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Thursday, April 19, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

So I finally finished "The Magus". I will break with my usual bland reviewing practice by saying that it wasn't a particularly good book. It has some good moments, and one memorable setting, but that's not enough to sustain a 700 page novel.

The basic premise is attractive: while conspiracies and webs of deceit are usually malicious, conspiracies against someone, this book points out that (especially if you're a self-absorbed young man) it can be pretty cool to be the focus of a conspiracy of rich intelligent people, especially if one (or two or three) of them are beautiful and sexually uninhibited women.

But that's about it; the premise is there, the lovely Greek island is there, but they just sit there. We have 400 or so pages of slow setup, a couple hundred pages of slightly quicker development and mystery, and then a final hundred pages of dull thud as we find that after undergoing a novel's worth of life-changing experiences the protagonist hasn't changed perceptibly, and is still the basically uninteresting jerk he started out as. The motivations of the conspirators are never really explained. Or rather the explanation is so implausible that it doesn't count; these people would not have gone to all that trouble for this guy.

So I got some nice images and new mental structures out of it, but I think my time would have been better spent elsewhere. It's hard to recommend a book when my first thought after finishing it was "whew, finally! Now I can read something better."

On the speakers: Glassdog Radio One. A nice mix of musics; those listening at work should be prepared to turn down the volume quickly when "I Want to Fuck You Like an Animal" comes around in the rotation. *8)

Mama T

Our next uplifting image (over to the left there) is another Catholic icon ("icon"). Do I sense a pattern developing?

A sympathetic reader writes:

I think your moral duty, arising from your inner gyneophillic thoughts, is to tell us a joke.

Let's see. What do you call Santa's assistants? Subordinate Clauses! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Of the historic meeting, a nostalgic reader writes:

Was it Khan's Mongolian on the other side of the Tappan Zee, perchance? I sure miss that place....

Indeed it was! It doesn't seem to have much of a presence on the Web, but this review of a similarly named place in Connecticut applies to it almost perfectly (except for, you know, being in Connecticut and all).

Two readers with stronger wills than mine write:

I have tried not to leave any subscription track :)

I too subscribe to more magazines than I have time to read. I keep my pile manageable by following the strict rule that when a new issue of a magazine arrives, I throw any old issues out, regardless of whether I've read them or not. If I haven't read them by that time, I'm not likely too ever. Even though it pains me to do it; even though I know there are high-quality unread articles that I'm throwing out.

I've never been able to do that; I have (among other things) this fantasy of sitting, when the kids are off to college or the Space Patrol or whatever, looking contemplatively at the peaceful meadows outside the windows of my study, and reading quietly through the years of accumulated information, writing scholarly monographs and corresponding with fellow thinkers in Vienna and Guam. Maybe one of those hats with the ear-flaps, too.

Geegaw points to esr's "How To Become A Hacker" document, which he's been updating faithfully over the years.

Therefore, you have to learn to distrust attitude and respect competence of every kind. Hackers won't let posers waste their time, but they worship competence -- especially competence at hacking, but competence at anything is good. Competence at demanding skills that few can master is especially good, and competence at demanding skills that involve mental acuteness, craft, and concentration is best.

If you revere competence, you'll enjoy developing it in yourself -- the hard work and dedication will become a kind of intense play rather than drudgery. And that's vital to becoming a hacker.

I would like to remind everyone that awhile back I wrote

I will venture to guess that our understanding of what a "gene" is will turn out to be pretty primitive, and that there will be a lot more things going on in the sequence than just those 30K "genes".

And then I would like to quote smugly from this American Spectator article:

We now know the notion that one gene leads to one protein, and perhaps one disease, is false.

"One gene leads to many different protein products that can change dramatically once they are produced. We know that some of the regions that are not genes may be some of the keys to the complexity that we see in ourselves. We now know that the environment acting on our biological steps may be as important in making us what we are as our genetic code."

Thank you very much.

The Icelandic Stock Exchange! Lots of fish. Also IT.

And finally on my Opera form-submission whine, a reader writes:

I've never had that problem in Opera, and I can't think of what could be causing it. My only suggestion would be to make sure you have the latest version (5.10), which came out a week ago.

I didn't have the latest version, but I do now (wonderfully painless upgrade process, too). I haven't seen the odd form behavior since; on the other hand I didn't see it in 5.02 after I posted about it here, either. Probably I frightened the relevent imp away...

Wednesday, April 18, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

It occurs to me that, Deja.com having sold its boring "consumer buying service" assets to some not yet bankrupt dotcom ("I don't want to go on the cart!") and its Usenet archive to Google (funded by the Bavarian Illuminati), Dejanews is no more!

This is very strange. I can imagine the conversation, net-aeons from now: "Grampa, why do you type 'dejanews.com' when you want to search Google Groups?" "Grampa, why do you call the Google / Yahoo / Oprah discussion groups 'Usenet'?"

Pictures from the historic meeting chronicled yesterday are now available on the Web, thanks to Daniel (these are only the normal pictures; Daniel says that the analog pictures have to be 'processed' with 'chemicals' first; I guess these smart materials still have a ways to go!). Note that in person, with the opportunity to move about and speak, I appear more attractive and socially acceptable, and less like a freakishly overgrown Hobbit.

The Popester

Over to the left there is the first of our reader-submitted uplifting images. I have decided at this time not to enter the debate on the moral or aesthetic status of the Catholic Church, and just present this image without commentary.

From Gigalaw Daily News, P2P copyright lawsuits: it's not just music any more (title mine).

From Laboratorium, we have James Grimmelmann's distillation of computer problems in orbit:

Yuri is missing 5 emails in his outlook "Send" folder. He drafted these up last night, and they were left in his Outbox. They should be showing in his "Send" folder, but they're not there, and Outbox is empty. We think an old mail (ost) file was uplinked and overwrote what Yuri did. We call Houston to see if the outgoing files can be recovered. Houston puts this in work.

Nomic: despite the pleasant noise it makes, it's probably time to process a move that will end the infinite-frequency fluctuation of Rules LX and LVI; otherwise people will start thinking the Nomic is dead again. So I'm applying:

Bolivia Any Rule that invalidates itself shall be interpreted and, if necessary, rewritten, by the Scribe so it no longer invalidates itself, in as simple and non-amendatory a manner as possible. (This should be a Friday Rule, and should eliminate that pesky infinite-cycle problem with Rule LX. D'oh!)

which creates a new Rule LXII, a Friday Rule, and gives the Scribe a total of XXVIII points. Then, as instructed by the Rule, I'm changing "All Rules" in Rule LX to read "All other Rules", which stops the fluctuation, and causes Rule LVI to be deemed invalid. If anyone would like to submit a move that would clarify the meaning of "non-amendatory", or for that matter "deemed", that would be welcome. I'm also a little dubious about the practice of randomly sticking words like "Bolivia" onto the front of Rule Change Suggestions just to satisfy Rules L and LVIII. But at least this time I'll tolerate it...

Status and History are in the usual places. Corrections (see Rule XVI) are welcome. And remember to brush and floss (something) every morning and night (Rule XVIII) and to breathe properly, and not fear improperly (Rule XXII).

Tuesday, April 17, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

And I didn't even have to go to SXSW! Yesterday Ian and I had lunch with Beth Roberts (of Just a Log) and Daniel Drucker (of Everything2). We went out for Mongolian Barbeque (actually rather athletic stir-fry, but who's counting?) at a place Daniel knew of. It was the first time I'd met people in person that I only knew from the universe of Weblogs, and it was great fun.

We sat (and drove) around and tossed memes back and forth. Beth and Daniel are two of those people who are right there behind their eyes. Beth had a little Intel digital camera (Intel makes cameras??) and Daniel had one of those new-fangled analog cameras, so some embarassing pictures should be showing up somewhere shortly.

I highly recommend meeting people in person; I'll have to try it again some time!

More signs of the season; a reader writes:

The pretty girl is trimming hedges across the way, and she has such pretty legs and such a pretty bottom, especially when she stretches up to get the top part, and she's wearing shorts -- hey, I think it must be spring!

The Sarcastic Fringehead.

Another reader writes:

does that make goodvibes.com "sex toys of the collective"?

Yes, definitely! Or perhaps "sex toys of the community". And:

I can't imagine Good Vibrations going under, do you know something we don't?? (Hope not.)

Sure, I know lots of things you don't! Nothing on this particular subject, though; I just have general undirected worries about good middle-sized enterprises. They get swallowed (Banana Republic pre-Gap, Ben and Jerry's pre-Megacorp) or wither away (The Great Train Store, too many of our local bookstores). So while I have no reason to think it's urgent that everyone go out and buy from Good Vibrations immediately, it certainly couldn't hurt (and it might help).

It was, um, "interesting" to explain the retail store and its wares to our 8yo when we last took a trip inside a couple years ago.

Hee hee! I've never been there in person. Sounds like fun.

From Inflatable Sheep to Mary Anne M to some naked ladies.

Californians saved from themselves: A state Assembly committee Monday approved a bill that would ban Internet gambling in California.

"People can literally go online with a credit card, click and lose a ton of money," Frommer said.

Oooooh, wouldn't that be awful?

On the subject of yesterday's nursery rhyme, if you search Google for "when I was one" "over the sea", one of the first hits will be the pressing question Did Frodo and the others (Bilbo, Sam, and Gimli) who passed over the Sea eventually die, or had they become immortal?

During lunch with Ian and Daniel and Beth, I claimed that in Japanese there's a special counting system for animals with floppy ears. This turns out to be only approximately true; when counting in Japanese you often need to append to the numbers a little tag to indicate what kind of thing you're counting. So three rabbits is apparently san-biki rabbits, whereas three cows is san-tou cows. This applies to all kindsa things, not just animals.

From Neat New Things I Found on the Net, an interesting article about information and misinformation on the Web (and elsewhere).

Now that's a hitcounter!

It seems that the odd "Sentient Property Crime Bureau" links I gave the other day were part of a clever Web ad campaign for some movie. Who woulda thought?

Here's a complex one: some schizoprenia may be caused by a virus whose DNA is mixed in with the normal human DNA. So sometimes something causes those viral bits of DNA to be expressed, the victim's cells produce the virus, and the Voices show up. What a hack!

Opera (the browser): I'm still pretty satisfied with it, and using it for most things, but one more oddity: once in awhile, it seems to not send along the form data when I submit a form. I haven't been able to reproduce it, but it's happened at least a dozen times. I'll push a button or click on a "submit" image, and find myself back at the blank form, or the site's homepage, or somewhere else meaningless. Frustrating...

Monday, April 16, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

When I was one I ate a bun,
Going over the sea.
I jumped aboard a sailorman's ship,
And the sailorman said to me:
"Going over, going under,
Stand at attention
Like a soldier
With a one, two three."

Mostly wholesome family stories today.

On Saturday we went to Hunter Mountain for the second-to-last day of the skiing season there. I went skiing once or twice in college; I was horrified to realize that that was twenty years ago. Sheesh! The kids had never been at all.

Everyone was too excited to sleep on Friday night (it probably didn't help that all the Dads decided to take all the kids out to see a movie while the Moms stayed home and talked; remind me to give you a capsule review of Spy Kids sometime). And then we wanted to get to the slopes by 08:30, which meant on the road by 06:30, which meant awake by 05:30 for me and 06:00 for them. But incredibly enough it all worked out. Picking up the sleeping little boy and plunking him down on the couch in the little daughter's room, and then waking her up by whispering about skiing in her warm pink ear; the usual rewards of fatherhood. *8)

So many stories I could tell from just one day! The late-winter beauty of the gorge that Route 23A winds through on the way up into the range, the friendly eyes of the lady (girl, woman, person) who sold us our tickets. When all the cars from the neighborhood got there, we were nine grownups (only four skiing) and nine kids (all skiing at least a bit). The four kids who'd never gone before (including both of mine) had a lesson with Eric (who had Pokémon figures hanging all over his jacket). The little daughter, gynmast that she is, took to it immediately; the little boy was more reluctant, being by far the youngest, and not a really physical guy (not this year, anyway).

One favorite scene: having (without thinking very hard about it, obviously) taken the little boy up one of the non-beginner lifts (he liked the lifts alot), and then skied ("skied"?) with him about halfway back down, we took quite a tumble (he was in front of me between my skis holding onto my poles, and he went down between my feet and I fell forward over him) at the top of a steeper bit, and he refused to put his skis back on (quite sensible of him really). So we started walking sloooowly down the mountain (I was walking, he was happily scooting on his bottom). After awhile one of the other grownups, who is a part-time professional ski patroller, came down to rescue us.

He had the little boy put his skis back on and stand behind him, holding him real tight around the waist with his face buried in the back of his jacket (pronoun warning). Then he (the rescuer) skied slowly down to the lodge, with the little boy dangling behind him. Later on he (the little boy) said it was fun. He spent most of the rest of the day in the lodge, drawing pictures on napkins and eating a sandwich and showing me where the water fountains were hidden.

The little daughter, on the other hand, went whizzing down the lower of the "More Difficult" slopes over and over again, her skis in the classic Snowplow / Wedge / Pizza slice position and her arms out (their class didn't get around to teaching them about poles). None of that boring turning stuff for her; full speed to the bottom, no questions asked!

It was terrifying, watching that little black starfish zipping down the slope ahead of me (far beyond my own comfort-zone for speed), waiting for her to get up again after her (amazingly few) falls. Nothing broken, or even notably injured. ("Nothing ventured, nothing sprained!")

I surprised myself by being no less skilled than I was twenty years ago; a slow and I'm sure awkward-looking Intermediate Beginner able to tack my way down your typical "More Difficult" slope with only the occasional spectacular wipeout. I came home with a nice bright sunburn, too.

Other heartwarming facts: I didn't have to resort to the car VCR either way. On the way up the kids were drowsy and excited, talking and looking out the windows. On the way down, with my two kids and one extra, they spontaneously started telling each other fairy tales (or, in the little boy's case, Star Fox tales). Then closer to home, with the girls in the back back talking away, I heard the little boy in the seat behind me singing to himself. I listened long enough to pick up the song, and started singing along, and then the girls did also. The song's only supposed to go up to ten, but the little boy decided we'd go to twenty, or thirty, or fifty, or until we got home (which turned out to be about fourty-five).

When I was two I buckled my shoe,
Going over the sea.
I jumped aboard a sailorman's ship,
And the sailorman said to me:
"Going over, going under,
Stand at attention
Like a soldier
With a one, two three."

Like all good nursery rhymes, it falls just short of making sense. Why "going over the sea", for instance? The ship in the next line makes us retroactively parse it as nautical, but by itself it makes me think of transocean airplanes.

The sailorman seems an odd Delphic, or Nietzschian, figure. "Going over, going under" brings to mind Zarathustra's untergang (going under, going down, falling, perishing), and his notion of what is lovable in Man. "was geliebt werden kann am Menschen, das ist, dass er ein Übergang und ein Untergang ist"; what is lovable in Man is that he is a going-over and a going-under, a transforming and a perishing.

Transforming and perishing are pretty good themes for a nursery rhyme, actually.

And why is a sailor telling us to stand at attention like a soldier? The whole chorus of course lends itself to being acted out, and the girls picked up on that spontaneously, working up a whole little act with arm motions ("going over, going under"), standing at attention, salutes ("like a soldier"), and finger counting ("one, two, three").

The web holds various variants of the rhyme, both in the verses ("when I was one I hurt my thumb"), and the chorus: fisherman's ships with fishermen, sailing ships with sailors, sailorman's ships with sailormen. The little boy was singing the last of those; the little girl seemed to prefer sailing ships with sailors, maybe because it's shorter, or more familiar, or because she's been taught gender-neutrality in that part of language (in school they talk about letter carriers and fire fighters and police officers, not postmen or firemen or policemen).

Then yesterday we did various wholesome Easter things (nine kids and ten grownups), but I think I've talked enough for one day...

For everything else, there's Mastercard's lawyers...

A long time ago (in Net-years) there were warnings going around that various sites (typically, porn sites) would urge you to download a program to access them, and if you did that the program would disconnect you from your usual ISP, and reconnect you by dialing some very expensive pay phone number in some furrin country. At the time I thought it was possible but unlikely, perhaps something that had happened once but been blown up by rumor. The most recent entry in Jane Duvall's journal describes marketing scum who actively encourage webmasters of naughty web sites to use this sort of thing, and a quick Web search suggests that it's definitely real, and it's not just porn sites.

Yet another reason to be real careful what you run.

Speaking of security, this morning the laptop tells me that there's a new Critical Update available at Windows Update, to fix yet another "anyone can do anything they like to you" bug in Outlook Express. I recommend going and doing that even if (like me) you never intentionally use Outlook Express. Who knows what bit of Windows might decide to use it under the covers some day?

Happy Monday!

Friday, April 13, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

Oh, now here's a substantial subject...

What's in all these piles of stuff by my place at the table?

Five unanswered appeals for money from the Save the Redwoods League,

Three unanswered envelopes from the Libertarian party, all saying "It's renewal time" in huge yellow letters,

Six envelopes from Planned Parenthood, bearing legends that become increasingly plaintive: "Annual Renewal Notice Enclosed", "Reminder", and finally "Before you leave us, please answer just one simple question".

The notion that if we don't give some cause money for a certain number of months we've "left them" seems to be a common theme.

Nine assorted announcements and unanswered appeals for money from Princeton University

This being a two-alumnus household, after all.

Nine envelopes from the American Civil Liberties Union, eight identical ones marked "Membership Renewal Enclosed", and one "The Future of Liberty is at Stake".

Five envelopes from Thirteen (our local PBS station), one marked "Urgent Renewal Reminder", and three "Your Thirteen MemberCard Enclosed!".

Five envelopes from the National Organization for Women, three marked "Annual Renewal Enclosed", one "We don't want to lose you", and one "Final Notice: Your last chance to renew your NOW membership inside".

Four from WNYC (our local public radio stations), marked "Your membership matters / Please renew today!", "We don't want to lose you!", and "There's still time to renew! LAST CHANCE".

These last two seem particularly odd. Last chance for what? If we don't send them money now, they will no longer accept money from us in the future? The identical phrases are also depressing reminders that these organizations probably farm out their fund-raising to professional fund-raising companies that don't necessarily care a whit about the causes involved.

Three envelopes with giraffes and "It's time to renew your WCS Bronx Zoo Membership".

Those I can recycle instantly, because we renewed at the zoo on Tuesday afternoon (see, things do happen that I don't write about here; at least not right away...).

One envelope from Natural History magazine, and two from the American Museum of Natural History.

I've subscribed to Natural History (i.e. been a member of the Museum) for utterly ever. I'm not sure why. I mean, it's a good institution, but there are lots of good institutions that I haven't belonged to forever. It's a cool museum, but we hardly ever get down there. It's a pretty magazine, but I never get around to reading it.

Assorted appeals for money, announcements, membership renewal notices, urgent reminders, and so forth from twenty or so other good causes, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving (3), another PBS station (5), People for the American Way (4), the Nature Conservancy (6, including two Urgent Membership Expiration Notifications), Phi Beta Kappa (3), Emily's List (3), FINCA (3; "Small Loans, Big Changes"), various Police Benevolent Associations, Fresh Air Funds, and volunteer fire companies, the local public library, and the American Policy Center ("Keep U.S. Free!").

Whew! I'm currently planning to rationalize all our charitable giving, picking a goal amount for the year, dividing by twelve, and then giving that amount to a selected cause or two once a month, rather than just letting these piles build up. We'll see how long that plan lasts in practice...

A large clump of catalogs, coupons and offers: the local pizza and chinese places, IBM Owner Privileges, the car place, the Learning Company, the Teaching Company ("Great Courses on Tape"), Verizon, the Cato Institute, American Science and Surplus ("Great Stuff, Unbelievable Prices!"), and Good Vibrations.

Good Vibrations

Unpaid commercial announcement: Good Vibrations is "a worker-owned cooperative with a staff that enthusiastically embraces our mission: to provide you with accurate sex information and quality sex toys, books, and videos". Karmic perfection! Has the economic downturn hurt sales? I'd hate to see anything happen to Good Vibrations! So everyone: forget your temporary lack of liquidity, go over to goodvibes.com and spend some money. Your libido will thank you.

A copy of the Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore, 12 December 2000.

Not a high point of judicial objectivity.

The Bryce 4 user manual

So that's where that went!

Three issues of Analog Science Fiction and Fact, four issues of the Journal of Philosophy, one issue of the American Scholar (it's a quarterly), four issues of Reason, six of the Princeton Alumni Weekly (which actually comes out twice a month), nine of the local weekly newspaper ("Three arrested after school basetbrawl", "Judge orders action on Sprint antennas", "PV High School exceeds expectations"), two Atlantic Monthly, six New York Times Book Review, three Scientific American, four Wired, three Natural History, three World Press Review, fourteen Science News.

Virtually all unread, but all offering acres and acres of interesting words, if only I'd sit down for a few quiet hours with them. So I can't bear to just shovel them into the recycling.

One issue of Newsweek.

Ah, there's something I can get rid of!   *8)

Roughly one pound of extremely miscellaneous stuff like child artwork, an unanswered letter from a childhood friend who doesn't do email, a Verizon pre-paid phone card, three bookmarks, some random CD-ROMs, rolls of undeveloped film, telephone cords, love letters, programs from school events that mention one of the kids, and so on and so on.

I alternate between wanting to radically simplify my life by throwing all the junk away and cancelling all the subscriptions, and wallowing blissfully in the drifts and tottering piles of this miscellaneous being.


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