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Saturday, December 17, 2005

ICQ Chain Mail!

This message arrive to my ICQ account this morning:

(via Google Translate)
Ask ERNST TAKING! unfortunately the ICQ administration these 3 had. Chain letter start, because the 1.und 2. was not seriously taken. Starting from 1.12.2005 ICQ becomes liable to pay the costs! This being able to prevent by you min. of 18 members from your contact list this message send this is no joke (source: www.icq.com) if you it to 18 members send-have, you email are gotten and your ICQ a flower become blue
Time for IM spam filtering.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Richard Pryor

A month ago, I was having dinner with my friend Mark, recounting how the night before, I was watching Sanford and Son. I told him how I was surprised to find out that Richard Pryor had a writing credit for the show. I watched for about 10 minutes. The show was about Fred's favorite cousin, his cousin's new wife, and her young adult, heavy, daughter. Fat jokes all some mild humor all around; it was OK. I could tell from the story and jokes it was written by Richard Pryor, or at least I pretended to know how to identify his stuff.

"I don't know if you know this, Mark," I said, "but Richard Pryor was instrumental in making that show a success."

"I didn't," he said.

"Yep. In fact, you know that catch phrase Fred Sanford used to say whenever he thought he was having a heart attack? He wrote that. Yeah, Richard Pryor came up with 'Elizabeth! I'm comin' to join ya!' but that was actually the version they used on TV; his was a little racier. The one Richard wrote into the script was 'Oh... _FUCK_!!!!!'"

Friday, November 25, 2005

Thanksgiving Miracle

For Thanksgiving, my most important job was driving to pick up three of our guests, and then bring them home. I was supposed to pick up the first guest at 11:30AM in Highland Park, which is 20 miles from our home. Normal Los Angeles travel time: 60 minutes. Thanksgiving "miracle" time: 20 minutes.

Thank you, Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

He Hate F1

Seen on a mailing list:

Subject: I hate F1
---
Does anyone know a way to disable the F1 key on a Windows machine? The only time I use it is when I hit it by mistake instead of escape.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Pandora

After five minutes of playing with this technology, it feels like there's promise: customized music stations at pandora.com. I've yet to figure out their business model -- are they showcasing the related artists, or looking to be bought? Who knows. So far, though, I'm impressed!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Podcasting

I've finally started downloading podcasts. I tried using Odeo, but found that I could manage to get any of my subscribed podcasts onto my iPod. Besides some of the obvious stuff, such as the NPR Sunday Puzzle with Will Shortz and this wonderful little podcast called One Minute Vacation there's the Roadhouse, a regular show featuring Blues you've never heard. It's been a long time since I listened to 45 minutes of music and then listened to the same music one more time. I'm in technology heaven.

My Trip to San Diego

I'm in San Diego for two days of talking about Google and interviewing UCSD students. Google is presenting at a Women in Engineering luncheon, so I made sure to bring my diversity t-shirt with the iconic symbol for woman. While the Google store only has that logo in a woman's shirt, I have a man's style t-shirt with that logo, and it's a wonderful shirt to wear, particularly, say, when representing Google at a Women in Engineering luncheon.

I flew out of Santa Monica airport, which is a first for me. One of the other presenters at UCSD is a pilot and gave me a lift from Santa Monica airport to Montgomery airport in San Diego. While it was nasty, overcast and smoggy in Los Angeles at 3,500 feet, he quickly got permission to climb to 5,500 feet, and the view was wonderful. I imagine this response is typical, but I couldn't help feeling bad that I had to hold back asking the pilot to veer off his plan so I could see my house from the air.

The Collectinator Here's the thing: before taking off, I was lounging in the airport terminal (read: room.) While my coworker was out of the "terminal", filling out paperwork, who should walk into the Santa Monica airport with his entorage? Did you guess from the picture? It was the Govenator, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was wearing a blue blazer and crisp white collared shirt, and walked quickly into a room which was clearly prepared for him. Two or three security guys covered the "room". When I peeked through the occasionally-opened door, I could see a lighting umbrella, so he was being photographed or interviewed. I presume it was the latter, because he's in the middle of trying to get several propositions passed, and a photo shoot is absurd and egomaniacal, and all the makeup and lighting umbrellas in the world won't make him look as good as he did on the cover of Fighting Stars magazine.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Sudoku Puzzle Solver II

I've rewritten my Sudoku solver -- it solves many more puzzles than before, including, it seems, the Evil ones at http://www.websudoku.com/.

I thought I had licked the Sudoku habit. But then Cédric Beust mentioned his addiction, and now here I am back at it. My wife's addicted now, too.

I'm pleased that it solves many more puzzles, but I'm clear that a trigger-based rule system would be much more elegant. Plus a more general solution, one that solves puzzles of arbitrary size, would satisfy my soul. There are also those puzzles with multiple solutions; this might very well merely get stuck. Of course, I may never pick it up again. and may have to be satisfied despite remaining unable to be as organized as the computer in solving these impish knots.

See the revised solution here.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Two holidays in one

This Halloween, Google Santa Monica had a costume party and contest. I went as a Christmas tree. This was my last-ditch effort costume, because Queen Wifey and I, while wandering through Savon with no ideas at all, stumbled into the Christmas aisle. My first response was my typical disdain toward the Christmas consumerism, but twenty minutes and fifty dollars later, we were stuffed with Christmas goodies.

Like I said, it was a Christmas tree, complete with garlands, a Christmas tree hat, ornaments and working lights. I had to bring two extension cords to the office in order to have any sort of mobility while being lit up. Leave it to the ops guys to offer me a UPS to carry around. One of the ops guys even offered me his his boss's UPS, said I could just unplug his computers from them since he wasn't even using them. They like me!

The lights, tethered to my two extension cords they may have been, but they still won me runner up for best costume. This was in part due to my brilliant vision, but also out of respect to me for being willing to wrap myself up in an electrical 120-volt death suit. Best costume went to my coworker who dressed up like she was taking a shower. No, not like that you sicko.

Later in the day, the ops guys took a large inflatable shark and my stuffed gefilte fish (seen on my left hip), attached the both to 30 baloons each, and sent them soaring 3 stories into the sky. They would have gone higher, but they were safely tethered to the ground. What can I say, it was a day of tethering.
See artist's rendering:


Thursday, October 06, 2005

I/O Brush

This must be seen:

It's a brush from the MIT Media Lab that has a combination of a video camera and brush sensors -- it -- it -- I shouldn't bother descibing it. Look here:

More information here.

Source: http://blog.outer-court.com/archive/2005-10-05.html#n27

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A Bad Sign

Jessica, one of the recruiters in my office, said something today which really threw me off: "There's something that looks different about you [, Rob,] that I've been trying to figure out all day, and I just did. You're wearing pants."

It rained today in Santa Monica. I couldn't bike to work, so my wife drove me, and since I didn't need to wear shorts, I pulled out my jeans.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

From defective yeti:
Also near our house is a handwritten sign reading "Will wash windows, $1*" and then, at the bottom, in a tiny scrawl, "* per side" Ha! The Queen thought it was a waste of money to get those fancy Möbius windows installed, but I knew they would eventually pay for themselves.
:)

Friday, September 16, 2005

Biking to work, III

In order to put it behind me, I'll quickly summarize the rest of my long-overdue 'bike-to-work' story. Not well-edited:

Bike-to-work day was a cinch. Biking in both directions for 8 ½ miles, was awesome. It took 50 minutes to get there in the morning. In the evening, I took a long route home, despite the heat. A quarter of a mile from home, I was riding on a sidewalk that had a fire hydrant down the middle. Rather than slow down, I hit it straight on, causing me to fly forward and bending the front-tire on my brand new bicycle. I walked the last quarter mile home. It was a quick repair, and I was satisfied and home safe.

Over the next couple of weeks I tried to bike to work three times a week. Beth was reasonably worried I would get into an accident, but it didn't take long to maximize the side-streets and learn a safe way to travel down Pico Boulevard. Three times a week meant 50 miles a week. I was doing pretty well, but, unfortunately, biking so much caused hand pain, something about which I am sensitive, so I had to stop until I adjusted the bike.

More on biking to work soon.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Keith Olbermann comments on government response

Five minute video, in which Keith Olbermann takes a stark and honest look at the partisan-agnostic failure of government due to politicians' choice of rhetoric over duty to their constituents.
Mr. Bush has now twice insisted that 'we are not satisfiedfied' with the response to the manifold tragedies along the Gulf Coast. I wonder which 'we' he think's he's speaking for on this point. Perhaps it's the administration, although, we still don't know where some of them are. Anybody seen the Vice President lately? The man whose message this time last year was, "I'll protect you; the other guy might let you die?" I don't know which 'we' Mr. Bush meant.
OK, that was merely my favorite partisan moment. However, this struck a chord:
... had [the President] only remembered Churchill's quote from the 1930's: "The responsibility of government for the public safety", Churchill said, "is absolute and requires no mandate. It is, in fact, the prime object for which governments come into existence." In forgetting that, the current administration did not merely damage itself, it damaged our confidence in our ability to rely on whoever is in the White House.
I'm reading Freakonomics right now. The difference between morality and economy, according to the book's authors, is that morality represents how one wishes the world were while economy represents how the world actually is. This gives me no confidence whatsoever.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

crooksandliars

I have been pointed to five posts on crooksandliars.com that scare the shit out of me. Most of the links below contain video.

Breaking News: Kanye West: George Bush doesn't care about black people"
During the Concert for Hurricane Relief, Kanye West and Mike Meyers were celebrity narrators during the segment, West said: (rush transcript) ... "George Bush doesn't care about black people."
NBC censors Kanye West
The corporate big wigs didn't take too kindly to West's tirade against President Bush earlier today on the Concert for Hurricane Relief, so they edited his remarks on the West Coast feed.
Bob Shieffer Blasts the response to Katrina (CBS)
A report on Bob Shieffer during his weekly broadcast of Face The Nation:
Bob wrapped up Face the Nation today with this:

SCHIEFFER: Finally, a personal thought. We have come through what may have been one of the worst weeks in America's history, a week in which government at every level failed the people it was created to serve. There is no purpose for government except to improve the lives of its citizens. Yet as scenes of horror that seemed to be coming from some Third World country flashed before us, official Washington was like a dog watching television. It saw the lights and images, but did not seem to comprehend their meaning or see any link to reality.

As the floodwaters rose, local officials in New Orleans ordered the city evacuated. They might as well have told their citizens to fly to the moon. How do you evacuate when you don't have a car? No hint of intelligent design in any of this. This was just survival of the richest." (hat tip BJ for the transcript)"
Chertoff blames the Media for his failings (NBC)
Tim Russert grilled Chertoff over the absolute failure of his department in combating the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
Horror Show (Fox News)
Shepard Smith and Geraldo Rivera were livid about the situation in NOLA as they appeared on H&C. When Hannity tried his usual spin job and said "let's get this in perspective," Smith chopped him off at the knees and started yelling at him saying, "This is perspective!" It was shocking.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

What can be done

My wife (prior to her current job) spent over ten years providing disaster legal assistance. Based upon some things I have learned from her, here is a summary of some of what can be done:
There have been a number of federally declared disaster legal services over the last several decades - Hurricanes Andrew, Iniki; LA unrest in 92, Midwest, CA and Texas floods and fires in the 90s, etc. Legal services and community advocates previously sued and negotiated a national class action settlement with FEMA to improve their response, training and processes, helped develop national training curricula, and worked with FEMA and state officials on the ground setting up disaster assistance centers, and on strategies and implementation plans for longer term housing and economic development for affected regions. Folks in New York used some of this experience and material in connection with the post 9/11 disaster response, which was a very different context in terms of political will.

Unfortunately it seems that the folks "in charge" in DC now and in the affected states are not yet doing a wide range of things they have the authority and responsibility for under the Stafford Act. It's horrific on so many levels, not the least of which is that experienced disaster staff actually can do much to alleviate uneccesary death/suffering, and to promote long term recovery. Army generals, veteran FEMA administrators and federal and state elected officials are capable of marshaling needed resources in advance, and immediately and effectively, and have done so in some very large scale disasters in the past. It's sickening (and rage provoking) to witness such a tragedy.

Short and intermediate term assistance needs to begin once the first responders for immediate needs have done their work- Red Cross, Salvation Army, national guard/armed services mobilization, medical and public health responses. These efforts should begin to gear up now and over the next few weeks (and over the months and years to come).

For example, USDA can and should be asked by state/locals to issue Disaster Food Stamps and replace issuances/value of lost food, once electricity is restored for folks. This has apparently already been done in Louisiana, but the program is currently set to expire September 9, and will likely need to be extended, and broadened to other areas. (Note: USDA was sued in Los Angeles in 1992 for failing to issue disaster food stamps; after the Northridge Earthquake in 94 issuance was delayed but happened without litigation. On July 8, the USDA rushed food stamp delivery ahead of Hurricane Dennis, a Category 3 storm that hit the Florida coast. See USDA guide for disasters. (pdf) (html))

There are a host of FEMA, other federal and state programs- rental and mortgage assistance, SBA loans, funds to replace lost belongings, mental health services, medical services (in Louisiana, Disaster Medicaid info can be obtained at 1-888-342-6207)/coverage, short and long term replacement housing, funds for damages sustained by businesses and even non-profits [out of date link] --- in short, there is a lot of discretion, and lots of possibilities, in federal disaster work, all largely dependent on political will. (Note: these links are not necessarily the most updated resources for disaster and emergency services, but were ones I found that seemed applicable.)

Unfortunately, many programs don't get authorized or implemented unless there is advocacy to get them in place, and then to make sure the $$s actually get to where they need to go.

You can help by making keeping an eye on these federal relief programs and making your peers (and representation in government) aware of how resources get allocated over time.
If someone affected by the disaster needs help or more information, Louisiana disaster relief services can be reached at 1-888-LAHELPU (1-888-524-3578).

I have your sea anemone

I have your sea amea
I have your sea enemnity
I have your see a meminy
I have your cyanemony
I have your zimaniomy

I have your ammonia
ermonomi
inimoneemee
n'momn'mny
ilnornoni
mnuhmonuh
Uumellmahaye
tsinamononi
amenonee
rimarnomy
eenyminymonamee
lomon tree
anemmmy
semen army
monomamee
immy-bimmy-shlimmy
seen a mnomnimny
umonomee
uhnornony
anomaly
ymyanƏlmy

thing

Relevant New Orleans services and links

Briefly: I'm just horrified number and scope of fuck-ups surrounding New Orleans' sad fate. That's all I want to say about that.

Here are links which should receive more references:
  1. katrina.com -- a website developer converted her web-design site into an information clearninghouse. Good for her.
  2. US Department of Homeland Security missing persons report
  3. Special map of New Orleans.
  4. Phone interview with Roy Nagin of New Orleans. This will give you a sense of the situation in New Orleans. This is an angry and desparate man. Listen to what he says.
One final thought: People are very interested in providing message board services for finding relatives. Great idea. Please, please take into consideration the threat of predators who will troll these sites looking for children that are missing their parents. I don't know if you can prevent it, but think about what you're doing is all I'm saying. Bless you all.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Childbirth Made Simple



Shilpa Jain showed me this after I asked her about giving birth to her new baby. It's a patent for a device to aid childbirth by putting mothers on a device that uses centrifugal force to help pull the baby out of its mother. Besides the wonderful pictures is this gem:

In the case of a woman who has a fully developed muscular system and has had ample physical exertion all through the pregnancy, as is common with all more primitive peoples, nature provides all the necessary equipment and power to have a normal and quick delivery. This is not the case, however, with more civilized women who often do not have the opportunity to develop the muscles needed in confinement.

When was this device patentded? 1750? 1800? Nope, 1965.

Palm Springs

Have you ever been to Palm Springs? Holy crap it's hot. There's only one word to describe it, and that word is Really Hot. I'm amazed at how hot it was.

Even when it's cold it's hot. I swear this is an accurate depiction of how hot it was (and my wife backs me up 100%.)

The next time you'll see me there is when I die, and the Devil tells me that Hell is full. Have fun.

Brave New World

I finished Brave New World (1932), after a fifteen year break. The first time, I read only the first two-fifths or so, up to the point where Bernard reaches the New Mexico reservation, but no further. But Saturday, I finished the book and it hadn't quite landed on me of this notion that we might already be living in a world where government creates a stable civilization by making people "love their servitude", as it is said in the forward. It did so my making its citizens perpetually happy and condititoned them to hate solitude. Several hours later, I was in a swanky hotel bathroom in Palm Springs. After sitting there for a minute (there, I said it) I noticed that happy music was pumped in through the ceiling, and I envisioned that was done to keep me from dwelling in my solitary thoughts. OK, that creeped me out.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Comic Strip Generator

Nifty comic strip generator I found surfing Google Blogoscoped. I even made one m'self, but there are plenty of funny and clever strips.

Addendum: Five more strips: some are mine, some aren't.

Mark Jackman: Gigantigest Brain Of All Time

My buddy Tom Rowan is getting married in October, and I'm his best man. Tom also deserves his own posting regarding his greatness, but I didn't just get off the phone with Tom, I got off the phone with Mark Jackman: Gigantigest Brain Of All Time.

Stop distracting me, I'm trying to explain something.

As Tom's best man, I'm responsible for organizing the bachelor party. I wrote an email to introduce myself to everyone Tom wants invited. Before sending it, I wanted to make sure it was well written, so I called Mark Jackman: Gigantigest Brain Of All Time.

Me: "Mark [:GBOAT], I wrote this emal blah blah blah. I need you to give it a quick edit."

Mark Jackman, Gigantigest Brain Of All Time: "OK, give it to me."

Me: "Ready?

Mark Jackman, Gigantigest Brain Of All Time: "Ready."

Me:
My name is Rob and I'm Tom Rowan's best man. I know some of you are saying, "Hey, Rob, how did you become best man? How do I become best man at a wedding?" Well, I'll tell ya. Rather than make the choice himself, Tom staged an "American Idol"-style playoff between all candidate attendants. My acoustic rendition of Chumbawumba's "Tubthumping" (accompanied by kazoo and belly slapping, shirt up) won out over Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who performed an interpretive dance of 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' (the opening theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey). When she glided on stage wearing roller skates, oven mitts and a burlap sack, I thought she was a shoe in, but the judges, (Emmanuel Lewis, Chris Elliott and Charles Nelson Reilly,) all thought that Madam Justice was being tacky.
Mark Jackman, Gigantigest Brain Of All Time: "Who was the middle person?"

Me: "Chris Elliott. Is it funny?"

Mark Jackman, Gigantigest Brain Of All Time: "Replace Sandra Day O'Connor with Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It's wonderful."

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Sudoku Puzzle Solver

So I heard about Sudoku, and peeked at it and thought solving these puzzles would be boring, but writing a solver would be fun! Turns out I was wrong about trying to solve them, that's fun, too. But as for a solver, well, I wrote one in Java. It seems to handle all the puzzles I have thrown at it save one, which was given to me with the difficulty rating of "Impossible." If you look at the source code, you can see it as BOARD3.

Feel free to download the source and take a peek at it.

If it turns out that BOARD3 can only be solved with "what-if" scenarios, then I might give it a whirl.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Biking to work, II

What to do with a bike
Turns out that, surprise, surprise, I wasn't as out of touch as I originally thought. I found it very easy to ride two or three miles around town. I would drive the bike to work and then occasionaly ride during my lunch hour. It was a good starting exercise. If I rode those small distances I would wake up the next morning with sore muscles. But this was merely the beginning: two or three miles was one thing, going to and from work on a single day was something else altogether!

The Big Day
The Friday prior to Bike To Work Week, my bicycle was sitting in the office, like many days before. I packed up everything in my car and was getting ready to go when I asked my coworker Max if he thought it was a good idea for me to ride home. He wasn't too sure. It was starting to get dark and he knew I hadn't ridden that far. I decided to go anyway. And if it's really hard, then I'll find that out too late: I'll be committed to finish, right?

Turns out it was really easy. I was home in an hour. The next morning I got an early jump to ride back to work to pick up my car (still sitting in the Google parking lot). Very satisfying all around. Now all I needed to do was ride in both directions on the same day.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Biking to work

Earlier in the year, I saw all these people around the office wearing Google Bike To Work t-shirts, and I sort of found them cool. No, I found that the t-shirt made the people look cool, so I coveted one almost instantly. I didn't think I could actually get one of these. I hadn't regularly ridden a bicycle since high school, and only recently rode my wife's cruiser around town to do minor errands. If you don't know what a cruiser is, it might help you to know that I call it my wife's 'grandma' bike, and she usually responds by ringing its bell.

In addition to being out of practice (and out of shape, no less,) my commute required driving through real traffic. So when the opportunity arose to bike to work during this year's Bike To Work Week, I jumped at it. You must understand, I didn't do it because of the health benefits or the cost savings. I did it for that t-shirt. Yes, I am that shallow.

Purchasing a Bike
First thing I needed to do was purchase a bike. I did the least amount of research available by picking the style of bike I wanted. In my 20's I bought a friend's racing bike, which I acknowledge was a superior bike for the amount I paid for it, but I never found racing handlebars comfortable, nor did I feel safe bent so far forward. I settled on the notion of a comfort bike. I asked my coworker Steve to accompany me to a local bike shop, and we settled on one of the many Helen's Cycles in the Los Angeles area. I didn't feel like wasting time and comparison shopping, so after a few minutes and a 5-minute test ride, I settled on the Trek Navigator 200. It felt comfortable, had nifty new features I'd never heard of before (though have since learned are fairly standard nowdays) and I didn't get any signs of disapproval from Steve. Plus, it wasn't too hard on my wallet, so that felt good. I finally had a bike, and a month to get up to 20 miles a day!

(to be continued)

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Roger Ebert reviews The Longest Yard

This is an interesting and surprising review. Roger Ebert wrote his review for The Longest Yard three weeks after watching it. In between he attended the Cannes film festival. Sufficiently distracted, he had this to say.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Memorial Day in San Diego


I spent Memorial Day weekend in San Diego with Beth, my friend Tom and his fiance� Sue. This was a picture taken just outside the Botanical Gardens in Balboa Park, San Diego. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

A guide to sushi

From Chowhound.com

A recent study of sushi in restaurants in Oregon found that an appreciable amount of salmon sushi contains parasitic worms. Salmon was by far the worst, tuna the safest (no worms found at all).

As chowhound technical attache Pierre Jelenc (a biochemist) points out, even LIVING fish often contain wormy parasites, so it's not just a question of freshness. Sushi is risky food, and you might consider enjoying it sparingly and carefully.

On the other hand, you're never alone with a parasite...

One year in L.A.

So it's been a year since I moved to Los Angeles. This is not my first complete year in Los Angeles; I lived in the suburbs of LA (Thousand Oaks) as a contractor from June, 2000 to September, 2001. The difference is that back then I lived in corporate housing, didn't do very much outside of work and (corporate) apartment except for playing some Ultimate Frisbee and flying to New Jersey every month.

No, this time the cord is cut, so I can really say I'm living here. With my one year behind me, and at the risk of being a "quantity over quality" blogger, I'm going to list some of my favorite things about living in Los Angeles:

Sunday, May 22, 2005

OK, I'll bitch about Revenge of the Sith, but just a little.

I have another question: Why the hell didn't Owen and Beru name their child "Luke Lars?" Obi-wan knew Anakin was still alive, and naming the boy "Luke Not-My-Son-But-Son-Of-Sith-Lord" has a bit of "too stupid" to it.

When Moses was abandoned by his Levite mother and subsequently taken in by the Pharaoh's daughter, do you think he would have lived so long if he was intentionally named "Mike Levi"?

If you paint a giant bulls-eye and then watch it very carefully, you'll have enough time to watch it get hit; that's about it.

Thank God for Star Wars III

Preface: Am I going to mention any spoilers in this post? If you have lived under a rock and haven't heard what happens to Anakin, Obi-wan, Yoda, R2-D2 and C-3PO, this posting isn't for you. If you don't want to read someone's opinions of having seen Revenge of the Sith, this posting isn't for you, either.



I can't say that The Empire Strikes Back was the first movie sequel I can remember. I still remember commercials for The Bad News Bears go to Japan ("Are we gonna sit on our butts all day or are we gonna play ball?") and I never actually saw it until years later when we got 36-channels of cable bliss. However, The Empire Strikes Back, was a movie I was well aware of. I had seen Star Wars in the theaters (I hadn't seen either of the two Bad News Bears movies) and was really excited about the idea of a sequel movie.

Clearly, this was 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm making long-term marketing impressions in me. When the girl who sat in front of me in my 8th grade English class saw the movie, I asked her to describe everything to me. "He wants me to describe every second of the movie!" she said to someone next to her. This was technically incorrect since I really only wanted something a little more detailed than broad strokes, but that's not important.

So even though Star Wars Episodes I and II were mediocre, I was still going to see Revenge of the Sith. And I'm pleased for having seen it once and for all, because, unlike The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, this movie has left me both compete and empty, like the half-hour after coming down from attending a good, but not great, party. I'm pleased it's over; I'm pleased that the Star Wars Engine hasn't entangled me further, and best of all, I've no interest in seeing Revenge of the Sith a second time.

Here's the thing: there were a couple of things that everyone knew would occur between the beginning of ROTS and the beginning of ANH. They include, but are not limited to:
  • Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader
  • The Chancellor becomes the Emperor
  • The Republic becomes the Empire
  • A rebellion is formed, of which Leia Organa is a member
  • C-3PO and R2-D2 have no memory of their relationship with Anakin and Obi-Wan
  • Anakin fathers two children. Luke is hidden on Tattoine and Leia is adopted by Organan royalty
  • Almost all the Jedi are killed.
  • Obi-Wan hides on Tattoine
  • Yoda hides on Dagobah
  • A "Death Star" is almost completely built.
Now, George Lucas had a problem: there were so many plot-lines which needed addressing he could choose to resolve all of them, just the critical ones, or some in-between. Clearly he had to resolve primary plot issues with elegance, and that he did. But, he chose to resolve all secondary plot lines, and he did a poor, clumsy job of it.

For instance: C-3PO and R2-D2 were resolved in about 8 seconds of incongruity. It was jarring. Had he been able to better integrate them into the key dramatic elements, this would have been worth watching. Instead it felt like the scene was filmed as an obligation. Thanks, but no thanks. I would have preferred he not resolve their characters at all, and leave it to someone's future work, such as a novel or TV show. (As a side note, I realize now that an opportunity was lost by including them in the prequels altogether: creating characters whose future was unknown.)

Speaking of TV shows, Lucas hasn't given up on marketing to us: there are two TV series in the works. Like I said, these shows could could have been the opportunity to create elegant character conclusions. Instead, Lucas resolved everything, leaving nothing to the imagination. And for that, I'm grateful, because now I have the answers to everything. Free at last! Free at last!

Monday, May 09, 2005

Marshmallows - Lessons Learned

  1. You cannot use your grandmother's electric hand mixer to make marshmallows. It is likely to smoke, and you won't get enough air into your marshmallows. As my wife said, "Maybe it'll help if you put it on a higher speed," to which I said, "It's already on the highest speed." The only impact of this was that they didn't fluff up too much.
  2. You can add food coloring during the mixing phase, no trouble. Make sure to add one drop of coloring at a time.
  3. Unflavored gelatin smells. Bad. Don't attempt to overcompensate by adding 50% more vanilla. It leaves your marshmallows with a mild alcohol smell.
  4. After you've cut the marshmallows up, be sure to keep them from drying out. You can do this by putting a piece of bread in the airtight container, which will feed moisture to your confectionary goodies.
  5. When you give people the marshmallows, make sure to say that they're "Home-made." Otherwise they might think that you smooshed store-bought marshmallows into a pan and painted them pink. Save me from the humiliation!
  6. If you want to make breakfast cereal style marshmallows, I bet you could do it by letting the marshmallows dry out and then cut them into little pieces. I suspect it would also be good to limit the amount of air you mix into the batter, not unlike my debacle. Note: blue diamonds and purple horseshoes are your own problem.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

An attempt at making Marshmallows



Well, I decided that on my down-time day I was going to ride my spiffy new bicycle and make marshmallows. I decided on marshmallows because I found a recipe for it online posted on a wonderful blog called Cooking for Engineers. It intruiged me that they had a recipe for marshmallows, and I convinced my wife that it would be fun to make. As the picture shows, fun-to-make also means, really sticky. We haven't eaten it yet because it's hardening, which it should do overnight. It should be ready to eat tomorrow morning, in time for Mother's Day.

Can you spot the marshmallow in my beard? Can you spot the marshmallow all over my t-shirt? Fingers? Oh, man, it just kept getting messier and messier. Nice way to waste a morning.

Today was actually a busy cooking day for me: For breakfast, we had fruit salad (yummy yummy!) with sesame seeds sprinkled in, a tomato and onion fritatta with too much butter and cheese, and some homemade salsa (tomato, onion, red pepper, cilantro, a little salt, pepper and Cholula.) Then I went shopping for cookbooks. No, really. Later in the day was the marshmallow experiment and then I made some plain old chocolate-chip and walnut cookies, but there was extra cocoa added in, making it extra good.

What a very very good day.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Old match.com poem

Back before you were born, son, I was looking for love on match.com. There was a young woman whom I wound up basically not dating, but who asked me for a poem. After one or two back and forth poems, I wrote this, which I've always been fond of, and so now I share it with you:
No... please... no more rhyming...
My brain is so fried from software designing

That trying to match the ends of lines
Isn't working so well this time

And the tempo isn't working so well in these sentences
Which is why you don't write e-mail when you're senseless.

I fear that to rhyme the last word
I must end both lines with the very same word.

(Hey! This isn't as hard as I first might have thought,
It's supposed to be difficult, clearly it is not.)*

But torture is a poem that rhymes only close
And so I must abandon my prose.

The moral is: Poems whose styles are loose
Are best left scribed soley by a really drunk muse.

Synchlessly yours,

Rob

* The failed rhyme here needs a regional accent
Else you might get the joke, but only by ... uh ... accident.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Los Angeles Festival of Books



I went to the Los Angeles Festival of Books today. That was a fantastic event, a must see for anyone who can get to it. We went there with friends of ours, Lynn and Josh, and their daughter. I was looking forward to seeing them because I had been listening to the radio a few weeks ago and happened to hear Josh's name mentioned, and heard his voice as a bonus. So I was excited because I wanted to speak with him about it.

We met them at the children's stage. We settled in, and I turned to Josh and said, "So I heard you on the radio." Josh says, "Yeah, I heard you got locked out!"

I should back up. A few weeks ago I was driving with my wife down National Boulevard. No, that's half of it; we were driving in separate cars. I was following her down National Boulevard, and we were running pretty late. Now, those of you who know Los Angeles better than I already know there are two National Boulevards and perhaps the reason we couldn't find our destination was because we were on the wrong one. Never mind. The important thing was we were lost and running late.

So I'm driving behind Beth and listening to the radio when, like I said, I hear the reporter mention Josh's name and so on. I'm like, "Hey! I know him!" And it was nice because he doesn't have the easiest name to pronounce, and those of you who know me know that I consider it important to know how to pronounce someone's name.

Now the way Beth tells this story, I did not call her on her cell to give her the news, but, I should note at this point I did, in fact, call her. This turns out to be irrelevant.

Not long after the point when, depending on your point of view, I called Beth, we stopped at a red light in a long line of traffic. Something which I hadn't told you was that I expected that Beth would not have eaten, so I prepared by packing some celery sticks and peanut butter, and a mozzarella stick, to give to her at the right time. I'm good that way. So we're stopped at this red light, and I figure I'll get out, run to Beth, give her the food, and hop back in the car. Having locked myself out of the car many times in my life, I knew that the important thing to do was open my window so, in the event that I do lock the door, I can merely reach in and remain cool.

Alright. Time for action. I lower the window, lock the door, get out, run over to Beth and knock on the window. Beth freaks out because I had surprised her. She opens her window and I toss the food in and run back to the car, only to realize, as I had just typed, that the car door was locked, in the middle of a busy street, and the engine running to boot. True, I had opened my window, except it was just open enough that I could get part, but not all, of my hand through it. I pushed my hand, pulled it out, pushed it in, pulled it out, pushed on the window, and so on. Finally I took off my office access badge, which hung around my neck on a string, and frantically attempted to unlock the door by looping the string around my door lock. After 10 seconds of this, the woman behind me watching dumbfounded, Beth's repeated attempts at making contact by yelling my name finally caught hold. I looked at her, and saw she was dangling a key, a key to MY CAR, out her window. It's one thing that your wife has a spare key to your car in case she needs it. It's another thing that she carries it with her, even when she's driving her own car, because she knows your capacity for bonehead moves.

So I ran over to Beth, grabbed the key, ran back to my car, looked at the woman in the car behind mine and explained to her that it's my wife in front by pointing at my wedding ring and then thumbing back at Beth's car, unlocked the door, and got in, just in time for the traffic to move after the light had already changed to green. Cool as a cucumber.

It turns out that Beth told this story to Lynn, who told the story to Josh, but as the game of Operator goes, Josh believed that I actually ran over to Beth to tell her he was on the radio, and a dollar says it wasn't Lynn who made that adjustment. I insist that I called her on the phone, but really, in what position am I that making that clear exonerates me of buffoonery?

And that's who we spent the afternoon with at the book fair. But it was nice because I saw all these interesting booths of writers, publishers, and so on. Carl Reiner was on hand to read, "The 2,000 year old man goes to school." Hey, he came out, that was good, and he had a nice attitude. I wandered around, found a lovely cookbook booth, an ACLU booth, the Huntington Library booth (which was good because I had questions about their upcoming Newton exhibit) and the KPCC radio booth. KPCC is an NPR affiliate and I like their reporters, so I spent a minute briefly chatting with someone; mere small talk. As I walked away, Josh approached, and he said, "Hey, that's the guy who did the story on me," pointing back at the KPCC booth. I realized that the person to whom he was referring, the person whom I just spoke with 30 seconds prior, was Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, a well known KPCC reporter. I hear his stuff all the time. I should have recognized him to begin with, but it was nice that I could have the opportunity to speak with him again. So we go over, Josh says "Hi" to Adolfo and I introduce myself. Josh says, "Rob heard your report [about me] on the radio." Adolfo says, "The one who locked himself out of his car?"

Finally, a site for me!

Now this site makes me happy: http://restaurantwatch.com tracks Los Angeles restaurant hygiene inspection ratings, and I couldn't be happier. I have a hard enough time eating in a 'B', let alone a 'C' restaurant. However, at least now I can find out a little bit more about why restaurants have their ratings. Thanks food.lemonchicken.com!

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Jury Duty

I went to the Superior Courthouse today in downtown Los Angeles to report for Jury Duty. I was going to be asked to serve on a case that would take no more than seven days to complete. That could have been a single day, it could have been seven. Requesting a postponement of your jury service is much easier than than you think. In fact, it's civilized. They say, "You may have something important going on at work. You may have a sick child at home. If you think these things are important, so do we." The only requirement was to complete my service within three months. I merely filled out a piece of paper, picked a very good week for me to go, signed the paper and walked out. Really, I do appreciate that.

When I returned to the office later that morning, my coworker said, "that's the nice thing about being a foreigner, no jury duty."

I said, merely throwing him the straight line, "Service on a jury is an honor and a privilege."

Says the coworker, "I meant, it's a bad thing."

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Treo 600

I finally replaced my Nokia POS and said Goodbye to Cingular.

I purchased a Treo 600 and signed up with T-mobile.

The pros:
  • Really easy to use. Everything looks familiar, and if it's not familiar, it's intuitive.
  • I like the camera, even if it is mediocre resolution (640x480).
  • Software that lets me check plane schedules and phone numbers. Perfect.
  • Speakerphone rocks!
The cons:
  • The traditional speaker is mediocre. The reception is crackly, and we live on the 11th floor with an unfettered view. The T-mobile representative said that they're working on a tower two miles away, and that might be the reason why there's trouble. I hope it gets better, cause that's trouble.
  • Can't play Sim City anymore.
Also, note that Palm (or PalmOne, whatever) has released a PalmOS Developer Suite, which rocks! It's based upon Eclipse and Eclipse CDT and Cygwin. Everything is self-contained (it even comes with a JVM.) I wish that were available five years ago.

By the way, if you already have Cygwin running on your machine and you want to use the PalmOS Developer Suite, read the instructions about Cygwin installations. No, really, otherwise it sucks!

XSLT

Why was I afraid of XSLT? It is the easist thing ever!

Papers on Language Evolution

These past two weeks I've read two fantastic papers on language evolution: the first was written in 1998, and is really phenomenal: Growing a Language, by Guy Steele of Sun Microsystems, followed by Rules of thumb for the design of C++0x [pdf] [html], by Bjarne Stroustrup, now at Texas A&M. I was given the second paper to read, I can't find a link on the net just yet.

Both papers emphasised the importance of library growth over rapid language evolution. Guy Steele mentioned three things which he wanted to see added to Java: generic types, operator overloading, and lightweight user-defined types. The rest could come from libraries initiated by the user community. Bjarne Stroustrup said "Not every library should be a standard."

The thing which I really wanted to mention was a section written by Bjarne in a section called
"Experts and Novices":

C++ has drifted towards becoming an "expert-friendly" language. In a gathering [...] of experts, it is hard to build a consensus (or even interest) for something that "just" helps novices. The general opinion (in such a gathering) is typically that the best we can do for novice is helping them to become experts. But it takes time to become an(sic) expert and most people need to be reasonably productive during the time it takes.
That hit me as a trend I noticed in my work. I don't write languages, but I have had the occasion to write material which someone else needed an expert knowledge to understand. This is not uncommon, of course. All too often we find languages, libraries and tools which tend to require more of our understanding than we reasonably would expect to give.

I don't have a nice conclusion, just some jumbly thoughts.

West Wing Season 6 Finale

OK, the season is finally over. There were a couple of great episodes. The Josh/Toby fight was much, much more effective than I expected. The president lying on the bathroom floor having a petulant fit was superb. Also, did I miss something, or hadn't I seen a preview where Toby had given his notice? I must have missed that one.

On the flip-side, CJ as Chief of Staff is unbelievable, as in "not believable", and why would Santos choose Leo McGarry as a Vice Presidential candidate? Truth is, Leo apparently has the background. The first result from Google for Leo McGarry brings up this page, which mentions that not only was he the Secretary of Labor and a political powerhouse, but he commands $40,000 on the lecture circuit. So, maybe he wasn't such a bad pick after all. Then I wish they could have reminded us of these facts. Why should I have to go scouring for that information? It's been a while, guys.

Really, what fundamentally disappointed about the finale was how evident it was that it wasn't written by Aaron Sorkin. Readers of televisionwithoutpity.com gave the show an 'A', and maybe I'm comparing it to past season finales, but an 'A' for what? For twists and turns? The speech wasn't that great. As an opera, the episode played well, but I guess I'm still looking for those moments such as the one where the President Bartlett gives God a piece of his mind and he looked like he might actually get a quick shot. I'll still watch the show, but with much lower expectations. Yeah, right.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Holly's TV Adventure

My friend, Holly, was featured on an hourlong program on the Discovery Channel, Conception to Birth. We saw her, and also her husband Peter and daughter Zoë. I've mentioned Holly before, and this makes her my second most famous TV friend. Fortunately, I'm married to my most famous TV friend.

Here is the current schedule for showing the program:

  • Mar 14 2005@ 12:00 AM
  • Mar 17 2005@ 09:00 PM
  • Mar 18 2005@ 12:00 AM
  • Mar 20 2005@ 04:00 PM

My presumption is that further airings can be found here.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Photos from the LA Marathon

I posted these pictures using Picasa and Hello: Posted by Hello


This is a view from one of apartment buildings in my complex. You can see the runners way down there on the street.


I'm so impressed that someone bothers to carry that so far. Or maybe they picked it up about 50 feet ago just for the cameras.


There are cameras taking pictures, which is why this runner is raising his hands.


Half the fun was watching the fans.



Cause what you need during a marathon is a little challenge.


I am told this is called a 'catepillar' as in "Honey, I'm calling you from inside the catepillar."

Saturday, March 12, 2005

I've arrived.

That's it. I've finally made the big time. I received an offer in the mail to consider membership to the Beverly Hills Country Club, whose board of governors include:
  • Buzz Aldrin
  • Jimmy Connors
  • Merv Griffin
  • Leslie Moonves
  • Jim Nabors
  • Matthew Perry
  • Tom Selleck
So, I don't need to be snide about this; I was more in shock, to be honest, but I realized that what most likely happened is that someone got a list of Google employees in Los Angeles and took a chance that I was newly rich. Turns out that I'll disappoint them. Look, I can't even afford a frickin' house in Los Angeles! But hey, thanks for the offer.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Miscellaneous Stuff

  1. Last night we saw the an 'enhanced reading' of the opera The Tree, by Peter Wing Healey. Peter's desription of the show is:

    a tree spirit falls in love with an architect
    a developer expands his empire of sprawl
    a new city rises from the agony of death

    It was a mix of tongue in cheek with great characters, well-sung music. The story was nice, but I felt that it wavered a bit too much. That's all I really want to say. It's a good thing that I have such a wide breadth of opera experience which consists entirely of: an english-language version of The Barber of Seville for Kids, Rigoletto at the Metropolitan Opera, and Death of a Tree. Oh, and Tommy, if you count that.

    The cast was largely character actors and opera singers. The narrator was David Brisbin, whose wife, ER's Laura Innes, was in the audience. She is really quite beautiful in person.

  2. This afternoon, while walking through the Farmer's Market, I saw J. K. Simmons, from the Spider Man movies and The Ladykillers eating lunch with his family. It's starting to sink in that movie actors are very much like regular people.

  3. Today was the LA Marathon. The 30K mark passes the entire south entrance of our apartment complex, so I took many pictures. I will post some before too long.

As seen on Lessig Blog

The new FOX Blocker is a wonderful device for blocking the Fox News channel on your TV. It looks like a basic cable TV channel blocker, since as you place your order, you have to indicate which channel broadcasts FOX News. Does that mean if I give the channel number for another news station, such as MSNBC? Will it do nothing? What about if it were a different Fox channel, but not a news channel, such asFOX Sports? What about FX? Bravo? PBS? Will it filter programs that are produced by FOX but aired, in syndication, on The WB? Cause I'm not putting anything on my TV that blocks Married With Children.


This reminds me of a little story from my ski trip two weeks ago, one which I neglected to tell anyone, including my wife. On the last day, I left a little early to chill out and read the newspaper, so I went to one of the mountain's coffee houses. I was wearing my awesome Google sweatshirt. The woman behind the counter asked me if I worked for Google and I said that I did. She said she loved Google alot. "I used to have foxnews.com as my home page but now I have Google News as my home page." I only say: Hooray for Google.

Thursday, February 24, 2005


This is a picture halfway between Alta and Park City, Utah from our ski trip. I went with my two brothers, two nephews, and some friends. This is a picture out the back window. Hence, the horizontal lines. Posted by Hello

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Definitive Hitchhiker's Guide

The thing is, there's really no definitive Hitchhiker's Guide story, what with the radio series, television show, play, Infocom adventure, comic book, new radio series and so forth. IMO, except for the radio show, they're all adaptations, and considering how you might have discovered H2G2 yourself, even the radio series is merely an adaptation.

What I like about that is it resembles what I presume to be the sort of natural progression which storytelling had prior to copyrights and patents, albeit all within an individual.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Nuclear Attack Sub named after Jimmy Carter

In response to the news of a nuclear attack submarine being named after former US president Jimmy Carter, I called him to find out how he felt about it:

(ring)

JC: Hello?

RK: Hi, Jimmy.

JC: Hey! Robbie! How are you?

RK: Good. You?

JC: It's a beautiful day today. I'm in, uh, Costa Rica right now. It's so lovely. Hey! Did you know that we share the same birthday?

RK: Yeah, I did. But your birthday is public knowledge, mine sure isn't. How did you find out?

JC: I'm a former president of the United States of America; birth dates really aren't something difficult for me to get.

RK: Yeah.

JC: So what's up? How's Beth?

RK: She's good. Uh, you know, she ...

JC: Is she still doing the childcare business?

RK: Yeah. Wait, you mean child advocacy?

JC: Yeah.

RK: Yeah. Yeah. She's there, but the job is hard right now.

JC: What do you mean?

(Rob explains why Beth's job is hard.)

JC: That's a very well thought out explanation, Robbie.

RK: Well, thank you!

JC: Well, um, I have some news, too.

RK: What's that?

JC: The Department of Defense is naming a nuclear attack submarine after me.

RK: A nuclear sub.

JC: Yeah. Crazy, huh?

RK: Yeah.

JC: Yeah.

pause

RK: A sub?

JC: Yeah.

RK: Yeah.

pause

RK: It just seems ...

JC: What!?

RK: Sorry, I don't mean to be ...

JC: Don't be like that. I'm trying ...

RK: Yeah, I'm...

JC: ... trying to have a nice conversation here; please don't ruin it.

RK: You speak with semicolons?

JC: Don't digress. All of a sudden you don't approve?

RK: I guess I don't understand.

JC: What's to understand? I'm a former US president. Commander-in-chief and what-what. And stop making me say 'what-what.' This isn't Mary Poppins.

RK: But you're a pacifist.

JC: Pacifist, yes, but we still need a defense.

RK: Doesn't it seem odd to you that a Nobel Peace Prize winner would have a nuclear attack submarine named after him?

JC: Well, that's it, isn't it? Nobel Peace Prize. Did you happen to hear my acceptance speech?

RK: No, I didn't.

JC: Here's what I said, (pause) Here it is: '... my first chosen career was in the military, as a submarine officer. My shipmates and I realized that we had to be ready to fight if combat was forced upon us, and we were prepared to give our lives to defend our nation and its principles. At the same time, we always prayed fervently that our readiness would ensure that there would be no war.' So what is interesting to me is not the creation of strength, that's just going to happen, but rather, the growth of great wisdom to effectively control that strength.

RK: Right. I should read that.

JC: I think you might find it rather interesting.

RK: Yeah. I'm still not convinced. It still seems like your name on a nuclear attack submarine is an implicit acceptance of war.

JC: I should remind you that I'm also a trained nuclear physicist.

RK: Nuh-uh.

JC: Yuh-huh! Remember Three-Mile Island? When the nuclear energy plant melted down, my, uh, my first priority was to prevent panic and calm the American public. So, I read the hard data about the environment inside the plant, and fortunately it was safe. So to convince the American public that it was safe, I arranged a television broadcast from within the plant, and brought Rosilyn with me. I wouldn't have been able to do that if I didn't know in my head and believe in my heart that the plant was safe.

RK: You're fascinating.

JC: Oh, man. The TV reporters and cameramen set up their equipment and got as far away from me as possible though, I can tell you that. Ha!

RK: Heh heh.

JC: But, Robbie, here's what I like most about all of this. Any time someone hears about the USS Jimmy Carter, what will they think? They'll hear 'Jimmy Carter'. I don't mean to be iconic, but that name does stand for something which people might consider when they hear it.

RK: Like the proper use of a nuclear attack sub.

JC: Like the proper use of a sub specifically, but of their strength in general. That's what I hope it represents: a symbol of tempered strength.

RK: Like you, Jimmy. You're wise and strong.

JC: I wouldn't say that, but your premise is good.

RK: Yeah.

JC: You see the new trailer for the Hitchhiker's movie?

RK: Yeah. It looks good.

JC: So good!

RK: Are we going to see it?

JC: Sorry, now it's 'maybe'. Nigeria is still suffering a lymphatic filariasis outbreak and I'm probably going to have to travel at that time to help expand their program.

RK: But we could maybe get a screening, right? We're buds, Jimmy. Right?

JC: Right, Robbie. We're buds.

RK: OK, love to Roz and everyone. Thanks for the explanation.

JC: Yeah, nice to talk with you. See you in April.

RK: OK. Yeah. Bye.

JC: Bye.

OH, YES!

The new The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trailer is out, and it actually looks as good as the trailer for Star Wars, Episode 1.

I really need to watch this as little as possible.

The bit with the legs, while totally unfamiliar, is a good visual movie joke; I'm very pleased.

My final comments on the Game of Death

What a fun experience it has been these past eight years playing Game of Death. I remember the first game in 1995, which wasn't run by me, but actually run by Brian Smith. It's nice to see some things that haven't changed, like the old-time style website, which still has frames, making it impossible to reasonably link to pages within the site, and the wonderfully trickling blood in the "Game of Death" icon. In addition, the number of people who have played all eight games are very few: in addition to Mark and me, there's Larry Beiderman and Keith Macklin.

Everybody knows Larry; he's not only responsible for our trophies, he's had a rule named after him, a song dedicated to him (people want to *be* him), been mentioned in the news, and the butt of a couple of top-ten lists that are probably too obscure to detail here. Keith Macklin has been a much more silent player, writing his list, sending me $5 every year with a little note wishing me well. Thanks for playing, Keith.

The first game was actually won by ... me. It was my best submission, and probably my last decent one. Not to fear, we had our fingers on the failing pulse of death-prediction, picking such unlucky folks as Spiro Agnew, Carlos Castenada, Leon Hess, Morton Downey, Jr. and Richard Harris (leaving, as Mark J sadly noted, Peter O'Toole without a drinking buddy.) Marsha's dramatic 1998 victory is also notable. You ought to read some of the old game progressions (see the Results links on the main page.)

There are some notable players, including Mike Richard who won three years in a row. Marsha always gave a great fight, and oddly has a significant series of "Cryogenic Awards", including the coveted "L. Ron Hubbard Cup". If you don't know about this, you really missed out, and can find them by looking at the Awards link on the left-side menu.

Thanks for playing, everyone. I'm sad to see it go. --Rob K

Random Events

  • Despite Beth and I both not ascribing to the Valentine's Day consumer phenomenon, we had a most lovely evening at Descanso Gardens, where we were treated to a four course meal, with a prearranged wine selection, a rather good lounge piano player, fairly private setting and servers being great servers. Really wonderful.
  • I learned today that an 'informal presentation' doesn't mean 'preparation is not required'. I gave an informal presentation about my project to coworkers. I don't need Power Point but brushing up on a couple of pieces of information would have helped. As Beth says, "You can't always be the smartest person in the room, but you always be the most prepared." I don't need to be so hard on myself, though. The problem with informal presentations is that you don't know where they're going to go.
  • It's not so hard to work for 12 hours in a row, when your wife is out of town for the day. Are there other things in life except my job? Not right now.
  • Currently reading: Irons in the Fire, by John McPhee. I can't wait to finish it so I can re-read Bridge of Birds, followed by its two sequels, which I have finally received.
  • We finally finished our very last Game of Death. Nine years. It was time. It wasn't fresh any more; it had become a chore. I'm sad that it's gone, but glad that I don't have to tend to it anymore. I think I'm going to post my farewell comments.

Goodbye AT&T, Goodbye Cingular

My first exposure to Cingular was actually at an Ultimate Frisbee tournament in 2001. A two day tournament in Birmingham, Alabama, Mud Bowl, was celebrating its 20th anniversary, and was sponsored by a company I had not heard of, named Cingular Wireless. The tournament logo was wonderful because it was composed of two rounded exes, which, together, looked like the roman numeral equivalent for 20. They looked like two jacks. You know, the kinds with which you play Jacks. The two exes, I found out, were the icons of Cingular's logo. Well, that sure is nice! What a cute, friendly little icon! Hi, Jack!

Fast forward four years. Cingular has purchased AT&T Wireless and is now my provider. Long story short? They gave me poor technical support, and repeatedly have done nothing to make me feel good about the product they sell. My wife will tell you I'm very nice to customer service representatives, particularly those I deal with on the phone, and I'm no longer nice to Cingular. They want me to repeat why I'm frustrated with them every time I call, even though I was guaranteed it was documented on my second call. I believe that support representative. I'm more inclined to believe that it's the support staff down-the-line who won't read my cast history.

While I'm on the subject, try using their automated phone system. I've heard that some automated phone systems can detect stress levels and will route angry customers directly to a human being. I'm trying to find out if Cingular's automated phone system has this feature.

Where's my nice summary? I have none, really. Blogs are free. You get what you pay for.

[Epilogue] Here, you want a summary? Cingular can shove its jacks right up its ass. Bye, Jack! How's that for a summary???!

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Make unimportant things easy

I'm a longtime user of Hotmail, and have always been happy with it. Until recently, there was a free version of a great tool called Hotmal Popper which provides a POP3 interface to your Hotmail accounts, meaning I could use Hotmail with any POP3 client I wanted.

Hotmail's been my secondary email provider for a long time, and is only given out to websites. Recently, I've been depending on Hotmail's web interface, partly because I have abandoned using Microsoft Outlook for home email, but mostly because I depend on Gmail as my primary mail interface.

Hotmail does a good job filtering my junk mail. Used to be, if I wanted to empty my Junk Mail folder, I would click the Empty button. A Yes/No dialog box appeared, and pressing Y (or Space, I don't remember) could confirm my delete request. This dialog box was generated by the OS, so it was easy to identify and was placed right on top of my browser window.

Microsoft has managed to complicate the Empty Junk Mail folder process to the point of a long blog post. See, kids, Microsoft wanted to have Hotmail users take part in the Junk Mail identification game ("your friend may be a spammer! report them to the spam authorities!") So they did this by adding a checkbox to the Empty Folder confirmation window. They even made this confirmation part of the process even when you delete a single message from the Junk Mail folder summary. How was this dialog box rendered? See, as common functionality, all browsers provide some simple dialog boxes including the Yes/No dialog box that used to be the Empty Folder confirmation window. This new dialog box, however, is a Yes/No, with a checkbox. This isn't provided by default with a browser, so Microsoft wrote a new dialog box from scratched, rendered with HTML in displayed in its own mini-browser window.

Why is this a problem? A modal dialog box provided by the OS forces my input to go to that dialog. The dialog box is centered somewhere which grabs my attention, and to confrim, I could hit a single key. With an HTML form, you have less control over where the window goes (particularly on a two-monitor machine) and I have to hunt for it, usually on the other window.

Can I still press the Y key? No. The simplest set of steps I could find to confirm removal was to find the window (remember, on a two monitor machine, it could be out of easy reach of my view and mouse) and press TAB followed by SPACE. Is this really a big deal? Should I complain about such an interface?

I think so, and here are my three reasons. First, I have to hunt my monitor for the delete confirmation window, which means the act of deleting a message from my Junk Mail folder is made more complicated. Second, I believe this act of forcing me to participate in the junk mail identification proces is intrusive and presumptive. I want an interface where the default activity is passive, and only participate when I choose to be active. Finally, and this is what offends me most of all, it takes more work to delete junk mail than to delete regular mail. It just goes against my principles for good user interface design. There's nothing I can do about it, except vote with my feet which I am doing, as soon as I can.

Update 2005-05-02: This should have been called "Make unimportant things unobtrusive." Cause it's the important things which should be easy, no?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Google Snow Jam 2005

I took some photos at Google Snow Jam 2005. I didn't actually post them, but my friend Kenny did, so here they are.

There are some other good pics which I might post separately, but hey.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

British TV Addiction

Woah. I haven't seen a TV show come from Britan that was as promising as this since I, Claudius! Now, I don't speak in terms of new programming; Beth and I watch old British TV from DVDs. We saw I, Claudius about two years ago. Since then we've watched almost all of the Cadfael series, two very good episodes of Prime Suspect and a one disappointing episode of Inspector Morse. A&E's Poirot doesn't count, even though it's fantastic.

Now, we're enjoying two: Cracker, however, stands out. After just one episode, we've both decided this was watchable, exciting, interesting and complex. The other show, a mini-series sadly limited to seven episodes, is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, part of our Alec Guinness obsession. The first episode was weak and difficult to follow, but the second episode more than made up for it. My only disappointment is that Sir Alec doesn't get much screen time in the first two episodes. Is this going to change, given that he has top billing? It doesn't really bother me. If, however, the show starred my son, for example, you would find me standing next to the couch, screaming at the TV for them to put my son in, for chrissake.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Hypnodisk

Everyone should have one of these.

Alec Guinness

My wife and I watched Kind Hearts and Coronets tonight, starring, among others, the great Alec Guinness. I think if you watched absolutely anything else he has done, you will learn to appreciate why people think it's sad he's mostly remembered for Star Wars. It was a surprisingly enjoyable film. It was obvious the story was well written and Sir Alec was almost showing off by creating and portraying eight different convincing characters. It was funny, but more in a Shakespearean kind of way. More like the in-between Shakespeare-and-now kind of funny.

An even more enjoyable film is Sir Alec's The Ladykillers, where he's wonderfully effective, and so is good old reliable Herbert (Going Bananas) Lom. This is a wonderful film, and is much smoother than what the Coen brothers' attempted with their 2004 remake. I urge you to see it.

Quality TV

I'm sick today for the first time in months. In fact, the last time I got sick was my first week at Google. I couldn't manage to fall asleep last night so I perused cable to find something to keep me company. Around 4:30 AM I found the film Going Bananas (other link) an awful film with Dom DeLuise and JJ Walker and a kid who looks like a young Ray Liotta with a coral necklace and a Southern California accent. No offense to Ray, who, by the way, I shared a mutual stare from my Nissan Sentra looking, while he was in his black awesomemobile, both merging onto route 78 at exit 14 on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Let me point out one scene I watched: there's some restaurant, obviously in Africa. A midget in a monkey suit, whom I am supposed to believe is a monkey, is hanging from a ceiling fan while police officers below try to subdue him, including the police chief, played by a jolly fat African man in tan short sleeves and gaps in his teeth. Dom and JJ are also laughing (for us, I think) and Ray Jr. is pleading to Herbert (did he really need the money?) Lom - "Please, sir! Please don't kill my monkey!" Then there's another scene where Dom is sleeping in a safari vehicle and a lion climbs on top of it. The lion sweeps his tail into Dom's face and he wipes it away ... like it's a fly! Get it?! Dom DeLuise swatting a fly and he doesn't even know what danger he's in! Get it? It's funny!

Later on that afternoon I found Divorce Court, which was so obviously phoney I'm not even going to bother finding a link to provide to you.

Lastly, I found Fear Factor, which I'd never seen before. This was Fear Factor of Champions, or something. Nice of NBC to have a link to the show I caught. They had to milk goats ... with their mouths. You read that right. How is that acceptable at 5PM? I long for the good old days when everyone was in an uproar about even showing breasts on TV.

I'm glad Alec Guinness is not alive to see me blog about him in the same posting as goat nipple sucking. Oh, I can't do it. I'll start a fresh post.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Budget Suggests a Deficit in Leadership

This is another superb letter to the LA Times editor, from Thursday, January 27, 2005.
Where are the "moral values" of this administration in requesting $80 billion more for war ("Budget Deficit to Set Record," Jan. 26) while the people of South Asia die of disease, while Americans die from lack of healthcare and adequate food and housing, and the big scare about Social Security might leave all of us scrambling for a decent future?

It is embarrassing to be an American right now, as we are forced to listen to compassionate rhetoric in the face of merciless policy.

The values of true compassion, love, kindness and generosity are left on the page of every speech about hope and freedom.

It is hard to understand how so many good, honest, religious people can support this administration in light of the hard, sad facts facing us.

It is even harder to understand how Congress can just sit back and be walked on, like a nuisance of governance, in the path to inevitable acquiescence.

I can only wonder what that $80 billion, and the trillions over the coming years, could do to better the lives of so many suffering souls that this government is not only leaving behind but burying in the process.

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater
Pasadena

Beth's Letter To Editor published in LA Times

My wife, Beth, had her letter to the LA Times editor published on Thursday.
Re "Tax Breaks Intensify State Fiscal Debate," news analysis, Jan. 24: We agree that all Californians should be asked to do their fair share, including our largest corporations and wealthiest residents, particularly those who have benefited greatly from recent federal tax cuts. Budgets are not simply financial documents; they are moral and political statements about government's priorities and choices.

The governor and our elected leaders are making the wrong choices for California's children by taking any discussion of taxes and needed reforms out of the equation in their approach to balancing the budget. We urge our governor and elected leaders to support a budget that makes better choices for California's children, helping the more than 1.7 million children who already struggle with poverty, and the more than 750,000 children who lack any type of health insurance.

Beth Osthimer
Director
Children's Defense Fund, California
Los Angeles

Barry Hughart wrote three books?

Until today I thought that Barry Hughart, author of one of my favorite books, "Bridge of Birds," had only written one book in his career. Turns out that he wrote two others, many years ago, "The Story of the Stone" and "Eight Skilled Gentlemen", both continuing the saga of Master Li and Number Ten Ox. That really has made my day. They seem to be difficult to find, but I'm working the eBay angle.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Why Animate Human Faces?

I met Neil Krepla at a birthday party today. Neil has been a visual effects supervisor on many movies over the last n years (n > 20). We had a nice talk about the benefits of Renderman over ray tracing, interesting changes in visual effects over the last n years (n > 20), how he watches visual effect films and many other topics.

We spent a good amount of time talking about human faces, and the difficulties and failures of human face animation that make it so unconvincing. I suggested that the Final Fantasy production team did a pretty good job of animating human faces and he said that they did a good job with poses, but once they moved, they gave themselves away. He explained to me one of the big flaws of The Polar Express was that you could not see the childrens' souls in their eyes. I said, "I just don't understand why they do it. If it's unconvincing, if they can't hide the fact that a human face is a visual effect, I'd just rather not have them do it."* He said the new Lemony Snicket movie has a young child, and that they did a surprisingly effective and seamless integration of a CG representation with twin child actors which was important because, hey, you couldn't have a two-year-old performing all these dangerous stunts. Apparently this movie is actually successful in pulling it off. I'm interested in seeing for myself.

Here's an article about CG on Lemony Snicket, and Sunny in particular.

* Ok, I didn't really say that, but I'm making the story flow.

Plastic Tube Animals

This is so wonderfully cool that you should just look for yourself. Story and picture can be found here. Movies can be found here.

You're not there yet? OK, here's the six word summary: Giant Plastic Wind-powered Animals In Motion.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Best thing I heard at Squaw Valley

From my new friend:

Her: "If everyone could just pick, they would pick to be bisexual."
Us: "What?!"
Her: "Yeah. Supply and demand. Supply and demand."

:)

Saturday, January 15, 2005

"The Freshman"

Now this is worth reading. This is a wonderful piece of work.

If you haven't read "The Raven", the wonderfully tragic classic by Edgar Allan Poe, read this first.

Then go to pages 13 and 14 of this.

If it quacks like a duck...

... it's a duck. If it lies like a liar, it's a liar.

Excellent perspective by Molly Ivins, titled A bounty of Bush blunders.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The Stanislaw Lem Cover Quiz

The Stanislaw Lem site is running a contest where you can win an autographed copy of one of his books. A series of Lem's books have just been published in Turkey. The contest is to guess the books just from the covers. I think I can do well. This is a wonderful puzzle!

I should note that I have scanned the covers of all my Lem books as submissions for Lem's site. It ain't pretty, but it wasn't built for you.