Tuesday, July 31, 2007

arduino update

OK, so the circuit I initially designed violates the laws of physics. OK, so I didn't know this at first and tried to implement a software fix. At least it shows I'm thinking, right?

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

geek sex

An oldie but a goodie:

grep;touch;strip;unzip;head;mount /dev/boy -t

wet;fsck;fsck;yes;yes;yes;umount /dev/boy;zip;sleep

Saturday, July 28, 2007

New Heart Device Installed in Cheney

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.

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.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


I finally got my Arduino working. I now have a small, fully functional computer that costs $39 and is smaller than the palm of my hand. I am now this close to ruling the world.

Monday, July 23, 2007

How to Be a Real Writer

107 words: Jesus Christ, there's no way I'm going to be able to stretch this out to 800 words. I've already said everything there is to say. Short and concise, that's me. Hemingway. Bam, to the point! I suppose I can add some detail...

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

Saving the world, one frame at a time.

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.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Neocons on a Cruise: What Conservatives Say When They Think We Aren't Listening

Please read this article by Johann Hari of The Independant in London. He signed up for the National Review cruise and wrote about six days of conservative talks and lectures, punctuated by his encounters with the other guests on the ship. The point was to find out what American conservatives say when they think the rest of us aren't listening.

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.

Some examples:

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

1977 Blackout

The Future

Futurist Jamais Cascio has started The Futures Meme:

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...

  • 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?
  • Here are my answers:

    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


    Quickly!  Go to the Blackwell website to vote for the #1 unsung medical hero of all time.  Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis is among the nominees, and  with your help we can put him over the top.

    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.)

    Go Ignaz!

    Wednesday, July 11, 2007

    Members Only Jackets - with Anthony Geary (Commercial, 1982)

    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.

    Monday, July 9, 2007

    Shining, gleaming, steaming, flaxen, waxen

    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 pictures.

    *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.

    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

    Sunday, July 1, 2007

    Special report - Coney Island Aroma

    What is that special smell on the beaches of Coney Island in the summer of 2007? Find out HERE.

    Nixon Campaign 1972

    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.