Archive for October, 2003

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Halloween Plan

October 28, 2003

The plan is this. Friday I wear my ceramic horns to work. Subtle but fun. Very work appropriate in that it allows me to wear normal clothes and still be “costumed.” I can also take it off in a pinch should I be suddenly put in a situation where nobody is amused. Imagine me sitting in a room with my boss, his boss, and her boss having a warroom-style discussion about the fact that a major university system is down and what can we do about it? I shouldn’t even think such things. Where’s some wood to knock? But if it did happen I don’t want to be sitting there trying to loook serious in a gorilla suit or something. Can you see where I’m coming from?

jacko.jpgIn any case I’ll also wear my horns when answering the door for trick or treaters. I might also put on my karate uniform. Why not? We’ll be giving out cards good for a free lesson at Parks Black Belt Academy in addition to candy. Doing martial arts is healthier than candy and more fun, too! Kids like that stuff. You should have seen the look on my own son’s face the when he first learned how to break someone’s neck! This is good family-oriented stuff, here, I tell ya.

Speaking of my son, Dan and I finally carved our jack-o-lanterns. I think they’re looking pretty good! I threw a picture of them up in shot recently.

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Lloyd & Katie

October 26, 2003

Our longtime friends Lloyd and Katie got married yesterday. We were delighted to be invited to the ceremony. Not only did we get to see two wonderful young people tie the knot, we also got to hobnob with some people we don’t see every day.

For starters, I sat next to two professors from my alma mater Carroll College. But they weren’t just any professors. They happened to be Ralph and Virginia Parsons of the psychology department. I majored in psychology and, thus, spent many a studious hour with them in the early 90’s. It was a pleasure to see them both.

As if that weren’t enough, Lloyd & Katie’s wedding became a mini blogger meetup as I got to shake hands with Drew of drew’s joint (where, I’m told, “everyting irie”). I took a picture or two of Drew and his “wifi” Dawn, but they kind of sucked.

I do have a few decent pictures of the wedding and the reception, though. They are up temporarily in the shot recently album.

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Cholula Hot Sauce

October 24, 2003

I like spicy food. Thai dishes, cuisine of the American South and West, Mexican, all of it. But I don’t like Tabasco sauce. What’s a spicy-food lover to do? Begin leading a culinary life of quiet (and mild) desperation? So it seemed.

But wait! I discovered a delicious hot sauce to use in it’s place – Cholula! Some of you may have tried it before as it’s the condiment of choice at Qdoba restaurants. (Never been there? Qdoba is to Taco Bell what Wendy’s is to McDonalds – one notch above.) That is in fact where I first tried it. The sauce itself is truly wonderful. It doesn’t have that noxious overly-vinigary taste that I can’t tolerate in it’s Lousiana-style brethren. I have since bought it in the local supermarket for use at home. Try it yourself and see!

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Wesley Clark, 2004?

October 23, 2003

Michelle Goldberg of Salon has this to say about the Wesley Clark candidacy:

[Clark’s supporters feel that] America is at a low point in its history, threatened from without and plundered from within, led by a smug and reckless mediocrity who blithely aids the nation’s implosion. Patriotic moderates hear themselves denounced as traitors and despair that the country has entered a period of inexorable decline.

And then, just when it seems that American greatness has spent itself, into the breach comes a war hero, brilliant and brave, with a Silver Star and a Purple Heart.

This really resonates with me. I wonder if he’ll end up with the Democratic nomination. I find I’m already hoping so. Read her entire article here.

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Link Overflow

October 20, 2003

Okay here’s the deal. I’ve run across too many blogworthy links recently to be able to do them all justice. So in an effort to catch up I’m going to dump them all on you in one big list with very little commentary. Here they all are, in no partcular order:

  1. You’re fighting a war on terrorism and you need to constantly fend off the accusation that you’re fighting a war against Islam…what do you do? Apparently you appoint this kook to a key position in your operation. Who dropped the ball on this one?
  2. Speaking of idiots, this guy, although he “regrets the way he expressed” himself, is prepared to stand by the content of what he said. Can someone explain to me what kind of mental gyrations one has to go through before he stops looking like a prejudiced asshole? I’d really like to know.
  3. In other news, the Catholic church is telling people in third-world countries not to use condoms because they – get this – “don’t stop AIDS.” (They do. Duh.) Millions will suffer and die. But at least God won’t be offended. Priorities.
  4. PDAs are out. Phones are in. The PDA market won’t grow much but the market for smart cell phones with just a few key applicaitons is taking off like a rocket. The Economist and I are on the same wavelenth here, as I predicted this a while back myself. Time will tell.
  5. There’s this group of mothers in New Zealand who don’t care for genetically modified food. They wanted to get people’s attention about it so they made this billboard. (Contains some nudity.) I teach Photoshop so I can tell you that this is a first-rate photo manipulation. Either that or the poor woman had to many genetically modified food products.
  6. Speaking of pictures, here’s my favorite foodie in some interesting poses. She does 200 situps and 100 pushups daily. She’s stronger than I am! Eek!
  7. One-third of Americans with tatoos say they make them feel sexier. So the only question is…where do I put mine?
  8. Pictures of Logan’s friend Louie from down the street. Courtesy of Joe and Maya.
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I Believe in Blogs, iTMS Links

October 19, 2003

I believe in blogs. I said so quite eloqently over at Plastic a few days ago. It’s pathetic to quote yourself, but I’m going to do so anyway:

Real people speaking in their own voices, unfiltered by the corporate, professional media is something we are damned near starving for. Blogs are a part of this phenomenon.

Props to David Weinberger who was the first person to fully articulate these kinds of ideas to me in his fabulous book Small Pieces Loosely Joined.

Speaking of blogs, mine just took a silent but very cool step forward into a new era. It’s the era of being able to use URLs directly from Apple’s iTunes Music Store in my entries.

Let me back up a sec. iTunes was a Mac-only digital music jukebox application who’s killer feature was access to Apple’s legal music downloading service – a service which distinguished itself from it’s predecessors by not treating you like a criminal. (Like allowing you to put the music files on other computers and burn CDs whenever you felt like it. The only services that even came close to this liberal model were those that dealt almost exclusively with independent “never heard of ’em” acts who were battling obscurity rather than piracy.) But as cool as iTunes is, hardly anyone would know about it because it was Mac-only.

But now it’s not. I mentioned a few days ago that it was coming out for Windows and so it has. I could write pages on how cool and important a development the iTMS is, but I’ll refrain. At the moment let me just explain how it makes my blog cooler.

Suppose I wanted to refer to a song that I was particularly enjoying today. One that expressed exactly how I was feeling. I could name the song and the artist and maybe link you to the artist web page, or to Amazon where you might order the CD. But now I can link you up with a URL that lets you hear 30 seconds of the song and let you buy it with one click.

Here’s a test. You are cool if you can follow this link. (if you can’t, go here and get hooked up with the iTunes software then come back.)

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The Idea Accelerator and Fractal Fiction

October 13, 2003

nerdnascar.jpgPhysicists have cool toys. Like particle accelerators. I’m not a physicist myself, but as I understand it an accelerator is a very large circular facility rather like race track. They put Very Small Things in it (atoms and such), race them around faster and faster, and then smash them into one another head-on. Just to see. You can’t tell me that’s not fun at some level. It’s like NASCAR for nerds.

And sometimes my mind works that way. It gets hold of a couple of ideas, they race around and around in my head, gathering speed, until one day *BOOM* they collide. The result can vary widely. Sometimes it makes me laugh out loud, as when the end product is absurd. Sometimes – very rarely – I feel as if I have reached some new profound insight. Most of the time, though, I just kind of go “hmm.” Take the other day, for example, when a curious property of fractal geometry played smash-up with a certain aspect of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

mandelbrotset.jpgI don’t know where I first heard about fractal geometry, but a while back I became fascinated with the subject. Pretty odd for someone with a surprising ineptitude for mathematics of any kind, but I’d read a few interesting things about this particular idea. Especially the example known as the Mandelbrot set. Pictured here, you can see it’s quite beautiful and detailed. What you can’t tell from this picture, however, is that no matter how much you might zoom in on a Mandelbrot set there’s still more to see. It just keeps repeating, going on and on, no matter how much you magnify it. It’s what they call an “infinitely complex object.” The math behind it is pretty wicked, I imagine. Familiarity with this idea helped me understand at once what was being said when some years ago I read this passage in the novel Virtual Light by my favorite living fiction writer, William Gibson:

She’s got her hand on a little folding-knife, something else she’s borrowed from Skinner. It has a hole in the blade that you can press the tip of your thumb into and snap it open, one-handed. That blade’s under three inches, broad as a soup-spoon, wickedly serrated and ceramic. Skinner says it’s a fractal knife, its actual edge more than twice as long as the blade itself.

And speaking of great fiction, you may already know that my all-time favorite piece of fiction happens to be J. R. R. Tolkien’s masterwork The Lord of the Rings. Lucky for me then that the building where I work has quite an extensive collection of original Tolkien manuscripts and, much to my delight, they sometimes invite guest speakers in to discuss his work. One of these was Tom Shippey, who had come a couple of years ago to discuss his own book, J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century. Although I enjoyed Shippey’s talk, I didn’t get around to reading his book until now. I’m only about halfway through it but I can recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who seeks to understand the phenomenal popularity of Tolkien’s work.

Shippey has several interesting things to say about this subject but one in particular caught my attention. Tolkien, through having developed an incredibly extensive back-story on his characters and settings, creates the feeling that his fictional Middle-earth is a real place, the present narrative being but the current focus of our attention. One has a feeling of absolute certainty that any character or place or historical event in his book contains just as much rich detail as his main story. Because it does. Tolkien intersperses his narrative with these delicious allusions to characters and places and events which do not directly come into the story at hand, such as when Gandalf squares off against the balrog in the mines of Moria, saying “I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass.” We are never told anything further about either the “Secret Fire,” nor who or what “Anor” may be. But it does make the narrative feel incredibly rich and detailed.

In fact one might say of Tolkien’s story that it has the same quality as a Mandelbrot set in that no matter which piece of it you select for closer examination, there is always more to see. There is nothing here resembling a movie set; no buildings with false-fronts, no painted backdrops. They are both infinitely detailed objects. Thus the two ideas racing around in my Idea Accelerator brain finally smash together: fractal geometry meets The Lord of the Rings. The result?

Fractal Fiction. There’s a doctoral dissertation in there somewhere. If you studied English Literature, I mean. Which, of course, I didn’t.

Okay, so it’s not (Midde-)earth-shattering concept. Like I said, the results from the Idea Accelerator smash-up are often mixed. Sometimes a great joke comes out of it, sometimes an interesting new way to look at something. I keep waiting for the day when a truly important concept emerges from the process. It could happen. Either that or some day the Idea Smasher could yield a result so misshapen and hideous that the torch-wielding villagers of my mind will stone it to death at first sight. We’ll have to wait and see.

What about you? Played Idea Accelerator smash-up lately?