Thursday, January 31, 2008

A jaundiced eye

I must be getting cynical, or is that just self-aware? The candidates now are:
  1. Mitt Romney, a doofus who looks like a Brylcreem ad from the Fifties, or maybe one of those Certs guys who couldn't possibly make a bubblegummer nervous — or else Yet Another One of Those Guys Who Should Have Gotten The Nomination. He seems to have brains and a sense of irony, if not actual humor.

  2. John McCain, who, in a well-ordered universe, would have gotten the Republican nod in 2000 and spared us all the misery of Iraq. Now, he looks like a bitter old man who smiles when he pulls the wings off horseflies.

  3. Hillary Clinton, a postmenopausal irrelevance who reminds us that with a good attorney, friends in high places and a patsy to take the fall, anybody can beat an insider trading rap. Spare us eight more years of Bill doing Rodney Dangerfield, "Take my wife. Please!"

  4. Barak Obama, a golden-tonsilled Presence in the Pulpit who has a remarkable gift of gab, but seems not to realize how to connect his vision with the dark and brooding Cloverfield playing out in front of his eyes. Or even that eventually he has to do it. Can you see the Joint Chiefs being inspired by Obama? Or Putin worried by him? This is a formula for disaster. The last dictator who seriously underestimated a sitting American doofus was Saddam Hussein (and maybe Osama bin Laden the time before that), and the consequence was that Hussein reaped a whirlwind of unguided military competence. God help us all.
Under the circumstances prevailing at this moment, I'd have to vote for McCain, and I really, really don't want to do that.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Does Hillary plan to sue to seat Florida delegates?

Crap. I think maybe I'd like to vote for Barak Obama, but if Hillary plans to subvert the process and sue to win the Democratic nomination, endearing herself to an entire generation of naifs, I might as well save myself the grief and vote for McCain as soon after the conventions in Denver (August 25) and Minneapolis (September 1) as I can get my hands on an absentee ballot. September 5th?

Here's a link to the Iowa Secretary of State's Iowa Absentee Ballot Request Form. Mail it to your local Iowa county auditor. (Your state of mind may vary.)


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Obama? Inevitable?

Hillary never could control Bill, now, could she? All part of the finely-textured contempt in which everyone but New Hampshire (and maybe parts of California) hold her. Hillary was obviously unelectable from the proverbial git-go, except where she had a deathlock on 50% of those Democrats who represent 40% of November's full electorate.

How can you recognize contempt, by the way? Overly familiar first names. E.g., Reagan, Nixon, Carter, McCain, Romney, Edwards, Ford, Obama — all in good odor. But, then... ugh, Hillary. Even worse... Bill. Somebody lift the Air Wick!

Obama is making me a believer. I had him pegged in the same bucket of crawdads as Hillary, but with his turnouts...

And Caroline Kennedy?

Now I'm impressed!


Saturday, January 26, 2008

Best Chess: Shredder Classic 3, Bobby Fischer

So far, my favorite commercial chess program is Shredder Classic 3. This program boasts a really excellent user interface for the Shredder Classic 3 chess engine. You can replace the standard engine with Shredder UCI 11 or Deep Shredder 11, at substantially greater cost, or install a third-party engine (either UCI or Winboard) such as GNU Chess, Beowulf or Crafty .

Play online against Shredder. But if you want realtime play against human beings, look online at the FICS, and get your hands on BabasChess.

Bobby Fisher, whatever else may be true about him, could see the chess board with almost supernatural clarity. Anyone, including beginners, who studies his games eventually understands chess a little better than he or she ever did before. Like Edmund Hillary, he stood at a pinnacle of human achievement. He shocked Boris Spassky. He shocked the world of chess. He shocked entire governments. Maybe he even shocked himself. He gave temper tantrums in the cause of sport immeasurable cachet. He may be gone, but the thunderclap does reverberate.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Where's the Whitewater?


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A good chess engine is hard to find

The free Crafty 21.6 binary for Windows may be downloaded here. You'll need a GUI, either WinBoard 4.2.7 or Arena 1.1, most likely.

UpdateBeowulf 2.3 is also free, also interesting and also needs a winboard-style GUI.

WinBoard has been a favorite of mine for years, mainly because it's a Windows version of the old Linux xboard, which hosts GNU Chess.

However, if what you want is a good free Windows chess program, pure and simple, then look at Mayura. The Sjeng engine, included with Mayura, can beat most of you clowns at its default level (expert), but you can dumb it down and beat it handily if you pay a modicum of attention. Another one in this category is NagaSkaki, which can play at the braindead level. I recommend these because they both have clean, pretty interfaces without a lot of chess fanatic clutter, and they can be handicapped against beginners and young children without condescending.


Monday, January 21, 2008

Another found object


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Boycott this auction?

If nobody buys this ancient skull today, another ton of weapons grade creationist balonium will go up in smoke, the Mt. Blanco Museum will go bust, and the museum's entire manifest will be sold off to pay a court judgment. The best part of this story is the LED inside the old fossil's braincase.

And you thought the only thing on today's agenda was bunkum casino caucuses in Las Vegas and the South Carolina primary!


Friday, January 18, 2008

Krokodilly Circus

Chill, Bill,
while we pillory Hillary.

I understand the Bloomberg urge
to cover nothing up with serge;
may his campaign be unending —
God, I hope he keeps on spending.

John McCain
is novacaine.

Lo, the lowly Huckabee —
mired in choir.

Sit, Mitt!

Obamarama, long on vision,
slightly shorter on precision.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What was Bottom's sixpence a day worth?

In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Flute the Bellows Maker remarks that Bottom, had he been present (& not ensorcelled in Titania's bower, e.g.), would not have missed winning sixpence a day for life by playing Pyramus. What was the Duke's pension worth?

It turns out that sixpence (half a silver shilling) was a day's wage for a farm laborer in the provinces, equivalent to two dinners, an unbound copy of Hamlet or six performances of that play among the groundlings at the Globe theater. Not a bad way to smooth over a few tempests at home, 'ey, Bottom?

It seems likely that Shakespeare was having the groundlings on a bit, because Bottom clearly lived in simpler times. Bottom's fabulous but rustic pension probably seemed a bit trifling by comparison to modern times.


Seper8ted at burth?

Has anyone else noticed the uncanny similarity between this New York Times article about Boltzman's Big Brain Theory and the Futurama episode, "The Day the Earth Stood Stupid"? Kewl.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Reminds me of Chris and Hill, for soma raisin

Stringfever does Bolero for 1 cello and 8 hands on YouTube.


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Forgettable mashup



Thursday, January 10, 2008

Noor the Pacifist

Noor the Pacifist plays World of Warcraft with a fishing rod, so he won't accidentally deal any coups des graces. Brilliant, quixotic, remarkable, demented, twisted entry in the old "when all the world has gone insane, the sane man appears crazy" category.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Cowabunga, dude!

Watch a 9 year old Guitar Hero 3 expert break the bank.


It's still early, but ... *retch*

I'm losing respect for Chris Matthews, which is a pity because if he gets out of the ratings shriek-a-thon and rejoins the elder statesmen of journalism (Murrow, Cronkite, Huntley, Brinkley, even — God help us — Tom Brokaw), his credentials are impeccable.

I've already lost it with Lou Dobbs, who's turned into a flaming loon, at least onscreen.

Oral Calamity, on FOX, doesn't even bear comment, except to note that lies told often enough do not metamorphose into truth. Eventually, they get slapped down hard.


Monday, January 07, 2008

Feel My Pain, Dammit

Hillary cries? I'd believe that, if gettin' misty weren't such a tried and true Bill Clinton hallmark.

Anyway, Edmund Muskie couldn't get away with it (after the infamous Canuck letter courtesy of the Nixon dirty tricks squad) — so what makes Hill the Pill special?

Stiff upper lip, Madame! Maybe Maggie Thatcher got weepy, but never in public. And when Princess Di tried it, with considerable justification, her enemies called her unstable.


And now for something completely dy/dx supports the shortlived podcast by the same name, subscription free; this is also available at the iTunes music store. The podcast is in the Hawaiian language, but translations are available at the website. A lot of nice music and introductions to nice artists you've probably never heard of.


Sunday, January 06, 2008

The universe as virtual reality

Does it get any cooler than this? This, expressed as Mind Only, has been a central tenet in Buddhism for centuries, of course, but this is the first time I've heard of a physicist entertaining the subject.

What does it mean? Well, for one thing, Hitler may turn out to be no more than a character in a book, so to speak, which corresponds to neural nets that store both negative and positive outcomes in order to guide behaviors. We're perfectly willing to divest culture heroes, such as Jesus, of historical reality. Why not historical villains, too? At the end of the day, close the book and put it back on the shelf.

But of course we can also presume that historical personages can be invested with the most egregious nonsense without disturbing the underlying order of the Universe. Suppose, that is, that Mary really is a virgin mother (I know I do ;-), or that prophets do pull themselves up to Heaven by yanking on their own topknots. The realities we prefer are virtual anyway. Why not go for broke and test our protean fantasies against the philosopher's stone of modern physics? Isn't a taste for order just fear of the chaos we're dead certain, if we're honest with ourselves, lies at the root of all our lives?

Is that a license for doing whatever the @#$! you feel like? Hardly. Suppose the book is about bad guys getting their comeuppance, eventually. So you, as an evildoer even more blithely innocent than Voldemort himself, haven't got a snowball's chance of avoiding hell — aside from the surcease afforded by reader boredom, or, assuming the reader eventually finishes the book, satisfaction. By "reader," of course, one presupposes Bishop Berkeley's Auditor of trees fallen in the woods.


Friday, January 04, 2008

MMORPGs that bite rocks

Specifically, PC versions of the sort-of-downloadable World of Warcraft demo, and the $2 Final Fantasy XI 30-day free subscription.

Final Fantasy XI, at least in this cheapskate distribution, was a huge disappointment. Once you get the game started, user experience degrades by the minute: Controls are hidden and counterintuitive, the fullscreen mode has lines, gamma is completely washed out, there's no way to quit the game, besides pulling the plug, you can't walk anywhere, you can't even point your guy in one direction and have him go that way without falling into a breakneck drunkward's walk. These aren't spoilers. The crew at Square-Enix has ruined years of goodwill, or even outright admiration, by promulgating an ill-advised human interface that makes MS-DOS look cuddly. The game is horribly spoiled by simple inability to get past the controls, whatever they are. You spend $12.95 a month to play this game, assuming you're rich enough, patient enough, or smart enough to have found the "real" version somewhere. This demo makes no friends at all.

World of Warcraft, on the other hand, has a user interface that makes sense slowly and rewards patience — or as much patience as you can garner at 50 cents a day to play this tripe. There's not much wow in WoW for newbies. Blood and mayhem, world history notwithstanding, makes a boring narrative and an even more brittle Weltanschauung, but hey if you want to beat something up for an hour or two this is the place. Newbies must simply endure the carnage, and not wander too far afield from their eventual cenotaphs or the trek through the gray spirit world to find your own corpse becomes another checkmark on the old boredom list. If you get tired of attacking wolves and goblins, you can annihilate the occasional bunny before the wandering Level 50 mages hunt you down and remind you what masochism means.

So, glitzy online cash cows don't need to be good either, evidently, if the public will buy anything. I surely do wish Square-Enix would revisit this idea, though; the current implementation is a real turnoff and does the franchise no good at all. Microsoft, being Microsoft, gets a pass from me. You know what they're like going in.


Iowa caucus results

We had 453 registered voters at our Democratic caucus last night (Grant Wood elementary school). The order of business was, "Precinct captains, is your group viable?" The Biden group was not. We had an enterprising lady in charge who talked to a couple of friends (known as a "straw poll") and decided that all of us Biden, Dodd, Richardson and the Kucinich guy should merge into one viable group of "Undecideds." I was not undecided, though, and neither were a bunch of us Biden types who walked two feet over to the Edwards camp. I'm sure some of us went to Obama, but not as much as Edwards, my personal second choice.

So, what's my take on all this? I give Obama credit, his group took up half our room, and our ten delegates split Obama 6, Edwards 2, Clinton 2. Hillary was the smallest viable group there. But I don't think Obama "won" — on the contrary, three fourths of the room handed the gold watch to the Clintons and sent them packing.

I suspect Huckabee was the beneficiary of a lot of unspoken resentment against decades of Mormon door-knocking, for that matter. IMHO, these caucuses were not so much a coronation, as a sieve, and a little of the old sludge and baggage washed away for both parties.


Thursday, January 03, 2008

Caucuses tonight

Some people just can't attend the Iowa caucuses this evening. For one thing, there's the Quadrantids meteor shower...


Doesn't SETI boggle your mind?

Anyone who remembers Howard Hughes' Glomar Explorer, which was used as a cover story by the CIA to recover a Soviet submarine sunken in abyssal waters, has got to scratch his head over the sprawling SETI project currently listening to the stars. Who's paying for all this stuff?

Is SETI a cover story, too? A sleight of hand, a bit of misdirection? If SETI is the bumblefutz public version of "communication with E.T.," what and where, pray tell, is the quietly out-of-sight version? Thule? Neutrino research labs buried in salt mines? Area 51? Hmmmm...


Wednesday, January 02, 2008


If Biden's group is not viable at our local caucus tomorrow, I'll go home. The only discernible Mideast sanity in the lot is too important to go unsupported, up to a point. After Biden comes back to his senses about the Presidensity, he'll be sorely needed in the Senate.

That, or, may I suggest, Edwards-Biden?


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Kanji of the Year 2007

It means "Fake."

Apparently, 2007 was a bad year for fake stuff in Japan.