2014/03/30

Does anyone actually _believe_ Chris Christie?

Many more beautiful things have been happening, but I’ve been paying a little attention to politics (ewww), and this thought just keeps bubbling up.

I mean, I can imagine (if not agree with) supporting Christie because “blah blah hardball rough and tumble blah blah blah realistic blah blah what New Jersey needs”; but does anyone with functioning organs of judgement actually believe that he didn’t know about the whole Bridge thing, and that it didn’t happen with his at least tacit approval, if not by his direct orders?

O RLY?To me it is overwhelmingly obvious that at the very very least, if a scandal hadn’t arisen about it, he would have known with certainty, after the fact, that it was his troops that caused the pain to Fort Lee, and he would have approved and been proud of it, and it would have been part of an overall strategy that he would consider his.

I think it’s also reasonably likely that he directly ordered it to happen.

There are various intermediate possibilities. He could have hinted strongly; there could have been brainstorming sessions that began “although of course we’d never do anything like that, let’s just think about what kind of problems particular mayors might find themselves having if less scrupulous people than us were in control” and ended “now remember this was all purely hypothetical, heh-heh, heh-heh”. His staff could have very subtly mentioned certain possible events in his presence and he could have smiled and nodded in ambiguous ways, and so on.

But given how humans are, I’ll bet that, if we had the Full Videotape, there would be a very very smoky gun to be found.

(And so there’s this followon interesting question about all the various aides he’s been throwing under the bus, having his flunkies write stupidly mean and blatantly sexist stories about, and so on: do they continue not speaking up out of fear (he has something on them, or just generally is known to be a bad person to cross) or greed (when it all blows over they will be on his team again and back in power), or both, given that unrequited loyalty is a pretty weak motivator?)

Oh and while we’re on the subject of saying one thing and meaning another :) I have to admit that while I am a lifelong Peacenik and all, I think it would be jolly good if there just happened by a complete coincidence to be a major large-scale joint Ukraine-NATO military exercise going on right now, that just happened to be based on a scenario around defending Ukraine against, say, an invasion from some country in the general location of let’s say where Russia happens to be.

I mean, really…

2014/03/16

Passive Gaming

In retrospect this should have been obvious, but I didn’t notice for awhile…

There’s a sort of continuum in gaming between completely open-world games (with Second Life for instance so far out on that end that it’s hardly a game anymore, and I gather things like the Fallout games also at that end somewhere), and “admire the pretty atmosphere and story while going through the set steps” things (like I dunno Myst and other puzzle games) down toward the other end.

But that’s not the extreme of that end of the continuum. When you’re so worn down by the Meaninglessness of Existence, and Humanity’s Inhumanity to Humanity, and stubbing your toe and all, that all you want to do is lie there and Experience Someone Else’s Stuff without moving your viewpoint around or fighting trivial monsters or solving any puzzles or even clicking Next, it turns out that there’s a whole genre of what I’ll call completely passive games out there, just waiting for you to collapse and fix your eyes on them and not move.

Leverage(Wow, that was a long sentence.)

Just now I spent a pleasant (or at least restful) 45 minutes to an hour playing one of these, an Android game called “Leverage: The Nigerian Job”. It’s a typical modern-day “steal from the thieves” game with a nice sort of twist in the middle.

I was about to say that there are five playable characters, but in a game this passive that doesn’t really mean anything! There are five characters whose viewpoints you play from at one time or another during the game, anyway. The viewpoint can cut very suddenly from one to another, but I didn’t find that especially confusing; it works well.

The story is very linear, and of course since it’s completely passive it plays exactly the same every time (or at least I assume it does; I guess there could be a random element so that it might go differently in different instances of playing it? Not sure.). The graphics are good, if mundane, and in fact, since they know exactly where your viewpoint will be at all times, I think most of the scenes are done live-action, filming real actors doing what the characters do, and then splicing that together to make the game-play.

Assuming there’s no random element (and none of the material about the game that I saw suggests there is), it probably doesn’t have much replay value. They make up for this (at least partially) by packaging the game as a series of “eipsodes”; after “The Nigerian Job” there is a sequel called “Leverage: The Homecoming Job”, and I gather a bunch more after that, with the same characters and in the same basic world, but with different quests or missions.

Also, although I said that it’s an Android game, that’s really not true; because of the completely passive nature of the game, it lends itself really well to server-side rendering. Like what OnLive does for less passive games, but the technical challenges are much simpler; they can basically just record one run through the game, and then stream that down to your client when you want to play. So it’s easy to make these games platform-independent; I played “The Nigerian Job” on my Android phone through a game-streaming app called “NetFlix“, that I gather specializes in these completely passive games, and has versions of its app for various platforms.

And there are alot of them! Some of them seem to be completely passive versions of popular normal games; I see some Star Wars and Star Trek spinoffs, for instance, presumably based on the normal video games in those same worlds. A clever idea!

It felt very frustrating at first, playing this, not being able to even move the viewpoint, much less control the actions of the protagonist (you can’t even customize appearance or clothing; that would make the server-side rendering much harder of course). But I will admit with some shame that the totally passive interaction mode got comfortable very quickly, just sort of sitting there not moving, eyes on the screen, mind sort of half-asleep.

So it was very relaxing and all. I do worry what might happen if this sort of completely passive activity takes off, though; might hundreds or thousands of kids grown up without the mental exercise of interactive games, just sort of sitting on the couch eating Cheetos and “watching”?

That could be bad…

2014/02/09

Who Else

Who else
On this train,
I wonder,
Is also awake?

Who else is looking
Beyond the obvious
With inner eyes,
Searching for souls.

There should be a token,
A badge or a pin,
That we could wear,
We awake ones.

Do not fear me,
It would say,
And I will not
Fear you.

We can let our eyes
Meet, and smile
We can talk
Like old friends

In this sea of unknowing
We can be together
For a moment
In safety.

Maybe, if we had these pins,
For our lapels
We would find
Everyone wearing one

And finally
We would meet

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2014/02/02

Super Bowl subway iconography

So here’s another funny picture from the Subways of New York.

This is on the inside of a subway car that was entirely decorated in Super Bowl related Pepsi ads (or perhaps Pepsi related Super Bowl ads, who can tell?).

Subway Icons

Now is it just me, or is that a cross and a couple of crescents?

I suppose maybe it’s a piece of a stylized slider on a stylized mixer which is part of a stylized “we are cool like DJs who use mixers” image-set or something. And some abstract bubbles with lighting effects that look like crescents.

Or something.

But it looks like a happy little gathering of religious symbols to me.

Subliminal symbols to draw the favorable attention of Christians and Muslims to the ads for fizzy sugar water and violent war games? Some artist having fun sneaking weird stuff into the campaign art?

‘Tis a puzzlement!

2014/02/01

Cold Weather Reporting Center

So somewhere in the labyrinth of the NYC subways, under Grand Central I think, there is this door.

cold_weather

And I passed it the other day when it was so extremely cold outside, and I muttered under my breath “hello, I’d like to report some cold weather!”.

I wonder if they get people knocking on their door and saying that very often…

2014/01/31

But it’s not that simple

On Twitter I follow a few rational-seeming right-wing types, to try to avoid the echo-chamber effect, and yesterday one of them posted about the big kerfuffle where MSNBC implied that the Right Wing might not like interracial marriage, saying how offensive it was and all.

I replied, as one does, saying that, um well, isn’t disliking interracial marriage sort of a Right Wing thing, after all? One of the other people in the thread gasped at how horribly offensive I was being, and we went back and forth a little with me trying to suggest that certain attitudes about race really are, as a matter of historical fact, associated with certain political factions, and they (from my point of view) ducked and weaved a little and then got quiet. I was really impressed, though, with how thoroughly the person seemed to live in a world where interracial marriage (and maybe even same-sex marriage) weren’t a right-left issue at all, and right wing racism was just an offensive myth.

In trying to decide whether to follow this person also, I looked at their earlier “tweets” (and ultimately decided not to follow them), one of which was something that reminded me strongly of the kind of thing that I might have posted like 25 years ago myself, if posting was something people did then, back when I still identified as Libertarian.

And since I seem to be never getting around to that Grand Unified Why I Am Not A Libertarian Anymore posting, I thought I’d at least post about this.

The “tweet” in question was an image, one of those “image that is basically just text” images that social media so loves. It said:

The Rich Man, the Poor Man, and the Politician
A Tale of Income Inequality

There is a rich man and a poor man.
The rich man makes $1000 a day.
The poor man makes $10 a day.
The difference in their income is $1000 – $10 = $990 a day.

The rich man builds a factory.
Now the rich man makes $2000 a day.
He gives the poor man a job at the factory.
Now the poor man makes $100 a day.
The difference in their income is $2000 – $100 = $1900 a day.

A politician decides the “income gap” has grown too large.
He taxes the rich man $1000 a day, gives it to the poor man.
The rich man can no longer afford to run the factory.
He closes the factory. The poor man loses his job.

Everything is as it was before.
And the politician takes credit for “closing the income gap”.

This is a cute Just So story, very typical of, maybe even a little more complex than, the average Libertarian Just So story.

But, like all of them, it leaves out so much that it ends up pretty much completely irrelevant to reality.

These people really need to read “The Jungle” or something.

But short of that, here’s a slightly more realistic version of the story.

The Rich Man, the Poor Man, and the Politician
A Tale of Inequality

There is a rich man and a poor man.
The rich man makes $1000 a day.
The poor man makes $10 a day.
The difference in their income is $1000 – $10 = $990 a day.

The rich man builds a factory.
Now the rich man makes $20,000 a day.
He gives the poor man a job at the factory.
Now the poor man makes $100 a day.
The difference in their income is $20000 – $100 = $19900 a day.

The rich man’s factory pollutes the air that the poor man breathes.
The products the factory produces are poorly-made.
The poor man’s working conditions are dangerous and unhealthy.
The health insurance the poor man buys from the rich man’s insurance company
will drop him on a technicality if he gets sick.
Once he’s too old to work, he will have nothing.
Taking into account actual quality of life and not just money,
The difference in their income is $20,000 – $5 = 19,995 a day.

A politician decides there is too much “inequality”.
He taxes the rich man $8,000 a day, and the government uses that:
To enforce laws on clean air, product safety, and working conditions.
Not to mention Obamacare. :)
To provide the poor man with Social Security.
And to prevent unfair labor practices.
The poor man joins the union and his pay rises to $200 a day.
The rich man can still afford to run the factory;
after all he’s still making $11,800 a day.
Taking into account actual quality of life and not just money,
The difference in their income is $11,800 – $200 = 11,600 a day.

Which is still quite a lot, but
the politician can take some credit for “reducing inequality”.
And things are generally fairer and cleaner.

Sadly that second one won’t really fit on a Twitter placard…

2014/01/30

Four webcomics

So here, randomly, are four webcomics that I’ve become more or less addicted to.

(Or maybe not so much randomly, as so I don’t forget myself!)

These are all of the “have a wonderful time binge-reading all the existing ones for hours when you first discover them, and be suddenly distraught when you get to the latest ones and the Next button stops working, and you have to wait a day or a week for the next one waaaahh” kind.

So you can do that. :)

Questionable Content: I wouldn’t really expect to like this so much, as it’s mostly just squishy relationship stuff among a bunch of vaguely artsy vaguely techie young persons in some urban setting, with just a bit of SF thrown in here and there (there’s a whole “we have working AI” subplot that showed up more earlier on and not so much lately). But I do! I guess I like the people, and they are fun to hang around. (The art has evolved amazingly since the beginning.) Updated weekdays, I think.

Sinfest: Very cool metaphorical or surreal or fantasy or something strips, but with realistic and sympathetic characters (some of them demons, robots, God, the Devil, Buddha, the artist, his pets, etc). Interesting development of characters and themes over time. Updated I dunno several times a week?

Oglaf: haha woot! Funny sick twisted sexy usually-pornographic comics about anything and everything, often in a medieval-fantasy sort of setting. Some recurring characters and themes and plots, but also just craziness. And porn. Not for the easily offended. :) Updated like Sundays or something.

Cura Te Ipsum: a great and wonderfully-drawn SF novel of a comic, about a guy who goes around with a bunch of alternate-universe versions of himself, including some female ones, some that are kids, a few that want to kill them all (himself last), and so on. A bit of the feel of Gerrold’s classic, but with more mystery and character development and a gory antagonist and so on; doesn’t feel at all derivative. Also it’s a comic! (And there’s an active fanbase that comments extensively on each page, and either praises or whines about the frequent use of Latin, Dr. Who references, and so on; but I haven’t read all that many of the comments, because the story is the important thing.) Just got to the “oh no I’m caught up!” stage on this one last weekend, and am still in withdrawl. Updated Monday Wednesday Friday, which is not often enough wahhh!

Suggestions for other worthwhile webcomics welcome in the comments, which we do have a comments section for down there ya know!

:)

2014/01/28

Thank you, Pete

My one hope is that the guitar’s going to be mightier than the bomb.
–Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger – Singer, Songwriter, Activist – Dies at 94

THIS LAND IS OUR LAND: GOODBYE PETE SEEGER, 1919-2014

A Moment Of Pete: When Pete Seeger Murdered HUAC, Just Like A Communist

A MOMENT OF PETE: THIS BANJO SURROUNDS HATE AND FORCES IT TO SURRENDER

Tags:
2014/01/25

Warm and Cold Places

Ooh, it’s snowing again!

So the other day (when was that?) when it was very cold, I decided to see a little more of the city, and I went up the stairs and walked on the surface (surface!) from Grand Central Station to Times Square (the route of the S train, basically).

And it was very cold!

In fact I had intended to walk all the way to the Port Authority Bus Terminal (on 8th Avenue, where one picks up the ACE line), but it was so cold that by the time I came across a subway entrance down into Time Square Station I plunged down eagerly.

Also I had forgotten my gloves, but was was okay because I just kept my hands in my coat pockets. Except when I had to take them out to use my phone as a scanner in order to interact with portals and such.

Because I am playing Ingress on my new Smart-o-Phone!

Ingress is a fun ARG (Augmented Reality Game) sort of game that makes you actually move about in the real world and be near certain locations and stuff when you push buttons on your phone, in order to deal with the XM Satellite Radio signals (or something) that are leaking into the world and something something portals and mind-control fields and stuff and also lots of videos that I have not watched.

Your phone, in the game, uses a network of orbital satellites, originally launched for the military, that enables it to tell where you are in the real world to within, in good conditions, like a few feet.

Oh wait, that part is in real life.

Weird.

So that is being cold and playing Ingress!

There are lots of other things I have been wanting to weblogify about, but I don’t necessarily remember them all, but I will not let that stop me.

Of course it would help if I could remember what I have already weblogified about, but that is easily done! One moment…

Ha, I see I wanted to weblogify about Ingress, and I have now done that. A little at least. Maybe I should mention that as a neophile I am in the Enlightened faction rather than the Resistance (of course we should cooperate with whatever force is sending mysterious energy into the world to boost mankind into the next phase of evolution; what could possibly go wrong?) (also it reminds me of SMAC, which is nostalgic), and I am currently level (um) five of eight (where each level requires twice as many Whatever Points to achieve than the one before, like old-fashioned Dungeons and Dragons, so eight is wayyyyy off).

Oh, and adventures! Yes yes, that is really the main thing I wanted to write about, because woot.

The other day (longer ago than the day that I did the walking on the surface thing, I think), there was this snowstorm during the day while I was at work, and also it was very cold, and it took me about two hours to make the usually-twenty-minutes trip from The Station to home.

This was because, while not all that deep, the snow was beautiful and fine and powdery and very cold, so driving on it was sort of like driving on lots of little hills and drifts made of teeny tiny ballbearings, which is a thing that ordinary two-wheel-drive cars are not all that good at.

(Here is an Instragram of the faithful car waiting for me in the parking lot, with tiny ballbearings all over it.)

At first it was pretty much fine, driving along the local highway, as long as I did not try to go too fast, and was careful to restrain the car’s natural desire to slide gradually off of the road and into the comfy ditch at the edge.

Then I had to turn off of the local highway onto the even more local highway, and as soon as I turned the wheel slightly the car got very enthusiastic about the whole turning thing, and I left the road several yards before the actual exit ramp, and excitingly went around the wrong side of the Exit sign and up a little bank and down the other side, trying to work the controls so that the car would not stop there in a disrecommended place, and was successful enough that the car and I slid right back onto the exit ramp, about halfway along, and fortunately no one was coming because we continued (if I am remembering right) to slide right through the red light and onto the even more local highway which was where we were trying to be.

So that worked out. :)

Then the even more local highway was fine until I got about even with The Mall, from which point on the road I could tell that the Big Hill leading up toward home was all covered with vehicles with flashing lights and things, so I turned (carefully) into the parking lot of The Mall since there wasn’t anything else obvious to do, and parked, and SMS’d M about how there would be a delay in getting home.

Also I went into the bank’s ATM place to get money out since i was short on cash anyway, and to recharge my phone which was short on electricity and they have a plug there.

(Here is an Instagram taken from inside the bank’s ATM place.)

I clomped about out in the snow a bit (there were very very few other cars or people around; I don’t know what all those other people on the train and parked in the station parking lot ended up doing; very mysterious), and walked over to the bottom of the Big Hill and found out from the fireperson there that the Hill was not closed due to the tiny ballbearings on the road, but rather due to a fire that had happened on a road just off the even more local highway, on the hill, and it would probably be awhile before it was open again.

And from my prior experience, trying to get up the hill in the car over the tiny ballbearings would probably not have gone well even with no emergency vehicles or fires or blinking lights involved.

So I got back in the car again and tried to go around the other way, but found I could not go up even the relatively small rise in the street leading back around the other way, so I stopped at a little (and surprisingly open) convenience store opposite that street, and bought hot coffee, and a muffin, and some of those irresistible soft chocolate chip cookies that come in boxes. And a banana.

Then since I had seen a plow-looking thing go by and there was a good run for getting up to speed by starting from the convenience store parking lot, I tried the street again, and got over the rise, and slid successfully down the other side and onto yet another local highway, and around various corners and through lights and things to within site of The Other Big Hill that was the last thing in the way of getting home.

The whole going-the-other-way thing had been problematic mostly because of this Other Big Hill, which is quite steep for trying to get up in the prevailing ballbearing conditions, but does have a nice long run before it for getting up to speed, so I did the obvious thing and sort of slid up the hill at a comparatively dizzying rate, and skewed around onto Our Street which is a bit before the top of the hill, and slid down Our Street and fishtailed slightly into the driveway and was home.

Woot!

And we had cookies (and a banana) to go with the delicious chili (or possibly chilli or chile) that M had waiting for me. (Here is an Instragram of that; yum!)

So that is those adventures. I do love the winter!

(Oh, and if you are in the neighborhood you should go to the Steampunk Coffeehouse! Because it is good!)

2013/12/29

Sunday, December 29, 2013

As usual all various things have happened since some amount of time ago!

Geek-o-Vision

I now have one of these:

an Oculus Rift device

and as soon as I get this one cable that it needs to attach to the enormous Windows machine, I will try out the demos and maybe like WoW or something (and sometime probably Second Life), and that will probably be amazing or disorienting or both.

(And boy will one look amusing while using it.)

The Smart-o-Phone

Speaking of the enormous Windows machine, I now have yet one more non-Windows computer, running yet one more operating system. Here is the Instagramming of my telephone upgrade:

Phones

Having skipped a few generations there, I now have one of these modern “Smart-o-Phones”, and am apparently an Android user (which also involves chocolate bars in some way).

KitKat logo

The Smart-o-Phone can do all various things; pretty much everything that the “i-Pad” can do, except that it is considerably smaller. But as I have pointed out when comparing a little laptop screen to a big desktop display, the Smart-o-Phone screen can be made pretty much as large as you want just by holding it closer to your eyes…

Oh, also, it has some sort of telephone in it. But that is okay, it does not hardly ring much or anything annoying like that.

I have been installing Smart-o-Phone “apps” on the Smart-o-Phone, which allow me to listen to the radio, and sign into WoW (once I convince WoW that I don’t want to use the i-Pad for that anymore), and look at train schedules, and drive little imaginary trains around a simplified model of Europe:

Pocket Trains

Also (like the i-Pad) you can watch TV on it, which I am in fact doing right now (mostly just because I can); this is mildly convenient if one wants to watch one of the subset of shows that Verizon makes available for streaming. For whatever reason the only thing I ever seem to watch this way is “Law and Order: something something”; they just barely clear the bar of being worth ignoring all those commercials.

Ooh, probably I should install the “Net Flicks app” also! That has things which do not have commercials.

So now I have the Smart-o-Phone running Android, the i-Pad running iOS (and which it’s not entirely clear what it is for now), the work computer running ChromeOs (and Chrome Remote Desktop connecting into the at-work work computer running Goobuntu (haha “Goobuntu”)), and the enormous Windows computer running Windows 7 something something, which is basically just for WoW and Second Life these days (and see recent Facebook thread where I complain about Windows’s virtual memory pessimisation algorithms). And the Oculus Rift. :)

Festivities

Oh yeah, these things happened too!

Cookies!

Solstice Dinner 2013

Solstice Christmas New Year Holidays and all! Which is why I now have the Geek-o-Vision and the Smart-o-Phone and all. :) And the little daughter used some Interweb Site to create and produce this amazing tee shirt:

Best Tee Shirt Ever

which attentive readers will notice is based on a recent weblog posting just right here.

Isn’t that the best thing ever? Such an amazing little daughter…

I’m sure other things have happened also, but those are the only ones I will write down for now I think. Lots of lazing about to do today! :)

Update: some of the images in the above are nefariously appearing or not appearing at random, or perhaps with some weak correlation with my attempts to get them to appear. Tsk!

Update 2: Oh yeah, I was going to talk about Ingress on the Smart-o-Phone too! But I didn’t. Maybe later…

2013/12/10

If you do something, dye something

I have this little “skin tag” on my neck, which sometimes my fingers play determinedly with, and if they do this enough it becomes Irritated, and sometimes even Bleeds and things (WTMI, I know, but anyway), so to prevent this I sometimes put a, you know, “band-aid” on it in order to prevent myself from playing with it (see this entire subfield of philosophy).

So today I wanted one of those “band-aids” for that purpose, and The New Employer made it really easy. And this brought to mind the following little bit of snark, which while somewhat snarky and mean-spirited and all, I can’t resist posting…

Old IBM: Non-emergency first-aid supplies are available from the on-site RN during regular business hours, once you have management approval and have filled out the right form. Your department will be charged $27.50, plus $11.92 per individual supply item.

New IBM: As a cost-cutting measure, the on-site RN is available only on alternate Thursdays from 1:11 PM to 1:27 PM. The forms are no longer available. There is still a box of non-emergency first-aid supplies in the building, but everyone who knows where it is has been laid off.

Google: Around the corner from each Espresso machine (i.e. five per floor) is a shiny metal self-service cabinet full of non-emergency organic free-range vegan first-aid supplies, never tested on animals. On the door of each cabinet are internal telephone numbers and URLs (automatically verified for correctness daily by a cluster of [redacted] servers located in [redacted] and [redacted]), in case you think your situation might be not entirely non-emergency, or if you just want to chat. Googlers may access the supplies inside at will, 24/7. Non-Googler access requires a Google+ account.

Ha ha ha! I am here all week.

Oh, oh, also!

In the Subway there are all these Signs, and some of them say:

If you see something, say something.

which is pretty amusing if you think about it literally (because everyone with their eyes open would be constantly saying things, and if they made the reasonable assumption that the two “somethings” are supposed to co-refer, they would be saying like “a person, a person, a person, a door, a sign saying ‘if you see something, say something’…”), and also calls to the idle mind all sorts of variants.

For instance

If you smell something, tell something.

which isn’t quite right, and then immediately after

If you smell someone, tell someone.

which is really just juvenile, what was I thinking?

Continuing with the senses,

If you hear something, fear something.

which I can imagine becoming extremely popular with DHS (see also the U.S. Department of Fear).

If you taste something, baste something.

I suppose. And then, one with more selfish and more Buddhist versions:

If you feel something, heal something.

If you feel someone, heal someone.

I like that last one.

In rereading this I realize that I haven’t really analyzed the form correctly; “see” and “say” don’t rhyme, they, you know, do something else. That other thing. Which seems to be harder to do.

If you touch someone, teach someone.

Maybe. Hm.

If you buy something, be something!

Oooooh, deep!

2013/11/22

Amanda Fscking Palmer!

(That title’s sort of a joke, in that she has used “Amanda Fucking Palmer” as a sort of branding thing, and “fsck” is an old nerdphemism for “fuck” so “Amanda Fscking Palmer” is arguably a cute title for something about her appearing before a buncha nerds. Also it keeps me from having the F-word (“fuck”) in the title of a weblog post, which might be nice because who knows how ol’ WordPress reacts if you do that?)

I don’t want to just constantly gloat about how amazing my new workplace is, but just this once… :)

Amanda Palmer and some guy

So as I’ve probably mentioned before here and/or on the Face Book and/or elsewhere, I think Amanda Palmer (of Dresden Dolls and general musicness, not to mention a great TED talk) is awesome in all various ways, and I’d thought wistfully that it’d be great to see her live someday if I weren’t so lazy.

And then there was this poster at work saying that she and some guy were going to be appearing, right down the hall in the talk room.

Today.

Right after lunch.

That first picture up there is them doing a sound-check, which those of us who got there early to get good seats got to see, because they arrived late. :)

Palmer an' Gaiman

These picture are all awful, because it was dim and I was just using my iPad rather than something more camera-like.

That is her husband, Neil Gaiman, who is apparently a well-known Doctor Who impersonator writer in his own right, and was I think reciting a poem, while she laughed and looked appreciative from the piano bench.

Ukulele!

And there she is probably singing the Ukulele Anthem, which is just marvelous on YouTube, and actually had me tearing up a bit near the end in person. Such energy and goodness…

(Not to mention boots and coat; I want them!)

So anyway she sang some things, and Doctor Who read some things, and the two of them sang one (very creepy) thing together (he says that he doesn’t sing, but she makes him do it), and then they sat down like talk show guests and answered some questions from the host, and a few from the audience, and then it was over, except for those of us who hung around forming lines of fanboys and fangirls to get our Gaiman books and Palmer CDs signed, and even…

Amanda Fucking Palmer, and some dork

… get our pictures taken with her. :)

I mean, you can sort of see from her eyes there that she is doing this because this random dorky fan she doesn’t know at Google has sort of attacked her with his iPad, and she is thinking about how she and Neil have to get over to Town Hall for their performance tonight, and do they have all the instruments packed and stuff, but still.

Swoon…

They were both warm and patient with the lines of adoring fans. And I really do know who Neil Gaiman is, more or less, and while a million years ago I read some comic of his and didn’t like it and haven’t read anything to speak of by him since, I do now have a copy of Neverwhere on the iPad.

But mostly now I’ve seen Amanda Fucking Palmer live. :)

2013/11/20

More notes from the subways

sardinesPeople said that the L is crazy crowded at rush hours, but I decided I ought to give it a shot anyway.

Came home that way once, and the L was fine, but the 3 4 5* from Union Square to Grand Central was a line of sardine cans. :)

Thought I’d give it another try, the other way, but the 3 4 5 downtown from Grand Central was so tightly packed that I didn’t try to push myself in, but just turned around and went and found the good old S instead. So I didn’t get to find out what the L was like at the time.

(Today, on the way home, Track 1 of the S was down (“Out of Customer Service” as the loudspeaker amusingly said), and so the S itself was pretty packed, but not as bad as the 3 4 5 had been.)

What trains experience

Speaking of the loudspeakers, on one of the occasions that I took the 7 rather than the S just for fun, the train just sat there for awhile, and eventually the loudspeaker said (more than once) that we were delayed due to a train at the 5th Avenue station (Bryant Park, you remember) that was experiencing door problems.

And I thought, the poor train.

And I also thought, just what does a train experience, when it is having door problems?

In the Mountains and Rivers Sutra, ol’ Dogen writes (roughly)

Dragons see water as a palace or a pavilion. Some beings see water as the seven treasures or a wish-granting jewel. Some beings see water as a forest or a wall. Some see it as the Dharma nature of pure liberation, the true human body, or as the form of body and essence of mind. Human beings see water as water. Water is seen as dead or alive depending on causes and conditions. Thus the views of all beings are not the same.

Perhaps a train’s experience of door problems is entirely different from ours.

The mysteries of time

It is odd how, regardless of just when I leave work, I so often have a choice between standing on the 5:57, or getting very early to the 6:15.

Then there is the 5:53, which is an extremely express train, but which, the schedule says, stops at Croton-Harmon only to pick up passengers, not to drop them off. I asked a ticket agent once if that meant that people really couldn’t get off, and she said nah, you can get off, just be prepared to do it very fast, because the train won’t stop for long.

On the other hand I asked a conductor of the 5:53 once if the train stopped at Croton-Harmon, and he (likely knowing that I really meant “can I take this train to there?”) just said (without going into any detail), no, I should get the 5:57 instead.

Signs

The Jehovah’s Witnesses have a regular presence in a couple of places along my subway route.

Having done their whole curriculum for nonbelievers on my front porch back in the day, I don’t stop to talk to them or take their literature, but I do sort of smile, if mostly to myself.

Today I noticed the signs at the top of two adjacent cardboard literature racks that they had set up at their larger installation.

The signs said:

What does the Bible really teach?

LIES that make God seem unloveable.

and I said to myself “well, can’t really argue with that!”.

Oooh I am so snarky. :)

Don’t hold

Speaking of signs, there are these signs on the inside of the subway train doors saying “Do not hold doors”.

clampTurns out, they mean it!

If you, like me, are one of those people who is used to occasionally putting out a hand to stop an elevator door from closing so that someone running towards it will have time to get in, you should consider not doing that with subway train doors.

’cause owch.

If they sense that there is an entire body in the way, they will squeeze for a second and then open again (and every other set of doors on the train will also open, just to make sure that everyone knows that some so-and-so is blocking a door and making everyone wait).

But if there’s just a mere hand or wrist there? They will clomp down on it and squeeze quite firmly until (for instance) a couple of long-suffering New Yorkers, one on either side of the door, sort of roll their eyes and curl their fingers around the jaws of the door and yank it open, both freeing the trapped and somewhat bruised hand or wrist, and allowing the hurrying person who was the object of the casual gesture to actually enter the car.

The bruises are about gone now…

* Update: all references to the “3 4 5″ in the above should of course have been to the “4 5 6″. The 3 doesn’t even go through Grand Central ffs!

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2013/11/14

Dear NPR, WNYC, etc…

Please stop the obsessive coverage of healthcare.gov and people who have to change insurance plans! Yes, these are small newsworthy items, the problems at the web site will delay how soon some people can sign up for the ACA, and some people really did have insurance plans so bad (effectively, fraudulent) that they’re now illegal or otherwise unavailable.

But you’ve covered those stories already. Multiple times. There is lots more going on in the world, and even just in the U.S., than that. The idea that these are Major Stories that need to be covered again day after day, in long painful detail, is basically a Republican talking point. Just by repeating them over and over, you give the listener an inaccurate impression of how important they really are. The website will be fixed, people will get over no longer being able to buy into really bad deals on insurance, and in the meantime there is much more going on that you could be using the time to cover instead.

Thanks for your consideration!
David M. Chess
a constant listener (mostly commute-time)

I’m sure they will immediately act upon my wise advice! At least if they read their email and/or web forms. Or I can just listen to my iTunes library until they finally get tired of the story…

2013/11/13

The buzzing of distant bees

Is there evil in Heaven? And is there free will?

I know it doesn’t really make sense to spend too much time wondering about the details of fictional universes (“if Peter and his friends could only fly when they were having happy thoughts, why did Tinkerbell, who was after all the source of the pixie-dust that let them fly, seem to have no trouble flying even when she was upset?”), but I am somehow fond of these questions at the moment.
Heaven, the flowchart
It’s a subject that I don’t remember coming up in the average Internet discussion of (Judeo-Christian) religion, and it seems to me like a real quandary.

Seems likely that there is free will in Heaven (otherwise why give it to us on Earth?), and seems unlikely that there is evil (it being Heaven and all); and yet if God can make a place where there is no evil even though there is free will, why didn’t he do that on Earth?

(I started to wonder about this after hearing a couple of different theist types talk about their ideas of Heaven on NPR or something: the Jewish one said that there must be a wonderfully just afterlife because he strongly believes that the universe is just, whereas the evidence he has suggests that life isn’t just, so there must be some really very just stuff after life to make up for it; and the Christian one says that Heaven is a place where we all get whatever we truly want, and we all have learned to live together in harmony. Ha ha funny people, I thought, and also thought the “well if God can make it happen in Heaven, what’s his excuse for not doing so on Earth?” thought that we consider here.)

(Ooh, here they are! The Rabbi and the pastor; so you can judge for yourself how badly I’m misreporting their statements above.)

The usual answer to the Problem of Evil, that is comes about as a direct and inevitable result of imperfect beings with free will, seems to sort of evaporate if (as seems hard to avoid) Heaven is a place where imperfect beings have free will, and yet there is no evil there. So evil can’t really be the inevitable result of free will. So the Problem of Evil, it would seem, remains.

I did have a rather detailed discussion of this with my Jehovah’s Witness friend back in the day. He (and therefore I assume the JWs in general) have a pretty complete and interesting (if maybe sort of creepy) picture of life after the umm Big Thing, where (in the case of the JWs) the 400,000 special people or whatever it is go to live with God in Heaven or something, and all the other good people live on Earth under their direct governance more or less.

He said that yes in that world people would still have free will, and that in fact they would be able to do evil. They wouldn’t do it very much, because they would be good people living in a great environment, but it would still happen, and in that case God (i.e. Jehovah) would look into their hearts, and between the time they made a really bad decision and became evil and the time they were able to actually do anything bad as a result, He would stop them, in a very final way.

Since the JWs don’t believe in Hell, and think that all the stuff about burning and fire and stuff in the Bible is just a way of talking about ceasing to exist altogether, what happens to you if you freely chose evil after the Big Thing happens is that you just cease to exist.

Pretty weird, I thought!

And this got me thinking of a story set in that world, which I’ve never gotten around to writing, but which I think I will try to set down a general idea of here.

And in the meantime, you can ask your local rabbi or pastor or Judeo-Christian friend whether there is free will in Heaven, and whether there is evil there. I wonder if that is a hard question…

“I cannot follow the Elders anymore,” he’d said, that night, as they walked back from the orchards where they had been picking the perfect fruits that Jehovah provided for them in this perfect Earth.

“Jeremiah,” she’d exclaimed, “what can you mean, you cannot follow them? How could anyone do anything but follow them? We know that they are the appointed ones of Jehovah, that they have only our welfare at heart, that they are good and wise men. You cannot doubt, when you have seen Jehovah and His Son moving about on the Earth with your own eyes.”

“I have.” They were walking close together, hands brushing each other now and then, innocently, like brother and sister. “And I do not doubt that the Elders are those chosen of Jehovah. But…”

“But what? What is it that you can doubt?”

He’d taken a deep breath. He looked, she remembered thinking, like someone who was not quite sure of what he was saying, and speaking as much to convince himself as to convince her.

“I do not doubt the facts. The Elders are the chosen of Jehovah, and they do truly intend the best for me. But I doubt, no, I reject, their authority over me.”

“What can you mean by that, Jeremiah? Jehovah is the source of all authority, of all rightness, and He has given them their authority! It cannot be doubted, or rejected.”

“But I do reject it,” he’d said, his voice louder but still with an undercurrent of uncertainty, “I reject it as I am free to do, using the free will that Jehovah has given me. It is my right!”

She’d stopped, and taken his hands, looking very seriously into his face. The others walking in the same direction continued along, and were soon out of any danger of hearing.

“This is blasphemy,” she’d said, “this is not the use we are supposed to make of the freedom that has been given us. Can you truly do this? Do you truly, of your own free will, reject the authority of Jehovah?”

She had meant it rhetorically, really, or so she told herself afterward, saying it only so that he would say no, of course not, not that. But his face said that he took the question very seriously, and was considering it, somewhere deep inside. When he spoke again, the uncertainty was gone from his voice.

“Yes, Sarah. Yes, I d–”.

And before he’d finished that last word, her head was filled by a strange sound, like the buzzing of distant bees, and her hands were empty. And Jeremiah was gone, forever.

So now, in her bed at night, she lies curled tensely after her prayers, telling herself, telling Jehovah who can see into her very heart, that she does accept His goodness and His authority, that she is His true daughter, and that she would never reject Him.

And she cries until sleep comes.

Something like that, anyway…

2013/11/13

The silence of the everyones

One odd thing, a very very odd thing really, thinking about it, is how silent the commute into The Big City is.

Not silent-silent, of course; the train makes lots (and lots) of noise, the big commuter train and the subway trains. The loudspeakers also speak loudly about standing clear of the closing doors and all.

But the people…

There is an official Quiet Car on the big commuter train; the first car or the last one, generally, depending on phase of the moon or something. (On the even bigger Amtrak trains, the Quiet Car has signboards suspended from the ceiling, saying “this is the Quiet Car” and all; on the commuter train you’re just supposed to hear the announcement and know which car you are in.)

But really, they needn’t bother.

On every car, everyone is silent. There may be two or four people traveling together, who speak in low whispers. There may be someone talking quietly into a cellphone, but even if they aren’t talking about their recent surgery or divorce or whatever (which I can sort of understand being disturbed by), but just saying “yes” and “aha” and “that’s nice”, they can still be tapped on the shoulder and asked to “keep it down” (I have seen this happen, with my eyes!).

I suppose maybe everyone is either trying to sleep, or being considerate of people who are trying to sleep.

Or they are just being boring. :)

Who does dare to make sounds? It’s kind of an interesting list:

  • People will talk, a little, if there is a reason; they will ask each other to make sure this is the right train when the loudspeaker says something confusing; a nice lady will ask me if I am all right when I make the mistake of sitting down on the subway and therefore crack my head sharply on the overhead handrail when I stand up again, and therefore sit down again quite abruptly; someone will ask me if this train stops at Penn Station, and I will proudly know the answer and tell them it does. But that is all very brief.
  • The subway musicians make sounds of course. Good sounds! Both the licensed ones with their assigned spots and their nice-looking cases put out for tips, and maybe their CDs for sale, and the I-suspect-less-licensed ones who just set up at a random place in the long hallway between Times Square and Port Authority. (I always carry spare dollar bills in a cargo pocket for these.)
  • Some people asking for things are mostly silent also, just sitting with a cup and maybe a sign, hoping for coins (or dollars). They are pretty rare; I suspect they are silent because if they are too noticed they get moved along by Authorities. But sometimes they will talk softly, or slightly jiggle their cups.
  • More mobile people asking for things can break the quiet of the subway to give their stories and rattle their cups; those tend to get dollars, too, even if (like the quite able-bodied guy on the 8th Avenue Local yesterday evening) their stories don’t really sound all that convincing. But I am in the “better a dozen grifters scam a bit than a hungry person get nothing” camp, so there we are. (The other morning on the train platform there was a guy offering resumés and asking if anyone needed a Graphic Designer; unusual!)
  • In between are the occasional musicians on the subway itself; playing the guitar or the sax (both or which I’ve seen recently) or whatever else. Do they also need licenses, I wonder, or are they technically just subway riders who happen to be playing an instrument, or something else?
  • The people giving away (trying to give away) the dueling Free Newspapers (AM New York and something Metro something) are to variable degrees talkative and cheerful or forceful or loud.
  • There are always people shouting about their God; pretty much invariably that Jesus fellow. Sometimes they are reading aloud from their Bible, holding up signs with chapter and verse, and sometimes just expressing themselves, apparently ad lib, about sin and salvation and all.
  • And then there was this rather down-at-the-heel looking fellow with a full beard who was singing (in quite a respectable voice) John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” while walking down that same long underground tunnel yesterday. If I wouldn’t have been completely and insultingly off-key I would have joined in out loud (I did in my head, of course).

I’m told that in more Southern climes public transportation is much talkier, more raucous, full of conversation and argument and shouting. I don’t know if that’s true even on Monday mornings. :)

There was that one time, some holiday night or something maybe?, when I was on a train for some reason and there were some tipsy young women talking and laughing and singing, and there was a not quite as young (but also I suspect slightly inebriated) man who kept yelling at them to shut up, and that was exciting. I think they all eventually got more or less thrown off the train by the conductor(s), for being unwilling to calm down.

More interesting than the stifled stifling silence, anyway…

how the hell can a person
go on to work in the morning
to come home in the evening
and have nothing to say?

Make me an angel
that flies from Montgomery
Make me a poster
of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing
that I can hold on to
To believe in this livin’
is just a hard way to go.

2013/11/11

Extra-solar pond slime

So today I went to a talk by Lee Billings, author of Five Billion Years of Solitude (which, note, I haven’t read yet, although I now have a signed copy; I’ve just heard the talk).

He is all about how incredibly cool it would be to find out that there is life on some planet outside the solar system (by deducing, say, a particular unstable mixture of gasses in its atmosphere that we can’t account for except by life), and that we are not investing nearly enough resources (money) in building the just-now-becoming-possible huge honking telescopes that would help us find such planets.

Or alternately, he says, it would also be extremely important in some way to discover that there isn’t life on any extra-solar planets that we can find, and that therefore we are even Specialer than maybe we thought.

There has recently been an Enormous Boom in the finding of planets outside the Solar System, apparently; an inneresting fact that I hadn’t known. Significant numbers of them are sort of vaguely Earth-like in various ways; also inneresting.

Extra-solar planets

But, as I said during the Q-and-A period (for which I may appear on the YouTube at some point in the future!) I’m not sure how interesting it would really be to know that there is, say, probably pond-slime on Kepler 22b.

The two reasons the speaker gave for the importance of looking for extra-solar planets with life (besides raw coolness, which I don’t think is a good reason to spend billions of dollars, really) were (1) having more places for humans to live by the time the Sun swells up and eats the Earth or whatever, and (2) knowing whether or not We Are Alone In The Universe (hence the title of the book).

In terms of having more places to live, I think that by the time the Sun swells up (a few hundred million years), and even by the time we’re conveniently able to go in large numbers to other solar systems, we’ll long since have just remade ourselves so that we don’t need certain sorts of planets with particular chemistries to live on, so that particular issue will be moot.

And in terms of knowing whether or not we are alone, I think it’s far more important to know whether there’s anyone sentient out there than it is to know whether there’s any carbon-oxygen-based life out there. Given a few dozen billion dollars and the choice between looking for photosynthesis, and looking for intelligent signals, I’m going for the latter.

The extra-solar pond slime is just going to have to wait…

2013/11/10

{coffee,zen}@google

New adventures every day!

Here are a couple more observations that I think I can share without revealing any family secrets.
 

Coffee

You’d think that a place full of coders would be basically powered by coffee.

That’s certainly what I was expecting.

I was picturing, like, huge wall-length banks of those shiny cylindrical coffee machines that are everywhere, constantly being emptied by jazzed young programmers, and filled by a steady stream of staff persons with new grounds.

But it’s not like that at all.

There are fancy digital coffee-making machines in the snack areas (“microkitchens”, whee!), which produce what I imagine is quite good coffee (I’m no judge), but do it slowly. And there aren’t very many of them.

There are a couple or three of the shiny cylindrical coffee machines in the main food-places, but they tend to be awkwardly placed, and there are many things that it’s easier to get to.

There are also espresso machines (cappuccino machines, whatever they’re called) in the microkitchens for general use, along with signs about the time and place where the “how to” classes are offered, and the intranet URL of the relevant informational page(s). Naturally.

All of which encourages slow and thoughtful and high-quality consumption of only finite amounts of coffee.

Which I find fascinating.

As I pointed out the other day, I’m drinking a lot less coffee than I did before the venue change. Maybe the work keeps one awake all by itself. :)
 

Zen

I poked around the intranet a bit my first couple of weeks, figuring that these young hip (haha, “hip”) persons might include some number into meditation (“meditation”) or sitting or even zazen, and while I found some interesting groups dedicated to thinking about the impact of digital technologies on our practices of attention, and about being sure to pause now and then and be in the moment, and like that, they seemed to be mostly based out in Mountain View.

I did one “Mindfulness at your Desk” thing at Noon Eastern, 9am Pacific, where someone out on the Left Coast led a small group of us in meditation over videoconferencing, and that was fine, but a little odd.

I was figuring I could bring in a zafu of my own, and maybe just remember to sit in a quiet place somewhere now and then, when while exploring one of the higher floors of the building I came across a sign saying that sits take place twice daily (!) in the little sort of exercise room / dance studio. And in exploring it I found a cabinet with a bunch of nice high-quality zafus and blankets to go under them.

And the next time one of the twice-daily things came up, I was there, and this smiling person came and talked quietly and asked who would like some guided meditation, and talked softly to them while the rest of us just sat (on the nice zafus and blankets, which it turns out are for general use), and then he rang a lovely Zen bell, and we all sat more, until he rang it again and we slowly got up and went out.

ZOMG, eh?

So I may have a little practice, and maybe even a vague sort of sangha (not that there’s any particular reason to think all or any of the people are Buddhist as such), right there at work.

Who woulda thought?

P.S. This is a very good recipe for Butternut Squash Soup!

2013/11/09

Passing in the night

So when you are riding in a train and looking out the window (or not), one of the notable things that goes by outside is other trains.

Train blur

Other trains are notable, in particular, because unlike most of the other things that go by outside, other trains are, a non-negligible fraction of the time, not standing still (relative to, say, the train tracks), but are moving. And also are often real close-by.

Even if the other train is standing still, since there’s a reasonable chance that it might not be, you can’t reliably tell that it is, just from what you see out the window when it’s filled up by the other train. It might be standing still and your train is moving, or your train might be moving while the other one is standing still (the actual case in the current hypothetical), or both trains might actually be moving (relative, again, to something like the tracks).

If the other train is moving, in the same direction and at about the same speed as your train, you can see out of your window and into the window of the other train, as it slides slowly forward and back due to small changes in relative speed, and sometimes there are other people over there that you could, say, wave at. Unless you are too shy at the time. (Which is fine.)

If the other train is moving in the other direction, then there is great rush and zooming and blurriness, because the other train looks like it is moving very fast indeed, at twice the average speed of the trains, or at the magnitude of the difference of their velocities (equal under the assumption that they really are moving in exactly opposite directions, basically). Which is very fast if both trains are moving somewhat fast. If both trains are moving slowly, then the other train might appear to be moving just somewhat fast, but still faster than it really is.

(All of these cases really come down to “the difference of their velocities”, of course, or the magnitude or absolute value thereof, which is in some sense the “relative speed”.)

Also, especially in the “moving quite fast in the opposite direction” case, when the other train’s beginning or end (front or back) moves by the window that you are sitting by (or the car that you are sitting in, generally), a thing happens with the air between the trains, where a high or a low pressure bulge goes rapidly by your train on that side, and there’s this sort of whooomp sound, which is fun. (It occurs to me that the high-pressure and low-pressure sounds are probably different; I will have to gather more data.) Or not just a sound, really, but a sound and a feeling, or maybe a sound with very significant very-low-frequency components (which is about the same thing).

So there is that!

Addendum to our observations on the S and the 7 the other day: another feature of taking the 7 from Times Square to Grand Central is that if you like miss a luck roll, you end up somewhere underground in a maze of twisty little passages, all but one of which just lead to other subway platforms rather than up into the rest of Grand Central where you actually want to be,

On the other hand the maze also contains a smiling redheaded woman playing the Irish Fiddle in the corner of one passage, which is compensation. :)

2013/11/07

some additional words

So I woke up with some Upper Respiratory invasion on Saturday morning, and didn’t feel pretty much normal until yesterday sometime. That was no particular fun!

It did allow me to determine firsthand that, while the New Employer do as a general rule like team members to interact in person, if you need to work from home for three days because of an invasion of replicators, it is No Problem.

Also, they do Working From Home, like everything else remotely technical, very very well. Really very well. Remarkably. Quite. Continue reading

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