of blog reading... >.>). Yay Matlab. :p

Printing involved some voodoo (is there any other software out there where, if something fails to work the first time you do it, it inexplicably works fine when you do it a second time? even if you change absolutely nothing in between?), but fortunately it didn't involve sacrificing any goats like the last time I had to work with YY-plots.

Tomorrow? I get to do it all over again with the same 9,348 dots - only this time, I'll be doing it in 3D.

25 August 2008

random thought for the day (...or month)

If they have enough advanced planning and funds, anyone can do anything they want to us at any time. The key is not in stopping them from doing things. The key is to stop them from wanting to.

23 August 2008


One hundred eighty two days after I swung the clue-by-four, he said "I'm sorry."

So I called him an asshole.

He said again, "I'm sorry."

I called him less mature than a 15 year old.

He said again, "I'm sorry."

So I forgave him.

The end.

18 August 2008

Headlines of our Lives

Apparently we're having another UCF Bonding Event this week, so here's my placeholder post in case any of them land here. :)

16 August 2008

Going off the deep end with geometry

[Warning to Nathan: Lots of math is about to ensue. You might want to cover your eyes...]

Yesterday it took me all night to learn that single precision numbers and double precision numbers are not at all the same thing. Not that Matlab will tell you this, of course. They'll look exactly the same to the untrained eye. No, you have to specifically ask, using an obscure function such as superiorfloat(). All Matlab will do is inexplicably refuse to make straightforward plots of those numbers until after you change them.

Today I learned that it's quite difficult to rotate the axes of a cartesian system to anything other than 90 degrees, especially if you've never learned any math past calculus (and you didn't do so good in calculus).

origin=newpole(polelat, polelon);
[lat_rotate,lon_rotate] = rotatem(lat, lon, origin, 'forward', 'degrees');

... which will indeed do some rotating of the data. However, the end result won't bear much resemblance to what you had at the start.

Then (via John) there's:
xdist = sqrt(((m*lat - m*b) ./ (1 + m^2)).^2 + (((1-m^2)*lat - b + b*m^2 + m*lon) ./ (1 + m^2)).^2);
xdist = sqrt((((lon + m*lat + m*b) / (m + 1/m)) + b - lat).^2 + (((lon/m + lat + b) / (m + 1/m)) - lon).^2);

... which uses linear algebra and vectors and dot products and all sorts of stuff that go completely over my head. I have no clue how the equations got derived, only that they don't seem to do what I want them to, and I don't know how to fix them. Also it occurred to me while I was fiddling with them that they'll only give me the x values, not the y values...

Snave tells me it's simple. Those matrices look scary to me. o.O

On Monday I'll reveal my utter ignorance to the local Matlab expert, and maybe she'll figure out how to do all this for me. Either that or I'll abandon this foray and go to Plan B (which is to do what my boss actually asked for as opposed to what he wants (and will probably be asking for when he finds out that what he asked for won't be sufficient)).

12 August 2008

The Return of My Infamous Food Posts Part II: House Specials

Nathan asked:
What's really in the 'house special' fried rice?

At the takeout where I worked, it was chicken, pork, shrimp, and vegetables. You could get each of those separately, or beef fried rice, or scallops if you wanted to pay more. We also had 'house special' lo mein, egg foo young, chow mein, chop suey, and chow mei fun. And it was possible to get sweet & sour pork, chicken, and shrimp together, but we called that a "combo" instead. (Which was not to be confused with our "combination platters"...). Then there was Hunan Triple Delight, which was chicken, beef, and shrimp. And Four Seasons, which was all four of the main meats. There were other meat combination things too that involved various forms of seafood.

To answer the unspoken insinuation in the question that you may or may not have intended: no, we did not serve cat meat. Chinese restaurants don't serve cat meat, they're subjected to the same health dept regulations as every other restaurant - which includes checks of whether food suppliers are approved or not. Chinese restaurant owners are either confused by the concept or insulted, depending on how often they've heard it. Either way it isn't very funny from the kitchen side of the counter.