Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Uptime 18d 14:53

Looking at my IBM ThinkPad this morning, I see from GKrellM down in the corner of the screen that my uptime is now 18 days, 14 hours, and 53 minutes.

Yes, that's a new record. I haven't rebooted my computer since January 12. Gone are the days of enslavement to Microsoft, gone are the days of the blue screen of death. Ah, the glories of Linux!


Food as "Medication"

I'm trying to think at what point it was, some years back, that they started promoting food almost as if it were medicine. You know, "Sodium free!" "A good source of vitamins A and D!" "Low in heart-clogging fats!"

It was probably at the point where the baby boomers, those notorious perpetual centers of the universe, reached the age where they finally had to start worrying about their health.

Some of it is pretty ridiculous. Pretzels loaded with salt are advertised as "Fat free!" Candy which is mostly sugar is billed as "Low in sodium!" A tin of caffeinated mints I've got sitting here on my desk informs me that these mints are "Sugar free!" It's a dietary shell game.

And some of it is downright schoolmarmish. My box of pancake mix bears a banner on the front which proclaims, "A Good Source of Calcium and Iron!" Yeah, right. That's exactly why I wanted pancakes this morning, to make sure that I'm getting my recommended daily dosage of calcium and iron. That's why I wanted pancakes, not because they're the most enjoyable breakfast food this side of pizza, not because pancakes are heaven when they're slathered with "caffeine-free" butter and "nicotine-free" maple sypup.

In case you didn't really understand why you like maple syrup, it's because maple syrup is "nicotine-free." Plus, no doubt, it's a good source of vitamins B1, B12 and D. Yeah, right.

And then there's the cardboard canister of oatmeal, which smugly admonishes, "Oatmeal Helps Remove Cholesterol!" Yes, "May reduce the risk of heart disease!" (Just in case you didn't get it, the lid of the canister carries a little message from the American Heart Association.) You sinners! Eat oatmeal, or have a heart attack! Repent! Take your medication, in the form of our food product, or die! Die! DIE!!!

There's just something sick about a society which can no longer enjoy food as food, a society which has to look on food primarily as "a source of" nutrients and quasi-medicinal ingredients. It's almost as if every food in the supermarket had been turned into spinach. "Eat up your spinach, it's good for you!"

No, I say eat, drink and be merry. Or, if you recall the full form of that saying, it's "Eat, drink and be merry! For tomorrow we die." Whatever happened to the days when moralistic attitudes over what people eat were the exclusive province of vegetarians? H.L. Mencken was right. God save us from those who are out to "improve" us, God deliver us from the lofty attitudes of "the Uplift"!


Friday, January 27, 2006

Pull Out All the Stops!

Okay, Urthshu has been giving himself leave to write abstruse posts about psychology on his blog, complete with bibliography, and has even been stirring up a minor tempest elsewhere by suggesting that "Consciousness isn't." Well, if he can pull out all the stops in his métier, so can I in mine...

(BTW, dude, a thing is or isn't; consciousness, a category rather than a thing, neither is nor isn't, it can merely be judged by whether, as a symbolic form, it is fruitful or not. Fruitful, fecund. Sort of like quality, number, causation, space, time, language, myth, and whatnot else. Not that, as a good post-Cartesian, I mind conceding that consciousness ain't all it's cracked up to be, the mere superficial skin on the apple, "...proud man, Most ignorant of what he's most assured, His glassy essence." And now that I've made like an on-stage impersonation of Ernst Cassirer and Charles Sanders Peirce rolled into one, let's get on with the rant...)

Okay, <rant>
If you, O cobbler, can stick to your last, then I can stick to (or at least not stray too dang far) from mine... Ummmmm, let's start out with a snippet from the Sepher Yetzirah:

עשר ספירות בלימה מדתן עשר שאין להם סוף
עומק ראשית ועומק אחרית
עומק טוב ועומק רע
עומק רום ועומק תחת
עומק מזרח ועומק מערב
עומק צפון ועומק דרום
אדון יחיד אל מלך נאמן מושל בכולם ממעון קדשו ועד עדי עד׃

Sepher Yetzirah 1:5

Or, in Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's English translation:
Ten Sephiroth of Nothingness:
      Their measure is ten
      which have no end
A depth of beginning
   A depth of end
A depth of good
   A depth of evil
A depth of above
   A depth of below
A depth of east
   A depth of west
A depth of north
   A depth of south
The singular Master
      God faithful King
   dominates over them all
      from His holy dwelling
      until eternity of eternities.
Note, ten sephiroth of nothingness, ten sephiroth Beli-mah: "This word can also be translated as meaning closed, abstract, absolute, or ineffable. This word occurs only once in scripture, in the verse, 'He stretches the north on Chaos, He hangs the earth on Nothingness (Beli-mah)' (Job 26:7). According to many commentaries, the word Beli-mah is derived from two words, Beli, meaning 'without,' and Mah, meaning 'what' or 'anything.' The word Beli-mah would then mean 'without anything' or 'nothingness.'" (Kaplan, p. 25)

Rabbi Kaplan correlates the ten directions in the passage with the ten sephiroth, thusly:

Beginning: Chokhmah (Wisdom)
End: Binah (Understanding)
Good: Kether (Crown)
Evil: Malkuth (Kingdom)
Up: Netzach (Victory)
Down: Hod (Splendor)
North: Gevurah (Strength)
South: Chesed (Love)
East: Tiphareth (Beauty)
West: Yesod (Foundation)

(Or, to take the ten sephiroth in order: Kether, Chokhmah, Binah, Chesed, Gevurah, Tiphareth, Netzach, Hod, Yesod, Malkuth.)

Okay, out of sheer gall (in tres partes divisa) I've fiddled with the good Rabbi's transliteration just slightly, but don't you worry about that. I'm sort of warp-driving along here, not getting too hung up over detail, self-enwrapped in a veritable mystical Cloud of Unknowing, full stop. I mean, ain't this gonna chap them left-brainers who drifted over here from Dean's World in expectation of some good ol' spockian logic chopping or biblical literalism or something? Might've warned 'em in advance that I'm a double-barreled left-brain/right-brain Presbyterian and not a good ol' boy Alabama Southern Babtiss, but nothing coulda prepared 'em for this! Hoooo-weeeeeee!!!

Am I zenning you yet?! :-)

Don't worry, we'll get there. (I'm reminded of the time someone tried to put Jack Kerouac on the spot by asking him, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" Kerouac instantly responded by slapping the fellow in the face. Which, when you think of it, is a pretty damn good "zen" response. :-)

Okay, now. Am I the only person ever to notice that the schema of the ten sephiroth correlates very hand-in-glove nicely with that anonymous poem which appears in the number-one spot at the beginning of the old Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse? To wit, here's the poem:

  I am the wind which breathes upon the sea,
  I am the wave of the ocean,
  I am the murmur of the billows,
  I am the ox of the seven combats,
  I am the vulture upon the rocks,
  I am a beam of the sun,
  I am the fairest of plants,
  I am a wild boar in valour,
  I am a salmon in the water,
  I am a lake in the plain,
  I am a word of science,
  I am a point of the lance in battle,
  I am the God who creates in the head the fire.
Who is it who throws light into the meeting on the mountain?
Who announces the ages of the moon?
Who teaches the place where couches the sun?

Now let's run through that once again slowly, this time with the "Ten Sephiroth of Nothingness"— "abstract, absolute, ineffable"— in place:

  I am the wind which breathes upon the sea,

  I am the wave of the ocean,

  I am the murmur of the billows,

  I am the ox of the seven combats,

  I am the vulture upon the rocks,

  I am a beam of the sun,

  I am the fairest of plants,

  I am a wild boar in valour,

  I am a salmon in the water,

  I am a lake in the plain, [Water]
  I am a word of science, [Air]
  I am a point of the lance in battle, [Earth]
  I am the God who creates in the head the fire. [Fire]

Ayn Soph Aur:
Who is it who throws light into the meeting on the mountain?
Ayn Soph:
Who announces the ages of the moon?
Who teaches the place where couches the sun?

Well, to quote Coach Z in the classic Strong Bad E-Mail about Trogdor the Burninator, "Take a look there, I think she's lookin' pretty good!" (Strong Bad: "I said consummate V's! Consummate! Geez... Guy wouldn't know majesty if it came up and bit him in the face!" Coach Z: "That happened once!") And unlike Coach Z, I do know majesty. Yes, I think those correspondences all pretty much fit; the only one I have some doubts about is Chesed and "the ox of the seven combats."

I mean, "ox of the seven combats," what is that?! Gayomart's primordial ox? Or just something that wanders the depths of the dungeon, "two four-sided hit dice of damage per attack, player character must make saving throw against being gored by ox's horns"? Or something???

Now. Here's my real supposition: I wonder if somebody behind the production of that redaction of the poem (look around on the Internet, you'll find zillions of not-too-similar versions and/or misredactions of "Amergin"), I mean like somebody in late 19th or early 20th century England, went all tinsel-magus Ordo-Templi-Orientis and, like, deliberately redacted that poem in an only-slightly-veiled kabbalistic turn of light... eh, as the world turns... the worm turns... the turn of the screw... blobble-de-globble...

I mean, actually, probably not; but as a surmise and an explanation, it shines in spades, grand slam doubled redoubled and vulnerable, since as an explanation it is at the same time both paranoid and reductionistic. Paranoid conspiracy theory appealing to the anti-fluoridationist gold-hoarding crowd out in Montana. Reductionistic "always belittlin'" explaining-away catering to the tastes of the nihilistic academic-hard-left crowd of Harvard Yard or Duke Quad. And so we have all bases covered, hey presto! Abra cadavera! [sic] All is one, one is nothing, phylogeny recapitulates ontogeny, and philosophy decapitates ontology! By the Saints John of Jerusalem, so mote it be!

Though just between you and me, I'd say the real explanation is, the Ten Sephiroth of Nothingness... Didn't St. Augustine himself say (De Trinitate, III.iv.22) that all God's work in this world, this side of the Incarnation, is through the intermediate agency of angels?

Am I zenning you yet?? Came expecting Bertrand Russell or Francis Turretin, came away with Jack Kerouac James Joyce Tiphareth Charley Peirce and cousin Louie too, roaring cataract of nonsense streaming audio scream of consciousness; though, and don't you forget it too, "Consciousness isn't." Well, except as it's filled with the light streaming down, as if filtered through colored glass bottles, through those Ten Sephiroth of Nothingness. Something in there too about the mending of the vessels, if only I could... remember...



Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan. Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation. Northvale, NJ and London: Jason Aronson Inc., 1995.

D.H.S. Nicholson and A.H.E. Lee, editors. The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1917.

Labels: ,


When it comes to searching the Internet, you've heard of Google, you've heard of Yahoo, you've heard of MSN, you've heard of Ask Jeeves.

But have you ever heard of a search engine known as Gigablast?

I've long thought that Gigablast doesn't receive the attention it deserves. Gigablast is the brainchild of one "little guy," Matt Wells, who singlehandedly designed and coded his search engine from scratch.

One of the virtues of Gigablast is that it maintains its own completely independent index— something which hardly anyone outside of the top three or four search engines still does nowadays.

Gone are the early days of the World Wide Web, when each search engine out there kept up its own index: Lycos and Excite and Alta Vista and HotBot and Northern Light and many others which have long since been forgotten. Nowadays most search engines, whatever name they go by, are being fed most or all of their search results from one of the very few search giants such as Google or Yahoo. But not Gigablast, which remains stubbornly independent.

Another strength of Gigablast is its astonishing array of features, including natural language queries, a web directory, optional advanced query syntax, and much, much more.

I must confess I'm not sure Gigablast's index is as fresh as it used to be. But overall it's an astonishing piece of work. I've long had Gigablast among the search engines on my toolbar. You can add a Gigablast toolbar to Internet Explorer or add a Gigablast plugin to Firefox. Or if you're an Opera user like me, you can add Gigablast to your Opera search.ini file— here's my (heavily customized) search.ini file, for any Opera users who'd like to download it and experiment with it.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Methusaleh's Daughter

John Eddy and Dean Esmay have written an amazing novel entitled Methuselah's Daughter, the Authorized Biography of Zsallia Marieko. After you check out what they have to say about it, you'll also want to take a look at Zsallia's blog.

It was my privilege to be a member of the focus group on which John and Dean tested out the novel while they were writing it. Also, skilled constructor of languages that I am, I put in the head work and the grunt work on the ancient language— somewhere between Proto-Germanic and Proto-Indo-European— which crops up here and there in the novel: "Juwunte matar kwī ken ert med tinōm bharnoi?"

And when the novel eventually comes out, you'll want to read it. Trust me. In fact, you won't be able to put it down.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Who Do You Resemble?

paul burgess
There's this site which uses face recognition software. Upload a photo of yourself from your hard drive (warning: registration required), and it will tell you which celebrities you most closely resemble.

I tried it out with a shot of myself (yeah, that's me, right up above), and here are the results:
  1. Tennessee Williams 59%
  2. Oliver Stone 56%
  3. Seamus Heaney 55%
  4. Peter Ustinov 54%
  5. Henri Becquerel 52%
  6. Kevin Spacey 51%
  7. Edmund Husserl 50%
  8. Rafael Leonidas Trujillo 50%
  9. Alec Guinness 49%
  10. Arthur Rimbaud 48%
The Tennessee Williams resemblance is fairly pronounced, and I can also see my resemblance to Irish poet and writer Seamus Heaney. I'll certainly lay claim to Obi-Wan Kenobi too, and also to Edmund Husserl, who just in case you didn't know, was the founding father of modern phenomenology (yes, I carry items like this around in my head ;-).

(h/t Rosemary)

Au Revoir, Tannenbaum

Would you believe? Yesterday I finally mustered the energy to take down my Christmas tree, nativity scene, and the other Christmas decorations in my living room. Which, since I ordinarily leave these things up through the twelfth day of Christmas, puts me only two and a half weeks behind schedule this year...

Monday, January 23, 2006

Alien Life Form from Epsilon Eridani

alien life form from epsilon eridani
Here's a weird video, some Japanese artists subjected a ferrofluid to a magnetic field, producing a rapidly shifting fluid sculpture. I mean, weird! Somehow the results made me think of some utterly alien life form; something so different, so alien, that it's simply unintelligible, you can't even figure out what it's doing, or why, or anything. Like some alien life form from the Epsilon Eridani star system, or whatever...

(h/t Steven)


Friday, January 20, 2006

Admiral Fitzroy's Stormglass

Well, my latest toy arrived by UPS yesterday afternoon. And I am sitting here and still trying to puzzle out Admiral Fitzroy's stormglass.

Or, as it's sometimes called, a stormbottle. (Stormbottle— I love that word!) Talk about a funky weather forecasting device! Brass, nearly six inches tall. Chemicals sealed in a glass tube. The whole thing weighs about one pound. And it's supposed to give you a fairly reliable forecast of weather over the next 24 to 48 hours.

Surfing around, we learn that the stormglass dates back to around 1750. Nobody knows who invented it, but by around that time such devices were for sale at a shop called "Under the Goat and Compasses" at Old London Bridge. The stormglass was popularized during the 1800s by Admiral Fitzroy (1805-65), commander of the HMS Beagle— it was one of the devices Fitzroy used during the Darwin Expedition.

The liquid in the glass is a mixture of distilled water, ethanol, potassium nitrate, ammonium chloride, and camphor. To be lazy and lift the rest of my homework straight from Wikipedia:
During the historic voyage, FitzRoy carefully documented how the storm glass would predict the weather:
  • If the liquid in the glass is clear, the weather will be bright and clear.
  • If the liquid is cloudy, the weather will be cloudy as well, perhaps with precipitation.
  • If there are small dots in the liquid, humid or foggy weather can be expected.
  • A cloudy glass with small stars indicates thunderstorms.
  • If the liquid contains small stars on sunny winter days, then snow is coming.
  • If there are large flakes throughout the liquid, it will be overcast in temperate seasons or snowy in the winter.
  • If there are crystals at the bottom, this indicates frost.
  • If there are threads near the top, it will be windy.
A storm glass works on the premise that temperature and pressure affect solubility, sometimes resulting in clear liquid; other times causing precipitants to form. However, the method by which this works is not fully understood. Although it is well-established that temperature affects solubility, sealed glasses are not exposed to the pressure changes that would account for much of the observed behavior.
My stormglass was made in Denmark by E.S. Sørensen. I'm still trying to dope out certain points from the often obscure and sometimes contradictory material I've been finding online. (Don't you just love the cacophony that is cyberspace?!) In particular, you'll see I've installed my stormglass just inside my (north-facing) kitchen window, as some sites recommend; I suspect I ought to (as other sites recommend) move it outside, where I should hope the alcohol content will keep it from freezing.

Oh well. Mechanical ingenuity and I do not mix. This is what they call a "learning experience"...


Thursday, January 19, 2006


So I was stumbling around getting breakfast this morning, and as usual I had the radio on, tuned to the news station from Cedar Rapids. Not really listening that closely, you know. And somewhere between pouring the orange juice and getting the toast out of the toaster, I more or less overheard something like the following:
...electrical power is out in Maryland today, forcing the canceling of schools, where they were planning to watch the launch of an unmanned space probe on TV...
Naw, that couldn't have been what they were really saying. Could it? Though often, when I'm just out on the fringe of listening, and not quite paying attention, I misoverhear items like this. It's sort of like the spontaneous aural equivalent of William S. Burroughs' cut-ups.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Einstein Hair

True fact: when I get up in the morning, my hair is always sticking straight up, sticking straight out, sticking out in every which direction. It looks like I stuck my finger in an electrical socket. It looks like Einstein hair.

The hair on my head has always been rather fine. Unlike the hair in my beard, which is thicker and wiry. When I was younger, my hair used to get somewhat wavy in warmer, humid weather. Nowadays it doesn't get wavy any more. It just goes completely wild and every which way whenever I sleep on it.

Even an afternoon nap will do it sometimes. Overnight will do it for sure. I get up with crazy Einstein hair. And then I can't smooth it down. I can't comb it down. I can't slick it down. It just sticks right back up again. The only fix is to wash my hair, with shampoo and conditioner. And it'd better be the right kind of conditioner, too; the new brand I'm trying right now is not very effective at de-Einsteining me.

In short, I have to wash my hair every day, or else go around with hair that has that gale force wind look to it. To tell the truth, sometimes on my day off, if I'm not planning on going out, I don't bother. I just slop around the house all day with Einstein hair. Yeah, E = mc² and all that, baby...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Vacuum Cleaner Radio

I'm weird, I've always had a thing for the noise of a vacuum cleaner. The sound of a vacuum cleaner motor running, the vvvvmmmmmm, hmmmmmmmmm as it sweeps back and forth across the carpet... it just sends a chill up my spine.

When I was a very young kid, I remember I was afraid of the vacuum cleaner. So my dad would sing to me while my mom was vacuuming. I eventually came to like the sound of a vacuum cleaner. It does something to me, it's hard to put it into words. It's like a mug of hot chocolate, it's like being curled up beneath a warm blanket on the davenport on a cold winter night while the winds blow and howl in the dark outside.

I know this is out of the ordinary. But then, in a lot ways I seem to be out of the ordinary, you know? I'm weird.

Vvvvvmmmmmmmm, hmmmmmmmm, vvvmmmmmmm, brrrrrrap! That vacuum cleaner noise, it's not like the sound— as if of music from another room— that I sometimes hear in the humming and thrumming of a fan motor. That's more quaint and curious and distant. The noise of a vacuum cleaner is more like tingling up my spine and in the nape of my neck. The far music in a fan motor is soft pastel; the vacuum cleaner noise is all sharp needles of Jack Frost on a January morning.

A vacuum cleaner strikes me more like the way I'm moved by listening to radio voices through the crackly static, from Denver and from Boston and from Nashville and from Calgary and from San Antone. Tuning up and down the radio dial on a cold winter night, fishing those voices out of the ether, has always felt to me like being in touch with some alternate dimension of reality. The noise of a vacuum cleaner affects me much like that.

It's hard to find the words. I think we're treading here on the march realms of synaesthesia.

And it should come to you as no surprise that I still own that old vacuum cleaner from my childhood. It's a Eureka upright. It's older than I am, early 1950s vintage. Its maroon paint is chipped and scratched, but it still runs just fine. And it makes, you know, that magical vacuum cleaner noise, vvvvmmmmmmm, hmmmmmmmmmmm...

Which brings us to what I call "vacuum cleaner radio." On the Internet I've stumbled across an online radio station called Darkdrone Radio. (You may have to log in to Live365 to listen, I long since bookmarked it from my free Live365 account.) I'm too dense about music to know just what kind of music is being played on Darkdrone Radio: "the world's best drone, world, experimental, and ambient music," it says.

Well, to me that doesn't mean jack. All I know is, a lot of what they play on "Darkdrone Radio" sounds to me wonderfully like the noise of a vacuum cleaner. I call it "vacuum cleaner music."

They play something of a variety of music. But a lot of it sounds only half a step above sheer noise. Imagine the droning buzz of a World War II airplane engine. Imagine the background murmur of the in-between spots on a radio dial, late at night. Imagine white noise almost drowning out the faint background chanting of a distant medicine man. Imagine mechanical factory clank over the ringing and clicking of long-distance phone relays. Imagine soft repetitive brass-cymbal clanging, playing counterpoint to the buzzing thrum of a motor's noise. The wowing and the mumming of vaguely clashing noises, and it goes on and on with only the most subtle of variation, almost all background and hardly any foreground.

Like the noise of a vacuum cleaner. And it has much the same effect on me. "Vacuum cleaner music." Darkdrone Radio. Like I say, I'm weird...


Monday, January 16, 2006

Midnight Oil

Last night I got home after Youth Fellowship and fell to puttering around on my computer. Puttered and puttered, and somehow before I knew it, it was one in the morning. I staggered off to bed. Yes, at one in the morning.

I'm trying to think when the last time was that I stayed up past midnight. Not weeks. More like months.

Contrary to popular rumor (and I don't know quite how this rumor got started, but it has widespread currency) I am not always in bed by nine. Yes, sometimes. Or sometimes by ten or eleven. Or even eleven thirty. However, in these latter days I have very much gotten out of the habit of staying up past midnight. I think such rumors may be helped along by the fact that I am not a fan of bright lights, and if I'm sitting at my computer in the evening, the glow of the screen may well be the only light in the house. Or I may have one table lamp on in the living room— like most of the lights in the house, I've long since equipped that lamp with a couple of 25 watt bulbs— which, given the big front porch in front of the living room, is not very much in evidence as "lights on" to someone driving past down the road.

To bed last night around one. And then, my sleeping habits being what they are, I woke up this morning by not much past five. Which is about as late as I ever sleep no matter when I go to bed. So here I am, expecting to function today on only about four hours of sleep. Oh well. Today's my day off anyhow.

Seems it was so much simpler back in my college years. Then, I often stayed up past midnight. Till two in the morning, or sometimes even later. And it never slowed me down the next day. I guess that works better when you're young than when you're coming up on fifty.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Green Glow-in-the-Dark Pigs

glowing green pigs
Seriously. By dint of jellyfish genes and genetic engineering, these scientists over in Taiwan have produced some green pigs that glow in the dark. Now that is cool...

"Have you seen the little piggies
 Glowing in the dark
 And for all the little piggies
 Life is turning green
 Always having dark to glow around in..."

(h/t Dean)

Thunderbird 1.5

A new version of Thunderbird is out. Thunderbird for e-mail. Get it!

Friday, January 13, 2006


I realize that in recent years I almost never watch TV. Once in a great while, I may turn on the local TV news to catch the weather forecast. Or I may turn on the TV to catch emergency coverage of some major breaking news story. Apart from that, I go weeks and even months at a time without ever turning my television on.

I doubt there's a single series on network TV today that I've ever watched. Except perhaps for the odd five seconds while flipping around from channel to channel with the remote. I repeat, whatever your favorite TV series is, I'd bet good money that I've never even seen it.

The last TV series I followed was The X-Files. When that wrapped up however many years ago, in that series finale with the black helicopters firing missiles into the ancient Indian cliff dwelling where the Cigarette-Smoking Man was holed up, I pretty much let go of television. Since then, I just don't watch TV.

When I was a kid, I remember how I loved to watch Gilligan's Island and The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres. Hey, sometimes sort of dumb, I'll grant; but they were genuinely entertaining. I also watched countless hecto-hours of The Andy Griffith Show.

And when Star Trek came on the air... I was in seventh heaven. If ever there was a show that was just made for me as a kid, it was the original Star Trek series. (It embarrasses me to admit it today, but as a kid I also loved Lost in Space. I guess there's no accounting for tastes.)

In the seventies, my favorite shows were All in the Family and MASH. Haven't watched them in years, but I used to watch them all the time.

Then— and by now we're skipping ahead to I think the early nineties and onward— I very much got into Twin Peaks. And then American Gothic, with eeevil Sheriff Buck...

I discovered The X-Files a couple of seasons along, and it bugs me that to this day there are some episodes from seasons one and two that I've never seen. I was an absolute X-Files fanatic. I have many of the episodes recorded on videotape from channel 25 up in La Crosse, poor broadcast signal and all. I keep trying to resist the hundreds of dollars it would cost to buy all nine seasons of the show on DVD.

And I also loved Chris Carter's "other" TV show, Millennium. I sort of identify with Frank Black, if you can credit that. "This is who we are..."

Not to mention, I am a great fan of Digimon, which I recorded faithfully off of Fox Kids on channel 25. "Gomamon digivolve to Ikkakumon!... Ikkakumon digivolve to Zudomon!!!"

And there were a few other much-too-short-lived shows I followed. Chris Carter's Harsh Realm. Vengeance Unlimited, with Michael Madsen.

But once The X-Files went off the air, I pretty much stopped watching TV. Actually, by that time for many years I'd been in the habit of only watching a few favorite series. I was never a channel-surfer or someone who watched TV just to have something to do.

In fact, the signs were long obvious: I never owned a color TV in my life until I was 43 years old. I repeat, I never owned a color TV until I was 43. For many years there, I got along with a little 12-inch black-and-white.

I don't know what it would take to draw me back to TV today. It's not really that I object to the sex and the violence, you know: actually, hot babes and blazing guns are part of what might draw me back to TV, if anything did. No, I think what led me gradually to drift away from TV was simply that I didn't find anything interesting in most of the TV shows out there. It was so boring. Much of it was so awfully written. So uninspired. So seen-it-100-times-before formulaic. And somewhere along the line, I became downright allergic to canned laughter. God, please spare me from having to suffer through any show that has a canned laugh track!

If somebody could suggest to me a show that's interesting— probably something along the lines of science fiction or the surreal or even a good comedy or a good action/adventure show— I'd be open to suggestions. I waste way too much time over my computer, maybe I could waste some of that time in front of the TV instead. Only, please, something that genuinely holds my interest. Until then, I remain televisionless.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Game Geek Links

As anyone who hangs around here knows, I've always been absolutely fascinated with classical board games and card games.

Well, here are a couple of sites for game geeks. The Card Game Website has the rules of every card game you've ever heard of, and then some. And The Chess Variant Pages likewise contain more chess variations and chesslike games than you've ever dreamed of.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Not too long ago I stumbled across an interesting comment by somebody out there somewhere:
My mother was born in 1910 and I was born in 1950. It seems to me that my mother experienced more change during her first 55 years than I did during my first 55. She flew in an open cockpit bi-plane as a girl and flew in a trans-oceanic jet as an adult. The development of antibiotics had a larger impact on medicine than any of our modern developments. Radio, television, nuclear weapons, two world wars, interstate highways, the list goes on and on. The internet is a big deal, but it seems to me the list of things during my lifetime is smaller. The world changed more during her first 55 years than it did during mine.
We might add to that list the automobile, which technically was around back in 1910; but as my grandmother (who was born in 1905 and is going on 101) will tell you, the automobile didn't arrive in her neck of the woods, up in rural central Wisconsin, until around the beginning of World War I.

For that matter, electricity, running water, and indoor plumbing didn't arrive in my grandmother's everyday life until the late 1930s; and of course there were many locales in rural America where electricity came only after World War II. And ask anyone who can remember back that far, what a difference the advent of the washing machine made: where do you think Kurt Vonnegut stole his line, "Goodbye, Blue Monday!", from?

I was born in 1956 into a world where all these items were present; but as a kid growing up, I was always acutely aware that I was separated by only a few short years from a time and place where such conveniences were not widely available, or not available at all.

I also remember pondering, as a kid, how the style and outward form of life might be changing, and even changing radically (well, this was the late 1960s). But that something in the basic pattern of everyday life in the developed world had coalesced, oh, more or less after World War I, and that beneath all the outward variation in style, this coalesced "something" was not so different in my time than it had been in the days of flappers, prohibition, and 23 skidoo.

In fact I still think, looking back from the vantage point of today, that this basic "something" has changed not so radically since I was a kid. Without a doubt the greatest shift in everyday life in my lifetime has been the computer and the Internet: I can think of nothing else in these past 50 years that has made as big a difference in the way we do things every day as the automobile, radio, and television made in the 20th century before I was born.

And I suspect I, a denizen of 2006, would feel more at home and less in a foreign land, could I travel back 80 years to 1926, than an inhabitant of 1926 would feel could he travel back only 40 years to 1886.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Shatner "Sings" Rocket Man

Back in the late 60s, William Shatner a/k/a Captain Kirk recorded some bizarre audio renditions which sounded like an insane, screeching, demented, spaced-out parody of Shakespeare. Not really singing so much as stiffly, awkwardly enunciating. Problem is, Shatner meant it seriously.

Then about ten years later, Shatner performed this video rendition of "Rocket Man," in similar style. Shatner, in a tux, idly smoking a cig, and stiffly enunciating:

"She packed my bags.... last night, pre-flight...... zero hour, nine A.M....... And I'm gonna be hiiiiiiiigh........... [eerie music: Woooooo-eeeeeee-ooooooooh!] as a kite by then..."

And from there on, it only gets worse. Much worse. Multiple images of Shatner onscreen... one, idly smoking a cigarette... the other, gesticulating and stiffly enunciating: "And I think it's... gonna BE... a long, long TIME..."

Not singing. Enunciating. Stiffly.

Yes... yes... "To boldly go where no Elton John has gone before!"

     (A much higher fidelity 44-megabyte version can be found here.)


Saturday, January 07, 2006

Spanner in the Works

"In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is."

  —Yogi Berra

Thursday, January 05, 2006

"I See Windmills by the Sands of the Seashore..."

I see windmills by the sands of the seashore. And I see men wearing leather skullcaps. And I see a dog trotting on ahead of the horses in harness, as they plow a straight furrow in the fields. I see an old man at his prayers, an open book on his lap. And I see bags of rice, burlap bags, being unloaded from a three-masted ship down at the docks...

Young Thom picked his way carefully down the path, his bare feet hopscotching from one grassy hillock to another. April rains came daily this near to the Pacific coast, and dirt was mixed with mud betwixt the tufts of grass. This wide path had once been a blacktop highway, but with winter thaw and all the rain, the roadway had long since been broken up and much of it washed away. Here and there you might still step on a chunk of blacktop as big as a large turtle's back, or as small as a seabird's egg. But with the passing of years and decades, this stretch of Oregon coast was more and more reverting to nature.

"Hey there! Get on, ol' Dobbin! Get on, Sandy! Gee, gee, ol' Dobbin! C'mon, gee, Sandy!" The man behind the plow called out to his horses, as they drew the plow in a straight line across the field alongside the path. Thom turned and looked in the bright morning light, then stopped to watch the team of horses in harness, plowing a straight furrow in the rich black soil. The man behind them held on to the handles of the plow; he wore a leather skullcap on his head. So did a younger fellow who followed along behind, looked like the man's son. And on up ahead of the two horses trotted a collie, leading the way.

Yes, it was spring down here by the coast. Springtime. Thom walked on down the path. Another half a mile, and he could see the huge windmills that stood like giants against the sky, up and down the Oregon coastline. Odd to think that the electricity in these parts, as much of it as Thom's family had in their cottage home up the road, came from these giants with their long, slow-turning arms down here by the coast. When there was wind, there was electricity; when there was no wind, the grid drew on the electric piles; and when there was no wind for a day and more, people got out their kerosene lamps and piled wood in the cast-iron stove. Thom knew there was a time when things had been different, but that was long before he was born, long even before his father and mother had been born.

Thom walked barefoot through the dirt streets of the little coastal village. There was a store here; on the way back, Thom would stop off for some groceries, sugar and salt and other necessaries, and a sack of iron nails too, much of a load as a twelve-year-old boy could carry back three miles up the road. But now Thom was on his way through the village's main street. On the front porch of a house Thom passed, an old man with a long grey beard sat on a bench-swing, a book open on his lap in front of him. Perhaps at his prayers, Thom thought to himself.

Why, that man must be old enough that he can remember the Time of Troubles! Gramp lived through the Time of Troubles, but he didn't like to talk about it. Gramp had a saying, Thom never knew quite how to take it: "It's bad enough to see blood flowing like water in the streets, but when you see flesh and bone flowing like water in the streets..." It was a way of saying he didn't want to go into detail about the horrors he had seen when he was a young man.

Now Thom was circling around to one side of the small harbor. There was a schooner at the dock, a three-masted schooner with its sails furled. Thom could see men carrying burlap sacks of rice, unloading the ship. But Thom's interest this morning was not in the ships that came sailing up the Pacific Coast, bearing their cargo from the great seaports of California to the south, or down from Portland and Seattle in the north. No, this morning Thom was bound for the beach.

The wet sand squished between Thom's toes. The tide was going out. There were sand dollars scattered on the beach, but Thom had seen many a sand dollar. Here and there was a piece of driftwood, washed up by the tide. Thom knew the driftwood. He could see faces in the weathered gnarls of the driftwood. Thom even knew already, at twelve years of age, that seeing faces in the driftwood was not just "seeing faces" in the driftwood, it was one way of seeing more deeply into what the driftwood was, if only one had eyes to see. Just "seeing faces"? That was one of the hollow, empty deceits which had led men into the Time of Troubles, and had led men in their titanic arrogance almost to destroy the world. Hollow, empty: hollowing out the world around them, emptying the world around them, so that it meant little to men to remake the world in their own hollow, empty image.

This much Thom had learned already from Nana Loa, who lived in a hut up the beach here, north of town. Nana Loa was old, she had lived through the Time of Troubles. Thom was appointed to be apprenticed to Nana Loa, though he would have to wait a while yet to begin his formal studies. His brain had to reach its full growth, its neural connections pared back to adult levels, before he could be initiated into training. But already, even now, Thom was doing what he could to study and learn.

Now here was Nana Loa's hut, up the slope from high tide. Nana Loa herself was sitting outside on this bright April morning, down on the beach. She was sitting crosslegged on a woven rug spread on the sand. In front of her, laid on the ground, was a large oblong chunk of clear glass, almost like a glass brick.

Nana Loa was peering down into the depths of the brick; as Thom stood beside her, looking down over her shoulder, he could see shifting patterns of light within the brick, circles of luminous blue connected by a grid of lines, each circle holding a single word in strange letters Thom could not decipher. Now rows and columns of numbers in saffron lit up, associated with one of the blue circles of light. Peering further into the depths of the brick, Thom could see other fainter tables of saffron numbers, receding back into the depths.

Nana Loa was talking to the brick: "Beachfront, northside of the pier to a hundred meters north, in Tiphareth, in Netzach. Beachfront, hundred meters north to two hundred meters north, in Netzach, in Yesod. Display reading, red sunset, 31 March, gulls over the waves, the glass spheres in the netting washed in on the tide." Now another table of saffron numbers lit up within the brick, links to several of the blue circles; and a picture of beach flotsam, glass spheres within netting, appeared inside the brick, associated with the new table of numbers. Then more pictures appeared, one after another in a cluster, some of them in three dimensions and animated: gulls winging over the sea; a wave breaking on the beach; more shots of similar waves on that same spot on the beach...

"Continue analysis, correlate in Tiphareth for readings 1 June 2079 to present, suspend interface, voice off." The elderly lady looked up as she pushed a strand of grey hair away from her face. "Good morning, young Thom."

"Good morning, Nana Loa."

"You're out early today."

"Dad sent me in to pick up some goods in town. What were you doing just now?"

"Oh, putting the old Reckoner to work on a beautiful sunset I saw while I was out walking last week. Another step in building up a sephirotic analysis of this stretch of coast. It's a never-ending task!"

"Can I learn to use the Reckoner?" Thom looked down at the glass brick as if he'd like to steal it and run home with it.

"Once you're apprenticed. Though the Reckoner is only a tool. First you have to learn the sephiroth, the paths, the symbols and their associations. Then you have to internalize deeply what you've learned. The Reckoner will pick up on the cues you feed it, on a far subtler and richer level than you may at first imagine. But the Reckoner can receive only what you're able to put into it."

"Is the Reckoner a computer?"

"Far, far beyond the computers we had when I was your age. And yet at the same time less; we know better now than to build a device in the image of the human mind. Call the Reckoner a slide rule, a slide rule that will calculate on the sephiroth, or on the hexagrams, or on any symbol set you feed it. It augments our natural capacity to see into things, to see more deeply into what they truly are. I want to see much more deeply into what this stretch of beach is. Absent a Beethoven symphony or a Yeats poem about this beach, the Reckoner is a slow but sure way of striving after that deeper understanding."

"Nana Loa, what does it mean to say that flesh and bone flowed like water in the streets?"

The old lady looked mildly exasperated. "Your grandfather's been talking again about the Time of Troubles, hasn't he?"

"Yeah. But what does it mean? How can flesh and bone flow like water in the streets?"

"They can't, not anymore. Rankine put a stop to that for good, thank God. And just in time, too. I remember. I was a young adult in those days. I remember what it was like toward the very end there, walking through a neighborhood, then you come that way again the next day and all the landmarks, the very streets and buildings, had been completely remade and altered overnight. We were playthings in the hands of forces we could no longer comprehend, forces we ourselves had set in motion."

"And Rankine put a stop to it?"

"Yes. Do you know how?"

Thom quoted a line he had learned when he was younger: "'First Rankine inoculated himself; then he went forth to spread his counter-nanos in the world.'"

"Very good. You remember what they taught you in school. Here's one more: 'Why did Rankine first inoculate himself?'"

"'Rankine first inoculated himself, to ensure that he could complete his mission without being assimilated.'"

"Well, you do have a memory! When the time comes, I think you'll pick up the rudiments of the ten sephiroth quickly."

"When will that be?"

"Oh, the day will come. You won't be ready to start applying it for another three or four years yet. The connections in your brain have to mature. But you can start learning the basics in maybe a year or two. Ask me again next April."

Thom wiggled up and down on the balls of his feet with impatience. "What are counter-nanos?"

Nana Loa looked up and gestured in the air around her. "Why, they're all around us."

"What do they do?"

"They ensure that flesh and bone can never again flow in the streets like water."


"They protect us. They ensure with mathematical certainty that no more complex nanos can ever again function in the world."

"How can they ensure with mathematical certainty?"

The old lady laughed. "Thom, it's not often I get a student who asks so many questions. You'll make a wonderful apprentice. Rankine didn't know at first that his solution was without loophole. He had to act, and he had to act fast. He hacked and crashed the world, averting the Singularity. Only a few years later was it mathematically proven that Rankine's counter-nanos are proof against any nontrivial nanobot. The human race was far luckier than it deserved. It was like finding mate in twelve for white from the opening position in chess. The proof is really not much more difficult than the proof that there's no algebraic solution to the general quintic."

"Chess? General quintic?"

"I'm sorry, Thom, I shouldn't tease you so. One day we can study all these things together. After you're apprenticed. Maybe after you've been to the cities to see for yourself."

"The cities? Have you been to the cities?"

"Except for Portland, not since I was much younger than I am now. But there's less and less left of the old cities every year, now that the cities are being recolonized. The chrome and the glass and the concrete are weathering away. The new cities growing up in their stead are a very different kind of place; a different kind of place to live. But they grow up gradually and organically. Gradual and organic: those are our watchwords now. Mankind has already had one very, very close call in this twenty-first century."

Nana Loa turned back to the oblong lump of glass on the ground in front of her. "Voice on, voicecode delta delta delta. Resume interface. Display correlations in Tiphareth, bring up state of beachfront, northside of the pier to two hundred meters north, in Malkuth and in Netzach and in Hod. Temp suspend— 'For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory'..." Nana Loa looked up at Thom. "I've got to get back to my work now, Thom. It's been good talking with you. Later!— Temp resume. Display pairs of correlations, best fit first..."

"See you later, Nana Loa." Thom could see that the depths of the Reckoner had now come back to life, with blue and saffron winking and shifting within, and pairs of pictures lighting up here and there, slowly receding back into the glass depths like snowflakes of light, falling two by two...

On the way back home from town, as he carried the goods he had picked up at the store, a poem assembled itself in Thom's mind. Or not quite a poem, but a gentle, driving form of words, pieced together from the events of the morning, and from other snatches of phrasing Thom had heard from Gramp and from Nana Loa. Thom was already learning that it was well to let such forms of words take shape as they came, and then commit them to deeper memory. It was part of seeing more deeply into things, more deeply into what things truly are...

I see windmills by the sands of the seashore. And I see men wearing leather skullcaps. And I see a dog trotting on ahead of the horses in harness, as they plow a straight furrow in the fields. I see an old man at his prayers, an open book on his lap. And I see bags of rice, burlap bags, being unloaded from a three-masted ship down at the docks. I see a woman talking with something that is neither mechanical nor organic, as in an earlier age you might have consulted your slide rule. And I see the sun rising in the east, rising upon a world where ideologies of titanism and hubris are dead, as dead as the scientism that begot them, vanished away like the mercantilism or the water monopolies of old. I see a world where the age-old task of philosophy is once again to understand the world, and not to change it; to appreciate the world, and not to circumscribe it. And I see a world where idolatries of chrome and ugly concrete are left to crumble away, and people are content to let God be God.


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Albert Camus, Died 46 Years Ago Today

Albert Camus
"There are no more deserts. There are no more islands. Yet one still feels the need of them. To understand this world, one must sometimes turn away from it; to serve men better, one must briefly hold them at a distance. But where can the necessary solitude be found, the long breathing space in which the mind gathers its strength and takes stock of its courage?"

  —from "The Minotaur, or Stopping in Oran"

"There are places where the mind dies so that a truth which is its very denial may be born. When I went to Djemila, there was wind and sun, but that is another story. What must be said first of all is that a heavy, unbroken silence reigned there— something like a perfectly balanced pair of scales. The cry of birds, the soft sound of a three-hole flute, goats trampling, murmurs from the sky were just so many sounds added to the silence and desolation. Now and then a sharp clap, a piercing cry marked the upward flight of a bird huddled among the rocks. Any trail one followed— the pathways through the ruined houses, along wide, paved roads under shining colonnades, across the vast forum between the triumphal arch and the temple set upon a hill— would end at the ravines that surround Djemila on every side, like a pack of cards opening beneath a limitless sky. And one would stand there, absorbed, confronted with stones and silence, as the day moved on and the mountains grew purple surging upward. But the wind blows across the plateau of Djemila. In the great confusion of wind and sun that mixes light into the ruins, in the silence and solitude of this dead city, something is forged that gives man the measure of his identity."

  —from "The Wind at Djemila"

Albert Camus, November 7, 1913 — January 4, 1960


What Software Do You Use?

Stumbled across this meme here. Thought I'd pick it up; here's what I use on my computer:

OS: Mandrake Linux 10.1
Window Manager: Fluxbox
Shell: Bash
Browser: Opera
E-mail: Thunderbird
Chat: Gaim
Word Processor: OpenOffice
Text Editor: GEdit
HTML Coding: Bluefish
Image Manipulation: The GIMP
File Manager: Nautilus
Newsgroups: Pan
Music: XMMS
Movies/DVD: MPlayer

Since this seems like a likely meme, I'm tagging Urthshu.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Caveat Repertor

"The world will ask you who you are, and if you do not know, the world will tell you."

  —Carl Jung

Monday, January 02, 2006

Political Correctness at Warp Factor 10

Left, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Progressivism. Her five-year plan: to explore strange new causes, to seek out new victims and new forms of oppression, to boldly go where no activist has gone before...

...Okay, there should be a minimum ten-year prison sentence for the hate crime of calling anyone a "poopy-head." Or a "water buffalo."

And no less than twenty years for the dextrist hate crimes of wearing clothes which are bilaterally asymmetric (for instance, a pocket on the left side without a matching pocket on the right side), providing right-handed scissors without also providing left-handed scissors, or publishing or selling any book or periodical in which English is printed exclusively left-to-right.

From now on, anything printed in English must be printed in boustrophedon, with lines running alternately left-to-right and right-to-left. Violators will be punished severely for their hate crime. SMASH DEXTRISM NOW!!!

Also to be stamped out is the hate crime of alphabetism. Henceforth, all phone directories and other such listings shall be provided with names listed in a randomly selected order. No directory or listing shall come provided with a pre-generated alphabetical index, either: that is simply a more subtle form of "hidden alphabetism."

And our entire society is guilty of the undemocratic hate crime of not granting equal representation to all animals, vegetables, and minerals. From now on, all legislative assemblies must include proportional representation by special court-appointed members of the legislature (chosen from among the ranks of environmentalist, animal-rights, and vegetable-rights activists) who will have full vote in the legislature and will represent the interests of animals, plants, rocks, mountains, rivers, etc.

And why should we be so hateful as to withhold full equal rights from those who, through no fault of their own, do not exist and never have existed? By what justification do we restrict rights to individuals and cultures which actually exist or at some time actually have existed??

This is rank discrimination, it is ontological chauvinism, and it must be ended, NOW!!!

Equal rights for the nonexistent! Aiiieeeee! Bark, bark, snarl! If I don't find myself in the United States Congress soon, as the senior Senator from Atlantis, I'm going to file a lawsuit. And some of our judges being what they are, if I keep appealing the case I'm apt to hit the jackpot!


Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Year's Day 2006

Happy New Year, everyone!

Remember, it's two thousand six, not twenty oh six. ;-)

And remember, among the anagrams for two thousand six are taxi dusts nohow and twist sound hoax.

Gotta dash now and get ready, worship services at Mt. Hope and St. John's this morning. The Sunday after Christmas is usually just about the lowest church attendance of the entire year— it will be interesting to see whether New Year's Day falling on a Sunday raises or lowers that figure.