30 November 2007

A seasonal dilemma

    While the merry bells keep ringing, may your every wish come true.
      Irving Berlin
    No bells in Hell.
      Spinal Tap

I posted a few days ago about a guy who won't donate to the Salvation Army because they didn't put the word "Christmas" on their sign. If it doesn't say "Christmas," he wants nothing to do with it. That made me wonder....

If forced to choose, which would this guy pick:

"Happy Holiday""Christmas with the Devil"
The classic Irving Berlin song made famous by Bing Crosby.The classic Spinal Tap song about Hell's Yuletide celebrations.

It's a toughie.

29 November 2007

Book to the future

    "Do you ever read any of the books you burn?"
    He laughed. "That’s against the law!"
      Fahrenheit 451
      by Ray Bradbury

It occurs to me just now that Kindle is a pretty ironic name. You normally don't want to evoke fire imagery when dealing with books. Nonetheless, that's what Amazon.com is calling its new electronic book reader. Maybe somewhere deep in their product design offices, someone really does see the death of paper books.

Last week I read Newsweek's article on the Kindle, and I've been trading long argumentative comments with Rob on his post about the Kindle. You should read his post, but I'll go so far as to say he thinks the Kindle is not the right product for reading books electronically. I'm not certain that it is the device, but I think it's a lot closer to the mark than Rob. I find the whole prospect interesting on several levels.

First, I think the E-ink or digital ink technology is really cool. It's very efficient, requires no back lighting, and once the image is rendered, it no longer needs power. That last feature is particularly intriguing. Currently graphics processors everywhere spend countless cycles painting and repainting a screen thousands of times each second. A digital ink display opens whole new windows of possibility.

Second, I like the some of the ideas brought forth in the Newsweek article about the paradigm shift that can occur with eBooks (regardless of what device they're on). Possibilities like the automatic distribution of corrections and additions is cool. Imagine a new appendix suddenly appearing in your book. Also, books are never truly out of print. Bits take up a lot less space than books in a warehouse. I also imagine stuff like the newspaper you see in Minority Report, the one that changes on the fly with breaking news.

Finally, it will be interesting to watch the continuing evolution of our everyday electronic devices. I remember when a phone was not a ubiquitous handheld device. I remember when a personal music player held one and only one album at a time. I remember when calling up satellite imagery in the palm of my hand in the middle of New Hampshire was the stuff of science fiction. I wonder if I can even imagine what will be commonplace to my children.

Anyway, I'm interested in what other people think of this latest attempt to digitize one of the last mechanical mediums left....

28 November 2007

A little '80s romance

    Jack Colton: Wait a minute, he's after you. Who the hell are you?
    Joan Wilder: Well, I'm a romance novelist.
      Romancing the Stone

Last night after dinner I spent a couple hours bringing our aging home computer back to life. (I suspect the iTunes upgrade trashed the Winsock registry keys, but I can't be sure.) At the same time, Sharon was watching that classic of '80s action/adventure, Romancing the Stone.

Most of us probably have movies that can be classified as "cable overkill" (a term I learned from my wife). These are the movies that were constantly on cable, particularly right after you first got cable and watched everything. Romancing the Stone is one of my cable overkill movies, though I do remember seeing it in the theater when it came out. I found myself reciting lines often.

I thought it was great then, and it mostly stands up to the test of time. Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas played well off each other, and Danny DeVito stole every scene he was in. The soundtrack suffers the most over time. It probably sounded fresh and cool in 1984, but it sounds really cheesy now. A contemporary pop film score just doesn't age well.

I cannot mention the music of Romancing the Stone without mentioning Eddy Grant's song of the same name. The song was commissioned for the film, but they decided not to use it. Apparently you can hear the guitar solo in one scene (in villa of Juan, the fan of Joans novels), but that's it. Luckily for all of us, Grant released it on its own, along with a video.

Not that's classic '80s romance.

26 November 2007

Local Turkey

    Gobble Gobble Goo and Gobble Gobble Giggle
    I wish Turkey only cost a nickel.
      Adam Sandler

Almost forgot to throw up a post about this. For the first time we got our turkey locally at Lee Turkey Farm in East Windsor, NJ. It was dee-lish. Picking up the turkey was kind of fun. The sixth-generation owner Ronny Lee was greeting people as he ran back and forth getting pies from the freezer. There were fresh stalks of brussel sprouts also, two of which supplied our vegetables. We will definitely getting our Turkey there next year!

Happy happy

    This is a song about a whale. No! This is a song about being happy.
      Stinky Wizzleteats

Rob tagged me a while back with the Happiness Meme. Jeri didn't tag me specifically, rather she employed the tagging equivalent of Explosive Runes. The rules are:

The rules are simple. Just create a post about any number of things that have
made you happy recently. Then tag any number of people and have them post this
meme on their blogs.

Easy enough. Here's my list:

  1. Sharon. She makes me happy all the time, so it's a fair bet she's done so in the last week.
  2. Our children. It was great being home from work over the Thanksgiving break. Watching my oldest stand up for my youngest was something special.
  3. Thanksgiving. Mmmmmmm. In particular the locally raised turkey and Sharon's sausage stuffing. Oh, and the bourbon sweet potato mash. Mmmmmm.
  4. The annual day-after-Thanksgiving parade when Santa arrives on a fire truck. We always follow it into town where they turn on all the lights.
  5. The end of a really frustrating and annoying project at work. Got a monkey off my back! Got a m-m-m-monkey off my back back back!
  6. The bubbling of beer in the fermenter and enjoying it later when it's ready. We've recently started really digging into the A-Steam, and it's awesome.
  7. A truly kick-ass D&D game and the promise of another one this Friday. I am having a blast playing this game.
  8. Comments from people reading my blog.

That's what I could come up with. I'll tag Brenda because I know I'll enjoy reading her list.

24 November 2007

'Tis the season

    Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.
      Colossians 2:16

Now that Thanksgiving is over, it's time once again for "The War on Christmas," when the evil secularists seek to destroy Christmas by using any other word to refer to the events that occur between Thanksgiving and New Years Day. The most sinister example is the term "holiday." To suggest that any other celebration occurs in the month of December is to spit in the face of Christians everywhere. Luckliy there is no shortage of right-wing pundits and nut-job letter writers to expose this evil.

A letter on page A10 of the Saturday, November 24 edition of The Times of Trenton is a perfect example. Titled "'Christmas' ought to right a bell," the letter decries the Salvation Army succumbing to the "scourge of political correctness with this year's 'Sharing is Caring' holiday campaign." At issue is a picture on page A3 of the Thanksgiving Day edition. The author's complaint? It's not Santa ringing the bell, but an "everyday person" wearing a red apron. Titled "A familiar red kettle," this picture "shows what is an insult to all of us who continue to believe in the true meaning of the Christmas season."

I wish you could see this picture. It's a picture of a Salvation Army worker in the red apron next to the kettle. Above the kettle is a sign that says "Sharing is Caring." It bears the Salvation Army logo, and says at the bottom, "Need Knows no Season." Oh yeah, almost forgot this. Right across the top is says, "God Bless You." Sadly, this just isn't enough for our letter writer. He goes on to say that he will not be donating to the Red Kettle Campaign this year. Instead he'll donate his time to "those charitable causes that continue to celebrate the true meaning of the Christmas season."

His complaint is so absurd, I don't know where to begin. He said standing in a mall all day collecting money for the needy does not celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. He's withholding his money because of no Santa Suit and a sign reading "God Bless You" not "Merry Christmas." I suspect he's been itching to find something, anything, to write a "war on Christmas" letter about, and this was the best he could do.

I think he needs to think long and hard about what the true meaning of Christmas is. Maybe he should watch A Charlie Brown Christmas when Linus explains the true meaning of Christmas:

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

All people. How 'bout that.

Happy Thanksgiving

    They who give have all things; they who withhold have nothing.
      Hindu proverb

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving. I know we did.

I didn't get to post anything earlier about the The Crisis Ministry of Princeton and Trenton. My fourth grade religious education class joined the class from the late service to deliver enough groceries to fill four wagons and two minivans that were collected that morning. They did an awesome job sorting and stocking, and it was great to see them work so well and so hard.

Thanksgiving is a big week for the Crisis Ministry, but they need food all year round!

19 November 2007

Rollin', rollin', rollin'

    Okay, since you're so smart, why don't you try doing it in Roman numerals?
      Trout Fishing in America

Last night found me at a Girl Scout sing-a-long. One of the songs that went on for quite awhile was "18 Wheels on a Big Rig." The song is written by Heywood Banks, though I'm more familiar with the version by Trout Fishing In America. For those unfamiliar, the song is different ways of counting the big rig's wheels:

Oh there's 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 wheels on a big rig,
And they're rollin' rollin' rollin', rollin' rollin' rollin'.

And so on, counting backwards (18, 17, 16, ...), the even wheels (2, 4, 6, ...), etc. TFIA has a funny bit where he counts in Roman numerals with impressive speed. The Girl Scouts couldn't quite match that, but they got through it. They also sang Spanish, then opened the microphone to audience members who could count in other languages. We heard French, German, Dutch, Japanese, Italian, Hebrew, and Gaelic. An impressive list that left me thinking of more geeky obscure options....

Oh there's 1, 10, 11, 100, 101, 110, 111, 1000, 1001, 1010, 1011, 1100, 1101, 1110, 1111, 10000, 10001, 10010 wheels on a big rig.

Oh there's wa', cha', wej, loS, vagh, jav, Soch, chorgh, Hut, wa'maH, wa'maH wa', wa'maH cha', wa'maH wej, wa'maH loS, wa'maH vagh, wa'maH jav, wa'maH Soch, wa'maH chorgh wheels on the big rig.

Oh there's 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, A, B, C, D, E, F, 10, 11, 12 wheels on the big rig.

Prime numbers:
Oh there's 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17 wheels on the big rig.

Wheels divided by zero:
Oh there's infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity wheels on the big rig.

And they're rollin' rollin' rollin', rollin' rollin' rollin'.

16 November 2007

Pasta is serious religion.

    Accept His Noodly Magnificence into your heart, into your soul, and ye shall forever be free. R'Amen.
      Ragu on Pastafarianism

My Pastafarian friend (no, saying that does not make me prejudiced) doesn't have a blog, so I wanted to share this story about the Flying Spaghetti Monster's appearance on the agenda of the American Academy of Religion's annual meeting.

P.S. A week ago Sharon got a $20 bill on which someone scratch out "God" and replaced it with "FSM" so that it said "In FSM We Trust." We sure do.

15 November 2007

Atari, Adventure, and when to ignore your boss

    Somebody get this freakin' duck away from me!
      Strong Bad

Last week Brenda Tremblay reported that the Atari 2600 game console was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame. As a "Nationally Ranked Kaboom Champion," she was pulling for the Atari. It was my first choice as well, but not because of Kaboom. My preferred game is Adventure.

I love Adventure. I played it constantly, searching for and recovering the Chalice too many times to count. To this day I know my way around the various castles, rooms, mazes, and catacombs. I never cared that the dragons looked more like ducks and the sword was just an arrow. It was fun and addictive.

The game was created by Warren Robinett, and it is groundbreaking in many ways. Game elements we take for granted now, like a multi-screen world and objects you can pick up, were unprecedented back then. It is also the first example of truly autonomous entities moving throughout the game on their own, regardless of what you are doing. Left unattended, the bat will fly through the game moving stuff around forever. That Robinett could fit this on 4096 bytes of ROM and run it with only 128 bytes of RAM is a programming achievement in and of itself. (To put it in perspective, that's about 0.0004% of what the cheapest Dell comes with by default.)

There is great story behind its inception. Here's how Robinett tells it in one of several interviews:

I started in May 1978 and worked like a madman for a month. My boss, George Simcock, heard what I was working on and didn't think I could do it within the 2600 resources and told me not to do it. However I ignored him and had a prototype with screen to screen movement and dragons chasing you after a month of hacking.

There is another great story that lead to what is considered the first "easter egg." Although each game was typically written by one person, Atari did not give the creator any credit. Robinett decided he wanted to sign his work, so he found a way to sneak his signature in. He added a hidden object to the game, a 1x1 pixel dot that gives the player access to a secret room. In the room is the following text: "Created by Warren Robinett." This remained a secret long after the game's release. By the time Atari found out what he did, it was too late to change the game and he had already quit.

I have an original Atari 2600 "heavy sixer" with the six switches on the front, but the last time I tried it didn't work. Maybe I should get it out and see if I can get it working again. Then I'll be back searching once more for the elusive Chalice.

13 November 2007

Piping hot!

    If it's not Scottish, it's crap!
      Mike Myers

They're the Red Hot Chilli Pipers. No, that's not a typo, and yes, they're Scots. Check them out:

They gave an impromptu performance in the crowd on the Today Show this morning. I just had to google them.

12 November 2007

You can bet on it

    Well, I lost five thousand dollars in Rock Scissors Paper last weekend.
      Phil Gordon

When you're in a place like Vegas with a group, you go out and do stuff. You gamble, go drinking, go to clubs, etc. When you're by yourself, well, not so much. Getting drunk with a bunch of friends in a bar is a blast. Doing it by yourself is sad and somewhat pathetic. So, when I was in Vegas, I mostly just walked around. I might end up chatting with a fellow conference attendee who happened to be eating at the same restaurant, but that was it. I spent the rest of my time walking around the casinos and hotels sightseeing.

One thing I was amazed by was the volume and variety of gambling options. I knew Vegas offers almost limitless gambling options, but I was still unprepared for the scope and scale as seen firsthand. I was once in the AT&T Global Network Operations Center. It had a huge wall lined with screens showing the status of networks and servers all over the globe. It had nothing on the sports betting room in every casino I saw. They were bigger, had more screens, and were more impressive. I stood looking at those walls unable to comprehend all the numbers and stats, each of which represented a bet someone could place. People will bet on anything.

Which brings me to an episode of This American Life I heard back in September, though it was originally broadcast in 2001. Meet the Pros does just that, including professional gamblers in Act Two, where Phil Gordon explains how Rock Scissors Paper is in essence the same as Texas Hold 'Em. Check it out, it's a good one.

Scary scarcity

    perfect storm (noun) : a critical or disastrous situation created by a powerful concurrence of factors

As friends and family have reported, there is a shortage of beer ingredients.

This report has been re-posted around the web, and details the causes of the hop shortage. Here's the bottom line:

Certain varieties are getting a lot more expensive. A few varieties will run out faster than ever. Brewers have to be willing to try other varieties. Brewmasters, brewery owners, and marketing and sales managers must prepare for the potential need to substitute different hops, to replace varieties that currently give your beers their "signature" flavor. That's what we'll have to get used to, the fact that there may be slight flavor variations over the next several years, as the hop industry works to correct this situation.

As if that is not bad enough, this article notes that hops are not the only ingredient that is in short supply:

Barley prices, and those of wheat, also used in some beer, have hit all-time highs, said Mary Palmer Sullivan, program director for the Washington Grain Alliance in Spokane.

The barley shortage is due in part to drought, and also to the rise in demand for corn-based biofuels, as this NPR story notes. We may have seen the high water mark for barley, though, as prices seem to be declining somewhat.

No such luck for hops, however. As the hop supply report notes:

It's not going to get better soon, but will be likely just as bad, or worse, for the crops from 2008 and 2009, in other words, for beers brewed from now through 2010.

This was confirmed at our local homebrew supply shop, where hop prices jumped and availabilty is limited. So drink those hoppy beers while there's still time.

09 November 2007

Adios Vegas

    Viva Las Vegas turnin' day into nighttime
    Turnin' night into daytime
    If you see it once
    You'll never be the same again
      "Viva Las Vegas"
      (words and music by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman)

I just finished stuffing all my stuff into my bags. I fly out tomorrow at 12:15.

Tonight was the Latin Grammy Awards at the Mandalay Bay. When the conference let out, it basically dumped this mass of geeks into the crowds watching the stars arrive. We departed to cheers, but not for us. It was kind of funny.

I had some time so I took the monorail around to see what there was to see. I finished up a the Bellagio fountains, which are truly cool. I came in late to the first show, which had ballet music, so I waited for the next one. The next show's music was "Viva Las Vegas." There's my send-off.

Here two quick parting photos: me in the mirror of the Bally's escalator, and the best slot machine name I've seen all week.

08 November 2007

Out damned Carrot Top!

    I can't go to work this morning, you know it haunts me. It haunts me!
      Neo Pseudo

I am staying at Luxor, and Carrot Top is everywhere! He's on signs by the elevator. He's on walls in the casino. He's on the little TV screen in the tram. He's on the big TV screen in the lobby. He's on my Do Not Disturb sign. He's on my room key! Everywhere I look I see that face.

Sometimes, I see him with my eyes closed....

07 November 2007


    Life springs eternal on a gaudy neon street.
      Sheryl Crow

So I'm in Vegas, defying Luxor their $13 a night by using my phone for internet access. I'm here for a the DevConnections conference at Mandalay Bay. I'm not staying at the Mandalay Bay, I'm next door in Luxor because the Mandalay Bay was booked. (How many times can I type Mandalay bay?) Many people are even further away in MGM Grand.

I've been sending photo dispatches home. Here are some highlights:

The Sphinx at Luxor and a headless Lenin statue in Mandalay Bay:

The roller coaster at New York New York and some guy sitting with live lions at MGM Grand:

By the way, the coaster is way cool. I had some time to took around on Monday and see all this. Today was more conference stuff - all day in fact. But I did get free food that should offset the awesome sushi at Jpop Sushi at (one more time) Mandalay Bay.

Oh yeah, here is the really big tub in my room:

For some reason my youngest wondered if I sing in it.

No, not yet. But there's still time.

02 November 2007

Nice work

    This ain't no disco
    It ain't no country club either
    This is LA!
      Sheryl Crow

This is funny:

You may notice a familiar face....

You've still got mail

    Mail your packages early so the post office can lose them in time for Christmas.
      Johnny Carson

It would seem I haven't been checking my office mailbox as often as I should. I learned this yesterday when its contents were brought to my office. Amongst the junk mail was this:

Yes, the date in the picture is accurate. No, the card did not arrive extra early. I haven't checked my mailbox in almost a year.

01 November 2007

On the passing of Richard Jewell

    All I did was my job. I did what I was trained to do.
      Richard Jewell
      23 July 2006

Ten years later, Richard Jewell remained reluctant to take credit for the lives he undoubtedly saved when he spotted an unattended backpack that contained a bomb. He was more worried about how the ensuing investigation affected his mother than himself. His complaint about the intense media focus on him was that it detracted from coverage athletes who dedicated their lives to competing for their homeland in the Olympics. His only regret was there were not five more minutes in which the life of victim Alice Hawthorne might have been saved.

In the months and years that followed the Atlanta Olympics bombing, Richard Jewell wasn't in in the news very much. I thought we might hear about him when Eric Rudolf was identified as the the bomber in 2005. I posted what little I found in these two posts. In July 2006, the ten year anniversary of the bombing did prompt several stories and the AP interview I've linked to. Finally, in August 2006, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue presented Jewell with a commendation for his actions that day. "He didn't seek this today," the Governor said, "we sought him out because I think it’s the right thing to do." It was, and it was ten years overdue.

Richard Jewell died in August. I was on vacation, and I missed the stories in the news. I first heard about it from a comment on one of my 2005 posts. News reports of his passing came with headlines like: Vindicated Olympic Park bombing suspect Richard Jewell dies (CNN) and Olympics bombing figure Richard Jewell dies (AP). Jewell said in the AP interview, "I dare say more people know I was called a suspect than know I was the one who found the package," and headlines like these bear that out. They speak more to his status as suspect, and not the lives he saved that day.

Only one headline I saw, (New York Times) got it right:

Richard Jewell, 44, Hero of Atlanta Attack, Dies

When he died, Richard Jewell was Meriwether County sheriff’s deputy, and is survived by his wife and by his mother.