Sunday, January 31, 2010

Toys in the Attic

I always imagine "molecules" like the shapeless, wiggly purple blob monster from the Toys in the Attic episode of Cowboy Bebop. Terror and fun? Cool!


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Lost in Userspace

Speaking of software archaeology, here are a couple of well-preserved bog relics from the dankest, darkest depths of the intertubes.These old manuals (for Version 3.0) kind of glossed over the fact that WordStar documents used ASCII, but had their high bits set to mark word boundaries and other non-"Non-Document" details. In other words, when the rational world of real word processing arrived (see below), WordStar was sulkily out to lunch. It was, irregardless, the "killer app" that enabled PCs to ramble, like Rincewind's luggage, off the hobbyist workbench and onto office desktops.

WordStar died when IBM put the Caps Lock key where the Ctrl key used to be, next to A. Later, Microsoft introduced Word and a generation of bleeding edge WordStar typists were swept out to sea by the Seattle tsunami. That, and your average luser couldn't patch the WordStar customization area to do CUPS ("cursor position") with common VT100 terminal emulations like xterm or gnome-terminal — the escape sequences don't fit in available space for line or column greater than "10" (i.e., 0x31 0x30 is one too many bytes). When WordStar was hot, a lot of conventional computer behaviors hadn't standardized on "user friendly" yet. When that happened, WordStar 3.0 dropped through the trapdoor.

Emacs may be the last surviving dedicated "text editor" from those days, but few learn it, except perhaps for perversity's sake, despite a phenomenal feature set. Echoes of WordStar's "Non-Document Mode," useful for programmers, survive in notepads and programmer's editors abounding still — my favorites were UnderWare's Brief and PFE. On Linux, my choices are gedit, Geany and (sometimes) Code::Blocks IDE.

Of course, the only practical document processor these days is Sun Microsystems' Open Office suite. Sun was bought by Oracle, though, so I guess now it's Oracle's. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

"Irregardless." Yegods, I love that word!
Perverse, as in, you "extend" Emacs by programming in Lisp!

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Do you know where your trowel is?

Genuine official Software Toolworks Certificate of Wizardness dated 04/04/86. Curiously, the BBC still maintains a page where you can play a "fully illustrated" version of the text only Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy online (requires Java). And wonder of wonders, I've found Mike Goetz' original SIGM 011 distribution of Adventure!

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

No Bicycles Allowed

[See my second-favorite artist, fox-orian at Deviant Art.]

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Scorpio (Oct. 23–Nov. 21)

Smiles today avail you nothing. People think you're up to something. The meter maid ignores your protests. Your tone of voice aggravates everyone. Your dog snaps at you. Your cat has disappeared. Your parrot has zits. Your passport expired last week, but you haven't noticed. If your natal Moon was in Pisces, you're off your meds. Seek help, if anyone cares. Ignoring you and your petty problems altogether, Gargoyle has been running on Linux since August of 2009. Some things are more important than you. Get a life.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Evolution 2.0

Prior to Darwin, there was a kind of Nature mysticism abroad in the world of ideas. Dylan Thomas expressed it clearly as "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower;" at Iowa State University, that powerhouse of Midwestern belles lettres, one of my English professors scoffed at the notion of a "fuse" pushing a bud upward through a flowerstalk, thereby rather missing the point.

George Bernard Shaw nailed the idea to the wall in Pygmalion when he gave the final game, set and match to Eliza, whose inner "life force" overwhelmed and domesticated even the supercharged Professor Higgins. In those days, Germans were not the caricatures of villainy they are today; on the contrary, German culture, and in particular Johann von Goethe were ideal expressions of a Weltanschauung many would emulate. The viewpoint had consequences, not least of which was the angst, turmoil, storm and stress in the life of a pretentious idiot who had not yet figured out that almost everything electric in the popular realm of opinion is, like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, utterly imbecilic.

Karl Marx's intellectual roots lay searchingly deep in the gray crags of German Romanticism. Charles Darwin's did not. Both have been called materialists, but Marx was a magician who sought in Hegel's philophy some sort of actual motive force that drives the history of mankind toward a conclusion foregone, a brilliant final utopia, while Darwin was an enthusiastic but intellectually honest naif who was himself driven slowly to the brink of a blazing insight that, unlike Marx's, has permanently changed the world.

For any pamphleteer of ideas, the distinction is worth making, I think, because people still misread Darwin. The notion of social Darwinism, that the upper crust of all social pie belongs to those suffiently endowed to take it from the weak, the lazy and the clueless, arises from no science other than the art of sophistry, for one. For another, Darwin was no teleologue; evolution is not ordained to specific ends, and the great chain chain of being, so called, has no predetermined highest link, least of all human beings. Even the words which Darwin himself used, "natural selection," have a kind of plangent timbre, as though played on a harpsicord and not a synthesizer keyboard.

Oddly enough, the Taoist notion of the void, of the female principle, an exotic imported into Europe and the source of much speculation and wild movements (such as German Romanticism), has more to tell us about the origin of species than unalloyed "selection." It turns out that plastic stuff is extruded into voids in the ecosphere as neatly as they are in industry — in biology, the glowing bronze that pours into the empty place of lost wax is DNA. DNA is malleable, the mutation rate is far more rapid than anyone thought a generation ago. And that is something Darwin never knew, that would have make him chortle had he known.

These days, it's Evolution 2.0, and there's nothing beta about it.

The explosion is in the flower, idiot. It's called "sex."


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

V. I. Lenin always welcomed outrageous Czarist attempts to stifle popular dissent. According to the arcane Marxist tenets of dialectical materialism, extremely bad behavior by the corporate owned fascist Right only provokes swifter Revolution by the proletarian masses. Capital AARrrrrrr... (^^;)

So when Nikita Khruschev famously told Richard Nixon, "We will bury you," his folksy, off-the-cuff Rooskie witticism flew straight over the notoriously low-browed Tricky Dick's head and buried itself in the inflamed, sensitive heart of the John Birch Society, who didn't understand it either. What's "dialectical materialism," anyway? Even a Stravinksy-plinking piano abusing student of recent Soviet history so notable as Condaleezza Rice somehow entirely missed that subtlety.

Heh. I'm not sure the Supremes blew it as severely as the incandescent glow coming off the MS-NBC and Faux Snooze cable channels might lead you to believe. I'm fairly sure:
  • no one gave corporations the right to vote,
  • or to carry arms,
  • or to flog employees for voting "wrong,"
  • or to hire Blackwater to pollwatch the ballot box —
  • just to shoot their corporate mouths off.
  • And as we all know, that gets old very quickly.
So the Republic is probably safe. But Scalia and the Bobbleheads definitely made the wrong kind of history today. If anyone dies because of it, it was as breathtakingly bad as Dred Scott. Till then... Act up, kiddies. Act up.

Probably because it's bunk. Not that Hegel wrote correct bunk, or "better" bunk, mind. It's all bunk. You may speak of thesis, antithesis and synthesis because these are proper English words which carry metaphorical freight, but as the driving natural laws of Nature? Sorry, that's unobservable, like German Romanticism (the previous view of Nature, ptolemaic nonsense to Darwin's copernican clarity), or modern "scientific creationism," i.e., wishful thinking. I fault the dimly-gifted Rice for failing to notice that illogic (especially one's own illogic) is still a perfectly good motive for dangerous policy.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Health Racketeering

If health insurance rates go up just prior to enacting comprehensive health insurance reform, effectively and efficiently shedding small businesses from the group health actuarial pool, then claiming that "prices will go up if health insurance reform passes," is that a threat or just another gloom-and-doom analysis?

If it's a threat, it's racketeering, and some CEO's in the trade should do hefty prison time.
Kennedy's Senate Seat Goes Republican in Massachusetts!!? Yup, and some woman lawyer named MARTHA COAKLEY is the one who reglazed the glass ceiling. You'll forget her name by tomorrow — I already have — but Massachusetts is not the only State where Democrats indulge themselves in suicidal sentiment about who has "the right to run." Before you think "Roxanne Conlin against Chuck Grassley," remember Roxanne Conlin against Terry Branstand, and conjure up a vision of the incredibly high-stakes defeat in Massachusetts. The parallels between the two women are downright eerie.
I'm beginning to entertain doubts about Barack Obama, in particular his lack of presence on the Haiti issue. As much as I hate to say so, it really does look as if military experience is a prerequisite for high office.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Back to Gemity

It's been at least a year since I played Star Ocean Till the End of Time. I'd forgotten how to get back to Gemity after tearing through Firewall and storming halfway up the Spiral Tower, only to have Fake Blair hand me my head. So I was kicking myself for sealing my own fate by trying the tower levelled too low, until I remembered — this game is not linear, whatever the plot might lead you to believe. Good thing, too. Levelling up on other worlds is half the fun.

Go to the NW corner of Aire Hills.

By the way... Kudos to the Israeli Defense Force for setting up a functioning mobile surgical hospital in Haiti within hours of hitting the ground — complete with operating theater, NICU, triage, beds, kitchen and latrines — while EVERYONE ELSE including the Americans were (are??!) still sorting out their elbows and assholes. And who the hell do you have to bribe to let Doctors Without Borders land their helicopters and get to work?
Is anyone in this country still able to think like Lt. Gen. Russel Honore (Ret.), the guy who did Good Job Brownie's job and saved New Orleans after Katrina?

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Monday, January 18, 2010


As January, the superfluous month, approaches its nadir, it seemed appropriate to memorialize Thich Quang Duc, the monk who poured gasoline on himself and set it alight, reducing himself to cinders in about ten minutes according to stunned Western journalists. Duc's self-immolation protested the anti-Buddhist policies of Vietnam's Catholic President Ngo Dinh Diem, who died five months later in the withering castigation of world opinion.

My point is, this was a war of conscience for Americans. No one opposed to war in Vietnam ever forgot that photograph. Or this one, also a scene of (heh) "friendly fire," IIRC.

Now, this is really an essay about the word infidel. "Infidel!" is supposed to be a curse that flies like a black bat from the mouths of Muslim fanatics, but if so, why is an Arabic imprecation written in Latin? I would submit that we infidels cannot even hear the actual protest in that word. We translate what we think we understand into a language no one uses, and see our enemies in the mirror of our own disbelief.

Curiously, Buddhism has only one unforgiveable sin — killing the Buddha — and the weapon of choice is contempt (c.f. Madame Nhu).

Pep squad cheerleader Ann Coulter has no lock on playful aristocratic trash mouth, by the way. The genre was pioneered by such Valkyrienne stalwarts as Madame Nhu (who would happily bring gasoline to the next "monk barbecue," if there was one), Annie Chenault, the Dragon Lady, Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi — and even Mirage, the Klausian girl in Star Ocean 3 who utters some cherce battlefield one-liners of her own. Outrageous dinner conversation by bloody-minded women probably inspired the term "battleaxe," come to think of it. I'm sure somebody could write a book.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Admiral Hopper

It is often easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.
        — Grace Murray Hopper

Not granted! And denied!


Friday, January 15, 2010

Bleeding Kansas

I remember learning Civil War songs in the third or fourth grade in Overland Park, Kansas. Mostly songs from the North, of course; this was Kansas. One of my music teachers was my own great-aunt. I thought those songs were peculiar, but the alternative about this time was Annette Funicello and the beginnings of The Great Disney Dumbdown. Civil War? What an annoyingly bowdlerized version of those events we got.

Even Ken Burns' magnum opus fails to do the Civil War justice, being mainly a recital of names, dates, battlegrounds and various personal tales of private ruin and remorse. You have to go back to the generation just before the Civil War, back to Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore, to understand what a cesspool of moral filth and degradation this country was up to its necks in.If Vietnam was a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia, then Bleeding Kansas was the proxy war between the North and the South.

I learned more about Bleeding Kansas from my own family than I did from the Kansas Board of Education. It was alive in living memory when I was a kid. And it was mysterious as an old family photo of blood kin we can't recognize without a shudder. Life was not just hard, in those days; it was cruel.

But our Bleeding Kansas eventually became the Wild West; my great-grandfather Lafe rode with Kit Carson. We had no South in our family to forget — or remember. Although, I've heard my mother's Dad, Morton Philips, spelled his name with one L because of some family feud, the Powell side stepped down gently into grace.

When one of my elderly female relatives, Lafe Powell's wife, Sophie, was about ten years old, she refused to go to church. Quantrill's Raiders had just burned down her farmstead and slaughtered her parents. She'd been taken into another family like Tom Sawyer, and she was angry and bull-headed. No church! The local Baptist minister came calling. Was she mad at God because her parents had been killed so recently by those murderin' Missourah bushwhackers? Sophie blushed and broke into tears. No, but she'd gotten away from the burning farm with just the clothes on her back. She had no shoes! She couldn't go to church with no shoes on. Tomorrow's Sunday, and everyone will expect her at church, the minister sternly proclaimed. She went, in an agony of shame. When she shyly entered the church, everyone stood up and looked at her, the shoeless orphan child. And no one in that congregation was wearing shoes, either. I heard this story (at least the essentials) from family I trust, so I know its mostly true. We never heard anything good about Jesse James, either, come to think of it. [n.b., Sophie Powell always had candy in her apron pockets for her grandchildren, my mother among them. Sophie was Linnie Maude Powell's mom.]


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Make a great movie, wouldn't it?

On to Moonbase!


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Accusative Mood

Monday, January 11, 2010

Leno got cancelled?!

But what's wrong with Snark 'n Bark?

My favorite Fievel moment: "Don't stare at the actors, Fievel. They can't help being poor."


Saturday, January 09, 2010

Jie Revorse chews dust...

For someone who's not impressed (I may have said this once upon a time) with Star Ocean First Departure, I've spent enough time replaying it. Hngh. I'm just trying to fill in the movie gallery, and now I've got all but one. Then too, it bugged me first time around that I couldn't even find some of the optional characters, like Pericci and Welch Vineyard. Welch's hut is well-hidden (heh) in the forest, and Pericci is impossible if you overlook an eensie weensie little detail (especially winzig on the PSP screen) early early in the game. Still can't find Ioshua Jerund, and can't get Mavelle "Don't Call Me Erys" Froessen. Or Ashlay (sounds like GWTW). L8R...
It's Like This

Even the samurai
have teddy bears,
and even the teddy bears
get drunk.
        — Linux fortune cookie

Fortunately, Pratchett's Unseen Academicals is starting to pick up a bit. Very slow start (is it Massive Pussy or Massive Posse, and is this a sign of slowly spalling faculties?) I tried re-watching Hogfather, but this Sky TV sort-of-like-Christmas two-parter is a Pratchett shrine, so the tone is hyper reverential and the pace is slower than ... slower than ... (just say it!) ... ok, molasses! Although Pratchett is not dead yet, it's worth reminding his Massive Pussy (oh, I get it now...inside joke) that Mt. Rushmore is actually reserved for just four U.S. Presidents. If they try to add Ronnie Rayguns or, Lords help us, a banana-eating Librarian, George will crack in two and fall off.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Burning issues of the day

"Is every planar dual graph of a simple Venn diagram Hamiltonian?"
                — A Survey of Venn Diagrams: Open Problems

Ah, clarity! To put it another way, this question makes sense to several thousand people alive in the world today. Possibly tens of thousands. Not more. (We've drawn a line around those there are, Dr. Venn.) What kind of mind understands this stuff? Even bearing in mind that some of these questions make pretty pictures that, like art, inspire emotional responses, what does a child's garden of combinatorics look like? A nutcracker?

The gasp of recognition, the knowledge that one is personally humbled in the light of such gifts, is what marks the aristocratic mind, imho. Revolutions teach us about equality. Inequalities teach us about ourselves. As, of course, dogs teach us about who gets to bite whom. Isn't it interesting how quickly insight fades to meaninglessness?


Monday, January 04, 2010

Life List

Star Ocean
  1. First Departure (PSP)/Fantastic Space Odyssey (SNES)
  2. Second Evolution (PSP)/Second Story (PS1)
  3. Blue Sphere (GameBoy Color, Japanese only)
  4. Till the End of Time (PS2)
Sadly, none of these are state of the art these days. I'd like to try The Last Hope but that requires a significant platform outlay, either Xbox 360 or PS3. Or the international version, due out February 9, if that materializes. Unlikely. I've gotten a lot poorer since retirement.

I played these in the order 4-2-3-1 and my favorites are 3 and 2. The first game is incoherent, but worthy. The last is fun, but eventually the total lack of facial expression begins to drag you down. By the end of that game, my suspension of disbelief had faded entirely and I had the unnerving sense that I was playing with dolls.

The only other JRPGs I've enjoyed are Final Fantasy XII, which is a masterpiece, and the first two games in the series, which (along with Zelda) defined chibi for me. The first in the series, Final Fantasy I, is very droll, especially deep inside some of the optional dungeons (like the dancing academy level.) Honorable mention to FF9.

Not bad for someone who was introduced to this genre by a Tomb Raider demo for Windows over a decade ago. The demo was a killer. The trick was trying to get Lara to move, and to figure out what the game was about (the demo was the Great Wall chapter of TR2, iirc). If you were being an obvious putz about it, she made a little noise like an exasperated sigh and shifted her weight from foot to foot. I was hooked forever.

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Sunday, January 03, 2010

January Daze

The Christmas tree is down. The living room is shadowless. Put your Raybans on, the snow's too bright, even indoors.


Saturday, January 02, 2010

Old, soft hat

We spent the evening watching Norman Jewison's deeply chiselled familiar moments and juxtaposed passions in Moonstruck for about the umpteenth time — I see new things in there every time I watch this flick. E.g., Loretta comes home and tells her Pop she has news. Vincent Gardenia chops the time in two and gestures Loretta into the kitchen for a confab. Yes, it's Italian, it's ethnic, it's cute. It's also Jewison carving a crystal moment out of timeless incoherence.

Look what happens! They pour out the split in two glasses and plop in a pair of sugarcubes. Loretta says she's going to marry Johnnie and, boundaries drawn, they fight. Jewison may as well have laid out a chessboard — formal, stylized, simple combat. Gardenia closes the parentheses with the exact same come-along gesture, "Let's tell your Mom."

The deconstruction proceeds onion-like, in pungent layers. This may be the most conscious movie I've ever seen. Ronnie and Loretta's semi-doomed romance (it is a comedy, after all) is paired against La Boheme; Puccini's exact redeeming duets contrast with Loretta's doubletake at Ronnie's fury in a bread-bread-bread speech that is, read cold on the page, almost pathetically inarticulate and inadequate to the moment. Maybe only Cage could have pulled that off. Marlon "Scum-sucking pig" Brando, not so much.

At the Met, the couples queue up and pass through a gallery of mirrors. If they reflect and recognize each other, we see more. Mona's earrings, ridiculously, are tiny copies of the Met's chandeliers. But Mona's decolletage and sparkle drown in the blaze of authentic glory from the elegant purple Dior to her immediate right. Cosmo and Mona, Loretta and Ronnie... degrees of inarticulate passion which faint and fail next to Puccini's ravishing arias, but these ordinary couples burn every bit as desperately and possibly just as white hot as the transcendent Rodolfo and Mimi. Rough and smooth, they may be, snooker balls bouncing off the banks of head and heart. Yet Mimi's soaring passion is exactly as unbearable as Loretta's, her curtain just as permanent as the demimundane Mona's.

How do they sort it all out? The table scene at the end is the altar which consecrates all these lives, as imperfect as they may be, and pulls them all into the light. That must have been a ferociously difficult moment to pull off, but this is one of the great films of all time; although it's odd how tables feature throughout the film, ubiquitous and silent non sequiturs, almost characters in themselves. Danny Aiello's proposal at a table, the philandering Professor's public drenchings at a table, Cosmo and Mona's tryst at a table, Cosmo and Loretta's family news at the family table; tables of anger ("Old man, give those dogs another piece of my food and I'll kick you until you're dead") and reconciliation ("And go to confession!"), epiphany ("Yes, Johnny, in front of all these people...") and catechesis ("A la familia!").

And who are these moonstruck? Lovers standing at their bedroom windows. Loretta's face covered in light and shadow, like prison bars, like law, in black and white. Rose's moon casting lacework shadows on her face, pure but troubled. Cosmo's altogether missing and forgotten moon, present only as a story, a grace remembered from Rose's courtship. Raymond and Rita Cappomaggi's moon, solid, simple, human, clumsy, passionate. (We struggle, out here in real life, to remember who Raymond's Orlando Furioso might be. Disneyland? A lunatic moment of self-recognition, that.) And the Old Man's moon, pure and absolute, dangerous to dogs and holy fools, howling with laughter.

A great film from 1987, with the Twin Towers still standing. As the Old Man says, the moon brings the woman to the man, and the nostalgia is almost unbearable.

I looked it up. A "split" of champagne is a quarter bottle, sometimes (usually?) rounded up to 20 centiliters. A bottle is a half a magnum. A magnum is 1.5 liters.


Friday, January 01, 2010

New Year's Resolution

Jie Revorse... if I feel like it. Ah, well. This is why people don't like Star Ocean 1 (or First Departure, either, for that matter)... no plot. Just a set of unrelated incidents tied together with monologues. The game does go on... and on... and...

Was Neo Revorse in the original? It looks like something tacked on for the reissue. I played a dull version of the many pathways through this game. Meanwhile, Pratchett's Unseen Academicals has picked up. When Vetinari speaks, people listen.

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