Friday, May 30, 2008

Indiana Jones recommends V. Gordon Childe

Among the many, many putdowns of the McCarthy-era anti-commie loons in Indiana Jones/Crystal Skull is Jone's remark about "getting out of the library if you want to do archaeology," but if you read, at least read V. Gordon Childe. That was, and is, sage advice. For some, this means Jones is ("was"? It's 1957, remember ;-) a pinko commie camp follower. Heh. So am I, if by that you mean intelligent people (thank you!) who write the human arc of the story of evolution from the ground up.

Soviet-style Communism may be dead, but Marx' critique of Godless Capitalism ain't hardly scratched the surface of its long-term influence.

I did find the "Better Red Than Dead" protest signs at a campus demonstration a bit anachronistic, but that may just be me. It doesn't resemble any college I knew. The Spring of 1957 was still a smug, even sanctimonious age in American science, when the U.S. was still lightyears ahead of the Soviet Union and Werner von Braun was the darling of Walt Disney's "Tomorrowland". In the Spring of 1957, Sputnik was still an age away (launched October 4th, in fact; Childe died 11 days later, on October 15th.)

In fact, the largest political gathering I personally saw on any American college campus was in 1960, when John F. Kennedy came to a rally at Michigan State University, three years later. The big things that year were the "missile gap" and Francis Gary Powers, but I was 16, too young to vote.

By the way, did you notice the Swift Boat allusion? The subject of Jone's medals, which he won as an O.S.S. ossifa in Dubya Dubya Two, comes up:

"Yeah," comes the Goon-in-Black's retort. "But did he deserve them?"

They'll be mining this movie for shards of residual Weltanschauung for generations to come ;-)


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Wie's back!

MUNICH, Germany (AP) — Michelle Wie shot a 4-under 68 at the Ladies German Open with about half the field in the clubhouse, trailing leader Nina Reis of Sweden by four strokes.

The 18-year-old American birdied three of the first five holes in the opening round and made par the rest of the way at the Golfpark Gut Haeusern, north of Munich.


To which I say, hurrah!

[Update 6/2/2008: Michelle came in 6th with 274, 14 under after the final round.] More


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Cat and Mouse

I've changed my mind about Obama's willingness to fight. In fact, I think he's got a bit of killer instinct, witness his cat and mouse treatment of Hillary. For the most part he simply ignores her, or else piles on lavish praise and invites her to drag out the process just as long as she feels necessary. The torments of Tantalus, like certain wet cheeses, improve with age.

He hasn't been reluctant to take on John McCain, either. Those verbal bouts are more direct, and Obama seems to hit McCain's hot buttons at will.


Monday, May 26, 2008

A couple of good films

Hula Girls (2006), won "Best Picture" at the Japan Academy Awards. Hula Girls starts slow and ends in wave after wave of satisfying and spectacular eye candy. Several bits of business (the arrival of the drunken master, the Dad who gives away his ugly daughter, "There's no crying in baseb...err...hula dancing," the mother with the obnoxious kid) do more than allude to A League of Their Own, but I have to admit, the Japanese take is usually loads funnier than the Hollywood schlemiel schtick 'twas tooken from. Oh, well... Because the film has a happy ending, and because it is after all Japanese, everyone cries at the end. And cries and cries. Forever. A ten-kleenex ending. It's exactly like an Iowa Girl's State Basketball Tournament, in fact. Weird.

Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), Indiana with gray hair. The first three films were about Nazis just prior to American entrance into World War II. This one is about Commies in McCarthy-era 1957 just prior to American entrance into World War III. The atomic bomb scene is worth the entire price of admission, and that's before your first clue about what's going on. The rest gets better by the frame. Keep your eye on the hat.


Friday, May 23, 2008

The despicable Clinton has DQ'd herself

Well, as Patanjali noted in his Yoga Sutras some two or two-and-a-half thousand years ago, you can read someone's mind quite easily just by noticing what they inadvertently reveal about themselves. (Cf. Matthew 15:11 on this very point, as well as the M.I.B. evasion, "No, ma'am, we in the FBI do not have a sense of humor that we are aware of.")

Hillary Clinton has apparently been rather thoughtfully immersed of nights in her T. S. Eliot, Murder In The Cathedral perhaps, which, if anything does happen to Barack Obama this June, will place her squarely in the crosshairs of every conspiracy theorist for the next ten thousand years.

For your encore apology, Madame, please refrain from paraphrasing Henry II's infamous line.
Seriously, though, can't you see the writers at SNL, toiling away over hot Macs this evening?

Carmela Soprano answers the ringing phone at 3 a.m. It's Hillary on the other end, and for some reason, The Despicable One can't or won't say what she wants.

Carmela blearily suggests charades (over the phone!), and Clinton remarks that Jeez, she knows Tony Soprano's wife never went to Wellesley, but really...

"Ohhhh, Tony," says Carmela. "Yes, assassinated, poor dear. Never knew what hit him. Do you want the phone number? Just a second, it's here somewhere..." (Rummages in bedtable drawer, finds a loose Rolodex card.)

"Here it is... (Looks into camera.) It's... LIVE FROM NEW YORK! IT'S SATURDAY NIGHT!"

You could write that one, yourself, probably. Tasteless, though.

An "encore apology" repeats the canard with wide-eyed innocence and halo-polishing, as in, e.g., "I am truly surprised that anyone could possibly be offended by my unguarded and off-the-cuff rhetorical expostulation, 'Will no one rid me of this uppity neophyte?'"


Not my fight, but...

Bukarumin, Japan's "village people," are (even these days) still invisible in plain sight, sort of like the Appalachian Scotch-Irish in our own country, possibly for similar reasons (losing the wrong war so long ago nobody even remembers what war that was — as it happens, not the War Between The States, nor even the Whiskey Rebellion, but a war fought and lost not even in this hemisphere — in northern Ireland and afore that, the highlands of Scotland!) Click above for a brief photo essay and introduction to some fascinatingly happy-go-lucky kindred spirits, albeit Japanese non-persons.

Incidentally, the term is Scotch-Irish, not "Scots-Irish," as scholastics, pedants and other high-falutin' know-nothings would have you believe. Ask the folks who call themselves that what it is they call themselves.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Debian policy manual? What Debian policy manual?

Danger, Will Robinson! Don't try ANY of this at home! We're what you call dangerseeking airheads, and WE'RE NOT RESPONSIBLE!

It's here, stupid, and you need it to start and stop daemons (such as Apache 2.28's httpd, if like me you installed from Apache's own source code) neat, sweet 'n automatic.

The gist is, your daemon control scripts (see /etc/init.d/skeleton) are in /etc/init.d and then there's a battery of directories called /etc/rc0.d, rc1.d, ..., rc6.d which contain symbolic links back to your daemon control script, with implicit instructions to start or stop the daemon based on the name of the symbolic link. These six correspond to Ubuntu runlevels; e.g., 0 is boot time, 1 is single-user maintenance mode, 2-5 are all graphical user levels under Ubuntu, and 6 is reboot.

Danger, Will Robinson! Don't try ANY of this at home! We're what you call dangerseeking stupidheads, and WE'RE LIKE TOTALLY IRRESPONSIBLE, DUDES!!

K20daemoncontrollerscript means call /etc/init.d/daemoncontrollerscript stop, while S21daemoncontrollerscript means call /etc/init.d/daemoncontrollerscript start. The two-digit numbers represent call order relative to the other stuff in that particular directory. Note in particular how /etc/init.d/rc.local is called, and where from. If you have mysql or postgresql installed, these also may provide much food for thought.

Note: There is also an /etc/rcS.d. It works the same way, but dork with the contents at your peril. It's what determines whether your system is ready for everything (or anything) else.

Danger, Will Robinson! Don't try ANY of this at home! We're what you call dangerseeking heronpluckers, so KWAI SHR BI CHEN!!!

Note: The hidden peril in all this is not that you've compiled your own preferred version of the source, but the fact that you've ignored (or never knew about) package dependency information for everything else that may depend on what you just installed. See the policy link, above.


Saturday, May 17, 2008


So, after a month or two of evaluation, what operating system(s) do I actually use?
  • Wife and daughter: Windows Vista SP 1

  • Yours truly: Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron)
Everyone here uses Open Office, Firefox and Gimp.

I'm using the Gnome desktop. I installed and considered switching to KDE, but I don't see much reason to climb another learning curve just to get "here" again. It doesn't add much, and it drives the Synaptic Package Manager bananas to keep two separate lines of dependencies clear and clean (e.g., two separate and incompatible screensaver managers, with no obvious way to remove either). So, there's no rush here to commit to KDE.

That said, the stuff that runs under Ubuntu, especially the stuff that can run under Ubuntu (and that Ubuntu doesn't necessarily support, such as JRE, etc.) is subject to the same sort of fits, starts, glitches, lockups, fizzing whizbangs and outright crashes that used to plague Macintosh before they switched to OS X 10.5, or Microsoft before Vista SP 1. Ubuntu is not perfect, but if you don't knock your own ball into the woods, for the most part things go about as well as could be expected.

One thing I do differently, I downloaded and installed Apache 2.28 directly from the Apache ftp site, reason being, Synaptic Package Manager and I together somehow munged the "approved" Debian package to the point where it could not install, reinstall, clean up or run. Maybe it could, but at Witt's End, I tend to fray my tether (from all the gnawing and gnashing) and do things the easy way. That is, ./configure --prefix=/usr/local ; make ; make install and the hell with it. Right now, all my configuration files work, and all that "easy" Debian religion has been swept off my system with all the other vestigial mistletoe and residual Druidisms. So there. [Update: Found /etc/rc.local, too! So, ha! It works!]


Thursday, May 15, 2008

DNA is cheap and Evolution is easy

According to Discovery channel (or Nova, or one or the other of those cable versions of Popular Science), DNA analyses of the plant kingdom have turned up some surprising quirks in all the cladistics. Things like, e.g., aquatic lotus lilies turn out to be closely related to plane trees (sycamores, to us Midwesterners). There couldn't hardly be two more dissimilar lifestyles, and since standard taxonomic lineages are based on form-and-function studies, DNA cladistic analysis throws a lot of received wisdom into a cocked hat.

You could revise all the family trees to reflect current knowledge based on clades, but what is actually going on in modern botany is far more revolutionary — plant taxonomy itself is probably obsolete now, or shortly will be. The notion of "family trees" has, in and of itself, become a bit embarassing and beside the point.

That point being, DNA is cheap, and astonishingly plastic. Darwin was not only right, he was righter than anyone ever knew he could be until the 21st Century. It turns out that for all our reverence for the Big Secrets of Life recorded in those GATTACA sequences, our awe and expectations are pure self-deluded bunk. Everything alive (everything with sex, anyway) has the potential to become, in its children, an entire Australia, a whole continent of convergent designs and novel experiments, regardless of its present genetic code!

In other words, DNA is not special, and it is not fragile; it is extremely malleable and is capable of revising itself (or of being revised by accident and natural selection) nearly at the drop of a hat. That is the message of all those plant kingdom clades, which reveal closely related DNA sequences pushing into the most far-flung and outrageously disjunct niches of this planet's ecosystem. DNA is about as "special" as tile grout, and just about as costly, in evolutionary terms.

What this means is, if (say) some disaster were to wipe every living tree off the face of the Earth in the next century or two, then you might very well discover that in 20 million years, dandelions grow 80 meters tall, spread immense palm-like fronds and blow clouds of remarkably unchanged seed every Spring to the four winds.

Evolution is easy.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Terry McAuliffe's performance this evening wasn't quite the old-style, professional buck-and-wing-with-moonwalk that we've all come to expect from him. Nope. He seemed so lost in the mass cultural delusions of Hillaryland that tap-dancing around the plain and evident truth is now futile. It was painful watching him clog like the coal miner's daughter's mom, watchin' those Guccis rattle away to simple rhythms on the plain wooden slats of pore iggerant hardworkin' white trash, God love 'em.

Rational observers can draw only one conclusion — the moribund Hillary Clinton campaign is now brain dead, and only massive infusions of cash, self-hypnosis and jumping-up-and-down-clapping can bring this faint glow and barely clinking woodland belle back from the brink.

Let's face it. Hillary has turned away from the light so many times, come back from the dead so many times, and declared her simple soul so filled with Great Insights on so many occasions that she is obviously addicted to the choking game. This time, it seems, she just went too far.

Somebody please, please pull the plug on this unseemly medical school aberration, and let's get on with harvesting some perfectly good organs. That magnificent three-chambered reptilian heart can surely give new life to the political fortunes of, say, Larry Craig. Somebody can surely use a well-worn spleen, and even those lungs — as old and overused as they may surely be — are pink and salvageable gasbags to save somebody else's breath. The goggle eyes, staring but unseeing, eldritch as they seem, above that ghastly rictus of a smile ... yes, even these may succor some lost pathetic soul who cannot see anyway and has had no reason yet to chuckle wanly even once in his or her or its young life.

Yes, for the sheer love of simple humanity, it's time for all of us to recognize that this pathetic shell, formerly the Clinton campaign, has expired, kicked the bucket, we may say, moved on, soared above in angelic travesties of cloud toward the very heavens, and above all, gone away.

Good bye, sweet bon-bon of past affection. We loved your tinsel-lined pretension most of all.


Monday, May 12, 2008


Here's the questions:

There are 7 girls in a bus.
Each girl has 7 backpacks.
In each backpack, there are 7 big cats.
For every big cat, there are 7 little cats.

Question: How many legs are there in the bus?

Ok, the answer is NOT "none, because buses don't have legs!" Rather obviously referring to the catbus from Studio Ghibli, I guess. Click on the bus for the original puzzle. (I figured it out, by the way.)


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Waiting Ten Seconds For Godot

Virtual Alan Ginsberg: "Say, Jack. If you ever met the Buddha on the road..."
Virtual Jack Kerouac: "Don't say it!"
Virtual Gary Snyder: "Oh, man, yeah, Jeez, like, what would you do? What would YOU do?"
Virtual Alan Ginsberg: "Who do?"
Virtual Jack Kerouac: "Efface yourself."
Virtual Gary Snyder: "Do who?"
Virtual Alan Ginsberg: "Natch."
Virtual Jack Flash: "Because...?"
Virtual Jack Kerouac: "Because the..."
Virtual Alan Ginsberg: "Buddha on the road..."
Virtual Gary Snyder: "Is none other than..."
Virtual Dave Garroway: "J. Fred Muggs!"
Virtual Alan Ginsberg: "Howling, man..."
Virtual Maynard G. Krebs: "Skipper? Have you ever noticed how broad Hillary Clinton's base really is?"
Virtual Skipper: "Well, that explains the pantsuit, little buddy."
Virtual Thalia Menninger: "Oh, pass the bongoes, Professor!"



The white groups on the bottom left and center right are obviously alive. However, opponent was able to blithely wipe them off the board at IGS Pandanet. An inadvertent error, probably. It seems the software should be able to prevent this sort of thing, though.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

That reminds me...

StumbleUpon (look it up yourself) constantly directs me to cheesy artist websites where, through the elementary magic of Flash and other serverside shenanigans, the images can't be downloaded to local disk drives, and vistas of draconian legalism hover in the fog of warnoffs, veiled threats and amateur diznayism, and it's just now occurred to me that my customary response to this stuff as I leave such a website probably should be articulated. Here it is:

If you tell me not to use your photoshopped flowers and derivative avantgardian grunge, however scaled-down, low-res and pathetically unlike the refined private albums you flog to your friends, I promise that I will comply utterly, without a moment's hesitation, and that furthermore within 40 seconds I will have forgotten your name, your art and the fact that you ever existed.

"Intellectual property is intellectual theft." — Virtual V. I. Lenin

"Where have all the stolen intellectuals gone?" — Virtual Woody Guthrie

(I have already forgotten vast quantities of Walt Disney. Soon, I will have forgotten the entire last three volumes of J. K. Rowling.)

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Hardworking White Guys Anonymous

(Been building the base, Bill?)


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Obama's The One

Hillary does not go gently into that good night, does she? These immodest, power-hungry madwomen seldom do, but I guess the problem in Hill's case is she just can't find a willing asp to thrust against her bosom. Most of the snakes are too busy looking for rocks, maybe.

I have to admit, as an old fan of Machiavelli, and a student of Lee Atwater, I thought Barack Obama would lose this contest for refusing to go negative. I suspect he's thrown dust in a lot of eyes, because there's another, far less common, way to win elections — boots on the ground.

It takes a special sort of mind to win on organization skills alone, a sort of upper story above and beyond charisma, to wit, the ability to concentrate and think. CEO's and Army majors have it. I only wonder where Obama learned it? Is he actually a compleat genius?


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Redbud's in full bloom, finally!

May 5 is about two weeks late for east central Iowa. Long winter, late spring.


Sunday, May 04, 2008

Inform 7: A Down-the-nose Review

Let's be blunt. Inform 7 is precious, precious ad Latinate nauseam. It is an incomprehensibly abstruse (and spottily documented) private language written for use by three or four ivory tower academics who share a delusion, namely, that anyone still gives a damn about a genre of computer games made obsolete by Pong and Pacman, that died with the publication of Leather Goddesses of Phobos, that cremated itself on the banks of a virtual Ganges when Douglas Adams realized that his next game should be visually interesting. Nobody reads. Nobody delights in verbal pyrotechnics. The raconteur's art is deader than a zombie's hangnail, and nobody (meaning SET OF LITERATE HUMANS INTERESTED IN DERIVATIVE PYGMALIA == NIL) gives a brass pigeon dropping about some dolomite babe with issues about verbal fan dancing.

Inform 6, on the other hand, unencumbered by gold-plated cant about "natural language," is still codable, and reaches a diminishing but ever-decreasing cult of text adventure addicts who still collect this stuff, even if they never play it. Unfortunately, current versions of Inform 7 can no longer directly support story files that Inform 6 compiles with ease (and so did Inform 7, originally). If this were my shop, I'd be telling some of these champagne-sipping prima donnas to install their product on a virgin machine and try to run it. Every new program costs a million bucks, and $900,000 of that is Quality Assurance.

That said, I could really wish Inform 7 actually worked as advertised, that it had a manual far less self-congratulatory about theory (deductive gorgonzola) and far more forthcomingly modest about actual example (inductive like real language acquisition), and that it had a list of fully developed projects somewhere up at the top of the "Look At Me" headers. (Of course, you don't see that, because it's a shock; Inform 7 syntax is both idiosyncratic and unnatural — even worse than Applescript, if that's possible.)

Whatever, I do wish it were finished, because I've got a really great idea that I've been working on for several years...


Saturday, May 03, 2008

漢字そのままDS楽引辞典 - snap impressions

The graphic input algorithm is really quite good. Most kanji can be drawn with appalling imprecision, and the program will guess correctly what you mention. Some others, such as 挑戦, do take a little practice to get right — to ensure, for example, that the diverging pair of downstrokes on the right side are taken as a unit. Still, this is not the weakest area in this dictionary.

Weakness lies, simply put, in the fact that the intended audience is Japanese, not English-speaking gaijin. The translation of words like 神, kami, or 神道, shintou, sound to Western ears oddly like missionary cant. Kami is "God" and Shinto is not translated at all. Japanese know what these words mean, but perhaps may not have a clue what the Western analog might be. I'd suggest the English choices are clumsy, old-fashioned and embarassing, like reading those childish missionary approximations† to mature concepts forged over millenia in non-Western cultures. (Legge's translation of the I Ching comes to mind; no emails, please!)

On the other hand, the lexicon is reasonably current on decades-old words like "computer" and "global warming."
By comparison, Andrew Nathaniel Nelson (who was a missionary, as well as a student of Japanese culture in the style Edwin O. Reischauer characterized as "geisha," meaning, gone native), translates 神 as "God, god, Allah" (impossible in today's America), and devotes two entire pages to the importance of this term in compound words.


Thursday, May 01, 2008

Got everything?

Check this out!

The top lens is just for show. It's an ordinary 4 megapixel digital inside, form not following function, and all.

If only it was a µHasselblad.