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July 2005 Archives

Grow: The RPGish version

Some of you may have seen a wacky puzzle game called Grow. You have a bunch of gadgets that you need to select in just the right order. You can see what they do when you use them in different orders, and from that you need to deduce the correct one without resorting to brute froce. Very cryptic but interesting. The same guys have just made a new one, same idea, but with an RPG-inspired theme (not RPG gameplay though!): Grow RPG. I actually solved it. Yay! I don't think I ever beat the original Grow, though admittedly that was harder (You have to place 12 items in order in the original, as opposed to 8 in the new one.)

The TV screech

I can hear the high pitched screech of a muted TV even a room or two over. What I find really weird about it is how the pitch is so high that I don't really feel like I'm "hearing" it.. Rather, it's almost like I just "sense" it. I know hearing is a sense, but, well, that's the best I can explain it. It's just such a weird feeling.

Do I have spyware on my Mac? Or: www.net.net oddities

Update Sep-07: A couple of new pieces of info:

A commenter said that he had a PC on the same network that worked just fine, so it seems to be a problem at the computer level after all.

I noticed that if I go to http://subjunctive.net.net (or with www in front), I get redirected to http://www.net.net/search.asp?Keywords=subjunctive. So I now think that there's some caching bug introduced in Tiger that sometimes tacks on an extra ".net". Hm.

Whoa. I just noticed that if you type something invalid.net, like http://gobbledygoop.net/, it'll redirect. Useful information! Can anyone else running OS X and reading this try this and see if it works?

* * *

Update Jul-26: I'm pretty sure it's not on my computer, but rather a case of DNS cache poisoning on Comcast's servers. *sigh* Nothing I can do but hope Comcast upgrades their DNS servers. Maybe they could get some from, oh, say, Infoblox? :P

* * *

I'm having this weird problem that comes and goes. Everything always works fine if I go to www.subjunctive.net, but if I try to go to subjunctive.net from home, I get redirected to http://www.net.net/search.asp?Keywords=subjunctive. HUH?! The really weird thing is, I get the correct IP back if I do a DNS lookup with dig or host, but my computer is apparently trying to contact the WRONG address when I actually sent an HTTP request:

kenlu@shell-beach:~% host subjunctive.net
subjunctive.net has address
kenlu@shell-beach:~% wget http://subjunctive.net
--07:08:58--  http://subjunctive.net/
           => `index.html'
Resolving subjunctive.net...
Connecting to subjunctive.net[]:80... connected.
HTTP request sent, awaiting response... 302 Object moved
Location: http://www.net.net/search.asp?Keywords=subjunctive [following]
--07:08:59--  http://www.net.net/search.asp?Keywords=subjunctive
           => `search.asp?Keywords=subjunctive.1'
Resolving www.net.net...
Connecting to www.net.net[]:80... connected.
HTTP request sent, awaiting response... 200 OK
Length: 10,465 [text/html]

100%[================================================>] 10,465        38.15K/s             

07:09:00 (38.04 KB/s) - `search.asp?Keywords=subjunctive.1' saved [10465/10465]

Has anyone else seen similar behavior?

Update: I found I could get it to go away by power cycling my cable modem. Seems to indicate that the problem lies with Comcast. Weirdness.

Portrait of the Invisible Pink Unicorn

You may have heard the "Invisible Pink Unicorn" argument against believing in God based on faith, without evidence. It goes something like this: "I could claim that there is an invisible pink unicorn, perhaps somewhere in space where we can't touch it either, and I have as much evidence for its existence as someone else might have for the existence of God. So if you can believe in God, why not believe in the Invisible Pink Unicorn?"

There's a flaw in that argument. It claims that if something can't be proved, it makes no sense to believe that it's true. This is generally very useful, of course, since history has shown that human intuition is incredibly flawed, and there's a reason we use the scientific method. Even though there are some things which you can't prove or haven't proved that are still true, the Invisible Pink Unicorn argument states that all unprovable things are equally valid. I'm not sure that's the case.

Now, personally, I have never experienced a religious vision or epiphany. If someone does experience it, though, I can see why they would choose to believe that as reality, even if it's not scientifically provable. I would still try to rule out psychological or other causes first, but I would not claim that such beliefs are inherently invalid. I still subscribe to Carl Sagan's "extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence", but "extraordinary evidence" for one person just might not be available to others. And thus, I don't really fully buy in to the Invisible Pink Unicorn argument any more.

* * *

The one thing I still find really amusing about the IPU, though, is how it's invisible, but also pink! Now that's deep! :) I've seen someone say that the IPU is "invisible by evidence but pink by faith". Perhaps the true believers would need to experience some event that makes them truly believe in its pinkness? (And see, that's ultimately the difference: No one has really had a religious vision about invisible pink unicorns... or so I hope.) Anyway, I decided to go about making a portrait of this. Behold:

[Invisible Pink Unicorn]

"Oh, that's just a blank square," you say. "Hardy har har. It's not that funny." But no! You would be wrong! That actually is an image of a pink unicorn, but there's an alpha channel that makes the picture completely transparent! If you open it up in an image editor with good PNG support and remove the alpha channel, you can see that the following image is in the file:

[Visible Pink Unicorn]

It's just normally completely transparent.

"I am speechless," you think. "Kenneth really needs to get out more." :P

One oddity is that Photoshop has crappy PNG support, if you open it up in Photoshop, all you'll be able to see is an empty image.

I'm not sure what this means. Perhaps we should seek God through Fireworks MX or GraphicConverter, but Photoshop is the path to heresy? :P

P.S.: I originally copied the unicorn image from this page and made it pink; I didn't draw it myself.

Wensleydale, Gromit?

Check out Google Moon. Now try zooming in all the way. :D


E: Oh hey. Roberts is a Harvard Law alum. HLS is going to continue its domination of the Supreme Court!
K: *sigh* When is MIT going to get the chance to dominate SCOTUS? :P
E: When they invent the computer Justice! And make all other Justices obsolete!

And thus the following image was born:

[RoboJustice 3000]

(Just my little contribution to Red Robot World Domination.)

Now the really spooky thing is that I googled "robojustice", and there were only 12 hits, but one of them was actually a 1991 article referring to Justice O'Connor!

In her dispassionate approach, she may come closest on the court to meting out justice by the book.

''RoboJustice,'' she might be called. The nation's first female justice, nominated to the high court 10 years ago today, seems almost to embody the term ''judicial restraint.''

On looking at bad drivers

If you drive, this has probably happened to you:

A car ahead of me does something irritating, like swerve into my lane, drive 65 in the left lane on a freeway, or block traffic trying to make a left turn when there's a sign that says "NO LEFT TURNS 4-6PM M-F". I drive around and peek through their window to take a look at the driver.

But why do I do that? I might excuse myself with something like, "I want to see the face of my enemy!" but I bet the real reason I do it is to establish or confirm a stereotype for who is or is not a bad driver, based solely on physical characteristics. Moreover, stereotyping based on the car's physical properties might make sense, but stereotyping based on the driver whom you normally can't even see? Well, there's just no real excuse for it. Yet, I do it all the time. Odds are, you do too. It's human nature.

I still feel kinda bad for doing it, though.

And then I drive on.

Crazy vintage car pileup

Take a look at this pileup. Apparently, no one was seriously hurt. More photos and a thread (read bottom up) at this page. This happened at a vintage car racing event right at the start of the race.

If you live in Chicago,

Happy Roger Ebert Day!

This will be the coolest keyboard ever

If this truly comes to pass, and the designs claim it wil in 2006 for "less than the price of a good mobile phone", it will truly be the coolest keyboard ever.

Some Shockwave puzzle games

This Hapland thing is kinda cute, though it's quite frustrating. The one tip I'd give is that timing can matter a lot. There's a link in there to the sequel, which I haven't gotten into yet. This river crossing game sure brought back memories! Be sure to read the English instructions under the game, unless you speak Japanese. :P If you're in the mood for something easier, there's this Lego Treasure Hunt game, where all the graphics are homemade stop-motion Lego! (Btw, since it's easy to miss, the red puzzle is in the room with the shark.)

Costco: The Anti-Walmart

There's been a lot of articles comparing Costco and Walmart lately. Whereas Walmart pays its employees poverty-level wages and locks night-shift employees in the building, Costco pays its employees more than most stores and gives them excellent benefits. The costs are apparently offset by reductions in employee turnover and employee theft. The CEO insists that their policies are business decisions and not altruism, but I respect them for trying to do both, and they're actually succeeding so far.

Judevac sent me this NYTimes article about Costco, which goes into more depth about their other business practices, like how they have a policy of marking up products at a maximum of 14 to 15 percent. Also, I didn't realize before that the current CEO founded Coscto, but he also helped to found Price Club. I liked this quote from the CEO:

"On Wall Street, they're in the business of making money between now and next Thursday," he said. "I don't say that with any bitterness, but we can't take that view. We want to build a company that will still be here 50 and 60 years from now."

Luckily, despite complaints, Costco's stock has actually been rising, too. I guess stockholders are learning to think a little long term.

Btw, I doubt any of my readers care, but the NYTimes also has an article about the creation of the new Battlestar Galactica series. I'm just so happy that what I predicted is actually beginning to happen: Around the turn of the millennium, I ranted about how excited I was that the cost of visual effects was going down, so that in a few years' time, we'll finally start to see intelligent science fiction. Because science fiction no longer has to mean big budget, it's finally broken the bonds of having to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Yay!

Now in the public domain: His Girl Friday, Plan 9 From Outer Space, and Night of the Living Dead!

As a bit of a counterpoint to the rant in my last post about the last days of fair use, many movies have actually fallen out of copyright. Now, normally, nothing before 1920 will fall out of copyright in the foreseeable future, but the owners of some works failed to properly renew their copyrights. Archive.org lets you download entire feature films in MPEG formats of a variety of sizes. Here's their feature film section. Some of the famous ones I've found are His Girl Friday, which was notable for its fast-talking female lead, Plan 9 From Outer Space, notable for being labeled "the worst movie ever made" by most such lists :), and the original Night of the Living Dead.

So what's cool about these movies is not just that you can download and watch them for free; you're also free to splice and edit them and to use them in projects of your own, remixing them and making derived works.

The unstoppable tide of fair use destruction

I hadn't heard of HDCP until reading this Engadget article. Apparently, the next generation of TVs and monitors will all have copy protection built in to the display, and HD-DVD and Blu-Ray discs may require HDCP-enabled monitors to display full-resolution images.

Basically, what this means is that it'll be even harder to make a few personal copies of media you buy or get off the air, things which are perfectly legal. (And let's not forget the wonderful DMCA laws, which basically say: Once the producer puts in some copy protection, getting around copy protection is illegal in and of itself now, regardless of whether it would've been legal to copy it otherwise. I mean, what the hell?)

What makes me sad is that people are putting up with this these days. I remember when I was a kid, and many software packages had incredibly annoying copy protection. People got so pissed off that the software companies stopped doing it. What happened? Why are things different now? I think people are just more complacent now. Either that, or the media companies have gotten better at their propaganda. (In essence, they use faulty statistics to claim huge losses when the losses are likely small. They also often say they're fighting large scale piracy, when they're really fighting home copying, since professional pirates always find a way around it anyway.)

Thing is, I'm not saying they suffer no losses from copying. That may be true in some cases (like how I buy a lot more music now because I went through an MP3 phase to discover and grow to appreciate music in general), but I'm even willing to grant them that they probably suffer some losses. The issue is that they exaggerate those losses. Whereas before we might have collectively seen consumer rights as outweighing some small losses, they've made many people see consumer rights as being overwhelmed by (imaginary) massive losses.

Sorry for the rant.

Line breaks as punctuation in IMs

Kenneth: I like how you can use line breaks in im conversations to represent several different punctuation marks
Kenneth: we can use them in place of periods
Kenneth: other times
Kenneth: we use them in place of commas
Kenneth: or we can use them
Kenneth: for dramatic pause
Kenneth: in that case, they don't necessarily correspond to any punctuation mark
Kenneth: at all
Kenneth: and yet, that had a slightly different effect than if I had just written:
Kenneth: or we can use them for dramatic pause
Kenneth: it's a bit different even when replacing a comma. consider:
Kenneth: and yet
Kenneth: that had a slightly different etc.
Kenneth: that feels different from the comma version
Kenneth: what's interesting, too, is that it can't just be a line break
Kenneth: it has to be a "new IM", which is subtly different from hitting ctrl-enter to get a new line. this just wouldn't be right:
Kenneth: or we can use them
for dramatic pause
Kenneth: what I find fascinating about it is that it's different from anything in normal written prose. instead, it comes from the rhythm of conversation, which is what IM is meant to replace.
Kenneth: actually, the closest written analog would probably be line breaks in poetry or songwriting

Won't somebody please think of the children

Except I'm totally serious this time. Of course, I imagine the idea is precisely to discourage kids from accepting toys and candy from soldiers and thus seeing them in a positive light. *sigh*

Least Appropriate Racist Insult Ever

So I'm playing Halo 2 online, and this one guy's named himself "B1N L4D3N". He doesn't have a mic, but this OTHER guy's trash-talking him, telling him what he's going to do to him, etc. At one point, the guy calls him a "sand Jew". WTF? He called bin Laden a "sand Jew"?!?!

Okay, now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure bin Laden WOULD take it as an insult to be called Jew, but I'm also pretty sure that's not what the guy had in mind. :P

* * *

In vaguely related news, I heard some various rumors about why Dave Chappelle suddenly disappeared, and I was trying to find out what happened to him. I googled for him, except I made a typo and only used one "P". The top Google hit for what happened to dave chapelle turned out to be from the skinhead.net forums, and they're fans! ... !

Incidentally, if you're also wondering what happened to him, Time interviewed him back in May. He says he didn't check in to a mental hospital; he just needed to take a step back from the stresses of his sudden rise to fame. Here's what really happened:

"During my ascent, I've seen other people go through that wall to become really big. They always said that fame didn't change them but that it changes the people around them. You always hear that but you never really understand it. But now that I'm there that makes a lot of sense and I'm learning what that means. You have to have people around you that you can trust and aren't just out for a meal ticket."

The breakdown in trust within his inner circle seems to have led him to question the material they were producing. He seems obsessed with making sure the material is good and honest and something that he will be proud. "I want to make sure I'm dancing and not shuffling," he says. "What ever decisions I make right now I'm going to have live with. Your soul is priceless." The first two seasons of his show "had a real spirit to them," he says. "I want to make sure whatever I do has spirit."

So he's actually taking a breather to make sure he doesn't get blinded by fame. You gotta respect that.

Paper on meat from a vat!

There's an actual paper out now on how to grow edible meat without the animal. Found via this Ars Technica article. Wow. I didn't realize we were so close to this stuff, but I guess it makes sense. If we're talking about growing human organs from stem cells, why not chunks of animal flesh? I bet it'd take a long long time for this sort of thing to pass FDA (and USDA?) approval though. :) I sure look forward to the ethical debates when this stuff actually gets made. I can see some ethical vegetarians finding this acceptable, and I can see some people finding this even more appalling. Personally, I'm a big fan of animal-less meat research, because I eat meat, but I do feel a little guilty about the animals getting killed for it. I don't know if animal-less meat will be a reality in my lifetime, but I'd eat it!

Classic Mac Games Ported to Mac OS X

I just created a new permanent page about Classic Mac Games Ported to Mac OS X. Can you believe that no such page previously existed (that I could find, anyway)? How can something NOT already exist on the Internet?!

London bombs

This bus bomb went off about 5 blocks away from where I used to live, also close to where I used to work. I'm just glad that no one there seems to have been injured, and that University College London Hospital, which I walked by almost every day and went to a couple of times, is and able to help.

4 July, 2005

So if the 4th of July is for celebrating our independence from the British, why is it the date we most often say IN THE BRITISH FORMAT? Huh?! Huh?! Think on THAT!

(I apologize for any inconvenience I may have just caused by BLOWING YOUR MIND.)

Welles and Spielberg do Wells

I just got back from the movie. The short version of my review is that it scared me more than any other movie.... And it wasn't cheap "boo" type scares, either. The movie managed to fill me with a deep sense of dread about the human condition. Unlike most of Spielberg's movies, this is a bleak, almost depressing story with only the faintest glimmer of hope. It doesn't affect everyone the same way, though, so don't necessarily go in expecting the same experience. But first...

The radio version starring Orson Welles was broadcast the night before Halloween in 1938, and so it's still under copyright, but you can find it in RealAudio format or via a a slow MP3 link. It's less than an hour long.

The radio broadcast is famous for how closely it mimicked real radio news and caused hysteria. It starts out with a weather report about a strange low pressure area, and then we're listening to "Ramón Raquello and his orchestra". Soon, we start getting frequent news interruptions about mysterious explosions on Mars, a meteor crash, and then, before you know it, "Ladies and gentlemen, due to circumstances beyond our control, we are unable to continue the broadcast from Grovers Mill. Evidently there's some difficulty with our field transmission."

The show continues on with broadcasts from various areas, often ending the same way. Eventually, a little more than a half-hour into the broadcast, the tripods destroy the CBS broadcast building itself. Now what I didn't know is that there's a second half of the show. The next 20-something minutes mostly consist of a surviving character talking, classic radio-show style, about the post-apocalyptic world he's been living in since the attack. It kinda drags on until the classic ending. The first half of the show was fascinating even today, but I tuned out during much of the second half.

Toast Toast Toast and a half

Now back to the Stephen Spielberg movie. I've been thinking about the end of the world a lot lately for some reason. A few weeks ago, I had a dream where I woke up one day, and everyone in the world had just cleanly disappeared. It got me thinking about what I'd do in such a situation. (How long could I last on canned food? I guess I could find books in libraries to learn how to plant stuff for the long term maybe?) And then the other night, I watched the landmark 1983 TV movie The Day After. It depicted the lead-up to and aftermath of a nuclear war from the perspective of a small Kansas town. Unlike a typical Hollywood movie, it actually ends with most of the main characters dying from radiation sickness. For many people at the time, it was their wake-up call to how "unwinnable" a nuclear war would be.

So that's the frame of mind I was in when I went to see Spielberg's version. He plays it almost totally straight, with very little humor, and almost totally from the viewpoint of the main characters. We always see the tripods from the ground up or from afar. They seem enormous, invincible, and unrelenting. Somehow, despite being conditioned from tons of movies, they really freaked me out! They didn't just freak me out in a "they're going to kill the main characters" way. They freaked me out in a "oh my God they are destroying the human race" way. That just really came across for me somehow.

I like how the daughter, when she first sees the destruction they can cause, asks, "Is it the terrorists?" H. G. Wells' original novel was an allegory (and cautionary tale) about British Imperialism. Orson Welles' broadcast played off of fears about the war in Europe. The 1953 Byron Haskin movie played off of fears of communist invasion. Spielberg's movie certainly plays off of our current fears of terrorist attack, but the daughter's question makes terrorism almost laughable in the movie.

Spielberg surprised me by his vision of human nature. I saw it with someone who was scared most not by the aliens, but by how people acted in the auto theft scene. (See the movie to see what I'm talking about.) There's very little comraderie and "triumph of the human spirit". And he shows it in a mostly dejected, hopeless way, like, "This is just the way it is." Human life seems so insignificant here. I guess that's why we needed the main character's relationship with his daughter; it's like the movie is saying, "Human life is terribly insignificant, but it can still be incredibly significant to us."

The large-scale extermination scenes chilled me to the core. They gave me the sense that if I were there, I'd be thinking, "This is the end of the human race." But then came the second half. The movie suddenly becomes more introspective, and then you have all that skulking around in the basement. Even though I was set up for this by all the dread I was already feeling, meeting the aliens up close felt disappointing, and it actually deflated some of my fear. They no longer seemed omnipotent. I think one reason those later scenes didn't work for me is that in the large scale destruction scenes, I could imagine myself being there. The main characters are mostly just representatives of members of the human race. Suddenly, in the second half, we're supposed to care about their well-being in particular, and I just didn't care enough. The aliens killing everybody freaked me out, but killing a few people in a basement? That just seemed so insignificant at that point.

Maybe that's because Spielberg was too effective early on. Now that I think about it, I'm rarely actually scared by scenes of mass destruction these days. Hell, even during Saving Private Ryan, there was a part of me that thought, "Cool special effects!" during the beach assault. When big buildings or cities get blown up, I usually feel detached. Somehow, during this movie, I didn't feel detached. I actually felt a bit of shock every time the aliens killed an extra. I never once thought, "cool death ray effect!" Maybe it's a good thing that special effects no longer amaze us. We're conditioned to them now to the point where the images can actually have emotional effect again.

So that's the end of my review, though I do have an additional thought: What would the world be like after something like this happened? Apparently, there was actually a late 80s TV sequel set decades after a 1950s attack, but it didn't seem to develop in the direction I'm imagining. Apparently, the world basically forgets the attack ever happened. How could it?! I mean, let's forget about all the chaos that goes with reconstructing every major population center of the world... The aliens came once. What's to prevent them from working around the weakness that brought them down the first time and coming again? How would the world deal with the threat of another attack? Would we pour tons of resources into military research?

I think I'm on that line of thought partly because I watched Land of the Dead last week. It's set in a world years after the events of Night of the Living Dead, and it has lots of fun with the question, "What would the world be like if zombies were a part of everyday life?" That's what I'm curious about: What would the world be like if eminent attack by technologically superior aliens were a part of everyday life? I'm glad I don't actually live in that world. Or, if I do, I'm glad I don't know it.

About July 2005

This page contains all entries posted to the klog in July 2005. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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