Thursday, April 29, 2004

pot, meet kettle

Yoda said "wars do not make one great", and I believe him. So for the most part, when I find out someone didn't serve in Vietnam, I think "lucky you". There are some issues of social inequality, however, that keep bringing this issue to the forefront. Most recently, George Bush (who just 'stopped going' to the National Guard) brought up the issue of patriotism and service to the country in his battle against John Kerry, and in this (as in everything else), he came out looking like a president, only smaller. Check out, make up your own mind.

the all-seeing eye

The engineer in me is fascinated by this Spyball (via Gizmodo) that can be rolled into a room, whereupon it will right itself and take a 360° scan of the room, broadcasting the video back to whoever threw it. I am a little upset, however, that many of the cool inventions lately seem to have a military/police purpose. When I was at university I saw that most of the research money wasn't coming from the private sector (as it does in times of true cultural growth, from the Rennaissance to Silicon Valley) - the military, in one form or another, was footing the bill for everything. As an electronics engineer, I was interested in robotics projects, but they all seemed to be in the realm of 'urban robots' that could be thrown into a dangerous area or covert surveillance bots, particulary of the miniature flying variety that soldiers can carry around in their backpacks and launch into hostile areas. Don't get me wrong: I'm all in favor of technologies that keep people from getting hurt, I just worry that when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail, and I didn't want to spend my grad years working on some tool to make fascism more efficient. I don't know what it's like where you live, but here in Portland the cops look (and occasionally act) like stormtroopers, and I think they could use more tools for relating to the people they 'serve'; they seem to have a "Charlie's everywhere, man" attitude towards the citizens.

Monday, April 26, 2004

make the fuckhead stop, please

As if we weren't already aware that the current administration in the US has fucked up priorities, Slate is reporting that Bush is spending money on nukes at a rate unequaled since the height of the cold war Reagan years - $6.5 billion this year, $6.8 billion next year, $30 billion over the next 4 years. The economy is fucked, the education system is fucked, the environment is fucked, world opinion of the US has never been lower, and Bush is spending money that doesn't exist since his corporate welfare tax breaks and skillful mishandling of government coffers turned a record surplus into a record deficit. Stop the country, I want to get off... this guy is making me sick.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

time's up, donnie.

w000t... the director's cut of Donnie Darko will be released this year.

we don't need no defenestration

A 63-year old middle-school teacher, amused or confused by the way her students were dressed, snapped a photo of her class to record the wackiness for all posterity. When one of the girls in the class questioned the teacher about the picture, the teacher made disparaging remarks about the girl's appearance, which led to an argument between the girl and the teacher. In an effort to restore order and reinforce her position of power in the classroom, the teacher then instructed two boys in the class to throw the girl out the window, which they promptly did out of fear that they would be written up for disobeying the teacher if they refused.

Home-school your kids, people... or pick a one-story school.

Hey, crackhead:

An engineer wakes up one morning to find that someone has sawn the metal tops off of his motorcycle's spark plugs and taken the ceramic parts to make a crack pipe... he then goes to work and spends the morning writing a rant about it. This really resonated with me, being as I am (was?) an irate engineer, theoretically, anyway, which is to say that my career as an engineer was primarily characterized by short periods of engineering surrounded by longer periods of bitching about one thing or another. I feel like I just found a long-lost brother or something.

Friday, April 23, 2004

the ballad of sickboy

Sorry I've been in absentia for awhile... it's just that my life is so filled with joy that I hardly have time to sit down, let alone update my webpage.

I wish.

Anne-Marie's recovery was not as uneventful as we had hoped, and she's now on a two-week regimen of some nasty antibiotics to make sure her neck heals without incident. I thought my life was fuct - the stuff they are giving her is so strong that they can't administer it using conventional means without causing her more harm, so they threaded a 'picc line' up her arm and directly into her heart, so the drug is quickly dispersed and diluted throughout her entire circulatory system. Even using this method the drug is still so strong that a little machine must be used to slowly squeeze the syringe over the course of an hour or so. As if any more proof was needed, this just reinforces my belief that Anne-Marie is much tougher than me... I would just fucking die if this happened to me.

My own health has been a subject of concern as well... I visited the neurologist, who assured me that I have a sound and healthy nervous system, and he even gave me the MRI films to prove it. This cast me into a deep depression, as I had been holding onto the hope that my chronic pain might finally be given a distinct and operable diagnosis like a tumor... hell, even a diagnosis of cancer would bring me some relief. These endless days of unaccredited pain are driving me nuts.

There is a new hope however: the pain-management doc tried a celiac plexus diagnostic nerve block that brought me quite a bit of relief for a night. This implies that the problem is visceral, which throws the ball back into the GI doc's court. Hopefully I'll be getting an MRI of my guts soon and they can figure out what the fuck is causing all of the pain, and fix it so I can get some rest. Until then, Anne-Marie and I are nursing each other through the rough bits, one day at a time. Joy, joy, joy.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

my brother's keeper

The Conflict Archive on the INternet (CAIN) is a great source of background information about the Northern Ireland conflict from 1968 to the present. Believe me, there's more happening than you get off of the 10 o'clock news. As we are seeing once again here in the states, the 'good guys' (which both sides invariably believe themselves to be) are often capable of just as much injustice as the 'bad guys' (which everyone agrees means 'the other guys'). Check out the site for some in-depth background on this ongoing fiasco.


Looking through my record collection, I see that 3 record companies put out the majority of the music I've listened to since I was a teenager. 4AD made the music that moved me, with some help from Factory and Beggar's Banquet. Check out this retrospective of the first 20 years of 4AD.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

les malades

Anne-Marie went in for an operation yesterday, removing a lump from her neck that turned out to be just an irate gland... she'd set up this operation a week ago, which was fortunate, since each of the three days leading up to yesterday brought her more pain and less mobility, and had she not planned ahead she would probably have ended up in the emergency room. Good timing, and a benign outcome, so all things considered she's doing well. This does leave us with both bedbound for a couple of days... no change at all in my life, but she's going to need to slow down for a bit.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

the human touch

Last night we slept with a warm summery breeze blowing through the room, smelling the blossoms that that have covered our trees and listening to the wind sift its way through the bamboo stands out back... and somehow the pollen in the air or something caused me to develop this tiny little bud of hope that I could participate in a normal human activity, so when Anne-Marie went to the Portland Nursery today I went with her. I figured we could at least pretend that we were two ordinary happy people who are working together to build a home, choosing with care the little twigs and buds that will grow, as we will grow, over the years in which we call this place our home.

'If the pain kicks in, I can always go sit in the car and read', I thought. Well, the pain did kick in, and the cramping and that feeling like something is literally gnawing at my guts kicked in too, and now, after Anne-Marie has returned me to my home and the puking and shaking and cold sweats have stopped, for the most part, I am lying in bed watching the winds tease the bamboo out back and I do not feel any hope, I do not feel human, and I sometimes find myself missing the good old days in the past when I didn't feel at all. I know, in my head, how much better my life has been since I learned how to feel again, but there's this sensation that is literally at the core of me, deep within me, this tiny ball of pain that sometimes grows and grows until it engulfs me, and I've had to learn to smile, to pretend I think tomorrow is going to be different, to make plans (like building a home or planting trees) that take the future into account, that at least simulate defiance of this thing that has eaten my life, even though I do not feel that I have the strength to fight it forever.

Anyway, that's how my day went.

Feeling the need for some human contact, I fired up the email and received incontrovertible proof that Somebody Out There Loves Me... in this case, it was the meticulous care and attention to detail shown by the Penis People, who today in three separate emails promised me the trifecta of 'Length', 'Girth', and the somewhat more mystical and elusive 'Power'. Chicks, they assure me, will dig it. I declined all of the offers, but now as I lie down to nap away the rest of today's pain I am comforted by the knowledge that somebody out there has my best interests in mind.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

e-books a'plenty

Project Gutenberg's Distributed Proofreaders project, to which I have been contributing for the past few months, just passed 4000 books. The project is something like Seti@Home, except the 'spare cycles' it utilizes are yours, not your computers... get a whole bunch of people to each proofread a page or two, and out pops another book to add to the already impressive collection of public domain works at Project Gutenberg.

The DP project is currently about a third of the way through the stack of texts they want to turn into e-books. You might think that the supply of public-domain books would be unending, but currently the laws in America don't provide a mechanism for published works to automatically fall into the public domain... our politicians have shown themselves to be only too happy to take money from the lobbyists who want to maintain copyright 'forever', even if they do not choose to exercise their copyright by publishing the work again. It's a major case of "we don't need it, but we sure as hell aren't going to let them have it", where in this case 'them' is YOU. Do we really want your future to be defined by marketers?

Thursday, April 08, 2004

forever in debt to your priceless advice

Thurston Moore looks back on Kurt Cobain, a decade after Cobain's suicide.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Pacman gay?

Slate has an interesting article about gender roles in video games, particularly the outing of gay characters that has taken place over the past couple of years. With gay marriages in The Sims 2 and lesbian plotlines popping up in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, it's looking like it's only a matter of time before character setup screens will include a sexual preference option in addition to gender, race, and skills.

For years, the reverse has been true: Gay gamers have had no choice but to play as straight characters. Ian Wilson, one gay player I talked to online, says one of his favorite games is Metal Gear Solid, except for the parts where his character has to interact with women. "They're always trying to hit on you," he says. And it's true: In most games, the romance plots are pure boilerplate, endless tales of square-jawed guys hooking up with attractive dames. This is why family-values critics have targeted the violence in video games but never complained about the sexual politics. The gender roles in games are practically lifted from Father Knows Best.

It never occured to me, playing any game, that gender roles were even an issue... I suppose it depends on the type of game you play, and the reasons you play them. I played the above-mentioned Star Wars game 4 times: male and female lead characters, light-side and dark-side of the Force, because the plotlines were so convoluted (this is a good thing, I abhor linear gameplay) and the computer characters react differently to you depending on who you are. When my female dark-side character started getting hit on by a female character in the game, I thought "hrmmm, never seen that happen in a game before", and continued with the game. The whole issue of sexuality in video games escapes me completely, because time spent playing video games can generally be characterised as time spent not having sex (unless you have a very accommodating partner), and I couldn't care less whether or not a character on the screen is getting laid or not. If 'Sleeper'-style cybersex ever becomes a reality, I might start paying more attention to the issue, but for now I see video games as puzzles and tests of skill, not a chance to explore alternate lifestyles.

Reading the reactions other people have to this 'issue', however, I see that it's not going to be quite so simple for some people, like the 'Straight, White, Christian and PROUD of it' gameplayer who is sick of having 'liberals' force such things on him... he'd been playing a game called 'The Temple of Elemental Evil', based on the original Dungeons & Dragons game of the same name, where a sideplot involved a gay marriage. The irony of a self-declared 'PROUD Christian' playing a game in the realm of evil and getting miffed about ANYTHING is just bizarre. I'll leave the psychoanalysis of our little Aryan friend to people with more training than I have, but seriously, if you're violently offended by little dots moving around on the computer screen, maybe you've got some perspective issues that need to be worked out.

Worshipping the goddess Eastre

Just in case some of you have had the misfortune of being born into a world where they tell you lies about everything, here's the scoop on Easter.

As with most (literally most, almost all) Christian 'holidays', the celebration of Easter has nothing to do with Christianity, and never did until the Christians came up with the remarkably persuasive tactic of killing off all of the people who didn't believe what they believe. Prior to that, Easter was a Saxon festival that happened each spring, celebrating the return of Eastre, the goddess of fertility. I don't know about you, but given the choice of dead-guy-on-a-pole vs fertility goddess, I'm taking the goddess, but that may just be how I am wired. Being as Eastre was a fertility goddess, it's only natural that symbols of fertility (like the egg, for obvious reasons, and the bunny rabbit, whose superfecundity must have seemed magical) came to be associated with the celebration. The peasantry would boil the eggs with leaves and flower petals to color them; those who were more well off would coat the eggs in gold leaf. (Ahh, see how it all fits together when you've got the cultural context?) I remember asking, as a child, what the connection was between Jesus and the Easter Bunny - I'd figured out the whole Santa thing, and I wondered if similar rules applied (like maybe Jesus dresssd up as the Easter Bunny? So what the hell are the eggs for then?)

I can get into the Goddesh worship (I know the faces of many and the secrets of one), but I think I'll limit the bunnies to Oolong and Yuebing, and maybe this guy:

you smell like butt

oolong has a posse

The Eastercist

The Exorcist. In 30 seconds. With bunnies. (340K Flash)

Monday, April 05, 2004

subliminal subversion

The folks over at skeptomai have made an interesting discovery: the little tags on Tom Bihn laptop bags have the care instructions in both English and French, but they don't say the same thing in both languages. The French part accurately follows the English part up to the end, then adds

Nous sommes désolés que notre President soit un idiot. Nous n'avons pas vote pour lui.

This translates into English as

We are sorry that our President is an idiot. We didn't vote for him.

label slams Bush

epic idiocy

Read the tale of these epic times in 'The Bushiad and The Idyossey':

December's rosy-fingered dawn gently
Brushes sleep from his dream-soaked eyes,
But Resolute George wakes up royally pissed,
Roiling with rage, his insides scorched
By a hot and furious furnace, welding
Purpose ever tighter to his heart.

It goes on and on, just like the real madness of our King George. You should read it - something very much like it will probably be taught to your grandchildren in their history classes. If we aren't all living in fucking caves by then.

cthulhian sea monkeys

Check out these photos of bioluminous critters. They're at the Bioluminescence Web Page, which has a lot of good info on the chemistry of bioluminescence and a place where you can order bioluminescent dinoflagellates if you want to play along at home.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Air America goes live

Air America radio has gone live, with Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo providing some sort of cosmic counterbalance to O'Reilly and Coulter... pitting hope and humor against hatred and hubris and hopefully helping to make a change in this country. (I solemnly swear to use fewer h's in the next few sentences.) After seeing how blatantly the Bush administration has fucked the country in the last few years, and how complacent the sheepulace has been in response, and how the right has shifted so far to the right that the middle and part of the left are on the right as well, I've pretty much given up hope completely, but I'm glad to see that there are others who have the energy for the good fight.

If you don't get the radio station yet you can stream the shows over the net... RealPlayer only right now, but I think other formats will be available soon.

Saturday, April 03, 2004


Check out this great photoblog of some Buddhist monks making a sand mandala at Clemson University.

No, I would not say 'benefit.'

A printing services shop in Wellington Ohio is getting some flack for their advertising tastes: Special Effects set up a window display showing how they could help you write a better suicide note. The display showed an overturned table beneath a pair of legs (meant to be someone hanging) and two suicide notes, one sloppily handwritten, the other professionally printed. Local blowhards have gotten their panties in a bunch over this, acknowledging that life (in Ohio? the entire US? the world?) is already so fucking miserable that people "need messages encouraging life, not death". I'm thinking of starting a donation campaign to rent out a theater in that town to show 'Harold & Maude' for free, but I'm guessing a lot of people just wouldn't get it.

Friday, April 02, 2004

personal update 02 april 04

Yesterday I went in for two hours of MRI's... I've never had one before, and while I knew I'd be in this Star-Trek-ish tube, I had no idea it would be so loud. They did my brain and the whole spinal cord, so hopefully when I see the neurologist in a few weeks he'll have everything he needs to determine what the problem is.

Of course going to the hospital to get the MRI meant getting out of bed, which is something I don't generally do lately. The physical activity (this is just 'walking' and 'riding in a car', mind you) laid me out for the rest of the day, with dizziness and shivering and cold sweats and vomiting, even though I'd eaten nothing. My stomach was so violent that I started drinking water just to have something to throw up. Definitely some wires crossed somewhere. I finally fell asleep sitting up, bundled in every blanket I could find, and I didn't wake up until Anne-Marie got home from work the next morning. (That's like the second time in a year that I've slept without the help of medication.) Today I've still got the nausea and dizziness, but the cold sweats and shivering have stopped, and I'm not vomiting. Hooray.

I really hope the neurologist finds something fixable. It's pretty bad when I start looking forward to the possibility of a brain tumor - at least then I'd know why this was happening, and have some hope of recovery. Hope visits me only rarely these days. Being laid out in bed for over a year without a diagnosis or any real relief is wearing me out.

As always: I haven't forgotten my friends, I just don't write as much as I did in the past. I get tired of answering "how are you doing?", and being sick for so long (i.e. 'having something wrong with me') is having more of a mental effect that I'd expected (i.e. I always feel like there is something wrong with me). I don't think I'm explaining that very well, but it's probably a textbook problem for people with chronic pain. I'll try to keep in touch. In the meantime, keep clapping. (I've lost track of how many faeries have died because you weren't clapping hard enough.)

they'll probably hang him for this

Tom Daschle's speech to the Senate a few days ago speaks rather plainly about the abuses of power that are becoming epidemic in the Bush administration. Interestingly, he notes that the administration is aiming the majority of its personal attacks at Republicans who dare to tell the truth, rather than at their historical enemies the Democrats. I would not be surprised in the least if he ends up sleeping with the fishes over this one.

Bush has almost singlehandedly changed this country in ways that are so glaringly WRONG that I just about puke every time I see an American flag. I'm sick of being sick over this... would somebody please just make the bad man go away? There's an election coming up, that gives us the perfect opportunity to change things. No, I don't think that any other president will be free of corruption (regardless of which party they belong to), but at the very least lets try to get someone in the White House that doesn't hold the people of this country in such obvious disdain.