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We Multiliths are Here to Encourage You July 26, 2009

Posted by caveblogem in Other, technology.
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In Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, a Space Odyssey, these black monoliths seem to drive the plot.  I say seem because I’m not really certain what was going on with that film.  There is considerable disagreement.  Even Wikipedia, where we all go to get the final, definitive, consensus answer on things, seems a little unstable w/r/t/ this fine film.  They’ve got something to do with technology, it seems.  Wikipedia even goes so far (as of this writing) as to say:

The subsequent response of the characters to their discovery drives the plot of the series. It also influences the fictional history of the series, particularly by encouraging humankind to progress with technological development and space travel.

Since May of last year I have been pursuing a second bachelor’s degree in IT (my first was in Economics, and my two graduate degrees were in History).  And I’m at the point right now where the monoliths I’m running into are not particularly encouraging.  I know I’ll feel differently at the end of August, when I am finished with this crash program, degree in hand, but right now the sight of a monolith makes me want to shoot first and ask questions later.

Luckily, there is a great free open-source game out there that lets you do just that.  I found it searching for a game I could play on this tiny and somewhat underpowered netbook I am currently running Linux on.  It is called Nexuiz.  Actually, the version I’m talking about is called Damn Small Nexuiz.  Somebody took out all the blood and gore of the full-scale game, along with much of the fancy graphic stuff.  So basically, it is a game where you are attacked by monoliths.  You get to shoot them. That’s one in the picture below.  He’s moving really fast, so you can’t tell he’s a monolith.


Here’s two of them coming for me, in a hail of my machine-gun fire . . . ummm . . . warning shots . . .


And here’s what they look like when they are dead:


I just have to bring down a few more of them and I will get a short break. And that’s all I really want, you know, just some space between monoliths, so I can catch my breath.  After that, I’m sure I will find them encouraging, rather than enraging, again.

Old-School Soul Extraction July 22, 2009

Posted by caveblogem in Other.

Normally this isn’t a commercial site, but I feel like I need to step in and offer some competition to this Dr. Flintstein, who is offering to extract souls and store them for you, etc.

I don’t know what he charges, but he’s got a pretty fancy office, big machines, fancy advertisements in The New Yorker, assistants, a warehouse in New Jersey, a fancy website.  I can undercut it.  Big time.  So here’s the deal:  Hundred bucks.  No fancy machines.  Works the old-fashioned way, like this:

  1. Cat sits on your chest
  2. You fall asleep
  3. Cat sucks your soul out through your nose (outpatient procedure, just like Flintstein’s)
  4. After a while, we get the soul back from the cat and put it in a baggy.
  5. We mail it to you.

Only major difference is that you probably won’t want it back.  Not after you see it.   

Give me a call.

More than a feeling July 19, 2009

Posted by caveblogem in Other.
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“Woke up this morning and the sun was gone.
Turned on some music to start my day . . .”

When I was young, hearing that Boston tune for the first few times, I thought that he was talking about the end of the world. Well, there was the album cover, for one, with the huge spaceships that looked like guitars. I was thinking that it was sort of like Arthur C. Clarke’s book Childhood’s End. The spaceships of the galactic overlords were blotting out the sun, right? I didn’t think much, at that age, and I wasn’t much good at it when I did think.

Seems so obvious, now that I live near Boston, that the song wasn’t apocalyptic. This summer, more often than not, the sun has been gone.

Growing up in Sacramento, though, I never thought about the sun being gone. Usually that was cause for celebration. When it rained, the rock stations always played that Who song, “Love, Rain O’er Me.”

I still love the rain’ but I have to hide that, here.

Bear with me July 17, 2009

Posted by caveblogem in Other.

I’m thinking about blogging again. Right now the biggest hurdle seems to be that I can’t figure out how to use this WordPress thing. It has changed a lot since I was here last.

Cybernetic Haiku September 9, 2008

Posted by caveblogem in 3QD, Constructivism, Haiku, Other, Three Quarks Daily, vocabulary.

If I have any readers left, they might remember that I used to periodically examine other blogs, sacking them for words and studying words that seemed relatively unique to them [See the “Studies on the Working Vocabulary of the Blog-O-Sphere” section of this page.]  Towards the end of that phase, I used a simple algorithm to create a Haiku out of the words that a blogger used more often than other bloggers.  Yeah, it’s kinda weird and a little too complicated to explain succinctly, but you could read some of the posts and see the project develop.  And it made sense at the time. . . 

Anyway, it bothered me at the time that I was unable to automate the process of generating a Haiku out of a bunch of random words.  It bothered me that I had to intervene in the process.  I wanted to be able to push a button and have the computer do the rest, but I didn’t yet have the skill-set that I needed.  But I do now.  So here it is.  Have some fun; click the icon below.

This project demonstrates one of my favorite things about human thought–the compulsive and unconscious ways we create meaning.  We see a string of words and our brains just automatically start making sense out of them.  Doesn’t matter that they are random.  Recently I read a blog post (I think it was in Three Quarks Daily, but I can’t seem to find it now) somebody explained a party game based on the principle (and don’t get me started on the exploitation of this quirk in hypnotism).  A person volunteers to leave the room and, upon returning, guess the pertinent details of a dream that one of the others will relate to the rest of the participants while she is out of the room.  However, no dream was told to the others during her absence.  The other participants just randomly answer the questions of the volunteer, trying to keep their answers consistent with the ones that precede them.  Thus the dream is entirely a figment of the volunteer’s imagination, and usually ends up telling the participants a little more than they want to know about the mind of the volunteer.  

Yeah, it sounds more like a dirty trick than a game.  But it is an interesting metaphor for life, too.  And I am desperately trying to tell myself that that is a good thing, these days.  If you are an optimist, you are much more likely to find happiness, because you expect to–you look for it, assuming it is there somewhere.  

Anyway, this looks to be my last extracurricular programming project until at least November, and probably even later than that, since I want to participate in NaNoWriMo again this year.  I started a new job last week and between that and the two classes I’m taking, I won’t have much time to put into this sort of thing for a while.  

When I saw that Moon Topples is blogging again I briefly toyed with the idea of setting this thing up so that it automatically posted a haiku for me each day on this site– a poor-but-efficient imitation of MTs Monday Morning Haiku posts.  But I think I’ll just ask that if any readers of this blog manage to get the machine to produce a particularly interesting poem, they post it in a comment below.

Breaking the Pattern of Thought August 19, 2008

Posted by caveblogem in Books, Constructivism, Edward de Bono, how to, Lateral Thinking, Other, vocabulary, writing.

I’ve been re-reading Edward de Bono’s wonderful (if clumsily written) Lateral Thinking recently, while searching for new-but-manageable programming projects that I can do between semesters (so that I can keep learning programming skills). Naturally, de Bono gave me an idea (never fails).

Lateral Thinking‘s first couple of chapters argue, convincingly, that peoples’ thoughts run along established patterns that can make creativity difficult. The remainder of the book presents de Bono’s grab-bag of thinking tools, helpful methods for breaking out of these patterns when necessary (when the vertically-reasoned ideas are not working).

One technique, “Random Stimulation,” helps in a brainstorming process. It works like this:

Randomly select a word from a dictionary and just run with it, trying to connect it to the problem you are working on, for three minutes, following whatever chain of silly connections you follow. Hopefully, out of that massive, ill-considered spray of concepts, something emerges that will help solve the problem.

Here’s de Bono’s example:

The numbers 473-13 were given by a table of random numbers and using the Penguin English Dictionary the word located was: ‘noose’. The problem under consideration was ‘the housing shortage’. Over a timed three minute period the following ideas were generated:

noose – tightening noose – execution – what are the difficulties in executing a housing programme – what is the bottleneck, is it capital, labour or land?

noose tightens – things are going to get worse with the present rate of population increase.

noose – rope – suspension construction system – tentlike houses but made of permanent materials – easily packed and erected – or on a large scale with several houses suspended from one framework – much lighter materials possible if walls did not have to support themselves and the roof.

noose – loop – adjustable loop – what about adjustable round houses which could be expanded as required – just uncoil the walls – no point in having houses too large to begin with because of heating problems, extra attention to walls and ceilings, furniture, etc. – but facility for step-wise expansion as need arises.

noose – snare – capture – capture a share of the labour market – capture – people captured by home ownership due to difficulty selling and complications – lack of mobility – houses as exchangeable units – classified into types – direct exchange of one type for similar type – or put one type into the pool and take out a similar type elsewhere. . . .

From this example may be seen the way the random word is used. Often the random word is used to generate further words which themselves link up with the problem being considered. . . . The word is used in order to get things going–not to prove anything. [174-5]

O.K., so it doesn’t always work. At least I am not convinced that the “housing problem” was adequately addressed through this method. I have used de Bono’s “Random Stimulation” method, however, with excellent results.

So, I developed an online resource that loads a randomly generated word, with its definition. Just click the linked picture below.

So now you don’t have to generate random numbers and hunt for a big dictionary. Indeed, I kept the webpage very small, as well as javaScript-free, so that it can be accessed by web-enabled phones.

Hearts and other red things July 30, 2008

Posted by caveblogem in Blogs and Blogging, Other, parenthood.

I see by that old clock on the wall that it is getting late. I have not yet posted in the month of July. I keep meaning to post, honestly. There is so much to post about, lately: career changes, new things I’ve learned, other stuff. But I’ve been busy, see. . . .

Anyway, while my lovely wife was out of the country, my Son convinced my Mom to visit us for a week. I hadn’t seen her for a whole year, and although I was extremely distracted with a number of things that seemed important at the time, it was wonderful having her here. She is one of those people that brightens up whatever room she happens to be in, and some of our rooms needed a little brightening at the time.

We had some short chats about books and work and life and things, but my life is in limbo here for a little while longer [I’ll post more about this later].  And that limbo is not terribly interesting to explore, especially to me.  Mainly, I just wanted her to have some time with my Son, which she did.  It is such a gift to both of them, to spend time with such a wonderful person, how could I not want that?

Other than that, what I really wanted was for her to see a cardinal while she was out here. There are lots of cool birds where she lives, in the foothills of the Sacramento Valley in California, but since I’m used to those birds, northeastern birds still seem so exotic to me. Cardinals stand out so vividly against the green forest and conservation land that backdrops our house. Seeing one is like those scenes in Schindler’s List where you see a flash of red–breath-taking, and leaving you wondering if it means something, if it portends.

But despite the combined efforts of my Son, who took her on endless jaunts into the forest, and myself, the weather didn’t cooperate very well.  We had a thundershower on most of the days she was here.

Recently I noticed a cardinal on a tree, high above our house, and listened to him sing.  I recorded it with my phone and checked the song on Youtube.  Yep, that was a cardinal.  Now I hear them all of the time, and know that those flashes of color, of life and meaning, are there somewhere, even if I cannot see them directly.  And it keeps me looking out of the corners of my eyes.

Sorry that you didn’t see one while you were here, Nana.  But I think that it’s like that old saying about poker:  If you can’t spot the cardinal in the room, it’s you.

Made the dog eat a bug June 18, 2008

Posted by caveblogem in Maggie, Other.

I realize that I haven’t posted in a while. So here is a not-very-entertaining-but-fairly short video of my attempt to get my dog to notice a fly on the window.

Apparently there are dozens of videos on youtube already that feature pets eating flies. This one’s the shortest one that I happened to notice.

What maketh a man? A meme May 16, 2008

Posted by caveblogem in Other.

I’ve been trying to decide whether or not to post this, and prairieflounder’s beer post pushed me over the edge today. (I guess it might not be obvious exactly why. It was because of number 24, below, and number 60. I’m not sure of the relationship between these and “being a man.” But, then again, there are lots of these oddities in the list that follows.)

The list is from Esquire, apparently the same infamous issue that brought us the Kylie Cyrus / Annie Liebowitz controversy. The rules to this meme are to 1) copy the list, 2) bold the ones that you are able to do, 3) unbold the others, 4) post it and tag at least two others. I’ll upload all of the ensuing lists, run the numbers, and post the frequencies as soon as there is a good enough sample, probably sometime this summer. (For an example of this, see this post.) Oh, and I tag prairieflounder and Turkish Prawn.

A Man Should Be Able To:

1. Give advice that matters in one sentence.

2. Tell if someone is lying.

3. Take a photo.

4. Score a baseball game.

5. Name a book that matters.

6. Know at least one musical group as well as is possible.

7. Cook meat somewhere other than the grill.

8. Not monopolize the conversation.

9. Write a letter.

10. Buy a suit.

11. Swim three different strokes.

12. Show respect without being a suck-up.

13. Throw a punch.

14. Chop down a tree.

15. Calculate square footage.

16. Tie a bow tie.

17. Make one drink, in large batches, very well.

18. Speak a foreign language.

19. Approach a woman out of his league.

20. Sew a button.

21. Argue with a European without getting xenophobic or insulting soccer.

22. Give a woman an orgasm so that he doesn’t have to ask after it.

23. Be loyal.

24. Know his poison, without standing there, pondering like a dope.

25. Drive an eightpenny nail into a treated two-by-four without thinking about it.

26. Cast a fishing rod without shrieking or sighing or otherwise admitting defeat.

27. Play gin with an old guy.

28. Play go fish with a kid.

29. Understand quantum physics well enough that he can accept that a quarter might, at some point, pass straight through the table when dropped.

30. Feign interest.

31. Make a bed.

32. Describe a glass of wine in one sentence without using the terms nutty, fruity, oaky, finish, or kick.

33. Hit a jump shot in pool.

34. Dress a wound.

35. Jump-start a car (without any drama). Change a flat tire (safely). Change the oil (once).

36. Make three different bets at a craps table.

37. Shuffle a deck of cards.

38. Tell a joke.

39. Know when to split his cards in blackjack.

40. Speak to an eight-year-old so he will hear.

41. Speak to a waiter so he will hear.

42. Talk to a dog so it will hear.

43. Install: a disposal, an electronic thermostat, or a lighting fixture without asking for help.

44. Ask for help.

45. Break another man’s grip on his wrist.

46. Tell a woman’s dress size.

47. Recite one poem from memory.

48. Remove a stain.

49. Say no.

50. Fry an egg sunny-side up.

51. Build a campfire.

52. Step into a job no one wants to do.

53. Sometimes, kick some ass.

54. Break up a fight.

55. Point to the north at any time.

56. Create a play-list in which ten seemingly random songs provide a secret message to one person.

57. Explain what a light-year is.

58. Avoid boredom.

59. Write a thank-you note.

60. Be brand loyal to at least one product.

61. Cook bacon.

62. Hold a baby.

63. Deliver a eulogy.

64. Know that Christopher Columbus was a son of a bitch. Your understanding of your heroes must evolve.

65. Throw a baseball over-hand with some snap.

66. Throw a football with a tight spiral.

67. Shoot a 12-foot jump shot reliably.

68. Find his way out of the woods if lost.

69. Tie a knot.

70. Shake hands.

71. Iron a shirt.

72. Stock an emergency bag for the car.

73. Caress a woman’s neck.

74. Know some birds.

75. Negotiate a better price.

Couldn’t Wait April 11, 2008

Posted by caveblogem in Books, Other.

I spent much of my free time the last two days reading Nothing to Lose, the latest Jack Reacher thriller by Lee Child. In fact, I took half the day off yesterday, partly because the weather was so warm, for a change, but partly because I just wanted to read it.

It has been nearly a year since I started reading Child’s addictive series, of which this is the eleventh. All of the previous ten I have read more than once. So when I found out that the book was available already at the U.K. version of Amazon.com, I ordered it and sent my pounds thither posthaste.

I don’t quite get why it was released on March 24th in that backward land across the sea, but it won’t be released in the United States until June 3. There are some editing changes to be made, I know. But how long does it take to replace all the instances of “tyre” with “tire?” “Kerb” with “curb?” “Oestrogen” with “estrogen?” I suppose that they will have to sort out all of the instances where, for example “organisation” must be changed to “organization,” and sort out the other s-z issues.

And there are some words that seem to have made the jump across the pond already. The Smiths brought the word “spanner” with them packed in one of my favorite rhymes of all time:

I broke into the palace
with a sponge and a rusty spanner,
She said “I know you and you cannot sing.”
I said “that’s nothing, you should hear me play piano.”

So now we all know that a spanner is a pipe wrench.

Oh, and the covers had to be different, too, because the UK version had to show a picture of what a town in Colorado might look like (above), whereas in America these have been carefully branded over the years as a target with a bullet hole in it (below).

I guess all of the punctuation marks should be put on the other sides of quotation marks, too, so there’s one more thing to do before releasing the book here. Probably the publishers want to spare themselves having to answer irate letters from American readers complaining about [nonexistent] typographical errors.

At any rate, now that it will be another year before I get to read another Jack Reacher novel. Does anyone out there know of any books as entertaining as these with a similar hero?