January 31, 2004

We want information ... information

According to this article from the NYT, NASA's Mars rover site has received 32 million visitors in the past three weeks.

The thing I've been most impressed about with the rover missions is the amount of information NASA has made available. They're seemingly posting every image the rovers capture and are even including screenshots to show the controller-eye view of the rollout on Mars.

What's more they compliment the raw data aspect with a bunch of well put together videos on the technical aspects of the mission. For example, the cg animations of the decent and landing stuff really breaks down just how amazingly difficult it is to land on another planet.

The NYT piece rightly points out that this openness has helped folks (like me) feel a greater connection to the rovers. And by connection, I mean obsession:

The flow of updates from Mars has led to a new addiction among some Americans, who find themselves checking for news dozens of times a day. In interviews, many reported feeling depression and withdrawal symptoms when the Spirit stopped communicating last week.
That NASA kept up the information flow even while suffering serious setbacks is really a testament to how much they want to share the science. And now that there are two functional rovers on Mars, there should be twice as many updates, right ... right?!

January 25, 2004

In which I become an old man

First, there was the local radio station who introduced Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" as 'classic alternative.'

Now, it's the fact that I'm developing a serious Sunday routine that involves rebalding myself, drinking chai tea and reading Harpers.

In the latest issue, there's a great piece by Carter Burwell (who's the composer for all of the Coen brother's movies) about the music written for the news. Ultimately, it's about how the networks chose a different type of music for the latest war in Iraq than they did during the first. Peter Fish, the composer for CBS, is quoted as saying:

"The second time it was more like they were trying to promote the war the same way they would promote Terminator 3 - it was like "Battle of the Megaheroes." So the first time what I delivered was vaguely militaristic ... the second time it was just Techno-Ali vs. Frazier-IV, we're-going-to-knock-the-crap-out-of-them music."

There's also a great excerpt from Don DeLillo that was part of a Lee Harvey Oswald documentary. I'm definitely going to read his book Libra soon.
"If there was a plot, it was small, crude, and largely improvised - not the master plan that would allegedly balance the loss of the president. Our state in the world, the fact that we are human, is the only element the equation needs in order to be balanced. We're able to think into the stars, imagine alternative lives for ourselves, and there are times when we feel equal, some of us, to the vast social reality around us.

What else would make a man decide he might run for president?"

January 24, 2004

Never doubt this is the future

I'm watching live coverage on my laptop, over wireless, of the Opportunity rover's landing on Mars.

And incidentally, at work we occassionally have to do a reboot on a production machine - not that this is completely out of the ordinary or particularly serious, but, you know, it's always possible the machine's not coming back. If it doesn't, you have to get somebody to go to the cage and physically restart the bastard and hope that it hasn't gone dark forever.

All of this can be stressful but it's not as if the computer in question is on another frickin' planet. It's damn impressive that the folks at JPL were able to re-establish contact with Spirit. This whole deal is truly geekery in its highest form.


Somehow, Anna gets paid to research terrorists who used to be c-movie actors. Fortunately, she shares:

Rooster: Spurs of Death!: Stoke and his son Wyatt take their prize roosters to a cock fight, only to find deceit and cheating by a competitor has forced them to lose their winnings. On the way, Wyatt learns about love from a runaway hooker (Kristine DeBell) and that maybe the 'cocker' trade is not right for him.

January 22, 2004


Art Garfunkel faces a $100 fine after being busted for pot possession in New York. It's a sad state of affairs when the War on Drugs claims Garfunkel and Tommy Chong as victims.

On the plus side, copy editors around the country are having a field day. Some highlights:

  • Garfunkel's Sounds of Sirens

  • Garfunkel feeling less groovy after drug bust

  • Garfunkel not so groovy

  • Garfunkel feelin' groovy

  • Garfunkel feelin' not so groovy

  • Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And ... Pot: Art Garfunkel Busted

What, no "Garfunkel's Bridge is Over Trouble Water" or "Garfunkel: 'I am a Rock' Fiend ... I mean, it's just Pot'" or "Garfunkel: I wish I was homeward bound ... and high!" or "Garfunkel: April come she will ... and sell me a dime bag" or "Garfunkel says: pottity pottity pot pot - weed."

January 21, 2004


The worst thing I ever lost was a one-foot headphone extension cable.

Several years ago, I bought a pair of Sony egg-style headphones and they are still my favorite pair. The fact that they continue to have flawless sound is amazing as they've been kicked around in my backpack every day for over 3 years. What's more I prefer them to my more expensive studio headphones which, really, was just showing off.

Anyway, they're made for the MD market, so they come with a short cord to fit nicely with the wired remotes you find on nearly all MD players. But they also shipped with a short extension cord, just in case you were using them on a remoteless device, like a laptop. Which I did.

And then I forgot to take out the extension cord before turning in my laptop at my last job. And since then I've been frustrated by cables.

Nowhere seems to sell the short cord, so I had to get some six-foot monster with extra-gnarled sheathing. The looks you get from airplane seat neighbors when you pull out a gordian knot of goofycord are none too kind.

January 20, 2004


Pounds is abbreviated lbs. because of the Roman weight libra (which was like 3/4 of a pound, but whatever).


In the slow-burning chemical process that controls when I do my laundry, clean underwear is the limiting reagent. You just can't go to long without clean drawers.

The specific trigger is when I reach the last pair, which is always the same pair as they're my least favorite. They're cotton shorts I got during orientation week when I was a freshman. They really should be boxers, so I don't feel bad using them as such. Whether they should still be my omega undergarment after 9 years is debatable.

The real problem is that since they're shorts, they have pockets - which is wacky but harmless. But they've also got no fly ... which is a nightmare.

Also, there's a lag between when I receive the "nothing but flyless shorts left" signal and the time I actually have clean laundry again. So my awkward time at the urinal can go on longer than it should. Nothing untoward, mind you ... just a couple days. I'm a very hygenic person normally. Really.

Anyway, all I'm saying is that I've got a dresser stacked high with clean underwear, and it feels good.

January 18, 2004


There's a scene in the restored version of Spartacus where Laurence Olivier attempts to seduce his recently acquired bath slave, Tony Curtis. Yeah, hard to see how that one didn't make it in the original 1960 release.

I hadn't seen Spartacus before but I'd heard about the scene in Celluloid Closet. Tony Curtis mentions that his character recoils and ultimately runs away when he realizes that Olivier's talk about oysters and snails is really none-to-subtle code for "Did I mention I'm a Roman played by Olivier and you're my bath slave." In the documentary, Curtis said of the scene "'Take me out to dinner first ... show me a good time. Don't get me in the bath and drop the soap.'"

What I didn't know was that when the scene was put back in for the 1991 release that Tony Curtis had to redub the dialogue. And what's more Olivier was dead so they had Anthony Hopkins read his lines!

It's odd. It's as though, in 20 years, they were going to re-release The Dead Zone and had Kevin Spacey fill in for the Christopher Walken part.

That's assuming that Biz Stone had better things to do.

Comfort Eagle

Google/Ev bought me a new 15" PowerBook and I'm happy as a dork with a new laptop. I've still been running Jaguar on my iMac and Panther is a noticeable improvement - things are snappy (like the new Finder) and Expose is a genius feature. I'm not sure how I feel about the option to have Expose keyed off of hot corners. Ever since AfterDark I've had a hard time with hot corners ... I forget which ones they're supposed to be.

I love the fact that OmniOutliner now comes with the OS. I'd believed in my heart that outliners were really important, but I'd not gotten behind them in practice. Now I understand the fuss. I think it's the psychology of having bullet points - the structure alone reinforces the notion that you're working stuff out and getting stuff done.

The only thing I'm not wild about is the trackpad. Musn't it be the case that user-testing would show the eraserhead mouse as the preferable laptop solution? Plus you get laptop nipple jokes for free. Also, I get scared at the rapidity with which the CD/DVD drive sucks up the discs. You're pushing it in and it's like "Well, it still hasn't caught ... still not catching ... man it's in pretty far, I wonder if it's - Holy Crap!" But I'm willing to say that's just me.

Oh, and Apple should totally buy Objective Development, the people behind LaunchBar. It's a short circuit for the whole OS ... wait, maybe that sounds like a bad thing.

January 09, 2004

Zyxt the vicinages

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester tells the tale of how a schizophrenic Civil War veteran helped write the Oxford English Dictionary.

The story behind the hook is quite simple to tell and really could have been covered in a decent magazine article. So you end up with a lot of padding regarding the deterioriation of Dr. CrazyPants, the Mad-Speller of Connecticut (not the madman's actual name). But you also get a lot of fun facts regarding the creation of the OED.

There's lots of love heaped on the OED. It's treated like a literary cathedral that took 70 years to create and is frequently called the most important work ever printed. I'm cool with the love - the OED is certainly one of those pinnacles of human obsessive-complusiveness: "Not just every word ever spoken - but the original quotation for those words as well!"

Winchester also has some good stuff on subjectivity in dictionaries; how the tone of the entries and choice of what to include are these fundamental choices by individuals going about the business of socially constructing language. But that commentary is somewhat beside the point in this book and nowhere near as interesting as David Foster Wallace's essay on a similar topic.

On the plus side, there's also lots of fun facts about words and medical trivia. For example:

The surgical removal of the penis is at the best of times a dangerous practice, rarely performed even by doctors: An attack by the renowned Brazilian fishlet known as candiru, which likes to swim up a man's urine stream and lodge in the urethra with a ring of retrorse spines preventing its removal, is one of the very rare circumstances in which doctor (sic) will perform the operation, known as peotomy.

Note to self: never pee in Brazil.

January 05, 2004

Gold PinkyToe

david loves seaweedMy family came out to visit me in San Francisco during Christmas. It's like going home for the holidays, but I didn't have to go anywhere.

The non-trip was a blast, and I had an especially great time hanging out with my brother. Because we don't see each other for long stretches at a time, there's a lot I forget - specifically how much fun it is to have a brother. First off, little brothers are just so fucking game for anything. Do you know how I got David to pose for this photo? I said, "Look, there's some big old nasty seaweed ... pick it up and pretend to eat it - I want to post pictures of that on the Internet." Awesome.

Also, whenever we hang out it's like a giant dork braindump. "Here's every game, scifi show and geeky thing I've seen since last we met." My friends pointed out how similar we are in appearance and, like, vocal mannerisms. Obviously, this is to be expected. As Sutter said, "Is he not the person you've shared a bedroom with the longest?"

It kicks ass. There's like this other me living in Providence but with special skills. Example:

Me: Hey, Eugene. Did you know my brother can sing the music from any video game he has ever played?

Eugene: Okay, how 'bout Rygar?

David: The first screen or the opening level?

Good work, Mom. You done raised us right.