28 February 2008


These oysters are at the edge of the river that runs past where I work.

For an attempt at scale, that tiny island of mud with the plant growing out of it is also visible as a black dot near the bottom middle of the picture on the right.

In coastal Georgia, we eat these things in regular outdoorsy parties called Oyster Roasts. First we shovel them onto a low metal table over a bonfire, cover them with burlap, and hose water on them to keep them wet while they're roasting. Then we shovel them onto high wooden tables (high, because we eat standing up) which are outfitted with oyster knives, shrimp cocktail sauce (red, tomato-based, halfway between salsa and tomato ketchup and nothing like either one), and lots and lots of paper towels. If we're being upscale, there's a big hole in the middle of the table with a trash can underneath. It's sandy and sticky and lots of fun.

(Picture on right was cropped from a picture taken by a coworker.)

27 February 2008

Passengers on different cars stepping off the same train

Ask someone from 100 years ago if they'd rather live with the threat of polio or put up with our problems.


If we had just been 20 years faster in some developments, some people very dear to me would still be alive.

If only you got to X in time, then Y wouldn't've happened. Or if you got there just a bit earlier, or later, you might have caught Y - or missed Y.

The people of 100 years ago had problems we don't. But we also have problems that they don't - and our solutions to the problems of today, some of them will create problems for the people of 100 years from now. We'll make mistakes, problems will arise out of what we do that we can't predict, things will come up that we can't foresee. Bad things happen and you can't solve for every bad thing in the world until there are no more. There will always be more.

And that's life. It's how it works. Different centuries, same humanity. Different cars, same train. People die of all sorts of things before their time and they always will. Different times, same pains. No amount of scientific and technological advancement will change that.

And that's what art and literature are all about.

26 February 2008

New Improved Fetch and Classic Fetch, together at last!

So a while back I posted some pictures of my plush toy dog Fetch, who bears a striking resemblance to an old icon of the FTP program by the same name. I was quite fond of the program when I was still using Mac OS pre-X.

Well, it turns out that the FTP program is still around, updated with a new icon for Mac OSX. Furthermore, the fellow who created the software, Jim Matthews, saw my post. He has kindly provided me with a plush toy of the new, improved Fetch.

The new dog is every bit as cuddly as he looks. :)

I haven't tried out modern Fetch yet, though it looks quite spiffy from the guided tour. In a year or two when our Solaris machines become obsolete, we're probably going to move to Macs. Then I'll very likely become a Fetch fan once again.

25 February 2008

Couscous Concoction

This is one of those meals I made in a "gee, I wonder what happens if..." fashion. I had half an onion and a plum tomato to use up, plus a bunch of other random things in the fridge. It came out well, so I thought I'd share.

half a cup corn
everything else diced to the same size pieces as the corn:
One carrot
Half an onion
One plum tomato
One medium-sized red potato

one pint beef broth
one cup couscous
shredded sharp cheddar
freshly ground black pepper
one tablespoon corn oil

In a saucepan, fry in corn oil until softened:

Add beef broth right after mixing in the potato. Bring to boil. Add corn. Bring to boil again. Add couscous and black pepper. Cover and turn off heat. Let stand for 5-10 minutes. Serve with cheddar.

If I'd actually planned ahead, I would've started by frying up some diced bacon, then used its grease instead of the corn oil. Good quality ground pork probably would've worked well too.

24 February 2008

Work It Out - Jurassic 5 (with Dave Matthews)

I'm not much a fan of hip-hop, but I like Jurassic 5's "Work It Out." This video was made by some kid in high school, but to my mind it captures the spirit of the song much better than the "official" video. The second verse especially speaks to me.
    These are different times but we feel the same pains
    The blood of mankind running through the same veins
    We'd like to make it right some which it remain tame
    Same crimes even though the names change
    And we're like different minds working off the same brain
    Passengers on different cars stepping off the same train
    In the end, making it right's the main aim
    Different parts of the picture highlight the same frame

(Actually I'm not convinced that he really says "some which it remain tame" but have no idea what it might be instead. All the online lyric websites, which basically just copy back and forth from each other, say the same thing.)

21 February 2008

Deja Vu

Meanwhile in the Balkans, Kosovo declares its independence from Serbia. Serbia disagrees. Riots ensue.

Both sides have powerful allies that are now opposing each other. Is this the beginning of another Great War in Europe? Or another Cold War between the U.S. and Russia?

I've said elsewhere that I prefer my news from reading what (well-informed, respected) regular people have to say about it, via blogs and forums with intelligent discussion threads. It makes it more real when real people care. Here's a view of Kosovo from someone who cares.

My Tax Dollars

There's an army air base on the west side of town. As I was driving past it the other day, I saw a whole bunch of small planes taking off, circling around, and then landing. Among my first thoughts was: "My tax dollars at work. I wonder how much they're spending to go around in circles like that."

Most people who use that phrase are using it to disapprove of governmental services they wouldn't personally want to contribute to, such as the welfare system. (Not I in the above instance, to be clear.) So my second thought was: "I bet nobody ever thinks about 'my tax dollars' when they see evidence of military training."

Because of course we need our military to be well-trained so that they can do their jobs. Nobody questions that. Fighter pilots are doing noble, glamorous things in the name of defending the country - and flying around in pointless circles is a necessary precursor.

Meanwhile, people attempting to feed their families and have some semblance of a happy life are parasites. I guess it's not glamorous enough to do that - even though being fed is a necessary precursor to doing much of anything else.

19 February 2008

Retardedness: A Gamer's Tale of an Obsessed Loser

Prologue: The universe is Diablo II. The server is Europe, which usually has the nicest possible fellow players. The game I'm in is a mule game. I'm a paladin. My mission for the evening? Either to rescue the old sage Deckard Cain from the village of Tristram, which has been sacked by demons and set afire, or to find all the waypoints (save spots) that I'll need to do it elsewhere later.

Scene 1: A Cave

My paladin is standing in there, next to the exit, doing nothing while I'm fetching myself a bowl of soup from the kitchen. As I'm settling back into my comfy chair, I see another guy run past and out. Then I hear someone declare me an enemy. "Hmmm," I think to myself. "Maybe I better go back to town while I eat."

So I make a portal. And just as I'm going into it, the other guy comes bursting back in, I hear a clank as something hits my shield... and then the screen freezes.*

When it unfreezes a few seconds later, I'm safely in town. A few seconds after that, the other guy loses his connection to the game.

Scene 2: Some Dark Woods

I'm proceeding at a leisurely pace with my evening plans. Someone else had already found Cain first, so I was just wandering around in the Dark Woods looking for its waypoint.

The other guy comes in. Based on how long it took for him to come back, the freeze probably crashed his computer.* He immediately declares me his enemy.

I sigh with some annoyance and leave the game.

Scene 3: A Marsh

I was back to looking for waypoints again. Originally I thought I'd just proceed in a different game. On the one hand, there were 7 other players in that one (all of them just standing there doing nothing), which meant nobody else could come in. On the other hand, there were 7 other players in it, which meant all the monsters would be a lot harder to kill. Also, because it's a different game with a completely different map, I'd have to start my waypoint searching from the beginning.

So I came back to the first one. I'd found the Dark Woods - it wasn't far at all from where I left off, and had gone on to the next area (which was a marsh).

Other guy comes in again - just as I find an Experience Shrine. These things are rare and valuable, because it means faster levelling. So I decide to use it. To be safer, I go to a cave that's not part of any game quest and has no waypoints, and therefore nobody ever goes there.

Scene 4: Another Cave

Other guy declares hostilities (no big surprise there). I actually look him up this time to see what exactly I'm up against. Level 91 paladin. I'm Level 11 (read: toast). But hey, I'm in a nice safe cave, right?

Just after the shrine wears off, he suddenly appears in the cave, teleports over (a sorceress spell not normally available to paladins), and kills me in one blow.

Let's stop and review here. First, he's 91 to my 11. Second, he's quite obviously decked out on high-powered items, because he's a paladin that's somehow using sorceress spells. Third, he's obviously outfitted with a map hack if he's able to find me at all, let alone so quickly. And he's just spent the better part of two hours stalking me, a total non-challenge who is trying to stay out of his way, just so he can kill me in one blow.

I resurrect in town and say "compensating for your tiny penis or something? :p" Then I leave the game before he can reply.

Oh the wave of fury that rolled in right then. He was so pissed I was shaking, and it didn't go away for like 20 minutes.

Epilogue: Saving Cain

It's virtually impossible to save Cain in a public game. First, it's a very low level quest, which means most people who make games have already done it. Second, Cain is useful, so mule games want him already saved. Third, even in games where he isn't saved when I first arrive, he will be by the time I find where I need to go - because everyone seems to have a Cain-saving hack.

Thus, having collected the waypoints I needed, I spent the rest of my evening in a private game (that is, with a password). The enraged shaking eventually faded enough that my own emotions on the matter could come through, which mainly involved lots of snickering.

And Cain was saved. Hooray. :)

*This is not unusual while someone is running game hacks.

18 February 2008

On Brick Walls and Back Fences

Speaking of brick walls, there are entirely other ways to apply the same metaphor to communities besides gender roles. It can also be used to describe how people share their lives:
    I came across a great metaphor for relationships awhile ago - bricks and mortar. Bricks are the "big things" - the events of life that you share with friends. Mortar is the little, everyday stuff, that the people you are closest to just know about, often whether they want to or not. -- Darusha

Bricks would be things like weddings, funerals, births, deaths, new jobs, new cars, new pets, travel to distant lands, etc. Mortar would be announcements of "my mushrooms are frozen! O.o" while I'm making beef barley soup. Mortar bits of info are what make other people real and lifelike, and give a community its depth.

For the most part, people tend to blog bricks rather than mortar. Mortar just doesn't seem important enough to mention via such weighty methods as "publishing," immortalized for all the world to see for all eternity. But mortar is really easy in a realtime chat situation, or over an instant messenger, where it'll all just flow past and eventually disappear.

In the case of UCFers, we get into mortarlike things through blog post comments. Those aren't as weighty as actual articles, because they get lost in a big mishmash of other comments. But oftentimes they don't seem appropriate to say if they aren't on topic, and there have been quite a few times now where I wanted to say something mortarlike to people, but don't, because there's no real place to do it.

Enter Tom's Back Fence. Come say hi already, people!

16 February 2008

Exercise Progress

An accurate depiction of my life for the decade before this time last year:

The past year: Core Performance by Mark Verstegen

I started with the goal to someday be able to touch my toes. At first I could only do one or two reps of each warmup exercise (and took comfort from the part of the book that says "at first it might feel like a workout itself"). Then I worked up to doing five or six. Then I worked up to doing five or six reps of each all in the same day. Then I started adding stuff from the "real" exercises, and also some short sprinting. The idea was to eventually work up to doing the short version of the "Pain, Deconditioned, or Tight? Start here!" routine.

And then I hit a plateau.

This year: Yoga!

At my chiropractor's insistence, I'm going once or twice a week. It's a good thing I did all those stretching things last year or I wouldn't've survived the first class! Flow yoga is kind of cool - a sequence of different poses arranged in an order that flows, almost like a dance. Surprisingly, after a good class, I'm neither tired nor sore.

More importantly, I seem to have levelled. Now I'm eating even more than last year, and the scale tells me that some pounds are starting to accumulate. Yay new muscles! (Maybe soon I'll actually be able to see them!)

And I can sometimes touch my toes without warming up now. :)

14 February 2008

First Times

Once upon a time there was a young Muslim woman who, being a good Muslim, allowed no man to touch her, not even to hold her hand. Then one day she found a suitor and started planning a wedding. And realized that very soon there would come a time where she had to go from entering the batting cage all the way to home base, all in one night.

Lo! the stressing and freaking out and wailing and gnashing of teeth! The bargaining for doing it completely in the dark with all clothes on! The obsessing with lingerie she keeps buying but would die before wearing in front of him! And surely there must be a way to bear children (whom she loves) without a few intermediate steps! (But it better be romantic and perfect and just like in the movies! What do you mean it'll be fumbly and awkward and wet?)

The wedding is still months away.

I think this whole no sex before marriage thing is way overrated. As are "first times."

12 February 2008

Behold! Look upon my works of these past two days, ye Mighty, and despair!

And MWT said:

for j=1:length(SCSlat)-1
while SCSsortmatrix(k,1)==SCSsortmatrix(k+1,1)
&& SCSsortmatrix(k,2)==SCSsortmatrix(k+1,2)
if bindex(end) ~=k
bindex=[bindex k];

... And There Was Light.

Disclaimer: code doesn't really produce light. It won't cause despair, either. It actually doesn't do anything of any interest to anyone but me (and possibly my boss). But I wrote it all by myself!

11 February 2008

Evolved Vitameatavegamin

It stands to reason that I ought to be able to get all the vitamins and minerals I need through proper diet. After all, we evolved in the Circle of Life as eaters of food, not poppers of pills. So if I'm not getting all I need, and I feel poorly as a result, there must be something wrong with what and how I eat. I should eat less junk, eat more healthy stuff, get in a wider variety of fruits and veggies, make sure there's a properly balanced amount of proteins and carbs and fats, drink more water, pay attention to what I eat in what order and which parts of the day, not too much of these fats but more of those, etc. etc. etc.

Then it occurred to me that it might not be me after all. It might actually be the food. In these modern times of crops grown in monocultures with artificial fertilizers and livestock fed highly controlled artificial diets, where large parts of the process are chock full of chemicals, how do I know that the original, natural range of nutrition is actually getting into the food at all?

So now I happily slurp down a spoonful of this tasty liquid multivitamin every day. Nature's Plus Source of Life Ultra (with lutein!) looks like concentrated pond scum - a blackish green. It tastes like mango long enough to get it past my tongue and down my throat before the strongly vitaminlike aftertaste sets in. And the first round or two of liquid out the other end is a dazzling, blindingly bright yellow. A spoonful just before bed means I sleep really well and wake up refreshed and alert, while a spoonful just out of bed means I can seriously carpe that diem instead of being all groggy and tired the whole time.

And every time I take some, I get to giggle thinking of this:

Unlike Lucy's Vitameatavegamin, mine doesn't have meat in it (safe for vegetarians!) and also omits the 23% alcohol. And it really does taste like candy. :)


In the southeastern U.S., azaleas are a sign of spring and cause for annual festivals. They grow wild everywhere, including in the patch of woods behind my apartment. Yesterday I glanced out at my patio and saw the first ones for 2008.

Looks like spring has arrived extra early this year.

07 February 2008

Gender roles

If a community is a brick wall, men would be the bricks and women would be the cement.

Sun 10 Feb 05:21 Revision:
If a community is a brick wall, the bricks would be men and the cement would be women.

Words to savor

Every month or so, I receive an emailed newsletter from an American Indian in Arkansas. It contains news (of course) about his professional life as a musician, but more importantly, it has essays on the meaning of life. They're best read slowly, a little at a time, then pondered. I've also found them to be very calming, and almost all of them feel like he's talking to me personally about something going on in my life at the time.

Occasionally I want to share parts of them with others. There's a note at the bottom of each one that says it must be shared in its entirety, which isn't always the best way for me to say what I want to say about them, so I finally made an online archive. Now that I can point to the full versions, I can excerpt with a clear conscience. :)

06 February 2008

U.S. Election Politics 101

For those outside the U.S. who aren't terribly familiar with how presidential elections work here, here's the basic gist:

1. To start with, lots of people declare candidacy. This can happen pretty much anytime, but usually not more than two years in advance of an Election Year. The basic requirements aren't all that high - must be at least 35 and a U.S. citizen born on U.S. soil, etc. - but in practice, wealth is very helpful.

2. Each candidate belongs to a political party. A political party can have lots of candidates. In the spring of Election Year, each party holds internal elections to decide which of its many candidates it wants to support. These elections are called all sorts of things in different states - convention, caucus, primary, etc., but they basically all do the same thing. As a general rule of thumb, the earlier a state holds its primary, the more influence it has on the final outcome.

Every registered member of a party is given a chance to vote at some point during these proceedings (but some of them are lucky special members, and some of them are more equal than others...). In some states, only registered members of the party can vote in the spring elections. In others, there are rules to allow non-registered people to chime in too.

3. Once there's a single candidate left standing in each party, there's another election in late fall of Election Year, which is a contest among all the parties. This is the big main event that gets all the press. Every U.S. citizen can vote in it.

4. Then, after the election, we have something called an "electoral college" which in principle can basically ignore everyone's votes and decide amongst themselves who they really want. In practice, the electors do tend to stick with who the citizens want.

At the moment we're in the midst of #2. Yesterday, in an event called "Super Tuesday," 24 states had elections for one or both of the two main parties.

This year we're electing the replacement for G.W. Bush. As everyone knows, he sucked as a president. He sucked so badly that the next president is virtually guaranteed to be a member of the opposing political party (unless they cheat again (for a third time -.-)). Which means that this year, the primaries of that other party (the Democrats) are the most important part of the show.

So I went out today and did my thing. I've described before who I think would do the best job, and my opinion hasn't changed - my ideal would call for Barack Obama as president and Bill Richardson as vice president (or vice versa, rather - but that's impossible at this point). Will my opinion matter? I don't know. I've voted, but we have those aforementioned lucky special members of the party (called "super delegates") who can basically ignore what everyone else thinks. Which is not unlike having an electoral college in the fall. Which is, at least from my perspective, one of the reasons why so many average citizens feel disenfranchised and irrelevant in the proceedings.

I do understand the original premise of the electoral college. The general populace wasn't supposed to have a voice in the choice of president at all. The general populace is allegedly represented by senators and congressmen. In practice, it hasn't worked out quite that way, and I do wish someone would seriously consider revising the way we have elections (a ranking system of some sort rather than "choose one and only one") - but it doesn't appear to be very high on anyone's priority lists.

Results are here. It looks like Georgia went with Obama. I'm pleased. We'll see where everyone is when the dust settles over the rest of the nation (results are still coming in for the westernmost states at the time of this post).

04 February 2008

The Mother of All Flame Wars

What started with a copyright violation issue over a video on Youtube about Tom Cruise being a Scientologist has, in the past three weeks, turned into exchanges of website cracking, DOS attacks, and worldwide street demonstrations about free speech and censorship.

It's all-out war between the Church of Scientology and Project Chanology, and it's retardedly awesome. Every time I see another headline about it on Wikinews, my giggling gets louder. I thought I'd share. :) The latest is here, but check out the progression in the Related Stories sidebar and Related News near the bottom.

03 February 2008

Offerings to the Blog Police

As it happens, I actually did comply with the International Internet Code of Conduct when I first started this blog. However, since I'm surrounded by people who didn't, and who are now in the midst of rectifying their non-compliance, I thought I'd go with the flow and share a pet picture.

Unfortunately, I have no pets. So here's a stuffed dog that sits on top of the monitor to my Powermac 8500/G3. Its name is Fetch. Those who have ever used Mac OS pre-X may recall a popular FTP program (also known as Fetch) which had an icon that looked almost exactly like my stuffed dog.

I'd fret about whether stuffed animals are sufficient for fulfilling the Code of Conduct, but since I'm already in compliance, that seems counterproductive.

Update: Followup post here

02 February 2008

Free market in action

The greatest thing about eBay is that anyone can buy or sell any (reasonable) thing for fair market value. Every seller of a given widget is equal in the listings - big or small, fulltime or moonlighting, lots of the same widget or only one, the only sort criteria is time of auction end. Good or bad individual sellers and buyers are easy to spot due to the feedback system, which goes both ways, thereby ensuring that everyone is equal on both ends of the business transaction and that everyone will strive to be honest while their reputations are at stake. Final prices - driven as they are in auction format - are based on actual supply and demand, not what the widget maker (or group of middlemen) decides by fiat. It makes eBay a useful place to research actual fair market values. It makes eBay a great model of a working free market.

Well, all of that might soon be going away. Because eBay fears declining traffic through the site, they want to enact some new policies that will reward the established bigtime power sellers while punishing the small and new. Any community, large or small, needs to have a constant flow of new people coming in with new ideas and fresh perspectives; otherwise it grows stale and dies. They also want to enact policies that will upset the balances of feedback and transaction power in favor of the buyer. Lack of transparency is bad.

The above linked seller thinks that if eBay wants to increase traffic, they should be doing the opposite of what they plan - reward new sellers to encourage them to come into the community. Me personally, I think they should leave it alone and not try to fix what isn't broken; something might be broken somewhere, but it's not where they're looking.

On a related but tangential note, there's also some free market in action occurring between websites and coders. ScriptLance is a great place to get coding jobs, great or small, and be completely anonymous on both ends. Who you are isn't important, only what you can do is important. Payment is done via a very fair escrow system. I'm kind of hoping something like that will appear for freelance writing jobs too.