The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

There was a large boom just outside the window … I suppose this means that 2008 finally went out with a bang. Or is that 2009 came in with a bang? In any case, there was much banging

Happy New Year!

It was quiet here at Chez Boca (notwithstanding the aforementioned banging outside the window). Bunny and I spent the evening making fresh ravioli (using the pasta machine she received as a gift) and then watching “Hancock” (an enjoyable flick and a rather refreshing take on the superhero genre).

The pasta was easy but a bit tedious and messy. The recipe for the pasta is easy enough—100g of flour (about ½ cup for the metrically challenged) and one egg per person, then mixed and kneaded into a dough (we did enough pasta for four people, and did the mixing in a food processor—total time, maybe 30 seconds). Then just feed the dough through the pasta machine, a few times on the widest setting, then start cranking it down to make it thinner.

[Warning:  it can get really long]

This, by far, was the longest step in the process, mostly because this was the first time either one of us has ever made fresh pasta. The recipe we were following came from Jamie Oliver and on his show he had the pasta made and cut in like two minutes flat.

But he's a professional—we're not. So it took a bit longer—say, twenty-two minutes (getting used to fresh pasta dough, the pasta machine, etc).

Once that was done, we used a ravioli cutter that Bunny had—a two piece affair. You lay a strip of pasta over the lower section:

[Even though the dough isn't that sticky, it's still advisable to dust everything with flour]

Then you press this dimpled shaped upper section into the dough, which forms the depressions, which you then spoon the filling into (in this case, it's fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and some tomato sauce).

[Now it's ready for the filling]
[Fill 'er up!]

Brush some water around the edges (to act as a kind of glue), drape another piece of pasta, and use a roller to seal and cut the raviolis. Then pop them out of the frame, and cook for five minutes in boiling water.

[I think an egg wash would work here as well …]
[Voila!  Ravioli!]
[Pasta!  Pasta!  Eat them up!  Yum!]

I personally was curious about the cutting attachment, so with the scraps of pasta, I made some spaghetti.

[Ooooh … fresh spaghetti]
[I think each strand was like 3′ in length]

I'm sure with practice, it'll go quicker.

And not quite as messy.

Hmm … if I'm not careful, this might turn into a cooking blog [not that there's anything wrong with that! —Editor].

Friday, January 02, 2009

“A chubby man with a white beard and a red suit will approach you soon. Avoid him. He's a Commie.”

On Christmas Eve, Bunny and I attended a Christmas Party thrown by one of her friends. At the party, the kids were all excited that NORAD was giving real time updates to his location. I for one, had never heard of this, and I found it fascinating that NORAD even did this (but really, given the title to this post, maybe it's not all that far-fetched).

Even more amazing, they've been doing this since 1955 all because of a newspaper misprint …


Cavity searches, long delays and now this? What? Does the airline industry have a death wish or something?

As you head off on your Thanksgiving travels this week and prepare to pay airline baggage fees, you may wonder what it actually costs the airline to fly your 40-pound suitcase.

Based on our own estimate derived from consultations with industry executives and other sources, the cost to carry checked luggage comes to roughly $15 a bag. That, it turns out, is what most big airlines—including AMR Corp.'s American Airlines and Continental Airlines Inc.—are charging fliers to check their first bag. But those who check multiple bags, ski equipment or oversized or overweight luggage are paying much, much more—allowing airlines to make a tidy profit. In those instances, baggage fees may yield more profit for the airline than what the carrier is making on the basic passenger ticket.

Airlines don't break out the expense of transporting passenger baggage, and they are tight-lipped about baggage because they know many customers are angry about the new fees. Airlines aren't always so opaque when it comes to their cost data—American once famously counted the savings from removing olives from salads. But, several airlines contacted declined to discuss breakdowns of baggage costs; some were downright defensive.

Via Kilroy's Links, What It Costs to Fly Your Luggage - WSJ.com

Back before deregulation, the airlines could really only compete on service, not price. And the service was fantastic back then. Comfy chairs, decent food, lovely beverages and you weren't packed like cattle on a train. Since then however, airlines are fiercely competing on price and now the chairs are smaller, the food is a joke, you might get a complementary beverage and forget the snacks.

And now this.

What next? Charge per pound of passenger?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

I, for one, welcome our new cute baby overlords …

Even though he was born a day or two after Christmas, I wanted to get Smirk's and Ms. Smirk's permission before posting this picture of their new son, E (and their photos as well, all taken by the lovely and talented Bunny).

[Before you all go “Awwwww,” remember folks, he's just a baby …]

And just to answer the inevitable question—no, I did not hold him.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

But … but … but … it's Europe! And here I thought we were just the greedy ones …

The fuel-economy rules apply equally to foreign brands, of course, some of which also specialize in big, powerful vehicles. But they afford themselves an out. BMW paid $230 million in CAFE fines from 1983 to 2007 to avoid building small cars at a loss to please Washington. Volvo paid $56 million. Daimler paid $55 million.

Why don't the Big Three take this out? Explains the Government Accountability Office, because they fear the political repercussions of being tagged with “unlawful conduct.”

This year, Daimler paid one of the biggest CAFE fines ever, $30 million—or $118 per car, a pittance to Mercedes buyers. By dumping Chrysler, meanwhile, it avoided its share of an estimated $100 billion in unremunerative investments the Big Three will have to make to meet the new fuel-mileage rules.

Via Instapundit, Let Detroit Build Profitable Cars - WSJ.com

You don't say …

I really didn't realize that foreign car manufacturers paid the fines for selling gas guzzling cars in our market, but The Big Three™ didn't even bother to make marketable cars for fear of being called bad names.

I don't know what this says of The Big Three™, the foreign car manufacturers, or our own consumer driven demand for large cars …

Monday, January 05, 2009

1/2 of a 2/3 spherical cow …

Today's post is a simple question.

Let's say, hypothetically speaking, you met someone who told you they had two children, and one of them is a girl. What are the odds that person has a boy and a girl?

Consider your answer carefully, without doing a web search, or reading the comments to this post. Don't cheat—but be prepared to explain your reasoning, because the solution might surprise you.

It's almost like some kind of conspiracy or something.

Coding Horror: The Problem of the Unfinished Game

That, and the follow-up post, plus a few threads on various commentary sites can be summed up with the following result:

The odds are 1/2, except, of course, when it's 2/3.

A lot of virtual ink has been spilled over this, but I think I have this down now. I wrote a program to simulate this problem and doing so has clarified the result (nothing like picking a few million pairs of virtual kids and seeing actual numbers).

It goes like this. Assume a spherical cow … oh wait, wrong problem. Assume an even 50% chance of having a boy or a girl. Take 100 families with two kids. There are four cases to contend with, boy/boy (25%, or 25 out of a 100 families), boy/girl (25%, or again, 25 out of 100 families), girl/boy (25%) and girl/girl (the remaining 25%). But in three of the four cases (75%) there is at least one girl. And out of those 75 families, 50 of them (or 66% of 75, or 2/3) will have a boy.

And thus, that's how we end up with 1/2 of a 2/3 spherical cow.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Thars hills in them thar wind

The wind, I expected. Every weather forcast for South Florida reads the same:

Lows in the high 70s, highs in the high 80s. Partly cloudy with a 20% chance of scattered showers. Winds NE at 15 knots; seas 1-3 feet with a light to moderate chop.

But I didn't expect the hills.

Yes, there appear to be hills here in Lower Sheol. And for land that until a century ago was swamp, it sure is hilly around Chez Boca.


And speaking of spherical cows …

Michele Allen, 32, will spend the next month in jail after admitting to a wild drunken weekend dressed in this silly cow outfit, said Middletown, Ohio, authorities.

While at work Saturday evening, Allen hit the sauce hard and then stumbled into the streets—blocking traffic and chasing kids, said Police Major Mark Hoffman.

Allen also urinated in a nearby yard during the drunken grazing, cops said.

Despite having two nights to sober up, Allen was in a foul mood Monday, yelling at jailers.

“She was challenging people to 'suck her udders,' ” Hoffman said. “I'm not joking.”

Via kires, MICHELE ALLEN BUSTED IN COW OUTFIT—New York Post

I think, given the facts, that the jokes just write themselves in this case.


Parents of mixed kids

As I was writing about the two kids problem, I realized I could have used Smirk as an example, seeing how he has a new kid and all, but unfortunately, I mentioned that his new kid was a boy, thus making the chances of his other kid being a girl 50% (the reason: because you know yet more information in this case than just one of his kids is a boy—you know that his youngest is a boy, which removes both the girl/girl combination and boy/girl combination, leaving just the girl/boy and boy/boy, for a 50% chance of guessing correctly).

And even so, I doubt it would have been a good example anyway, as he now has two boys.

And now that I think about it, my friend Lorie has two daughters (a 50/50 chance [inside joke between the two of us –Sean]; Spring has two boys, my friend Ken has two daughters, and my friend Hoade has two daughters as well.

The only friend I can think of right now that has mixed kids is Bill, and he had, in order, four boys and two girls.

Heck, I can't think of anyone I know that has one boy and one girl.

I wonder what the odds of that are …

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Real World vs. “The Real World”

I remember watching the first season of MTV's The Real World. I had just moved out for the first time and the apartment I shared with my two friends actually had cable.

Cable!

Okay, basic cable, but cable nonetheless.

And in between gorging out on music videos and Liquid Television was this odd soap operaesque show of a bunch of twenty-somethings thrown into a condo in Manhattan. I found it oddly compelling and watched the the following season.

I stopped watching it after that though, due to a variety of reasons (moving back home, losing interest, etc).

So I was rather surprised to learn that a friend of mine, Katelynn, was going to appear on season 21 of “The Real World”. My first thought was Cool! followed by that show is still on the air?

I first met Katelynn a few years ago through Spring, as they both worked for Negiyo. I found her to be quite the geek, deep into martial arts and rather cute (and I still find her attractive even though I know she wasn't always a she—and she's not the only transsexual person I know, but that's another post).

So it'll be interesting to see how they edit the show to portray Katelynn. It's also wierd to think that “The Real World” is now old enough to vote and drink. Where did the time go?


MTV's The Real World: “The Ryan & Chet Show, starring Katelynn”

So.

MTV's “The Real World.”

As the introductory episode, our cast is presented for the first time; my gut reaction to each member as they're introduced:

Ryan
Small town soldier with average intelligence; he can play the guitar but could use some singing lessons, but he should not give up his day job. He's not much better at the lyrics either.
Katelynn
Pretty much the Katelynn I know, although she comes across a bit more reserved, a bit more mature and not quite as wild as I remember.
Chet
Ah, Chet. Tight clothes. Purples and pinks. Yeah, I totally believe you're a straight-laced Mormon and not a closetted raging homosexual (not that there's anything wrong with that). That you make your own clothes is just icing on the cake. No really! I believe you!
Devyn
My, what … large tracks of … land you have! And no question at all that she's won a few pageants. Wow.
Baya
Cute, but the dancing reminds me of the type of dancing Elizabeth Berkley has done. But I believe her when she says she's not Mormon.
Sarah
Okay, it's clear that none of these people aren't hansome, beautiful or cute. But, come on … a former lesbian who's found “love-forevah!” with a man? Isn't that a cliché? A man's “wishful thinking”? Especially for a girl from San Francisco? Sigh.
JD
Nice enough guy. Seems straightforward, but isn't straight at all. And a dolphin trainer. Pretty cool, being a tutor to heir apparent of the throne of France at age 22.
Scott
Beefcake. 2% body fat and six-pack abs to die for. <sarcasm>I hate him already.</sarcasm> Could be straight. Could be gay. Hard to say—we'll have to see how this plays out (and it's clear that the majority of the cast is in lust with him).

I'm not sure how much control Katelynn (or any of the “cast”) had over their protrayals, or even the opening introductory segments, but for Katelynn, I think it would have been dramatically better for her transgender status to come out later in the series and not blown right up front. Then again, given the publicity of the show so far, perhaps the producers knew they couldn't keep this a secret, so let the audience in on her status early.

Anyway, while this show was ostensibly to introduce us to the eight contestants member cast, the show really ended up being the “Ryan & Chet Show, starring Kaytelynn.” Ryan was determined to figure out what exactly, was “up” with Katelynn (apparently when filming started, no one else knew she was transgendered), and Chet, naïve Mormonnite that he is, appeared totally enthralled with Ryan and his wonderful singing (I swear, Chet is so deep in the closet it's a surprise he's not in Narnia by now).

They both come across as insensitive clods; perhaps the producers playing up their provincial upbringing? In any case, as presented, I don't care for either of them (neither does Bunny, who suffered through the show to watch our friend Katelynn).

The rest of the cast don't get as much character development. JD does reveal he's gay to Ray and Chet, and when he takes Katelynn out to dinner she reveals to him that she's transgendered (he took her out to make her feel more welcome, being a bit of an outsider himself). But that's about as much character development as we get from the “Ryan & Chet Show starring Katelynn.” But there's still eleven weeks to go.


MTV's The Real World: After Dinner Mints

After the “Ryan & Chet Show, starring KaytelynnMTV had a half-hour special where, not terribly surprising, they interviewed Ryan, Chet and Katelynn about the season opener. Katelynn was open about her experiences and came across as being very professional and cool. Ryan did apologize for his “I know why [JD]'s taking it to dinner” remark (which Katelynn accepted) and Chet is still working his way back from Narnia.

And unfortunately, we were subjected to not only Ryan's singing yet again, but everybody singing. There's a reason I don't like karaoke and this was a prime example of why.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The return of Yorick and Lego trains were never sold here

First Clown
A pestilence on him for a mad rouge! a' pour'd a
flagon of Rhenish on my head once. This same
skull, sir, was Yorick's skull, the king's jester.
Hamlet
This?
First Clown
E'en that.
Hamlet
Let me see. [Takes the skull.]—Alas poor Yorick!
—I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest,
of most excellent fancy: he hath borne me on his
back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred
in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here
hung whose lips that I have kist I know not how
oft. Where be your gibes now? your gambols?
your songs? your flashes of merriment, that were
wont to set the table on a roar? Not one now, to
mock your own grinning? quite chop-faln? Now
get you to my lady's chamber, and tell her, let
her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must
come; make her laugh at that.

Hamlet, Act V, scene I

Back fifteen years ago one of the decorations in “my office” was a real sized replica of a human skull (and an incredible faithful replica it was too!) and it ended up sitting on top of my computer (a full tower—sitting on what little space the 21″ monitor and full-sized keyboard didn't consume) for about four to five years. I mentioned this to Bunny a few weeks back, and lo' today I stumbled across an almost real sized replica of a human skull, thanks to Bunny.

[Now I can practice my Shakespearean soliloquies]

Nowadays, the tower-sized computer can fit under the desk, and there's a bit of room left after two monitors and a full-sized keyboard and speakers.

[Cue dramatic lighting]

Sure, it cuts into some desk space for reference materials, but I think I can work around poor Yorick.

And incredibly enough, 50 Years Of The Lego Brick also showed up at the doorstep today, also courtesy of Bunny (how odd … I wonder why … ). It's an incredible book about the history of those little plastic bricks known as Lego, along with reproductions of past catalogs and six red bricks that can be combined in 915,103,765 different ways. I didn't realize that the founder of Lego, Ole Kirk Kristiansen, was a carpenter who made wood toys (and after his shop burned down three times, finally gave up wood for all plastic bricks). And XXXXXX they never sold the train sets over here in the States! (sigh)

Friday, January 09, 2009

1/2 a girl vs. 2/3 a boy; or—I suck at stats

Listen, here's the thing. If you can't spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.

Matt Damon, “Rounders

Back in my college days, I was invited to a poker game, and I'm sure by sheer coincidence, the said day just happened to be pay day. Now, while I knew (and still know) what the various hands are (“flush”—five cards of the same suit, “full house”—three of a kind with a pair, “royal flush”—the ace, king, queen, jack and 10 of a single suit, etc), I didn't know (and still don't) the ranking of the hands—which hands won over which hands. I was assured that wouldn't matter and that I could have a “cheat sheet.” So I arrive at the game with a huge pocket full of money and an attitude of “how hard can this be?” Said attitude was reinforced as I won a few early rounds.

The end of the night came with the end of my money.

I learned two lessons that night:

  1. Never, ever play poker again, and
  2. I am bad at statistics.

While the first lesson sunk in (and to this day, I haven't played a game of poker, so my record stands at a rather dismal 0–1) I forgot the second lesson—that I suck at statistics.

Monday, I wrote about pairs of kids and the odds of a particular pairing, given some information.

Let's say, hypothetically speaking, you met someone who told you they had two children, and one of them is a girl. What are the odds that person has a boy and a girl?

Coding Horror: The Problem of the Unfinished Game

I read the explanation for the 2/3 results, said “Okay, I can see that,” accepted it as gospel and went about my business, which involved me going back and forth with someone over this issue, with both of us firm on our respective view points (me: 2/3; Vorlath: 1/2).

Wanting to settle this once and for all, I wrote a very verbose program (it's written for clarity, not to be fast or anything—this is a very tricky problem and yes, the program is verbose) that picks a bazillion pairs of kids and brute forces the results so that I can figure out who's right and who's wrong.

Number of kids
 ValuePercentage
Total # of kids 20000000 100.0
Boys 10002254 50.0
Girls 9997746 50.0

I ran this program for 10,000,000 pairs. 20,000,000 virtual kids were created for this. 50% boys, 50% girls. No controversy here.

Pair Stats
 ValuePercentage
Total # of pairs 10000000 100.0
Boy/Boy 2501203 25.0
Boy/Girl 2499753 25.0
Girl/Boy 2500095 25.0
Girl/Girl 2498949 25.0
At least one Boy 7501051 75.0
At least one Girl 7498797 75.0

Again, nothing unexpected here either. Four possible pairings, 25% of each pairing. 75% of the pairings will have at least one girl, and 75% will have at least one boy. Again, straight from the numbers. So far, so good.

Disclosure table #1—Overview
  Value Percentage
Total # of pairs 10000000 100.0
Disclosed First Kid 5000671 50.0
Disclosed Second Kid 4999329 50.0
Disclosed Girl 4999440 50.0
Disclosed Boy 5000560 50.0

Nothing seems wrong here; half the kids being disclosed are the first ones; independently, half of the kids being disclosed are boys. But there is a problem here, but for now, I'll leave it to the reader to spot the issue (and it is an issue with this problem). I didn't spot the problem until later myself.

Disclosure table #2—disclosed a Girl
  Value Percentage
Disclosed Girl 4999440 100.0
  First kid 2499547 50.0
  Second kid 2499893 50.0
Disclosed Girl, other girl 2498949 50.0
  First kid 1249211 25.0
  Second kid 1249738 25.0
Disclosed Girl, other boy 2500491 50.0
  First kid 1250336 25.0
  Second kid 1249738 25.0
Disclosed Girl, pick girl, correct 2498949 50.0
  First kid 1249211 25.0
  Second kid 1249738 25.0
Disclosed Girl, pick girl, wrong 2500491 50.0
  First kid 1250336 25.0
  Second kid 1250155 25.0
Disclosed Girl, pick boy, correct 2500491 50.0
  First kid 1250336 25.0
  Second kid 1250155 25.0
Disclosed Girl, pick boy, wrong 2498949 50.0
  First kid 1249211 25.0
  Second kid 1249738 25.0

[The first three lines of this particular table can be read as:

  1. a girl was disclosed
  2. the disclosed girl was the first kid in the pair
  3. the disclosed girl was the second kid in the pair

The line labeled “Disclosed Girl, pick girl, correct” can be read as: a girl was disclosed, we picked the other kid as being a girl, and we were correct.” —Editor]

Well … XXXX! I was wrong! The odds are 50/50. I was all set to start posting this when I noticed Vorlath conceeding the 2/3 position on this follow-up post.

I must have missed something in the program.

Okay, what if I exclude from consideration the boy/boy pairs entirely? How do the odds change then? One two-line patch later and …

Number of kids
 ValuePercentage
Total # of kids 15000398 100.0
Boys 4998619 33.3
Girls 10001779 66.7

Okay, numbers are 75% of what we had … so far so good.

Pair Stats
 ValuePercentage
Total # of pairs 7500199 100.0
Boy/Boy 0 0.0
Boy/Girl 2500052 33.3
Girl/Boy 2498567 33.3
Girl/Girl 2501580 33.4
At least one Boy 4998619 66.6
At least one Girl 7500199 100.0

Yes, that's what would be expected by dropping a quarter of all pairings.

Disclosure table #1—Overview
  Value Percentage
Total # of pairs 7500199 100.0
Disclosed First Kid 3750492 50.0
Disclosed Second Kid 3749707 50.0
Disclosed Girl 5002113 66.7
Disclosed Boy 2498086 33.3
Disclosure table #2—disclosed a Girl
  Value Percentage
Disclosed Girl 5002113 100.0
  First kid 2500888 50.0
  Second kid 2501225 50.0
Disclosed Girl, other girl 2501580 50.0
  First kid 1250803 25.0
  Second kid 1250777 25.0
Disclosed Girl, other boy 2500533 50.0
  First kid 1250085 25.0
  Second kid 1250777 25.0
Disclosed Girl, pick girl, correct 2501580 50.0
  First kid 1250803 25.0
  Second kid 1250777 25.0
Disclosed Girl, pick girl, wrong 2500533 50.0
  First kid 1250085 25.0
  Second kid 1250448 25.0
Disclosed Girl, pick boy, correct 2500533 50.0
  First kid 1250085 25.0
  Second kid 1250448 25.0
Disclosed Girl, pick boy, wrong 2501580 50.0
  First kid 1250803 25.0
  Second kid 1250777 25.0

And it's still 50/50! Am I missing anything else?

Okay, re-read even more comments and looking closer at the original problem statment:

Let's say, hypothetically speaking, you met someone who told you they had two children, and one of them is a girl. What are the odds that person has a boy and a girl?

Coding Horror: The Problem of the Unfinished Game

Oh, there's an unstated assumption going on—namely, what gender the hypothetically speaking parent will reveal! So far, I've had the hypothetically speaking parent disclosing a randomly picked child (first or second), which could be either a girl or a boy. Add some more lines to force the child to be disclosed as a girl (if there is a girl) and …

Disclosure table #2—disclosed a Girl
  Value Percentage
Disclosed Girl 7500174 100.0
  First kid 4999692 66.7
  Second kid 2500482 33.3
Disclosed Girl, other girl 2501019 33.3
  First kid 2501019 33.3
  Second kid 0 0.0
Disclosed Girl, other boy 4999155 66.7
  First kid 2498673 33.3
  Second kid 0 0.0
Disclosed Girl, pick girl, correct 2501019 33.3
  First kid 2501019 33.3
  Second kid 0 0.0
Disclosed Girl, pick girl, wrong 4999155 66.7
  First kid 2498673 33.3
  Second kid 2500482 33.3
Disclosed Girl, pick boy, correct 4999155 66.7
  First kid 2498673 33.3
  Second kid 2500482 33.3
Disclosed Girl, pick boy, wrong 2501019 33.3
  First kid 2501019 33.3
  Second kid 0 0.0

That's what I'm looking for! That's the unstated assumption being made by the 2/3 camp! And my original summation of the whole problem: “The odds are 1/2, except, of course, when it's 2/3,” is correct (so to speak).

Sheesh!

So, I suck at statistics, and statistical word problems are hard to write properly.

And now I can put this problem to rest.

Monday, January 12, 2009

… and after nobody noticed, Atlas took his toys and went home.

I know some of the people reading this have read Atlas Shrugged; even fewer have read Anthem (and fewer still are actually fans of Ms. Rand, but I digress), but this is something I never realized about the two books:

I don't know how many of you realize that Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand's science fiction classic, is actually only book 1 of a trilogy? Hardly anybody knows this, because she never got around to writing the missing middle volume. She wrote book 1 in the series. She wrote book 3 in the series, but didn't explicitly label it a sequel to Atlas Shrugged, she and her agent marketed it as a stand-alone volume. She never got around to writing the middle volume that bridges the two. It's probably because she found it too depressing, the way that Heinlein never got around to writing The Stone Pillow, the missing volume in the Future History series that comes between “All You Zombies” and “If This Goes On.”

The Infamous Brad—Atlas Shrugged 2: Shrug Harder

Interesting. And it makes sense (then again, so does this, but again, I'm digressing).

If only it were true Atlas Shrugged 2: Shrug Harder really existed … [sorry if that last sentance wasn't clear —Editor]

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ah, so that's why it's so hard to clean a Windows box

M: Yes. I should probably first speak about how adware works. Most adware targets Internet Explorer (IE) users because obviously they're the biggest share of the market. In addition, they tend to be the less-savvy chunk of the market. If you're using IE, then either you don't care or you don't know about all the vulnerabilities that IE has.

IE has a mechanism called a Browser Helper Object (BHO) which is basically a gob of executable code that gets informed of web requests as they're going …

If you also have an installer, a little executable, you can make a Registry entry and every time this thing reboots, the installer will check to make sure the BHO is there …

The next thing … I did … was make a poller which continuously polls about every 10 seconds or so to see if the BHO was there and alive …

Next we made a function shuffler, which would go into an executable, take the functions and randomly shuffle them …

We then made a bootstrapper, which was a tiny tiny piece of code written in Assembler which would decrypt the executable in memory, and then just run it …

So we've progressed now from having just a Registry key entry, to having an executable, to having a randomly-named executable, to having an executable which is shuffled around a little bit on each machine, to one that's encrypted—really more just obfuscated—to an executable that doesn't even run as an executable. It runs merely as a series of threads. Now, those threads can communicate with one another, they would check to make sure that the BHO was there and up, and that the whatever other software we had was also up.

We did create unwritable registry keys and file names, by exploiting an “impedance mismatch” between the Win32 API and the NT API

We also wrote a device driver and then a printer driver.  When you write a device driver you get to do all sorts of crazy things …

There was also of course Scheme. Eventually, we got sick of writing a new C program every time we wanted to go kick somebody off of a machine. Everybody said, “What we need is something configurable.” I said, “Let's install a Turing-complete language,” and for that I used tinyScheme, which is a BSD licensed, very small, very fast implementation of Scheme that can be compiled down into about a 20K executable if you know what you're doing. Eventually, instead of writing individual executables every time a worm came out, I would just write some Scheme code, put that up on the server, and then immediately all sorts of things would go dark. It amounted to a distributed code war on a 4-10 million-node network.

S: In your professional opinion, how can people avoid adware?

M: Um, run UNIX.

Via Flutterby, philosecurity » Blog Archive » Interview with an Adware Author

Sorry for the long quote here, but just reading through what this adware programmer was able to do to under Windows is just stunning. Because of what this programmer was able to do, I'm half in awe (like splitting a program to run parastically among other processes) and half in horror (because there's no single “process” to kill).

Wow …

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Katelynn wasn't my first transgendered friend

My first real experience with transsexuality happened in late 1999. I flew up to Boston to visit G & E, a couple I knew in college (said trip was also the impetus for the name of this journal, but that's another story) and one evening, both G & E approached with perhaps the four most dreaded words in our language: “We have to talk.”

The “talk,” as it turned out, was G coming out to me as a transsexual. At the time, G had just started undergoing hormone treatment and counseling so G still looked pretty much like I always knew G, so it was a bit of a shock to find a friend of mine who've I known for (at that time) seven years was no longer a “he” but a “she.”

At the end of the revelation, G asked if I had any questions.

I thought for a few moments. I've always been a “live and let live” type of guy and as long as what you do doesn't hurt anyone and everyone involved is of legal age and consents, so be it. If G feels better as a woman than a man, okay. I didn't feel it was my place to ask why, and having just started, the when was still a ways off. Their Bostonian friends were cool with this. In the end, I asked the only question that I felt I could ask: “So, are you changing your name?” (answer: no. G kept her birth name; and I still sometimes think of G as “he”—old habits die hard. Katelynn I have always thought of as a “she” but it was easier since I've only known her as a “she”)

I also thought, Cool! Two women who are legally married!


MTVs The Real World: “The Baya & Chet Show, starring JD”

Show numero dos and today's episode is “The Baya & Chet Show, starring JD.”

Let's see … we have Baya nervous about an audition for a hiphop dance troop, dance at the audition, leave disappointed and yet, when she finds out she made the cut—turns it down. During the audition it was clear that she wasn't quite ready for what it takes for hiphop dancing (Bunny remarked that Baya was in “the real world” only afterwards did she realize that Baya hit the real world on “The Real World”—it was cute). JD later introduces her to a well known dance instructor he knows so she can continue to become the dancer she wants to become.

And Chet. In private correspondance, Katelynn assured me that yes, Chet is indeed straight. Despite the tight purple clothes and eyeliner, he's all man. I'm just going to have to accept that, since Katelynn knows him more than I do, but he just pegs my gaydar.

Anyway, his Mom and three or four sisters (lost count) all show up to visit him. His Mom is supportive of him, loves JD (and asks him to watch out for her son) but hates the eyeliner. As Bunny said: “Look at all the women he grew up with—no wonder he's the way he is!”

JD is quite racist when drunk, which Chet didn't care for. JD may also be a mean drunk, but fortunately things didn't get that bad. Yet. We'll see.

Ryan is still coming across as a complete jerk, first by pranking JD, then getting very upset when kissed on the lips by a transvestite at a gay bar (what was he expecting?). He's not coming across as very likeable.

There wasn't much about Katelynn this week. She, Sarah and Baya attended an African Dance class and well … Katelynn wasn't very graceful (sorry Katelynn, but Bunny observed that the way men's shoulders are developed it's very hard to perform a particular arm movement used in that type of dancing). Katelynn said as much, so it's not like I'm saying anything she doesn't know already.

Not much characterization for the rest of the cast, but I'm sure their time will come soon enough.

Some predictions: Devyn (of the large … tracts of land) and Scott (of the 2% body fat and six-pack abs to die for) become an item; Baya and Ryan become an item.

Monday, January 19, 2009

An illformed rant at the back of my mind

I've been using Flickr as a source of stock photography for a while now, so even at the outset of this experiment, I knew two important things that not everybody realizes yet: (1) There's no longer any point in taking snapshots of places and things; someone's already taken exactly the picture you want to take. The lighting's just like it would be in your photo. The subject is just as out of focus and just as poorly framed as if you'd have taken the picture yourself. Even the people are the same: their friends look just like your friends. (2) There's not just one photo like the one you would've taken yourself had you remembered to take your camera with you and charge its batteries. There are many photos like the one you would've taken yourself. Many, many photos. Not one. Not ten. More. A lot more.

Via 0xDECAFBAD, Do Tags Work?

Another epiphany, which means I'm subjecting you to another rambling post to explain why I'm not giving up yet on photography.

One of the Holy Grails™ of Computer Science I was taught was the reuse of existing code. “Thou shalt not reinvent the wheel,” was the mantra, but really, until perhaps the mid-90s (well after Linus Torvalds went ahead and reinvented the wheel Unix) such advice was routinely ignored (otherwise, Linux wouldn't exist, now would it?) and then, apparently, the hammering of that mantra got harder and harder until now, well …

“I think I'll write a newsreader!”

Stop. Stop right there. I have a suggestion that will save you a lot of time: Go to a movie. Rent a video. Volunteer with a local first-aid squad. Feed the homeless. Make a sandwich, walk onto the street and when you see a homeless person say, “HERE!” Just do anything other than write a newsreader. There are enough already. We should have started neutering newsreader authors a long time ago.

Don't Write a Newsreader.

I wouldn't write my own editor until I had learned all three of those editors. After that … I still wouldn't write my own editor. ;) Spend your energy on a problem that urgently needs solving.

Hacker News | Ask HN: IDE versus Text Editor?

Awesome, now somebody go back in time 3 months and release this so I could have not spent that time writing the same thing (okay, not exactly the same, mine isn't nearly as pluggable).

Hacker News | Awesome, now somebody go back in time 3 months and release this so I could have …

There's no room for Not Invented Here syndrome in open source software development. When you let NIH get in the way of doing the right thing, you're not doing open source development any longer.

Not Invented Here has no place in open source development | IT Security | TechRepublic.com

“not invented here syndrome”.

Whenever starting anything new, I'm going to look for an appropriate framework or module before giving up and trying to do it myself.

MattHucke comments on Ask Proggit: What old programming habit are you going to lose this year?

And before you know it, no one will be writing new code anymore.

Everything that can be invented has been invented.

Charles H. Duell, US Commissioner of Patents, 1899.

Why should they (we)? It all exists, or wait long enough, and some sucker someone else will write it (thank you, lazy web).

And this bugs me. It bugs me that new programmers are coerced by peer pressure into not writing code. Why is it so wrong for a programmer to attempt to write their own editor instead of trying to work with Emacs? (In my mind, attempting to write an editor may give said programmer a better appreciation of what Emacs can actually do; or maybe the programmer will come up with a better interface, one that doesn't induce carpal tunnel syndrome)

But even worse, this mentality creeps into many programmers, causing them to give up their own programs. There are a few programmers who's blogs/journals I follow that at one time used their own software to maintain their website, but gave up. Just stopped using their own software and instead switched over to some other popular package (like Moveable Type or WordPress). And honestly, I don't understand why. Did they drink the Kool-Aid of code reuse? Did they switch for some feature but were too lazy to implement it? (and end up with unused features that might be exploited?) Because all the “cool kids” were using it? They're afraid of being ganged up on for writing new code? Or some other reason?

Perhaps I'm scared that programming will (is?) turn (turning?) more into “glue this code to that code” and less a creative endeavour? Should I just give up and only use existing code because everything that's been written has been written and stop wasting time “reinventing the wheel?”

And therein lies my epiphany—that to most programmers, everything that has been written, has been written, so stop writing new code! Leave that to the large professional teams. Besides, any code I write is going to be buggy. My time would be better spent just gluing bits of existing code together, or debugging already existing code.

And by the way, I should toss out my digital camera because any potential picture I would want to take has already been taken.

Yeah, like that's going to happen.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Love the idea, but I don't trust just anyone …

Imagine if you had access to all your stuff, everywhere …

That's what ZumoDrive does. Just install ZumoDrive on each device, and it's like all your stuff is on all of them. Plus it's all backed up. Laptop stolen? Don't worry, just install ZumoDrive, and your files will be restored in minutes.

ZumoDrive - Hybrid Cloud storage for all your documents and media

This is something I've been doing readily since 1992 (out of my office at FAU) and while it wasn't always easy to dial into the school network (and I let the department in charge of the dial-up modems know exactly how I felt about them, but that, as they say, is another post) I did have remote access to most of what I needed.

It's something that's hard to comprehend unless you experience it.

So in theory, I have no problem at all with “Cloud Computing.” But companies like Zumodrive, Dropbox and even Google scare me.

Why? Because I care about my data.

This is about your data. This is about your work. This is about you using your time so that you make things and work on things and you trust a location to do “the rest” and guess what, here is what we have learned:

These questions that you have all work around that other overused word: value. To me, history guy, your old junk you used to do is of interest to me. But there's a lot of people and a lot of stuff, so I wouldn't want you to do it just for little ol' me. But for yourself? What about yourself?

Via Hacker News, ASCII by Jason Scott / XXXX THE CLOUD

This is somewhat related to yesterday's rant—it's about control. Yeah, it's great that you can access your data from anywhere there's an Internet connection. Woo hoo! Great times!

Until the company providing you the cloud service goes belly up. And then what? If you're lucky you get notified and some time to suck down your content. Miss the notification, or a company goes down too quickly for said notification, and well … hope your data wasn't all that important.

But there's another aspect that I haven't seen mentioned, probably because of connotations of wrong doing, and that has to do with this bit of law:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment IV, The United States Constitution (1791)

My data is located on my computer here at Chez Boca. If law enforcement wants to root around my files (not that any law enforcement would, but hypothetically speaking here), they have to show up on my door step with a warrant. Which means I know they're interested in me.

But what if my “papers” are stored at ZumoDrive? A warrant would be required (I hope those at ZumoDrive would ask), but what is their obligation about informing me of said warrant? I imagine very little, and that is just as scary as losing all my data unannounced.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tea

Several days after G came out to me, a few of her friends show up from out of town on their way somewhere else. There was A, a beautiful woman who, from what I could gather, wasn't quite interested in men. The second woman was average and seeing how I don't recall her name, I'll simply call her Jane. The third friend, to be polite, had a wonderful personality (she reminded me of a female Winston Churchill, only shorter).

Now, E couldn't come with us, having to work, but G's girlfriend K (G & E's marriage was … complicated and let's just leave it at that) was free to come along. So the six of us, G, K, A, Jane, Churchill and I headed out into the frozen wasteland of a Bostonian winter for sustenance.

At the restaurant we ran into John (not his real name), another friend of G and the seven of us sit at a large table.

During dinner, John was holding court, talking about tea. G, K and A were deep into the conversation with John, while Jane, Churchill and I were more or less listening to the intricacies of consuming tea.

But … the way they were talking about tea I found it rather hard to believe they were talking about the consumption of Camellia sinensis. Even though green tea is often used for medicial reasons, I've never heard of a doctor prescribing it. And the side effects mentioned at the table didn't quite fit any type of tea I've ever heard of. It was as if they weren't talking about tea but about—

OH!

T!

As in testosterone!

OH!

Much like G wasn't born a girl, John wasn't born a boy. And then it dawned on me—A wasn't always a beautiful woman, and K, who I found to be a cute geeky girl, wasn't born a girl. Jane and Churchill weren't what they seemed to be either, but they were transvestites, not transexuals.

I never expected to end up in an episode of “Three's Company” (or would that be a Very Special Episode™ of “The Facts of Life”?). Only, it wasn't bad; it was rather nice, if odd.

It was certainly a dinner I'll never forget.


MTVs The Real World: “Fidelity”

Third one's a charm and today's episode: “Fidelity,” which has neither musical nor romantic fidelity.

To recap: Ryan is trying to start his musical career, but is rebuffed by a music producer. No wonder, he sucks. Baya is trying to start something with Ryan, but is rebuffed, given that Ryan has a girlfriend. For the time being. But then Baya rebuffs Ryan for rebuffing her. The two need to get a room. Scott isn't rebuffing Devyn, but it's clear he's making her jealous with his “friend.” Devyn feels like rebuffing Scott after she finds out he lied about being single. And Scott's “friend” isn't his current girlfriend. Devyn is also reading the book Why Men Love Bitches (hmmm … ). Katelynn feels rebuffed by her current boyfriend (still in Montana) and starts heavily flirting. Boys, girls, it doesn't matter; she's smiling on the outside, but sad on the inside. She just can't rebuff her boyfriend. JD, Sarah and Chet are this week's background characters. And I'm having flashbacks to high school.

Last week's predictions: pretty darn close; denial rules the day. This week's prediction: Sarah has a stalker.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tripping down the road

So I'm sitting here using an IBM laptop (with this huge button on the keyboard labeled “Access IBM”—I'm afraid to push it) in the back seat of a Prius, currently doing 100 Mph the legal speed limit along the Florida Turnpike as we speed wend our way to Blounts Town. My friend Joe's father died, and Gregory, Kurt, Bunny and I are on our way to the funeral.

It was horrible this morning, having to get up at the time I usually go to sleep. Bleh. But we're making good time and we should be arriving in the area late this afternoon.


Notes on an overheard conversation

“Do you need fuel?”

“Fuel? Fuel? I won't need fuel until Thursday!”

“Today is Thursday.”

“Oh.”


Notes on an overheard conversation, II

“Do you have the keys?”

“It is impossible, physically impossible, to lock the keys in the car.”

“Can we not test that theory?”


Notes from a Burger King at a Florida Turnpike Reststop

There was a defibrillator right there at the service counter of the Burger King at the Florida Turnpike rest stop. Somehow, it seems very appropriate.


The Funeral, Part I

The viewing started at 6:00 pm. We arrived at the funeral home (in Marianna, Florida) at 5:45 pm and as we're being lead back to the viewing room, the funeral director asked if we were family. Gregory said that we were friends of the family and had driven up from Ft. Lauderdale. The director then regretfully told us that only family was allowed in at this time and that the viewing didn't start for another hour.

Shocked, I looked at my cell phone, and sure enough, it read 4:45 pm. We were not only an hour early, but in the Central Time Zone. [The zone runs down the middle of the Apalachicola River and apparently, we all missed the memo when crossing over it.]. We killed a little over an hour then headed back to the viewing.

I had only met Joe Sr. once or twice for very brief moments of time, but from listening in to many of the conversations I got a feel for the man. His death wasn't unexpected, as it came at the end of several years of fighting cancer, and the atmosphere there was more relief over his suffering being over than the sadness of a sudden, inexplicable death. There was no wailing and gnashing of teeth over his death, but a huge gathering of friends and family offering fond memories of Joe Sr.

[I guess you're taking our picture …]

Left to right: Kyle (Joe's son), Kelly (Joe's wife), Keener (Joe's first name—I've known him as Joe as long as I've known him) and just some guy, sitting in front of the fire.

[No, Gregory's lap isn't on fire]

Left to right: Kurt, Gregory sitting before the fire on the back porch.

Joe extended us an invitation to the family farm (in Cottondale, a few miles west of Marianna) for food (which was excellent—I've never had fresh roast beef, and by “fresh” I mean “it was butchered yesterday”) and conversation (again excellent, and mostly around a fire on the back porch).

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Funeral, Part II

The funeral started at 10:00 am (“It is teh early!” I commented upon waking up this morning). The service was packed with people and Joe delivered a wonderful eulogy for his father. Afterwards we piled into our cars for the vehicular cortège to the cemetary.

As we were driving (which seemed like for miles and miles along unpaved roads), Gregory remarked “There's no here here! It's not on the map!” And indeed, we were somewhere, I suppose, still in the state of Florida, but the exact location, I have no idea. We just followed the rest of the cars to the cemetary.

The service at the cemetary was moving. The American Legion Post № 241 conducted the second part of the service; the eulogy of Joe Sr.'s service to his country, presenting the American Flag to Joe's Mom, the 21-gun salute—very powerful stuff.

Final farewells were said, and the scene shifts back to the family farm (nearly everybody changed into causual clothing prior to or just after, arriving) for more food and conversation that lasted well into the night.

[Shooting the breeze]

Left to right: Marty, Joe, Kurt.

[More shooting the breeze]

Left to right: Larry, Gregory, me.

[With so much shooting of the breeze, I'm surprised there was any air left]

Left to right: Joe's Mom, Joe (sitting), Kurt, me, Gregory, Larry, Marty. Except for Kurt, we all knew each other since high school (and I've known Joe since middle school).

Afterwards, Gregory, Kurt, Bunny and I headed over to Joe's house (in Blounts Town, about forty minutes south of the family farm) and hung out for a few hours. Tomorrow, we head back home.


Pot. Kettle. Black.

I've given Gregory grief in the past for his reliance (to me, his overreliance) on GPS when driving, and this issue has been coming up on our little trip often enough. As we drove back to the hotel from Joe's house, I noticed that Gregory's GPS was sending us cross-country along unlit two lane roads filled with deer instead of the 10-lane well lit I-10, much like last time (unstated in that entry—everyone in the van was telling Gregory his GPS was giving him crap directions, stop listening to it, we know the way).

When I mentioned this, Gregory told us that he has an irrational fear of being lost, and with a GPS, he's never lost, even if the route given isn't the fastest, straightest or safest. I can relate to the irrational fear bit—I have an irrational fear of earthquakes; odd, given that I don't live in an area known to have earthquakes, but there you go. If the GPS makes Gregory feel better, so be it.

Besides, I still can't play that peg game at the Cracker Barrel, and I totally rely upon a cheat sheet created from my peg game solving program.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

“It is teh early!”

9:00 am. Checkout. Start driving home. Hardees apparently has the best biscuit breakfast sandwiches in existence.

I'm not a morning person, nor am I a breakfast person. It's my turn to order. “Are you serving lunch?” If I have to eat this early, it's got to be a cheeseburger.

“No. Breakfast only.”

“Don't worry,” said Gregory. “I'll take you to a Sonic after this. Here, take my keys,” he said, handing me the fob for the car. “Check the GPS for the closest Sonic.” I take the fob, and head out to the car.

The closest Sonic appeared to be five miles south of the Hardees we were in. But that's five miles further south than we wanted to be. I started looking for Sonics more-or-less on our way home, and was about give up when Gregory appeared.

“Kemo sabe,” he said. “There's a Sonic on the other side of this Hardees.”

“Oh.”

[Intent on a complicated problem]

Yeah, it was teh early.

(Illustration by Leo Brodie)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Musical in-jokes

In the world of “Peanuts,” of course, Schroeder was the Beethoven-obsessed music nerd who lost patience when Lucy interrupted his practice and who called time-outs as a baseball catcher to share composer trivia with the pitcher. Yet musicologists and art curators have learned that there was much more than a punch line to Charles Schulz's invocation of Beethoven's music.

“If you don't read music and you can’t identify the music in the strips, then you lose out on some of the meaning,” said William Meredith, the director of the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies at San Jose State University, who has studied hundreds of Beethoven-themed “Peanuts” strips.

Via news from me, Listening to Schroeder: “Peanuts” Scholars Find Messages in Cartoons Scores

I had always assumed that Charles Schulz copied the music into his strips instead of just making it up, and I also assumed it was, in fact, Beethoven. So it doesn't surprise me all that much that he matched the music to the strip.


“Do not feed the hermits”

Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?

If so, do you tell this person he is “too serious,” or ask if he is okay? Regard him as aloof, arrogant, rude? Redouble your efforts to draw him out?

If you answered yes to these questions, chances are that you have an introvert on your hands—and that you aren't caring for him properly. Science has learned a good deal in recent years about the habits and requirements of introverts. It has even learned, by means of brain scans, that introverts process information differently from other people (I am not making this up). If you are behind the curve on this important matter, be reassured that you are not alone. Introverts may be common, but they are also among the most misunderstood and aggrieved groups in America, possibly the world.

Caring for Your Introvert—The Atlantic (March 2003)

Yes, I know someone who needs hours alone every day. Me. Thankfully, I don't have to worry about getting “alone time” but just in case you need “alone time” and have trouble getting it across, here you go (or, if you are mystified as to why your friend/significant other/family member needs “alone time” this too, is for you).

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bad Questions to Ask a Transsexual

When G came out to me, the only question that really came to mind was “What is your name going to be?” Everything else just seemed rude, crude and socially unacceptable. And that's pretty much what Calpernia Addams says in her video, “Bad Questions to Ask a Transsexual: The Director's Cut (link via Katelynn, who will be on the TV in a few hours).


MTVs The Real World: “The Devyn & Sarah Show, starring Chet”

Unlike last week's show, there was no single unifying theme this week, but, given the focus of the show, I present “The Devyn & Sarah Show, starring Chet.”

Through a family connection, Devyn gets an audition with a theater casting agent [although the way it's presented leaves me somewhat confused—within the context of the show, it seems like she was talking to her cousin (said family connection) one day, and then suddenly she's talking to the theater casting agent scehduling an audition. I doubt things happened that fast though, and I have to wonder just how much temporal editing is done on the show]. Now, she's got a voice (we see her rehearsing “The Star-Spangled Banner) but it's not anything spectactular (Bunny mentioned that she was a bit flat on the high notes, but that could be corrected in post-production [a running joke between Bunny and me dealing with industry manipulation of singing talent —Editor]) and the style of singing (“gospel singer”) didn't quite fit that particular song. It's a “generically great” voice. Her acting (seen in the audition) left me flat. She had the lines memorized, but it was just that—lines.

Her two big blunders though—showing up late to the audition, and saying she wants to get into television or film to a theater casting agent.

The first mistake—being late. She was driving and the on-board GPS told her to make a turn that she missed [No comment —Sean] [Thank God! —Editor] either because she was concentrating on her lines, or road construction or both. She ended up going to Jersey (“Who intentionally drives to New Jersey?”).

So, as filmed, we see Devyn in the car heading off to the Oil and Petrochemical Refinery State, then we cut to the theater casting agent, sitting at a table, then we cut to the clock, which shows the time of her audition. Cut back to Devyn, then back to the theater casting agent, then the clock (showing she's ten minutes late). Devyn, agent, clock (twenty minutes late), and then Devyn rushes in, apologizing profusely for being late. My question is: why didn't she drive with the camera man filming the theater casting agent? Obviously he was on time.

But enough of Devyn—on to Sarah and her secret stalker! It turns out to be her father, whom she hasn't wanted to talk to for ten years, and has told her father that, several times each year. And somehow, he managed to find the phone number to The Real World Living Room Phone™. It's obvious that Sarah was traumatized by the whole experience, but Bunny was calling XXXXXXXX on the whole show by this time. How could her father get the phone number? I admit, the way it was shown it was highly coincidental that Sarah and Chet had a conversation about abuse the day her father calls on the phone. And it turns out her father abused her.

Or not.

Or perhaps just mentally.

It's not really clear just what exactly happened.

As a kid, she was in a day care center when one of the counselors approached her in a very inappropriate manner that could have lead to sexual abuse had it continued. It didn't, but Sarah still had to spend several years in therapy to work out the issues.

The issue with her father stemmed from an incident several years after the previous incident on a camping trip, just the two of them. Her father only brought a single sleeping bag, which they then “had to share.” Not much more was told, and the impression I get is that she immediately bailed on the camping trip and that lead to a split between her parents.

Did her father try to sexually abuse her? (as Sarah believes) Or was it a misunderstanding? (her father's story—and here, I'm filling in a lot of details as I'm only working with what was presented on the show).

In any case, it obviously affected Sarah and she wants nothing to do with her father.

Yet he keeps on trying.

And it's amazing that it just so happened that he called.

Scripted? (Okay, this week, we need more angst! Sarah, you hate your father!)

Planned? (The producers slipped the phone number to her father?)

Coincidental?

How did they get the clearance for the father's voice? We heard both sides of the conversation (in fact, for any call to The Real World Living Room Phone™ the audience can hear both sides of the conversation, so I'm sure that waivers had to be signed and dotted and what not to minimize the legal ramifications to MTV) so the father must have signed.

Or for that, was an actor used to “dub” in the voice?

Or is Sarah a really good actress?

[Personally, I feel that the producers may have slipped the father the phone number to increase the drama factor—heck, who didn't have parent problems at that age? And that whatever happened, it severely traumatized Sarah, but that's me. —Sean]

And now Chet. He's slowing growing on me. This week he was making time with the ladies, charming in a dorky kind of way.

I think JD has a drinking problem, and seriously pissed off Devyn and Katelynn.

Scott, Ryan (seriously dude, what's up with the 'stache?), Baya and Katelynn were this week's background characters (Katelynn more so than the others).

Next week: Ryan has flashbacks to Vietnam Iraq.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tea time

[Cast iron, baby!  I also like the rooster motif, as it matches early American folk art.]

As a kid, my Grandma Conner was concerned about the vast amounts of Coca-cola I drank (and it had to be Coke—that other stuff was the Devil's swill) so she hatched a cunning plan. She forced me to order iced tea, but at first allowed me to add as much sugar as I wanted. Over time, she had me cut down on the amount of sugar until today, I prefer unsweetened iced tea (yeah, I know, I'm a heretic down here in The South™).

She even got me hooked on sun tea (which is dead simple to make: take a transparent gallon container, fill with water. Add about six tea bags, seal it up tight and set in the sun in the morning. By late afternoon, retrieve the now golden elixir, open, discard the bags, and enjoy. It won't even cloud up on you, and it isn't all that heavy either.

And thus started my tea drinking career.

It wasn't until Alton Brown did the episode Good Eats: True Brew II that I started drinking hot tea with any regularity, and then, I tend to stick with Tazo teas (I love their Awake and Chai, and if their site wasn't all Flash based, I would link to the teas, but alas, I can't). But he did make me curious about loose leaf teas.

About a year ago, curious about loose leaf teas, I did a search and came across Teas Etc, a shop located in Lake Worth, the very town I lived in. From reading their pages, it seemed like they were primarily into the mail order business, but if you called ahead, you could visit their facility.

I never did get around to visiting their facility. Nor ordering teas from them.

Fast forward to earlier this week. I decided to take the plunge and visit their facility, since I'm up in that area (roughly—give or take a few miles) anyway on Thursdays. I check, and oh—they've moved to a new facility in West Palm Beach (at least, new to me). And surprise! It's just around the corner from where Wlofie lives!

I called to arrange an appointment. They're primarily a mail order company, but they don't mind people coming by, but since they're out of the way, kind of, they like to make sure they have whatever tea you want in stock so they can package it. Their Mandarin Orange Sencha was the tea I was primarily interested in trying, and yes, they did have it in stock. I ordered 3 oz. worth.

After the Weekly Company Meeting™ (which is in the area), I picked up Wlofie and we headed over to Teas Etc. Not terribly difficult to find, but I did have to look carefully for their small sign in the window of the industrial warehouse they're located in. We walked in, I mentioned my order, and one of the employees (and I regret I didn't get his name) retrieved my order.

I guess they don't get many people there, because after that, he lead Wlofie and me to the Order Fullfillment Department on a type of tour. He pointed out a large rack of 1oz packages of all their teas and started tossing a few my way.

“Here,” he said, tossing an ounce of Lemon Ginger Snap (retails for $5.95), “try this, it's our most popular blend right now. And this,” tossing me a 1oz package of Groovy Green ($4.95), “is quite good too. Anything else you like?”

I was still trying to process the $10 dollars of free tea when Wlofie piped in. “You really enjoy Black Currant.”

“Here you go,” the employee said, tossing a 1oz package of Black Currant my way (and it isn't even listed in their website). “What about you?” This was directed at Wlofie.

“I like Black Currant too,” Wlofie said, catching a 1oz package of same.

“What about Earl Grey? You like that,” I said. Wlofie then caught a 1oz package of Earl Grey.

“And here's a price list for each of you,” he said, handing us each a five sheet pricing guide. “Anything else I can get you?”

Assured that we had everything, he took us back into the warehouse section, filled with huge 50 pound bags of tea stacked high, as he told us how their operation works (primarily through mail order, and the owner regularly goes to the Far East to buy their teas).

Both Wlofie and I were impressed with the level of customer service shown. And now that I've tried the Mandarin Orange Sencha, I can say it's quite good hot. I'll have to try it on ice to see how it holds up.

(The teapot pictured above I bought this evening at a tea shop at the mall. Cast iron, and, while a bit pricy, it'll last forever. The design motif is “The Year of the Rooster” (which I was born under) and besides, it looks like early American folk art, which I typically like.)

Saturday, January 31, 2009

More cowbell on the millimeter wave of space

You will either find the following totally horrifying and end up screaming and running from the Internet, or this is totally Teh Amazing™ (in an ironic way) and will search out more.

You have been warned.

Oh, and don't worry, it's all Safe For Work™.

More than iron, more than lead, more than gold I need electricity. I need it more than I need lamb or pork or lettuce or cucumber. I need it for my dreams.

Racter, from its book The Policeman's Beard Is Half Constructed

Racter is a computer program and is credited with writing the book The Policeman's Beard Is Half Constructed. You could also buy a version of Racter back in the mid-80s, although it's questionable if you could generate a book from that version of the program.

Basically, Racter is a “generative” program; something that generates its output semi-randomly. There are rules guiding the output, but the rules themselves are selected at random. Give it a wide enough selection of rules plus a discriminating eye, yes, it could probably generate a book.

Bill and Diane traveled tree studded highways to the home, the house of Helene. This was in America, the birthplace of Bill, the point-of-origin of Diane, the motherland of Helene. The highways were like lanes or roads in the country, they were bush lined and hedge lined. Bill and Diane were talking of their anxiety because Helene knew and understood their perpetual conflict with her, they knew that she wanted to kill them because of her own ambiguities, her intractable commitments abut her own passion. Helene was a person of commerce and Bill and Diane were people of art. This darkly is difficult, it feverishly is hard to possess commerce and art together. They would eat lamb and cucumbers and sing of commerce and art, and their singing would both belittle and enrage them. That would be in the house of Helene where they would both breakfast together. When Bill and Diane had traveled to the house of Helene they said to her, “We are perpetually sick or ill when we chant of art with you, Helene, we will now talk of our joy when we think of lamb.” “I will not sing of commerce,” sang Helene, “but I will talk now only of cucumbers. We will not revile or belittle each other or madden or inflame ourselves.” They ate their lamb and cucumbers and then Bill and Diane traveled away.

Racter, from its book The Policeman's Beard Is Half Constructed

Some may find fault with using a computer to “write” a book, but really, it's just another tool to help with creativity. Thomas Easton used a computer program to help generate the following poem:

Love Song for Lonely Aliens

Weak with angonies of unstroked ego,
He loved physics,
Embraced its texts,
Cupped hands around the meshwork domes
Of vast antennae,
Roared erectly into orbit,
And screamed his coming
On the millimeter waves
Of space.

In his own words:

I conceive of the creative mond as having two components: the popcorn mind and the critical mind. The former generates random combinations of whatever words, ideas and images happen to be in a sort of mental focus (along with the peripheral material, which is why the popcorn mind can surpriseus). The critical mind then discards as garbage the vast bulk of what the popcorn mind produces and edits, twists and elaborates the remainder to form poems.

The intermediate result is ungrammatical, nonsensical, ridiculous garbage … but not always. Among the many lines of garbage there always lie a few lines to which one responds. They make sense—or seem to. They beg one to tweak them a little. A pair of them insists that one make up a third line. They stimulate one to think of other links that cna accompany them. A little editing, interpolation, elaboration and—viol´—a poem.

So, his program generates a ton of garbage, but within that stream of nonsense are a few gems to be pulled out and used. But it's just a tool (at the time he wrote that, he used this method to produce 110 poems, of which 32 were published, a ratio he said that would turn many professional poets green with envy).

Now, a few weeks ago, Bunny stumbled across a commercial for Microsoft's Songsmith (link via Duncan) and was horrified by the concept. I however, didn't see what was so horrifying with it. Yes, the commercial is horrible, but the concept?

I don't think so. It's just another creative tool (which in itself has been a months long conversation between us, and is related to talent, but that's another topic for another time) that yes, can be abused.

Ooooh boy can it be abused.

It's apparently the “in thing” to take a popular song (say, Van Halen's “Running With The Devil”), isolate the vocals, and have Songsmith generate the music (link via Jason Kottke).

Good, bad, or ugly, I find these totally Teh Amazing™, mainly because of the novelty of it all (Songsmith matched Billy Idol's “White Wedding” with Bluegrass, for instance)—the unexpected juxtaposition of two seemingly unrelated elements (which is the basis of humor, don't you know?).

Bunny is horrified by it all and ran from the house, screaming “The horror! The horror!”

But perhaps, if Microsoft added more cowbell

Obligatory Picture

[Don't hate me for my sock monkey headphones.]

Obligatory Links

Obligatory Miscellaneous

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