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Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Cargo Cult

Its time I wrote about my burning man experience. This will be a long read. 

It was wonderful and terrible, luxurious and uncomfortable, profound and gauche, and welcoming. And fucking life-changing. 

The moment that sticks in the forefront of my mind is a the first Ranger I came across: a man with a white beard who just said "welcome home" as we crossed paths, with a smile and a nod. He said it like he meant it, like he thought of this city that exists for a week out of the year as /his/ home, and that he was glad I was with him in it. I'm astonished by how powerfully moved I am even now, thinking about it. 

The context is important. Rachael and I had just driven to Black Rock City Nevada from Seattle. Its a long drive. We drove through the night, pumped full of caffeine, with the idea that we'd get there just as the gates opened, have a short wait at the entrance, set up our tent in the dark and get a few good quality hours of sleep before we started engaging with the festival. It seems the gate-opening-time was moved ahead five hours, so we found ourselves spending five hours waiting in line, in our car, after having driven thirteen hours. We picked a middle-ish lane, which turned out to be a fateful decision because the port-a-potties are at regular intervals along the outer lane, and we couldn't see them in the dark. This, combined with a bout of food poisoning we evidently got from some Wendy's chicken fingers of all goddamn places, made for a really shitty combination. Imagine intense intestinal distress, combined with sleep deprivation, caffeine overdose, slowly moving over the course of a mile in a car for hours, repeated reminders over the radio that leaving your car is a risky proposition because there's fucking tons of them that all look more or less alike and the chance of finding your camp once you're inside the city if you haven't planned for it is nill, and you've got a stressful situation. Plus we failed to bring ANY music, aside from a random and not very good selection on my phone, Black Rock Radio was pissing us off after a few hours, and an internet connection wasn't even a remote possibility. We got in the line around two or three in the morning, suffered the discomfort described above, and the sun rose as we passed the gate. It was a bad start.

At the edge of the city there was a group of greeters handing out books of the week's events and welcoming people. The welcome consists of everyone getting naked (the greeters are already naked), giving each other hugs, rolling in the playa dust, and making a dust-angel. Its a pretty amazing way to welcome someone to a new place. Unfortunately both Rachael and I were in intense pain, and hugging anyone (especially naked) would have been a terrible idea for more than one reason. I explained this to the guy greeting us, and he explained (with gestures) that he was deaf and couldn't understand what I was trying to tell him. We shook hands. I was disappointed to have missed the entrance ritual.  

We picked a camp based on proximity to porta-potties: close enough to be close enough, far enough to not smell them. It was on the first short walk to or from them that I ran across my Ranger, looking like Santa in khaki and giving gifts of genuine greetings. That was the first good thing that happened. 

The next /bad/ thing that happened is that sleep was impossible. I had redbull coursing through my veins, our tent was unshaded at that point, and nobody was really interested in being quiet at 9am on the first day. Or on any day, really. I tried to rest for maybe a half hour, gave it up as a lost cause, decided to just be awake for forty-eight hours, and went out to find our friends. We had a good idea where they were because they're veterans and came with a well-established camp, so they were right at the center at the Esplanade on the same spoke-street where we camped. They we sleeping like reasonable people, so we wrote a message in the dust on their car and wandered around blinking in the brightness as the city assembled itself around us. 

Kim and Ben woke up and found us shortly after, we built shade, and the sequence of events for the rest of the week is mostly lost to my memory. So now its time for fragments. We rode around for a bit, made friends with a neighbor I named "Doom" because of a tattoo of the Doom space marine he had on his calf. He also had "Smoke Rocks" across his collar bones in fancy cursive; his explanation was "I figured I would regret any tattoo I got, eventually, so I decided to get one I would regret immediately."  He and his campmate brought a hundred-ish gallon tank of water and an olympic trampoline to the playa, and beer. Not the oddest person I met, by any stretch of the imagination. We had lunch with them, I got naked, it fazed nobody. 

The next thing that sticks in my mind is Costume Cult, two or three days later. This camp had brought in three or four full sized shipping containers full of thrift-store clothes and pieces of costumes and set up a fashion runway, and they had an MC saying things like "Costume Cult. Transform your self with Costume Cult. Come inside and find the look that will change your life." and stuff like that. The part that stuck in my mind, and what made me stand in the line to get in, was the giant sign over the runway that said just: "THOU SHALT". That was the thing that transformed my life; the bold validation of a thing that I've believed for a long time. That I, and you, should do what we want. That the purpose of our lives is attaining happiness. That they can keep their "thou shall not"s and we can decide for ourselves. 

They let people in one at a time, and a woman who in retrospect looked a lot like my mom gave each person a warm kiss on the lips as we came in. I can't remember what she said with the kiss, but it had the same impact on me as the "welcome home" from the Ranger, something that implied that we were all safe and welcome and loved. Inside, I rummaged around to find some stuff to match what I was already wearing, which was a shoulder holster and a sheer thong. I picked out a french maid outfit that didn't fit at all, a lacy crotch-apron, and a merkin. Look it up if you don't know the word. I got my arms through the maid outfit and let the rest drape over my back, stuffed the black wig into the apron, went out onto the runway, threw my water bottle, did a cartwheel, did the worm, did the coffee grinder, and gave the MC a hug. Costume Cult.

Some time before this, actually on our first bike ride out onto the playa, we went and saw the Coyote. It was a two-and-a-half story tall sculpture, made from welded quarter-inch sheets of steel, in the shape of a howling coyote. And like everything in Black Rock city that doesn't say otherwise, people were welcomed to climb all over it. I stripped off my toga and climbed to the top in my combat boots and black bikini-briefs, where there was a sort of drum circle going on. It involved neither drums or circles, being on the top of a coyote scuplture, but rather ten or so people banging rythmically on the scuplture itself with mallets, palms and knuckles while in constant danger of loosing their precarious perch and falling, quite possibly to thier death. Thinking back, this remindes me of something from Murmur, which was itself sortof a little burner-ish-enclave: after a noise show we put on with some touring musicians, we spent maybe an hour banging on everything in that empty warehouse. 50-gallon oil drums, the floor, the I-beams, some actual drums, a fucked up piano, anything that could be used to make a sound. If you've never done this, you might be surprised at how long you and your friends can keep yourself amused if you're willing to overlook how silly you're being and how unlike music the result is. 

Speaking of tall and awesome scupltures, there was the Lady. I have no idea what she was actually called, but she was a three-story sculpture of a woman in a graceful dance pose, her arms over her head and her back arched. Her skin was a metal mesh, and her structure was latticed tube work. She wasn't one that people climbed on. She was beautiful in the day, just as a metal scuplture, but at night you see that her whole body is wired with addressable LEDs at maybe decimeter intervals. Patterns of rainbow light would wash over and through her in a wide variety of beautiful and mesmerizing ways. The simplest pattern by far, and the only one I can remember well enough to describe, is where all the lights except for the ones in her chest are off, and there's a soft red heartbeat pulsing from her breast. Thats another memory that brings tears to my eyes. 

The sheer amount of creative expression, and the resources that go into these things, fairly boggles the mind. The playa is an enormous place, and its packed with these things that a person or a group of people cared enough about to spend their time and money (often a very large amount of both, I get the sense), designing, building, and transporting them to the desert for thier fellow burners' benefit. And all of the wooden things burn. I hear a lot of the metal scupltures later find homes elsewhere in the world, but everything made from wood, and there's a lot of beatiful things made from wood, is burned by the end of the week. Why? I think it has to do with letting go, recognizing transience, appreciating the beauty thats in this moment of your life, and understanding that it will not last. That everything you love will be destroyed in time, and if you're not celebrating it now, you may never. 

The most upsetting example of that is the Temple. I didn't go into it, and I should have. I still haven't really processed the suicide of my highschool friend, Greg, and the temple is about remembering people you've lost. I wanted to go, but I didn't. The temple is also full of books. The temple is made of wood. The temple burns, and just like the people you've lost, the personal stories that vanish from the world with their deaths, the books are lost as well. But it gets worse. All of the books in the temple are hand-written, by people from across the world, transcribed on paper with pens in the same way it had been done throughout history until Gutenberg. And they all burn. People spend days, months, years, copying their favorite books, bring them to the temple as a tribute to the loved ones they've lost, and they watch them burn at the end of the week. I love literature and books, and I cannot think of a more deeply personal and real way to face the reality of mortality and death. I think next time I go, I'll transcribe a copy of A Clockwork Orange, for Greg, and leave it in temple library for him. I think maybe I'm glad I didn't go into it without a gift to leave.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

sums it up


Friday, December 20, 2013

I just got this tattooed on my face:



I kid. I'm considering it getting done on my forearm though. Its an ambigram, can you see what of? I'll give you a minute.



There's three sevens in a pinwheel shape, and the back side of each seven is the spine of a capitol "B" with the horizontal dash mark through the lower loop (which is one of the symbols for Bitcoin). The dash mark in the B doubles as the dash mark people sometimes put in the middle of 7's.

But what does it mean? Triple sevens are obviously about getting lucky. But coupled with the bitcoin symbol, especially as a tattoo, its a little more pregnant. The book of Revelations talks about how during the reign of the antichrist, everyone will need to display the "mark of the beast" in order to trade for anything. People who interpret the christian bible very literally interpret this to mean a single world currency rather than just a mark on your body, and I've heard of religious people objecting to the concept of Bitcoin on those grounds. However, the Mark of the Beast is 666, and here we've got 777, which by very loose interpretation means its holy rather than evil. So, getting what's loosely definable as the mark of God as a tattoo, especially in relation to the potential One World Currency is... provocative.

I'd like to see if I can embed this in a QR code somehow and link the QR code to a wallet so that people can pay me by scanning my tattoo.

Friday, August 9, 2013

I just spent more money than I ever have in my life.

I got a house in exchange for it though, presumably. I say presumably because we're getting the keys later today.

Its been a comical journey. I woke up early to pick up a Car2Go (the little Smart cars that are for rent by the minute) so we could drive to the signing. The one I had reserved the night before had been taken, and it hadn't recommended me to another one like I thought it was supposed to. To be fair, this could be because the carI had requested was a block away, and the next available one was 1.5 miles away. This is why Zipcar has a competitive business model, I now realize. I reserved the car and walked the mile and a half, only to find that I had taken longer than fifteen minutes and the car had been reserved by someone else in the meantime. I found the next one, which was another half mile away, and I ran, uphill, to get it before the reservation ran out. That finally worked.

So I drive back to Ballard (from Fremont) to get Rachael and all our stuff. We've been living in furnished corporate housing for a month and a half, so its not as bad as it could have been, but we still had to fit four bags and three grocery bags of our stuff into the Smart car; not a whole lot of room to spare. We were both already stressed because the car thing made me late. Then, I left my hat on top of the car. My brand new awesome fucking brown top hat that I love. I realized it a block away and made to turn around, and Rachael screams "NO! THERES NO TIME!"... so we left it.

On the way there, we discovered that the smart car radio can't be turned off. Or rather, you can turn the volume all the way down, but you can't have the nav system tell you the directions without the sound up. What's displayed on the screen has no text. Anyway we missed a freeway exit, had a crisis moment, and eventually got there.

In any case, we've closed, and now we own a house.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Monday, June 3, 2013

AMAZON

Now that its official, I can break radio silence: I got a new job at Amazon!

The whole thing happened incredibly fast. I had applied for just a few jobs that were in the "ideal" category, jobs I considered the best thing I could possibly hope for and unlikely to be obtainable. I got one positive response, from Amazon. They schedualed a technical-skills screening interview for later that week, and two business days later I had an in-person interview schedualed. Had to wait two weeks for that, evidently a result of their flight-booking policy. I flew out to Seattle on a Saturday (they were gracious enough to put me up for an extra night so that I could get a feel for the city), interviewed on Monday, and had an offer in my hands by Wednessday evening. I've never heard of a company moving so fast, or being so well organized. I'm psyched to work there. Everyone I spoke with there was great, and I liked my hiring manager, Jon, a lot. Seems like the kind of guy I'll really enjoy working with; he's got technical skills and business knowledge I'm eager to learn, and a winning personality.

I'm also psyched to be moving to Seattle. Justin Mirus was kind enough to give me a tour from a local's perspective, so I got see even more beautiful things. We saw Golden Gardens, the Locks, Voulenteer Park, Ballard, Freemont, and Capitol Hill; eating and drinking at exceptionally excellent places along the way. Seattle's natural beauty defies belief: both mountains and water in all directions. Even the weather was beautiful while I was there (though I understand this isn't a constant phenomenon).

Friday, May 3, 2013

On Bitcoin

The vast majority of this blog's readership demands that I explain what Bitcoin is and why its important, and so I shall.

Its a currency, and its also a means of exchanging currency.

Its got several interesting characteristics in both domains. As a currency: its supply grows at a constant rate. No one can make any more of it any faster than its designed to be made. In this respect, its somewhat similar to gold. Why does this matter? Well, institutions capable of creating currency at will have a rich history of abusing the power by creating as much of it as they feel suits their needs, and it tends to end in tears.

As a medium of exchange: it can be traded instantly between any two parties, regardless of physical location or borders between them. Its apolitical. Further: it doesn't require any one central institution to make the transaction happen. Why does this matter? People can make their own decisions about how to spend, and there's nothing any outside power can do about it.

How does it work? Think first of how the current US dollar works. The vast majority of dollars in existence have never been printed; they exist as records in a ledger in a central bank, the Federal Reserve. That ledger has entries in it saying that some number of dollars exist and have been moved to smaller banks, and those banks have ledgers with records in them saying that some number of dollars have been transfered to you. Fundamentally, the money is nothing more than records in a ledger that people tend to trust.

Bitcoin is the nearly same. The only difference: instead of having one ledger that everyone has to trust, copies of the ledger are distributed to anyone who wants to hold on to it, and updated every time someone creates a record that says some of their currency is to be transfered to someone else (how this is done is the clever technological bit). This means that no one, no matter how rich or powerful, has the ability to cheat by altering the ledger.

Why is this better? Again: no need to trust the issuing entity not to abuse the power.  If you live an a polity that's financially unstable and has the power alter the ledgers (for example Cyprus, Zimbabwe, Argentina... I could go on), it would be a very good thing indeed to have records in a ledger that they cannot alter.  What if you don't live in an untrustworthy polity? Well, its often hard to know that it's untrustworthy in advance. The thing is: they almost always are untrustworthy, eventually.

Also, again, theres no way to shut it down.

Now, ask yourself: if the claims I've made prove to be true, what are the implications? What would widespread use of it as a currency mean? If governments loose control of the money supply, how will they survive when they get into trouble with debt? If they fail to manage their debt crises and truly loose the ability to govern, how can a peaceful, prosperous civilization be maintained?

These points give the barest glimmer of why I think this phenomenon is worth paying attention to. Suffice to say: it could be very, very important if it survives. And I think it will probably survive.

And now for the links. The first says what I've just said in greater length and detail (and possibly eloquence):
http://evoorhees.blogspot.com/

The second is a place to buy them:
www.coinbase.com

The third is a program that helps you store them:
http://electrum.org/

And the fourth is a place to spend them (or earn them, since its an auction site):
https://www.bitmit.net/

Sunday, April 7, 2013

cash money money

I realize that I might lose my readership if I keep posting screeshots of bitcoin bubbles; but check this one out:

Thats equivalent to ~1.13M USD.

I feel happy

oh so happy, and witty, and bright!

I know I shouldn't be counting these chickens before they hatch. But I am anyway. And knocking on all the wood within reach. 

Also, how great of an analogy is this:
"Bitcoin being a censorship-resistant honey badger of a currency it just may eat these bankster cobras." source

Yeees. Honey badger. Honey badger should be Bitcoin's mascot; Bitcoin don't give a shit.

Bioshock Infinite

I feel like a dick for posting criticism of its writing before I finished it. It was pretty awesome. Once I put it on Medium difficulty I enjoyed it a lot more; I recaptured that lovely Willful Suspension of Disbelief once I stopped dieing every few steps.

The original Bioshock is renowned for its use of "moral choice;" supposedly it was the first game to put some really gnarly choices in the hands of the players and say "you deal with the consequences." It sort of confronts you with "reality is often ugly, and you're going to be asked to play a role in it, so what kind of person are you going to be?" At least thats what I hear, I haven't (yet) played the original.

But the Bioshock Infinite (the third one) deliberately thumbs its nose at the whole notion. I only saw two actual choices in the game, the first a genuine "moral choice" moment, and the second really just a question of how polite you want to be. Outside of that, theres a sense that events are outside of your control, and that no matter what you choose, things are going to be totally fucked up.

Lets talk about those two moments of choice, though. The first one is at the Raffle. You're on a mission in this extremely jigoist (thats old-fashioned for "nationalistic and racist"), insular society. There's apparently a tradition where everyone at the fair picks a baseball with a number on it, baseballs being symbols for good-old-fashioned wholesomeness. You, the character, happen to pick the winning number! What's your prize? You get to Throw The First Ball! At an interracial couple who are guilty of being interracial!

This is the first point where you get to make a decision, both of which involve throwing the ball. The question is: the target. Do you throw it at the couple who the announcer is encouraging you to publicly castigate?  Or do you throw it at the asshole announcer? I'm happy to say that I have no idea what happens if you choose the former option (unlike in Farcry, I chose the actually good options); but if you choose to do the right thing and stand up against the hate crime, well, then, everyone who was looking forward to participating in a hate crime realizes that you're not one of them and starts the "throw Booker Dewitt off the Island" campaign.

The other "choice point" involves whether or not to demand a ticket from a clerk at gunpoint or to shout at him. Sadly I don't know what the former option results in, in this case, but the latter gets you stabbed in the hand because the clerk is an undercover agent preparing a trap for you. Getting stabbed in the hand was pretty unexpectedly cool, I must say, and I appreciate that the bandaged hand stays with you through the rest of the game.

But on to the more significant, existentially bleak shit. The character's whole motivation is "bring us the girl, wash away the debt." Apparently we were a Pinkerton agent, we've done somethings we'd rather forget, and it seems (in retrospect) that we've done a fairly good job of forgetting a lot of it. The girl we need to bring, it seems, is locked in a tower (tropes!) and has the ability to open wormholes (... latter-day tropes!). She's imprisoned by this world's Joseph Smith, guarded by a giant cyborg (I can only assume building on the first Bioshock's tropes), and her captor drains the power out of her without her knowing. Maybe that last bit has some Marxist "alienation of the worker" shit to it? I dunno.

Anyway, our heroine's wormholes are four-dimensional, meaning they can fuck with causality (as I mentioned last time I talked about the game). At some point she's separated from us, the masculine hero, and we're given an abandonment guilt-trip. We were supposed to be protecting her! Her continuing faith on our return is dashed!

An early bit of dialog between hero and heroine is worth mentioning at this point. Elizabeth asks if we're married. "I was," we say, "but she died. In childbirth." Sad stuff. Elizabeth, sensitive conversationalist she is, asks: "Oh, I'm sorry. So you have a child?"  The voice acting is what really makes the next line from the hero have emotional impact: "No..." he says, voice laden with sadness, bitterness, and regret. The impression you get, it must be obvious, is that both mother and child died in childbirth, and this is the reason for our tacturnity.

But how much worse is the truth, as it turns out. Without belaboring all the delightfully depressing details (I've got to wrap this post up because the original Bioshock has been downloading on my PS3 and is almost ready to play), its all your fault. Accepting responsability means undoing yourself.  Bleeeaaaak.

And pretty entertaining.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

GIVE ME ALL YOUR BITCOINS

all your bitcoins, give them to me:

18LPjxMt7YZvhoEgsDgWWtiBeZhjcvvnTa

Finally figured it out sufficiently to get a wallet set up and purchase some. Also, of course, figured out how to put a widget on my phone that lets me obsessively check the price.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Hey, this is fun


Somebody who is smarter than me created a neat website:

http://www.listentobitcoin.com/

Its a visualizer for bitcoin transactions, both inter-network and for fiat currency. The size of the bubble is proportional to the value. See that big one in there, for B278? Do you know what that is in dollars, at the current exchange rate? $32,804. Who the fuck is trading thirty two thousand eight hundred and four dollars worth of stuff on the Internet on a Tuesday evening in April? Is your mind blown? Cause mine sure is.

Oh daaaaaaamn: as I was writing that, this happened:


I'll spare you the calculation; B1,232 = $133,576. What the fuck is going on?


Videeoooo gaaeeeems

Sad to say, I'm not enjoying Bioshock Infinite as much as I expected to. I'm trying to figure out why that is... partially, no doubt, that I've stubbornly set the difficulty its highest setting and I'm dismayed by how ineffective the weapons and spells ("vigors") are. Thats an easy fix, but it pains me to set it to medium; I'm a pro, dammit. Part of what's frustrating is that you can see when you hit the enemies, a hole and a red mark appears on their sprite. But even if that mark is in their /eye/, they'll keep attacking just as hard until their little health meter runs out.

I remember the days when I was satisfied by games, like Quake, where such things were not considerations. Just keep the cursor on the bad guy with the button held down, eventually he'll keel over and die! Its the story of increasing expectations: build more realism into a game and the player starts expecting the rest of it to behave more realistically. Which is seldom what they actually /want/, I suspect. What they (I) want is to be able to ignore realism in convenient ways and not have their skepticism intrude into the fantasy.

The political overtones of the game are amusing at first, but they grow tiresome. We see this worship of the American founding fathers, attitudes of racial and social superiority, and what used to be called "manifest destiny" (currently "American Exceptionalism"); the writers seem to be aiming to inspire contempt for this "Columbian" culture and suggesting with sort of a wink and a nudge that maybe it isn't too far off from current American culture. Thats all fine, as far as it goes, its a sentiment that I largely agree with. But frankly, contempt does not a fun game make.

The "Vox Populi" resistance movement was almost an interesting element, untill it wasn't. I think it boils down to inept handling of a few key plot elements. Granted, its sort of the tradition in rail-shooter games (and, I suppose, games in general) that the character be given some task they MUST complete in order to advance; some secondary goal that enables the main goal to be accomplished. Thats fine; I'd just stipulate that the goals should make sense in the context.
Here the goal is escaping, and the chosen method of escape is an airship. Sensible enough, though a parachute probably would work just as well. Unless this floating city floats exclusively over the sea (which it would be helpful for my suspension of disbelief to establish). So we steal this airship only to have it immediately stolen back from us by Columia's resident freedom fighters, the Vox Populi (hurray for latin! I bet that means "voice of the people!") all resplendant with their red banners and red body paint. Before ejecting us from our erstwhile own airship, they tell us they'll give it back if we can supply them with a revolution's worth of weapons. And we agree. We act like its a moral imperitive to do this, like its a cosmic fact that "giving weapons to violent revolutionaries -> airships", and that laying hands on an armory is an acheivable goal. 
This might be a resonable proposition, had we not just previously stolen the airship from somone else, or if there weren't tons of other flying do-dads in the city, or if we weren't so clearly capapble of just taking whatever we wanted through main force, or if it weren't true that the Vox Populi's main problem is /a lack of guns/. The way /I'd/ like to react to somone throwing me off my airship and demanding tribute for it is rather the opposite of helping out their cause. But, I suppose we were supposed to sympathize with the resistance because the dominant culture is so awful. Columbians hate black and irish people! Not "black irish," which is a thing, but both black people and Irish people. It is amusing to note that this is probably a historically realistic form of bigotrty for certain portions of the American population in the time period (which is the 19-teens, I should mention).

But I digress. The resisitance (inevitably) betrays you, for reasons that only make sense in a parallel universe sort-of-way. The resistance leader, who turns out to be a psychotic murderer (surprise!), is disconcerted by our having come back from the dead (apparently we were somehow a revolutionary hero-martyr in the other universe), and orders her soldiers to use the weapons we've just armed them with to kill us. Poetic justice? I guess. Seems like a hasty descision though; really looking that ole' gift horse in the mouth with, like... a speculum.

Why are there so many stories that warn against fucking with the past? They're like morality tales, but warning about scenarios that are not presently (and probably never will be) an issue. Who in history has been so scarred by past-altering that they spawned a literary genera that warns against it? Actually this probably ties in with warnings about prophecies; which goes back to, as far as I'm aware, Oedepis. I suppose "don't listen to asshole fortune tellers" is a fair lesson to impart.

Anyway, it might be said that what I'm complaining about amounts to this: this video game is not a book, or not written up to the standards of I'd expect to see in a major book.  So why don't I just go and read a book? Thats actually exactly what I did, I went and read Rant, which was waaaay more entertaining. But why did I enjoy Farcry 3 so much more, despite the fact that it, too, is not a book? I may just have been in a more facilitative state of inebriation, but I do think it has more to do with the qualities of the game, which I've already nattered on about.

April fools


Very funny, Tech Crunch.



I would have been disconcerted by this had I not just checked the price like ten seconds before, and the price was emphatically not plummeting. The link was  a 404 error though.

Monday, March 25, 2013

AN IDEA WHO'S TIME HAS COME

Ok so I have an idea:

A musical instrument MADE OF ENGINES.

That is: un-muffled internal combustion engines, where the explosions make both the beats and the tones! Its an idea who's time has come, with the advent of Dubstep!

The most obvious (of doubtlessly many) problems: the tone an engine produces is determined by its RPM (as well as size), and an engine would have to rev through all RPM's between two tones in order to change the note. This would make for boring music, most likely. I can think of several solutions to address this:

1. Electronically controlled ignition/fuel injection. The engine doesn't have to fire on every stroke. This could be used to make percussive, not necessarily regular beats at low speed, or to increase or reduce the pitch by factors of two at higher speeds. I'm assuming v-twins would be used (obviously).

2. Spin the engines to the needed RPM's with electric motors. When they're not firing, their speed could be adjusted to whats needed to create the next tone.

3. Number two would work best if there are several engines available, so that they can alternate which one is firing while the others are adjusting their speeds to match the next note. This probably implies that it would only be good for pre-recorded music, though it might work with a delay live. Unless you just had enough engines being spun at different speeds that you could make any tone you wanted; like an engine organ. Different size engines would also naturally give a different range of pitches.

4. Since the energy of the combustion isn't being used to maintain the engine speed, the volume of each explosion could be varied by adjusting the air-fuel mixture. The electric motor might even need to brake the engine to keep it at the right speed.

 Fuck yes. Now I need a bunch of engines, some electronic stuff, and more skill with programming than I have. 

How many engines? Well, twelve, if I wanted to do the organ thing, where each is spinning at a speed appropriate for a tone. That would give all the semitones in one octave, which is probably overkill. Since you're likely to want to be playing in some key, eight is probably sufficient (or maybe even just seven). The trick with the electronic ignition would give you at least a three-octave range without changing engine speeds; and that can also be adjusted on the fly. Though, I suppose I don't know what range of speeds the engines could actually support without exploding. Actually I do know that, I just don't know what tones they would make.

Another thing: V-twins would require extra cooling, assuming (obviously) that I'd be using air-cooled engines. They'd have to be wrapped in copper tubing and have water running through it, which is also pretty cool.

Oh and finally: The exhausts will be brass trumpets. Actually if there were valves on the trumpets they might have some control over the tone as well...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

I am a slow learner.

That inspiring story, plus the end of daylight savings time, encouraged me to take the old beast out the other day. Started on the first kick! Snow piles be damned, I took it for a spin!

...AND IT WORKED GREAT!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Ive got 99 problems, and every one of them is a result of something I originally thought was a good idea.

Good news! At least one person (probably exactly one person) remembers that my blog exists! Hi, Rick.

Bad news! Re-melting the shit inside my playstation didn't make it work again. Oh it fixed the problem, where "problem" is defined by having a yellow light blink for a half second. Now I get a green light, and nothing else. Not what I was going for, really. Internet's got a solution for the "green light problem" as well: stick some fucking coins between the graphics chip and the heat sink. This is so stupid that I'd immediately assume it was either a prank or an inept guess from a thirteen year-old, but YouTube's got proof (such as it is). Apparently the increased pressure does something good? I can't imagine it compensates for what you'd loose in thermal conductivity, but maybe the coins-on-the-back-side approach wouldn't have that problem.

I don't, by they way, expect any sympathy for these mostly self-inflicted, eminently first-world problems. I just think they're funny to write about. In that vein, here's some more from the genre of "problems that TJ inflicted upon himself through obstinacy and/or questionable decision making."

Motorcycle.

Owning and trying to ride a fifty year old motorcycle has got to be pretty high on the "questionable" index. Its been a constant set of crippling problems for literally the entire time I've owned it. I didn't even get to ride it for the first few years I owned it; I could never get it to start. I kept it secret from my Dad because he'd been so anti-motorcycle every time the subject ever came up, but he was inexplicably thrilled when I finally told him about it. Good thing, too, because he had a garage and a pretty good set of tools, and the thing might as well have been scrapped without those resources on hand. Plus a vehicle with trailer hitch, to tow the fucking thing with every time it broke down unexpectedly. And when does it ever "expectedly" break down? Actually I think at this point I've adjusted my expectation to "always;" after having pushed it up several miles of hills, deadlifted it into the back of a van, and several occasions of borrowing cars to tow it. Now its just a pleasant surprise when I reach my destination without discovering any new problems.

The event that finally precipitated that change in attitude coincided with convincing my dad to tow it up to Chicago last spring. I was so excited... I couldn't wait to ride it all over the city, hang out at seedy bars, just generally be a badass with a sweet motorcycle that sets off car alarms. Riding a motorcycle in the city is stupid enough that its probably a good thing there were so many barriers to actually living out that fantasy; in my brief city-riding experience I very nearly got hit at least three times whilst riding pretty cautiously.

The first barrier was getting it running again, of course. I can't even remember which problem it was that time; probably electrical (its a safe bet). With that problem solved, I had to go out and get a Chicago city parking sticker. I had been parking it right up against the sea-wall at the beach outside my apartment (which looked totally awesome) because I figured it was unlikely to be seen and ticketed there, but if I wanted to park it in front of those seedy bars and not find a five hundred dollar ticket on it when I stumbled out later, I had to go buy a sticker from some parking-sticker-selling twats.

Chicago sells car parking stickers at every currency-exchange place. Car parking stickers, the currency exchange place on my block helpfully informed me. Motorcycle stickers have to be purchased from one of like three offices in all of Chicago. I made the classic Chicago-neophyte mistake of finding it on the map and thinking that since it was only three miles from me, it was close and would be an easy ride. Three miles in Chicago is far, and no ride is easy unless its three in the morning. I realized, in this three miles, why people spring for five-hundred dollar carbon fiber helmets and don't ride cafe-racers: checking blind spots and mirrors in traffic every five seconds while hunched over your handle bars does a number on the neck, no matter how cool it looks. And not checking gets you hit by cars.

An hour or so after setting out on this quick errand I find the one-of-three offices where you can buy motorcycle parking stickers, and they want to charge me something like double for a late fee. Despite that I'd just registered it in Illinois a few days before. They wouldn't accept any argument other than the registration papers, which, naturally, I hadn't brought. So far this has just been a waste of time, but it gets serious when I go outside and can't start my bike.

Not even a cough of life in the engine. I kick it for, I dunno, a half hour? Run it up and down the parking lot of this government office trying to roll-start it... I'm literally shaking with exhaustion by the time I decide to humble myself by calling Rachael and asking for help. This, in turn, is seriously impeded by having a dead cell phone. Why did I leave the house on a barely functional vehicle with no phone and, as it turns out, no change to make a call? I'd like to know that myself. Motorcycles are exciting. Here everyone (among my vast readership) with a well-maintained, newish motorcycle is laughing at me and shaking their heads condescendingly; and to them I say:  fuck you, despite that you're right. My bike is way sweeter because of these travails. Thats what I tell myself.

To my great relief, there's an awesome motorcycle shop just a few block's push from the stupid government office. I had, in fact, stopped there earlier to ask where the stupid government office was. So I'm sure their amusement was great when I came back an hour later panting, asking for water and tools. They were super cool about the whole thing, and they hid their annoyance pretty well when I started revealing my ignorance and stupidity about bikes in general. The coup-de-gras (or whatever) was when I crossed the jumper cables right in front of the mechanic who was helping me. Thats right, I put red on black, spent a confused moment wondering why shit was sparking and smoking, and panickedly tore the cables off. A stupider mistake couldn't be made (sadly this is the second time I've done this; the other was on my old Escort, but it was dark that time).

I ended up leaving the bike at the shop, calling Rachael from the shop's phone, and asking her to come get me. That's got to be the most humbled I can remember being in the last... decade. The number of conversations in which she's strongly expressed her displeasure about my having, riding, and spending money on this thing are beyond counting. Calling and saying "you were right, fucking thing broke again, can you come drive an hour to get three miles and pick me up please? Oh and bring me an extra shirt, I'm soaked in gasoline" was pretty tough. Its a function of how much I dislike riding the bus in the Chicago suburbs and my level of despondency that I actually made that call.

To get it home the next day, I had to borrow a friend's trailer-hitch-having car. The plan was to go get the boat trailer from the south side of the city (which Dad and Jack had previously modified to also be a motorcycle trailer via the ultra-high-tech expedient of some boards bolted to the frame). That led to a debacleous afternoon of moving a bunch of other trailers around to get mine out of storage, having the wrong size hitch-ball, buying the right sized ball but the wrong sized hitch-adapter, and saying fuck it and calling a tow truck. I waited a good two hours for the tow-truck, then had the bright idea of renting a uhaul trailer for a third of the cost. The tow-truck driver, having spent two hours getting to me, was understandably pretty pissed when I called and canceled when he was a block from me. Such is life; I blame the dispatcher for not finding someone closer.

The uhaul trailer at least worked as intended. Except: I didn't realize it was an exceptionally bad idea to leave the kickstand down while I towed it. Actually it seemed like a good idea, having not realized what the consequence of driving a suspensionless trailer over a bunch of pot holes would be, I thought having the kickstand down would be more stable. Turns out that the welds that hold the kickstand to the frame aren't infinitely strong, and bouncing up and down for three miles is just enough to break them. It literally happened two blocks from my apartment: I was looking in the rear-view mirror,  reassessing my kick-stand strategy as I watched the thing bounce and BOOM! Bike falls over, kickstand snapped clean-off, remaining mirror shattered.

So: I get home and lean the bike against the sea-wall, because it doesn't have a center-stand. Can you imagine how dispirited I am at this point? My masculine fantasy has become an exercise in emasculation. I was so completely and obviously miserable that Rachael couldn't even bring herself to berate me. I told her I'd learned my lesson, that I'd sell it, just as soon as I get it into some kind of shape where someone would be willing to take it home with them.

Good news! After I re-did the carbs, put a center-stand on, fixed some shit with the lights, and put baffles in the mufflers, it works pretty good! I rode it to and from work maybe ten times before it got dark enough after work that I didn't want to ride it (theres... still some shit wrong with the lights). So now I don't have to sell it! Plus now I live way out in the suburbs where traffic is less homicidal (though I still got rear-ended (albeit gently) at a stoplight), and close enough to work that I can just push it home if it stops working rather than calling my wife to save me! Good thing I had listed it on craigslist for like twice what anyone wanted to pay for it, right?

Right?

This is what comes of having Ford Prefect and Bilbo Baggins as childhood heroes rather than someone healthy like Lance Armstrong or Ronald Regan or... Dennis Rodman. Its shit like this that makes me wonder whether my self-image as a really-pretty-smart guy has any foundation in reality, or is just the consequence of my mom telling me so for all my life.  But hey, its offered some opportunity for mechanical skill-development and introspection, and now I know.

And Knowing,

Is Half The Battle

ooooOOOOOOOOO!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Technology and Entertainment Woes

 First my macbook pro melts down, now the playstation I bought as an emotional salve for its loss does the same. Granted they were both like eight years old (I bought the latter used), but its got to be some kind of poetic justice/punishment that the playstation would break down in exactly the same way.

Which is to say: the solder on one of the three chips in my little gaming-supercomputer has apparently ceased to fulfill its function of connecting the metal bits to the semi-conducting bits. Same thing happened on the graphics processor of the macbook. The symptoms of which are a checkerboard pattern on the shiny silver machine, and a yellow light that blinks for half a second on the heavy black one.

The fix for this incredibly retarded problem is to completely disassemble the machine and point a heat gun at the graphics chips for five minutes. This, so says the Internet, "re-flows the solder." How it re-flows back to where it's supposed to go rather than where its currently found itself is anyone's guess. The irony that the fix for the problem that was caused by heat stress is to deliberately overheat it seems like some sort of cosmic joke perpetrated a paternal super-intelligence that has my best interests in mind and wants me to spend less time playing video games and more time doing things like learning programming languages that can be done perfectly well on a low-end machine.

I described these issues to my friend Tuhin today, and he chastised me for not buying things new; "you must spend more money fixing your old shit than you would have just buying a new one" says he. This from a guy who went out and leased a new Infinity as soon as he got his first job, and who's therefore never put wrench to nut. But oh, what invaluable experience I get from taking things apart and re-assembling them! Actually, a question mark would work just as well at the end of that sentence.

The eight year old Thinkpad I'm on now (which I bought as a functional salve for the loss of the macbook) is a great example (and one in which I did actually save a lot of money). Yes, I did have to immediately replace the cooling fan when I unboxed it, but it was a hundred bucks and the operation took about a half hour, so I think I came out ahead. On the other hand, a half hour was straining the extent of my patience with the project, so I was only able to figure out where about a third of the screws I took out of it are supposed to go. As a result of which the keyboard sortof pops out, but thats a very minor annoyance. The much larger annoyance was having to take it apart again to cover the keyboard data-cable in duct tape because some bit of it got rubbed raw and the short was causing double letters to be typed randomly. But hey: working now. That problem was actually pretty hard to diagnose. I thought it was a software issue and fruitlessly trolled the Ubuntu forums for a fix, turns out its a common problem with Thinkpad x60's, and I owe it to Rachael for somehow discovering this fact when it eluded me.

Which reminds me of further evidence of this semi-benevolent super intelligence's douchy sense of humor: the PS3 died right in the middle of me finally getting Rachael to play the opening scenes of Far Cry 3 (see last post). This had been the subject of some intense relationship-negotiations; I ultimately agreed to modulate my socially unacceptable behavior when she points it out to me, in perpetuity, if she'd play at least ten minutes of whatever fucking video game I'm into at the moment when I get all excited about it, in perpetuity. The socially unacceptable behavior in question, by the way, was laughing too hard on crowded trains at books I'm reading on my phone. Why care so much about that? I dunno, but I figured it was a fair trade for getting to share stuff I like with her. So the fact that the fucking video game system self-destructs right as the opening cutscenes were concluding and the player gets to effectually twiddle the sticks for the first time strikes me as beyond coincidence. Its not, of course, buy such is the power of human patter-recognition/imagining. There's a fancy word for that, I know, but I can't think of it at the moment.

Bereft of computerized entertainment, and apparently not wanting to do productive things, I've begun a reading novel thats about computerized entertainment. Even more specifically, its about blogging about computerized entertainment. How perfect is that? The novel is called "Constellation Games," and its fantastic. Funniest writing I've read in a while, and its very thoughtful amidst its snark. Cory Doctorow's already done a good review of the book, so there's no need for me to bang on about it too much until I actually finish reading it .

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Mind = Blown

For quite some time, I've been nurturing the idea that there's a nascent, burgeoning, and mostly unrealized potential form of artistic expression in the medium of video games.

The medium usually disappoints, to put it mildly. But hey, most art in any given medium sucks anyway, right? How much pulp fiction is there compared to works of literary art? How many terrible movies versus works of cinematic art? How many sloppy images v. meaningful photographs? The former outweigh the latter by orders of magnitude, I'm sure. That said, literature's really the only art form to which I feel like I've got enough exposure that I can make meaningful comparisons, and thus:

We've got the benefit of the "lens of time" to aid us in filtering good literature from the bad. The written word, and stories using it as a medium, have been around long enough that the good ones have floated to the top, and we remember them. Video games, in contrast, are new enough as a medium that the separation of the cream from the shit has scarcely had time to occur, and indeed they often seem mixed in a homogenized mess of mediocrity.

At the risk of continued hyperbole: Far Cry 3 was the best video game I've played since... maybe ever. The only games even in its league are the Half Life and Portal games. None of those actually reduced me to tears and open-jawed amazement, and this one did. The writing was way beyond anything I've experienced outside serious novels, bar-none. I accidentally saw this article where the writer talks about the ideas he was trying to subvert, so now my interpretation is colored by that intent. Nevertheless:

Broadly: Jason Brody (yourself, as it's written) goes from being paralyzed by fear in the face of confrontation to being a skilled, decisive, and suicidally ruthless warrior. His transformation is driven by motivations I can sympathize with. Escape your captors! Save your friends! Shed your weaknesses! Become self-reliant and capable! Do right by the oppressed people who've helped you! Deliver justice and retribution to some people who really, really deserve it! Overcome your societally-inculcated inhibitions! Follow the path that your inner self truly desires! Accept your nature! Don't let anyone stand in your way! Kill people if they do! Even if they're your friends! And are innocent of all wrongdoing except holding you back!

Wait, what? WHAT? What the FUCK just happened?

How did I get led down THAT fucking garden-path? I went (as this character) from trying to save my own life, to trying to save others' lives, to killing for the sake of the people I care about, to killing because the victims deserve it, to deciding that my own personal satisfaction is all that really matters anyway? Wow. Lets draw that out: Waaaaaoooooow. That last step into megalomania seems abrupt when I write it out like that. How did I become the bad guy? Everything I did, I did with the snowiest of intentions!

Actually, the only moral choice offered to the player is given at the very end. However, the player is given fairly compelling (in the context of the character) motivations for choosing either way. The people Jason saves don't appreciate it very much, and start condemning him for what he's had to do to make it happen. The impression they give is: "you risked your life to save me? What were you thinking? Don't do it again to save our other friends, I care about you too much! How could your put your need to save our friends above my caring for you? You're so self-absorbed! I don't know if I want to be associated with a person like you. Do what you want, I'll forget you, you antisocial freak."

Now, from my (actual) perspective, the correct moral choice is obvious: save your friends and get back to civilization; get yourself out of this fucked up environment where people are having to make these kinds of judgments. But from Jason's perspective: after all the blood that's been spilled, and all that he's done for the sake of what he thinks is right; who's to say what he thinks is right isn't? Certainly not anyone standing near him, thats for sure.

THE DUALITY OF MAN

Whats so phenomenal is how divergent the final choice is, and how consistent both choices are with the character. Become Ultra-Alex (of A Clockwork Orange provenience), or make the right choice and return to normality. The former choice is darkly, evilly seductive, and it offers a disturbing window into that mentality for those of us who chose the moral path.

Frankly, the lucky among us in the modern, safe, civilized world are never really faced with those choices. Culture presses us into inoffensive roles, and we're better off for it. Its easy to forget that in large swaths of our current world, The cultural pressure that helps us be good is either non-existent or overcome by the horror and desperation of peoples' circumstances. That thought brings to mind the question: whether "those of us who chose the moral path" are really choosing at all, or whether the savage darkness is merely suppressed by our human culture.

This is the reason its worth speaking of "Far Cry 3," --this fucking video game-- in the context of serious artistic expression: it brings the question to mind.

GETTING THE JOKE

Outside the story elements, the game's got some awesome artistic choices. To start, the color palate. Certain shades of red, blue, and yellow were used to striking effect. Can't say if its symbolic of anything, but it was consciously done and visually pleasing.

More significantly, The music. The theme music is programmed to be responsive and appropriate to whats happening in the game, but where I lost my shit is when I Fink u Freeky (the Die Antwoord song) was playing over the public address sound system at the pirate enclave while Jason is confronting the arch-pirate, Vaas. Die Antwoord projects this image of excess and debauchery simultaneously with poverty and desperation, and I couldn't think of anything that could be more appropriate and timely to the moment. Its high-energy, tense, dirty, and morally-ambiguous: matched perfectly to the action. If you don't know the song, watch that video at the link. You'll get what I'm talking about. The closer you watch, the more your jaw will drop.

The other musical-masterpiece-moment was when Jason and his brother are escaping on a helicopter: Jason gets behind the machine-gun hanging off the side, and the Ride of the Valkyries plays. The allusion to Apocalypse Now is beyond obvious... and absolutely, totally perfect. Come to think of it, both Jason Brody and Colonel Kurtz (tell me you get the reference) share some of their core motivations, as well as the guilt that comes from acting on them (despite whatever nobility the motivations originally had).

More to come, on this, more to come. I'll be thinking about Far Cry 3 for a while, and I'll probably be self-absorbed and delusional to enough spray the juice of my mind grapes upon the face of the Internet as if it's aware of it.

Keep it lakka lakka lakka,
zef zef zef

Thursday, January 10, 2013

What's been happening? I got a new job within Discover doing some fairly difficult data mining, and that seems to have consumed my need for self expression (thus: no blogging). Right at the same time, Rachael and I got married! Also at the same time, we moved from Rogers Park (Chicago) to Highland Park (north of Chicago).

Most recently, we did a new year's trip to Banff, Canada, where Kim and Ben have a family vacation condo. Skied, hiked, played games, good times.