Thursday, March 31, 2005

the will to provoke

This Saturday Survival Research Laboratories is doing a show in LA. Pack up your earplugs, safety glasses, and life insurance policy, put 911 on speed dial, and whatever you do don't sit in the front row.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

cielo de octubre

Four 'undocumented' (i.e. 'illegal alien') high school kids from Phoenix entered the Marine Advanced Technology Education Center's Remotely Operated Vehicle Competition, hoping to just not suck. The $800 ROV they built out of PVC pipe and waterproofed with tampons was competing against $11000 corporate funded ROVs from schools like MIT. When they arrived at the competition and brought out their ROV, the other teams laughed.

"Can we go to Hooters if we win?" Lorenzo asked.

No one was laughing a few hours later when the team swept the top three awards plus an impromptu special achievement award the judges created on the spot to honor their work.

They had just won two of the most important awards. All that was left was the grand prize. Cristian quickly calculated the probability of winning but couldn't believe what he was coming up with. Ledge leaned across the table and grabbed Lorenzo's shirt. "Lorenzo, if what I think is about to happen does happen, I do not, under any circumstances, want to hear you say the word 'Hooters' onstage."

"And the overall winner for the Marine Technology ROV championship," Merrill continued, looking up at the crowd, "goes to Carl Hayden High School of Phoenix, Arizona!"

Lorenzo threw his arms into the air, looked at Ledge, and silently mouthed the word "Hooters."

These guys are awesome. They are also going to spend the rest of their lives doing menial labor if something doesn't change, because they they're not just underprivileged, they are also officially 'out-of-state' students anywhere they go in the US, effectively doubling a tuition that was already out of reach. Hopefully their experience at the ROV contest will bring them some good will. If you've got any to spare, their school district has set up a scholarship fund for the team.

hey man, nice shot

Guns don't kill people. Stupidity does.

This one sounds somewhat suspicious, but it's hard to imagine what the guy would be trying to hide when his cover story is this stupid:

Joseph Stanton (29) was cooking, so of course he set his loaded 9mm on the counter... best not to try and juggle cooking utensils and a handgun at the same time. Seems prudent enough, if you don't question the guy's need to have a handgun within arms reach at all times. Just when he had his back turned, his sneaky little cat crept up and pushed the gun off the counter. Upon striking the floor, the gun fired and and pegged the guy 'in the lower abdomen'.

Shot in the ass by a cat. Might be the universe's way of trying to tell him something. ('Never turn your back on a cat'? Or perhaps 'never leave one in the chamber'? Is 'get a fucking clue' too general?)

Michael Lewis (27) just wanted to spend a leisurely afternoon outdoors... so he used a .22 shell on the picnic table for target practice with his pellet rifle. Apparently the guy is a pretty good shot - he hit the shell, which fired right back at him, striking him in the groin. Police said 'the bullet apparently lodged near major nerves and arteries' and they hope to speak with Lewis again because 'at the time, he was uncooperative'. Umm, yeah. Who wouldn't be? It seems unlikely that Lewis will be able to reproduce after this, and I for one would like to thank him for removing himself from the gene pool.

In both cases I wonder what really happened... it might have gone down the way they said it did, but I have this theory that most really spectacular fuckups are immediately preceded by someone saying 'hey, check this out'.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

leave nothing to chance

Andy Maskin doesn't want any ambiguity if he enters a 'persistent vegetative state'... his living will contains very explicit instructions to guide the federal government should they decide to meddle in his life instead of running the fucking country:
  1. In the Senate, a tie shall be broken by a potato sack race between the eldest Senators for each side of the argument. If one such Senator is a Senator from Idaho, he or she is to be considered to have an unfair advantage and his spot will be passed to the next-eldest non-Idaho Senator. This race shall be no shorter than 50 meters and no longer than 100 meters.

  2. If Congress is unable to make a determination based on the conditions set forth above, then the decision whether or not to keep me alive with machines shall fall to the Bush twins. If Jenna is unable to serve in this capacity, then Bjork may cast a vote in her place. If Barbara is similarly unavailable, her vote may be cast by a well-trained parrot of Jenna's choosing.

Brain Vacation has a simpler plan, with a simpler motivation:

In the event that I should be fully incapacitated with a condition that does not improve for more than one year, PULL THE FUCKING PLUG!!! If I spend ten years in a nightmare coma just to wake up and have ten years worth of medical bills to pay, I am gonna kick someone's ass.

The sad part is that these parodies still aren't as bizarre as the real headlines.

Monday, March 28, 2005

it'll make a great diving reef

I don't know what it's like everywhere else, but here in Portland we've got a serious problem with assholes in SUVs who are almost invariably talking on cellphones. We live in a city split in half by a river that is a shipping lane, so the (too few) bridges that we have here are all designed to raise up when a ship needs to pass. The mechanics of this dictate that on most bridges there are little sections of metal grating where the joint is, maybe 3 meters of rainslick steel.

Driving anywhere requires paying attention. Driving on slick surfaces in a vehicle with a high center of balance and substantially more mass than other vehicles should make drivers even more mindful, but in practice SUV drivers seem to pay less attention to the road than other drivers do. I've spent *way* too much time dodging these idiots. So hearing that Melissa Borgaard (licensed cellphone-using SUV-driving fucktard) drove her shitmobile off the Morrison Bridge (an 18 meter drop to the water, and then another 17 meters to the bottom) actually gave me a warm fuzzy feeling inside.

It's just too bad there was no lemming factor... it would have been great if a chain of people too busy talking on the phone to pay attention to anything but the back of the vehicle in front of them had followed the leader over the edge.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

in re: david vs goliath

Big Business tried to lawyer Hank Mishkoff to death over some domain names. Hank decided to defend himself, and he documented the entire process online. There's a lot of good information there about lawyerspeak and how to convert sentences that make sense to sentences that conform to specific legal rules.

It's a real stick it to the man story about trademarks and the rights of corporations vs the right to free speech.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

no wonder buildings fall down

When I was working on my Electrical Engineering degree I noticed some class distinctions between the different sorts of engineers. One of my Mechanical Engineering friends said "I wasn't sure if I should go EE or ME, but then I noticed that ME's go out and drink at night while EE's stay home and do math". It's true. Dammit.

Lower down the food chain were the Civil Engineers... we were never sure what they really did. I mean we had classes in the same building and all, but they would just sort of disappear when the really difficult classes came around. At first we assumed they had Something Else to do that was specific to their field, but by junior year that theory was dropped because we never saw them studying. They'd be throwing a frisbee out on the lawn in front of the building while we were inside calculating Disturbances In The Force.

Well finally one of them broke ranks and let the secret out. What were they doing all those years? Fucking around with pennies. I knew it had to be something like that.

[via SEB]

say hello to the angels

NPR is broadcasting tonight's Blonde Redhead / Interpol concert in Washington DC live on the internet. The All Songs Considered show will include both bands plus an interview with Interpol.

The projected schedule (all times are US Eastern, GMT-05:00):

Introduction:7:30 PM
Blonde Redhead live:7:45 PM
Interview with Interpol:        8:30 PM
Interpol live:9:00 PM


The show was good... Blonde Redhead was very good, and Interpol was... Interpol. I'll spare you the fanboy essay on just how goddam cool Interpol is. You can hear the show here in Windows Media or Real streaming format.

Friday, March 25, 2005

family values

This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone: the gay-marriage ban is already having sick side-effects. Frederick Burk was facing felony domestic-violence charges but he isn't married to the woman he lives with, so by definition under the Ohio law preventing the government from recognizing relationships of unmarried individuals no domestic abuse actually took place.

Wednesday's ruling by Cuyahoga County common pleas judge Stuart Friedman changed a felony domestic violence charge against Frederick Burk to a misdemeanor assault charge.

Burk, 42, is accused of slapping and pushing his live-in girlfriend during a January argument over a pack of cigarettes.

His public defender, David Magee, had asked the judge to throw out the charge because of the new wording in Ohio's constitution that prohibits any state or local government from enforcing a law that would "create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals."

So much hate, so much damage, from people who claim to follow - probably even believe they follow - loving and nurturing ideals. 'By their works you shall know them' indeed.

hit and miss

It took three days for the employees at Thrifty's to notice that someone had changed all the signs on their potted plants, replacing the titles with others: empty pots were labelled "Phantom Cactus", while plants were labelled "Heinous Welsh Squash", "Killer Green Bud", and "Common Dickweed". ($1.29 for that last one... what a fucking ripoff. Common dickweeds are a dime a dozen here in Portland.)

This other one would have been a questionable hack, but it turned out to be real, which is even worse. What marketing genius decided this would be a good logo for a pediatric clinic?


WTF? This looks like a 'Project Mayhem' hack from 'Fight Club'.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

sonic truth

Thurston Moore has a piece in the April Wired about mix tapes, CD ripping, MP3's and love:

Once again, we're being told that home taping (in the form of ripping and burning) is killing music. But it's not: It simply exists as a nod to the true love and ego involved in sharing music with friends and lovers. Trying to control music sharing - by shutting down P2P sites or MP3 blogs or BitTorrent or whatever other technology comes along - is like trying to control an affair of the heart. Nothing will stop it.

The best 90 minutes of my life.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

robin banks... and museums

Banksy is a fucking genius... I've written about his art a couple of times before, and I often check in to see what he's been up to recently. To make it easier for us state-side folks to see his art, Banksy spent the last couple of weeks smuggling his own art works into four of New York's museums... like this American beetle of species 'Withus Oragainstus' (complete with miniature sidewinder missiles) that he installed in the Museum of Natural History's Hall of Biodiversity:

banksy's beetle

He also hit the Met, MoMA, and the Brooklyn Museum. Wooster Collective has some pics of Banksy at work... disguised in a fake beard and trenchcoat, he looks like Peter Sellers. The Met removed their new acquisition the day after it was installed; it took MoMA 3 days to discover theirs. So far the other two remain in place.

MoMA should leave the thing up - whether the painting itself qualifies as art is irrelevant, the subversion is a work of art in itself. It has all the hallmarks of a brilliant hack: it's creative, shows a sense of humor, and doesn't take place at someone else's expense.

a conspiracy of cartographers

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead finally came out on DVD today, 15 years after its original release. One of Tom Stoppard's best screenplays, which is really saying something given his other works: Brazil, Empire of the Sun, Shakespeare in Love, and Enigma.

I never understood Shakespeare until after I'd read Stoppard - iambic pentameter? Wha? Is it contagious? The first two times I watched Rosencrantz & Guildenstern I fell asleep... but watching it again after reading the screenplay, it became one of my favorite films.

Rosencrantz: Shouldn't we be doing something... constructive?
Guildenstern: What did you have in mind? A short, blunt human pyramid?

Tim Roth and Gary Oldman were already two of my favorite actors - Roth had recently been in 'Vincent & Theo' and 'The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover', while Oldman had made a damn fine Sid Vicious a few years before. Roth still had 'Reservoir Dogs', 'Pulp Fiction', 'Four Rooms', and 'Rob Roy' ahead of him; Oldman's 'Leon' and 'Immortal Beloved' were impressive too. Iain Glen, who played Hamlet, had just done an incredible job as John Hanning Speke in 'Mountains of the Moon'.

I can't help but wonder if R&G would have made more of an impact if Sean Connery had retained the role of The Player - he bailed on the film when he was offered 'The Hunt for Red October', and Richard Dreyfuss was chosen to replace him. Pshaw. On the one hand you've got James Bond and The Man Who Would Be King, and on the other you've got Devil's Tower made out of mashed potatoes... Dreyfuss did a fine job, but it would have been a totally different film with Connery.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

slackerposting statistically significant

"Sorry I haven't posted in a while" is the new "Under Construction" of the web: Googling "haven't (posted|blogged|updated) 'a while'" returns over 2.5 million hits. Like litter in the weeds on the side of the information superhighway.

[via SixDifferentWays]

Monday, March 21, 2005

standard rant

So I've been working on cleaning up the code for this site; so many little things have been patched together that odd things are starting to happen in some browsers. I have two conflicting goals: I want to make the site compliant with XHTML and CSS standards, but I also need to hack the fuck out of the code to make it work in Internet Explorer. I occasionally consider just making the thing work correctly, and instead of serving special code to make it work in IE (which is what almost all sites do) just wrapping the whole code in an 'if not IE' block and presenting IE users with a blank page. It's fucking pathetic how many terabytes of IE-specific hacks are served up every day. IE isn't a browser, it's a virus.

When setting out to rewrite the code for this site, I first did what any respectable code writer would do: I went to a bunch of other sites to see how they did it. The results were interesting:
No DOCTYPE, and doesn't validate as anything between HTML 2.0 and XHTML 1.1. One line of javascript, 2 lines of CSS, looks almost identical with both turned off.

XHTML 1.0 DOCTYPE, but does not validate, 90 errors. Looks like a shopping list with CSS turned off.

Boing Boing
HTML 4.01 Transitional DOCTYPE, doesn't validate, 224 errors. Strangly their CSS validates depite having an incorrect parse tree. Appearance essentially unchanged with CSS off.

Validates as XHTML 1.0 Transitional. CSS almosts validates, 2 errors and one warning. Code contains many IE-specific hacks.

HTML 4.0 Transitional DOCTYPE, doesn't validate, 184 errors. Looks like Wired with CSS turned off.
XHTML 1.0 Transitional, doesn't validate, 687 errors. Interestingly, turning off CSS reveals a note saying the site will look much better in a standards-compliant browser. Andy is the only civilian on this list; I chose his site because it is clean and informative without being ugly, not because I wanted to diss his code.

No DOCTYPE specified, doesn't validate as anything. Code is a mashup; XML namespace but HTML 3.2 body tags.

This digital Mecca of nerddom, the place to go for cutting-edge tech news, has an HTML 3.2 Final DOCTYPE, but their server checks specifically for the W3 Markup Validation service and returns a 403 error. I saved a copy of the page and tried to validate it that way, but there are characters on the page that are not UTF-8 encoded and the validator dies. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain... but there are rumors on the internets that Slashdot is being upgraded to XHTML and CSS compliance.

I think you get the point... all this talk about web standards, XHTML XML CSS DOM DHTML AJAX WTF OMG, and nobody is using them. Why? Because they want their web pages to work for as many people as possible, and adding 10 lines of bells and whistles adds 30 lines of hacks for IE and NS4. I can understand (but not sympathize) why people use IE, but surely anyone using NS4 or IE4 or IE5Mac must be pretty accustomed by now to having the web look like ass. But people who see an ugly site tend to assume the site is buggy rather than question the tools they are using, so site developers continue to accomodate dinosaur/defective browsers.

This problem isn't going away anytime soon... Microsoft has announced that IE7 won't fully support CSS2. It's a chicken-and-egg thing - MS says CSS2 has problems, and it does: specifically, the effectiveness of CSS2 has been crippled by IE's refusal to follow the standard. Perhaps if a large number of sites started serving up "I'm sorry, but your browser sucks... no web for you" messages instead of hacking around the problem, people would get a clue. But then again any plan that relies on a large number of people getting a clue is doomed to fail from the start.

There's another layer of abstraction specific to Blogger sites: Blogger injects code into your page as it is served up, and that code doesn't validate. The changes to make it do so are trivial, but requests to have those changes made are met with a form letter saying "if it isn't too horribly broken, we're not going to touch it". I guess you get what you pay for - or less.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

ask any mother

The specifics:

  • You are in an enclosed area, roughly the size of a basketball court. There are no foreign objects.
  • You are not allowed to touch a wall.
  • When you are knocked unconscious, you lose. When they are all knocked unconscious, they lose. Once a kid is knocked unconscious, that kid is "out."

The debate rages on: How many 5 year-olds could you take on at once?

Saturday, March 19, 2005


If this wind actually does rip the roof off of the house and kill me, I just want it to be known that I'd prefer a Viking funeral.

I'm upstairs and we're getting tremendously powerful gusts of wind that are aimed right at the broad expanse of the roof, and the house is swaying. It's probably only moving an inch or two, but it feels a lot like when I was in So Cal and the Northridge quake went down... in between one footfall and another the ground had moved out from underneath your feet, it looked like everybody was suddenly made drunk.

That brings to mind a passage from 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy':

"It's unpleasantly like being drunk."
"What's so unpleasant about being drunk?"
"You ask a glass of water."

When we moved in to this house one of the first things we did was cut down this hugacious tree in the backyard, a towering spruce. Being treehugger types we fretted over the decision to do this, but the thing was on the south end of the lot and the entire yard was in its shadow... it was like they had determined the property boundaries by going outside every so often and marking where the tip of the tree's shadow touched the ground. We finally figured that cutting it down would, in the long run, actually increase the biomass in the yard because the gardens would get sunlight.

The treecutters spent the day climbing around 50 feet up lopping off limbs, and by the afternoon they had reached the base. Removing the last bit of trunk they found that some fungus had been eating away the base of the tree... it was still stable, but in time it would have fallen over.

Onto the house.

During a windstorm.


On the other hand, maybe that tree was the only thing sheltering this house from the winds, and now that it's gone we're right proper fucked.

we spies, we slow hands

This will probably sound obvious, but when you get laid up for months at a time you really lose touch. Not just with people and current events, but with everything. The world. The neighborhood. Reality.

Lacking some sort of grounding connection to the world around me, and saddled with an almost antigravitic urge to get away, anywhere but where this pain is, I guess I shouldn't be surprised at how thoroughly foreign the world becomes. Looking out the front door for the first time in a week, I get the strongest sensation that I'm looking out on a world where the gradient of time is much sharper than it is in here: people come and go, seasons come and go, and I remain here in slow time.

It's 24-hr reality television, coming right through the window. And here on the other side of the glass, I have about as much connection to the world as I would with a phosphor-dot image on the tele. The biggest problem is that it's always reruns... I've seen this one before. Didn't really like it the first time. And I'm hoping that one day soon something new will come along.

Friday, March 18, 2005

welcome to wonkaville

Ok, let's do an experiment:

Take someone who is intelligent and creative, and give them a coveted design position in their chosen field. Then lock them in a cubicle for three years of 16-hour days during which six layers of middle management compete to crush the soul, kill the dreams, and stifle the creativity of the hapless designer.

Just as a theoretical example, for instance, let's say that designer is me. Watch as I lose faith in humanity, lose interest in my field, and quit my job (essentially retiring from my field) after three years because stress-induced nerve damage is causing me severe chronic pain and limiting my ability to move (essentially retiring me from life).

Now, a different experiment: take a designer and put them in fucking fairyland. Have break rooms that are more coherently themed than the sections of Disneyland, and let the designer choose what sort of space they want to work in, even if that means they want to work in rows of little cottages. Then step back and watch them be awesome. Let's call this company 'Pixar', and watch their happy little designers crank out success after success.

At Penetrode, management felt that 'personal items' in the cubicles would distract worker drones from their slavish tasks. At Pixar, they do everything they can to keep the designer from encountering anything that doesn't directly inspire happiness and creativity. Which company do you think is doing better?

Thursday, March 17, 2005

the answer really is 42

In 1975 at the age of 80 Bucky Fuller gave a series of 12 lectures; 42 hours of sharing Everything I Know. Those lectures have been transcribed online and parts of them are available as video if you've got the bandwidth. His whole trip is so self-referential that you basically have to dive in to get it at all, but once you do it's all very logically consistent and elegant. I don't think I thought that the first time I read Synergetics, though... it might as well have been in another language (it essentially is).

I think that Bucky could see into the Matrix... he came up with some impressive ideas that sounded utterly kooky when first heard but turned out to be brilliant upon further analysis. All this from a man who decided that instead of physical suicide he would kill off his narrow-mindedness and try an experiment to see how much one person could affect the world if they were working for the good of everyone instead of simply trying to get themselves to the top of the trash heap - after all, even if you 'win' the rat race, you're still a rat.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


Play (Shockwave flash) is a cool animation... reminds me of the Blue Man Group, or Stomp, or both.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

i see what you mean

Cognitive Daily looks at the neural basis for perception of biological motion. Shown images that consist of a black background with a single white dot placed at each major joint of the human body (a 'point-light display'), people have no problem identifying the image as a person and are even able to make some assumptions about the gender and mood of the person in the image. Birds and cats are able to do this as well, suggesting that the ability to identify biological motion might be hard-wired. In evolutionary terms it is useful to know at a glance whether or not the person approaching you is a threat - if your fight-or-flight circuitry kicks in, it's best to have messages dispatched to the muscles well in advance of conscious evaluation.

"So what are you saying? That I can dodge bullets?"
"No... what I am trying to tell you is that when you're ready, you won't have to."

It is interesting that when animals do something like this, we call it 'instinct', but when humans do the exact same thing we pull out the thesaurus to find a more complicated label... because we're *special*.

The BioMotionLab (Shockwave flash) app lets you explore your own perception of biological movement - there is a walking human point-light display with slider-bar adjustments for gender, weight, nervousness, and happiness. I wish there were other adjustments for culture and physical workload - the former because the app's interpretation of types of movement seems rather Euro/US-centric, the latter because people who work in the fields their whole lives are going to move differently from cubicle-dwellers.

How much of our perception is instinct, and how much is enculturation? I've been places where big arm movements are considered crass, where you need to make sure you aren't pointing your feet at anyone, where touching someone's head is A Bad Thing. Do people from those cultures interpret the bounce in someone's step the same way I do? What sort of assumptions do they make about people glimpsed in the periphery of their vision, what sort of information is gleaned from a glance? I doubt that the differences in perception can be summed up with a little slider bar.

Monday, March 14, 2005

snow sculptures atop lovely and affordable real-estate

The yearly International Snow Sculpture contest in Breckenridge Colorado seems to be all about putting Breckenridge on the map... hopefully the declining numbers aren't related to the increasingly intrusive real-estate advertising. While there were fewer competitors this year than there were in the 2001 contest, for instance, there were still some impressive carvings in this year's contest.

snow snail

Corporate snow sculpture sucks. I'm strictly into independent snow sculpture artists who you probably haven't heard of... your favorite snow sculpture artist is just a shabby knock-off, a one-hit wonder, totally ripping off mine. When are you going to get hip?

dan is a jerk...

... but he appears to be learning, so maybe it's a passing phase.

Sunday, March 13, 2005


I just looked outside for the first time in a few weeks, and the whole block has exploded with flowers. Almost every house has a fruit tree in the front yard... our plum tree was sticks last time I saw it, now it's fireworks. The trees are full of songbirds, too... it's like a goddam Disney film out there.

Our yard and the one next to us both have a lot of butterfly-, bee-, and hummingbird-friendly plants, and the first hummingbirds have arrived. We've got two species here; the smaller of the two (body about an inch long) arrives in the spring, and the larger (maybe twice that size) shows up mid-summer. I've never figured out where they live, but it might be inside the rather absurdly large rose bush that threatens to eat our house each year. (That bush considers an attack with a machete to be a mere taunt.)

These birds have eggs that are a centimeter long. There are some pics here that show some eggs hatching, and the baby bird. We have bumblebees bigger than the hummingbird I saw today.

I'm a little worried about the trees, and the birds. It's a bit early for everything to be Springing. But I think my concerns might just be a holdover from when I lived in Yootaw, where all the plants would wake up during a fake early spring, and then get killed by the next freeze. Not likely to happen here, where we've got Better Living through Global Warming.

Friday, March 11, 2005

new google news

Google unveils yet another innovation: personalized Google News. The news page now has a 'Customize this page' option that lets you move news sections around, add and delete sections, and even add sections that are based on topics you choose... basically Googling the news for you, right on the main page. Your configuration gets stored in a cookie, but if you want to see your page from anywhere (or want to share your customization with someone else) there's a link at the bottom that contains the same info the cookie does.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

google's cookie recipe

Greg Duffy is spending *way* too much time at his computer... he's been delving into Google's cookie code, and he figured out some interesting things - like how to read entire books online using Google Print. He apparently also attracted some Attention From Above: his site just *poof* disappeared from Google searches after he put his results on his webpage. Now you can't find by Googling 'greg duffy'. Bonk :)

Firefox is fast enough that aside from upgrades I haven't tweaked it since I got it... so earlier this week when I checked it for the first time, I discovered that my cookie cache was huge, thousands of sites tracking my every online move. I looked at the cookies because I noticed that ads on random webpages seemed to be rather pointedly targeted at me, often covering stores that are geographically near me, or near places I've looked up on Mapquest and Qwestdex :|. If the details of how a cookie is stored are known, it is in some cases possible for one site to view the cookie of another.

Datamining another site's cookies to make your site's advertising more effective... it had to happen eventually.

in living color

Wow... while their paper says they've only made some minor improvements on previous work, it looks to me like researchers at the University of Jerusalem have busted the field of image colorization wide open. They've developed an algorithmic technique for colorizing greyscale photos and video with minimal human input - the colorizer makes color annotation marks on the greyscale original, and the algorithm attempts to colorize the rest of the picture. There's still a need for an artistic eye in choosing the palette with which to annotate, but the grunt work is all handled by the process.

Processing times are so small that film could be colorized using multiple low-impact refining passes; this process could even be sped up by having the application evolve the most likely palette from previous frames. This is something like the digital equivalent of having numerous artists in a row, feeding celluloid film continuously from desk to desk, each artist adding small refinements until the result is good enough.

Their Siggraph paper is here (3.36MB PDF), and Matlab implementations are here (331KB zip).

[via waxy]

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

virtual swiss army knife

Hopefully the search tool I've been working on is visible somewhere over ----> there now. It is meant to be smart enough to not even show up if it won't work, but the process of getting it to work with Internet Explorer broke it for a number of other browsers (surprise surprise). I'm aware of problems with Opera 7 (working on it), IE4 (don't care), NS4.78 (actually crashes the browser... rawwwrrr) and Konqueror (people using Konqueror probably can't read this page at all, script or no... I'll look into it). It also looks like ass on most Macs... though in OSX the only problem I have seen is with Opera.

If you can see the damned thing, and if I didn't gank up the code :( it's actually a cool little hack. Clicking on a radio button runs an onclick() function that sets the appropriate attributes of the form, input text, and input submit fields using the DOM. Without that there would be 8 input fields, a big mess.

I'm working on adding some more tools: Babelfish, US white pages, Amazon, Powell's... pretty much any tool I use often will end up in there. Or, I'll rip the whole thing out if it causes too many problems. I'm only half writing it for the functionality... mostly coding is a useful way to engage my brain and make the time pass faster. It's also a good barometer for my health - I've become somewhat inured to physical pain, but if I'm hurting too much to even type I know that it's time to take something, anything, knock myself out.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

7. How you live changes your brain

Milton Glaser dispenses some sage advice in 10 Things I Have Learned. As an artist he speaks in terms of creative design, but his observations apply to life in general. Unfortunately I also learned most of the things he talks about during my last job, and in most cases this wasn't a good thing. The problem with advice like this is that when you need it you're not likely to accept (or even understand) it, but once you figure it out you're pretty much already fucked.

Ahhh... that's it: #11. You Are Pretty Much Already Fucked.

Monday, March 07, 2005

bye bye bethe

Hans Bethe died yesterday, four months short of his hundredth birthday.

Hans Bethe

He was one of the greatest physicists ever, one of the giants on whose shoulders a whole generation of Nobel Prize winners stood. His early work on the structure of atomic nuclei laid the foundation of quantum electrodynamics, showed us how stars burn (for which he himself won the Nobel in 1967), and contributed to the development of the atomic bomb.

After losing his teaching position at the University of Tubingen because of his Jewish heritage, Bethe became one of the legion of Smart Germans that gave the US 'the bomb', semiconductors, and advanced alloys. Upon seeing what the bomb was capable of, Bethe was a strong opponent of nuclear weaponry - at one point he wrote an open letter to all scientists calling on them to cease their research on any aspect of nuclear weapons development. His motivation in developing the bomb was to keep it out of the hands of madmen - it is notable then that upon hearing Bush talk about 'safe nucular weapons' and 'bunker busters', he was one of the 48 Nobel laureates who denounced the Bush administration's misuse of science.

He came to the US in 1935 to teach at Cornell, where he remained for the rest of his life. In 1999 he gave a series of lectures on both his history and that of quantum dynamics (the two are inextricably entangled) that are very accessible to non-physicists (i.e. very few equations). Quantum physics made relatively simple has these videos in Quicktime format with something I hadn't seen before: the webpage in which the video is embedded refreshes every so often to show the information that is on Dr. Bethe's slides, which aren't visible in the video. The third lecture has the clearest explanation of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle I've ever heard.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

ponderous puzzles

Since May of 1998 IBM Research has invited the public to Ponder This monthly problem-solving challenge. I started with the oldest one and have been working my way forward... some real brain-benders in there. Not like you'd expect the people at IBM Research to be working on chimp problems or anything.

Solve these puzzles and you will gain awesome BRANE POWAR!!1!1! Unleash your inner Homer J Chromedome McSquared!

Saturday, March 05, 2005

white wash

Remember the 'rave' scene in The Matrix Reloaded? When I saw that movie in the theater, I immediately thought there would be some sort of puritanical reaction to the sexuality of that scene. Such a reaction was inevitable, given the portion of the American populace that seems inordinately interested in making sure nobody is enjoying themselves (or each other). What surprised me, however, was the negativity surrounding the racial distribution of the cast - white people bitching that white people were under-represented.

Aside from the obvious ironies in that, there is also a contextual problem related specifically to science fiction stories: the 'western world' is building weapons, actively cultivating enemies, poisoning its own water and food and air, and (in the case of the USA) is being run by the Four Fuckheads of the Apocalypse. It stands to reason that when the big biotech plagues break out, it will happen here first. Our current foreign policy is ensuring that anyone with missiles is pointing them straight at us. Our empire grows top-heavy, and like all empires it will one day fall. Only excessive hubris or optimism would lead one to believe that the future is white.

Apocalyptic intervention isn't even a necessary requirement... just look at the world today: white cultures are a numerical minority, and their growth rates lag those of the rest of the world. Left to its own devices, humanity will become progressively more colorful as the years go by.

None of these reasons stop the average American from assuming the world is white, nor do they stop the entertainment media from giving the (white) people what they want. So I suppose I shouldn't be surprised when, for instance, the Sci Fi Channel aired Legend of Earthsea, a miniseries allegedly based on Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea books, and completely missed the point... I can just see the suits pitching the story: 'it will be like Party of Five... on another planet!!'

Fortunately Ursula K. Le Guin is no chump, and she didn't just take the money and run. In her article in Slate, How the Sci Fi Channel wrecked my books, she says:

My color scheme was conscious and deliberate from the start. I didn't see why everybody in science fiction had to be a honky named Bob or Joe or Bill. I didn't see why everybody in heroic fantasy had to be white (and why all the leading women had "violet eyes"). It didn't even make sense. Whites are a minority on Earth now... —why wouldn't they still be either a minority, or just swallowed up in the larger colored gene pool, in the future?

I wrote all of the above back when the Slate article first came out, but apparently didn't post it... recently the issue of racism popped up in another post and I tried to cross-reference this one, but it didn't exist yet. Now it does.

Friday, March 04, 2005

polska nowa fala

Ever get the feeling there's a whole lot going on in the world that you don't know anything about? dredged up Polska Nowa Fala 1983, a severely out-of-print compilation of Polish new-wave bands from the early 80s. Follow that last link to read about it and download an MP3 of Made in Poland's 'Jedna kropla deszczu', which sounds like it could have been made by Siouxsie and the Banshees.

[via farkleberries]

on gaming, internet anonymity, and the frangible mind

Or: You just had a near-life experience

[It occurs to me that some of you might be people who Have A Life and have therefore not spent enough time Fucking Around On The Computer to have been exposed to the sort of virtual rudeness I mentioned peripherally in the last post. Hopefully this post will provide some context. Since this post is a bit *cough*windbag*cough* wordy here's a handy link to the 'printer friendly' version of this page, which isn't all smooshed up. When you're done just refresh the page to get back to your usual settings.]

I basically got through college by destressing each night in online Quake games, and near the end of my tenure at Tektronix I'd taken up the game again... I'd ask if someone on the opposing team would please change their name to that of my manager, and I'd spend an hour or so mercilessly hunting the little fucker down. Keep in mind that this is the point of the game (so I wasn't raining on anyone's parade), and the opponent was always a volunteer who was usually only too happy to accommodate me once they knew the story.

After awhile I'd connect and see half of the opposing team immediately change their name to 'Dennis'. New people were always asking why everyone was named Dennis, and the Denni would just tell them "change your name to Dennis and you'll find out". Ahhh, good times... it was virtual Fight Club. Once the game was underway I used packet-filtering software to strip out *all* comments, and didn't send any of my own... other than the agreed-upon combat, I wasn't there for the social aspect, and the trash-talking didn't do my stress levels any good.

After I left Tek and started being a full-time chronic pain patient, I spent a couple of months playing 'Dark Age of Camelot' (somewhat ineffectually at times, since I was all hopped up on pain pills), and saw the other side of online gaming. There the emphasis was on community, and the people I hung out with were virtual representations of the type of people I like to know in the real world: courteous, honorable, generous, funny, and willing to take the metaphorical bullet (in this case more likely a sword or dragon fire) for you because they know from experience that you'll do the same for them.

These people really helped me through a very tough time when reality didn't have much appeal for me and I am grateful to them for it... the experience might have been 'virtual', but the kindness and camaraderie were real enough. This sort of environment brought out the best in almost everyone, and the few times some idiot did appear they'd be added to everyone's 'ignore' lists so fast they'd have to start over with a new character if they wanted to interact with anyone.

Both of those gaming experiences involved what essentially amounts to intentionally induced short-term psychosis, a willful breaking of the brain that turns dots on a computer monitor into a window on another world. They also both gained some added dimension from the essentially anonymous nature of the medium... the ease with which both the trash-talking and the friendliness were dispensed might have been uncharacteristic of the people involved had they been meeting in person.

This isn't just a gaming issue... I see spam and virii and spyware as just an extension of the type of rudeness displayed by people who feel that their anonymity gives them free license to suck. Mailing-lists and forums and IRC (and now wikis and blog-comments) have all found ways to manage the inevitable appearance of psychos. (If you're in a group and you can't figure out who the psycho is, please check to make sure it isn't you.)

The bad stories are the ones that really stick. While I look back fondly on my DAoC experience, stories like Ian Shanahan's 'Bow, Nigger', in which he shares an experience he had with an online bigot, still hit me pretty hard and dredge up the frustration I've felt when trying to deal with the Tyranny Of The Stupid. Whether you are into gaming or not, Ian's piece is an important read for a world that grows increasingly more dependent on mediated contact with other people... his story has relevance to the game of life.

I wish Julian Dibbell's 'A rape in cyberspace', first published in The Village Voice in December 1993, was more outdated than it is, but sadly much of what he writes is still topical. It is also still one of the most well-written articles I have ever read.

If you read Julian's article, think about this: today's online gaming experience (I use the term 'gaming' pretty loosely here... the immensely popular Second Life and Sims Online aren't really games per se but they are still relevant in terms of social interaction) often takes place in a richly immersive highly contextual 3D environment. As with a good movie, this makes willing suspension of disbelief much easier, and the extent to which you can get drawn into the game (socially, culturally, and emotionally) is a surprise to almost everyone the first time they 'snap out of it' and look around their room and wonder where they are and where the last five hours went.

With that in mind, note that Julian's online experience, hailing as it does from the days predating massive public awareness of the internet, takes place in a text-based world. And the social issues, the personal involvement, the emotional investment of the players, all of these were strongly engaging *then*. Julian's descriptions of other people or monsters in the game are very visual but his actual experience was simply reading text on a screen.

I should add that the absolute best-looking game I have ever played is still Infocom's Zork, a series of text-based games that I first played on an Atari 800 (with a tape-drive) in 1982. The sparse descriptions of the environment were just enough to fire up the imagination, and the puzzles were just tricky enough to give you plenty of time for the mental imagery to solidify. The images were so strong that even recently I've seen (for instance) a real dam and thought 'that looks just like Flood Control Dam #3', part of the first Zork game that required some tricky problem-solving.


Everytime I say the word 'flash' in my head I hear Freddy Mercury singing the theme song to Flash Gordon :/ Why is it I can remember just about everything that happened during the 80's, but I can't remember where I put my keys now?


This first-person shooter game done in Shockwave flash is almost as good as Unreal Tournament. The textures and lighting are pretty damn good for a one-minute page load. And the AI even compares favorably to some of the humans I've played against. (Actually it occurs to me that if you had enough people playing a flash game from your site, you wouldn't need AI... just hook people to each other without telling them. "Damn, that bot is good... it's like he was really hunting me down." Hrrmm, you'd also either need to make sure there wasn't chat capability, or try to convince people that you programmed the AI to say "i 0wnz0r3d j00!!1!!1!" every time it kills you.)

If you already have your aggressions worked out and just want to chill, hop on the Col-trane... his 1959 jazz number 'Giant Steps' has been synaesthetically interpreted in flash by Michel Levy.

[both via waxy]

Thursday, March 03, 2005

what's a little redneck imperialism among friends?

Lloyd Axworthy, former Canadian foreign minister and president of the University of Winnipeg, has some insightful things to say to Condoleeza Rice about missile defense, budget deficits, and the differences between a representative democracy and what we do here in the US. It will all fall on deaf cowboy ears, but it still feels good to know someone is making the effort. I suspect the White House's response, if they can be bothered to make one, will be to shoot the US in the foot. Again.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

one man's garbage...

... is, in this case, literally another man's art. Provided that the person buying the art wants to turn their house into something right out of an H.R. Giger painting. I'm not talking 'Hello Cthulhu' here... this 7 foot tall alien statue made from junkyard parts is the stuff of chthonian tentacular nightmares.

Disclaimer: YMMV. I first saw 'Alien' while tripping on some rather intense acid that took so long to kick in that I figured it was bunk. I went to the theater to find some way to pass the time... and I dreamed Cthulhian horrors for years afterwards. I still get the willies, but Alien is still on my list of favorite films.

This amazing ALIEN-like sculpture is made out of scrap metal and old auto parts such as nuts & bolts, connecting rods, motorcycle chains, gears, spark plugs, bearings, springs and whatever can be found in junkyards. Artists spent approximately 2 months to create this incredible piece of art by collecting different parts from the junkyards and welding them together piece by piece. It was polished and coated with lacquer to prevent it from rusting.

They're asking $4KUS for the opening bid. If that's out of your league, the same artists have got many other auctions of smaller pieces. Very creative and a great use of materials.