Wednesday, December 13

Blindsight: Peter Watts did it again

Yesterday I finished Blindsight, Peter Watts' new novel. You can get the full text here. It's hard SF to the max -- inquiries into the nature of consciousness, mind-boggling worldbuilding feats -- but it also has some human-psyche work that I find simultaneously incredibly creepy and incredibly fascinating. The most human of the main characters is a woman who intentionally gave herself multiple personalities and is referred to as The Gang of Four. And the least human of the main characters is nowhere near as mindblowingly weird as his aliens are.

Reading Watts is like watching a tarantula eat a small bird. It's repulsive, but you can't look away. It's nature at its reddest in tooth and claw. It's direct, thoughtful, extrapolations of today's nightmares into tomorrow's.

It's impossible to put down.

Thursday, November 30

Metareview: The Hip in Concert

Jordan Zivitz of the Montreal Gazette reviews a live performance of the Tragically Hip over here. The review starts off promisingly, with a propulsive stylistic voice delivering humour and irreverence.

For the first few paragraphs at least, the author gracefully tosses off innovative visuals and metaphors.

Unfortunately, Zivitz can't maintain the energy, and the stylistic embellishments begin to grow tiresome. Quite possibly, he's subconsciously trying to emulate the titanic poetic powers of Gord Downie, the Tragically Hip front-man, whose lyrics are evocative as they are esoteric. If so, Zivitz has propped up a huge obstacle to climb.

A dash of earnestness breaks through the conclusion, and Zivitz rescues the review with stark emotional openness. His outré style, stripped of its cynicism, regains the crack and sparkle it originally showed at the review opening.

All in all, a commendable work.

Tuesday, November 28

Stuck Up: A Strip

This is my favourite Cat And Girl strip. The general format for C&G is to make a snarky observation about dichotomies between naive expectations and reality, thereby commenting wistfully on the cyncism necessary to cope with modern life. Most of the time, the observation's accompanied by a pun, visual or written, on one or both of the sides of the dichotomy. In this case, the dichotomy's between the seminal Magritte painting's complaint -- the difference between image and reality, the so-called use-mention distinction -- and an addict's skewed view of their own addiction. Their refusal to admit that their addiction is problematic.

There are similarities to the two sides beyond the fact that they're both negative declarative statements, too. The addict really doesn't see his habit as a problem, even though he recognizes that it can be problematic in others, just like we all realize that even though the painting isn't a pipe, it is a painting of a pipe.

The fact that the comparison between the two sides is made in comic form -- a form that plays off the use-mention all the time, one that (from a semiotic perspective, at least) requires a deep understanding of Magritte's complaint -- makes the joke even funnier.

..well, that and the fact that paint is delicious.

[This edition of the Stuck Up series guest-written by Fraxas; Pharaoh will return with regularly scheduled updates soon.]

Wednesday, November 22

Something I test well in!

I tested my musical skills in 6 minutes just now, and of the 15000 or so people who took the test before me more than 90% of them tested worse than I did. I've always thought I had a good ear, both for musical intervals and for accents; now I have (real! official! I read it on the web somewhere that sounded authoritative!) proof that I am.

What's your score?

Monday, November 20

Misordinaty a word I just made up. It means dislike for computers (by analogy to misanthropy). It'd probably be more correct to use the Greek root for 'computer' rather than the Latin one, making the word misupologisy, but somehow misordinaty seems prettier.

The term came up as I tried to evade a Mac/Win religious battle (all in jest, of course!) by suggesting that the fact that I use Windows and Solaris shouldn't be interpreted as me endorsing them but rather as an accident of convenience, and that I hate all computers equally.

I just thought I'd share.

Growing Up with Boy on a Stick and Slither

Boy on a Stick and Slither pulled out all the stops today.

Thursday, November 9

Stuck Up: Motivation, Soviet Style

Speaking of motivation, no one could do it like the cold-war era soviet communists. The streamlined design ethos of their propaganda posters is simply breathtaking.

There's some soviet propaganda posters here, all of which are fantastic.

Although, my absolute favourite I found elsewhere:

(High quality here)

This mind-blowing poster says "Smite the Lazy Worker." I have this mounted on matte-board right above my computer monitor. Whenever I start goofing off at work, e.g., surfing certain websites that are endlessly fascinating but are like whirlpool time-vortices (see sidebar links), this poster tells me to Smite the Lazy Worker within me. I grab my Soviet hammer, I swing my blocky but athletic silhouette of a body in a wide, smooth overhead arc, and I SMITE that lazy sleeping worker right on the fuzzy pate.

Works every time.

Thanks, Soviet Union!

P.S. Because of the beautiful intricacies of the Russian language, I knew that "Smite the Lazy Worker" would be a prosaic and inaccurate translation at best. So, I asked a Russian colleague to translate it for me. He gave me a half-hour explanation of the many-layered puns that appear in the original language. For example, the word isn't really "lazy worker," it's more of a Russian-only compound with a prefix best approximated by "pseudo," or "faker." E.g., Smite the Fake-worker, or Smite the Pseudo-worker, or Smite the worker-who-appears-to-be-busy-but-is-really-faking. Also, the connotation of smite is "hit," but "to work" and "to hit" are very similar in Russian, to the extent that the word for "worker" is like... "striker." So, it may very well be translated as "Strike the Pseudo-Striker," but that fails on several other levels. Smite the Lazy Worker works for me, so the lazy worker I shall smite.

Stuck Up: Motivation

Long hours of office drudgery can be utterly soul-crushing, especially for a hyperactive trained lab monkey like me. That's why a few well-placed motivational posters can turn nihilistic boredom to happy-fun lollipop sunshine rainbow time!

Mark Strivers is a cartoonist who updates his webpage once weekly with wonderful webcomics. (Alliteration!) His one-panel strips are amongst the best of the genre. Here's one I printed out and stuck up, for my own motivational benefit:

(Fullsize here).

Wednesday, November 8

Stuck Up: Telecalculograph

On "Stuck Up" I'll be discussing the things I printed and stuck up around my workspace. Today's entry is the most recent.

You've probably already seen this Boingboing post about a very cool steampunk casemod. Because I covet it greatly, I have done the next best thing. I printed out this image from the builder's Flickr photoset, and I affixed it to the front of my otherwise completely bland lab-provided Gateway:

Thanks, johnny5rd!

Monday, November 6

Lore Fitzgerald Sjöberg on Beastly Technology

I've blogged about the brilliant comedic writings of Lore Fitzgerald Sjöberg before. This week's entry is also top-notch. As he points out in his own blog, "Those of you who enjoy comments that miss the point will particularly enjoy this one."


I think Bible believers, followers and/or thumpers are really overlooking the other technological warnings inherent in Revelation. Here are some actual Bible verses, and the cutting-edge technology to which they clearly refer:

"And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind."

This is obviously a reference to file sharing. The "stars" in question are the hard-working entertainers of the world, "falling to earth" because of the "casting" of their works to and fro like figs (figs were the main form of entertainment in the ancient world) by a "mighty wind." A mighty wind? Like a "torrent," perhaps?

Wednesday, November 1

"Forget violence, you are now driving war."

It's a Metafilter day here on Shiny Things. The Truth About Cars reviews the Audi RS4 and, as a car review, this one hits all the high points.

It's articulate, clear about the car's faults and strengths, and displays a genuine love for people-movers that's palpable even to someone as idiotic where cars are concerned as I am. Plus, it actually uses metaphor correctly and effectively!

Tuesday, October 31

After You

I saw this animated short film a while ago via metafilter, but it has stuck in my mind since then. That's why I link it here, for you.

After You.

Monday, October 30

Google Calculator is amazing.

Want to calculate the surface temperature of the sun?

Paste this string into google:

((4 pi (1.5 * 10^13 cm)^2 * 0.136 J / (s cm^2 ) / (2 pi^5 * k^4 * 15^-1 * c^-2 * h^-3) ) / (4 pi (7 * 10^10 cm)^2))^0.25

Here's a breakdown of the factors:
10^13 cm is about the distance from the earth to the sun. So, 4 pi r^2 is the surface area of the sphere with that radius.

0.136 J / (s cm^2 ) is the radiant flux of solar energy that we recieve here on Earth. So, multiplying that flux by the area of the earth-orbit-sphere will give you the total radiant power that the sun emits.

Then, we can apply the handy-dandy Stefan-Boltzmann law. The Stefan-Boltzmann "constant" isn't built into google, but Planck's Constant, the speed of light, and Boltzmann's constant are. So, we can put those right into the expression above with the right prefactors and powers.

The radius of the sun is about 7 * 10^10 cm. To scale all the radiant power back to that size, we divide by that surface area, and we're left with something proportional to the fourth power of the black body temperature. Raise the whole thing to the power of 0.25, and you're left with the surface temperature of the sun, approximately.

So cool.

Wednesday, October 25

Terry Eagleton on Dawkinsian evangelical atheism

Here's the link from the London Review of Books. Terry Eagleton is a literary critic and philosopher who holds ever-so-slightly more nuanced views on the topic of religion and faith than either Pat Robertson or Richard Dawkins.

I've pontificated before about evangelical atheism; I lean mostly to a Null Interpretation myself (title borrowed from Dirac's commentary on quantum physics). Subtlety and moderation in all things.

[Editor's note: the word "evangelical" in the title and the body of this work has replaced the previous choice, "militant", for reasons put forth extremely clearly by Oz in the comments.]

Sunday, October 22

Quizzing all over the Carpet: Pop Music Edition

The format of today's question is multiple choice.

What was the title of the first Australian song to acheive popularity in the United States, charting as high as #3 in 1963?

A) "Put Some Shrimp on the Barbie, Mate"
B) "A Dingo Ate my Baby (Help Help)"
C) "We All Live on a Penal Colony"
D) "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport"

Thursday, October 19

This is a blogpost title that references itself as well as its contents: A link to a Self-Referential Story.

This is the link that takes you a Self-Referential Story by David Moser. I believe he is the same David Moser who is the sometime collaborator of Douglas Hofstadter, author of Gödel, Escher, Bach.

Sunday, October 15

Trip report: Niagara wine region

On Friday afternoon, my lovely wife and I rented a car and drove 150km to the Niagara wine region, just South around Lake Ontario from Toronto. Normally, the drive takes about 2 hours; it was more like 3 and a half today because of Friday-afternoon traffic leaving Toronto. Not quite stop-and-go, but it came close a couple times.

We stayed at Down Home B&B, our first non Harbour House Niagara visit (it was full up; odd, since there was nothing particularly special going on in town this weekend). Quite a pleasant room, with good breakfasts and a comfortable bed -- though the room got hotter than optimal sleeping temperature. We ate at the always-spectacular Charles Inn on Friday night; spinach salad and beef tenderloin for Her, parsnip & pear velouté and trio of duck (grilled breast, leg confit, and foie gras) with wild mushrooms accompanied by a glass of Lailey's Pinot Noir for me.

Saturday was spent lesiurely touring wineries, starting with Reif Estates (decent Cabernet Sauvignon from 2002 recently released; we bought 2 bottles) and heading from there to Frogpond Farm which has the distinction of being the area's only certified-organic winery. We bought 2 bottles of their 2002 Riesling, and 2 of their 2002 Cabernet Merlot. A short drive from Frogpond is Coyote's Run, who won best Pinot Noir of the year at 2006's Cuvée in February -- but they've since sold out of it entirely. Sigh. We had to make do with 2 bottles of their 2004 Meritage (which is an invented word, by the way, used by non-French wineries to describe Bordeaux-style blends). Right around the corner is Chateau des Charmes, a relatively old winery with a distinctly new facility and a decidedly anachronistic label. Tastes of their Aligoté and Sauvignon Blanc didn't impress -- very light wines, without much nose at all -- but their Gamay varietal, which they call 'Droit' for its unusually straight growth (Gamay's usually pretty gnarly), was quite nice and we left with 2 bottles of it and one of their 2004 late harvest Riesling we'd had in the past and liked. At that point, with both of us hungry and unwilling to wait much longer for food, we made our last winery stop at Lailey. We arrived at the same time as about 4 other cars. The tasting bar was packed, and they didn't have any of their Canadian Oak wines open, which was a disappointment since they're almost the only ones in the region who are using it and we'd been looking forward to trying some out. The 2003 Cabernet Franc and 2004 Cabernet blend were good, though, so we got a bottle of each.

Our trunk full and our stomachs empty, we headed back into town. There being few other options, we ate at the Churchill Lounge of the Prince of Wales Hotel -- fish & chips for Her, a burger for me. Uneventful and unremarkable, aside from some truly dreadful muzak and subpar tea. A quick walk through the slightly tourist-trappy ("it's not tourist-trappy! it's Quaint!" She says, from over my shoulder) main street of Niagara-on-the-lake took us to Greaves Jams, where we bought at least a 3 month supply of various wonderful sweet fruit preserves. It's a necessary part of every Niagara trip. A 3 month supply weighs about 15 pounds, and we were 10 minutes from the car at that point, so we left our box of jam behind the counter and told the nice lady we'd be back in 10 minutes or so.

We forgot about our jam.

Now, we did have good reason to. It was 3:30pm by this point, and we only had until 5:00 to finish up at Hillebrand's Buyers' Weekend event, 15 minutes out of town. We're members in their wine club -- they send us 2 bottles a month, one red one white, and we get discounts on tours and tastings at the winery -- and one of the perks of that membership isthat we get first crack at their new vintages and a few rare back-list wines at a Buyers' Weekend once a year. You wander around a big tent with a wine glass and a notebook, and when you find one you like you mark yourself down for a half a case. Or more, if you're feeling particularly enthused. We found some we liked -- a 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon, well-integrated tannins underneath a nose of ripe red fruit, with a wonderfully soft mouthfeel and just enough acidity. A half-case of that, and 2 bottles of a really nice 2004 Vidal icewine, rounded out our purchases for the day.

We finished at Hillebrand around 4:45, and we had to hurry back into town to get to our 5:00 dinner reservation at the Stone Road Grille, aka REST. When we were partway there She remembered our jam, and so we had to drop in at the restaurant, tell them we were going to be late, go get our jam, and scoot back to the restaurant... luckily, they didn't mind and we enjoyed a wonderful meal: butternut squash soup and a mushroom risotto for Her, lightly-battered calamari and the biggest pork chop I've ever eaten for me. The nicest thing about the evening was that REST's wine list had a very pleasant surprise -- a half bottle of Lailey's Canadian Oak Cabernet Sauvignon! A great bottle, and the perfect size for the evening. After our late lunch and early supper we were both pretty full, so we just went back to our room and read books for the evening. A quiet end to a busy day.

This space will be replaced tomorrow by an account of our trip to Fielding Estates for their Crush event -- picking, processing, and tasting wine for 4 hours on a beautiful early fall Sunday.

Friday, October 13

If you do not program for a living, please read this

Joel Spolsky pointed at No Silver Bullet today and it expresses clearly a truth which I had thought I'd realized independently and could never really express. It's an essay on why writing software is hard, and it's very very good. Skip over the jargon; there's a lot to be gleaned from the essay without even reading the technical sections.

Thursday, October 12


I am cursed with a peculiar ailment of the mind: I read books very, very quickly. I get most of the detail from them, at least as long as I have the book in my hands; some things I miss, but I trap some of those on the next read through, which has the advantage then of being at least partially new.

For whatever reason, I've been reading a lot of books from the library in the past few weeks: here are some capsule reviews of my first time through them. Maybe I'll reread them in a year, see what's changed.

Spin, by Robert Charles Wilson — Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, stars go out, Earth is encased in a pseudomembrane that causes time on the inside to pass at 1 second for every 3.17 exterior years, boy gets girl back. Good science, better characterization, weak plotting at the final reveal.

Newton's Wake, by Ken Macleod — Earth goes through a singularity event that leaves the people left behind warring over weird and wonderful posthuman artifacts, not the least of which is a wormhole network and a gentle but firm refusal for causality to be violated even though faster-than-light travel is possible. A good space-opera romp, pleasantly absent of Mr. Macleod's eye-rollingly leftist politics.

The Thousandfold Thought, by R. Scott Bakker — Third in a Tolkien-scale fantasy epic, the conclusion to a tale that, while suffering a few of the standard high-fantasy delusions, manages some pretty interesting gyrations. Tedious in places; gripping in others. the latter outweight the former by a considerable margin.

Glasshouse, by Charlie Stross — Stross's books tend to be answers to hypothetical questions. "How would an interstellar metacivilization uninterested in faster-than-light travel but happy to use faster-than-light communication survive past the collapse of its member civilizations?" (Singularity Sky.) "What would conflict between weakly godlike posthuman Grand Intelligences look like to humans caught in the middle of it?" (Iron Sunrise.) "How would the world's governments react to the discovery that demons are real, and they can be summoned by doing a specific kind of mathematics?" (The Atrocity Archives.) "How does a society that allows perfect copying of humans, transporters-that-replicate, feel like to its members?" (Glasshouse.)

More to be added.

Tuesday, October 10

Colour me sociopathic, then

In his article "Disney exec: Piracy is just a business model", Doctorow points out at the bottom that conversation -- rather than content -- is king. Well, yes, to a point; I probably would choose friends over movies for my desert island sojourn, but 'conversation' in that sense of the word cannot be delivered to me by Disney. They can try to talk about their content, and they can make it easier (or more difficult) to have a conversation about their content, but to the extent that they have to have product to sell in order to make quarterly P/L targets they have to produce content.

Conversation might be king, but corporations aren't kingmakers.

Wednesday, September 6

Garfield meets Black Math

One of Charlie Stross' series, the Laundry books, is in the horror genre. Of course, it has a representatively Strossian twist: in that universe, the incantations required to bridge the gap between our world and the Ones Where The Demons Are take the form of mathematics. There are equations that can drive you insane; thoughts that, when you have them, your head becomes a conduit for Evil. It's an extension of the forbidden-knowledge meme, and it has all the standard trappings thereof; when it's well done, that meme drives the horror stories that I find most creepy. And Stross does do it well.

Anyway, the real reason I brought all this up is to show you this image, which demonstrates pretty effectively the idea of black math:

I think I speak for us all when I say that that is probably the best Garfield cartoon I've ever seen.

Friday, August 4

Lightning Strikes in Toronto

This incredible photograph makes me miss Toronto. Using my powers of triangulation, I was able to determine from the satellite images at Google Maps that the photographer was at the high-rise on the northeast corner of Bay and Edward.

Thursday, June 29

This is why Friendster and Orkut and all those other FoaF services don't work.

Because we have Real Social Networks already; we're homo sapiens sapiens and that particular ape is very good at tracking social relationships all by itself.

Monday, June 26

On the naming of Sports Teams

I know someone who simply cannot grasp the modern naming style of certain sports teams. Oilers, Hurricanes, Penguins, even Maple Leafs she can understand - on these teams such as these, each player is a single "senator," a "knickerbocker," or perhaps a "Red Sock." The team is therefore collectively called the Giants or the Jets or the Argonauts or what have you.

But these basketball team names really confuse her. The Miami Heat? Heat is singular! How can many players form a team called a "heat?" What is a "heat" anyway? Same thing with the Utah Jazz or the Orlando Magic. These teams should be called the Miami Heat Sources or the Orlando Magicians or the Utah... uh, Jazz Musicians.

These modern-sounding American-style names really confuse foreign ears too. When Major League Soccer was founded in the United States back in 1993, many of the teams had wacky names such as the Kansas City Wiz (later the Wizards) or the San Jose Clash (later the Earthquakes). According to the Wiki article, these name changes occured to lure more traditional-minded Hispanic soccer fans to the league. Witness the Dallas Burn (hunh?), which became FC Dallas in 2005. FC stands for Futból Club, a naming convention popular among many Latin and European teams.

Letting the popular masses name a sports team may not always be a good idea. The Toronto Raptors started their first season in 1995, but well before that, the organization held a contest within the city to name the new NBA expansion team. Jurassic Park was the movie-du-jour at the time, so instead of receving a name that reflected Toronto's rich botanical or avian diversity (as its hockey and baseball teams respectively do), the basketball team was named after a species of dinosaur popularized in a Michael Crichton adaptation.

I guess it's all for the best. You can guess what the Toronto Raptors would be called if they had been founded this year: The "Toronto Snakes on a Plane." I can just picture the logo.

Sunday, June 25

Dayvan Cowboy

Is it fitting that one of the best instrumental minimalist electronic tracks of all time should have the best video?


Friday, June 16

Don't sound stupid.

Stop using comma splices.

Geez, Academy of Linguistic Awareness! Either of these would have worked:

Don't sound stupid; stop saying like.
Don't sound stupid. Stop saying like.

Now your cover is blown, and your chances of affecting a perfectly good cause are shot.

(via boingboing)


This is sadly similar to Stephen Notley's attempt to correct society's greivous apostrophe errors. (He of Bob the Angry Flower fame.) He publishes this insanely brilliant, popular, and world-altering strip:

Bob's Quick Guide to the Apostrophe, you Idiots

But then he blows his cover with this one.


He mistakenly thinks that the name of the competition, the "World's" is incorrectly pluralized, when in fact it is simply the World's Gymnastics Competetion or something like that. There are no multiple "worlds" participating.

To be fair, he fessed up to his error in the annotations of the printed book, and he more than made up for it with a series of other linguistic propaganda leaflets such as this one:

Bob's Quick Guide to French, you Idiots

P.P.S. The "Acadamy [sic] of Linguistic Awareness" is a satirical group. Notice the spelling errors in their poster, not to mention their name. Is the comma splice intentional? I don't know, but one thing is certain: people should stop saying "like" so often.

Tuesday, June 6

They Lied To Us

This was supposed to be the future apocalypse.

Where is my jetpack river of blood,
Where are my robotic companions locusts,
Where are my dinner in pill form boils,
Where is my nuclear-powered levitating house Earth rent asunder?

(thanks, The Bishop Of Turkey.)

Monday, June 5

The Cost

Schneier points out a Solzhenitsyn quote from Cancer Ward, and it got me thinking. (Thanks, James.)

As one of the comments says, there's a cost to everything nowadays. We're richer now, as a society, than anyone has ever been at any time. We have more than enough food, we have warmth and safety in the dead of winter, we have a say in our government, we have rich, soft clothes, we have entertainment, we have long lives, we know an incredible amount about how our world works, and those of us sufficiently 'net-savvy as to be reading this blog have access to the almost all of that knowledge. But there's a cost! We paid for our food with environmental degradation. We paid for our warmth with the creation of dams, and the exploitation of fossil fuels. We paid for our freedom of goverment with the requirement for eternal vigilance thereof. We paid for our soft clothes with the time and energy it takes to keep up with fashion. We paid for our entertainment with advertisments selling us things we don't need. We paid for our knowledge with immense amount of wasted effort pursuing ultimately worthless ideas, and lastly but certainly not leastly we paid for the internet with our privacy.

There ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Everything has a cost. Most times, we don't even know we're paying it, but we are.

Friday, June 2

Peter Gabriel

...writes good music. Or at least, he did on Us and So, the two albums of his I recently got in a fit of "hey, I remember liking that stuff in high school". It's like getting two more Dave Matthews albums for free! (OK not really, but they're similar enough that someone who doesn't listen to either at all might confuse them.)

I'd never really listened to his stuff all the way through before. I mean, sure, it's been on while I was over at people's houses, so it all seemed vaguely familiar (or is that just that all his songs sound the same?) but now, I'm actually listening to it. Amazing how long it takes to (re)discover some things.

Thursday, May 4

The Meme of Ten

Life is random, at least for the next ten tracks. Here we go.

1. The Zutons - Moons and Horror Shows

Oh thank heavens I got the one good Zutons track. I'm a big Album Person - I prefer to listen to whole albums in one sitting rather than one single at a time. Who Killed the Zutons? is on my iPod in its entirety despite the fact that I only like one or two of its tracks. This is one of them. Catchy!

2. Tea Party - Shadows on the Mountainside

Edges of Twilight. Now there is an album. Fraxas and I had an interesting conversation about it a while back, which I'll quote in the comments.

3. The Chromatics - Doppler Shifting

I have always been a huge fan of science-themed acapella. Finding it is tough. Thanks, Jeremy!

4. RJD2 - Since We Last Spoke

Is this Rock? hip-hop? Dance? Electronica? Who cares. I like it.

5. Cello Suite I in G Major by J.S. Bach, Edgar Meyer, Unaccompanied Cello Suites on Double Bass

As a lapsed bass player, I enjoy listening to ridiculous acts of virtuosity that hardly sound like they could have been performed by a human being. Oh wait, no, that only depresses me.

6. Leonard Cohen - Everybody Knows

Hey, there's Bono of U2 covering a Leonard Cohen song in a trailer. Leonard Cohen is probably the only buddhist monk to ever write a song that Bono covers, which is a strange distinction indeed.

7. The Odds - Domesticated Blind

Finally, my iPod takes me to a song I've never really listened to before, which is odd (no pun in ten did!). I'll pay attention now.

Hmm. Clever lyrics, jangly retro tune, what's not to like? Next.

8. Boards of Canada - ROYGBIV

The bright, sinuous airiness of this track is what launched me on a Boards of Canada obsession. It's a perfect 2-minute morsel of music that solidly anchors rest of the album Music has the Right to Children, which otherwise consists of fleeting, fragmented melodic structures that play patty-cake with your brain.

9. The Roots - Distortion to Static

Okay. This is from a playlist that a friend put together for me. I have only recently started to discover hip-hop, so I'll try to sound off on this track without sounding maximally lame. It is - how you say? Fresh. Its qualities are not what you would call "whack" at all, as far as I can tell.

10. Rondellus - Rotae Confusionis

This is from this album, a bunch of very authentically delivered medieval-style latin-language covers of Black Sabbath songs.

metareview: The Onion AV Club "savages" the "summer" "movies"

The Onion's ridiculously highbrow lowbrow highbrow ironic AV Club has a feature on summer movies. It's run-of-the-mill fare for them, but it did have this gem:
Suggested alternate activity: Dressing up as Depp's character [from the new Pirates of the Carribean movie], saying 'Arrrr' a lot, quoting the first film extensively, taking a long, deep look in the mirror and admitting you live a sad and lonely life."

When you think about it, that's actually surprisingly widely relevant advice.

Tuesday, May 2

Back On The Wagon

My name's Fraxas, and I'm an addict. I've been clean for 2 days now. I still think about it all the time; sometimes, I even talk about it. I know I had some good times while I was using, I know the use let me discover things about myself I couldn't have found out any other way -- and they weren't all bad things. I learned about loyalty, I learned about teamwork, I learned about mastery, I learned about conflict resolution, and about perseverance.

But it hurt me, too. I'd use and use and use, trying to fill that void in my life, succeeding in the short run but failing in the long. I lost a lot of sleep. I lost some friends. I got a lot worse at my job. I almost lost my relationship with my wife.

And that's why I quit Everquest 2.

This isn't the developer's fault, any more than alcoholics can blame Diageo. This isn't the media's fault, this isn't anyone's fault but my own. I'm flawed, have always been flawed, in that computer games suck me in and entrance me more effectively than anything else I know of. It seems silly to admit this; after all, "video game addiction" is still pretty fringe as a concept, and I'm not sure it holds water as a Real Psychological Condition rather than a character flaw. But it's a useful metaphor if nothing else.

I've tried to get over this pastime hobby problem before, taking periodic breaks and switching flavours of poison every once in a while, but ultimately they're all the same. All these slow-advancement, highly-social, highly-time-dependent games trigger the same pathological behaviours in me. So I have to stop them all, or accept the life my flaws force on me when I play MMOs.

And I'm not willing to lose any more of my best years to any game, no matter how good it is.

Wednesday, April 26

If it looks like mastery and it smells like mastery, it's probably mastery

The fine folks at eGullet show us how to sharpen a knife.

In mind-crushing, fifteen-thousand-word detail, getting into math, specializing knives for different jobs, and the various theoretical disputes still extant in the field of knife geekery.


Monday, April 24

not dead, just....resting.

Recent interesting things: I received for my birthday (which was recent) 4 killer old games -- Fallout 1&2, Planescape: Torment, and something else that I can't remember. I have started playing two of them. I have made some progress in them. No super-mindblowing moments yet though. I also got Oblivion and Stubbs The Zombie and (oh god) the hardware to run them well. So what did I do with the New Machine Of Hotness?

yeah, you know it.

Everquest 2, all day and all night.

Since it's still vaguely (vaguely? who am I kidding? DEEPLY) shameful to admit you play One Of Those Games, I haven't been posting much. After all, do you really care that I now I have a 70 Coercer on Lucan Dlere, and that my guild Transcendance is running a Mark of Awakening raid this coming weekend? 68+. Bring your Mental resist gear.


Thursday, March 30

A short, sweet nugget from a founder of Brunching Shuttlecocks

Lore Fitzgerald Sjöberg of brunching fame is writing a regular collum for Wired online. I will quote from this week's entry, which contains a high density of truth.

3. More Grav Guns

Let's be honest here, game developers. There are maybe three of you who are working on new game ideas. The rest of you are just combining turn-based sandbox squad shooters with extreme sports party RPGs and wrapping it all in a Shrek license. I know you rip off all your ideas, you know you rip off all your ideas, so let's get down to it: Rip off the Grav Gun from Half-Life 2. I just got a chance to try out Half-Life 2: Deathmatch and it was not only like finding God, it was like finding God in an inexpensive but excellent Asian-food restaurant that always has a table open. Now I require the ability to throw a toilet at my enemies in every single video game in existence, including the Bible quiz games. Especially Bible quiz games.

I have no idea what he's talking about, not being a huge gamer myself, but dang if that doesn't sound fun.

Monday, March 27

RIP Stanislaw Lem

The seminal Science Fiction writer died today of heart problems at age 84.

He lives on in his work.

Friday, March 24

What You Really Own

In his most recent blogpost, Raymond Chen thirdhands an expression I now fourthhand to you:
you don't really own anything you can't carry at a dead run while firing an AK-47 over your shoulder.
Ha ha, we think; how glib. But what about data? One thing you can carry at a dead run while firing an AK-47 over your shoulder is passwords, and the mobile phone in your pocket -- you know, the one with more compute power and local storage than the entire WORLD 35 years ago -- probably doesn't slow you down that much. Not to mention the fact that, as long as the war you're in the middle of isn't global, you probably have some safe (virtual) place to store a bunch more bits. Greg Papadopoulos, in a spiel I attended, made the analogy between data storage and money storage. Nowadays, it's totally obvious that the safest place for your retirement nest egg is a bank and not your mattress. But not only was that not always the case in the past, but it took people's perception a bit of time to catch up to the reality that yes, banks are safer. Not always more convenient, but safer. And the money's no less yours for you not having actual specie in your posession.

And the same thing goes for data, we just don't all know it yet.

Tuesday, March 21

Charlie's Diary

Charles Stross on his new novel:
"Being inclined towards crazy stunt performances, I'm planning on writing 'Halting State' on my mobile phone. This is technologically feasible because the phone in question has more memory and online storage than every mainframe in North America in 1972 (and about the same amount of raw processing power as a 1977-vintage Cray-1 supercomputer). It's a zeitgeist thing: I need to get into the right frame of mind, and I need to use a mobile phone for the same reason Neal Stephenson used a fountain pen when he wrote the Baroque cycle."

As I just mentioned to a close friend, not one of Charlie Stross' books has failed to break my head open and induce at least one thousand-yard-stare "Oh. My. GOD." moment.

Friday, March 10

Shirky on CMOMENTS ON THE INTERNETT!111!11!!! -- good stuff.

Clay Shirky gave a talk on moderation strategies at ETech. The following quote grabbed me:
Social software is the experimental wing of political philsophy, a discipline that doesn't realize it has an experimental wing. We are literally encoding the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of expression in our tools. We need to have conversations about the explicit goals of what it is that we're supporting and what we are trying to do, because that conversation matters. Because we have short-term goals and the cliff-face of annoyance comes in quickly when we let users talk to each other. But we also need to get it right in the long term because society needs us to get it right.

Heady stuff.

Tuesday, March 7

How to convince the Japanese to Stop Smoking

Writes the band Cake on their update website,

Are you trying unsuccessfully to quit smoking? Perhaps this Japanese argument against smoking will help you.

I love it. There are pages of these zen-like, haiku-like, stirringly poignant, puzzling, and beautiful anti-smoking ads. Here's another one of my favourites. And here are the rest.

Monday, March 6

Death Cab for Cutie

I mentioned to my illustrious co-blogger today that I'd listened through a Death Cab for Cutie album today (We Have The Facts And We're Voting Yes, if you care) . He expressed surprise that I was listening to pantywaist indie girlman music, and my reply was that although they do make pantywaist indie girlman music, they make very listenable pantywaist indie girlman music. Which (far from it!) I am not above. I'm not even sure it's something that you can be "above". From one listen through, I'd put their sound at Weakerthans Only Less Maudlin And More Twee.

Pharaoh mentioned that he'd judged that particular book by its cover, and avoided the music of Death Cab for Cutie because they had a clever name, and that clever names are -- his words -- Signposts for Avoidance. He'll check them out now though, on my recommendation.

BAND NAME ALERT: Signposts For Avoidance is not a bad Clever Band Name. heh, neither is Clever Band Name (though it's taken). meta-heh, so is Band Name Alert!

Saturday, February 18

Who the hell am I? For that matter, who the hell are you? And how do you keep track?

I have a problem. I have too many identities.

I have accounts on 4 IM services, and I access those accounts from 2 clients each, on at least 3 computers, on a regular basis. I play 3 online games regularly and a few more sporadically. I log into websites and post on blogs, as well as blogging myself. I have three names/handles/monikers, each for a different group of activities. I have more logins and passwords than I care to think about. Sometimes, I have to think carefully about who I am right now, to avoid tying my identites together.

Not all of that is bad, of course. I don't use my real name on this blog so that if and when I say something that someone (or something) doesn't like, it's not trivial to find my home number and bother my wife about it. I don't use the same name to blog as I do to IM, because I don't really want people I don't know sending me IMs. Same with gaming -- the fact that you read my blog shouldn't let you find me in-game.

All that said, I do often wonder if my online identity is too fragmented, if I'm doing myself a disservice by keeping my interests separate. The problem is, how do I tie everything together? I don't really want to take the time to implement a personal portal (thanks for the link, and the plug, Coté!), and even that would probably not be of much use to anyone besides me. I don't want to have to put all my eggs in one basket, either. And I haven't found an application -- hosted or installed -- that I trust to maintain my identities for me. In fact, since the whole point of having separate identities is not to link them on the Internet, I don't think I'll ever trust a hosted application to do it for me. And the downloadable tools I've briefly looked at to do that kind of thing don't link sufficiently well with my online life as to make them usable. Flock comes closest, but it's scarily beta, and scarily web 2.0. It seems to me like there might be no right answers to this problem.

Do you, gentle readers, have similar problems? How do you solve them? What haven't I thought of? Are there no right answers because I'm asking the wrong questions?

Wednesday, February 8

The Insufferable Trollishness of "Brights"

Pharaohmagnetic linked a Salon article on Dennet's new book. Oz linked a Globe and Mail review as well. I haven't read the book, and out of a lack of desire to dent my drywall with it in frustration, I don't think I will.

My problem with the book -- indeed, with Dennett's whole modus operandi -- isn't so much his ideas. In fact, I'm quite happy to adopt a reductionist approach to religion and the mind; personally, I've never really had any reason to believe I was anything more than meat. That said, the term "bright," as a rebranding of the atheism associated with the reductionist approach to the human mind, is tragically misguided.

The analogy to the term that homosecual activists introduced --"gay"-- is instructive mostly for the main difference between "gay" and "bright": the former has no connotations that related to what homosexuality was or wasn't. On the other hand, "bright" most certainly does. By choosing a word that is already loaded with positive connotations of intelligence, Dennett not-so-subtly trolls the theists of the world by suggesting that they are NOT bright in *any* sense of the word -- that they are, because they believe, stupid.

Having chosen that term, Dennett condemns his arguments to two separate ratholes:
(1) the term won't see any uptake among people who do consider themselves part of the group, because they will preceive it as derogatory
(2) When other works criticise Dennett, criticism of his arguments will get obscured by objections to the term itself.

The latter is by far the most pernicious, because it allows Dennett a defense against his critics that has nothing to do with the strength of his arguments. He gets to spend time lording it over theists who object (rightly!) to his terminology, pointing out that the terminology is beside the point, rather than addressing their concerns with his logic. He's manufactured a totally unnecessary controversy, one that will take time and column-inches on both sides of the debate while contributing very little to the advancement of the state of the art. Breaking the Spell is the inverse of a polished turd: it's a good idea, presented with a coating of stank-ass slime. As such, I propose that we refer to Dennetian ideas, and the people who present them, as "rectal" (or perhaps "sewerish"; please comment if you can come up with a better term. I'm looking for something that conveys the idea of something that produces something good covered in something bad.)

Really, Dennet has crafted an extended troll of the religion-vs-science debate. An admirably complete and successful troll, but a troll nonetheless. In fact, I've succumbed to it myself. I just wrote -- and you just read -- close to 600 words about it. I'd rather them to have been about the book itself, but the best trolls demand a response, don't they?

Sunday, February 5

Goodbye, Angus

Angus deleted his blog today.

Thanks for taking the time to share what you did, dude. It was good while it lasted.

Saturday, February 4

Mirrormask deserves your attention

In mid 2005, Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean put out a movie called Mirrormask. It won accolades, if not awards, in Toronto and at Sundance.

I saw it tonight.

It was unbelievably cool.

It deserves your attention.

(Also, I'm not dead; haven't been writing much lately because what I've wanted to say has been better covered elsewhere.)

Monday, January 23

Print Magazine Zen

I was reading the most recent Atlantic Monthly the other day, happily perusing an article about the "so-called culture wars" in America. The article deals with religion, culture, values, mass media, consumerism, etc, and it had a bunch of whimsical cartoon illustrations to complement its points and ideas. Here is a scan of one of them. Study the image closely.

Interesting. Yes, clever, okay, I'm sure you get it. So, flipping a few pages over, I saw this actual paid advertisement that was just too good to be true.

Remember, this is from the same magazine.




Click on the image to read the ad copy.

Tuesday, January 3

Random Christian theology

My long-suffering wife and I were talking theology on the walk to the china store on the weekend, kickstarted by OBA's meditation on the difference between "Good vs Evil" and "Enlightenment vs not being enlightened". Apparently Christian theological orthodoxy falls somewhere in the middle of those two: Good exists, but Evil doesn't. Evil is the name for "absence of Good" that's more convenient than that three-word scare-quoted thing.

That's certainly not the way I'd thought it worked.

I still think there's a difference between lack-of-benevolence and malevolence; my wife agrees, but doesn't think it applies to the spiritual realm. She argues that humans have free will, so we can will evil as well as failing to will good, and those are different; angels and devils, on the other hand, don't have free will. They do what they do because they are what they are, more like animals than people. And those things are Good to the extent that they participate in the glorification of God. Even when they're inimical to humans, as the actions of devils presumably are.

Weird, hunh? Angels and devils, more alike to each other -- and to animals -- than to us. I wonder if I believe.

Sunday, January 1

Meme of Four

As oz describes:

four jobs I've had: Documentation developer, sysadmin, maintenance coder, IT Monkey

four movies I could watch over and over: There aren't four. The best I can come up with is the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I have enjoyed watching back-to-back-to-back in its extended form (though the 12 hour sitting is a bit exhausting!) and Primer (which requires multiple viewings to make sense.)

four places I've lived: Toronto, Lausanne, Yellowknife, Cambridge Bay

four TV shows I love to watch: Firefly, Whose Line Is It Anyway (british version), West Wing (seasons 1-4 only), and I'm told I'll love Battlestar Galactica, when I get around to watching it.

four places I've been on vacation: Spain (mediterranean coast, for my honeymoon; wouldn't go back), Niagara-on-the-Lake (for my anniversaries; definitely going back), Jasper (in Alberta, at the base of the Marmot Basin ski resort; a wonderful place to ski), Nelson (in the interior of BC -- very pretty town with great people, better coffee, and even better accomodations Chez Little Brother).

four websites I visit daily: Look to your right. Slashdot and Boingboing get visited more than once a day, and I browse my RSS subscriptions at least four times a day.

four of my favourite foods: fresh homemade pasta, french toast, steak frites, what's in front of me at the dinner table

four places I'd rather be: working for a company that didn't actively resist organizational change as much as it does, skiing in BC, living the life of Riley in a Tuscan villa while independently wealthy, on the Paris/London/New York jet set.

four books I've read more than once: Bradbury's collected short stories, Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross.