Thursday, January 20, 2005

Perhaps the problems are related...

A woman was walking along the beach when she stumbled upon a bottle. She picked it up and rubbed it, and low-and-behold a genie appeared! The amazed woman asked if she got three wishes.

The genie said, "Nope, sorry, three-wish genies are a storybook myth. I'm a one-wish genie. So... what'll it be?"

The woman did not hesitate. She said, "I want peace in the Middle East. See this map? I want these countries to stop fighting with each other and I want all the Arabs to love the Jews and Americans and vice-versa. It will bring about world peace and harmony."

The genie looked at the map and exclaimed, "Lady, be reasonable. These countries have been at war for thousands of years. I'm out of shape after being in a bottle for five hundred years. I'm good but not THAT good! I don't think it can be done. Make another wish and please be reasonable."

The woman thought for a minute and said, "Well, I've never been able to find the right man. You know, one that's considerate. And fun, likes to cook and help with the house cleaning, is great in bed, and gets along with my family. Doesn't watch sports all the time, and is faithful. That is what I wish for -- a good man."

The genie let out a deep sigh and said, "Let me see the frigging map again."

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

My Favorite Part

There's an article circulating the new sites from AP about the "Jury pool from hell." Quite the snort.

My favorite part is:

Another would-be juror said he had had alcohol problems and was arrested for soliciting sex from an undercover officer. "I should have known something was up," he said. "She had all her teeth."

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

When I was a kid, I used to carry around the Sears December catalogue (the one with the huge toy section in the middle) after I had marked it up with multi-colored circles (representing changes of mind over the course of time - like a movie script - I had to create a color key for Santa to understand which selections had been abandoned and which ones were the most current) as if it where a magical totem capable of fulfilling all desires. Because, of course, for a kid, it was.

This past weekend I have discovered that I have not lost that behavior. Apple has finally come out with a $500 Macintosh. It's not all that powerful, and it doesn't come with anything else - that being a monitor, keyboard, or mouse. (The assumption is you have those already, so just re-use them.) But, being a fan of Mac from the beginning, and horsing around with Wintel machines most of my professional career, I pine for the simplicity and sleekness of a Mac. (Especially since I spent the weekend re-loading drivers on our home Windows machines, just so the damn things would recognize standard devices, like a monitor.) So, I printed the pages that describe the MacMini, and found myself orbiting back around to where I set them down, picking them back up and re-reading the same few pages over and over. I am in the full throws of techno-lust. I want a MacMini BAD!

Friday, January 14, 2005


If a person has ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), but they haven't paid attention long enough to hear the doctor's diagnosis, do they still have the condition?

Monday, January 10, 2005

Random, Passing Thought: The Best Kind of Life

Been listening to William Shatner's Has Been, which is really pretty good. I'll admit right out loud that I'm a fan of Shatner, and not just because of the Capt. Kirk thang. No, he's always seemed to me to have both a fearlessness about his career, and an ability to realize who and what he is in relation to the culture. (His series of "Trek Memories" autobiographies are a hoot.) Yes, Has Been is funny, but intentionally so...or at least intentionally ironically so. Anyway, there's a song called "You'll Have Time" which offers a new twist on the old concept of "Carpe Diem" (which means "Seize the Dazed," as I've come to think of it). The refrain in the tune is, "Why did I waste it, why didn't I taste it?"

The implication, in both the tune and "Carpe Diem," is that you should be hang-gliding nekkid from atop the Opera House in Sydney, Australia while planning your next deep-sea voyage to spelunk in treacherous underwater caves that are home to exotic glowing jellyfish, which you'll photograph and put in your next best-selling coffee table book, which will inspire Pink Floyd to reform simply to produce an "inspired by" soundtrack, causing you to be credited with single-handedly saving the recording industry, meriting a Nobel Prize and a personally autographed picture from Britney Spears whereupon she has scrawled that "You Rock!"

This has always cramped my process because it values X-TREME! Mountain Dew adrenaline experiences over the quiet joys that most of us experience every day. If you have the desire or ability to leap from a snowy cliff with only a parachute, a snowboard, and a power drink clutched in your mutant little fist, somehow it's proffered that you're living a fuller life than the new mother who is taking her wobbly toddler around the block for her first time, or the man who is reading the blog of a kindred spirit, or the child who is watching an ant travel across the back yard.

I dunno. I think when we're lying there, ready to pass - assuming we get the rare experience of foreknowledge thereof, or a relatively painless passing - it might feel more full to have had the companionship of a loving spouse and good friends, happy children, the experience of a few great books, and yes maybe one experience jumping out of a perfectly good airplane just for the hell of it. But I think a chain of dim memories of vast travels, screaming adrenaline overdoses, a cascade of random fucks with nameless strangers just might seem a little thin and pale at the end of a life.

I still like the song, though.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Q: What do you know but can't prove?

A: There are a lot of idiots filling the halls of academia, and I'm not talking about the students.

A buddy provided a link to this blog post the other day that ruminates essentially "Where have all the intellectuals gone?" I read it with interest as it was thoughtful and stated well, but surfed away with a mental shrug, as I typically do with most posts lamenting the good ole days of any sort, because the good ole days for us are pretty much any moment in the past when we were happy, and the good ole days for our kids are probably happening right now. Things are not necessarily getting worse or better on the macro level of human existence. They are pretty much chugging along with the same constant that has pretty much been the case for all recorded human experience, pretty much: we are born, we grow up, find a way to survive, have children, enjoy some things while enduring others, then we die, leaving others to carry on in life. Cha cha cha.

Yet, I read this monster of collective thought with a continual sinking feeling that perhaps the fellow I reference above might be right. If this represents the core of our intellectual thought these days, dear Lord we are in an intellectual drought! (Intellectual ice age?...) (And why is it overloaded with scientists? Science is only one aspect of the exploration of the human condition, and therefore only one way out of many towards understanding it.)

Belief in God is attacked over and over as a self-delusion, which once overcome, will result in the Star Trek universe of universal human achievement and cooperation whose monetary system is knowledge and not money, where hopefully the girls will take to wearing spandex 24/7 and actually date us. (Sigh.) Granted, the nature of the question posed typically leads to ontological thrashing about. Still, the utter lack of understanding of belief in God is as tiring as it is troublesome. The straw man that belief in God somehow is the main obstacle to human potential needs to go up in flames like Burning Man doused with gas and stoked with a flamethrower. Yes, fundamentalists of all ilks (including atheism) can be a problem, but they are not THE problem. If these poltroons can't get past that one simple realization, how are we to trust anything else they say? (To put it simply, boiling down everything to the supposed veracity of one's belief system is bogus reductionism that will only lead to false assumptions and results. Stop it, ya'll.)

Some of these folks are still struggling with the Descartes mind/body dynamic, for crying out loud! (The world outside of me DOES exist! It's not just an illusion of mine! .... Gad.) Which reminds me, what the hell is Susan Blackmore doing on this list? Her attempted scientific explanation of the near death experience was just goofy. I wrote her personally to ask that if the white light at the end of the tunnel is really an illusion caused by our visual cortex as the neurons are firing randomly in the throes of oxygen deprivation death, how does the brain manage to create and store clear memories of supposed events that occur after the person goes into the white light? Her response was (and I paraphrase) "I am no longer exploring that topic." Perhaps she just wanted to avoid a protracted debate with someone she supposed was a crank, but still, what a silly response. Said cranks would be more likely to leave her alone if she merely wrote, "You have a point. Now go away."

That larger critique aside, I totally agree with Kai Krause's post. (There is no direct link to each person, so just plug his name into "Find" to pop down it.) Oh, and I also agree with Elizabeth Spelke's suppositions, but not her conclusion. Differences will always remain differences no matter how much we are alike underneath.

I specifically disagree with all those who suppose we will "figure out" the mechanism of human consciousness in any re-creatable way, meaning I'm sure we will not be able to create a sentient machine. The mysteries of the construction of a well-balanced, reasonably sane human mind (or any self-aware consciousness) are so vast (with thousands of physical and experiential puzzles to solve, just to get started) that it is an intractable problem, imho. We will come up with a machine that mimics a conscious being, but it will not actually be self-aware. To put it another way, we will have robots that talk to us and do housework someday, but it will be no more of a being unto itself than the typical automobile is.

Again, to be fair, atheists believe there is enough inherent self-organization in nature that allowed us to evolve from, well, lumps of mud, to what we are now, so it follows that we can discover or at least leverage enough of that inherent self-organization to recreate ourselves in mechanical/artificial form. I submit that even if inherent self-organization is the case, the complexity of a human mind, which is forged partially from inherited features and partially from experience and learning, is not something easily duplicatable, since the mix of hardwiring and experience has to be more or less precisely right. If not, you get insanity, autism, or a mind so hopelessly scrambled as to be useless.

To follow that vein, say we did create something that was able to do abstract thinking on its own and form some sort of consciousness. Since it would not have our emotional structures, our instincts for seeking of pleasure and avoiding pain, and all of the other built in, little understood mojo that gives us enough intellectual oomph to stroll out to the car, check for children in the way, and drive to work whilst combating road rage and gray panthers whose licenses should have been yanked long ago, what kind of alien mind would it be? Would it be even something that we could relate to, or that could relate to us? I have my doubts, obviously.

But then, to property qualify or disqualify myself, I am one of those who think that some problems are so complex as to be intractable. Even though they are solvable somehow, because we exist after all, we have limits to our perception and therefore our ability to work with and influence things (and don't even get a quantum physicist started on THAT), so we probably won't be able to do the things required to achieve the desired result. For example, the limit of our perception "upwards" is about 80 billion light years across, which is the observable region of our universe (according to one of the guys in the monster article), and "downwards" it stops at the molecular level. We can sorta take pictures of atoms, but not really, and we can mess with them to a pretty amazing degree, but what we don't know about their behavior and structure is still vastly outweighs what we do know. And, I don't think we can ever get to a sufficient understanding to influence and understand matter to the extent we need to in order to create sentient life ourselves. I think we will figure out fusion to the extent that we can use it as a power source. I think we will eventually understand biology enough where we can fight (but never "cure") cancer in more humane ways than we do now, and with greater success. We might figure out how to fight viruses directly, and not rely on triggering our immune systems to do it for us, but that is way off, and it will be about as far as we can go in that direction. And, we will make marvelous machines; they just will never swing their baby blues our direction and ask to be picked up and held - unless we program them to do it.

Note that I haven't dragged God or miracles into any of that discussion. When it comes to our ability to understand our world, I don't think God comes into it, really. Yes, He created it and influences it, in my opinion, but He does not intercede when we are trying to understand and influence the atom. He's got bigger fish to fry. As far as our scientific endeavors go, we're on our own.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Geek Nirvana

Via Slashdot I discovered a book written by Andy Hertzfeld about the creation of the Macintosh computer, entitled Revolution in The Valley. Which is nice; I'll pick up a copy at the library. What's, like, totally awesome and cool is that via an interview with Andy, I discovered his site,, dedicated to relating the history of the creation of the Mac. (The book was cobbled together from the posts on this site.)

<valley girl>OMG!</valley girl>

I blanch at trying to describe the enormity and the wonderfulness of the existence of this information trove.

Imagine if the process of the invention of the combustion engine, or heart surgery, or the Apollo space program, was archived, described, and commented on by the very teams that accomplished their creation - for free on the web and you could peruse it at your leisure. is that very thing for the Macintosh desktop computer. The Macintosh simply defined how computer interaction is accomplished in our age. Though Xerox Parc came up with some of the initial concepts borrowed by the Mac team, the Mac team created the reality you have before you, even if you're using a Microsoft Windows or Linux system. (Yes, Unix existed before it all, but the graphical interfaces laid on top of Linux are still largely derivative of the Mac.)

For instance, here is a description of the evolution of the user interface, replete with Polaroids of each breakthrough. How cool is that!?!?

Too cool, imho.

So I'll shut up so you can get right over there and have some fun!

More thumbnail reviews

Apologies for posting just reviews as of late, but life's been kinda sedate recently (which is nice). Both my lovely wife and MPC (most precious child) were sick all the way through the holidays, so we didn't do much. We even missed the much-anticipated New Year's Eve party thrown with our buddies, alas. So, we've watched a LOT of movies, and have remained planted at the homestead. Thus, review-o-rama:

The Bourne Supremacy was touted by most professional critics as a decent movie. So, while watching, that's what I kept anticipating, and at about the hour and a half mark, I decided my mild disappointment was real and that the movie just wasn't all that.

Now, most of those same critics that liked Bourne II didn't like the films of Michael Bay (Pearl, Harbor Armageddon, The Rock), for precisely the same reasons they mentioned liking Bourne - overly short and hyperactive cuts throughout the whole flick. So, I'm puzzled.

There was no story, as far as I was concerned, because the movie starts where the original left off: Bourne has no idea who he really is and why he can't remember anything. The whole movie thereafter is a chase for Bourne who's been framed for a whack job, the only plot developments being the deaths of those around him.

My wife noted that you (the audience) were given no more reason to care for Bourne than you did for any other good guys or bad guys. I hadn't noticed this until she pointed it out, since the rapid cuts keep you mesmerized enough where you don't really notice anything but the flow of images. Then she noted how little acting that Matt Damon had to do for the role of Bourne (largely because of the dearth of character development), and she's right on that count, too. This thing's essentially a long music video, sans good music.

So, that leads me to suggest a game. If by chance you find yourself having to watch The Bourne Supremacy, and if you actually catch Matt Damon acting, have a drink! I guarantee you'll be sober at the end of the flick. Heck, you won't catch even the hint of a buzz at any point. (Which leads me to conclude my game sucks as much as the movie did. Oh well.)

Shaun of the Dead

"Shaun" joins An American Werewolf in London on the 'til now lonely shelf of movies that are as scary as they are funny. Like "Werewolf" it takes a while for "Shaun" to creep up to the creepy, but once it starts it's relentless.

Shaun himself is a guy in the McJob stage of his life, rooming with former college buddies, taking his dedicated girlfriend for granted largely because he's still more dedicated to his lout of a childhood buddy, and generally spending too much time at the pub pounding pints. At first he notices people dropping on the street, but his natural state of oblivion returns and he makes it all the way to the store and back barely noticing all the havoc and zombies wandering in the street. I've had days like that.

Which is why "Shaun" is so funny. (And for the grammarians out there, I know that sometimes I italicize the shortened title, other times I put quotes around it - I have no consistency - and I don't rilly care.) This is sorta, kinda how a bunch of dazed twentysomethings would deal with a zombie epidemic. In my opinion, the best comedy arises out of how real people would respond in bizarre circumstances. "Shaun" delivers on that level.

Another delight of "Shaun" is that it gets right the appeal of the loutish buddy. All guys have that one friend (or more) that their SO's just hate on contact. He's rude, crude, sometimes smelly, always somewhat of a leach, but he gets away with it because he so much fucking fun and can belch the entire chorus of the latest hit song (or fart percussively to it, take your pick). Ed, the loutish buddy, is played perfectly by Nick Frost. You're repelled and amused by him in the proper amounts.

That said, I want to warn you, dear readers, that "Shaun" contains the most graphic and disturbing evisceration scene I've ever seen anywhere. I'm not often compelled to look away from the screen because I'm too shocked, grossed out, and appalled at what's unraveling, so to speak. I instinctively raised my hand and shielded my eyes from the screen when my brain finally registered that I was seeing what I was seeing. I said things like, "Holy Cow! Jeez! Cripes!" right out loud. I did NOT back it up to watch it again; once was enough. Wowsers. Dinna watch this one during dinner, lads and lasses.

Make sure you check out the extras, especially the storyboards on Plot Holes, but only after you watch the flick, natch. The storyboards where so good, I almost wish they'd made an animated film that looked just like the storyboards.

Because it's rated "R" for language (all the worst words are trotted out regularly, which is realistic for twentysomethings with no kids) and the one amazing evisceration scene, this movie should be OK for strong-stomached teens who don't scare easily. Sensitive kids (such as myself as a lad and my MPC) and pasta lovers should avoid until they're about 15 or so. Don't say I didn't warn you about that one scene.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

A Little Help

Hey, someone, anyone, could you post a comment so I can see if it's working?

Now, Blogger prompts you to log in to make a comment, but you can bypass that by clicking "Or Post Anonymously". Even so, you can sign your post just by typing in yer name/nick.

So, would someone put one out there?