Friday, December 21, 2007
Thursday, December 20, 2007
The lyrics to the song "The Tennessee Waltz" go like this:
I was dancing with my darling
To the Tennessee Waltz
When an old friend I happened to see
I introduced her to my loved one
And while they were dancing
My friend stole my sweetheart from me.
A sad story which clearly takes place in the past. Possibly the recent past, but the past nonetheless. Now, if the friend stole the sweetheart during the Tennessee Waltz, then how could this song be the Tennessee Waltz? How can the song influence an event in the present (like causing a friend to steal a sweetheart) while simultaneously describing the exact same event which had taken place in the past? This is a self-referential loop that should destroy itself the moment energy is applied to the system, such as when the song is sung. Every performance of The Tennesee Waltz should go "I was dancin- BOOM!"
Don't even get me started on the self referential nature of "Roll Over Beethoven".
Posted by Patrick at 10:43
Saturday, December 1, 2007
The best thing about the writer's guild strike is that it's a writer's strike. In most strikes, I barely understand what the real areas of contention are -- media reports boil them down to the classic "The workers want more money, and the owners don't want to give it to them."
But these strikers are writers, and are able to explain what they want in a way that anyone can understand, using all the rhetorical tropes of the writer's trade. So far, this strike has produced such gems as the Parable of the Tires, or the Parable of the Four Cents.
They're not Joe Hill, but they get the message across. The next time workers in any industry go on strike, I recommend they hire a screenwriter to create a pithy explanation of their complaints and demands. They might not win at the bargaining table, but they'll definitely win in the court of public opinion.
Posted by Patrick at 08:17
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
The closest I've ever come to killing myself was about 15 years ago,
when I worked for the Federal Government. I was a computer programmer
in the Cash Systems Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
They were building EROC, the East Rutherford Operations Center, a
computerized and, more importantly, roboticized
bank vault, using warehouse technology. Banks like Citibank or Chase
would call into our AS/400 computer with a request for, say, $100
million, broken down into $50 million in 20 dollar bills, $30 million
in 10s, and $20 million in 50s. The computer would search its database
until it found a currency storage container that contained $50 million
in 20 dollar bills, $30 million in 10s, and $20 million in 50s. It
would then dispatch a robot (and, if necessary, the overhead robotic
crane) to that specific container in the vault/warehouse. The robot
would take the container to the loading dock, where the armored car
from Chase would be waiting to take their $100 million. This was
pretty amazing high tech stuff for 1991.
My boss there was
Vidkun Quisling. (Those of you with a taste for history will know that
his name couldn't have been Vidkun Quisling, and it wasn't. I just
wanted to use the name of a despicable weasel, and Quisling fit the
bill.) Quisling was a refugee from behind the Iron Curtain, and you
know what they're like when (1) they get a bit of freedom and (2) a bit
of power. He was the classic case of a person raised in an
authoritarian regime -- overbearing to those below him, and a total
suck up to those above.
One day I pointed out a problem in the
database specifications (the database specification he had designed, I
should add). He was using two digits to represent the year, but if
EROC was supposed to work "well into the 21st century", we would need
to use four digit years. Essentially, I discovered in 1991 that we
were going to have a Y2K problem. I thought I should bring it to
someone's attention. I thought maybe I'd spared us from having a huge
problem. I thought maybe they'd think I was a hero.
discovery set Quisling off on a personal campaign to destroy me. I had
questioned his ability as a database designer! I had flouted his
authority! I was acting outside the area of my competence! I was
causing trouble! Most unforgivably, I was right, and he knew it. I
must be destroyed.
From that moment, I was subjected to what we
now call a Hostile Work Environment. When I handed in clearly labeled
first draft computer programs (the ones with the bugs in them), he
treated them as if I were handing in finished code with mistakes, and
berated me in staff meetings. I was given impossible-to-meet
deadlines. I was given tasks that really were outside my skill set. I
was denied use of the staff lounge. I was retroactively made to
reimburse the government for all the times I used the late night car
service, on the grounds that I had no reason to work late. Each
quarterly review I got was worse than the one before.
in the middle of the 1991 recession. The NY Times help wanted section
for computer programmers had shrunk to a few columns. Computer jobs
were impossible to get. I was locked into thinking that I couldn't
stuck in a place I couldn't stay. I was 26 and my hair was turning grey.
day we got a memo from the editors of the Fed's internal newsletter.
They were looking for articles written by ordinary Fed staffers. If we
had anything to say that reflected on life at the Fed, we should drop
them a line to discuss it.
I had an idea to write an article
about this new thing called a computer virus, and how it could attack
your computer. I pitched it to the editor, he loved it, and I wrote it
up using the official Fed rules regarding computer virus infections.
It was a funny and informative piece called "How to Practice Safe
Hex". Throughout this ordeal with Quisling, I had still managed to
keep my sense of humor.
The article came out and Quisling hit
the roof. He called me into his office and told me I had seriously
jeopardized my career at the Fed with this ill-advised move. By
writing this article I damaged the reputation of the Cash Systems
Division! Did I think I was some kind of writer? Maybe I shouldn't be
a computer programmer, then. He demoted me one grade level and
officially put me on disciplinary probation.
That night, as I
waited at the edge of the platform for the 4 train in Union Square, I
realized how peaceful everything would become if I merely took one
giant step forward just as the train pulled into the station.
that settled it. I quit at the end of the week, even though I didn't
have another job. Fortunately I only spent about a month unemployed.
Anything would be better than staying at the Fed and literally wanting
NOW FOR THE PUNCHLINE:
About a week ago, a very
good friend and fellow worker from those years attended a fancy dress
function at the Federal Reserve's executive dining room. Who does she
run into but Vidkun Quisling! She doesn't like him because of what he
did to me all those years ago, but she can't manage to avoid him. She decides to turn the
tables and exact some revenge for me.
She manipulates their conversation
so that my name comes up. Quisling remembers me, of course (everyone
remembers me for some reason.) She gets Quisling to ask how I'm
doing. She exaggerates and says that I am an important technology
journalist. She slowly lists my credits for him: Contributing Ed at
Wired Magazine, Contributor to the New York Times, New York Magazine,
Popular Science, Scientific American. NPR commentator. She exaggerates
to the point of lying and says I play a major role on
PBS's Wired Science.
Through this all, Quisling is listening
with a look of honest delight on his face. When my friend finishes,
she gives him a smug look that demands "What do you think of Patrick
now, tough guy?"
Quisling says "That is just magnificent. I
always knew he had talent! Remember that story he wrote about computer
viruses? That was so funny! And smart! Just like him! I still have
Posted by Patrick at 21:46
Friday, November 9, 2007
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
December 6th those of us who live in the New York area will have the
chance to see the Space Shuttle Atlantis lift off on its last mission
to the International Space Station.
is scheduled to lift off at 4:31. Fortunately for us, December 6 is
when the sun sets the earliest here in New York City, at 4:27 PM. The
shuttle will become visible from New York at around 4:42PM, just as the
sky is getting dark. If weather conditions are right we'll see a bright
starlike object -- glowing both from reflected sunlight AND the exhaust
from its rocket engines -- zoom across the deepening twilight sky from
the southwest. The shuttle will arc across the southern sky and then
head southeast, reaching an altitude of about 8 degrees (about two
extended fists) above the horizon. If all goes well we might actually
see the shuttle's engines cut off! The whole thing takes about 90
seconds from first visibility to last.
If people are interested
I'd like to get a group together to see this. We'll need a place with a
great panoramic southern view. I'm thinking maybe the beach/boardwalk
at Coney Island, or Columbia University's Rutherford Observatory (if we
can convince them to open it), or even the middle of the Brooklyn or
George Washington Bridge!
There are dozens of things that can
prevent us from seeing the shuttle fly past New York. The launch might
be postponed -- as much as a day will screw things up for us. The
launch can be aborted that day, anywhere up to 30 seconds before
ignition. The sky could be overcast. The sky could be perfectly clear
except for a cloudbank over the southern horizon. All these drawbacks
are risks we have to take -- having seen the shuttle fly past New York
before, I'd say the view is worth it.
Let me know if you are interested!
Posted by Patrick at 22:18
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Atlantis is scheduled to lift off at 4:34. Fortunately for us, December 6 is when the sun sets the earliest here in New York City, at 4:29 PM. The shuttle will become visible from New York at around 4:42PM, just as the sky is getting dark. If weather conditions are right we'll see a bright starlike object -- glowing both from reflected sunlight AND the exhaust from its rocket engines -- zoom across the deepening twilight sky from the southwest. The shuttle will arc across the southern sky and then head southeast, reaching an altitude of about 8 degrees (about two extended fists) above the horizon. If all goes well we might actually see the shuttle's engines cut off! The whole thing takes about 90 seconds from first visibility to last.
If people are interested I'd like to get a group together to see this. We'll need a place with a great panoramic southern view. I'm thinking maybe the beach/boardwalk at Coney Island, or Columbia University's Rutherford Observatory (if we can convince them to open it), or even the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge!
Of course, there are dozens of things that can prevent us from seeing the shuttle fly past New York. The launch might be postponed for weeks. The launch can be aborted that day, anywhere up to 30 seconds before ignition. The sky could be overcast. The sky could be perfectly clear except for a cloudbank over the southern horizon. Its a risk we have to take, but having seen the shuttle fly past New York before, I'd say the view is worth it.
Let me know if you are interested!
Posted by Patrick at 17:37
Monday, October 15, 2007
I was just forwarded this email from the folks at PBS:
"As of today, Wired Science What's Inside Cool Whip is now the most viewed clip PBS has ever put on YouTube, and the first of our clips to go over 100,000 views."
Posted by Patrick at 14:07
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
The show premieres on Wednesday, October 3 at 8PM on most PBS stations.
Posted by Patrick at 13:51
Monday, October 1, 2007
Suddenly, a huge black man wearing a hospital orderly uniform appeared in the doorway of my room. He was holding a glistening wand about four inches long in his right hand. I looked over at him questioningly. In a deep voice he said, "Pull your pants down...."
Put this event in context here.
Posted by Patrick at 18:41
Monday, September 17, 2007
Someone with a blocked CallerID has been calling my cell phone in the wee hours and -- ignoring my Barry White baritone when I say hello -- asking me if I'm wearing panties. I know, I know. It's the 1AM part that I find most annoying, and last night I decided to call T-Mobile about it.
I asked how I could activate Anonymous Call Rejection, or Anonymous Call Blocking, on my cell phone. They said there was no such thing. I said there is such a thing on my landline. They said there is no such thing in the cell world. Why not? It just isn't. (Ansd they're not lying -- the FCC doesn't require cellular providers to provide ACR.) They admitted that it was one of their most requested features. So why don't they implement it? They just don't. They recommended I change my number (for a $15 fee).
The bottom line is that T-Mobile operates in some sort of looking glass world where the rules of customer service are inverted: repeated customer wishes -- wishes that can add to a customer's safety and security -- are ignored if they cause a customer to spend less of the currency of the realm, cell phone minutes.
Anyway, being a reporter and all I decided to make an article about this, and to do so I need real-world examples. Have you gotten obscene calls on your cell phone, and how did you handle it?
Posted by Patrick at 10:53
Thursday, September 13, 2007
The new cool kids' meme is to go to www.careercruising.com (login nycareers/password landmark) to take their career aptitude test. You enter your likes and dislikes, they give you a list of jobs you'd be good for. Here is my list:
Computer Programmer, Technical Writer, Criminologist, Business Systems Analyst, Writer, Critic, Comedian, Musician, Database Developer, Web Developer, Print Journalist, Composer, Special Effects Technician, Political Aide, Computer Engineer, Actor, Magician, Computer Trainer
With the exception of criminologist, I have been employed or earned money in every single one of these fields.
Posted by Patrick at 14:32
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Scientists at New York University and UCLA show that political orientation is related to differences in how the brain processes information. Liberals tolerate ambiguity and conflict better than conservatives because of how their brains work.I know, like this is news?
Previous psychological studies have found that conservatives tend to be more structured and persistent in their judgments whereas liberals are more open to new experiences. The latest study found those traits are not confined to political situations but also influence everyday decisions.Again, nothing we didn't know, but it's always nice to have more evidence.
Each participant was wired to an electroencephalograph that recorded activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that detects conflicts between a habitual tendency (pressing a key) and a more appropriate response (not pressing the key). Liberals had more brain activity and made fewer mistakes than conservatives.Sound like anyone we know???
liberals were 2.2 times as likely to score in the top half of the distribution for accuracy. Based on the results, liberals could be expected to more readily accept new social, scientific or religious ideas.That sounds about right.
Posted by Patrick at 13:39
Thursday, September 6, 2007
The Underwire - Wired Blogs
Last night I met and spoke with Apollo 12 Lunar Module Pilot Al Bean, Apollo 17 Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmidt, and Apollo 14 Lunar Module Pilot Ed Mitchell. I also met, but did not really speak with, Apollo 16 Lunar Module Pilot Charlie Duke and Apollo 11 Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin.
This was at the premiere of In the Shadow of the Moon, a Discovery Films documentary about the Apollo missions.
Posted by Patrick at 12:05
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
TOPEKA, Kan. (September 4) - The Kansas Board of Education rejected the use of man-made stone tools Tuesday, dealing a victory to Neanderthal special interests who are increasingly challenging education in U.S. schools.
The 12-member board, ignoring pleas by more highly evolved Cro-Magnons, voted seven to five to embrace new standards for school curricula that eliminate the creation of stone tools and the fire bow as the underlying principle of educational advancement.
"It good thing," said Zog-who-live-in-big-cave-high-on-hill, a Neanderthal hunter-gatherer and school board member who helped create the new standards.
"Fire hurt," Zog said, adding that the use of stone tools and fire by students was "bad thing."
Individual schools can continue to teach higher forms of tool making, in classes between elementary and high school. However, knowledge of the creation and use of hand axes, and understanding of how to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together, will not be required and will not be needed to pass state-sanctioned tests.
School board members who were opposed to removing tool use from the curriculum recoiled at the change.
"Fire good. Fire is friend. Stone help kill animal. Get more food. Leave more little ones. Big smart babies," board member Oothar-Moon-Watcher, a Cro-Magnon, said.
Fire husbandry is traditionally thought to have been developed many seasons ago by the legendary Alley-Oop the Great. Use of fire, which is a creative as well as a destructive force, has been controversial ever since, leading to many attempts to ban the teaching of new technologies.
Stone tools are even older, dating back to Australopithecene use nearly 3 million seasons ago.
Prior to Tuesday's vote, the presidents of Kansas' six public universities wrote a letter saying the new standards "make Kansas weak. No fire is no stone tool and no spears. No spears is no fight Wakabu tribe! Wakabu come, take women. Make fiky-fik. Make Wakabu babies. Bad."
Prior attempts by Neanderthal groups to discard tool using in school curricula included a failed attempt in Arkansas in 2003 to ban the use of the wheel.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Those of you who know me know how much I hate having my picture took. I leave the room, or I offer to take the picture myself, but I really do not like being photographed. Something about my soul being stolen.
No, seriously, I don't like pictures of myself because I almost never look as good in photographs as I hope. It's never the fault of the photographer or the camera -- it's me.
So it took a lot to let myself be shot for an hour by Bill Wadman, a New York photographer who is doing a project in which he's creating a portrait every day for a year. He took nearly 100 pictures (in some of them I was actually standing in a waterfall!), and then emailed me. "Half are handsome, half are funny. Which do you want me to use?" I told him to use the most honest one.
It looks like he succeeded perfectly.
Posted by Patrick at 22:12
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Well, after weeks of saying that i wasn't going to watch the eclipse, that I've seen eclipses before, that there was nothing special about this eclipse, my body betrayed me and woke me up at 4:55, just in time for the eclipse.
So far, as expected, it doesn't quite thrill me.
It doesn't help that we're at about 8/10 overcast.
Posted by Patrick at 05:19
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Friday, August 10, 2007
It looks like one of those video-sharing sites that's not GooTube. It even ends in ".tv", the way the cool sites do now. An embedded video window beckoned me to click Play.
It started to play a news clip from Miami television station WBFX, talking about a serial killer on the loose. As people in hazmat suits clean up a bloody crime scene, a youthful reporter described the demographics of the victims, and they were all remarkably like me-- male, early 40s, background in journalism. Geez.
But then comes the real punchline: I've been hoaxed. The website and video are part of a viral promotion for Dexter, a show on FXUK about, wouldn't you just guess, a serial killer. Someone I know -- one of my closest friends, actually -- entered my name, demographics, and email into the website, which then generated the video and sent me a link. Now that I'm in on the gag, the website offered me the opportunity to scare it forward by providing someone else's info. Even though, in a world in which a major city can be paralyzed with fear by a few strategically placed Lite-Brites, a website that cranks out serial killer threats is wrong in too many ways to count.
Of course, I sent one to everyone I know.
So far the responses I've gotten have been muted: real death threats, charges of assault, social ostracism (my brother's email read simply: "You are no longer my brother."). Even when they later claim to notice the anomalies in the video -- a Miami tv station would never call a parking lot a "car park", the "handwritten" message is written in Helvetica type, there is no WBFX in Miami -- seeing their name in blood was terrifying to every one of my victims. They calmed their fears by promptly sending a video to everyone they know.
The next step: some moron will send one of these to an elected official, and wind up on the receiving end of some Secret Service lovin'.
Posted by Patrick at 01:37
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Monday, August 6, 2007
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Once I got my head wrapped around that bit of obviousness, the program wrote itself. It works just fine on the prototyping platform; now I just need to build up the hardware and change a few parameters in the software.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Anyway, the initial circuit design, being impossible in this universe, has been scrapped. I've gone to a newer, much simpler circuit design, which isn't nearly as much fun as the first but has the advantage of not being imaginary. I am now writing the software for it, then I have to go to Radio Shack and get a momentary NO pushbutton switch so I can actually build it.
And then I shall rule the world.
Monday, July 30, 2007
Saturday, July 28, 2007
WASHINGTON, July 28 — Vice President Dick Cheney, who has a long history of heart disease, had minor surgery Saturday to replace the implanted cardiac device that can monitor and correct his heart rhythm, the White House said.http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/29/washington/29cheney.html?hp
Years ago, Time magazine developed a series of expressions their writers were to use to get certain messages across to the reader while limiting the chance of legal action against the magazine. For example, Time never said that a politician was drunk in public, which can be very harmful to a person's career and can't be proved by a reporter without a verified blood alcohol report made at the scene. In Timespeak, drunk public officials were "dazed and confused" as they rambled in their speech. If they were a crying drunk they were "tired and emotional". A person's illicit lover (whether homosexual or extramarital or both) was their "great and good friend".
The idea continues to this day. When Rudy Giuliani was found having an affair with a member of his mayoral staff, the Village Voice tiptoed around the issue by saying that the woman "had served under him in a variety of positions over the years".
Therefore I love the Times' use in this headline of the verb "installed". I believe that like "dazed and confused' and "served under him", the phrase means more than it says: it's as if they're trying to tell us that like Darth Vader, Cheney is now more machine than man.
Posted by Patrick at 17:24
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Monday, July 23, 2007
253 words: One third of the way there. I know they wanted 800 words, but come on. I'm going to have to write the equivalent of what I just wrote, then write the same amount _again_. Not gonna happen. I'm lucky if I can get 500 words out of this.
403 words: Halfway point! Time for a break! What movie can I watch?
505 words: Ok, if I stretch things out a bit, I'll probably make 800 words.
652 words: Uh, I might be in a bit of trouble here. Let me make a quick outline to see what's still remaining to talk about. I should have done an outline before I started. I always forget.
733 words: OK, I'm just gonna keep writing until I get it all down, then I'll cut.
958 words: Jesus Christ, there's no way I'm going to be able to shrink this down to 800 words. I've already left out so much.
909 words: Yeah, cleaning up the first half always helps.
856 words: Great. Now I have a string of great quotes without anything to hold them together.
871 words: Going in the wrong direction here. I think I have to lose the descriptive passages. It's the best writing I've ever done, so of course it has to go.
775 words: I cut too much. This whole thing makes ZERO sense now.
813 words: There! They won't mind if I'm a little bit over.
Friday, July 20, 2007
The Grenlight Earth Day Film Festival in Palo Alto, CA is your typical South Bay angstklatsch, where uber-serious student filmmakers present their ultra-serious films about the mega-serious environmental problems facing our hyper-serious world.
But this year the Tamaddon siblings, Austin, 14, and Arianna, 11, blew away the judges and spectators with their charming claymation short films The Happy Hybrid and the Polluting Pickup and Mr. Gopher, taking 1st place in the middle school and open competition categories respectively.
In Austin's The Happy Hybrid, a blue hybrid car (so environmentally friendly that is gets the flowers dancing and the birds singing) gets into a shoving match with a bushy-browed ragin' red pickup truck. The truck is stronger, but the effort quickly depletes its gas tank, leaving the truck dead in the road and enabling the hybrid to push it out of sight. The flowers are revitalized, the birds resume singing, and the hybrid dances a happy dance (thus the title). A 12-part special on the environment couldn't tell the story as clearly as this one minute and fifty second parable.
Arianna's Mr. Gopher is a bit more preachy. The title character burrows into the frame (leaving a trailed hump of disturbed earth, much in the same way Bugs Bunny used to travel underground) and is immediately beset by polluting cars and discarded cans and cigarette butts. The gopher is sad. A title card brings us into the future a few years later, when the roadway has been turned into a bike lane and flowers now grow where the cans and butts used to be. The gopher (and presumably the rest of the world) is happier.
Now that even Nick Park has embraced the digital, maybe the future of claymation rests with the children.
Posted by Patrick at 10:13
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
It's already been determined that conservatives are "easily victimized, easily offended, indecisive, fearful, rigid, inhibited, and vulnerable at age 3." It turns out that they're pretty much the same at age 53 as well.
Her companion adds, "I went to Paris, and it was so lovely." Her face darkens: "But then you think - it's surrounded by Muslims." The first lady nods: "They're out there, and they're coming."
Dave changes the subject. "The liberals don't believe in the constitution. They don't
believe in what the founders wanted - a strong executive," he announces, to nods. A Filipino waiter offers him a top-up of his wine, and he mock-whispers to me, "They all look the same! Can you tell them apart?"
They carry notebooks from the scribblings they made during the seminar teaching them "How To Shop in Mexico". Over breakfast, I forgot myself and said I was considering setting out to find a local street kid who would show me round the barrios - the real Mexico. They gaped. "Do you want to die?" one asked.
"Treating Don Rumsfeld like Pinochet is disgusting." Egg Man pounds his fist on the table: " Treating Pinochet like that is disgusting. Pinochet is a hero. He saved Chile." "Exactly," adds Jim. "And he privatised social security."
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Also in easy-to-read digest form here:
Posted by Patrick at 03:00
So here's the task: Think about the world of fifteen years hence (2022, if you're counting along at home). Think about how technology might change, how fashions and pop culture might evolve, how the environment might grab our attention, and so forth. Now, take a sentence or two and answer...
Here are my answers:
What do you fear we'll likely see in fifteen years? What do you hope we'll likely see in fifteen years? What do you think you'll be doing in fifteen years?
FEAR: Another terrorist attack, less deadly than September 11 but somehow more frightening, leads to the declaration of a Presidential State of Emergency, acquiesced to by both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court, in which our remaining civil liberties are suspended "for the duration". The majority of the population will go along with it, and will not notice (and will castigate anyone who points out) that the duration never ends.
HOPE: Having seen what happens when belief, whether in the alleged teachings of an organized religion or merely in one's own version of reality, takes the place of objective understanding, the world see-saws back to a more rational way of looking at things. Technocrats replace the ideologues.
DOING: I'll be the wise old hacker in an underground resistance movement against the cyber-zombies.
What are your answers?
Thursday, July 12, 2007
The voting process is a bit weird -- rather than vote directly for Dr. Semmelweis, you're taken to a page that instructs you to nominate your own Unsung Medical Hero. Simply write in the name Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis and click the Submit button. (NOTE: Blackwell has a cunningly worded opt-out procedure: check the box at the bottom of the form if you do NOT want them to spam you, thanks just the same.)
Posted by Patrick at 07:40
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
This 1982 commercial is cringeworthy all by itself; it's even more repellent to those of use who have to live with the fact that we used to look like that.
Posted by Patrick at 14:22
Monday, July 9, 2007
My mother has always looked remarkably like Elizabeth Taylor. When she and my father were on their honeymoon in Rome at the same time Liz was fliming Cleopatra at Cinecitta, paparazzis followed my parents around thinking she was the actress (and wondering who the fat bald guy next to her was, as he certainly wasn't Richard Burton). This resemblance to Elizabeth Taylor is one of the cornerstones of my mother's life.
To keep this look my mother has been coloring her brown hair black for more than 50 years. And every time she went into the bathroom with her squeeze bottles and gloves, we kids knew that a major existential freakout was coming. There appears to be something about coloring one's hair that can lead to serious thoughts along the "Who Am I, What Am I Doing" vein. Granted, not everyone feels this way, but certainly my mother -- as well as various other relatives, friends, and girlfriends -- have usually not had a great day when it came time to break out the hair dye.
Was this on my mind? Of course not -- I can ignore mountains of evidence if I have to. I write the "What's Inside" column for Wired Magazine, and I suggested to my editors that we cover Just For Men hair coloring in an upcoming issue. And like a good journalist, I felt it was necessary to test the product thoroughly before writing about it. Ever since my hair started going gray while I was being tortured by the Federal Government*, I had half-joked about dying my hair red. Bright red. Clown red. Run, Lola, Run red. Over the years, that idea has faded to a slightly more biological orange-red, the carotene color of natural "red" hair. But for various reasons that were no real reason at all, I never did it.
But now I had a reason. Participatory journalist, that's me. I bought a box of Just For Men Sandy Blonde hair color (they don't make a red hair mix), and on Friday night I started the 48 hour allergen test to see if this stuff would send me into anaphylactic shock.
From the Just For Men website: "Just For Men has a new True Color Formula that targets only the gray hair -- replaces it with subtle tones that match your own natural color." Remember those words.
My natural hair is a kind of dark dusty brown. There is one huge patch of gray, about the size of an outstretched palm, on my right temporal zone above my ear. There are other gray hairs scattered throughout the rest of my head like milkweeds in a field of barley. Since Just For Men targets only the gray, my idea was to leave my dusty brown hair dusty brown, but color the grey sandy blonde so that I would have dusty brown hair with sandy blonde highlights scattered throughout seemingly at random (with the obvious exception of a huge sandy blonde patch on the right temporal lobe, which I could live with). I honestly believed this would happen.
Last night I snapped on the gloves, mixed and shook the bottles, then glopped the warm reacting mixture onto my hair. As the instructions suggested, I started with the area that was most gray, then worked to the rest of my head. The instructions said to leave the hair color on for 5 minutes to reach the desired shade -- leaving it on for a longer time results in a darker color, while a shorter time might not "take". I waited exactly 4 minutes, then stepped into the shower.
Great gobs of brown liquid came off my head and dirtied the bathtub. My first reaction was that this was Not Good. The instructions said to shampoo, so I shampooed my hair until the lather and water ran clear.
I looked into the mirror and did not recognize the creature peering back at me. Just for Men may indeed target only the gray, but the rest of my hair was an unintended casualty: the dye had colored all my hair, not just the gray. My head is now monochrome, a sight I haven't seen since I was 25, and it's a glossy milk chocolate brown that I've never had in my life. And I'm having a major existential freakout. There appears to be something about coloring one's hair that can lead to serious thoughts along the "Who Am I, What Am I Doing" vein. Granted, not everyone feels this way, but I'm not having a great day now that I've broken out out the hair dye.
*No, I wasn't in Guantanamo -- I was working at the bottom of a long ladder of martinets at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. We were programming the robots that transferred astronomical sums of money out to and from the vault. The boss was a refugee from Czechoslovakia (back in the days when there was a Czechoslovakia, and refugees from it) and the communist prison camp example informed his every decision as a manager. How awful was this guy as a manager? The previous guy to hold my position killed himself by jumping out of a window, that's how bad he was. I figured that jumping out of the same window would be too unoriginal, so my not-quite-attempted suicides of the period were based on various subway scenarios. My time at the Fed perfectly coincided with the 1990-1992 recession, so finding another job as a computer programmer took me 18 months; every day at that job was a tossup between living and dying. The recession must have been easing off at the time I left, because approximately half the staff quit in the spring of 1992. And in every case, the boss was genuinely astonished that anyone would leave. The mass exodus of his staff hasn't seemed to
hurt his career -- he is now a senior vice president in the Federal Reserve System.
Posted by Patrick at 12:15
Monday, July 2, 2007
"The rule of law, the very foundation for a free society,
has been under assault, not only by criminals from the
ground up, but also from the top down. An administration
that lives by evasion, coverup, stonewalling, and
duplicity has given us a totally discredited Department
of Justice. The credibility of those who now manage the
nation's top law enforcement agency is tragically eroded.
We are fortunate to have its dedicated career workforce,
especially its criminal prosecutors, who have faced the
unprecedented politicization of decisions regarding both
personnel and investigations."
-- the G.O.P. National Platform, 2000
Posted by Patrick at 01:10
Sunday, July 1, 2007
Here is a report from the CBS evening news of January 18, 1972 on the Nixon's re-election campaign organization, the Committee to Re-Elect the President. Quite a few names that would later turn up in the Watergate scandal show up here, six months almost to the day before the break-in.
But one person in this report, while not tainted by Watergate, went on to a hideous infamy all his own. Watch for the young man at 4:09.
Posted by Patrick at 01:12
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Usama Bin Laden's FBI wanted sheet does not connect him with the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Posted by Patrick at 09:44
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Processing, in this case, is a new (to me) programming language. It looks and feels like Java, which looks and feels like C++, which looks and feels like C, and I know how to program in C.
Processing is used to program small embeddable computers like the Arduino. Now all I need is an Arduino.
Posted by Patrick at 19:27
Thursday, June 14, 2007
I never knew that polio was spread in sewage and was pretty much endemic in early populations (in the same way malaria still is in some parts of Africa), and that 96% of cases are totally asymptomatic. Only about 0.16% of people who encountered polio in ancient times ended up with some form of paralysis.
So why was it treated as such a horrible disease? It seems that as world health and hygiene improved, fewer and fewer people came into contact with sewage, which meant they had less exposure to the polio virus and thus fewer chances to develop immunities to it. In the developed world, polio went from being endemic to being epidemic, and when it struck, it went straight for the spinal cord and shut parts of it down.
An effective sewage system, while working wonders at stopping other diseases like cholera outbreaks, actually led to the "strengthening" of the polio virus. Cleanliness led to infantile paralysis.
Think about that the next time you reach for the antibacterial hand sanitizer.
Posted by Patrick at 10:40
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
No one is going to believe this. I don't believe this.
Back in April, I started a fiction blog, in which I would write about the end of the world as zombies overran civilization. In my blog, the first signs of the zombie attack were to take place on June 18. No reason for that particular date. It would give me about two months to get a head start on the writing, that's all.
Things were going fine for the launch, when this OTHER zombie thing came along. I only heard about it today. In response, I've had no choice but to launch my zombie blog a week early.
Anyway, I present my zombie blog: The Life Of The World To Come.
PS: It's the first day. The zombies aren't there yet. But they're growing.
Posted by Patrick at 18:19
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
- NEVER discuss religion or politics or women with Moslems.
- Don't stare at anyone. Remember the fear of the "evil eye".
- Knock before entering a private house. If a woman answers, wait until she has had time to retire.
- If you see grown men walking hand in hand, ignore it. They are not queer.
- You can usually tell a mosque by its high tower. Keep away from mosques. [Emphasis in the original] If you try to enter one, you will be thrown out, probably with a severe beating.
- There are four towns in Iraq which are particularly sacred to the Iraq Moslems: Kerbala, Najaf, samarra, and Kadhiman. Unless you are ordered to these towns it is advisable to stay away from them.
- Moslems here are divided into two factions something like our division into Catholic and Protestant denominations -- so don't put in your two cents when Iraqis argue about religion.
- There are also political differences in Iraq that have puzzled diplomats and statesmen. You won't help matters any by getting mixed up in them.
- American success or failure in Iraq may well depend on whether the Iraqis (as the people are called) like American soldiers or not. It may not be quite that simple. But then again it could.
Saturday, June 2, 2007
A delirious, unkempt man fell onto the tracks at the elevated F line stop at 9th St. and 4th Ave as I watched from the other side of the tracks. I heard a collective "oooooo" go up from the people on his side of the platform. He appeared disoriented and unable to extricate himself from the very real hazard he was in, so two strangers jumped onto the tracks. The man couldn't muster the coordination necessary to climb back onto the platform, even with their help, so the two strangers walked the man all the way to the end of the platform, where there are stairs back up to safety.
When they all were back on the platform, everyone involved went back to just standing around, waiting for the next train.
Posted by Patrick at 03:41
Monday, May 28, 2007
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Dr Ignaz Semmelweis, the 19th-century Hungarian father of antiseptic, rates no more than a line, yet his is one of the great personal and public tragedies of medical history. Although his pioneering insistence on hand-washing virtually eliminated instances of labouring women dying from puerperal fever in his obstetrics ward, he was opposed and ridiculed by the Viennese medical establishment, and died in a madhouse.
Sing it, sister! More people should know about Ignaz Semmelweis.
Posted by Patrick at 21:10
Thursday, May 17, 2007
There's a scene in Woody Allen's movie Sleeper in which Woody, having come out of cryosuspension in 2173, asks for a health food breakfast of wheat germ, organic yogurt, and mashed yeast. The doctor recoils -- this is health food? What about hot fudge, red meat and cigarettes? She's told that in 1973 those foods had been thought of as unhealthy -- exactly the opposite of what they now know to be true.
For our purposes, let's pretend it's 2050. Your grandchildren are visiting you in the Post-Geriatric Life Extension Community in which you live, and you're torturing them by talking about "the old days". You mention some attitude, some way of thinking that everyone took for granted in the first few years of the 21st Century. The children recoil in horror! "Ewww, you old turtle-faced grand-unit," they say. "How could you people have believed that was true? No one thinks that way anymore!" You shrug your recalcified shoulders and say "We all believed it was true back then." They roll their eyes.
What do we "know" to be true in 2007 that will turn out to be completely false by 2050?
Technorati Tags: deep questions, question, 2050, attitudes, sociology, futurism, memes, conventional wisdom,
Posted by Patrick at 00:08
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Jerry Falwell, the fundamentalist preacher who founded the Moral Majority and helped bring the language and passions of religious conservatives into American politics, died today shortly after he was found unconscious in his office at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.. He was 73 years old.
The line to piss/ dance/ spit on his grave starts at the left.
Posted by Patrick at 14:46
Monday, May 14, 2007
The relevant section:
It's been a long struggle. About 1840, Hungarian obstetrician Ignaz Semmelweis acted on a hunch and ordered his medical students to wash their hands with chlorinated lime before examining mothers-to-be.
The maternal death rate dropped from 12 percent to 1 percent within two years. His findings triggered such a backlash from colleagues that he resigned and eventually died, of a hospital-acquired infection, in a mental hospital after suffering a nervous breakdown.
Posted by Patrick at 13:01
Friday, May 11, 2007
Crack that whip!
Give the past the slip!
Step on a crack!
Break your momma's back!
When a problem comes along.
You must whip it.
Before the cream sits out too long.
You must whip it.
When something's going wrong.
You must whip it.
Now whip it.
Shape it up.
Try to detect it.
It's not too late.
To whip it.
Whip it good.
When a good time turns around.
You must whip it.
You will never live it down.
Unless you whip it.
No one gets their way.
Until they whip it.
I say whip it.
Whip it good.
Posted by Patrick at 03:46
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
What is my number that it is? Yes. Well, you may well ask what is my number.
And well you may. Yes, my word, you may well ask what it is, this number of mine. Well, this number, that I have, that is to say, which is
mine,... is mine.
My number, that I have, follows the lines that I am about to relate.
This number, which belongs to me, is as follows...
This is how it goes...
The next thing that I am about to say is my number.
My number is along the following lines...
51 D1 58 F6 8A 4A AF D3 14 E3 2A 90 2D 7F EB 70
And it's mine.
It's been a lot of fun, saying what my number is. And whose it is.
I have another number.
My number #2, which is the second number that I have.
This number is what I am about to say.
Which, with what I have said, are the two numbers that are mine and which belong to me.
My other number, which I posses the ownership of, which belongs to me:
6F 55 96 B3 50 82 11 20 5A 43 2E 24 CA AA 97 64
Posted by Patrick at 01:22
Thursday, May 3, 2007
Why are the Republicans talking under a replica of Air Force One? Are they hallucinating that the spirit of Ronald Reagan now inhabits the airplane, and they are all under his wing?
Posted by Patrick at 21:00
All the Republican candidates are Vietnam-aged -- that is, they all were of the right age to have served in the Vietnam war. So how come, when speaking of Iraq, they use terms like "battlefield"? Did they learn NOTHING from Vietnam?
Posted by Patrick at 20:15
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
A T-Mobile box arrived on April 16. I signed for it, brought it upstairs, opened the box and found -- no phone! Either T-Mobile had made a mistake and shipped an empty box to me (which was not very likely, and I didn't believe it), or, somewhere between the operator who took my order and the delivery person who gave me the box, someone stole the phone (a possibility I found much more plausible). The shipping box and the phone box appeared to be factory sealed, so my guess is that the phone never made it into the box.
Within three minutes of discovering that the box was empty, I was on the phone with T-Mobile. T-Mobile does not have a customer service department. It has a customer care department. Caring sounds so much nicer than servicing. The T-Mobile customer care representative sympathized with my plight, and assured me they'd overnight a replacement phone to me.
On April 18, when I called to see where the replacement phone was, the T-Mobile customer care representative assured me they'd overnight the replacement phone to me. Subsequent T-Mobile customer care representatives assured me the same thing on April 19, on April 20, on April 21, and on April 23 (I didn't expect a delivery on Sunday, April 22).
On April 24, when I paid my daily obeisance at the T-Mobile Shrine of Missing Phones, the T-Mobile customer care representative said that their records showed that I had accepted the phone back on April 16. I explained that I accepted a box, but that the phone that was supposed to be inside was not. The T-Mobile customer care representative all but accused me of stealing the phone they had sent the week before. Much shouting ensued. I asked how they "knew" I had stolen the phone. The T-Mobile customer care representative said they had indications that the phone was in use. I asked them why they hadn't disabled the phone as soon as I reported it AWOL on April 16. The T-Mobile customer care representative had no answer, but reminded me that they were conducting a FULL investigation into the whereabouts of the phone and that they would prosecute whoever had it, hint, hint. I told him the hell with it: if they couldn't get a phone to me nearly two weeks after I ordered one, I didn't want to do business with T-Mobile. I told the T-Mobile customer care representative to cancel my T-Mobile account entirely. He said he would.
On April 25, a T-Mobile customer care representative called to tell me that I was in the clear; they no longer regarded me as a suspect in the disappearance of my phone, and they had shipped a replacement phone to me that very afternoon. I told him I had canceled my T-Mobile account. The T-Mobile customer care representative said he had no record of that. He said that if I truly wanted to cancel my account, when the phone arrived I should tell the delivery person I refused to accept it.
On April 27, my neighbor called: she had accepted my new cell phone from the delivery person for me! As a favor. A neighborly gesture. I thanked her. I played with the new phone for a day without activating it. On Saturday the 28th (more than two weeks after I ordered the phone), I took the plunge and activated T-Mobile service on the replacement Samsung T619 phone. I transferred my old Sprint telephone number to my new phone, so that all my friends need never know my phone had changed.
On May 2, the new phone got flooded with text message spams. Hmmm, I thought I specified no text messaging? I called T-Mobile, and asked them to shut off text messaging to my phone. The first T-Mobile customer care representative said shutting off text messaging was a technological impossibility (it isn't). He suggested there was nothing I could do. The second T-Mobile customer care representative said shutting off text messaging was a technological impossibility (it isn't). She suggested I contact the spammers and tell them to stop spamming me (!!!). The third T-Mobile customer care representative said shutting off text messaging was a technological impossibility (it isn't). She suggested I change my phone number (!!!). The fourth T-Mobile customer care representative said shutting off text messaging was a technological impossibility (it isn't). He offered to give me 50 free text messages, which would expire in 90 days.
Insanity is popularly defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting to get different results. But I was not insane, because though I was calling the T-Mobile customer care number with near-obsessive intensity, I was getting different results each time. The fifth time I called a T-Mobile customer care representative, she told me that shutting off text messaging was a technological impossibility (it isn't), but so what -- her records showed that I used my phone to send a text message this morning.
I insisted that I hadn't sent any text messages -- I didn't even have text services on my phone. She said that didn't matter: her system showed a text message sent from my phone at 5:45 this morning. I told her that I haven't been awake at 5:45 AM in months, so I couldn't have sent a text message. She said her system report didn't lie. She could prove that the text message came from my phone number, and even my handset's serial number.
On a hunch, I asked her to read off the serial number of the phone that sent the text message. She did. I told her that was not the serial number of my cell phone. I read the serial number of my phone. She got flustered. She transferred me to tech support.
After an hour on the phone with the tech support guy, we figured out what must have happened. When I called to activate the second phone they sent, T-Mobile activated the first phone. With my phone number. Which someone used. When I called back later that day to complain that the phone in my hand hadn't been activated after 12 hours, the customer service rep then activated the second phone. With my phone number. Now they had a situation which is officially impossible: two cell phones with different serial numbers, sharing the same phone number. So, whoever had stolen my phone was making text messages on my number, and I was getting his responses on my phone.
The tech support guy cleared it all up. I hope.
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Monday, April 30, 2007
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Thursday, April 26, 2007
A tiny man with pointy ears and weird hair -- in short, an elf -- with his arm around the lower waist of a striking redhead who is literally a head taller than he. Is this his daughter? Are we watching a deleted scene from "A Midsummer Night's Dream"? Do we envy the hell out of him?
It turns out that 60 year old 4 foot 9 inch geeky faux-extraterrestrial Dennis Kucinich is married to this 29 year old Amazon. This image stirs such primal feelings: based on no logical, rational reason-- strictly unevolved male emotion -- I find myself re-evaluating Dennis Kucinich solely because of his wife. "Man have hot young wife -- man is powerful alpha!"
But I always had a little nagging sense of unfairness. Could I be wrong? Could this just be my prejudice?
NAH. This month's Psychology Today has an article saying that, in a 2003 study involving 22,000 participants:
People who were conservative at age 23 had been described by their nursery school teachers as easily victimized, easily offended, indecisive, fearful, rigid, inhibited, and vulnerable at age 3. [C]onservatives have less tolerance for ambiguity, a trait they say is exemplified when George Bush says things like, "Look, my job isn't to try to nuance. My job is to tell people what I think," and "I'm the decider." Those who think the world is highly dangerous and those with the greatest fear of death are the most likely to be conservative.
Liberals are higher on openness, which includes intellectual curiosity, excitement-seeking, novelty, creativity for its own sake, and a craving for stimulation like travel, color, art, music, and literature. As kids, liberals had developed close relationships with peers and were rated by their teachers as self-reliant, energetic, impulsive, and resilient.
Until now I hadn’t realized that people actually responded positively to Bush saying, “I’m the decider.”
Posted by Patrick at 12:28
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
This strikes me pretty hard, not only because he was a great writer and reporter, but because I am in the process of reading his book The Fifties, about the decade that made the 60s, 70s, and 80s what they are today. The thesis of the book is that World War II was what we might nowadays call a singularity -- after it, practically everything in America was different. And the 1950s was when those differences began to take hold, and the resistance to those differences began to strengthen.
Posted by Patrick at 00:21
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Of course the Virginia Tech massacre is a uniquely tragic event, and it is vital that we never lose sight of the human tragedy involved. However, we must also consider if this is not also a lesson to us all; a lesson that my political views are correct. Although what is done can never be undone, the fact remains that if the world were organized according to my political views, this tragedy would never have happened.
Many people will use this terrible tragedy as an excuse to put through a political agenda other than my own. This tawdry abuse of human suffering for political gain sickens me to the core of my being. Those people who have different political views from me ought to be ashamed of themselves for thinking of cheap partisan point-scoring at a time like this. In any case, what this tragedy really shows us is that, so far from putting into practice political views other than my own, it is precisely my political agenda which ought to be advanced.
Not only are my political views vindicated by this terrible tragedy, but also the status of my profession. Furthermore, it is only in the context of a national and international tragedy like this that we are reminded of the very special status of my hobby, and its particular claim to legislative protection. My religious and spiritual views also have much to teach us about the appropriate reaction to these truly terrible events.
Countries which I like seem to never suffer such tragedies, while countries which, for one reason or another, I dislike, suffer them all the time. The one common factor which seems to explain this has to do with my political views, and it suggests that my political views should be implemented as a matter of urgency, even though they are, as a matter of fact, not implemented in the countries which I like.
Of course the Virginia Tech massacre is a uniquely tragic event, and it is vital that we never lose sight of the human tragedy involved. But we must also not lose sight of the fact that I am right on every significant moral and political issue, and everybody ought to agree with me. Please, I ask you as fellow human beings, vote for the political party which I support, and ask your legislators to support policies endorsed by me, as a matter of urgency.
It would be a fitting memorial.
Posted by Patrick at 16:20
Monday, April 16, 2007
Sunday, April 15, 2007
This is a trailer for a 1964 "nudie cutie". Nudie Cuties were short (approximately 60 minute -- 5 reel) movies made primarily in the 1960s, as the Production Code was dying. They used zany comedic plots as an excuse to show lots and lots of naked 1960s women cavorting about the screen in glorious color. They cost about $1.98 to make (and they looked it) and so were inherently profitable. They also provided a last gasp for the old baggy pantsed burlesque comedians who hadn't made the transition to nightclubs or television.
Listen very carefully to the narrator of the trailer. Sound familiar? He's disguising using a fake stentorian narrator's bark, but his real voice comes through in the phrase "after all, look at his life". HINT: His most famous role might indeed have been subtitled "Dr. Sex".
And the narrator is.....
Wayne Rogers, Trapper John McIntyre for four seasons on M*A*S*H. As a 30 year old actor he wrote (under the pseudonym Juan Rogerio) and produced the 1964 nudie cutie "Dr. Sex".
Friday, April 13, 2007
The BBC is offering self contained language courses in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Greek, and Portugese!
They're very much geared to the British tourist in a borderless EU -- the classes don't bother with an understanding of the origins of the language, the rules of pronunciation, or even very much with the rules of grammar. They're heavy on repetition of stock phrases and "ecoutez et repetez" rote memorization, hoping that the casual learner will simply remember "Je m'appelle.." without caring to know the meaning of "je" and "me", the congugation of "appeller", or the rules of elision.
Still, lately I've been feeling stuck in a rut. I haven't been reading many new books, I haven't been doing anything creative outside of work. Perhaps becoming tourist-fluent in some new languages is what I need.
I am on my way to becoming a cunning linguist.