Sunday, March 29, 2009

Inna Gada DaKanada?!

Currently listening to Blaise Bailey Finnegan III by Godspeed You! Black Emperor off their EP Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada.

This is the kind of art metal that makes Tool look like they just aren't trying hard enough. Anywho, this track is 17:45 long, making it the longest single song I have on the old iPod. I've got a few "tracks" that are longer, but most of those are long remixes of existing short-form songs, or they were the last track off a CD with a hidden track attached to the end (and however many minutes of blank space were en vogue that year). I think the longest track I have is the final track off OK GO's Oh No!, which, full disclosure, I haven't listened to yet, so it may invalidate this whole posting, but I think it's a safe bet to hedge. That track is over 34 minutes (longer than most Sum 41 albums), and just behind that is the final track off Jars of Clay's self-titled disc, clocking in at 27 minutes and change.

Of course, I don't have any Iron Butterfly, so perhaps none of this is all that impressive.

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Hindsight's 20/20

They say the best things in life are free. They also say that you get what you pay for. They say that he who hesitates is lost. But they also say to look before you leap. They say the unexamined life is not worth living, but the also say that ignorance is bliss.

Can we agree, at least for the moment, that "they" are idiots.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Info Q Too, Buddy!

A friend forwarded to me an InfoQ page on tech trends to see in 2009, and I gotta be honest, the article just irritated me.

First, it's an ugly page. For a tech site, InfoQ is pretty hideous and cluttered and lacks... navigability. Now, to be fair, there are lots of hideous tech sites out there, but most of them are forums. This is a 'zine site, so it should look better and be more readable.

Also, it's just bad writing--not because of its flawed grammar and vocab (although don't think I didn't notice those). It's the style and tone of it. This article was not intended to be understood, it was intended to be referenced and linked-to. In fact, I feel vaguely guilty for including a link to it. The author never posits an original idea, instead s/he refers liberally to other articles, and these are never really qualified or explored.

They also happen to be mostly rubbish, far as I can tell anyway. Why am I up in arms about this? It's not like there isn't plenty of other bad writing on the web. But this article came to me through industry professionals. This is in line with a lot of the business-oriented thinking, and that bother's me.

Let's cite some examples, shall we?

"Cloud computing... will be 'ground zero for the famous OS platform wars'."

For the uninitiated, Cloud Computing is the idea that more and more applications are being hosted on the web and that your computer is a point of access to the cloud rather than a place where you actually do work (okay, it's substantially more complicated, but that's a good gist). Several applications apply this paradigm: Steam, Google Docs, DropBox, etc. But the beauty of these (excluding Steam) is that they're platform-independent. You can write documents on Google Docs from your PC at work or your grandmother's Mac. So, rather than being 'ground zero', cloud computing is making the platform wars irrelevant. This will be doubly true as mobile technology becomes more ubiquitous. Now it's Mac/Windows/Linux. Next year it'll be Mac/Windows/Linux/Windows-Mobile/Android. And we'll see even more programs hosted on the web and written in multi-platform languages.

"Dynamic languages that 'enable a large boost in productivity' due to the 'trade-off in run-time performance."

First, that's not a sentence. Second, trade-off between run-time performance and what? Third, every six months the tech media embrace whatever dynamic language they think is supposed to kill Java (which is notably not dynamic). But nothing ever does. Java has a strong community, a huge library of software and API's behind it, and widespread applicability. Even if a dynamic language came along that was vastly superior, it would have a lot to overcome before it ever became the gold standard. I'm not saying that dynamic languages won't become a big thing, but I'll believe it when I see it and the 'trade-off between run-time performance' isn't even a complete thought, let alone an argument.

"Mashups, that are 'extremely common in the consumer space' and would finally be ready 'for prime-time in business'."

God, where to start. Mashups are not new, nor are they particularly interesting. Seeing a Google map embedded in a real-estate website is technically a mashup. Using Flickr in conjunction with your Facebook page is a mashup. Yeah. And. So. What? It's kind of like going back ten years and saying that someday people will be using word processors to write documents and then attaching those documents to their electronic mail messages. It's true, but it isn't exactly ground-breaking. Also, why is it "finally" ready for business? What's changed? And exactly what is the difference between the 'consumer space' and 'business'?

And this is nitpicky, but why are we talking about something being ready for prime-time? In the age of video-on-demand, "ready for prime-time" is an outdated paradigm. But you know what? I just thought of something. How is the trend towards video-on-demand and the success of services like Hulu and YouTube going to play out for telecom companies that have a stake in both regular cable and high speed internet connections? How is the switch to HD going to affect all this? Those are excellent questions that are tech-related, relevant, and have nothing to do with cloud computing and dynamic programming languages!

Because here's the thing (I could give more examples, but we'd be here all day): this entire article, and by extension the entire way of thinking that sits behind it, is an attempt to predict future behavior by thinking about high-level concepts in a vacuum. But most technologies that come along are there in response to a specific problem. HotMail came about so people without a web connection at home could still have an e-mail address. New tech. These new tech's then become co-opted for other reasons and introduce new problems: now everyone has an e-mail address; some people have lots of them. Wouldn't it be great to be able to sync them up. Okay, now your Hotmail account can pull messages from your ISP-provided e-mail address via POP. Then the cycle continues. Now I'm sending a ton of little bitty messages; here's a message service--now you can view conversations in a single window. Wow, I wish my e-mail was like that; here's GMail. Etc, etc, etc.

Getting back to mashups: I was involved with a business that ran a Blogger blog but ftp'd the contents to its own server in order to capitalize on the SEO benefits and drive traffic to the site. One mashup used. This same business deliberately did not use Google Maps with its service but instead developed its own proprietary map so we wouldn't have to pay licensing fees to Google. One mashup avoided. Both choices were made for explicitly practical reasons. At no point did anyone ever say "You know what we need? We need some kind of mashup!"

No one arrives at innovation by thinking about higher-level computing concepts absent a context. But in these business-ese papers, the rationale almost always seems to be "this thing is good, so it will be the next big thing". Lots of good things fail. Lots of bad things excel. Just look at previous "big" things: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. None of these are "good". They're actually pretty stupid, when you think about them. But they caught on. The whole social-networking Web 2.0 phenomenon is a bit silly and came about through frivolous exercises. But it's big, it's here to stay, and now businesses are start to wonder how they can incorporate that kind of paradigm into their business model.

Christ on a cracker.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Insomnia Post

Argh. I can't sleep. I have a nearly-finished song stuck in my head. Lodged. Can't concentrate on anything else without coming back to the damned chorus.

It's a bit frustrating.

Actually, over time it morphs into that god-awful "Little Black Backpack" song from 1999. Stroke 9, I think. That song and my song have absolutely nothing in common, but I keep vacillating between the two.

Must sleep. I haven't gotten a really good night's repose in a month.

Argh.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Send Your Suggestions to...

Why don't websites have suggestion boxes? Yesterday, I listed a whole slew of things that I thought would improve Amazon's services. I would tell them directly, but there's no place to do it.

Isn't customer feedback worthwhile, even if 97% of it is absolute garbage? Seriously, put a suggestion box on the site. You don't even have to make it easy to find, to discourage the non tech-savvy from submitting worthless ideas. Or perhaps you want the feedback of the non tech-savvy more than the tech-savvy, so you put it right on the front page.

I tried to submit an idea to Bank of America, but they wanted to put me through this whole rigmarole about how my idea was no longer mine once I submitted it, so I ultimately opted out. But it's not like their website is perfect. It was only recently that it started loading from a naked domain without crapping itself. When you log in, the submit key changes to a broken image link because the page can't find the "submitting button" image. Amateur hour, people. And here's my idea: why not allow us to manually input checks? Here's the check number, here's the amount, deduct it from my balance and notify me when it finally clears. That would be a huge convenience for me.

Speaking of Amateur Hour, I recently perused some websites for Paintball fields in St. Louis. I will never go to Wacky Warriors, ever, because their website makes my eyes hurt. It was the worst I saw, but not by very much. I'm sure it's the best website 1994 could buy, but a lot has changed in 15 years. You know what hasn't changed in at least three years? The copyright tag on their site. I want to know three things: what fields are there, how much does it cost to play, and when are you open? Try finding any of that on most of these sites (to say nothing of a suggestion box).

So yeah, I'm thinking a little widget that has some radio buttons for what type of feedback, be it technical, spiritual, or menu advice, to direct the contents of a text box that will hold 500 characters or less. What site couldn't benefit from that?

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Building a Better Amazon

I do the bulk of my shopping for non-consumables at Amazon, much of that through Amazon Marketplace (it's like eBay, only with quality control). There are things I absolutely love about it, and there are a few features that would make my mostly-good shopping experiences even better. I love being able to make wish lists, and even to leave item notes on said lists. I use the notes section to keep track of price trends and set thresholds (e.g., "buy if below $25" or "buy new if used price is above $6"). This is all well and good, but it means that I spend a lot of time running through the list to check prices.

Wouldn't it be great if there were a feature that sent you e-mails if certain threshold parameters were met? Send me an e-mail if someone offers this item for less than $15. Or, we can do even better; this is the company that introduced one-click shopping, after all. What if you could set a parametrized command that would automatically purchase if a seller with a rating of 95% or better and at least 100 transactions offered a specific item for less than $15 in New or Like-New condition? I think you'd sell a lot more merchandise, and here's why:

My list fluctuates between 150 and 200 items, which is just this side of unmanageably large. I tend to add things to it on a whim--a book promoted on The Daily Show catches my interest, perhaps, and I don't necessarily want to pay full price for it, but I wouldn't mind reading it and if I don't put it in the list I'm going to forget about it. That means that at any given point, 75% of my wish list is things that I probably won't purchase and definitely won't pay very much for--but I have to look through them when I do my price-shopping anyway. 8 pages of items is a lot, so I routinely have to cull the herd, so to speak. Ergo, things that I might be willing to pay $5 for get cut from the list, and I will now never purchase them.

The ability to filter sellers would be great. For example, I don't want to buy a movie without a case or with a case that's in bad condition. You invariably end up with someone who is selling a movie (or game or CD) with no case, no artwork, and lots of scratches that "don't affect playback". Well, most people won't buy it, and it will generally have the low price, so it sits there and I constantly have to shop around it until it gets purchased or removed. So when I'm looking through my list, the price of undesirable item shows up as the "new and used from..." price. So when an item on my list has a new low price, it takes two clicks for me to verfiy that price. If the low price item is bullshit but stays there for a while, everytime I check prices I have to click twice extra for that item. What if there were a little checkbox I could click that kept it from showing up in my list? Or let's say I simply don't want to purchase anything from a particular seller. Or let's say that I won't consider any product that's not in "Very Good" condition or better. Why should inferior products obstruct/prolong my shopping?

In fact, the whole Wish List paradigm could use an overhaul. Don't get me wrong, it's extremely useful and I love it, but if it were more useful, people would use it more, and more products would be sold. Right now it's a setup in which you can make as many lists as you like and those are either public or private. Lists can only contain individual items and they have "Comments", "Priority" (which is a 1-5 scale), as well as "desired" and "received" quantities. There is no "view all lists" option (that I know of). There is no page navigation within a list outside of "previous" and "next". Making lists overlap is impractical. You can't do a search within a list. If something is in a list, there's no indication on the product page. You can filter items by type (video game, movie, music, etc) and by whether you've purchased them or not (or see both). You can sort them by priority low-to-high or high-to low, price highest-first or lowest-first (only the "new" price is factored in), or antichronologically by date-added. This last one is the default and is kind of frustrating--things that I've been watching the longest take the most time for me to get to.

So I've got about 8 pages of things I'm interested in purchasing. Let's say I want to pay close attention to box sets of Battlestar Galactica. Well, most of them are towards the end of the list, but season 4.0 came out more recently, so it's somewhere in the middle, so even if I could jump straight to page 8 (which I can't) I wouldn't see them all. I could sort by priority and filter out non-movies--that might get them all on the same page. Maybe. A regular Amazon search is going to pull up items I'm not interested in (and I can't track prices that way because the comments are in my wish list). Really, my only option is to make a dedicated BSG list, but then it's not there when I'm looking at other things. In practice, it takes at least 8 clicks for me to check prices on BSG sets, and by the time I get to the end of it, I've looked at over 150 other items as well. If I could get there in two clicks, I might be more inclined to buy if I saw a price I liked, and I'd certainly be able to check back more often.

Other little qualms: you can't remove an item or update the comments on an item without redrawing the entire page. So it's easy to forget to save changes or to spend a lot of time trying to do simple things. It's all very frustrating at times.

So why not do this instead: Rather than multiple customizable lists, have a single searchable master wish list with customizable tags. Single items can have multiple tags, including reserved tags like "private" or "gift" that affect their behavior in the list. Priority ranking is fine, but 5 choices is almost too many. I think most people could get by with three (or even two). In practice, something either is a priority or it isn't. Also, being able to reorder the list on the fly would be nice. And I would love to be able to subscribe to more than just products. Why can't I add "Beck" to my wish list, so I get a notification anytime he has a new album out? Do the same for authors or actors or directors or manufacturers or sellers.

Obviously such changes would involve some difficult migration and implementation issues, but I think in the long run it would make for a better website. If Amazon had a suggestion box, I'd send them this idea directly, but instead I hand it over to you, blogosphere.

Do with it what you will,

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Bizarro Luthor?

Ben does a character study of Lex Luthor, and something occurred to me: this could be what is needed to save the Superman franchise. When they do the next reboot, tell the story from Luthor's point of view. The problem with Superman is that he's basically God. He has no character arc. He is simply a force of nature.

So make that the problem rather than the solution. Superman is an unstoppable force for good who makes humanity weaker. Luthor just wants to save the human race from itself (all while making a killing on real estate).

Food for thought,

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

PC Gaming Musings Part 1: Love Me Some Valve

I finally got Boot Camp running correctly on the iMac at home, which has meant renewed access to my Steam account, so over the weekend I played through Portal again and got to try my hand at Left 4 Dead.

I have a great fondness for Valve's game-making sensibilities. First of all, both games have commentary. I love, love, love audio commentaries on movies; I was born for the age of the DVD. So to have two games that are great games in-and-of-themselves but that also have audio commentary for feature junkies like myself--it's just awesome-sauce.

You get a nice little glimpse of the way they go about creating software. Some of it is technical, like the way they meshed up physics in Portal or the way they textured cars in L4D that gave enough variety but didn't overtax their "texture budget". A lot of it is more practical, like the orange jumpsuit in Portal designed to make the character stand out against the sterile backgrounds. And some of it is simply philosophical. For instance, Left 4 Dead is a spoof of zombie apocalypse movies, and it never forgets what it is or tries to take itself too seriously. Similarly, Portal never tries to make GLaDOS scary. Throughout the first 2/3 of the game, GLaDOS seems genuinely ambivalent as to whether you live or die, even while you find yourself in strangely perilous situations. So when she finally does actively try to kill you, it has some weight. Both games spend a lot more time trying to be funny and fun than trying to be "cool". And the result is a game that is extremely cool and well-received (as compared to many of the shooters out there that try desperately to be cool but come off as laughable).

There are some similarities in the way the games were developed. Both were over-written--there's a lot more story in there than either game lets on. It's hinted at, but never explicitly told, leaving the player to discover and ignore as much as s/he chooses. It also means that there will be plenty more story to tell in sequels and that it will follow naturally from the originals (rather than feeling tacked-on). The games are noticeably free of cut-scenes. Any storytelling happens during gameplay, rather than interrupting it. Also, both games were extensively play-tested. Valve spent a week developing a working model of L4D and then 3 years testing and tweaking it. So both games are instantly playable by novices but can still be enjoyed by experts, and both do a good job of leading you to the exits without maps or arrows or every leaving you feeling lost.

And then there's the trivial and the minutiae. Some highlights:

  • L4D was born while Valve were working on the bots for Counter-Strike: Source. They discovered that it was immensely fun to pit a couple guys working together with machine guns against thirty or forty bots with melee attacks. So they decided to build a game around that concept, and "zombie apocalypse" seemed the most apropos, conceptually.
  • In Portal, backgrounds are squared and interactive objects are rounded, making them instantly distinguishable. Elevators, doors, buttons and portals are round. Even cubes have rounded edges and circles in their design.
  • Because the focus on L4D is replay-value, many aspects of it are randomized, including enemy-spawning points, item-locations, dialog and music. This randomization inadvertantly made development easier because map changes were automatically populated by the game's virtual "director".
  • The voice actress who plays GLaDOS is an operatic soprano.
  • L4D uses lights and colors to guide you along the correct path. Safe houses and items are warm and saturated and the correct path is better lit than the detours are. Even though the levels are linear, they feel open because the player intuits the way from subliminal clues rather than being forced there by walls and obstructions (although there are plenty of those too). Similarly, hero characters have a warm, saturated look while the infected are desaturated and flat, making it easier to distinguish friend from foe.
  • Several levels in Portal are there to train you to do simple things without overtly insulting your intelligence. Level 03, for example, supposedly introduces you to the "pit", but in reality it teaches players that portals are bi-directional. Play testers seemed to get stuck on the idea that blue was always an entrance and orange was always an exit, but the stagnant orange portal in the center of the level must be used as both an entrance and an exit in order to proceed.
  • Both games are designed to prevent fatigue by mixing a couple basic schemes of play. Portal is constantly switching between simple timed puzzles and more complex strategic puzzles. L4D breaks up the keep-advancing-and-shoot-everything-that-moves dynamic with boss zombies that you want to either avoid altogether(e.g., witches) or pick off from a distance (e.g., boomers) and instances throughout each campaign where you have to dig in to a prepared defensive position before you can advance any more.

I guess this means I'll have to try Half-Life at some point.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Who Really Pays Money for Software Anymore, Anyway?

I'm continually amazed at how much professional tools don't cost these days.  Let's say you wanted to start a web development company on the cheap.  What would you need?

Location - yes and no.  Your business would need an address, but it could just as easily be the address of one employee.  If you can trust absolutely everyone to work at home and have meetings either at some one's home or over a meal.  Face time and an office can improve productivity or impress a prospective client, to be sure, but it's a tremendous amount of overhead.  Easily upwards of $2000 a month, so unless it will increase your productivity or profit by more than that, skip it.

Phone - It's probably best to not give out private cellphone and home numbers as business contacts.  Instead, get a Skype number.  It'll run you all of $3 a month per number and you can forward it for free.

E-mail - not hosting an e-mail server will save you plenty, and time not spent doing IT is more time your developers can spend developing.  The absolute best e-mail client in the world is GMail, and you can map it to your own domain for free or sign up for Google Apps and get 25 gigs of storage (per account) plus all the nifty tools that go along with it for only $50/year/account.

Computers - any developer is going to have their own, so you don't necessarily need to buy new ones unless you're hiring people on.  Obviously if you're doing work on a computer you're going to want a decently powerful machine with a pretty good sized screen, but if all you need is a word processor with a web connection, you can get a netbook for $300 or so.

Web Site - you can set one up free through Google Sites and map a custom domain to it, but if this is a web development company, they're going to want to have written their own.  Probably.  Off-site hosting is pretty cheap these days, if you're paying more than $50 a month, you're overpaying.  You can get decent hosting for as little as $7 a month, especially if you're not anticipating a lot of bandwidth usage at first.

Software - Again, on the cheap.  Linux is a free OS, and there are plenty of programs that run on it, including Open Office, which I would use in lieu of Microsoft Office any day of the week.  Office has hung itself from the rope of its own proprietorship.  Documents are now .docx instead of .doc and are not compatible with any other word processor.  With OOo, you can save things as a .doc in a variety of formats and export to PDF with relative ease.  The menus are more familiar than the new Office Layout, and it's slick (in version 3 anyway).  Office is bulky.

You can do photo manipulation with GiMP, which is not quite as versatile as PhotoShop, but it costs nothing (as opposed to $400, or whatever PS retails for these days) and is decently powerful.

You can do inter-office communication with GTalk and share projects over Google Docs or Sites pretty easily.  Coordinate schedules with Google Calendar.  Coordinate projects with any number of free repositories out there (SVN comes readily to mind--and we've recently started using Mercurial at the office).  There are a number of free IDE's (if you're working in Ruby or Java or HTML), but there are a few frameworks (.net and development kits for video game systems) that will require some money.  Hell, if you're doing web development, you can cover a lot of ground with JEdit and Firefox's Code Auth plugin.

Advertise on Google--what it costs you per click depends on your market, but if you have a $50 monthly ad budget, you can still use PPC.  You don't have to take out print ads in every market.  Also, with a web presence, you can sell to anyone in the country, if not the world.

So this is an extreme and thoroughly idealistic, perhaps even marginally unrealistic example.  But, on the other hand, it shows that the barriers to entrepreneurship are receding.  You can start a business in your basement for less than $1000 without breaking a sweat.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, the Internet is bringing back the American dream.

Anything I missed?

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Sappy Paint Haddy's Day

...what he said...

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Watchmen Impressions

Apologies up front for the lack of a good pun in the title... "Kurt Watches the Watchmen" was just too obvious. Which only means that I've already told it a few times.

I'm a bit late to the Watchmen party, I know, but I feel the need to vocalize anyway because it's my blog and I'm allowed. Dammit.

Most of the things that I was nervous about turned out to not be issues: the changed ending worked just fine, perhaps even a little (heresy ahead, also spoilers) better than the ending in the graphic novel. The squid is a bit tough to take, and the rationale behind it isn't explained very fully in the book. Which is not to say it doesn't work in the book, but the whole "framing Dr. Manhattan" angle seemed ever-so-slightly more plausible.

Every single thing about Rorschach was excellent. Jackie Earle Haley's performance was spot-on. The costume looked good, the characterization was great. My wife complained that his freckles looked fake (my wife was also pointing out continuity errors in the height of Silk Spectre's heels, for perspective). Right up until he fell out of a window and began doing Kung Fu. Which brings me to my first complaint:

The fighting was way too stylized, and that cost the fights some of their brutality. Snyder made up for it by making the fights extra bloody and broken bones-y, which I have mixed feelings about. Not the direction I'd have taken, is all I'm saying. The opening fight between a then-unknown assailant and a then un-masked Comedian was almost laughable in its precise execution. It didn't feel like a brutal murder--it was too Crouching Tiger.

And this is perhaps microcosmic (real word?) of my feelings about the movie more generally. It was too shiney, too polished. Polished grit rather than a real world that had been worn down to grittiness. I also found the nod to 300 during that fight scene to be gratuitous, but since my wife didn't even notice it, that may have just been me.

Other things:

I loved the additions that were made, particularly the opening credits. They showed a thorough understanding of the world of Watchmen and told a lot of backstory with great economy. I think a little more creativity on Snyder's part could have shaved another twenty minutes off the film. Do we really need every detail of Dr. Manhattan's history? Is there some reason we establish his relationship with Jane after finding out she has cancer? Other than a fanatical devotion to source material, that is. If we'd chopped out some of that, we could have bypassed the office lunchroom scene, which was the only time where I found Dr. Manhattan's nudity to be distracting (mainly because his penis was in the freaking center of frame).

Speaking of nudity, the sex scene was a bit ungainly, and I gotta be honest, Malin Aeckerman is less attractive to me now that I've seen her without a pushup bra. Which is not to say that she isn't still hot... it's just... I dunno, leave something to the imagination ladies. And I maintain that she was miscast as a 40-year-old. Not quite so badly as Ozymandias, who was miscast in many many ways and whose character committed one of my pet peeves: being ambiguously European. And for the record, the nipples on his costume were distracting. Abby and I talked about who might have been better. She suggested Brad Pitt, and while we both agree that he could have done a better job in the role, his presence would have been, not to overuse a word, distracting. But seriously, when you're looking for a blond paragon of male beauty, accept no substitute.

I found the disclaimers at the end somewhat humorous. None of the people accepted money to endorse a tobacco product. Good to know. I s'pose. Also, apparently the events depicted in this movie are fictional, and any resemblance to events or persons living or dead is purely coincidental, despite the fact that one of the pivotal roles is Richard effing Nixon. Who, I'm told, was a real person.

Of course, Snyder disguised his Richard Nixon behind a comically large nose.

Le sigh.

So, overall, it was good. Not stellar, but good. Deliberately crafted, even if I disagree with some of the deliberations, and it is quite interesting, which has some value.

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Putting the Twit in... Nevermind

One of my favorite writers is now following me on Twitter. 'Sright, a man whose writing I follow pathologically is not a full third of my Twitter audience. I feel immense pressure to not screw things up now.

It's like that dream where you're naked and doing surgery you haven't studied for. You know the one.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

From the Lou, and I'm Proud... erm, Deperessed

Awesome. We're #2, baby!

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Friday, March 13, 2009

No, I Don't Have Crabs, Why Do You Ask?

This is the funniest thing I've seen in a while:

Onion-N-N: Giant Bioengineered Crabs Pose No Threat to Humankind

Indeed,

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You Want Me to do What with my Whom?

From Slate's Explainer: Global Motherf*ckers which discusses how some variation on "have maternal incest" is an insult in nearly every culture.

Here's an amusing excerpt:

The first known print appearance of the English phrase—as the adjectival intensifier motherfucking—dates to a legal document from 1889. In a case before the Texas Court of Appeals, it was reported that the defendant had been referred to by another man as "that God damned mother-fcking, bastardly son-of-a-bitch!" The phrase was considered so vile in late 19th-century America that, in another Texas court case, it was argued that a man who had been called a "mother-fucking son-of-a-bitch" by a person he later shot "could not be found guilty of a higher offense than manslaughter,"...

And that's saying something for a state judiciary that, to this days, thrives on the death penalty. As a side note, here's another fun quotation from that article: "If the streets were paved with pricks, your mother would walk on her ass". This, apparently, is pretty common invective in Italian.

Have a good weekend. Also, try to do something nice for your mother.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Do I Understand Any of This?

One of the arguments for Creationism is that "life" is contrary to the second law of thermodynamics: that energy tends towards maximum randomness or entropy.  I read something recently that pointed out that living things are, in fact, far more efficient than non-living things when it comes to randomly dispersing energy, so the second law of thermodynamics is actually an argument against Creationism, assuming you see the "purpose," if you will, of the universe as dispersing as much energy at random until it's all spent--a goal that is certainly in line with, amongst other things, the Big Bang Theory.

The caveat to all of this is that, while we get another point against the Creationists (yippee), it also means that every second we're here living hastens the universe towards its demise.

So, all I'm saying is that I'm suddenly less concerned about my carbon footprint.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

MSA SOS ASAP!

So, the Missouri Scholar's Academy is getting cut.  For the uninformed, it's a three-week program that takes place on the Mizzou Campus for 330 of the best high school students every year.  Students can only go during the summer between their sophomore and junior years, and most high schools can only send one student.

I was not eligible to attend, due in no small part to the fact that I lived in Texas that summer, but I know several people who did: my sister, my wife, and my best friend, among others.  They all swear that it was the most wonderfully life-changing three weeks of their lives.  In fact, my sister was so enamoured with it that she quit high school to start college a year early.

And now it's (at least temporarily) kaput, the latest victim of state budget cuts.  Damned depression (I've decided to stop calling it a recession, fyi... it just doesn't drive the emminence of it home).

This is sad, because regardless of your political beliefs, this is a government program that actually does some good, plus it's education, and what's bad about education?  If you've a mind, give the state rep hell.  There's contact info on the MSA home page.

Hat tip: Abby.

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Surely There's a "Big/Black" Joke I'm Missing Here

So I just got through the Big's and am on my way to the Black's. So far:

  • Stone Temple Pilots - Big Bang Baby (always fun)
  • Nirvana - Big Cheese (obscure)
  • Nine Inch Nails - The Big Come Down (made for a fun transition into...)
  • Jonathan Coulton - Big Dick Farts a Polka (best title yet)
  • Our Lady Peace - Big Dumb Rocket (big dumb song, really)
  • Stone Temple Pilots - Big Empty
  • Sting - Big Lie Small World (which is in tens... or fives, depending on how you count it)
  • Nirvana - Big Long Now (obscure, possibly about a penis)
  • Nine Inch Nails - Big Man with a Gun (less obscure, definitely about a penis)
  • Foo Fighters - Big Me (The Fresh Fighters! Also, breaking up the STP, Nirvana, NIN loop)
  • Natalie Imbruglia - Big Mistake (surprisingly good for vapid Auzzie-pop)
  • Harry McClintock - Big Rock Candy Mountain (from O Brother, Where Art Thou!)
  • Billy Joel - Big Shot (used to be)
  • Bjork - Big Time Sensuality (Bjork? You must be bjoking!)
  • Counting Crows - Big Yellow Taxi (not-great interp of a classic Joni Mitchell song that I, clearly, don't have)
  • and finally Weird Al Yankovic's The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota.
Then a four songs that start with "Bitch", three of which are from Ben Folds. Issues much? And then a few Bittersweet's from Fuel, Moxy Fruvous, and REM. Next up: Black from Pearl Jam, Three Dog Night's Black and White and Black Beach from the Paranoia Agent soundtrack, which... talk about obscure... even more so than Black Boys from Hair, Kid Rock's Black Chick, White Guy, Zepp's Black Dog, and the ubiquitous 90's staple Black Hole Sun.

AFter that, KT Tunstall with Black Horse & The Cherry Tree, Jacko's Black or White, Radiohead's Black Star and then Thom Yorke's Black Swan, Beck's Black Tambourine will then finish off a suite of awesome that will inevitably be let down by Lenny Kravitz's Black Velveteen (I assume, I haven't actually heard it yet) but brought right back with The Doobie Brothers' Black Water and The Beatles Blackbird (followed by a Blackbird/Yesterday medley from the Love soundtrack). Then Porcupine Tree's Blackest Eyes, Blackhole from Beck and Muse will finish off the set with Blackout.

After that's an assortment with a few bleed's, blind's, and blood's, but no more sizeable stretches until Blue, which won't likely be for a while.

Ah, fun.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

...Twitter...

I haven't officially griped about Daylight Saving's Time, but it wasn't all that torturous this year, so I don't feel like it.

Pretend like I did.

Anywho, this may be an awful mistake, but I signed up for Twitter, hence the appearance of the feed on the left of the screen (for those of you who haven't upgraded to RSS feeds yet).

Anyway, Rocketboom did a bit on it (which I would link to directly, but their site seems to be behaving badly) noting that it's the one technology that's actually rivaling Google in terms of useful searches. Notably, Twitter search results update in seconds, whereas content can take hours to hit Google. Which is not to say that it could possibly replace Google, but it can capture a real-live information snapshot of what's going on right now. For example, if you want to know, say, how long the lines are at Six Flags, you can find that on Twitter, not so much on Google.

I've resisted Twitter in the past, mostly because I like to elucidate at length, which you just can't do in 140 characters. But I figure, what the hell? It's not like it's going to actually get in the way of anything--it takes all of a minute a day to put up a few updates. If it cuts into anything, it'll be blogging time.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Random Links

From Alex Payne, Rules for Computing Happiness.

A bizarre offshoot of the LOL: Picture is Unrelated.

And a great timewaster care of the Time: KenKen.

'Tis a strange, strange world we live in.  Enjoy.

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

My Head... It's... With the Hurting... Slightly

So last night was our house-warming party, which we conveniently scheduled to occur when many of our friends were out of town. Particularly Abby's friends. Actually, half the people Abby invited got called out of town at the last minute.

Regardless, it was small, but still fun. I managed to get completely shit-faced off beer. Beer. I can't think of the last time that's happened. And I'm moving pretty slow this morning thanks to your-friend-and-mine the hangover. But it's not too bad, so I'll get over it.

We over-prepared. Actually, Abby over-prepared; she did the lion's share of the planning work, and it's always better to have too much food rather than not enough, but something tells me I'll be taking 7-layer dip in my lunch to work for a week and a half.

It is bitterly, bitterly cold out today. Thank god we brought in some extra firewood a few days ago, because otherwise I'd have to schlep out to the carport to grab more. That also means this post is going to be short, because the computer is in the basement and the basement is roughly the same temperature as the ground outside. Which is, to say, cold.

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