Thursday, July 28

If you turned every atom in the solar system into a 2d pixel grid... still wouldn't have enough megapixels to display a :rolleyes: emoticon big enough to display my contempt for this article. Seriously, who writes this shit? The fact that the INTARWEB SUPERNET REVOLUTION HIGHWAY HAS CHAENGD THE WORLD!!1!!!!1!!! is both skullcrushingly self-evident and hopelessly naive. Self-publishing! Now I can write things down and put them somewhere public rather than screaming them on a streetcorner! Auction sites! Now I can bid for useless crap against people a thousand miles away instead of 100 yards! Pornography! Now I can watch women who look like Barbie pose artificially FOR FREE IN MY OWN HOME rather than having to buy a magazine from a disinterested convenience store clerk!

Give me a break.

The internet changes the world in the same way that every new mode of communication does. These things come along once every 40 years or so, folks; it's not like they've 'enabled fundamentally new business models' or anything like that. It's just another massive layer of self-perpetuating complexity to disguise the fact that western capitalism has created a special breed of metaperson whose only goal is making money, and doing it any fucking way then can. Sure, we consumers get some benefits, I'm not denying that, but is 2005 really the right time to gush about e-business? Isn't "e-business" just a term to hoodwink stupid managers into buying consultancy (and its bastard spawn the management-theory book)? Is "e-business" any different from the "wireless business" of the turn of the last century? Isn't all just Business, in a different medium?

Come on, Wired. You can do better than that. Stop publishing this repetitive crap.

Sunday, July 24

Peter Watts writes interesting books.

Boingboing linked to Peter Watts' website today, pointing out that he's released his first two novels (in addition to a number of short stories) for free, under a Creative Commons license. That means there are two free science fiction novels out there for the reading! yay!

I'd read the first 60 pages of Starfish in Indigo about 3 months ago, and liked it enough to write the name down on a scrap of paper in my wallet and keep it there until it was illegible. So I'm quite happy to have been reminded of Mr. Watts, especially since it turns out he's Canadian *and* he releases his backcatalogue for free. The book itself is interesting and very, very dark; both literally -- it takes place mostly at the bottom of the ocean, and figuratively -- its main themes are childhood sexual abuse, power rationing, and the advent of vaguely-human AI.

Go read it; it's fun.

Friday, July 22

Pop is Crap: Music Videos

I don't know how it's possible, but by some weird quantum superpostion effect, all of the thousands of music videos circulating through the mass entertainment media are simultaneously eye-gougingly terrible and brain-numbingly boring. Here are some totally objective symptoms of their retch-inducing awfulness, examples included. (Note: if you really want to torture yourself, these videos are all available for viewing in the apple iTunes store. I was going to link to their multivarious places on the web, but I decided to spare you.)

  • Simple-minded visual shtick that, while interesting at first glance, is repeated for the entire duration of the video, thus driving the viewer to boredom-induced suicide. One example is Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes, where you think, "hey neat, the camera is repeatedly zooming in on the band, then the band within the band within a band, etc., oh I get it, when is this going to get better, hunh, how about that, it's the same thing over and over again, ohgodi'msobored, holy crap I just wasted 3 minutes of my life." Another example: that indie heartbreaker (or more accurately, poopstinker) by Bright Eyes. Easy / Lucky / Free. In it, Our Hero writes fragments of the lyrics on the glass comprising the "fourth wall." After 15 seconds, you're so bored you might as well be dead. Imagine how you feel after the duration of the entire video.
  • Symptom number two: Our Artist is "jamming" soulfully on a musical instrument, contorting his/her face to the incredibly Deep and Expressive Emotions in the Lyrics... but that instrument is nowhere to be heard in the audio track! A great example of this is that dog-nodule of a song, "Be the Girl," by Aslyn. In the video, she's leaning over a piano, pounding the keys, and wrinkling her face to the lyrics. There's no piano in the song; all you hear is urine-slick electronic studio meddling.
When I think of all the talent and man-hours and effort that was spent in conceiving/making/distrubuting these things, I cry.

And cry and cry.

Thursday, July 21

One Year

A year ago today, I created a blog on blogspot and invited a close friend to contribute to it with me. Honestly, I didn't expect it to last anywhere near a year. I expected it to be a rarely-updated morass of random thoughts and pointless drivel--wait, what? it is? hunh. I guess it's pretty average, then. That's pretty much a fundamental point of my philosophy, though: the principle of mediocrity. There are 6 billion humans alive right now, 35 million of which live in the same country as me, 2 million in the same city, 50 thousand in this profession in this city, probably 10 thousand of those in the same basic life situation, and probably half of those have blogs. So the chances of me having said anything fundamentally unique is low.

Didn't stop me and The Pharaoh from making 141 posts over the past year, though. I guess we have more to say than we thought we did.

I blame the internet.

Wednesday, July 20

A /. Poster on Opportunity

Sometimes opportunity knocks. Other times, you have to roam the streets until you find it, beat it over the head, and drag it back to your place kicking and screaming... Where you have your pit already prepared... Some nice swing albums from the forties, a couple of car batteries, a fifty-pound bag of lime, bottle of ether... Wait, what were talking about again?

You just made my day, pegr.

Sunday, July 17

Private to Lockhart Steele

When I mentioned this site, I unfortunately neglected to mention that I (DDB) am Fraxas, and not Pharaohmagnetic.

Thank you.

Friday, July 15

Why I Play Games

Cat and Girl and Boy on a Stick and Slither both address one of the Fundamental Issues of Philosophy this week: that gaping void in your heart that nothing -- not alcohol, not marriage, not shopping, not sleep, not even pain -- can fill. The sucking chest wound of powelessness and directionlessness and fear of the afterlife.

Yeah, that's why I play games.

The best way I've found to deal with the aforementioned Fundamental Issue is to escape it into a controllable, logical World System where brainpower and reflexes can combine in a mode of personal expression that integrates perfectly with The World. An expression of my will to power. (The print version of that article, available in the Good and Evil backissue of Maisonneuve, elaborates more clearly on Niezchean philosophy as it applies to games. You should find it and read it, because it's the best piece in the magazine.) OBA's view of what immersion is fits perfectly here; immersion is losing yourself in a game, immersion is becoming someone with a clear goal in a world that even by opposing it supports it, immersion is total focus on the task at hand.

That kind of immersion doesn't necessarily come from story games, either. PopCap's puzzle games and Tetris are great examples of games that support that kind of immersive experience. I can spend hours performing one of 5 to 10 basic, sub-1-second-duration operations, in the pursuit of a goal that is entirely and unabashedly abstract, and be totally focused on it. Come to think of it, neither the 'computer' nor the 'game' part of computer games are required for that kind of immersion; programming can be a similar experience if you're In The Zone, as can Chess or Checkers or any other of those classic brainpower games. Doing pure math, if my sources in academia are correct, can do that kind of thing.

Were I religiously inclined, I'd point out that one interpretation of the classic Latin phrase "laborare est orare", literally "work is prayer", is that total focus and immersion can be acheived in any task. And perhaps that's a more broadly applicable statement; perhaps the sublime feeling of control, of participation in and interaction with and manipulation of the world as an abstract symbol system is a good way to fill that void.

All I know is that it works for me.

[Postscript: Jeff dropped by and reminded me that he wrote a similar piece last March. I should have linked it in the article, but I didn't, so now I have.]

Wednesday, July 13

Python Challenge - Victory!

Yesterday, Fraxas and I finally finished all 33 currently existing levels of the incredible Python Challenge. I never learned so many things about the coding experience as I did working on this puzzle. Here's a short list:
  • Not everything needs to be engineered from the ground up. Go out there and see what has been solved by others.
  • Two heads are better than one; way, way, way better.
  • Choose the best tools for the job. Yes, this is the "Python" challenge, and indeed, we (mostly Fraxas) worked wonders with Python to get the job done. However, some of the problems, (e.g. level 31, author's rendition above) were best solved with Mathematica, the language with which I'm most familiar.
  • The act of manipulating symbols, of pushing them around in a conceptual, abstract space, can be really fun.
If any of you decide sleuth it out, (and I know that Jeremy has) feel free to contact us for hints. More likely, we'd like to know how you solved some of these problems; many of the levels left us blindly groping at an elephant for days at a time, and it would be fascinating to see how different minds attacked them.

Monday, July 11

Linklists are for Insiders

Today, I added a whole bunch of stuff to the lefthand sidebar. Most of the links are to blogs that I read and that I think you should read. They're loosely categorized (oh how I agonized over where to put Angus and Lum and slashdot!), but don't take that too seriously. I put little hovertext titles on the links too, because I'm sneaky. Not so sneaky I'm not telling you about it on the front page, though. These links are not all the blogs/feeds/sites I read, but they're the most important ones.

To me, anyway.

Tuesday, July 5

Another reason Software Sucks

I'm reading through Kernighan and Ritchie's seminal book, 'The C Programming Language'. I should have done this a long time ago; it's an important book, and a pretty good overview of the language.

The problem with it is that it completely ignores modern software development practice.

Without getting into the sordid details, I now understand a lot better why people like Joel Spolsky write so passionately about code quality, emphasizing things that are second nature to me. Many people learned to code from K&R, or from people who learned from K&R. And though K&R properly emphasizes elegance and speed, it does so at the expense of readability, maintainability, and security. Eugh.

Monday, July 4

You Idiots: Marble-mouthed anticapitalism ruins a perfectly good ad campaign

So Nike pissed off Minor Threat by ripping off an album cover.

I'm not into the skate culture at all, or the punk culture; I've always found its socialist trends more than a little naive. The above link, and the Pitchfork press release linked to from there, certainly cement that feeling for me.

The story, essentially, is that Nike's skateboarding division was sponsoring some kind of tour/promo thing they were going to call Major Threat, a riff on one of the seminal CDs of the skater-punk movement, Minor Threat's self-titled debut. They had promotional materials made up as well, that were similarly (i.e. not at all) distanced from Minor Threat. Aaaaand, because Minor Threat and their label hold that Big Corporations are Universally Bad and Just There to Trod on the Little Guy, Let's Go Get Some Beer And Noodle Around On Skateboards Guys OK?, they're 'appalled' and 'disgusted' at Nike's actions.

They have no idea how corporations work.

Now, I don't know anything about the internal structure of Nike Inc. either. What I can tell you is that their skateboarding division is be no means their largest, and that if my experience of corporate culture is comparable it's run by about 6 guys, only 3 of which actually care about skateboarding. The band and the label seem to me to have this idea like Nike Skateboarding's all huge and evil; that 12 guys in black suits are smirking evilly at one another in an oak-panelled boardroom, nodding at a presentation that says

Messing Up The Little Guy -> Big Bux For Us

or something equally sinister. But it's not true! Those 6 guys probably thought they were just spinning a clever take on a well-loved album. That the homage to a band they all like (or else why would they be working for Nike Skateboarding?) would be recognized and appreciated.

Now, they should have asked permission first, for sure. They shouldn't have appropriated Minor Threat's work without compensation or acknowledgement. But that's a minor blunder, and one that makes it even clearer to me that these guys didn't pass the idea by Legal before floating it.

Give them a break, you idiots. You just lower your own credibility when you demonstrate your total lack of cluedness.