Old Rants


This is not a blog. Forgive my typos, I don't use a spell-checker.

The older rants are semi-regularly moved off this page. You can always read the old rants here if you're a masochist. If Google sent you here, it's wrong.


6-20-05

I despise my TiVo and my Sony DVD player. Why? Latency. Latency is the worst thing for user interfaces. I press stop on the damn DVD player and I'm not sure it even took the command because it takes so long to execute. I love my NAD amplifier. It's all analog and the switches are actual wired electric switches, not buttons that send commands to a chip; the response to every action is instantaneous. This is not a minor detail; Joe Ybarra used to love to talk about this with frame rate - the difference between 40 fps and 60 fps, and more exactly, the latency, is not some small numeric difference, it's not like getting 40 chocolate chips vs. 60 chocolate chips - there's something dramatic that happens when your interface is smooth and responsive and perceptually instantaneous. Suddenly the device is like an extension of your body & mind - it's not some external apparatus that you're fighting with and compensating for, it's your tool and it's doing your wishes and it suddenly tickles some loving part of your brain.


6-20-05

3hive is a great music sharing blog.


6-20-05

The liberals and opposition have always allowed the opposition to set the tone of the debate on 9/11 . One of the many example of this is the idea that "9/11 changed everything". This was part of the mantra of the neocons in justifying the seizure of new powers, and the liberals echoed it. Most of the media did too, even those who opposed the administration never doubted the idea that we had to drastically change our government and our civil liberties and our military after 9/11. In reality, this contention is pure nonsense, and those changes have been almost all for the worse. There's nothing about 9/11 that compels us to abandon the Geneva Conventions, to sacrifice our civil liberties, to destroy the checks & balances of our government, to abandon the rule of law - our country has been through far harder trials, and those structures have been created to protect us from abuse *especially* in times of difficulty.

I think it's a common thread in my ranting - things like insurance companies, your friends' common decency, the Geneva Conventions, etc. - as long as things are going well, everyone is hunky dory. Then, suddenly there's some difficulty and people say, well, this difficulty is unexpected and we have to break the rules. Well, what the fuck are the rules for then? You follow them when there's no reason to break them, when life is easy, and then when you're supposed to pay the piper and the rules really come into affect, that's a special circumstance and it's an excuse to break them.


6-20-05

If I were Al Qaeda, I would mount a world-wide coordinated attack on the world's oil pipelines. Apparently this is already happening to some extent ( says the Washington Post ) , though there's not much news on it, and it's mainly in Iraq. What they should do is prepare and then unleash simultaneous attacks all over the world. Pipelines are very easy targets because they are incredibly long, you can't defend the entire length, it's easy for the terrorists to pick some spot on them and blow it up. The major pipelines also run through countries where terrorists can easily operate - Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Indonesia. The current terrorist attacks are just a nuisance which is perhaps reducing the world's oil supply by a few hundred thousand barrels a day. If they could mount an attack in all those countries at perhaps 10 major sites, they could reduce supply by millions of barrels a day. It takes several days to repair pipeline breaks, and by then the terrorists can hit the same pipeline again in a different place. Perhaps 100 small cells would be needed. If this could be sustained for several weeks, a panic could be introduced in the world oil market, sending the price of oil and futures through the roof. This would not really be a disastrous blow to oil supply, but with the way financial markets over-react irrationally, it could easily set up a financial crisis in the markets, especially with the precarious state of the current world economy.

This would bombing pipelines idea struck me as the plot of a bad movie, and of course it is, it's sort of in the Bond movie The World Is Not Enough

While researching this idea I found two semi-crackpot web sites about the oil pipelines in Afghanistan, still interesting reads - wanttoknow , newhumanist ; these are classic examples of the principle that crackpot ideas are over-represented in open debate, because crackpots are far more motivated to exposit their views than sane people. I also found this amazing web site from the amazing "World Press" web site summarizing lots of news on Afghanistan, oil, Islam, etc. at worldpress.org


6-20-05

Just about every parking lot in the world is designed badly. Traffic is routed in and then flows along a lane right in front of the businesses. This lane cuts through the pedestrian traffic between the businesses and the parked cars. The parking lot would function far better if the major traffic lane was in the back or middle of the parking, not the front. Car traffic would then run parallel to the pedestrian traffic up and down the aisles. The lane at the front could perhaps remain as a non-major route (which is established by the in & out points of the lot), or it could be cut off completely and replaced with just U's connecting adjacent lanes and barriers between each pair of lanes.


6-19-05

Re : recent basketball rant. Game 5 of the finals. Great game, close all the way, often tied. Final seconds of the game, it's tied 89-89. Only a few posessions left in the game, each one is crucial. Pistons have the ball. They inbounds, and Billups drives to the hoop. He's blatantly fouled on the shot by Duncan, but there's no call. Spurs get the ball. That moment just decided the outcome of the game.

p.s. Robert Horry is a god in the clutch; correlation would suggest he is responsible for most of the recent NBA champions. See previous predictive post; the original prediction about the "Robert Horry Factor" is due to Andy Richter when the Rockets were playing the Knicks.


6-18-05

The new show "30 Days", created by Morgan Spurlock of "Super Size Me", is worth watching. The idea is to take normal people (such as Mr. Spurlock, though he only participates in the first episode) and put them in someone else's shoes for 30 days, so that we can all learn about what that experience is like. The concept is ridiculously flawed - the participants are not in the context of the experience, they come into it with all their posessions and life from the past, they have a camera crew with them which hugely distorts the reality of any experience, and they know it will be over in a finite time so they can anticipate that end - so the way the show pretends to be a valid sociological examination of a topic is ridiculous. I've always wanted to make documentaries like this - it gives you a great excuse to try weird things, and with a camera crew you can talk to strangers and they'll tell you their life stories. Mr. Spurlock has a very pedantic way of narrating his experiences; he doesn't let the documentary speak for itself, he provides exposition at an elementary school level. For example, he'll go to a coffee shop because he wants a cup of coffee, they tell him it's $4, he says no thanks, that's too expensive; then we're treated to his commentary "wow, that's an hour's wage. I can't afford that. All the things I used to take for granted are just too expensive on minimum wage!". Thanks. Furthermore, he engages in the standard poor documentarian hyperbole and exaggeration. For example, they struggle to pay for food, but any person really in poverty would have food stamps. They rack up huge medical bills for silly little problems, when if they were really in poverty they could have MedicAid or one of the state programs for cheap/free health care. I would say the show is interesting enough to watch, but some skipping ahead on your TiVo might be necessary; it's a half hour worth of content packaged in an hour long format.

On the other hand, it did give me some perspective about costs - though that's actually something I've been getting already from talking to my girlfriend and her friends, who basically all work minimum wage jobs. They make roughly $50/day after tax. I used to make around that in an hour. In the last few days I've made $500 just playing a little poker on the net (yes, I started again). All the little things I buy that I don't even consider luxuries - things like canteloupe and prosciutto for a snack - are just insanely expensive by minimum wage standards. Of course, we wealthy American consumers become incredibly blase'. Something like a nice ice cream or a fancy cup of coffee are special treats to someone who can't afford them, but they're just little snacks or part of the daily ritual to us.

I wonder if some day we'll have tourism to things like minimum wage living. We almost do already, where rich people can go and rough it in the jungle for a few weeks and pretend they're living like the natives.


6-17-05

Driving cross country and stopping at truck stops, watching the truckers. It seems odd to me that these massive truck stops are supplied with fuel from trucks. Why is it better to have these fuel trucks bring fuel and then have other trucks take it away - why not just give more fuel to the original trucks? For trucks making the cross country drive, give them enough fuel to make it all the way? The answer is perhaps a bit surprising - it's most efficient to haul the fuel shorter distances. So, if the fuel truck can get from a pipeline/station to the truck stop in a shorter distance than you're driving, it's more efficient to have him run the gas for you.


6-17-05

I tend to date very social girls. Not because I attract very social girls or because of any natural affinity or because we fit well, but rather because I'm so anti-social that the only girls I can strike up a conversation with are ones who are willing to do a lot of the ice-breaking work.


6-17-05

Book idea : Make an online collaborative "choose your own adventure". I start by writing a short linear story, but at many points there are potential branches. In the initial version there's only one choice for each branch, but anyone can modify it to add branches, and thus create a whole new path of the narrative. The community can add to those paths, expanding the tree in the direction that interests them. The author can watch his work grow and change over time as the community directs it.


6-17-05

There's a bird's nest in the veranda at my house where the trumpet vine grows. The nest is very poorly constructed; the baby bird's tail feathers hang out the bottom, but it manages to stay in. So far my cats have not found a way to get up to it. They can't climb the straight posts of the veranda; I suspect they could climb the trunk of the trumpet vine, but they haven't figured that out yet. The momma and daddy bird fly around outside constantly in a state of distress, since I and my cats both walk near the nest and send them into defensive fits.


6-16-05

In these days of anti-Bush sentiment among liberals, let us take a moment to reflect and remember why Bush is in power - it's because of Nader and all you fucking morons who voted for the Green party back in 2000. Thanks guys, real smart, you obviously made your point and the Republicans in power have really listened to the message you sent on election day - the message that liberals are a pack of self-defeating fools that can be easily brushed aside.


6-16-05

I realized a while ago that the idea of living without pain must be very modern. These days if we get a pain in our back, in our tooth, what ever, we do something about it. If we can't, we take drugs to soothe the pain. This must be very new. Even 100 years ago, it must have been standard to live in pain all the time. Anyone past 20 or 30 is going to have pains that can't really be cured, especially in the past with lesser medical and dental powers - people must have just had throbbing and shooting pain all the time, and just lived with it. I'm sure they didn't think much of it - it's just the way it was. Of course the same is true for all the senses; everything stunk horribly for centuries, and people were used to it, it was just the background odor of life.


6-16-05

Accupuncture is a sham, says study . I've always been a big believer in the power of placebos. They have very little affect on me, because I'm such a skeptic, which is a shame, because they provide free health boosts. People who take Echinacea and really believe that it helps them - I'm sure they're helped by it. Of course, scientifically it's nonsense, but if you believe it, your body will respond. People who are believers and take placebos can have lots of wonderful beneficial reactions to various treatments, like accupuncture, accupressure, herbs, cleansing, etc. etc.


6-16-05

Torture is well known to be a very poor way to get information from suspects, because they are just as likely to lie as tell the truth, and it's impossible to sift out the real information from the garbage. On the other hand, the believable threat of torture is a very valuable method for getting real quality information from suspects. That suggests that we need to occasionally torture people, not for their information, but simply to create the image that we are ruthless interrogators. In that sense, the public airing of our prison scandals is actually a good thing, because it makes it well known that if you don't talk, bad things will happen to you.

Around 2/3 of the terror suspects takes since 9/11 have been released due to lack of evidence. For any law maker who believes the treatment of these men is justified and just, there is a simple mental test : imagine yourself in those camps, wrongly suspected of terrorism.


6-15-05

Yesterday I posted the unfinished book on poker ( here ) which I've been writing for some time. For some time I've been considering finishing it and trying to get some big-name star to "co-write" it with me to give it some chance of selling.


6-15-05

Watched "The Insider" ; quite a good movie, awfully long, but I hardly ever felt like it was dragging and didn't pine for the end. It's rather surreal seeing Mike Wallace and all the CBS people playing themselves next to Al Pacino and other actors, but you quickly forget about it, and it adds a huge amount of realism, sort of mentally tricks you into thinking it's a documentary. The whole thing reminds of the mystique of the old CBS News organization; the movie, of course, was made before the Dan Rather resignation, and it seems oddly prescient in a way. People can commit the most horrendous of illegal acts, but if you report about it and get any tiny detail even slightly wrong, they'll destroy you. I think it's quite a scandal that CBS and Rather got slammed over the memo nonsense. First of all, it's absolutely true that Bush used his ties to avoid war service, does anyone serious deny that? So CBS wasn't reporting anything false at all. In the mean time, Bush was feeding the Swift Boat nonsense, which was absolutely untrue. Dan Rather resigned over the memo nonsense, while in the White House, no one had the dignity to resign over Abu Ghraib, no one resigned because of lies about WMD's in Iraq, or the ties of Iraq and Al Qaeda, etc. etc. Here's a page about Rather from a right-wing "media watchdog" whose mission is to slander the press as liberal-biased.

Marie Brenner writes great in-depth investigative articles. You can read them all on-line.


6-15-05

Professional/televised basketball is a sorry, broken sport. (Okay, M.S. points out that I'm exaggerating greatly; I still enjoy watching it). First I'll describe the problems, then how they might be fixed. Unlike most people, I don't just long for the glory days of Jordan and Magic. Great players and dramas come and go. The problem with the sport is not the talent these days, it's the structure, which has become inherently broken. Problem #1 is the fouls and the refs. Problem #1A is that foul calls are incredibly important to the outcome of a game, and they're so often wrong. Now, my critics will say the refs are doing their best, that it's very hard, and it all averages out. That's simply not true; there is a distinct bias towards stars; some players become skilled at flopping, or charging and intentionally drawing contact, etc. The fact that it's a smart play to just drive at the hoop and draw contact is a reflection of a ridiculous problem in the rules. The whole idea of rules in sports is to force the game to be played in the elegant and beautiful way that the fans and players want to see (the Rugby and Soccer rules are some of the great examples of this, with the rule of Advantage, etc.). Problem #1B is that fouls slow down the pace of the game, and it's just no fun to watch a game that's jerking and halting; basketball games these days often have no flow, no story, no rhythm, because of all the fouls and other interruptions. Problem #2 is that the end of most basketball games is just horrible and anti-climactic. A good spectator game should be like a battle, a drama, and the end should be the climax. Instead, we have end of games that are a series of time outs and fouls, with long commercials and foul shooting in between, hardly any play. The last 1 minute of a basketball game can take 15 minutes of real time. Instead of a final push of excitement, the loser goes out wheezing and desperate. Problem #3 is that the foul penalty is not as bad as giving up the shot - that is, 2 free throws is worth less than 2 points, so it's in your best interest to foul someone rather than give up an easy basket. This leads to things like the hack-a-Shaq and the intentional fouls at the end of games that are a foul distortion of the play.

The key issue here is with close games and with the end of the game, because that's really the key moment we're watching for. Imagine a tie game with a minute left to play. That should be incredibly exciting - it all comes down to this, the crucial moments, the big plays! What really happens in the NBA in these situations? Almost always a tedious, painful viewing experience, with the problems I describe above. This should be the best part of the game, not the worst!

So, how might we fix these? Well, one step is easy - reduce the number of time outs, and get rid of the rule that the time out advances the ball to mid court. Perhaps also limit how often you can take a time out. The next thing to address is the fouls. Part of the problem with the fouls is that when a ref sees contact and isn't sure whose fault it is, they'll just randomly pick someone and call the foul. This call is easily biased by stars, floppers, etc. A far better option is to simply not call the foul if you aren't sure who did it. If there's contact and it's not clear that one side is at fault, you let it go. Now, this will result in far fewer foul calls and could lead to more contact, but you can fix that easily, you simply have to make it worse when a foul actually is called. We can preserve the two-shot foul shot, but make each shot count for 2 points. Another option would be to keep the foul shots the same, but make them like a technical foul, you retain posession of the ball. This makes it very undesirable to commit fouls. We could also change the foul-out from 6 to 3 or something like that. Basically the goal is to make it more like a yellow/red card in soccer - penalties are rarely called and they don't interrupt the flow of the game, but when they are called, they're quite bad, so it keeps the players from just constantly fouling each other. The result is that the normal flow of the game can go on for much longer stretches, there's more pure play, less of the officials getting involved in the outcome of the game and breaking up the drama.

This kind of thinking is of course crucial in game development. You have to decide how you think the game is best played. Many designers chafe at this - they protest "the player paid for the game, they should be able to play however they want!". Not so, the goal is to encourage the kind of play that will be most satisfying for the player. Rules and penalties are important to keep the game played the way it will be most satisfying. This is most obvious in multiplayer games, but it's certainly true in single player games too. Part of the reason is that in a single player game, you are not only the avatar in the game, you are also a spectator whatching the story of your avatar unfold, and it's a better story if you are winning through prowess, not exploits.


6-14-05

The Dems and Reps are both far more extreme than the majority of Americans. The obvious question is - why don't they move to the middle in order to win more votes? Well, there are a lot of reasons, one is they want to motivate the big donors which tend to be motivated by polarizing issues, another is that the middle is very lazy and tends not to vote or take action, while the extremes are very active, etc. Regardless, the fact remains that if the Dems moved to the middle, they could probably take a majority and win congress and the presidency. One way, for example, might be to adopt low-tax and low-spending policies, as well as aggressive foreign policy, but stick with libertarian moral agenda - this is a position so far to the middle, it's almost like what the Republicans were in the old "ideal" days (see previous post). Now, one problem with this is that when the Dems move to the middle, the actual overall state of American politics would move way to the right, because the bisection of the Dems and Reps would move far to the right. That is, if Dems are currently a 1 and Reps a 9, the average now is 5, but if the Dems move to a 4, the average becomes 6.5 Thus, the short term affect would be a severe rightward shift of policy. On the other hand, the Dems would then control the middle ground, and once they have control they could move back to the left. Unfortunatley, the populace is a bunch of wishy-washy morons, and their liberal/conservative scale is entirely relativistic. That is, once the Dems move to be a "4", the populace and the media redefine that as a "1", and the entire scale is reset with the rather extreme "6.5" now considered middle of the road. This is roughly what happened with the Dems under Clinton, when they moved to a far more conservative position (supporting wellfare limits, free trade, etc.), which immediately got redefined as extremely liberal.

Tom rightly points out that this is roughly what the labor party has done in England ; by moving severely to the middle/right they've controlled politics for years now. Part of the problem is that the voters are fickle. If labor has some scandal (such as Blair on Iraq), the voters will vote for the opposition even if their politics are much more aligned with labor. The voters simply like to switch parties every few years, sort of to show the politicians who's boss, and because they get sick of the same flavor.


6-14-05

Movies never show people having sex with condoms. Of course that absolutely does affect the behavior of the youth. I was thinking, when a sex-crazed violent thug like 50 Cent becomes an accepted pillar of popular culture, obviously that has a major affect on behavior, but it's not entirely what you would naively suspect. Yes, it glorifies that behavior for the people who listen to his music and want to behave like that (the target audience), but a huge piece of the pie is in how it affects the outside group - people who don't really listen to him or behave like him, the parents, the law makers, etc. - they become biased toward seeing that behavior as normal, and it also gives them a mental excuse for why their kids behave that way. Similarly, shows like "The Real World" not only make kids want to get drunk and have lots of sex, it also makes out of touch adults think that it's normal for kids to do that, so when their own kids are getting drunk and sleeping around, the parents are more inclined to think "that's what kids do these days", which in turn faccilitates that behavior because it's not punished/stigmatized/etc.


6-13-05

One of the brilliant realizations of the Bush administration is that the best way to get away with something is to do it in plain view. When you do any act that's questionable, possibly immoral, unethical - if you try to hide it, and then some reporter uncovers it, that makes it big news, everyone pays attention, there's a "hero" reporter and a scandal you were covering up, even if it wasn't a big deal. Conversely, if you do something unbelievably heinous, but never try to hide it, it's hardly news at all, it's not covered, no one cares.

I listened to an interview about white collar crime. One of the ridiculous things about modern white collar crime is that you can commit heinous crimes and be totally unpunished if you didn't realize it was illegal and harmful. This makes it the burden of the prosecutor to prove that you knew what you were doing was wrong, which is incredibly difficult. One of the things prosecutors use is any evidence that you were covering up your actions, trying to hide them, destroy evidence. Thus we return to the idea that if you just commit your crimes out in the open and never try to hide them, you go unpunished.

The news media doesn't know how to handle events that ramp up slowly or continue for a long time. Reporting and TV news are all about big edge events, sudden, breaking, exciting news. Thus, things which happen gradually can easily slip through the cracks and be consigned to back pages.

Most young people don't even know what Watergate is (see my previous post); I blame not the young people, but our woeful education system, which has almost zero accuracte modern history. Furthermore, I think newspapers could do a lot of good if they would include a paragraph or two of context with each major story; eg. instead of the 1000's of words wasted on this pointless nonsense about the revelation of who Deep Throat was, spend a few of those words on reminder context.


6-12-05

When you're arrested for "resisting arrest", what arrest exactly are you resisting?


6-12-05

"Kinsey" is a terrible movie. It's told as a straightforward period hero movie, with villians opposing him, and our hero struggling on despite their small minds, and triumphing in the end, publishing his great work and helping people to be sexually free. It's "Seabiscuit" with sex. The problem with this is that it's a massive distortion of reality. The truth is that Kinsey was highly nonscientific, and was discredited by the legitimate scientists of his time. In his later days, he was having sex with many of his assistants, filming his subjects having sex with each other and with his assistants, and using "science" as a white-wash and excuse for his sexual adventures. One of the big problems with his method was how he sampled for the survey. His survey was not done randomly on a cross section of the populace. Rather, he intentionally surveyed groups that he found interesting or willing - usually actors, dancers, homosexuals, etc. - fringe groups that were far more sexually active than the average. This was part of his agenda; he was certainly not trying to do an impartial survey, rather he was trying to justify his own oddity by trying to show that fringe sexual behavior is very common. Indeed, it was valuable that he brought fringe sexuality into the mainstream discussion, but his figures are garbage, and no sex researcher uses them. In the movie he complains that we don't know the truth about whether some sexual activity is really common or not, and Kinsey did not help with that problem at all. He tortured his wife with his sexual escapades, and he himself descended into deeper and deeper depravity in order to get off; he became a masochist, and was eventually unable to orgasm without inflicting severe pain to himself. Now, I don't have a big problem with movies that fictionalize history and distort it; my big problem here is that the distortion is far less interesting than the truth. The real Kinsey story is full of ambiguity and depravity, a very exciting story indeed of a twisted, flawed man who still does good for society.


6-12-05

"Nepenthe" in Big Sur has great hot sandwiches (burgers, chicken, etc.) and amazing views; you pay for it, of course, but it's not ridiculous. A little further up the road in the "town" (more like a hamlet) of Big Sur is another restaurant and cafe with a gas station out front ($3.60 for regular unleaded); the restaurant is decent, but the bakery is superb, have a treat and an espresso. The Tanbark Trail follows a river through stands of big coastal redwoods and lush under-forest up the hillside.


6-11-05

It's ridiculous that we use federal money to bail out 1) Hurricane victims who live in well known hurricane-prone areas, and 2) private companies that fuck up their finances, like Long Term Capital, all the S&L's, the many pensions that are now failing, the insurance companies after 9/11 or any big disaster, etc. etc. These are examples of people taking risks; if it goes well, they want to keep all the upside for themselves, but if it goes badly, they want help bearing the downside. Case 1 applies to people who live in flood planes, fire-prone forests, etc. as well - if they want to take the risk of living in stupid ass places like Florida, okay, fine, but it's their risk, I shouldn't have to bail their asses out. and 2) it's ridiculous that the execs and investors can all reap huge profits, then the company goes bankrupt and the taxpayers bail them out; they should be personally responsible and pay from their pockets first, and what's more they shouldn't be able to take dangerous risks with money that's backed by the FDIC or anything like that.


6-11-05

In Bolivia, there is great unrest over many issues. Roughly, Bolivia has a massive majority of poor native Indian people, and a small minority of rich, powerful, corrupt European caucasian people. The poor majority is successfully staging an uprising against the malicious minority and the self-interested meddling of international powers like the IMF and foreign corporations which are trying to privatize and exploit the country's natural resources (water, oil, land, lumber). One issue which first bothers me is the idea of ownership of natural resources. How can private foreign companies come in and take ownership of the oil which is under the ground everyone owns? Theoretically the resources under the ground, in the sky, etc. are owned by the government, and the government should represent all the people, and give access to those resources for the benefit of all the people. In reality, in Bolivia, as everywhere else, the government sells off the rights at a severe discount, which provides great profits to the few at the expense of the many. This has already happened in America, where our government gave away massive amounts of land to the major developers (notably the railroad magnates) and continues to lease the mineral and lumber rights on national land at severe discounts. The problem with this line of thinking is that if you take it to its natural conclusion, you'll wind up with the idea that no corporation should be able to own any natural resources at all.

The powerful minority in Bolivia is trying to figure out how to retain power but regain peace. Their callow proposal is to separate the small, oil-rich region they control and the large indigenous region. Most likely, that plot will fail. The correct way to retain power is to give in. Give up power, speak for "democracy", but also speak of "capitalism" and "opportunities", give some of the Indians a taste of advancement and wealth, let them think all of them can acheive that success in a "free market" system. Let them compete, but of course retain control of your power networks and corporations and wealth. Let them choose their own trap, let them cheer for "freedom".


6-09-05

The best fast food available is -
1) Subway; now that they toast, their subs are better than Quiznos,
2) Wendy's Meditteranean Chicken Salad, basically a decent Greek salad, reasonably fresh, though the chicken is cold,
3) Jack in the Box's Bruschetta Chicken sandwich, good quality bun, real fresh basil and tomatos in the sandwich, I recommend it with no cheese and no mayo.


6-09-05

Culture in America is preserved only in tourist attractions. [...]


6-09-05

Back in CA, lovely to be home. Hmm.. I'm bored, maybe I'll drive to Canada ?

Random things along the way - Elko Nevada, a mining town, has the stinkiest men I've ever met (B.O. smell) and lots of sad sad bars with men sitting silently in the dark drinking slowly; near Salt Lake City there are many crazy sights - an art work set out in the lake that's like a tree with planets growing on it, made of metal and 200 feet tall; a huge smoke stack for a coal burning power plant, literally as tall as the mountain next to it; salt flats and playa where they race cars, turned to mud by recent rain; near Reno there are some super-hot hot springs which make steam rise out of the earth, and the dirt is hot to the touch; some sort of mining operation which has stripped the face of an entire giant mountain; in Iowa, the freeway rest stops have WiFi, most of the truck stops along I-80 have WiFi too; I watched two truckers get in a fist fight in a bathroom in Nebraska; two truckers in a Wendys in Iowa - they're fat, Russian twins, and they constantly have their arms around each other and whisper in each others' ears; so many dead deer on the sides of the highway through Illinois, Ohio; the toll roads from New York to Illinois cost about $10; the toll roads are like isolated systems, you're far from other traffic or the cities, there are very few entrances and exits, maybe 20 miles apart on average, and they have these areas you can pull over and buy gas and such without leaving the toll enclave; NPR is my savior, but I hate the way Terry Gross says "Fresh Air" so enthusiastically; everyone on NPR is using "iconoclastic" the wrong way, they're using it to mean "iconographic" or "seminal" which is entirely incorrect; the whole state of Nebraska stinks like cow shit and pig shit; Wyoming is insanely windy, I thought the hood of my car was going to be ripped off.


6-05-05

I woke up today and something clicked inside me - the trip was over. Unfortunately, I'm still in New York, and now I have to make it back to California.


6-05-05

Yesterday I took a bakery tour of New York, searching for rare and special treats, French and American pastries, brownies and cookies. I cheated and tried my first place a day earlier - Jacques Torres Chocolate in DUMBO. At Jacques' place I had an excellent hot chocolate, made to order simply with hot milk and grated chocolate; it's powerfully chocolaty, but not sickenly thick or heavy like many. The pain au chocolat at Jacques' was excellent, flaky buttery pastry and dark excellent chocolate, not too thick to overwhelm the pastry; however, the pain au chocolat was a bit old; they claim they bake it all day, but the foot traffic is not high enough to cycle the product quickyl. I started my morning at Balthazar near Broadway in Soho. I tried the "lemon brioche" and "fruit focaccia". Supposedly Balthazar is a great place for brunch, but it was jam packed and the wait was forever, so I took the pastries to go. The brioche was dry and stale, the focaccia is an unusual thing - fruit in the bread, with almonds and powdered sugar on top, not too much sweetness, good bread texture, but again stale; it was only 11 am, but I think they must have done all the baking early the night before. Next stop was the popular Magnolia Bakery in Greenwich Village. Mangolia is a major tourist stop now since it's been on Sex and the City (apparently it was even before then, just not as bad). I had a devil's food cupcake with cream cheese frosting, and a double fudge brownie with botterscotch topping (the plainest brownie I could choose). Everything here is covered in huge amounts of frosting and toppings, a bad sign already. The frostings are terrible - just an overwhelming uninteresting excess of sugar and butter and oil. The cupcake was dry and grainy, the brownie was sickeningly sweet with the topping; with the topping scraped off, it was decent, with a good heavy butter to make it moist and help the chocolat flavor come alive, but too heavy. Nearby Tartine is a French bistrot with their own patisserie ; it looks like a lovely place for brunch where you could get some fresh pastries. Their almond croissant is supposed to be the best in the city, but I found it dense and heavy, again stale; a good croissant is a masterpiece of simple decadence and balance - it should be light and flaky and buttery, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. The last stop of the day was the City Bakery near Union Square. The hot chocolate is famous, Chris had warned me it was thick, but I found it excessive and unpleasant; the chocolate flavor in the hot chocolate is not nearly as strong as Jacques', but it's far heavier and thicker, almost goopy. The chocolate chip cookie was disappointing as well, too buttery and heavy. But, to my pleasure, the highlight of the day was found at City Bakery - the "melted chocolate chip cookie". It's a chocolate-chocolate chip cookie where the chips are indeed melted and integrated into the dough; it was a bit crispy, but tender, not too heavy or grainy or dry, and the chocolate flavor is intense, even stronger than the hot chocolate, each bite is just a pure dose of beautiful pure chocolate flavor. It's the only item on the tour I would seek out and get again.
City Bakery hot choco fest
New York Metro best hot choco
New York Metro best choco chip cookies


6-04-05

One of the things that really disturbs me in New York is the lack of interactions with people. People don't look at you like another person, you're just part of the scenery. Most places it's rude to stare at other people without smiling, here people just look each other up and down. Most places if you look someone in the eye, they'll smile and look back, or look away uncomfortably or coyly. Here, it simply doesn't affect them, they don't react by looking at you or looking away, they just keep doing what they were doing. Of course I'm incredibly anti-social, so you'd think I'd fit it, but I don't like that I'm anti-social, and I like to be around social people to counter-balance my own AS.

Out with some of my sister's girlfriends last night. In the middle of a conversation, one of them mentioned "Black guys and puerto rican men *love* me". Wow. If you've ever been to New York, you know the men here are really aggressive with girls; it's far worse than the classic construction worker stereotype; they will literally hit on your girlfriend while you're holding her hand, press their bodies right up against her, etc. and by far the more aggressive are the african american and puerto rican (and also italian and cuban - more consisely, equatorial cultures). And yet, this girl had personalized it. Never mind that that guy on the corner has been hooting at every girl that walks by, when she walks by and get hoots it's because she's special, he really likes her. I never understood how this technique of hollering so agressively at every girl worked (except when they're really drunk, then it certainly works on everyone), but I guess this is how - some people are so hungry to be loved they don't care what form that love takes or where it comes from.


6-04-05

Dance review : "Chunky Move" , an Australian dance company sponsored by their government arts counsil, performed "Tense Dave" at the Dance Theater Workshop in Manhattan. This dance/drama follows a surreal sequence of vignettes centered around an anti-hero (Dave) who is [...]

Art review : Daniel Buren's in-situ installation at the Guggenheim. The Guggenheim museum has long been the locus of a battle in the war between art and site. Wright's fanciful spiral ramp and top-heavy facade are far more famous than any painting inside, and more powerful; this tradition is continued by men like Frank Gehry and Calatrava who create flamboyant architecture that steals the show. Daniel Buren's installation does not try to do battle with the architecture of the Guggenheim, to overpower it and win your attention back to the art - rather, he harmonizes with it, accentuates it, and plays with it. His iconic vertical bars are placed around the museum, highlighting the curves and corners; he adds mirrors and colored windows which cast the architectures in new lights, literally. As you wander around the old exhibits, which seem like odd bystanders in this duet, you find his mark in unexpected corners, painted on the building's white walls. A few of his pieces are too whimsical, too psychadelic, but otherwise he correctly lets the real star shine. In the end, Buren's work does what good art should - it shakes your perception of an old icon so that you see it in new light and appreciate it anew.


6-02-05

The incredible density of New York City leads to many interesting side effects. I've never been to Tokyo or other cities around the world, but NY is just staggeringly dense. Compared to the US's other big cities - Boston, Chicago, San Francisco - it's totally different. Even compared to places like London and Paris it feels different. London and Paris don't have all the high rises throughout the city, and there are many quiet streets; in NY it seems nearly every street you walk down is packed. This means there's a ton of stuff going on everywhere. There are these nasty little hard-top parks where people play sports, and they're all packed. There are events going on everywhere. Last night I was walking home and I passed a square where they were showing Ferris Bueller outside, projected on a big screen with a crowd gathered around.

Ate Peruvian food last night; it was quite excellent, Peruvian food is similar to other South American food, perhaps a bit like Cuban food, which is to say it's mainly meat and rice (or plantain or yuca) with spices, the differentiating factor being the spices, which are earthy but more herbaceous than the Mexican palate (which is dominated by the earth and smoke of cumin and peppers).

I know it's been said a million times in bad poems, but the landscape of the city really does remind me of wilderness. The city streets are canyons, the cliff walls of buildings towering on both sides; the traffic is a river, ever flowing; in the distance, the great range of big sky scrapers looms high against the sky.

It's funny how it's very easy to mistype words that sound alike. For example, their are words I often misplace. This isn't like "accept" where I actually make a mistake; if my mind is focused on the spelling, I'll always get "their" or "there" right, but if I'm just thinking about the content and thinking ahead about what I'll say next, I can often type the wrong spelling. It seems to me that this indicates that the language portion of the human brain is working phonetically. That is, when we engage in writing, what's actually happening is we're having thoughts in some deep part of the brain; some higher level translates those into structure, sentences, but not yet words; the next level then turns them into words - and this is really a speaking function; in order to write, we simply cut off the link from the speaking brain to the lips, and instead some other part of the brain watches what the speaking brain is doing and turns those sounds into spelling. Of course mistakes can be made in each part of the operation, and one of the cool things about the brain is that it's massively parallel and the various portions work autonomously, so the portion of the brain that's doing the sound -> spelling translation is doing it independently, like a stenographer, and it's not really aware of the meaning of the sounds, that's in an earlier part of the brain. If that earlier part of the brain is paying attention, it will correct you as you go. This sort of brain model is being proven now with things like FMRI (Functional MRI) which show the indepedent bits working and the neurons that are like network cables between these independent bits where they communicate. I think you don't need the FMRI, you just need to engage another part of your brain which can sit and watch the rest of your brain work.


6-01-05

New York City is very depressing to me. You think you're good looking? 10 better looking people just walked by. You think you have cool hip fashion sense? Not here, your style is so last season. You think you're a good cook? The restaurant right next door sells braised pork shank with carmelized figs in an apple brandy reduction, cheap and fast. You're a good dancer? Political? A painter? Not here you're not. You're a dabbler, you're an enthusiast, oh, and by the way, get your shit together, you're holding up the line / blocking traffic / blocking the sidewalk.

Driving into New York was quite the ordeal. New York drivers are by far the worst I've ever encountered. I don't mind the weaving around lanes, the honking, etc. that's just agressive, and that's necessary in a crowded city. The huge moronic thing here is that everyone blocks the intersections, which then fucks up the traffic going the cross direction and just slows everyone down overall. If people wouldn't pull into the damn intersections all the time, all the traffic would flow so much better. The other thing that's really annoying here is that if you are at all polite or reasonable, the other drivers get mad at you. For example, if you don't run over the pedestrian in front of you, the drivers behind you will honk; if you don't run a red light, they'll often honk, etc. I'm also having to move my car every day because of the insane parking hours thing. All the spots here have various exclusions, a lot of them are no parking 8am - 6pm ; the others have street cleaning hours when you have to move your car, things like no parking MWF, midnight to 3am. He's a quiz - when it says "no parking Tuesday midnight - 3am" - what does that mean exactly? Is the the evening of Tuesday or the morning of Tuesday? The answer is the morning of Tuesday; I find their use of "midnight" objectionable, and of course military time sure would help.

My sister wants a system where she and her employees can update an Outlook-like Calendar with PDA's and have them all update to each other over a cell network. After an hour on the phone with Sprint, it appears this is possible, but mighty complicated and expensive. You have to set up a dedicated server somewhere, either on your machine or in some server farm colocated somewhere. You have to run Exchange Server on it, which is very expensive. You also have to run their cell server, for Sprint it's the Business Connection Enterprise Edition. Then with your PDA/cell service you have to pay for connectivity to that, and they serve you updates over SMS. It's very difficult to figure out how to do this stuff, because their web sites are shit, and when you call them up, you get complete morons. All these companies have tiered tech support now. When you first call, you get a screener who's a complete moron. They quickly pass you off to a Tier 1 person. The Tier 1 person is basically a moron who's had some training and can read the web pages to you, but knows nothing. The trick then is to convince the Tier 1 person that you need better help so they'll pass you up. Unfortunately, my Tier 1 person had an attitude problem where they didn't want to admit they were a moron, even though I kept asking questions they couldn't answer; finally they passed me up to Tier 2. The Tier 2 person is reasonably competent and can often help you, though it's still the kind of person who doesn't actually understand the concept of applications, files, and networks. Unfortunately, these people deal with absolute moron callers 99.99% of the time ("my cell phone doesn't work" "is it turned on?" "oh, oops"), so they treat you pretty badly. I chatted with the Tier 2 person a while and got them to happily transfer me to a Technician. The Technician actually know what a computer is. Unfortunately, my Technician wasn't familiar with these exact applications and what I'm trying to do. Sigh.

It's crucial to bounce your ideas off other people. Someone like me who sits and percolates in my own broth will metally wander off and produce loads of silly bullshit. A few minutes of conversation and seeing someone else's reaction can give you a test of what ideas are actually interesting, and where you're way off base.

I've discovered someone near my sister has an open WiFi. Yay!


5-31-05

Happy birthday to me. I'm 28. Two more years before it's officially pathetic when I play frisbee with myself.

On the way in to New York I took the scenic route out of Pennsylvania to go through Amish country. I've been there before, when I was a kid, but two things really strike me now - 1) lots of hotels in these random little towns; how odd for it to be a tourist attraction to just go and be near some humans who live simply; 2) I saw an Amish guy on a modern hip cruiser bicycle, which looked very weird; I also saw an Amish guy on one of those old foot-pushed scooters that you stand on with the big rubber tires, like people my age had in the 80's (of course, it was cool, so I didn't take a picture).s


5-30-05

Still in Pennsylvania with family.

The Robert Horry Factor.

My back is killing me from all the driving and crappy beds. I dream of doing things like the Peace Corps, but my body is such a wreck, I can't handle hard living. I think my youth of computer obsession has permanently crippled me. It's odd because I look so fit, but in reality I'm a mess, I have pinched disks, a bone spur on my spinal chord, locked hips, displaced vertebrae, bound facia, etc. etc.

For some reason I find highways numbering really interesting. As I drive around I try to predict what the next highway's number will be. Over the years I've guessed at the system, but I guess you could just look it up online. The even numbers go east-west, the odd numbers go north-south. The multiples of 10 are the major E-W interstates, and they start lowest in the south with the 10, highest in the north. The tens plus 5 (like 45) are the major N-S interstates, and they start in the west with the 5, end east with the 95. The other evens and odds below 100 are semi-major highways that fill in the gaps. The 100's are offshoots of the corresponding sub-100, so like the 110 is an offshoot of the 10, meaning it connects to it and runs roughly parallel. The 200's are transfers or connections, so like the 210 is a highway that takes you to the 10, connects to it, but is not equivalent. The 600's are local loops, again labelled by the sub-100 they connect with. I'm not sure what the other 100's are, the 300's, 400's and 500's. I know the 405 in LA is of course related to the 5, but I can't figure out what the 400 means; maybe it indicates an alternate route for a portion of the sub-100.

Cotton thread count is the new shaving razor blade-count. People blindly think larger numbers are better. 300 thread count used to be deluxe, now it's 400, 500 - I saw 650 the other day; I'm not even sure why higher thread count has any beneficial properties.

How arrogant of us to call ourselves "American". That's a label for the people from two entire *continents* and we take it to mean just us. That's sort of like using the word "human" to refer to whites, it's supremely disrespectful of all other people who should be included under that label.

The defining characteristic of separate species is that they don't (willingly) mate. For example, horses and donkeys are separate species because they will not willingly mate, even though they are capable of copulating and producing young. The many types of domestic cat are not separate species because they will eagerly mate. The many types of big cats are separate species because they will not mate, even though they could produce offspring. Based on this definition, I conclude that ugly people and hot people are different species.

One of the crappy things about getting older and dating older girls is that they have more sexual history, roughly proportional to their age, though there is a lot of variance. I have a very hard time being with girls with a big sexual history; I can't stop wondering about what they've done. It's sort of like in Amelie or "Jeux d'Enfants". I imagine I'm a person who can touch a thing and suddenly have images of the past of that thing.

I'd like to do a video study on how blind people dance. Not people who went blind, only people born blind - people who have no idea of what "proper" dancing looks like, people who just move naturally to the music, unselfconcious, unaware of other people looking at them.

I'm dating a girl I really love, but I still think about meeting girls. I always have, I guess I always will; it's not that I really want to, in life I'm perfectly faithful, it's just that the romantic dream of meeting is always there; I'm bombarded with meeting fantasies in pop culture - all romance is about the new thing, not the lovely old thing. I dream of going out and picking up chicks, but the whole point of that is to meet someone great, so why would you want it when you have someone great?

I used to think I needed to get better at relating to ordinary people and enjoying their company. Not so. Ordinary people are shit. I need to find the good people, and stick with them and be good to them and cultivate those relationship - they're rare and special and worth it.

The Bridge Bust is a fair on the bridge over the Susquehana between Wrightsville and Columbia, quaint small towns in Pennsylvania. They close down the whole bridge and set up booths with crafts and crap and people walk around. The original bridge was burnt by the Confederates when they retreated across it, and at the fair they recreate the burning. Some of the old country homes and farms around here are just amazing.

I've been reading Michael Crichton's book "Travels". It's not fiction, it's a collection of non-fiction essays about his many wild adventures. It's rather a strange reading experience, because it's quite interesting, but I absolutely despise him, and it's strange reading the words of someone you despise; a sarcastic voice in my head does running commentary along with his narrative, picking on him, and pointing out the gross errors in his prose. Mike is a whiny, rich, lucky, spoiled bastard, who drives around in a Porche and dates young starlets nearly half his age, a different one each week; he of course is not happy with his riches and fame and women, so he seeks fulfillment in new age spiritualism and exotic travel. He goes on wild exclusive jaunts, like trekking to Shangri-La (in the near-Himalayan mountains of Pakistan), or to see the wild mountain gorillas in Rwanda (similar to what that Gorillas in the mist lady did). His insights into people and life are incredibly shallow and self-serving, generally rationalizing his own childish behavior. He has one whole essay about how people love to fear wild animals even though they're not dangerous (eg. people are afraid of snakes and spiders but they are incredibly unlikely to hurt you - the real things to fear are cars, hamburgers, cigarettes, etc); he comes to various silly conclusions and completely misses the right answer - people love to be afraid of those things because they aren't really dangerous, and it distracts us from the real fears; we don't want to see horror movies that are realistic, that would be terrible, we can escape the really scary things by pretending to be afraid of silly thing. One positive thing I get from the book is just the idea of making treks for really specific wild purposes. Generally when I travel I just like to go some place and be there; I don't even like to plan to see the tourist sites or anything, I want to meet the people there, wander, explore, just be there. That's all well and good, but it can give you a sense of pointlessness, and it doesn't generally lead to good summaries of what you did. If instead you make some random specific purpose, like kayak down the Nile, you can go and "just live" for a while before your central activity, then "just live" a few days after, and you have this focal purpose to give the trip an anchor. I like that idea, I think I'll do it in the future. addendum - the book turns into a metaphysical load of new age shit in the end, please do not buy it.

Statistically, if you hook up with someone random, you're far more likely to hook up with someone who is extremely sexually active than someone who is not. The variance is extraordinary - there are people who have been with 100+ partners, and others who have been with 1-10. Those people have drastically different chances of hook up, perhaps 50% for one and 5% for the other.

The Republicans clearly should be happy that they are in power. However, if sensible Republicans would look down the road a bit, they should be very concerned. 1) they've cultivated the power of the religious right, which is A) increasing the power of fringe groups, and B) may create a backlash from mainstream America if it goes too far. 2) they've broken down any government based on truth, and made it all image and pitching and PR, which is good for them now since their PR machine is so much better than the Dems, but long term it means that you can't fight real bad actions, the judgement is all based on non-facts.

G Love ; I'm watching basketball! Screw John Tesh.


5-29-05

Why do they make toilets so high? Often I have to sit on my tip-toes, I imagine short people find their feet completely dangling; I find that very disgusting, somehow that connection with the earth keeps me from being completely in the control of this crap-covered porcelain monster. There seems to be almost no disadvantage with having a toilet too low, so why don't they err on the side of lower?

What species lives in more habitats and climates than any other? Homo Sapiens of course.

The vast majority of people at the veterans cemetery yesterday were very old, 70 or older, people who were contemporary to WW2 veterans, I imagine, spouses and friends and brothers of the dead. Most of our deceased veterans are from WW2, partly because those people are of the age where they're dying naturally, but also because that war was by far the most deadly in recent history. Even wars like Vietnam were pitifully harmless when compared to the great bloody war when this country made a true sacrifice. The young are taking their holiday and having fun. It's easy to romanticize WW2, because it was a just war, there was clear evil, and combat and strife for a good cause are ideals we can support. On the other hand, we didn't seem to care when the Japanese were torturing and enslaving people on the mainland, we didn't get mobilized because of what the Nazis were doing in ghettos and camps, rather we were mobilized for self-protection, and to compete with the USSR in the global power grab.

I'm crap at taking pictures. I never take pictures of the fun stuff. I used to want to be a photographer, because it's an easy way to be an artist with no talent, and the work seems great - you get to travel to cool places like war zones and night clubs and document the life there. You could also be a photographer of models or fashion where you'd get to pick up hot chicks. Unfortunately I find photography really boring, so despite my efforts to make myself get into it, I just can't. Especially these days when there are a bazillion great photos on the internet, why should I bother taking a photo of anything when I know a better one is already out there?

It must be annoying living near the border of Virginia and West Virginia. You'd get all kinds of confusion like "I'm in western Virginia" or, "it's in eastern West Virginia" ; I found myself saying "I'm in the western part of the state named Virginia, not in West Virginia".

Did you go to the University of Tennessee or Texas?

Pirates - we put the "Aarrrr" in robbery. (disclaimer : this might only be funny after sitting in a car by yourself for 10 hours).

Driving so much, I've been thinking about the "highway pickup". Many girls I know have told me that they met guys while driving, somehow flirting with each other through the windows of their cars. I've never met a guy who has done so. I have no idea how such a thing could ever happen; it's easy to summarize, but what exactly happens in the details, how does it get started? How do you pass your phone number without crashing? You'd have to take both hands off the wheel to do numbers. There are a lot of these things in life where people will summarize events, and it sounds reasonable in summary, but I just cannot imagine for the life of me how the details are filled in.

Ate crabs last night; Crabs are associated with Pennsylvania for me because we always got them here when we visited (they're very popular here as a party food for gatherings), even though the crabs are all from Maryland or North Carolina. Apparently there are seasons for crabs and this is just the beginning of the season; they're best in summer, I guess. The other foods of Pennsylvania are sweet white corn (in August), Lebanon Bologna (best purchased from a real country curing barn in Lebanon, PA), and the weird Pennsylvania Dutch food like scrapple, hog maw, or pork & sauerkraut.

I think the key personality difference between Dems & Reps is that Dems consider it more admirable to live to a high moral standard and fail (aka be hyppocrites) while Reps consider it more admirable to live to a low moral standard (what some would consider "evil") and succeed.

When I went to pick up the crabs, I was going to use a cardboard box that my grandma had. She didn't want me to use it, because she liked that box and didn't want the crab juice dripping on it. I tried to explain to her that if I didn't have the box, it would be dripping on my car instead, and my car is rather more valuable than a cardboard box. She said, well, she needs that box, she likes it. I find most people act this way in their lives, and certainly our country acts this way in our foreign policy. We'd rather destroy something of great value to someone else than inconvenience ourselves in a small way. We'd rather destroy the natural resources of the earth, which will permanently affect the planet that billions of our children will live on, rather than pay a little more for gas or lumber or paper. We'd rather kill a hundred thousand Iraqis than risk the remote possibility of that country contributing to a terrorist threat which might possibly kill a few hundred of us. We'd rather use subsidies and restriction to prop up American mega-farms, plunging millions of Africans into poverty and famine, rather than make a few American farmers find other jobs. Of course, when I face my own decisions of whether to make a sacrifice for others or not, I usually choose the greedy path, though I strongly reject the idea that you can only preach standard to which you live.


5-29-05

In Pennsylvania now with my grandma and cousins. I hadn't planned for Memorial Day and it threw a wrench in my works; I hate holidays, they just mean a lot of traffic and all the camp sites are booked. Maybe if I ever actually had nice holiday parties I wouldn't hate them so much. Much of my life I've lived not on a normal work schedule, and I've come to love things like camping in the middle of the week, or going to the beach in LA in the middle of the week; it's deserted, and the few people who are there are a different type of people - free spirits or people on vacation; there's no traffic and lots of open space.

Camped in the Great Smoky Mountains (Appalaichans). There really are strange hicks out here. The town of Bryson is a quaint old mountain town, with lots of innertube rentals. Back East here, it seems like almost every little town is nestled in a picturesque valley, filled with history (often involving how we killed the Indians who originally lived there). When I got here it looked neither Great nor Smokey, more like the Nice Green Hills, but on my way out it was raining and the clouds were depositted in fog banks in the nooks and crannies of the mountains, and I saw the smoke. There really are hicks in the small towns around here. Saw lots of wild turkeys hiking out in the backwoods. Turkeys spot you or hear you from far away, and they fly a short distance and make a mad dash into the brush. They make horrible crashing sounds, they seem very clumbsy, but they get away well. Turkeys here are small and reddish brown. There are lots of bears here, I was hoping to see one and wrassle it, but I never saw one.


5-26-05

In South Carolina, visiting Drew (Drew says "USA! USA!"). We just had some crazy hick barbecue (not barbecued hicks, rather barbecue made and eaten by hicks) out in the country here, near Lexington. It's all pork BBQ, like pulled pork sandwiches; around here it's mustard-based sauce; in other parts of the state it's vinegar-based, they get into big fights about it. Drew has a great house in the country right on a lake, and he can do a mean powerslide in his 'vette.

Stopped in Athens, Georgia. Nice area, lots of old houses, lots of trees; walked around the botanical gardens. The downtown area is really cool, lots of nice cafes and restaurants and cool shops and stuff. It's about the same population as San Luis Obispo, but so much more is going on, the area is beautiful. Unfortunately it's blazing hot in the summer.

Southern kindness, my ass! People here are just as unhelpful as everywhere else. Maybe they're a bit more polite in their verbiage, but not one actually helps when you ask for things.


5-25-05

Alabama has these giant Fireworks stores, like the size of grocery stores, full of a million kinds of fireworks I've never heard of. There's one in Shelton, for example.

Georgia has "Package Stores". From what I can tell they're a type of liquor store; the only difference with a normal liquor store seems to be that they're not allowed to sell single beers, but everything is very cheap.

Most of the cities down here in the south have no NPR station, but they have an abundance of christian news/talk stations.


5-25-05

Late night NO, just got back to the hostel after a night out. I went jogging this afternoon in the unbelievable heat and humidity; I took my camel back, and my body was transformed into a water-flushing station, I must have taken in a liter and sweated out a liter. Went to the Preservation Hall to see some old-school New Orleans jazz. This place is a gem - great music, cool old place, blazing hot with a ton of people packed in a little room with no AC. I met a girl there, Petra, who was also road-tripping, she just going around the South Eastern states. We went out afterward and had a drink. Music everywhere, some good, some bad. I wound up leaving Petra and found the street musicians I saw last night - just a mob of young black kids playing brassy band jazz with funky beats; it was just like a neighborhood dance party in the street, their friends were there dancing away, strangers stopping and joining in. The locals were amused by my dancing, they pointed and laughed and we all had a ball.

I'm not trying to meet girls on this trip, but I do like to meet people and talk to them, and it's just impossible to meet a guy and have a conversation, you men are so brusque and unemotional around other guys; the only people I can easily meet are girls that are cruising. I can chat a bit with girls that are with some other guy, but their attention is elsewhere.

I saw Antonio Esfandiari tonight. (for those of you out of the loop, he's a top poker pro, made famous by the WPT, but many of us consider him a jackass and rather lucky). This will be the 3rd celebrity of met and trash-talked! It's so much fun, I encourage anyone who meets a celebrity, do not just adulate them, flame them! They must get it all the time, I'm sure they're not amused, but it's great fun. It went something like this - me, not sure : "Antonio Esfandiari?" him, trying to get a cab - "you got it, kid" , me : "let's play some poker" , him - "not today, I'm playing tomorrow", me : "you scared of me?" , him - "yeah, I would destroy you, save your money" - me - "what are you gonna do?" - this is where I wave my arms in the classic Antonio way; his friends all laugh as he gets in the cab to drive away.

I hate people who are always in a "correcting" mode, even if they're often wrong. I realize I'm like that.


5-24-05

Everywhere I go there are people talking about wanting to get into the video game business. I try to discourage them.

New Orleans is fan freaking tastic. It's a great party town, great jazz, fun bars, you can drink on the street and wander from bar to bar, the girls are wild and showing their tits all the time, everyone is dancing and having fun, and the quarter is cool, small streets with all the people crammed together. What's more, it has the history and food and great antique shops and such which make it interesting during the day. The India House Hostel is cool; it's very social and fun. The beds are horrific and the place is generally in disarray, I've hardly slept. Some guy in bunk room kept having nightmares last night, he'd yelp in his sleep every ten minutes. My aching back!!

Met some girls from Oregon last night who were here on business trip; they bought me drinks on their expense account. A lot of the drinks are cheap here, you can get $1 beer on the street and $2 beer in bars, and not Bud Light, but decent beers like the local Abita and Sam Adams or Newcastle.

New Orleans is an olfactory experience. Bourbon street is all tourist's perfume, puke and spilled beer. The Garden District is heavy and musky, with moss and mold and magnolia. The heat and humidity are sensual.

Saw Star Wars for the 2nd time. I liked it, but it didn't really hold up for me on 2nd viewing, though Natalie Portman's performance seems even better, the fact that she's able to convey some real emotion despite the ridiculous non-acting of Hayden Christiansen. The thing that really made it drop off for me was the CG. First time I saw it the CG just blew me away - the level of detail and realism - but now some thigns really annoyed me. The background and metallic stuff is still very good for the most part, but the organic stuff sucks. I *hate* that stupid lizard thing that Obi-Wan rides, it moves so horribly, and its shaders are poor - it looks like something from Babylon 5, all shiny and gay. I *hate* that they put CG bodies on the storm troopers even when they're using human heads - it would be CHEAPER to just use a real human for the whole trooper and it would look so much better. I know there might be a consistency issue, but that sets their standard for rendering the CG guys - make them look like the real one. Yoda still bugs me, and all the bits where the humans become obvious CG in their lightsaber fights (Count Dooku becomes CG pretty badly a few times). It's amazing how good human eyes are at picking up when something is off, even if you can't figure it out in your conscience mind. A lot of times I'll see some background and think "ugh, fake CG", but I can't say exactly what makes it look wrong unless I think about it for a long time. Somehow the subconscious can tell something is wrong, but it takes the conscious mind a completely separate analytical effort to explain it - the funny bit here is that the realization it's fake and the justification are totally independent mental actions.


5-22-05

Datagrams and the Network of Trust : a new model for the internet. There's a ton of great information out there on the net that's not indexed by any search well. One example I'm thinking of are all the bits of goodies that people write in blogs. I want to be able to search those bits based on their subject, and of course also using something like the "NoT" to rate their content based on my connections and opinions. So the blog is not indexed as an entire page, but each paragraph or each "datagram" is indexed on its own by topic. There are lots of sources of these datagrams - blog entries, ordinary web pages, news & forum posts, review sites like epinions or igougo, etc. Of course you can't rank this stuff using the silly Google ranking based on links from other places, since most of these things aren't linked. You have to just know the subject, and then you rank the datagram just based on something like NoT - it's ranked by how I rank the source of the information (eg. do I trust this guy, or do I trust someone who trusts them, etc.)

Another thought on the NoT - I heard this interview on NPR with the head of the French national library. He was complaining about the fact that Google has a US bias. He totally understood the Google ranking. Some stupid bitch from Google was interviewed as well and didn't understand his point at all, she just kept saying Google's ranking was like a democracy where the internet voted for the page ranks. The French dude made two perfectly valid points about how the Google rankings are biased - 1) Google ranks have massive inertia, because once a page is highly ranked, people visit it even more, so it gets linked more, and 2) the Internet at the moment is massively U.S. content dominated, so the ranks of pages is heavily U.S. biased. The problem is if I'm some French dude, I want to see rankings based on my culture, my worldview, pages that matter to me, not to that American scum. Of course the anser to this is just the NoT. It provides page rankings that are customized to your own worldview, so if you are in a different culture and have a different set of connections, you get those pages.

I miss the good old Republicans. Of course, they never really existed, Republicans have always been fractured and corrupt just like the Democrats, but there's this idealized image of what the party was about, really in the 70's and 80's - the old idealized Republican was pro-business, free markets, civil liberties, balanced budgets, small government, less regulation, etc.. Now, like I said, that never happened, in reality the Repubs have presided over some of the worse imbalanced budgets and huge government growth, but it was the ideal. Now, I also disagree with that ideal in many ways, but I can at least respect it! It's a valid alternative view of how to run our society, and we could debate about it and reach a compromise, and it would be cool. I think it's great to have people with alternative views and we can all debate and learn from each other. I miss the good old idealized republican.


5-22-05

Jobs, religion, TV, booze - ways to avoid being alive.

Being alive I measure analytically by your frequency of "active actions". I know that's redundant; the first step is an "active choice". Then an "active action" occurs when you turn an active choice into actual action, eg. you do what you decided, just thinking is not enough. An "active choice" occurs when you make a decision about something that you don't need to decide about, eg. no one else is making you even think on this topic, you chose to think about it on your own, eg. it's outside of your routine, it doesn't come from an external force. The frequency & "activity" of "active actions" is your rating for "being alive".

It's so hot and humid in Houston, if you go outside and do anything physical, you're immediately drenched in sweat, just coated in liquid. It sort of feels good, it makes me want to have sex (even more so that usual).


5-22-05

When most people think about communism failing, they think about it failing from the top. That is, any sort of idealized communist/socialist/marxist or cooperative scheme is doomed to failure because some power-hungry, greedy people will take over at the top and turn it into a system that works for their benefit, and it will just be a form of Fascism. Now, this may be true, but I think it's much more depressing that communism is doomed to fail from the *bottom*. It's depressing, because I think Marxism is a beautiful ideal, and the fact that the very people at the bottom who it would help most are bound to destroy it, that's sad. The way I see it failing at the bottom is primarily through laziness and cheating on the social contract. That happens when workers don't work reasonably hard because they know others will cover their slack. It also happens when people don't treat community property well. Of course this happens in America all the time. Staying in hotels I think about how the American culture advocates trashing hotels and taking advantage of "the system". That is, run the AC with the window open, run the water and flood the bathroom, etc. etc. - you're not paying, fuck 'em. Of course it's not "the man" who pays - it's everyone who stays in the hotel. By fucking with a shared resource, you penalize everyone who uses it.


5-22-05

Hardly ever in my life have I ever been taken on a date. A few great people did it a few great times, but in this day & age of supposed equality, when are the girls going to step up and take some initiative? I don't even mean the asking out, that's a whole other issue, but once we're together, a couple, how about you plan our night out for once?

I'm partly doing this trip so that I can tell people I did it. That sounds horrible, but it's not, bear with me. Many experiences are sort of mediocre, but are important to do, because not doing them is worse. Hell, almost every time I leave my house I regret it, I would actually have more fun at home, but I have to go out, because if I don't I feel like a bum staying home all the time, and you have to see different things, get stimulation, even if the experience isn't actually fun, it gives you food for thought, helps your mind stay grounded to reality and connected to the cosmos. The real reward then comes after you go back to your normal life and you can look back on it and remember.


5-22-05

Star Wars - wow, this movie was really good. Sure the acting is very bad and the dialog is weak, but the visuals and the audio are just so amazing that it makes up for those flaws. What's more, the directing and pacing are suprisingly good, and the story is quite engaging. Knowing how it all ends does not make the movie less engaging, in fact it's the very thing that drives it - we're eager to see it unfold. So this is how Vader is injured, etc. Some miscellaneous thoughts -

Get Jimmy "Suave" Smits and Sam Fucking Jackson out of my space opera!!

How lucky was George Lucas to get John Williams? Wow, the music is still great and it's really carried the franchise.

Natalie Portman really reminds me of my dear Dan; maybe those are just beer goggles. It reminds me - the movie Closer stinks terribly, but it has a nice strip-dance scene with Natalie that's almost worth it (no nudity though) (also, Clive Owen does a great Pacino impersonation that's quite entertaining).

Huzzah to Lucas for putting in the political subtext. Star Wars was always a bit of a hippie message against power, but with this movie he's very obviously tied it to current events, and done it with lines that are obvious enough even for the pathetic average American to pick up on, like - "If you're not with me, you're my enemy" . Apparently there are lots of stories on this floating around, such as , so I won't dwell on it.

I'm sure I've written this before, but I really hate the whole Metachlorians thing, and more generally the way the Jedis are super-powered in these movies. Let's go back to when we saw the first Star Wars. Coming out of that movie, I wanted to be a Jedi so bad, and the powers of the Jedi were not ridiculous. The Force was just the energy that binds us all. If you close your eyes, maybe you could feel it! Certainly in the arms of your lover you could close your eyes and feel the power of the Force between you. The Jedi trained hard, controlled their minds and emotions, and developed quick reflexes and steady nerves and the power to feel the Force. Maybe I could do that too if I was pure and good and worked hard! What a beautiful dream. The new movies have crapped all over that. Jedis are not normal humans, they have these nano thingies in their blood that give them super powers to flip around and jump 100 feet in the air, etc. etc.

They could have done a better job connecting Episode 3 to Episode 4. As it is, the gear from Episode 4 that they link in looks very out of place and just silly low-budget (which it was). Most of the links were just pointless - Episode 4 is another 20 years or so in the future, there's no reason why Princess Leia's ship needs to be the same, and those guys need to be in the same uniforms. There are a billion logical flaws in the movie, I'm not here to point them out, Star Wars is not about logic, you have to set that aside.


5-22-05

Heard a press conference where Bushy said something like "these insurgents - they're brutal barbarians, you really can't relate to how they think" ; with rhetoric like this, is it any wonder that they hate us?

Heard an interesting interview with the new commerce secretary, Gonzalez, about the import limits we just imposed on Chinese textiles. It was an NPR interviewer who as usual was being polite and not really digging into hippocracy and contradiction and such, but the interviewer did poke a little bit, with a question like "how does this limit on textile imports fit into the administration's policy of free trade?" (this of course is happening while we're pushing for CAFTA), Gonzalez squirmed a bit, but then uttered one of those political statements that was very telling - "this administration's policy has been very clear and consistent - we support free trade around the world, to provide opportunities for American business to grow and reach more markets" , something like that - very clear in that the policy is to open markets for American companies, not to open markets in general, and there's no reason to open our own market, in fact the truth is we are one of the most protectionist countries in the world by far.

I finally finished the book about Rwanda - "We wish to inform you that we will be killed tomorrow with our families" (longest title ever). It's a very good book, everyone should read it and feel ashamed. There are any number of things in it that are just horrifying, but the thing that I keep thinking of is just the basic fact of human nature that most people are really really horrible people. That is, first I content that people in Rwanda are fundamentally just like people anywhere else (and places like Nazi Germany have mimic'ed this behavior). Second, in Rwanda when the Hutus were slaughtering the Tutsis, nearly every single Hutu participated in one way or another - some by acting, most simply by going along, naming names, or even just by not objecting, not helping the Tutsis. Only a few did anything to try to stop it, maybe 1% of the populace or less. Add 1st and 2nd and you can only conclude that the vast majority of humans, when confronted with the decision to either oppose a massive horrific human tragedy, or go along with it to save their own skin, they'll choose the second one. I walk the streets and look into the eyes of my fellow men. If a genocidal group came to power here and they were advocating the whites killing all the minorities (and killing any whites that don't go along with the plan) - would you go along with it, or fight it? I look into the eyes of my fellow men, and see people who would go along with it. Afterward they would claim they did nothing themselves, that they didn't know it was a genocide, that they had no choice, they would be killed if they didn't go along with it. I see all those Hutus as guilty. I see all the Germans in Nazi Germany as guilty, I see the Indonesians who did nothing for Timor - guilty, the Turks who did nothing for the Kurds, guilty, and all these Americans walking the streets - not only are they guilty of inaction on various cases of American attrocities around the world, but they are guilty of potential inaction - that is, put in the same situation as the Hutus in Rwanda, their actions would be shameful, and they carry the stink of their potential sin.

Maturity can be analytically measured. I believe the single behavioral observable sign is in the time horizon that the person uses for decision planning. That is, when the person makes action decisions, how far ahead are they (correctly) optimizing for happiness. An immature person (eg. a baby) makes decisions based only on immediate happiness - will choice A or B make me happier right now. The farther you plan (correctly) for happiness, the more mature. Note that I add correctly because planning far ahead, but doing so incorrectly, is not maturity. Note that incorrect is not the same as making mistakes - mistakes are okay; incorrect planning means using the wrong criteria or wrong method entirely, for example if you have a long time window, but you only plan based on happiness at the end of the window rather than for happiness over the period with some weighting (eg. making decisions that give you some happiness 10 years from now but sacrifice much happiness in the mean time, this is a false maturity).

The air quality in Houston & Dallas is some of the worst in the country, frequently at dangerous levels of pollutants. I realized just now that the people here really don't care, because nobody goes outside here anywhy, it's ridiculously hot & humid, people just stay in their nice air conditioned homes and offices, and if the outside air were poison gas it wouldn't really affect people much.


5-21-05

In Houston now, at my mom's house. I lived in Texas for years, so it's too familiar, it's not part of the discovery, I want to get out of here. I'm headed for New Orleans next, I imagine it will be fun there, but fun really depends more on my own mind than the location, and a good state of my mind is easier to establish at my house. My god, I'm such a baby, how did people ever get by 1000 years ago? I need my good food, my A/C & heat, my nice bed, etc. etc.

A little techy note for you game developers - I've been listening to a lot of radio driving through the heartland and have heard a lot of interesting things. A lot of radio stations have done little blurbs on E3, and they'll do those little news comments, where like they run the report from the man on the scene, usually a standard AP report or something, and then the local personality makes a comment. Overwhelmingly, the local personalities are telling me one thing - PS3. A lot of game developers say maybe Xbox360 could take off, grab a good lead of market share and actually beat the PS3. I used to think that might be possible, but now I've totally changed my mind. The brand domination of Sony and Playstation is just too strong. For god's sakes, if they took a PS2 and scratched out the 2 and wrote in a 3, it would sell better than the Xbox360, no matter how much the Xbox stomps it technically.

I must become like a samurai, like a lama, like the kwisatz haderach - fully in control of my self at all times, master of my own mind.

I like the hotels in Arizona and New Mexico in the middle of nowhere. Pretty much everyone staying there is on a big drive between someplace in the east and someplace in the west. The whole town has a strange empty surreal feel; there's nothing to do at all, perhaps one dive bar, a really crappy swimming pool. Everyone is sort of in a limbo state, tumbling.

I think CA housing is clearly in a bubble, but I can't figure out how to profit from that.


5-20-05

Oklahoma City late night. Who knew this was a crazy party town? The old neighborhood of Bricktown is packed with people already at 10:30 ; families are leaving the restaurants and drunk kids are already stumbling between bars. Graham's Country Dancing outside of town is hopping. The CityWalk is a trashy big bar in Bricktown where tons of locals scream and flirt; it's got lots of different theme rooms, a wild karaoke scene, etc.

I hate the way karaoke has become this fancy event now, where everyone sings so damn well, and shows off, like American Idol, doing vocal flourishes and stuff. Karaoke is fun because everyone is *bad*, you sing bad, you get embarassed, everyone laughes; Karaoke is also only fun

The right way for advertisers to beat TiVo and such is to make commercials that are so entertaining, people choose to watch them. That's really not that hard, they can do great comedy bits with real comedy stars, like Dave Chapelle, or do installments of dramas like the old coffee ads, etc.

I'm not sure what I hope to find out here on the road. At the moment it feels like medecine - long hours in the car, sleeping in my uncomfortable camp bed or the uncomfortable cheap hotel beds, away from my lover and my home. I'm going to force my self to stay out here on the road until I find whatever it is I'm looking for.

Today I saw many amazing things that I didn't take pictures of. For some reason I get in this mood sometimes where I really can't be bothered to get my camera out. Some of the things I saw - near Amarillo : that cars stuck in the ground thing that's quite famous involving some Ant people or something, the Big Texan, which has the 72 oz steak that's free if you finish it, huge huge stockyards full of cattle waiting for the slaughter, huge huge grain silos and grain elevators; here in Oklahoma, I've seen fields of wheat, still young; wheat mazes, not yet operating; giant modern windmills, like white obelisks, futuristic; one of the giant windmills underconstruction, with an even bigger crane lifting up the massive propeller fan.

In the panhandle, it's like a foreign country. Wide open fields. On the radio in Texas, at the hourly news break the announcer went over the prices of beef, just like most news people go over the DOW, eg. march cattle is up 35 cents to 80.75, etc. apparently they track a different price for each month. On the radio in Oklahoma, they do the same thing with wheat, winter wheat, etc.

Yesterday I was in eastern Arizona. Record heats for this time of year, 105 degrees, the kind of heat that makes you want to not get out of your car.


5-19-05

I'm stopped at an internet cafe in Flagstaff, AZ. The cashier girl is talking about E3 to some nerdy guy holding comic books; I pointedly ignore them - I'm trying to get away from those people, not meet more of them in new places. Downtown Flagstaff is pretty cool; it's a bit small and a bit touristy, but it's all in old buildings when this was a stop on Route 66, with cool cafe's, lots and lots of bicycles, and everything indoor/outdoor.

I'll put some photos on the Yahoo photo page. I've just been at the grand canyon and picked up a bit of a sun burn. The grand canyon is amazing, but perhaps it's too amazing; it bludgeons you with beauty until you're numb and can't see any more. It's much easier to appreciate small beauties, a little twinkle in an ordinary scene. The grand canyon is one of the most international places I've ever been. German and Japanese tourists come in by the bus-load. The hikers I meet are Italian, French, Swedish. There's a full grocery store, the hotels are right on the rim; too many tourists, ruin the isolation. The checker at the grocery store is from Ecuador, he's here on a work-exchange program.

I haven't got into the road trip mind set yet. Maybe I'm still too close to home; I can think of just turning back and going back to San Luis and my beloved Danielle, and that sounds mighty good to me. I wish I could smoke; when I think of great road trips, I remember big American cars with a bench front seat and smoking.


5-16-05

Now part of the timeline -


A continuing feature : what should I do with my life?


5-16-05

Tomorrow I leave for my cross-country trip. I'll have my lap-top and my camera and stuff so perhaps I'll do a bit of a photo-blog. The thought of that excites me a bit, but at the same time I don't want to spoil the genuine experience by living it as a documentarian. There's an interesting way that experiencing things as a reporter, as a blogger, as a photographer changes and often enhances your experience - people will talk to you more, take you back stage, try to impress you, give you their time & attention, and you yourself can live as an observer and not feel out of place.


5-16-05

Conversation with random people seems almost entirely pointless. The issues that interest me are 3rd level issues; that is, the 1st level is the basic definition of the terms and the facts; the 2nd level is the analysis of the interaction of the forces; the 3rd level are the subtle issues that are unexpected or things that arise from indirect interactions, influences, etc. In conversation, it's hard to even get past the 1st level. You have different ideas of what the basic terms mean, and most so-called "intellectual" conversation is just about defining the terms and fighting over agreement on the base facts - these are trivial issues, and their discussion provides no benefit UNLESS you are establishing a long-term dialog with this person and you will be able to progress to the higher levels in the future.


5-16-05

The basic problem with a capitalist/individualist society is failure to understand The Commons (as in the Tragedy of the Commons). In a Republican/Conservative/Ayn Rand/laissez-faire/darwinian capitalist society, the net result over time is A) flow of capital from the less capable to the more capable (okay, that's fine) B) destruction of the commons when it benefits the few, and net destruction of the system. The world is like a playing field, whereon the few can advance themselves by destroying the entire structure. Our society has no mechanisms to encourage individuals to benefit the greater good, and our moral philosophy is growing away from the benefit of the masses all the time.


5-16-05

If you slam on your brakes and THEN turn on your turn signal, you are failing to understand the entire purpose of the turn signal. It astounds me that 99% of the population are completely incompetent at the things they do every day. Okay, I can understand, most people aren't going to get [insert complicated thing here, Rocket Science for example], but these are the things they've done thousands of times in their life and they still fail to exhibit even the most basic understanding.


5-16-05

I hate capitalist friction. I have a lot of services that I now are screwing me over to the tune of several hundred dollars a year total - my bank, my cellphone, my cable, etc. - but I can't fix it. For one thing, many of them have virtual monopolies (due the cost of getting into that market), or it's simply too much trouble for me to cancel one service and switch to another, and take the down time of transition, or just all the time talking to customer service, etc. etc. Oh for the idealized fictional world of friction-free economics!


5-15-05

When we went to war in Iraq I repeatedly raised the point of how ridiculous our president's black & white rhetoric was. We say we're doing it to support democracy, to bring down dictators, to stop human rights abuses, and yet we are the ones who put Saddam in power, we've supported dictators all over the world, we ignore human rights abuses in Rwanda, Sudan, etc. etc. This is pure hypocracy, but now an amusing situation has come up where this hypocracy is embodied in a single nation - Uzbekistan. For some time we have been sending terrorism suspects caught in the Middle East for "interrogation" in Uzbekistan (aka torture; Uzbekistan is a well known violator of prisoner's rights, for example ). This is part of a larger CIA policy to use other countries to do the dirty work that would attract too much attention if we did it ourselves. Uzbekistan is our ally in the war on terror, and in exchange for torturing people we want them to, we have normalized relations with them and established trade and aid deals. In the mean time, there is currently a pro-democracy uprising in Uzbekistan, where mobs of people and semi-terrorist groups are trying to get international attention and fight the rule of the authoritarian President Karimov. The reality of the world is a complex political web, and GW's black and white rhetoric is naive and untrue; there are certainly cases where we need to ally with evil people in order to meet greater goals (Pakistan's Musharraf might be one example), however, Uzbekistan is not really a difficult case - we should not be using foreign states to hold our prisoners, and we should not be supporting dictators. So, I ask you, Mr. Bush - Are we for democracy, or against terrorists? Are we against authoritarians who abuse human rights, or are we with anyone who helps us against terrorism? If you're "with us or against us", which one is Uzbekistan?


5-15-05

I have three bicycle repair books - Richard's Bicycle Repair Manual (minimal text, great pictures), Bicycling Magazine's Complete Guide to Bicycle Maintenance and Repair (long on title), and Zinn & the art of Road Bike Maintenance (pun-tastic). Any one of them on their own is a worthless confusing piece of crap. To actually do a repair, I read the section on the given repair in all three books. Each one provides a partial view to the truth of how the problem. I imagine I'm looking through a window. On the other side is the truth I'm trying to discover, but most books are a poor window that give only a partial view, maybe it's distorted by dirty glass; but I need not look through just one window - by combining the view through many windows, I can piece together what's on the other side. This is a great technique for research that I use all the time, and far too few people use it. At work, many people would read one academic research paper and go "I don't get it". Ok, read another paper on the same subject, and another, and another. When I was learning Quantum Field Theory, I read four or more text books that all cover nearly the same topic - Kaku's, Weinberg's, Peskin & Shroder's, Dirac's, Feynman's, Coleman's, Baez's, Nash's, etc. All provide different ways of looking at the same truth, different techniques, and by combining them you can get to a far deeper understanding of the truth behind the window.


5-14-05

I'm so sick of all the meaningless non-adjusted numbers. The S&P went up 5% last year. Sounds ok, but inflation was over 3%, so if you use inflation-adjusted dollars, it's gone up less than 2%. The economy added 200,000 jobs last month; sounds nice, but it takes 150,000 jobs just to keep the same employment percentage. etc. etc. Unfortunately the only way to make companies & governments use real meaningful statistics is if consumers force them to, and we don't, we love to swallow the silly meaningless numbers that are easily distorted. Almost any time you compare dollar values or head counts over periods of time, it's misleading; it's far better to use real spending power in terms of goods (even inflation-adjusted dollars is not very good here), and portions of the population.


5-13-05

I just heard about this great stock - BPT ; it's a trust in the Prudhoe Bay oil operations of British Petroleum. The value of the stock roughly tracks the price of oil. In the past 5 years it's gone up 600%. The great thing about it is that in addition to that it has a 10% yield on a 7% dividend, which comes from the profits of oil operations. That yield goes up and down with oil prices as well, but is always pretty good. The problem now is that I'm too late, as usual - is this still a good buy? Oil prices will probably continue to rise, but they might have a short term depression on the way.


5-13-05

I watched "The Dark Crystal" last night with Dan. At the end the credits roll, and there, as always, is "color by Technicolor". I wondered, what does that actually mean in this day and age? Back in the old days, Technicolor was a revolutionary colorization process, but now people just use color film and develop it, so what is "color by Technicolor?". Well, it turns out Technicolor is a company with a cool website that tells you all about what they do; basically they develop film, provide dailies, film manufaturing, etc. One of the cooler things to me is the way they now mix film processing with digital control. The primary film process is still all chemicals and light. That is, a negative is exposed in the camera; this is developed with chemicals to set it. This is copied to a positive just by shining light through it (this is the "interpositive"). The positive is copied to another negative; this negative is now used to mass-produce the production positive prints (this is the "internegative"). The original negative could have been used, but the idea is to touch that as little as possible to keep the original master safe. If the production negative is damaged in printing, you can make a new copy from the interpositive without going back to the original. Now, the cool thing is that you can control things like saturation and contrast and brightness in the copying process in a purely analog physical way, by controlling the light and the chemical processing of the films. The cool thing that Technicolor now does is let you control this with computers; rather than futzing around with exposure time and different chemical baths like they would in the old days, the interpositive is scanned into a computer. You can then tweak the image settings per-frame if you like, and this is all stored; then when the internegative is made, it uses the computer settings to control the physical process; the film process still is fully analog and physical, but it uses the convenient digital controls. Of course all of this is going away and everything will be pure digital soon, and then "color by Technicolor" will be even more meaningless than it is today.

Another thing in "The Dark Crystal" made me rather sad. There's this creature "fizzgig" which is a small, cute ball of long fur that hops around, but when it's mad is surprises you with a massive snarl of sharp teeth. In one scene, the heroine, a female Gelfling, gets captured and is strapped into a torturous operating chair, and the evil mad science doctor (a Skeksies) is going to drain her life to feed to the emperor to make him young. Fortunately, she's surrounded by cages full of these cute little animals, and she has the ability to speak to them; she calls to them to save her and they break out of their cags and suddenly transform from cute to snarling and jump on the doctor, while some bite her straps and she escapes. Some of you may find this scene eerily familiar.


5-10-05

I made roughly this cake for Dan's birthday. I've never made such a tall chocolaty cake before, it's quite fantastic and easy. The technique for making mousse in this recipe is very good - you drizzle hot syrup into beating egg yolks, rather than mucking around with whisking egg yolks over a double boiler, which is very difficult to do (you either cook them too much or too little and they can easily clump). I like using Kahlua to moisted the layers of genoise rather than the coffee simple syrup.


5-08-05

Looks like a good time to buy Berkshire Hathaway B shares.


5-07-05

A nice little math problem for you : you have 1 dollar, you go to the store and you buy something with a random price of a dollar or less. If you do this infinite times, what percentage of pennies, nickles, dimes and quarters do you have? (assume the cashier gives you change with the minimum number of coins each time).

The answer is 42.5532% pennies , 8.5106% nickels , 17.0213% dimes , 31.9149% quarters. It's a lot neater written as the average amount of change you get from a random transaction : 2 pennies, 0.4 nickels, 0.8 dimes, 1.5 quarters.

addendum - Ignacio says the more interesting problem is to figure out how to define your change system to minimize the average number of coins people cary. That is, assume a system with 4 coins of integer value, how do you set their values such that the average number of coins made from change on a random amount in [0,99] is minimized (you must be able to make exact change).

Just guessing wildly I think the answer is 1,3,10,32 , which is an even logarithmic distribution, but apparently that's not even close. The answer is here ; obviously it's easy to solve by computer sim, but I wonder if there's any math/analytic way to jump to the answer? I hate discrete math.


5-04-05

Went to the dunes yesterday with Rich & Andy and rented ATV's ; the riding was great; here's a picture . Tips for those who want to go - 1) wear jeans and a sweatshirt, even when it's hot out; the sand whips you like a sand-blaster, you need coverage, and when the ATV rolls over your leg, you'll be happy for the jeans. 2) Wear gloves (bike gloves or something like that) and goggles (ski goggles work fine). 3) Bring water, wear sunscreen. 4) Go in the morning when it's not windy; it always gets windy in the afternoon here, and the dunes in the wind is not only unpleasant, it's very dangerous. The History of the Pismo Dunes is really interesting. It used to be a really popular get-away, highlighting driving on the beach, and clamming for the now-endangered Pismo Clam. Another oddity about the Dunes is that the Ten Commandments movie set was built in the dunes and is still there, buried under the sand!


5-04-05

I went to San Francisco last weekend to see Songs Ohia (touring as Magnolia Electric Co ) at The Bottom of the Hill . Jason Molina - the diminutive, soulful singer/songwriter behind Songs Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co - has an exposed, soulful voice and a penchant for writing songs about the blues, which makes for a powerful live performance. The show was completely packed, I'm sure the fire marshal would have been unhappy if he weren't mesmerized by the sound of the band and Jason's puppy dog eye brows. The crowd was full of devoted fans who had bought tickets for the sold-out show months in advance. They played lots of new material from the just released "What Comes After the Blues", but the crowd really came alive for the older material from Songs Ohia. Expectations for the show were very specific, since the band released a live album "Trials and Errors" from earlier in the same tour, so we've all heard exactly what the songs sound like live.

Other discoveries in SF : "The Crepe House" in the tiny pretentious Hayes Valley area has mediocre food but great espresso; personally I've come to hate Lattes and Capuccinos, I try to find proximities to a Cafe Creme, and if you ask for a "dopio with a little steamed milk and foam" at The Crepe House you'll get a good facsimile. The Lower Haight was a big disappointment, not much real interesting life, just hipsters and stoners; none the less, Ah Bodhran is a great Irish Pub, unlike most; what makes it great? 1) no puke smell, 2) real Irish people go there 3) real Irish decor and beers, including nicely poured Guiness and Murphy's 4) a full bar with bartenders that make proper cocktails 5) nice lighting, 6) good music (hip, not pub crap).. Axum Eritrean/Ethiopean in the Lower Haight was pretty good and very cheap ($12 for the platter for two). Lush Lounge is an old favorite; it's a neighborhood bar in the strip club and prostitute neighborhood around O'Farrell; the bartenders are friendly and mix great drinks, the crowd is unpretentious but cool; unfortunately, they seem to have gotten rid of their piano and closed the upstair balcony, so it's not as much fun as the last time I came. My new discovery of the trip was the Clement St. hub of the "Richmond" neighborhood - this is an ethnic neighborhood, very cheap, very lively, with great restaurants, asian groceries, and cool cafes.

We also saw the movie "In the Battlefields" at the San Francisco International Film Festival, at the Kabuki theater in Japan-town (stop at a grocery for Guava milk drink, and dine on Shabu-Shabu). "In the Battlefields" is a great film - go see it if you ever get the chance. It's a story of a little girl coming of age in Lebanon a few years ago; the background of the country is never really explained, it's just the life they have; they family doesn't even talk about the violence and poverty around them, they just deal with their own problems and make do; a beautiful movie, incredibly realistic, including one of the grossest sex scenes I've ever seen, not because of what happens, but just because it's not sanitized.


4-29-05

Pascucci in Santa Barbara is a mediocre Italian restaurant, but the highlight is the well-chosen and reasonably priced wine list. Bedford-Thompson, Curtis, and the star - Qupe Syrah for only $25/bottle , an exceptional price at a restaurant.


4-29-05

Rent-a-dog! Only fifty dollars a day, take a dog to the beach or the park to play; our dogs are friendly and well-trained. Pick from puppies or young adults. Never have to deal with the dog messing up your house or getting old.


4-29-05

I just got a root canal, so my ranting may be more incoherent and surreal than usual. Apparently my roots are exceptionally difficult to get at, so it's only half done and I have to go back in to get it finished. I'm on "vicoprofin" which is a mix of hydrocodone (opiate) and ibuprofen. Amusingly enough, there are very few bad side effects of hydrocodone (other than addiction), while the side effects of the large Ibuprofen doses I'm on are quite severe.


4-29-05

Last night, coming home at midnight, I noticed a lot of garbage cans near my house knocked over, and a pack of teenage boys walking in the middle of the road. While I can't say for sure that there's a connection, it seems highly likely. I stopped my car next to them and stared at them menacingly for a while (I'm sure that taught them a lesson). This morning I hear the garbage truck making its rounds, and I feel sorry for the garbage men who have to deal with the mess. I don't really have a problem with juvenile miscreants making some trouble, but they clearly are just inconsiderate or fools - all they've done is made the garbage men's lives more unpleasant. Pranksters should pay some heed to what the consequences of their actions will actually be. The classic TP job is okay, but this has the problem of taking a while and being quite obvious as you do it. A better one is spraying or leaving something really stinky on their front porch (you can grow your own stink pretty easily or buy things in hunting shops or mix some chemicals).


4-29-05

Modern Drunkard is cool.


4-27-05

Nicholas Kristof says that the rise in white-black marriages is a sign that racial barriers are continuing to come down. That's certainly true, however, he ignores the fact that those same statistics point to continuing racism. White-black marriages are 2:1 more likely to be a black man and a white woman (rather than a black woman and a white man). This is almost certainly due to continuing prejudice and distorted views of the races and their sex roles. The preconception is that blacks are powerful, virile, dangerous, masculine, musky, potent, the whites are uncool, weak, compromising, responsible, chaste , and because of the continuing strong sexism in our society, these stereotypes are attractive only in one direction, with the man in the dominant role.

But is that sexism a bad thing? This is an old old argument that keeps being retread every year as one feminist calls for complete equality, and another calls for a celebration of the "female role" (vive la difference, the latest twist on this retread is to celebrate the sexism in other cultures, like continental Europe). Certainly a little sexism is the spice of a sexual relationship; it feels good for the man to be chivalrous, but also occasionally domineering, powerful. The ideal bodies in our era have almost a 2:1 weight ratio of male to female (strong 200 pound man like a basketball player or quarterback, and a 100 pound waif vixen), which means the sheer physical strength difference creates a tension of danger where the man could hurt the woman easily, even just by accident (though this is reduced somewhat by the trend towards fitter women). The best sex has a slight hint of physical danger to it, almost wrestling, flexing, the man hunting the woman and doing what he wants with his willing prey. This may be - but if this is the form of sexuality, it creates an undertone of inequality which seeps into higher forms of interaction. The "vive la difference" crowd will claim that you can have this in the bedroom, but still be equal colleagues in the conference room. They also claim that women can dress sexually and flirt at the office and still be respected. Not so, that's a fantasy. Even with the most well behaved people trying to not be sexist, as long as the dark secret life of passion is based on unequal roles, it will bubble up into ordinary life, and it will be even worse with people who's egos are not so well in control of their id.

Back to racism - Kristof also mentions Denzel Washington, who I've been thinking about lately after seeing a tiny bit of "Training Day" on TV. "Training Day" is just a horrendous movie, and Denzel does a really hillarious impersonation of a "street-smart thug", trying to talk like a black man from the 'hood or something. Denzel's abject failure to portray a stereotypical urban black male just drove home A) what a terrible actor he is, and B) how white-bread he is. And yet, Denzel is celebrated by all levels of society. He's doted on by women, admired by men, loved by the urban blacks and elite whites. It occurs to me that if Denzel were white, not only would he lose the acclaim of being a "black role model" or a "great black actor", he would simply be boring. That is, if you ignore his skin color, he's really just very bland, very ordinary, lacking any charisma or virility. All of his exoticism and masculinity derives from the color of his skin.


4-27-05

It seems to me that monogamy is a convenient fiction more than a practice of modern society. It's sort of like stealing from the office - everyone says they don't do it, but everyone does. Most men cheat, and those who don't I believe mostly don't cheat due to lack of opportunity, not some high moral standard. Most "faithful" men, if put in contact with a nubile nymphomaniacal live-in housekeeper (for instance), would cheat. The rate of women cheating seems to be much lower, which I won't begin to analyze, though it is amusing to note that this just means that the rate of women being with a cheating man is much higher. Now, I say all this from a preachy high horse since I consider myself one of the non-cheaters, but more and more I see that as not some moral high ground, but rather just a silly form of penitence or self-denial. I'm also one of the few people in the world who doesn't cheat on their taxes, which reminds me of an allegory -

A government representative meets with ten people. He puts $10,000 on the table and says "don't take that money, it's illegal, but if you do, I'll have no way of knowing who did it, and I won't investigate". He then turns his back and closes his eyes. The ten men all look at each other, and nine of them each grab $1000. One man doesn't take any money. The agent then turns around and sees only $1000 on the table. He takes it and says "well, you all took the money, I can't punish you, but since you have that money, I'm now going to charge each of you a $500 fee; everyone must pay now." The one man who didn't take the money protests - "They all the took the money, I didn't, this isn't fair, they should be punished!" The agent chides him - "Now, I can't just believe you, I don't know who took the money and I don't have time to investigate, and shame on you if you didn't take it, it was right in front of you; now everyone pay up". The honest man pays the fee and feels a fool.

I hear parents talk of their children dropping out of college, throwing huge parties and trashing their homes, drinking, sleeping around, going to jail. There's pride in their voices - they're bragging! At some point if it happens too long, the pride turns to exasperation, the kids should get over it already and do something with their lives, but initially it's pride, and perhaps envy.


4-24-05

There's a big brouhaha locally about the "Dalidilio Marketplace". Basically, it's a developer who wants to build a Target here, and because of the building restrictions in SLO, they have to hold a general vote to get approval. The only real issue in the end for SLO voters is whether you want SLO to grow and become more like a suburb of a big city - if you answer yes, vote yes. One of the most ridiculous things that the politicians are touting to get it passed is how much money it will bring in via sales tax. It's a common argument, but completely flawed. First of all, just by having a Target, people are not going to spend more. People will spend roughly the same amount on consumer goods, they'll just buy at Target instead of other places, the total spending and thus sales tax will be exactly the same. Now, one thing that may happen is the sales tax will go this city instead of neighboring cities with other shopping options, but that's sort of a ridiculous phenomenon too (illogical boundaries of commerce at city borders). The other idea is simply the idea that sales tax is "generating money". Quite the opposite, it's actually taking money AWAY from the community. People are buying goods, which is exchanging currency for assets. Some of that is skimmed for taxes, but also some of it is skimmed for the profits of the Target, which takes that profit and sends it away from the community to its corporate overlords. The whole goal of Target's operation is to take money OUT of the local economy - that's why they're in business and how their shareholders make a profit. Of course the very worst form of this fallacy is with casinos. So many little communities bring in casinos because they will "stimulate the local economy" and provide money for services. Yes, sort of, but really what casinos do is take massive amounts of money from the people and route it to the casino owners and profiteers; the net result is a huge suction of money out of the local economy.


4-24-05

One package of Trader Joe's chocolate peanut clusters is roughly 1600 calories. What does it feel like to eat them all in 15 minutes? First comes a giddy euphoria; you feel the chocolate break up in your mouth, the crunch of the peanuts, the sugar and fat tickle your brain and give you explosions of endorphin happiness. Next comes a delightful feeling of naughty indiscretion - my god, I can eat a lot of these and no one can tell me to stop. Then you start to feel the high slipping away, and you eat another to get back to normal, but it doesn't really give you the buzz like the first; the chocolate tastes kind of waxy and cheap now. Next you start to feel gross and disgusted by yourself; my god, what am I doing? I should stop, but I can't, I'm so weak? Then you start to feel a little bit good about wallowing in your depravity, like a naked fat man covered in melted cheese rolling around with hookers, you feel so indulgent, disgusting, ashamed. Now there's only a few left, and you may as well finish them; you've got a nasty stomache ache and a sort of dry buzzing in your brain.


4-24-05

Behind all this discussion of Social Security and outsourcing and our huge deficit and trade imbalance is a problem that no one is talking about - what if the US economy stops growing? For example, implicit in the Bush plan for SS is the assumption that the stock market will continue to grow by 5-10% per year on average. What if that stops? The entire US economy is built on being highly leveraged, as is our government and our consumers, and it's kept afloat by continuing appreciation of investments. What if the economy stops growing on average (in terms of inflation-adjusted dollars), as it has in countries like Japan for many years ?

Another question is the growth of sections of the economy. There's a general assumption by foolish people (eg. our government) which is that if the GNP increases, Americans are better off. Well, back in 1820 that may have held some water, because if the country made more money, it was from making more steel, which made Carnegie rich, but also helped his workers, and the grocers who supplied them, etc. etc. These days, all of our mass-employment industries are shrinking. Our economic growth comes from IP (intellectual property) and financial services. When our economy grows, it's likely because a US investment bank took an Indian company public and helped sell it to Saudi investors. So, Citigroup got a nice profit, but 99% of that profit went to the top executives and bankers. That money then hardly trickles down at all, especially under our new tax laws where it may be hardly taxed at all. I can easily imagine that in the future, the US economy will continue to grow, but if you sort of mentally split the US into two countries - the "Unites States of the Rich" and the "Unites States of the Masses" , the USR economy would be growing robustly, and the USM would be shrinking per-capita (partly because the USM bears the cost of supporting the increasing poor and elderly, etc.)


4-22-05

I took one of the worst bad beats of my life recently in a WSOP satellite. I had a Ten-Ten and raised it up pre-flop; one caller. Flop comes A5T. I have the set, since he called my raise I'm pretty sure he has the pair of aces, so this is sure to be money for me; I check to trap, he bets as planned, I go all-in, he calls with the AQ. I've got him killed here. For example, if an A comes, it doesn't help him because he makes trips but I make a house. He's drawing dead to a runner-runner house. The chance of him beating me is (5/45)*(4/44) = 1.01% ; of course you know the ending - he hits an A and then a Q to make the higher house. I was still in it, and a few hands later I got all-in with the same guy where he had pair-over-pair on me. I won the pair-over-pair and everyone acted like that made us even; not at all; having the lower pair I had a 20% chance of winning; a nice bit of luck to win, but hardly remarkable.


4-21-05

Having an imagination is a horrible curse. I'm now terrified to go for a bike ride around here. For you to understand, first I have to catch you up on the water bottle story. A few weeks ago I was riding out in the country near my house. Now, I ride a fancy bike and I wear all the proper tight bike gear, so I look like a total douche, that's established. I was riding along, and a big black truck was coming down the road the opposite way, when suddenly I noticed something flying out of the truck, and it slammed into me, *hard*. It was a water bottle, Aquafina, full, and it hit me in the arm. I slammed on my brakes, quite astonished and in struggling to believe what just happened. He took off; I flipped him off and turned around and stood there for a while waiting for my adrenaline to go down. That was a few weeks ago, and ever since I've been sort of scared to ride. Not because I'm scared of another water bottle hitting me or anything like that, but rather because if I go ride out there, I might see the black truck again, and if I did, I'd have to try to get in a fight with him, and then I imagine all sorts of things. If it was just a fair fist fight, that would be great, even if I lost, it would be a physical expression of grievance, which is a beautiful thing (all physical expression of emotion is great). In my imagination, that's not what happens. He gets out of the truck and starts to walk toward me, but then another guy gets out of the passenger side, with a giant pipe wrench in his hand. I'm in my bike shoes, so I'm clomping around and can barely walk. The driver just stands there and smiles while the guy with the wrench runs at me, a long, slow loping run. I try to clomp away, but he quickly reaches me and takes a big swing. I put my arm up to block it, and the wrench hits my forearm with a crunching sound, breaking my bones. I turn and buckle and clutch my arm, and he swings again and again; I hear my ribs breaking more than I feel it.


4-21-05

Irish accents always turn into Scottish accents. You might start off with "top o'the morning to ya" and "stay ehway frem me lucky charms", but it always turns into "yer shite, ye fer-fooking bagpipe-playing minky basturrt"


4-20-05

I've been playing some WSOP satellites recently. I keep getting knocked out by guys on draws, like I'll have top pair on the flop, he'll have a straight draw or something, we'll get all-in, and he'll hit it. I just can't see how to avoid this, I guess it's just bad luck. The problem is I'm only like a 65% favorite in that spot. To win the tournament, I'll have to win those situations several times, maybe 10 times. The chance of winning all 10 is only 1.3 % !! I just don't see how certain pros make it to the final table so consistently. I guess partly it must go back to an old adage - you want to get all-in only with people who have fewer chips than you *even* when you are a big favorite, because being a 65% favorite is not good enough if you're risking elimination.


4-20-05

I checked out the stats on my site today; the #1 traffic hit is now the rants; the #2 is the 3d index page; the #3 hit is the adaptive Huffman source code. You silly downloaders - adaptive Huffman sucks! The only reason I can see that it's so popular is that it's a common homework assignment in CS classes, and a lot of students must be cheating and downloading my source to help them. Ha, the joke's on you kids, that source code is a mess!


4-20-05

There's a shop near my home called "Sportscards Fantasy's". I'm flabbergasted, I can't even begin to complain about that name.


4-20-05

On 1-3-05 I ranted about how poor Europe is, and people sent me a flood of mails in protest, and clarifying various points. I made it more clear in my mails that I was referring to actual consumer discretionary spending (eg. excluding health care, education, etc. just looking at the average consumer's power to buy discretionary goods). Well, the study here by Timbro puts some hard numbers on it. The summarizing figure for me is that purchasing power in the US is about $36k per capita, and in the EU it's $26k. Certainly the idea of looking at GNP or average salary or any raw numbers like that to compare countries is ridiculous, you have to look at purchasing power in terms of goods.


4-20-05

Pop culture has made spending beyond your means "cool".

Cartoon characters : Miss Chief (the Native-American S&M mistress) & Dolly Lama (the large breasted Buddhist).

The B in subtle is very subtle.

Men who don't masturbate are a menace to society. They either wind up as womanizers, rapists, serial killers, or priests.


4-19-05

The response I'm getting to requests on 4-17 is awesome; people coming together to help each other is a beautiful thing. I wish everyone could help each other in a similar way; of course the reason we don't is you say, "who is this douche, why should I take time to help him?". It reminds me of an old idea I had - there needs to be an international "cool person's club". Basically this is just a collective of people who want to be nice to each other and have indirect approval of each other. So, when you're travelling you could look up the club and see other "cool" members in whatever town. People could rate each other, so if someone in the club visits you and trashes your house, you just go put a bad review on him on the site and people won't like him any more. Ideally this would be a rating using the "Network of Trust", so each person doesn't have an absolute rating at all, but rather a rating *for me* through my taste & trust network. So, for example, if I trust person B, and he likes person C, then C is rated well for me. You might trust person D, who hates person C, so then C is rated poorly for you. If someone else trusts both of us, then they'll see that person C is rated mediocre on average, with a huge spread (very low confidence in the rating). In my original conception I thought the club would have to vote people in & ban people who are bastards, but that makes it like an exclusive clique, I don't like that idea. Rather, let anyone join, they just have no rating. Also, anyone who's a bastard would get rated way down. It would be interesting if the club could become a social mini game, where people start being nice to each other in real life in order to get points in the game. That could actually be easily encouraged by giving prizes semi-randomly to people who are well rated (like subsidized parties for club members).


4-19-05

Ignacio wants me to convert my site to a proper blog that can take comments, do RSS feeds, etc. I suppose I should move into the 90's some day, but I sort of like the way my site is "emo", like sort of ghetto, it's the blog you buy in a thrift store which you drove too in your daddy's BMW.


4-19-05

I got one of those automatic cat feeders that uses gravity to let food out as it's eaten. This allows me to leave for a few days; my cats are wild outdoor cats that take care of themselves just fine (recently they caught a big Blue Jay! I didn't think they could manage that). This freedom is nice, but I'm finding that I miss the ritual and connection of feeding them. They don't need me for anything other than food, and now they don't really need me for that; they used to meow and find me at feeding time, and we'd go get the food together, them weaving around my legs making it hard for me to walk without treading on them. Surprisingly, I find that the cats miss this connection too; they don't like to go eat from the feeder without me, they want me to walk in there and bless eating time.


4-17-05

Request for advice :

1) I'm going to San Francisco on April 30th - anyone know a good, cool, cheap hotel, somewhere near the city?

2) I'd like to travel somewhere exotic and cheap soon, like Vietnam or India or something like that; if any of you have done that recently and can share some tips, that would be lovely.

3) I'm thinking of driving across the country soon; if you live in any of the middle areas between the coasts (other than Texas) and I can show up with minimal announcement and sleep on your couch, let me know, it would be much appreciated. (unfortunately, it costs a small fortune in gas to get across the country these days)


4-17-05

The truth about Social Security. The real truth is that if the SS trust fund was properly funded, and it appreciated at a conservative rate and everything continued roughly as is, then SS would be solvent until 2040 or later. Furthermore, event a small increase in the SS tax on the rich and a small decrease in the SS payouts to the middle-upper class would make SS solvent for the forseeable future (to 2100). The real problem that no one is talking about is that the government has been stealing from the SS trust fund since it was created. Administrations like the current one have decreased taxes and increased spending, and funded the difference in part by stealing from the SS trust fund. I believe that part of the secret agenda behind this administration pushing for "Social Security sabotage" is to wipe that balance sheet. Currently we owe 1.5 trillion to the SS trust fund, and roughly 3 trillion total to all the government trusts. The government has spent this money as if it were general tax money. What that means is that we are secretly being taxed with a non-progressive tax (it's roughly a 12% flat tax), which is going to general expenditure. The proposed Social Security sabotage will wipe this out and mean that all of this non-progressive tax which has been paid over many years will have just been a subsidy for the rich, by allowing us to cut taxes for the rich and make up the balance from SS.


4-17-05

A very fair tax that we will likely never see would be a tax on assets, not income. Completely eliminate all income & sales & other taxes. Simply look at the total value of each person's assets, counting cash, property, etc. and take 1% each year. This would be a far more progressive tax - the super rich would pay the vast majority of taxes. The very poor would pay almost nothing because their assets are close to zero. The political problem with this tax would be that it creates very bad-for-television moments, like taking away old peoples' homes because their only asset is their very valuable home. The great thing about this tax is that 1) you can't hide assets anywhere 2) it doesn't stop taxing the super rich just because they stop making profit, 3) it really is proportional to the ability to pay, 4) it's a simple flat percent, 5) it encourages spending, so it stimulates the economy, there is absolutely no government fee on transactions (income, sales, etc.) so it encourage the economy to be far more fluid.


4-17-05

What's the EV of buying a radar detector? Let's say you have two choices - detector A costs $100 and will prevent 50% of tickets. Detector B costs $500 and will prevent 80% of tickets. Now consider the first case. Say you drive 80 mph in the 65 mph zones. With no detector, you will get an average of 1 ticket a year. The total cost of a ticket is $500 when you count how it affects your insurance rate. If you have no detector, your cost is $500/year. Lets say you buy a detector every 5 years. With detector A, your cost is $100/5+.5*$500 = $270 ; with detector B your cost is $500/5+.2*$500 = $200. The more expensive better detector is your best bet. What about not speeding? Let's say you just drive 65 mph instead and don't need a detector. If you drive 20,000 miles a year, you are spending 308 hours in the car instead of 250 hours, 58 more hours. At a life hour value of $100/hour, that costs you $5800 dollars, clearly a far worse choice. To do a proper analysis we need to include the chance of death or injury and how you value that. It's hard for me to find good numbers on that, but roughly at 65 mph your chance of death per year is 0.000147 ; at 80 mph it seems the chance of death increases greatly, perhaps by 1.5X. If you value your life at $10 million, the fatality cost at 65 mph is $1466 , and at 80 mph is $2199, so the slower choice is still not a good one.


4-17-05

All of the casual/indie game sites are terrible. They're full of way too many games, they blast the visitor with choices, but don't make it easy to pick. The target audience is someone who's not web-savvy, so by having thousands of links on your main page, you just confuse them and make them less likely to wind up at the right page. There are a few ways to do it more reasonably. One way would be to just have the top few games at the top of the page with no side bars or top bars or any nonsense like that. The other would be to have a sort of tree-view selection thing, where the first page is "do you want an Action or Strategy game?" you pick one, then descend down the tree to try to get them to the game they want.


4-17-05

The societal taboo against "sluts" (and not against men who sleep around a lot) can be traced to evolutionary behavior. Much of behavior is designed around the goal of continuing your blood line; in an evolutionary sense, any behavior or genes that increase your progeny will domate behaviors that make you reproduce less. In that way, men who sleep around a lot are likely to breed more. At the same time, men want to couple with women who do not sleep around, because you want your sperm to be the one that impregnates her; if she sleeps with everyone, it decreases the chance of you being the father. The worst disaster in an evolutionary sense if you spend a lot of your time and energy supporting a woman (like your wife), but she gets pregnant from another man and thereby promotes his genes, which is why female cheating and sleeping around is so much more stygmatized. We can see that modern morals are based in these old codes and haven't adapted to the new era of non-evolutionary reproduction (where people of lesser evolutionary fitness actually tend to reproduce more).


4-17-05

My own version of the dilemma in "The Fall". Walking along the banks of the Seine at night, I see a girl leaning over the railing. I walk past, and just a moment later I hear a scream and a splash. My impulses flash through my mind - 1) Don't look, and pretend I don't realize the connection and walk past; if someone sees me walk past and later accosts me, I can deny knowing she jumped in. 2) Be a hero, jump in and rescue her, it will make me feel good about myself for days. 3) Just walk way, stupid bitch, she did it to herself, let her get what she wanted, why should I always inconvenience myself to get people out of messes they make for themselves? 4) If I save her, maybe she'll have sex with me; was she cute? Certainly I'm more likely to jump in and save her if she was young and beautiful.


4-17-05

There's a neighborhood in the old part of Los Angeles where the air is still and heavy, thick with the smells of lilac and oleander. The streets are empty, and the old spanish-style mansions seem to sit watch, silently. If you look up, you'll see a hill covered in glass houses, built on stilts to climb to better views. That hill appears on no map, but there's no blank spot, it's simply as if the hill was cut out and the hole was sewn up. There the streets are winding and confusing, and when ever you try to drive towards the hill, you find yourself twisted and lost and turned around, unexpectedly going the other way.


4-17-05

I love the wizards in Lords of the Rings (the books, not the movies). They have supreme magical power, but we don't really know what it is. Gandalf doesn't fly or shoot fire balls, he uses fire works, he fights with his sword, he rides horses and eagles; sure, he's wise and great and powerful, but there's no feats of amazing magic. It's sort of like the wizards in the White Wolf game Mage where the wizards can exert great power, but only if it's not obvious that they're doing so.


4-17-05

Old link for the record - check out how well Sin City matches the comic


4-16-05

It's interesting to watch customer service in various cultures. In America we expect people to run up to you when you walk in, and be overly nice, "my name is Sandra, what can I do for you?" , but if you actually need something unusual quickly, it's likely to just piss them off - you're breaking the rules of the formal interaction, asking too much, stepping out of your part. In France, servers are expected to be very considerate of your space and privacy, not walk up to you if you're just browsing, you have to request their presence, but unusual requests are usually okay, and a bit of yelling may be part of a normal transaction. In Mexico, servers sort of lounge around and may come up to you and be polite; if you ask for anything unusual they'll say "yes, no problem", to any request, and then either not do it, or go off for half an hour to their cousin's neighbor's house to find what you asked for.


4-16-05

I move into my new home and call up the local water, power and sewer company Exploiton. The rep on the phone says - "To secure the account, we'll need your bank account #, your social security #, your credit card #'s and credit history" ; "Wait a minute, I don't want to give you that, isn't it illegal for you to require that?" ; "Well, if you don't want to provide it, of course you don't have to, we'd be happy to set up your account without it, we'll just require a $10,000 deposit to secure the account". Arg, okay, I'll do it your way. Next month, a $100 charge appears on my bill for "courtesy services". I call again, and wait for an hour on hold listening to the elevator music version of gangster rap songs. "What is this charge for?" "That's a courtesy charge for handling of your account." "But, isn't that just standard in my account?" "No, of course we'll be happy to waive the charge; all you have to do is mail in a request for the waiver forms each month, we'll mail them to you, then you have to fill out all ten pages and send them back before the billing cycle is processed each month." Arg, okay, I'll pay the fee.


4-16-05

I hate all places with a "policy", all places with rules where the service person can't do what's totally reasonable to help me because "the system can't do that" or "that's not our policy". I want real, independent, thinking people.


4-16-05

Social activity and going out in America has become so formalized, put in a box. You are free to go out and "get wild" as long as it's just self-destruction, anasthesia, mental numbing, in the rules - go to the bar and choose from a wide selection of corporate brews all made by the same holding corporation, pay way too much to feed the bar owner, dance and scream, but only in the specified places at the specified times, talk to strangers, but not about anything that matters, like religion or politics.


4-16-05

The medical profession is one of the few where they can completely botch a job, and then you have to pay to fix it, and pay out the nose. A doctor doesn't prescribe you the right medecine, your body gets all fucked up, you go to the hospital - you now owe tens of thousands of dollars, and of course all the huge unpleasantness of going through that and perhaps permanent damage to your body. It's quite fucked up. America has lost respect for its doctors, and rightly so - they're horribly under-informed, manipulated by the pharma corps, and seek personal profit rather than helping others.


4-6-05

"Dune" is a book you have to read as a teenage boy. It's chords and melodies are atuned to the immature megalomaniacal surges of a young male mind. In that state, it's a great book, for any other reader, it's mediocre at best. These days, thoughts of Dune fill my head -

"A person needs new experiences. Without change, something inside us sleeps and seldom awakens. The sleeper MUST awaken."

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.


4-4-05

I'm off to camp in at Big Basin near Santa Cruz for the next few days.


4-3-05

It's been about a week now since Oddworld shut it's doors, and I've already put the lie to my post-work life. When I was working I thought there were all these things that I'd love to do if I only had the time, that work was keeping me from - group sports, yoga, dancing, cooking, music, art, friends, etc. etc. - and here I am without work, and I'm not doing those things anyway. Work is a great refuge and excuse for avoiding life.


4-3-05

I've been on just about every back road in San Luis Obispo County. I love driving the back roads, blazing around corners though I live in fear of big patches of sand & gravel, and those big damn country trucks - the locals complain about outsider joyriders like me, but they're the ones who speed like crazy on the back roads and just go all over the road - stay in your damn lane, buddy! You've never really see the back roads until you've bicycled on them. The slower pace and the open air get you in touch with the road, and what's more, you can actually feel the road with your body - the bumps, the texture of the pavement, the smells in the air, the temperatures and microclimates, the up-hills that make your legs burn and the down-hills that whip the wind past your face. Recently I've been out Vineyard Canyon, from the dilapidated authentic mission in San Miguel (defaced with fences and boards) to the small ranch town of Parkfield on the San Andreas fault, which was once the center of U.S. seismic activity. Before that I was out on Parkhill and Huer Huero, where carpets of yellow flowers explode around each corner and you have to slow down to cross the river that flows over the roads.

When you're riding a loop, you may think it doesn't matter which direction you go on it, that it's the same ride either way. That's far from correct. Consider a simple loop ride with some elevation change. There are two inflection points - the lowest point and the highest point. You can ride it clockwise or counterclockwise. First of all there are differences of what side of the road you are on - the inside or the outside of the loop, and which scenery is on your left or right. Let's ignore those small details. Also, let's assume that the two inflection points are equidistant in either path, and that the slope is roughly the same either way, to remove those differences. So, you can either climb A and descend B, or climb B and descend A. These are drastically different rides because climbing and descending are totally different. In the A-B ride, you spend 90% of your time in the A section, because climbing is so much slower than descending. You will see more of the micro scenery in the A section. On one ride that I like, the Pozo-Las Pilitas ride, it's important to descend through Las Pilitas because it's full of loose dogs that will attack you; if you climb up Las Pilitas you're moving too slow and the dogs will get you (as Iain and I found out a while ago).

A lot of people confuse the feeling of exhausting their blood sugar with getting a good workout. If you do a hard ride and just drink water and don't eat at all, you will feel totally wasted by the end because you've burned all your easily available sugar (you get light headed, dizzy, can't think straight, can hardly walk). Most people think "whoa, great workout". Not so. If you do the same ride and drink a sugar solution and eat some snacks, you'll feel tired but functional at the end. That's a much better workout.


4-2-05

Game companies should have independent analysts come in and review their pipeline and process and productivity. Having anyone in house do it will only give you a biased view. Game companies all get into these quagmires where they're doing things in very stupid ways, but won't change because of internal power wars (one group doesn't want to give into another, or some people are just stuck in their ways and don't want to try new things). The independent analyst can look at real production and see how the schedules match with actual work done. This is also the clearly right way to do post-mortems. Having internal opinions on post-mortem are ok, but what you really want is the independent analyst to come in and do a full review of what exactly took so long, why you missed this milestone, etc.


4-1-05

Oh my god, my neighbors have been doing construction on their house for like the last two years. The noise is so damn annoying! Now that I'm not going to work, I'm hearing it every day and it's driving me absolutely crazy and ruining my concentration. I want to just go over there and finish the damn work myself so it will be done! There should be a law against this.

I'm going to sonic war. Whenever I leave the house I'm going to point my big, nasty speakers at them and blast the worst sounds I can find.


4-1-05

What Americans call "Belgian Waffles" are crap and doesn't exist in Belgium. There are many varieties of real Belgian Waffles; I love hot Liege Gaufres with a crispy crust from caramelized pearl sugar, dipped in chocolate. (Gaufre = Waffle, and the G is soft).


4-1-05

This morning I found a Walking Stick on my kitchen counter. My house is always a haven to bugs and creatures of all types (mainly spiders, mosquitos, ants, and mice), but a Walking Stick is certainly out of place in my vegetation-free kitchen.


4-1-05

Despite what it claims, our culture lionizes womanizers. It's considered sexy, powerful, masculine. When you read that Picasso or Vermeer or whoever was a great womanizer, cheating on their wives, seducing their models, you might think "that bastard", but it's only a jealous derision. When you read that someone was chaste or faithful, like Newton, you think "poor sorry fuck".

I wish I had talent - art or music or something. Artists can get away with anything - drugs, women, being absolute irresponsible bastards, and people will just say "he's got that artistic spirit!" and still admire and respect you.


3-31-05

Games need to have micro and macro variety. Think of a game as a musical score or a poem. Some games change over time - Stranger is a classic example of this, but the play in each portion is monotonous, the score is like AAAABBBBBCCCCC. Some games toss in changes of pace that keep the minute to minute interesting, but then that pattern stays for the whole experience, they're like ABCABCABC . Obviously you can't just have new things all the time, for time constraint reasons & also for consistency and ease of learning, but you can do better. Good patterns are like AABABAABBCBBCCBABCBDCCDBDD , so you have both micro and macro variety.


3-30-05

How to make cookies if you own a crappy oven that can't maintain a consistent temperature - for cooking that call for a 350 degree oven, instead heat the oven to 450. Put the cookies in the heated oven and now turn off the oven. Let the oven sit for the cooking time (or 15 minutes). The exact temperature and cook time will depend on how well insulated your crappy oven is. My oven cools down to around 300 degrees by the time I take the cookies out. This is actually in some ways a better way to make cookies - it leads to a crisper outside and gooier inside than just cooking at a consistent temperature. For the next batch, let the oven fully reheat to 450 again and repeat. Thanks to Cathy Johnson for the great recipe.

Brett says a Pizza stone would help; yeah, that's surely true. Also, opening the oven door a minimum amount is always a good idea.


3-30-05

Oddworld has ceased game production operations. The official release is here . Now, I know you're all dying to send me job offers and condolences and such, but stop, I'm fine and I'm not really looking for jobs right now. If you'd like to offer jobs to the talented people at the company, please send mail to jobs@oddworld.com

I've been privileged to work with a great crew at Oddworld; I'm proud of the work we did. The games didn't ever work out quite the way we wanted, but at least we tried to do something creative and different, and mostly succeeded. It's a real tragedy that Stranger's Wrath is not getting any marketting at all; I think it's a pretty good game (and the reviews bear that out). It's also a shame that we aren't able to make another game on the XBox; I'm proud of the engine we made, and the pipeline and toolchain and process that we finally had set up for our new game (Fangus) was really smooth. Our overall development process is the best I've ever seen at a small developer; I feel like we just got the factory really humming, all ready to pump out widgets, and now we're closing the doors. It's a shame that the great team we have here is going to be broken up and spread around the industry. But, so goes the tide of the game industry.


3-28-05

The parable of the three men on the bus. There are three men sitting on a bus. The bus stops and three old ladies get on and each one happens to stand near each of the three men. The first man gets up and politely offers his seat to an old lady, looks around the bus looking for admiration from the other passengers, and smiles with self-satisfaction, feeling superior to his fellow men. The second man looks up, sees the old lady, and stays seated; he takes out a book and reads. The third man is chatting eagerly with his neighbor and doesn't realize an old lady is near him. Which of these men is most admirable or despicable?


3-28-05

The right way to design casual games : make them easy & fun for the crap casual player, but provide depth and skill that better players can get into. This not only makes the game appeal to more people, it also makes players stay with the game longer as they grow into it. Even the crap casual player (eg. your grandma) will grow and learn if they keep playing a game. Simple games like "Bejewelled" could be longer-term more engaging experiences if they allowed expert play choices. Now, I'm not talking about a separate expert mode, I'm talking about more advanced ways to play the same game which are available from the beginning, but aren't necessary unless you want to play at the higher levels.


3-28-05

People use the word "communicate" these days a lot in strange ways. Rush Limbaugh is called a great "communicator". G.W. Bush and Reagan are called great "communicators". When you want to convince someone, you say you need more "communication". What's being talked about here is not the conveyance of ideas or information. If you "communicate" in this way, you are not coming away informed of actual facts, necessarilly. This "communicate" is more like "convince, buoy, pacify, homogenize". "Communicating" with a group is about "getting them on board", not because they actually should be or want to be, but because you have "communicated" with them. "Communicating" is about planting your view into other peoples' heads, with their complicity or not. In this sense, most liberals are terrible communicators. This usage of "communicate" is really using the word as in "to communicate a disease" - to spread something to others :

com·mu·ni·cate
v. com·mu·ni·cat·ed, com·mu·ni·cat·ing, com·mu·ni·cates
v. tr.
    1. To convey information about; make known; impart: communicated his views to our office.
    2. To reveal clearly; manifest: Her disapproval communicated itself in her frown.
  1. To spread (a disease, for example) to others; transmit: a carrier who communicated typhus.


3-28-05

Ergonomic design for computers is just so bad, it's ridiculous. No keyboard should have a number pad. It's nearly useless, and it makes the mouse be placed too far to the right. You have to compensate by either placing your keyboard slightly to the left (very bad), or reaching really far to the right for your mouse (very bad). Laptops are even worse. The current heavy laptop use is going to cause a massive surge in physical problems from computer use. Not only are the keyboards very bad ergonomically, the screens are too low and too small, people wind up hunching over them with necks forward, destroying their spines. Invest in physical therapy!


3-28-05

WPT's "Bad Boys of Poker". Blinds are $6k and $12k. Antonio Esfandiara raises to $30k with 77. Gus Hansen has an 8Ts and reraises to $100k. All fold to Antonio. He goes all-in, for $433k total. Back to Gus - there's $533k in the pot, it's $333k more to Gus, which is almost all of Gus's stack. Gus says "I have ten high, so there's no way I can fold". Is Gus crazy?

Gus and Antonio have the big stacks at the table; both have near $450k. The next stack down is around $250k - and he's a fish, so his stack is not worth much, and the rest are around $150k. If Gus calls and wins, he'll knock out Antonio and have a $900k stack. Since Gus plays a big stack so well, he's got a 90% chance of winning after that. If Gus folds, he'll have a stack around $350, and Antonio will have a stack around $550. Now Antonio is favored to win, and Gus is closer to the low stacks; Gus here maybe has a 30% chance of winning the tournament. The pot odds in this individual pot are irrelevant. This is also a winner-take-all tournament so the chance of winning the whole thing is all that matters. If Gus calls, his chance of winning the hand is P. His chance of winning the whole thing is then P*.9 , since if he calls and loses, he has almost no chance. If he folds, his chance is 0.3 , so for the call to be good, P must be >= 1/3.

What can Antonio have? Any pocket pair would probably play that way, though he would have limped some of the time with AA and KK. AK and AQ would have played that way, and against Gus he may have done it even with AJ, and perhaps even KQ and AT. Antonio is also a bit wild sometimes, he will make that play occasionally with any two cards. Gus says "since I have ten high", which tells us he's putting Antonio on high cards, and Gus thinks his two cards are live. Against two high cards, Gus will win about 37% of the time. Against a lower pocket pair (77 or lower) Gus wins about 45% of the time. Against 88 or 99, Gus wins about 30% , against TT or higher, Gus wins about 16%. Let's count the hands.

22 - 77 (45%) : 6*6 = 36
88 or 99 (30%) : 3+6 = 9
TT - AA (16%) : 3 + 4*6 = 27
AK,AQ,AJ,KQ (37%) : 16*4 = 64
The weighted chance of winning is : (36*.45+9*.3+27*.16+64*.37)/(36+9+27+64) = 0.345 ; we see this is just slightly more than 1/3 , which is the chance needed for playing to be profitable. Gus's move is +EV , it's not crazy at all !!

Now, the thing that makes this a great move is that most people don't realize this is simply a good mathematical EV move, so they think you are playing crazy, which makes them play badly against you. If Antonio thinks Gus is crazy and is playing more liberally, it makes Gus's move even better. After Gus does this, everyone else at the table thinks he's nuts and starts to play worse against him, making his EV for his whole career better. I'm on to you, Gus Hansen, look out!

The other big factor here is that winning this tournament means almost nothing, the prize is so small. Even if it's a bad move for winning, it's a good move for Gus's career, because it adverstises his "crazy" play which will pay off in the more important tournaments in the future.


3-23-05

My god, so many people, including the so-called pros, are just so bad at poker. They really don't understand the basic concepts of how to judge the quality of a hand! I need to finish my poker book!! Oddly, this skill isn't that important to winning poker games. Generally the play is so bad and the variance is so high, that other skills, like intimidation, reading, guts, are far more important. Properly judging hand value will only come into play in the far future, when the "old school" pros are phased out and the new mathematical pros take over, when play becomes better and you need that extra edge to win.


3-23-05

It would be cool to do a game in the style of the surreal arty Kung Fu movies, like "Crouching Tiger" or "Hero", etc. You play as some amazing warrior, and you have a series of boss fights. Each boss is really unique, and the settings and moves are almost surreal. The locations are magical, and the fights go through phases - each fight might last for an hour of gameplay, but it's not a repetetive hour of knocking health off the opposing boss. You'd want really context-sensetive moves driven by the environment, so when you get to the reeds near the river, you might do one move to pluck out reeds and throw them at your enemy like spears (he dodges them and the reeds that miss him stick through trees), then you press another button and hop up on top of the reeds, which you can stand on on your toes; fight a bit more and your enemy dives into the lake, you dive after him and fight in slow motion holding your breath under water. etc. etc.


3-22-05

An old game idea : you play a squad, each member with very different abilities. You do various missions. You do not control the squad like an RTS, you choose one member and play as that member. The other members are AI controlled. You play through a bit as one person, then you can jump back in time and play as another member. Your first session is played back on the first guy you played. When you play through the second time, if you directly affect any object that was needed in the first play, it creates a "time anomaly" which breaks the first playthrough; this creates a visual time rift in the universe. You have to go back and resume the first play session from there. Typical missions would start with the squad separated, but working towards the same goal. Obviously you'll want to coordinate things - one guy will set things up somewhere (eg. cut the security cameras in some room), while another member gets in position to make use of his buddy's plan. You can go back and correct your play session of any portion of the play of any of the squad members to try to reach the goal. In harder missions, you may play through as all four squad members, then you'll realize how you needed to really coordinate things - okay, let me go back to the first guy, he needs to hijack this jeep and get it over in position in the first minute so that it'll be in position for the third guy when he needs it there, etc.


3-22-05

I hate it when I'm arguing with someone and they keep tossing out crap after crap - statements that are just clearly lies or silly or nonsense. The Bush team has this down to some extent - someone's trying to ask you about Social Security or Iraq or whatever and you just keep tossing out purely nonsensical statements. It's easy to take any one of their ridiculous statements and crush it, but they'll just say, "oh, that wasn't really the point", so you have to move on to their next statement. It's really annoying when people do this because you spend your whole time off topic on these little ridiculous statements and you never get to the point. A lot of the time I want to just argue their side for them - I know what their view is, and the overall view is pretty reasonable and there are good ways to justify it, but they're not doing it - I came to debate the actual issues and get to a point, not just spout distractions!

Dave and I at work constantly get into big arguments and after much debating and misunderstanding and clarification, we finally realize we're both arguing the same side of the issue.


3-20-05

I went to Death Valley over the weekend. It's a pretty long drive for a weekend trip, but I'd heard word that the wildflower bloom was the best it's been in 50 years, due to the plentiful rain this year. It's a strange place. In summer it's incredibly dry and hot and barren - like moonscape. This weekend, it was packed with tourists, which created it's own surrealism - here we are out in the middle of nowhere, and there's a traffic jam. Fortunately, Death Valley is huge, so it wasn't hard to get away from the long line at the gas station.

At the bottom of Death Valley, hundred of feet below sea level, sits a huge salt lake; all around its shallow shores are deposits of crystalized salt that form a crust on the spongey earth of clumped crystals that look like cauliflower heads. All around death valley are a tall ridge of mountains - mountains of many forms; some volcanic jagged peaks, some sandstone soft and rounded by the wind. All the rocks are strange and vibrant colors - magenta, green and ochre . In the middle, the hills are covered in wild flowers of many types.


3-18-05

Since when is St. Patrick's Day a big holiday? Here in SLO it was widely celebrated - the bars were packed starting at 8 AM with people drinking Guiness (good) and green-dyed Budweiser (bad). There was bright green clothing everywhere, along with green beads (is this Mardi Gras?) and green paper hats. Originally, St. Pat's was a holy day, like Easter or All Saints Day, where people went to church, then had parades and performances and such to celebrate their spiritual leader and savior of the island. It was really Boston and New York that started to celebrate it as a way for the Irish ex-pats there to get together and drink and chat about the old country and the troubles in the new. Then their non-Irish bodies thought it looked like a mighty fine time, everyone enjoys pinching other people, and the parties in Boston and New York got bigger and bigger. Soon the rest of the U.S. wanted to get in on the fun, and of course the folks back in Ireland didn't want to be left out. Now it's yet another day devoted to the salvation and liberation by our most loved companion, Alcohol.


3-18-05

Many people, including scientists, don't understand the difference between cause and correlation. Just because two things tend to occur together does not imply any direct connection of functionality or causality. Correlation of attributes can come from many things, such as indirect related causality.


3-17-05

These days, the word "partying" has become very common. In my day, people would say they "went out" or "hit the bars", or some other phrase which is slightly more descriptive of the actual activity. "Partying" is extremely abiguous; it refers to some form of debauchery, but the ambiguity is part of the the appeal. In most common use, "partying" refers to going out and drinking, usually to excess, usually at bars, but it could refer to any sort of crazy/fun/illegal activity. It usually involves some sort of mind-destroying substance, booze being by far the most common, but narcotics is also "partying". It often involves some level of sexual activity, be it flirting, trying to get phone numbers, a one night stand, or an orgy. In actual practice, the typical night of "partying" consists of getting some warm-up drinks and being sort of bored, going to a bar and getting sloshed and not really doing anything (while wishing you were doing something more - just kiss that girl damn it, oh god I'm such a wimp I hate myself, I'll have another beer to drown the pain), and going home dangerously drunk. The next day you can go to work and tell everyone you were out "partying", and it sounds exciting and ambigious - maybe you were snorting cocaine off hookers' butts - rather than dreary and self-destructive like it really is.


3-15-05

Why in the fuck would anyone care about getting a gmail account? My email account has infinite gigabytes of storage, and it's all instantly accessible and searchable by me, even offline. It's called my own computer.


3-13-05

Here's a cute irony - by using a 16-bit object index in Stranger's Wrath, we were able to have almost 64k objects in our biggest level. If we had used a 32-bit object index, we could have only fit perhaps 40k objects.


3-13-05

I'm 27 years old, and on a most basic level, I don't know how to live.

There are a lot of things that I like a certain way. I like the big spoons separated from the little spoons in my silverware holder. That way, when I have a spoon emergency, I can quickly grab the right type. What do I do when someone comes over and puts the spoons away the wrong way? I'm grateful that they're helping me with the dishes, but at the same time I just saw them do it wrong. If I say nothing and just correct their work, they'll get annoyed because I'm watching over their shoulder correcting them, which is annoying to everyone. If I tell them how I'd like them to do it, they get annoyed that I always have to have things my way.

I don't know how to trust people; I just really can't figure this out. When someone regularly does the wrong thing - how can you fully trust them? How can you ask them to do something critical for you, and not check up on them, not supervise them, when you know that they often make mistakes? It's easy to just not trust these people, but "these people" are 99% of the world, and if you don't trust them you can't have any kind of mutual relationship with them.

I really have no idea how to spend an evening without booze or TV; sure, there are rare cases where you can do something fun that occupies you, or work through the night on some exciting project, etc. but on a daily basis, when I'm tired and uninspired, I feel like I'm just trying to make the hours go away, which is a horrible thing.


3-13-05

Any single way to index music is crap, because I query for it in many different ways. My own music collection really needs to be in a database, indexed by Title, Band, Quality (rated by me), Genre, Mood/Tempo, connections to other bands, etc. It should also track the last time I listened to it.


3-13-05

I've wanted to do "pelvis-led motion" for a while, but I probably never will, so I'll write about it instead. The idea goes like this - you want to move a biped around the world, controlled by one analog stick. This is difficult to make natural, and one of the hardest bits are the first few small steps - basically when someone pushes the stick, are they trying to start a run, or trying to take one tiny step, or trying to just turn around, etc. If you could see the future, you could do planning and make very natural animations (eg. you could do this with a recorded input sequence), but with interactive input you can't do this. The basic idea is - let the stick push the pelvis, and let the legs follow. The pelvis can be controlled by some incredibly simple model, like it has some position and velocity and facing {X,V,F}. The stick is a 2d vector S with length between 0 and 1. We promote it to 3d with zero in the Z and scale it by the player's max speed, to make the 3-vector desired velocity D. To move the pelvis, we simply drive the velocity V towards the desired D, and we turn the facing towards D with intensity |S|. If you like you can do a simple circular-buffer low-pass on the stick as well, or use slightly fancier models here. The upper body basically follows the pelvis, modulo animation and IK control. The lower body then just takes steps to try to keep the feet under the pelvis. This uses the position of the current feet, the position & velocity of the pelvis (to do leading) to pick where the feet should wind up, and plays appropriate anims (IK adjusted) to get the feet there. You probably want to blend various anims for the possible directions & speeds you can step. One key here is that the anim choice is not driven from the pelvis velocity the way it is in more standard biped sims, they're chosen from where we want the feet to go.

For example, let's imagine I'm starting with a guy at rest. I push the stick slightly forward, which makes the pelvis go forward a bit. At first, the feet might just stay locked where they are, and the guy just leans a bit. If I leave the stick forward, he'll take a little step to catch up, but he might just step with one foot first; if the pelvis is still between the two feet, there's no need to step with the other foot; now if I move the pelvis to catch up with the forward foot, he'll bring the back foot forward. Now let's say I slam the stick forward before the back foot even touches the ground - now instead of landing that foot next to the forward one, he'll pass it by and take a bigger step.

An interesting extension is to provide feedback from the legs to your drive force. That is, look at the configuration of the legs and determine how they can apply forces and only allow those forces to the pelvis. So, for example, if you're in the middle of stepping forward and your foot is off the ground, you wouldn't be able to reverse direction, you have to wait for your foot to hit the ground, then you can apply that force. A less intrusive compromise might go like this - let the simple pelvis model run, but force each footstep move to finish - eg. don't cancel or reverse a footstep move in progress. Then, constrain the pelvis moves based on the foot IK - eg. the pelvis moves as it wishes, but only if the feet can stay IK'd and not distort the legs beyond some limits.


3-13-05

I did talks with various middleware providers at GDC. [...]

The Unreal 3 Engine is rapidly becoming the only viable choice for AAA game development. Unlike most people, I don't find it particularly amazing; the graphical features are still behind the literature, it's just a reasonably good execution of what's well-known. The lighting is still just a conglomeration of hacks, they're not really trying to be more physically accurate, which is something I'd love to try some day. However, there are basically no viable alternatives. The Renderware guys have not proved they can make a decent engine. Source is pretty cool, but it's very specialized, and Valve is not putting the work into nice tools the way Epic is. [...]


3-13-05

I'd like a DDR game for the PC that can analyze any MP3 and make a step program for it at whatever difficulty I request. Two of my problems with DDR are - 1) I don't really like the songs, I want to dance to my songs of my own choosing, and 2) for the few songs I do like, it's hard to get exactly the difficulty I want, sometimes the delta from "light step" to "normal" to "heavy" is too big of a jump, I'd like to have finer control to ease it in. Of course if you had such a program you could easily make an AI model do the steps and it would be a great music visualizer.


3-13-05

This gray weather is going to kill me.

The Mission looks like a promising place for me to live in SF. It's a bit grungy, there's real life there, hipsters and artists and working people. There's a park where the people go and sit in the sun on nice days. There are pretty good clubs in walking distance. There are quiet residential streets just one block off the party streets. The only big negative is the crime. It's one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in SF, plagued by hispanic gang violence. On the other hand, most of the cool & affordable neighborhoods are known for their crime. It's bizarre to me the way poor people can live in these areas with crazy high rents and home values. I grew up in LA which is severely financially segregated for the most part - the poor are isolated into ghettos by property costs. A small studio apartment in The Mission costs around $1000/month - how do the gang bangers afford that?

It's really interesting to me walking around The Mission District as opposed to the other "bad" neighborhoods in SF that I've been in lately - parts of Oakland, SOMA, the Tenderloin, etc. The Mission is primarily hispanic, and that influence is thriving and vibrant there - lots of panaderias, latino music stores, markets, restaurants, working people walking around, and lots of wire services to send money to Mexico. It's amazing to me how the hispanics in America work so hard and send so much money back to their families (it's the #2 industry in Mexico, after oil, bigger than agriculture, manufacturing, textiles, etc.). The Mission is poor, but vibrant, working, you can feel the community and pride in their culture. The other bad neighborhoods are predominantly African-American, and they have a totally different feel. There are a lot more bums and drunks just sitting around on the streets, begging, people in groups just hanging out doing nothing; the shops are boarded up, the buildings are run down, the streets are dirty; you feel hopelessness there, people who are poor and believe they will always be poor.


3-12-05

"I Heart Huckabees" is a great movie; it's really funny, smart, quirky, original, engaging, thought-provoking, whimsical. It's made by David O. Russell, who previously made only unremarkable films. I find all the celebrities in it rather unnecessary and distracting, though perhaps they add to the strange unreal feeling of it; many of the sets are really obviously bad sets, which I can also only presume is intentional to add to the experience.

"Dog Day Afternoon" is a big disappointment. Maybe back in the 70's when it came out, Al Pacino's screaming over-acting was fresh and energizing, but now it just feels like part of his "Hoo Ha" oevre of "Scent of a Woman" and "Scarface" and "Dick Tracy". It's another one of those stories that takes a little tiny narrative path and just keeps diverting it and piling obstacles on it over and over to stretch it out.


3-12-05

Gus Hansen is a very smart player; he's not a wild, random player the way many people thing. Gus's play is based on these wise principles - 1) Most tournament players are too tight, so raising them with almost any hand is a good move, because they fold too often. 2) If you make a mistake in poker, the worst possible mistake you can make is folding when you have the hand won; calling when you're a small underdog is a very minor mistake. 3) If you get all-in preflop, even with really bad cards, you are almost always only a 60/40 dog, eg. if he has AK and you have 53, it's only 63/37. 4) If you play strangely, many people will adjust to you incorrectly, and that makes you money; poker is all about adjusting to each other's play correctly.

An example to illustrate this goes like this - on the button with 53, Gus might raise the blinds to make it 3X the blinds to go. He doesn't want action here, he just wants a fold, but if he does get a call and sees a flop, you might catch something and surprise him (he won't expect you to have the 53), that way you win a big hand. Let's say the big blind raises all-in. Say you made it $30k, and he had $100k, so it's $70k more to you. If you call the pot will have $205 (beause of the small blind), and it's only $70 to call. You're getting good pot odds to call, even with the 53. When you turn it over, everyone thinks you're crazy, but they were good logical moves all the way. The fact that everyone thinks you're crazy playing the 53 will pay you off even better in the long run.

Note that these types of plays may not be good in your home game. They're based on the fact that most good tournament players fold a lot; if you're playing against calling stations, these moves are not profitable. On the other hand, home players will adjust even more poorly than pros adjust to Gus, so advertising your "craziness" may pay off even better.


3-12-05

Doyle Brunson hates AQ. That's ridiculous, AQ is a great hand, of course you should play it, and play it strong. The problem is that many people over-value AQ against strength. Let's say you raise with AQ and someone goes all-in over the top. What hands would they do that with? AA, KK, QQ, AK all have you dominated. A tight player would never go over the top with AJ or AT. They might also have JJ,TT,99,88,77,66. There are 3+6+3+12 = 24 hands that dominate you, about 75/25. There are 6*6=36 hands that are about 50/50. Your chance of winning is (24*.25 + 36*.45)/(24+36) = 37% Let's say he has you out-chipped; you originally bet $100, and he had $500, so there is $600 in the pot and it's $400 to call (there will be $1000 in the pot after you call). If you call, your EV is -$400 + .37*$1000 = -$30 , not a good bet. Let's say he's somewhat looser and would go all-in with 55,44,33,22 as well. That makes 24 more hands that are about 50/50, so your chance of winning is (24*.25 + 60*.45)/(24+60) = 39% - not much help! Now let's say he'll go all-in with AJ and AT as well. These hands you dominate, there are 24 of them, so your chance of winning is (24*.25 + 24*.75 + 60*.45)/(24+24+60) = 47% , so your ev is -$400 + .47*$1000 = +$70 . So, now the bet is good for EV, but for him to go all-in with AJ or AT is quite loose. In a tournament, you still should probably lay down your hand, even if you think he's that loose. The reason is your EV for calling is quite small, just $70, but you will lose 53% of the time, and if you lose you're out of the tournament. The story would be different if you had him way out-stacked, you would want to take that gamble because it's +EV and you might knock him out.


3-10-05

PopCap games suck. Yes, they're nice and polished, they have nice graphics and sound. The gameplay in basically every one is - click the mouse on the (jewel/fish/coin/ball) as (fast as you can/at the right time). There's almost no strategy in any of them, and the difficulty ramps up insanely slowly. Yeah, I know they're aimed at the casual gamer, but they play more like they're aimed at retards (no offense intended to retards). Actual good game design for casual gamers can be easily seen in board games. Games like Othello, Poker, Monopoly, are all very easy for a novice to pick up, and fun for them to play, but have depth and strategy that can occupy and entertain any level of player.

One of the great things about Poker is that it's one of the very few games where a novice and an expert can play together and both enjoy the session. Obviously that's not always true, but it is exceptionally so. In most games - traditional board games like Chess, video games like shooters or fighting games - when an expert and a novice play, it's no fun for either because the expert just dominates the novice. In poker, you can sort of play on different levels. The novice doesn't really understand what's going on, so he's happy when he makes big hands and wins some pots, and occasionally he'll even win the session. The expert knows the luck will come and go, and he's playing 2 or 3 levels beyond the novice, setting traps, gathering information, learning the novice's patterns and slowly milking away his stack. In a ring game with a few experts and a few novices, everyone can have fun.


3-09-05

Things I've learned at the GDC so far - 1) the PS3 is the suck, 2) Xenon will be slower than PC's, 3) Dave Wu's arms are as big as my legs, 4) xoxtruffles are great, 5) "specialty" cookies are great, 6) Valve is taking over the world, 7) San Francisco is cool, I love the people and the neighborhoods 8) game developers are such geeks, 9) BART is great.


3-06-05

Third and last day of the indie game jam. I'm making a game about managing software developers, which is incredibly sick and wrong - I do that all the time in my life, and here I am making a virtual sim of it? I'm supposed to be living out some sort of dream reality in the virtual world, you know, doing drugs and having sex with teenagers and driving fast cars, instead I'm making a game where you play the total "Office Space" or "The Office" douche manager who's telling the team to "push the envelope" and "think outside the box" and such. I'm pretty tired, but I haven't been cranking super hard; I just can't put in the hours and not sleep the way I used to; I'm also not willing to ruin myself in that way anymore. I'm still eating reasonably well, working out; in jams past I would just pound the junk food and work for hours. I've lost a lot of excitement about the jam, but I supposed that's to be expected - the first two years I was so jazzed about the whole thing, and now it's sort of becoming comfortable; the most fun things are when you really challenge yourself with something new. I need to go to the Indie Folk Dance Jam to really get that challenge and excitement of a novel experience.


3-03-05

I'm currently at IGJ3 (the 4th Indie Game Jam), in Oakland. The theme this year is "human interaction". The idea is to make a game just based on human interaction, without simple arcade elements or trite game things like death/shooting, etc.


2-27-05

So, I've missed some more great obvious investments. In games, EA and Midway were both reasonably obvious investments, and they've gone up fantastically in the last 2 years (EA by 150%, Midway by 250%). I always have trouble buying on the way up, because I convince myself that the market has already put the valuation in for the things that I'm thinking of, but they haven't, and the stock continues to rise. I'm in the same quandry now - games is clearly a growing business, and EA and Midway continue to be two of the companies best suited to capitalize on that, but will the stock keep going up, or is it peaked? The other big general ones have been REIT's and energy. Looking back now, I obviously should have bought a lot of things when Bush got into office - energy, defense, Halliburton, anything in Saudi business, but clearly Oil is the big one, everything Bush has done has been very pro-oil business. Fortunately, I have succeeded in my mild bet against the dollar. I put a chunk of money in emerging markets, which have done ok in their own currency, but are doing very well against the dollar. As long as Mr. Bush continues to intentionally drive down the dollar, my foreign holdings keep going up. It's hard to buy into Oil and REIT's now. I think the price of oil is near the peak sustainable price, around $50/barrel. Presumably as Iraq gets opened up, production will resume there and some of the pressure will be reduced from the global market. Of course, if we invade Iran that will create a new crisis to drive the price up, and Saudi Arabia might collapse any day now, which would create a massive global oil crisis, which of course is very good for Exxon/Mobil. BTW, Exxon/Mobil is now the largest company in the world by market value, passing up General Electric, which I wrote about in the past. REIT's are hard to buy into because I believe we're due for a massive real estate crash any day now. Home prices have gone up ridiculously and many home-owners are heavily leveraged to buy into their properties; when the market resettles, there's going to be a massive amount of people defaulting on their mortgages. I've been trying to figure out how to bank on this - who will make out when this happens? Is it the lenders, the banks, the mortgage companies? They will suffer because they'll be selling fewer homes and not getting the mortgage income, but on the plus side they'll take over lots of property. Maybe my best move is to wait for the crash and then pounce and buy up real-estate and REIT's and such after the crash happens. There's something very depraved about looking at the horrible abuses of the world markets and thinking about how to capitalize on them.


2-24-05

Everything is funnier when you're drunk. Almost nothing is funny to me when I'm sober; it's just all very stupid and old-hat. Lately, I've been trying to watch "Mr. Show" because I always heard it was very innovative and great. I think on the comedy scale, it's pretty bad, like, in order for "Mr. Show" to be funny, I have to be so drunk that I'm right on the edge of blacking out.


2-24-05

There's a common test that's given to students in US schools. It goes something like this -
Step 1. Read all the instructions before proceeding.
Step 2. Take a piece of paper and fold in half, then in half again
Step 3. Cut off the four corners of the paper, at 45 degree angles, half an inch from the corner
etc. etc.
Step 10. Don't do any of the above steps
Step 11. Write the word "done" on your piece of paper.
Of course, I rushed straight through the steps, got to step 10, and went "oh fuck". The clever bastards make you do things like cut your paper so that you can't hide the fact that you rushed ahead. Looking back now, I realize this is a sort of fascist oppression of free thinkers - follow the rules! do the steps exactly as you're told! don't look ahead, just do each step as your told at each instant.


2-24-05

It's impossible to find a French-style "cafe creme" in America. I think a cafe creme is the peak of the delicious coffee experience.


2-22-05

"28 Days Later" sucks really bad. Do not watch it! There's nothing at all redeeming about it - the visuals suck (the digital video is just crappy), the acting is bad, the story is insultingly stupid, it's not at all thought provoking.

"Nine Queens" is ok. You riff-raff would probably love it, go watch it. The acting and direction is quite good. The story is rather frustrating. The twist is obvious pretty much from the beginning, and then it just becomes the story of how we get to the conclusion. That would be all well and good, but it's one of those stories where the actual task is very simple, but you keep getting problem after problem thrown in the way - you're so close to the end, then whoah another problem, over and over. It has no solid story arc that progresses. The dialog is good, the sets are good.

"Life is Sweet" is a solid movie. It's rather hard to watch, it doesn't really go anywhere, and the characters are quite annoying. On the plus side, the acting is strong, it's very realistic, it's not insulting, it doesn't have any big mood moments or silly twists, etc.

"We don't live here any more" is a great movie, I adore Mark Ruffalo, he's a fantastic actor, though that's almost spoiled for me now because when I see him I see Mark Ruffalo instead of the character. Laura Dern is just horrible.

"The Five Senses" is a great, great movie. I think I first saw it long ago, perhaps in Seattle, perhaps with Tiffiny? Or maybe it was alone. I remember the guy getting the late night massage; I thought he had AIDs, but now I see that's not in the movie? It's simple, there are some rather poor/cheesy characters, but overall it's beautiful. The Marie-Louise Parker character in particular is annoying, she seems to be trying to say sexy/shocking female things, but they don't come out that way, they're just awkward.


2-22-05

Consider a simple game. A value moves up and down, generally near zero, with a slow random walk. The player has two buttons - raise & lower - which push the value up and down. Your goal is to restore it to zero. If you hit the right button (to move it towards zero) you get a point, if you hit the wrong one, you lose a point. With one player, this game is quite trivial. Played networked, you have many players, all of them are playing on the same value. Now the game is quite complex. When the value moves, many people try to move it, and they generally severely over-compensate, so then the value swings the other way, and they try to push it back, etc. The movement of the value is now wild and chaotic. Also, by having everyone playing and not making a deal, they can only severely decrease their total score. In fact, the best possible score is acheived if everyone agrees to just let one best player play for them and split the points.


2-21-05

Quick, easy cassoulet : don't deal with the beans yourself, it's not even close to worth the time or effort. Buy canned ready to eat beans - canellini or whatever type you like; the best brands are Trader Joes or Progresso. Cook in 1 pan.

Preheat oven to 350. In a big stew pan, sear your meat to brown. Lots of types of meat are good here - chicken, duck, lamb, pork shoulder, etc. Generally choose the same cuts of meats you would use in a pot roast, something that will tenderize nicely with braising; rustic country cuts & flavors are good here, and using very lean cuts is okay. Generally you want to use at least 2 different types of meat, and some type of sausage. For example - duck sausage and pork shoulder - chicken thighs and lamb shank and pork sausage - etc. Work in batches, brown meat and remove to the side; be careful not to burn the brown bits on the bottom of the pan; salt and pepper of course; if the meat is at all fatty, no oil is needed at all. Add 1 diced yellow onion and cook slowly to brown slightly; add butter or oil if the pan is too dry. Deglaze the pan with liquid of your choice - white wine, beer, or stock are all fine. Now add the meat back in, add 1 quart of stock, and any root vegetables or aromatics - chopped carrot is nice, celery, turnip, garlic, pearl onions, etc - not too much though, this is about the meat and beans, not the veggies. Add bay leaves, thyme, and 1 dried red chili. If you want you can do a bouquet garni, but I usually don't bother - let people pick the herbs and stems out on the plate, it's fun. Put in the oven to simmer with the lid on for about an hour. After the hour, add the bits that don't need so much cooking. Now's when you add the beans, I also like to add some canned whole tomatos (diced) (again, Trader Joe's or Progresso). Cook for about another half hour. Take the lid off if you have a lot of liquid, leave it on if you don't. If you have too much liquid, pour some off and reduce it on the stove and then add it back. Serve with a sprinkle of parsely and toasted baguette. Note - bacon or similar fatty pork is delicious in this, but I try to avoid such poison; use it if you wish.


2-21-05

I hate that movies are all 2 hours now. It's too long for most movies; 1:30 is about right for a typical movie.

I feel like I'm repeating myself; I'm a record caught in a rut; I keep having the same ideas because I keep having the same stimulus. I need to be kicked.


2-21-05

Various web sites are accumulating rich databases about me. Those databases are non-transferrable and very valuable - both to them and to me. I like to shop for CD's at Insound and Epitonic, but I always buy at Amazon. I'd like to support those other sites - they're much better - but I need Amazon because it keeps the database of my purchases and reviews, and it gives me valuable recommendations from that. Free the data! Only I have the rights to the database of my own tastes!


2-20-05

Fondant is NOT edible.


2-20-05

Arroyo Hondo bridge. Andrew Murray. Opolo. Linne Calado. Zin Alley.


2-19-05

I'm sick of people who over-react to minor things. Everyone needs to chill.


2-15-05

A useful piece of software to have would be an engine that measures the difference between two images using an approximation of the Human Visual System (HVS). This would provide a better error metric for image compression and approximation than the typical PSNR - even PSNR in something like gamma-corrected Lab space is pretty worthless. You need to put in factors like edge detection, gradient and smooth area detection, etc. For example, let's say you have an image with values like - [ 1, 1, 1, 17, 1, 1, 1 ] ; it's far better to make that into [ 1, 1, 1, 27, 1, 1, 1 ] than to change it to [ 1, 3, 2, 17, 1, 3, 1 ] , even though the former has a lot more noise in the strict sense, the latter looks more wrong because it breaks up the "flat" feature that the eye is good at detecting.


2-13-05

The bastards at Wells Fargo have charged me their last ridiculous fee; my money shall be theirs no longer! Now I just have to find a decent bank to switch to. I already have an account I like at ING, but they don't offer ATM's and such. Looks like the American Express banking is pretty good. Here's a pretty good survey of online banks from PIRG - link


2-13-05

The new articles about the U.S. Government torturing people at Guantanamo are just an insult. Hey, it's another guy's story of abuse. Hey, we've been doing it for years and no one has done anything about it. We tortured people in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo. We've extradited immigrants to countries like Syria, Egypt and Pakistan, where they are then tortured. The New York Times makes me sick.


2-13-05

There's this ridiculous ideal of "carpe diem" - following your passion or whatever; in the trite dream fiction, the only thing holding you back is fear. In the real world, to chase that dream you usually have to give up something major that you can probably never get back. In the real world, lives are very short and opportunities are very few; if you walk away from something great, you'll probably never get it again.


2-13-05

I hate it when you ask a question and someone who doesn't really know much about it responds with some big trivial and semi-wrong tirade. It completely diverts attention from the original question and people start talking about this response, and you lose the opportunity to get any real valuable information.


2-10-05

I hate watching movies where the director is trying to make me feel a certain way, but I feel something else. I'm in the middle of despising some character, when the music swells with tear-jerking melodies trying to create sympathy for this jerk. The emotional disonnance is like a bad chord, nails on a chalkboard, but it's inside my own mind and it makes me want to stab an ice pick into my brain. I far prefer movies that just present a situation and characters and let you make your own judgement, that don't use cheap tricks to force the emotions in a certain direction.


2-10-05

The Qupé Syrah has started showing up in stores for $15/bottle - that's a fantastic deal and you should buy it up if you see it. I'm talking about the 2001 Qupé Syrah "Bien Nacido Vineyard" ; be a bit careful, the "Central Coast" Syrah is not very good, it's actually a blend; all of the single-vineyard syrahs from Qupé that I've had are excellent.


2-10-05

It occurs to me that most problems in programming happen when the coders act without asking questions. So many guys on my team get to bits of code that they don't really understand, and they don't ask any questions, they just try to fix it. While I applaud their initiative, this causes major problems that a few seconds of talking could have averted. Of course, this is not limitted to programming. Most of the world's problems come when determined people plug away at a problem they don't really understand and don't ask questions of the people who know more about the problem. Sometimes this also leads to breakthroughs, sometimes it takes a less informed eye to see what all the experts have been blind to. Why can't I make any rash statements without seeing the other side?


2-8-05

You can fill in the text for the following rants. Any more than the outline is a waste of bits.

Cheaters on the Social Contract.

Morality is what you do when noone's watching.

How you think you made up a song, then realize you heard it without knowing.

I have total disdain for rich people that shop in thrift stores and dress emo or punk, yet I am one of them.


2-8-05

Google is a spell checker. Try two spellings and Google will tell you which is more common on the internet. The interesting thing about this is that it's not a static dictionary, it's a living document that changes as spellings change. Unfortunately it has a bad positive feedback loop - if a misspelling gets into the system, it propagates.


2-8-05

I keep thinking there's a big opportunity for simple PC MMO Tamagotchi games where you can play with your little guy and feed him, he talks to you and plays and learns. There sort of are a lot of these games, though, and none of them really seem compelling to me. I would want my pet to be like a real pet or baby - it learns and responds to me; in the MMO setting it can also meet other peoples' pets and learn from them; you'd want some kind of nice AI model for the pet that can pick up interesting behavior. The key is that the user should be surprised and amused by the pet.


2-8-05

"Love me if you dare" is a great movie, but a horrible English title for the French movie "Jeux d'enfants". It's directed by Yann Samuell with a magical-realism style similar to Jean Pierre Jeunet (Amelie, Cite' des Enfants Perdues). The story in the end doesn't really go anywhere, and it jerks and lurches forward at an uneven pace, but the chawrm of the actors and the wit of the visuals and directing make up for it.


2-6-05

How to improve MetaCritic : (this is pretty trivial/standard statistical analysis stuff, so it's silly they don't do any of it). 1) discard outliers. The right way to do this is with a simple gaussian fit; any ratings outside twice the standard deviation are discarded, or whatever. The simple way is just to drop the top and bottom scores. 2) weight scores by quality. Different information sources have different qualities/confidences in [0,1]. So, a good source like GameSpot or IGN or whatever would have a confidence near 1.0 ; random fan sites and crap reviewers like Maxim with low quality would have almost no affect on the weighted average score. 3) renormalize scores to a standard scale. The meaning of "90%" varies a huge amount from source to source. They should be renormalized so that they're all roughly on the same scale. You can do this by scaling them all so that their average is around 50% and their standard deviation is roughly the same.


2-2-05

I don't think there's ever been a good female comedian, ever, not one. And don't say Janeane Garafolo, or Rita Rudner, you will just embarass yourself. If you search "female comedian" on Google, you don't find anything about "this person is so funny", all you find is "book these girls to balance your line up" or "females are really making strides in the industry". Why is this? Do balls you make you funny? Certainly, having floppy junk between your legs is funny, but it doesn't seem a necessary component. Maybe girls are just too happy; being fucked up and unhappy is certainly a requirement for being a good comedian. Also, there are girls like Ellen DeGeneres who were kind of funny (back before she got money; actually Roseanne was pretty funny before her sitcom), but they're funny compared to the terrible other girls, not actually funny compared to great stand-up (Richard Pryor, Stephen Wright, etc.).


2-2-05

Cool Hand Luke is a great old movie about an admirable man who's got some flaws and winds up in jail. When it was made, this was reasonably rare. Now, it's shockingly common, about 1 in 150 people are currently in jail. The incarceration conditions then look horrible, but they're far far worse now. And yet, there are no movies about it now, no articles, nothing. We turn our backs on the unfortunate, we don't want to be like them, we have no sympathy for them, we're better than them; we want to be one of the robber-barons, not one of the robbed.


1-30-05

Beautiful places near SLO - Santa Rosa Creek Road, Tepusquet Canyon Road, Figueroa Mountain Road, Colson Canyon. A little closer - Reservoir Canyon, High Mountain Road, my house. I'm not really a fan of Montana de Oro or the Irish Hills or Cerro San Luis or Bishop's Peak; all rather bland to me.


1-30-05

Web cam wind chime. The web cam wind chime (WCWC) is a really trivial audio-visual device. The web cam on your computer delivers per-pixel intensities which the WCWC watches for movement; this movement is used in a soft activation model for the wind chime simulation. The WCWC auto-normalizes the activation to reasonable ranges, subtracting off background agitation, etc. The wind chime sim creates pleasant tones no matter what the activation, so it's not like crazy input can make unpleasant sounds. The result is that you can point it out your window and sort of get a classic wind chime sound (passing cars also make great activators), or you can point it at yourself and it will tinkle as you walk around.

Rhythm typing watcher and dynamic music. I love coding or writing and feeling the beat of the music and sort of typing along with it; the problem is the music doesn't always make a good beat for typing. The solution of course is to make the music from your typing. It works like this - typing, or any other form of activator (like a web cam) drives a music sim. The music sim could be very simple - it starts with just a nice mellow background track that's always playing at the zero activation level. This background track is at some base BPM. As you start typing, the system sees the activation, and each keypress is a beat. The amount of typing also gives an intensity measure. The system guesses the BPM of your typing and tries to scale the background track to match your BPM or some integer multiple or divisor of your BPM; eg if the base track is 40 BPM and you're typing at 73 BPM, it would try to match 73/2 (36.5) by slowing down the base track. Based on your level of activity, higher tracks would ease in, first like maybe a simple hi-hat at your exact BPM (73), then some embellishment tracks; they would fade back out when your activity dropped off.


1-26-05

Stranger's Wrath is on shelves - go get a copy! Play past the tutorial and the initial bit in town - trust me, it gets better. Oh, and you can invert all the camera controls if you like - you can have crazy Splinter Cell or Halo style 3rd person controls. Also, the 3rd person view is not like a 3rd person version of the 1st person view - the camera does not act like a 1st person cam the way it does in like Heretic-style 3rd person - our 3rd person is like a platformer; please compare it to Ratchet & Clank or something like that.

One thing that's bugging me is the reviewers that give the game like an 8.5 (out of 10) and list all these great things about it, and don't really mention anything bad. I know there are a lot of flaws with the game, I could list them, but how as a reviewer can you get off giving the game an 85% when you don't mention any flaws? Game industry journalism in general is absolute shit, but of course criticism in general isn't much better.

I hear a lot of complaints about the camera in reviews, but I'm not really sure what people are complaining about. Some people think the first person camera is too slow. I'd like to see actual usability testing on the speed of the fps cam look to see if that's really an issue. I suspect that the real issue there is that the first person camera is different than Halo, and everyone is used to Halo, so anything different feels bad. Some people complain about the 3rd person camera being too slow; again, I'd love to see real testing. It's about the same speed as the cams in Sly Cooper or Rather & Clank, but it is a lot slower than the first person cam; it's a navigation cam, not an action cam. Some people complain about the 3rd person cam getting caught on things. Yeah, that's unfortunate, but I've always found the alternatives to be worse - bring the cam closer is bad, making the cam really stiff and twitchy or making it cut, all are bad. It would've been nice to have some more nice smooth camera repellers on objects the camera can get stuck on. This is one of those areas where there's no replacement for lots of testing. The camera feels great to me because I've worked with it so much, it's what I'm used to. You need to be able to actually watch virgins get their hands on it - and their words really are pretty useless too, I need to see what is actually happening to the camera when they're feeling frustrated.


1-24-05

Fava Beans - eat them out at a restaurant. Do not make them at home. Last night I made Favas that I found at our local farmer's market. You get a huge sack of big beautiful beans, you blanche them, shuck them, then you have to peel each individual bean - and after all that work you wind up with a tiny handful of beans. It's also stupid that "bean" can either refer to the pod or the pea inside the pod. Despite all that, Favas are delicious. The beans (peas) are meaty and earthy and mellow. They should be cooked just slightly past "al dente" so that they are firm and hold their shape, but are soft, not mushy and not falling apart. I did them with browned pancetta deglazed with beer, shallots, and beet greens. Most places would use white wine, not beer, but I was drinking beer, and I think beer pairs very well with pork and earthy flavors.

Crab cakes are another classic dish you should get out and not at home. Way too much work for the value if you do it yourself.


1-24-05

eBay is at $85 right now, probably a good buy in that it will go up, but a terrible buy in the sense that it's grossly over-valued even at that level.


1-11-05

The other big thing google needs besides the NoT is for me to be able to mark up for my self the idea that when I search for X, I want to find Y, regardless of any other page rankings. I use google to find pages, rather than actual web addresses. Let's say I want to visit "pitchfork music" - I can't remember the exact page address, but put it in google and you'll find www.pitchforkmedia.com ; I need to be able to mark that any time I just search for "pitchfork" that should be the #1 hit for me. In general this could be easily done by just noticing the pages I visit and spend time at, those pages should be higher in the rankings for me.


1-11-05

It's kind of sad that most people (including myself) are far more interesting and provocative as internet avatars than as real people. I wish my internet self could get together with other peoples' internet selves and talk about social constructs and beaurocracy and breaking norms, but instead my real self will just get together with other peoples' real selves and talk about the weather and nonsense like that.


1-11-05

Fun games for the DDR pad off the top of my head - first of all, you can make any type of game, like a platformer or a shooter, space invaders or galaga, etc. but those games are better played with a standard dpad controller; the idea is to come up with games that are more fun because of the pad. 1) track & field; this is obvious and clearly great fun, even just sprints would be fun in multiplayer, you can easily do various track events. 2) fighting games; a kung-fu game where you actually move your feet like the fighter to do moves would be cool, again this would be best in multiplayer; a judo or sumo game could be really cool too, where your position on the pads is like your weight distribution. 3) balance/leaning games, like snowboarding; your position on the pad is where you weight goes; the only big problem is the pad is digital, not analog, so you don't have very fine control. There are also lots of variations on beat-matching, like dodging a sequence of attacks in the four direction, but this is just beat matching in disguise. The games I really like are the ones where you use your body as a controller in roughly the same way you would to do the real action - so like running in the track game is an alternating sequence of L and R presses.


1-10-05

One thing that's always sort of boggled my mind is the way some people believe things that there's no good reason to believe. Specifically, it comes up with religion; I'm not talking about the existance of God, or some sort of higher power - that's a major thing, and if you believe it or not, I have no beef with that. The thing that's bizarre to me is the idea of believing that some specific doctrine is exactly right - why should it be right? why should you believe that? Today it's finally occured to me that this is part of a more general spectrum of human minds. In general there are a lot of things that may or may not be true, and each has some likelihood of being true. For example, "evolution happens" may or may not be true, since we cannot ever know anything exactly, but it has a 99.9999% chance of being true; now, you can choose to believe it to be true or not. If you choose against the odds, you are probably wrong, but you can certainly do that, just like you can go to Vegas and bet against the odds. There are plenty of things like this - "there is a God" , "Astrology governs behavior" , "the full moon makes people crazy" , "there are angels on Earth" , etc. For all of these kind of statements, I personally am inclined to not believe them without evidence. In general, if you don't have strong evidence for a statement, I choose not to believe it. The result is that I believe very few things. As I said recently on some message board, the only real beliefs that I hold to be true are :

1. The laws of the universe are finite and knowable (knowable means knowable in principle, not necessarily knowable in practice).

2. Everything in the universe is governed by those laws.

That's it. But that's sort of just my choice - I choose to not believe things that are unlikely or unsupported. Other people choose to believe things without evidence. They find life more enjoyable if they simply choose to believe certain things without really having evidence. In general there's a spectrum of human thought and evaluation, where different people need more or less evidence to jump onto some belief.


1-10-05

Is there a single developer in the US making interesting games? By "interesting" I mean things that defy categorization, that provide new forms of interactive experience. Games, like modern art, can be mind expanding by putting you in a universe and interaction paradigm that you've never met. Typical US games are nothing like this - they're just crappy simulacrums of the real world, which does not interest me at all. Japan makes tons of interesting games; only the last few years we've gotten things like Rez, Mojib Ribbon, Katamari Damacy, Mr. Mosquito, Wario Ware, Feel the Magic, etc. etc.

The other type of game that I really love are the very simple games built on some fun mechanic, like Tetris Attack, Marble Madness, Boulder Dash, etc.. These are fantastic, but almost impossible to make. The inspiration for a simple mechanic that makes a game is not something you can just have on demand.

Why has no one made other games for the DDR pad ? The DDR pad is the biggest selling alternative input device on any platform, there are lots of them out there, the market is easily big enough to sustain a cheap game, and you could do lots of fun games for it, especially party games for two pads would be great. Even simple workout games would sell, I think.


1-10-05

My productivity has gone to shit. I used to wake up and start coding first thing in the morning. When I was most productive, I was working from home, so I could just work, grab a snack, code some more, exercise, code, eat dinner, code, go to sleep. I would estimate I was doing maybe 50 hours of normal man work per day on my better days (that sounds high, but it's really not, it's just slightly more than what a typical programmer would do in a week, which is not really very much). Now, as I become more happy and psychologically well-adjusted, my productivity has gone to shit. I think everyone who's hyper-productive, ala Carmack, is driven by a rather screwed up psyche. This is almost true by definition, because spending your life programming is not a decision that a sane happy person would make - it's an awful waste of a life. In order to make that decision, your mind must be damaged in some way. The most typical forms of brain damage that lead to hyper productivity are 1) fear of social interaction, which leads you to a life of isolation and electronics and virtual interaction, and 2) low self-esteem, which leads you to try to prove your worth through success or impressive work. When I was young, I always wanted to prove that I was one of the smartest people alive, so I tried to great work that would get noticed. While that is totally fucked up, it is highly motivating and led me to get lots of work done. Now, I'm happier and more relaxed than I've ever been, and I'm incredibly un-motivated to do any work.


1-10-05

I need Arcade Fire tickets in SF ! The current scalp price is around $80/ticket (the retail was around $10/ticket). It's almost worth it to pay that crazy price, but it would be in my head and bug me and I wouldn't be able to enjoy the experience. It's not the price that bugs me, it's the idea of the scalper making such a big profit for being a jerk.


1-10-05

There's an inflation of compliments. Compliments are like a currency, each year they steadily inflate. Some level of compliment is the standard for just being polite - even if something sucks, you still say it's good to some level. Thus, to actually say it's good, you have to go beyond that base level. Over time, everyone learns that the "good" compliment is BS, so in order to be polite, you have to use the higher level even when you don't mean it. Here in 2005, if you say something is "really great", that means almost nothing, that's the baseline. You have to follow it with "no really, I mean it, this is really really great" in order to convey any real appreciation. In the next 20 years we'll be saying "this is the greatest things I've ever had in my whole life" just as a baseline of being polite, and to actually show an honest compliment you'll have to say something like "this is so mind-boggling good, I nearly died from the exstatic pleasure of the experience".


1-9-05

I hate the way businesses act like subcontracting removes their responsibility. Just because some vendor decides to sub-contract a service, doesn't mean they aren't responsible for the quality of that service. US business these days construct a web of wholly-owned subsidiaries and partners so that the holding corp has almost no legal responsibility. If you ever call them with problems, they say "oh, that's not our fault, you have to call this other company", and you get the perpetual run-around.


1-6-05

I fucking love Songs Ohia right now. I'm just getting to the point where I know all the lyrics and can sing along; when the tunes go into the breaks it just twists my insides up so sweetly. Soon, I'll have all the songs all memorized, they'll become stale and uninteresting, and I'll still say they're my favorite, but I'll never take them off the shelf any more. (BTW "Ohia" is pronounced like the state "Ohio" with a mid-western accent, the "a" is like "uh" : O-hi-uh , though I like to imagine it's like a real Texas yodeller : Oh-high-yay)


1-5-05

Good god, I have been working almost continuously on software for about 14 years - almost exactly half of my life. How many people look back over their life and feel happy? Maybe 1% of the population? Pretty much everyone I know who does much self-examination at all, they look back and think "my god, how have I wasted my life like this?"


1-5-05

If I don't shave for a week, it feels a bit uncomfortable each day, but then the shave at the end of the week feels so good. If I shave every day, I feel comfortable every day, but it never really just feels great. I think the net happiness is higher the first way - let it get uncomfortable, then get the reward when you fix it. And yet, I choose to do the latter (shave every day). Decisions related to life and happiness are so complicated. By not shaving, I become scruffy which perhaps partially damages potential chances for greater happiness (eg. meeting girls), or even just distracts me from other experiences (because I'm scratching my beard) which decreases the amount of happiness that other activities provide. Also, if I really didn't shave often as a lifestyle, I'd get used to that weekly reward, and its value would diminish, so it may be a good choice once in a while, but not as a habitual pattern.


1-4-05

I think Merck and Pfizer are good buys right now, though they've already rallied a bit. Amazon and Sears have been great buys recently but have already rallied so much that I don't like them very much any more (Amazon is probably still a good buy, but the risk/reward is not great compared to just going with the S&P). My stock picking scheme these days is based on the idea that investors are over-reactive morons. When news about a company comes out, they generally over-react, so you can get a good bargain then. I never short, so I just care about irrational stock dips. The idea is to buy the stock just based on the hard numbers - P/E ratios and such - and ignore the hoopla in the press, so if a stock takes a big dive based on some news, but the hard numbers look good - you buy.


1-4-05

Whenever I think about some topic, I imagine there must already be a huge number of experts who have already had those thoughts and gone way past them and written papers about it. How do I find them?


1-4-05

For those who haven't noticed - Oddworld : Stranger's Wrath has gone gold (in the US). It should be on shelves around the end of January. It's been a hard journey, like making video games usually is, but I think the result is pretty good. On the other hand, there have been so many really great video games for this holiday season, I'm not sure we really stand out much in comparison.


1-3-05

Restaurants and music concerts and such need to become demand-based. The way I imagine it working is something like this - for some events, there needs to be enough demand for it to be worth doing. Everybody signs up for events that they would go to if they happened. If the event then happens you have some period to accept or decline, after that you're locked into a ticket. That way the band can see, hey 20 people in San Luis are locked in, so we'll schedule a show there.


1-3-05

Searches and forums on the internet are becoming nearly useless. They're full of foolish people and shills and publicity releases - recommendations for restaurants or hotels have almost no information content, because you can't tell if they're real, or if the person doing the recommending is an idiot or not, or has the same taste as you. I desperately need a better internet. I dream of a day when I can pull out my PDA and ask it for restaurants near me, it will use the GPS to find me on a map, find restuarants (proximity by travel time, not physical distance), and rate them based on my own taste (using my network of friends/trust). This day seems very far away at the moment. I want the content on my own computer to be indexed this way - and all types of things. I want to be able to say "recommend me a computer game" - and get a result based on the opinions of people who I trust to be smart and are known to have similar taste in video games. All of this is pretty easy, it just needs to be done.


1-3-05

In France over the holidays, we ducked into Internet Cafes a few times for various things. They're full of guys playing Counter-Strike! It's eerie, here I am in this foreign country, old buildings and winding cobbled streets, and in a little hole in the wall, it's exactly like America - geeky guys in glasses hunched over monitors. The whole Internet Cafe experience for multiplayer gaming is pretty great - it's better than what we have in America; places like France and Korea have a much better Net Cafe system, because they are poorer and don't have lots of good computers at home. On Christmas Day we were wandering around towns and there was hardly anything open, but the Net Cafes were still going. On New Years Eve, we stopped at one and they were open 24 hours that day, just like every day, even though all of Paris was shutting down and streets were full of the tumultuous masses.

It's funny sometimes how poverty and crappy systems can actually lead you to better things (better IMHO anyway). Everyone with money uses it to isolate themselves and provide comfort - a nice house in the suburbs, your own car (a metal coccoon from the scary world), your own home theater so you don't have to go out for that, your own espresso machine. In France people don't have those fancy things at home - you go out for your coffee, your movie, you take public transit, you go to a Net Cafe to play games. Similarly, because they don't have great roads and cars, they've built great railways; we took the TGV from Paris to Marseille - so smooth, so fast, comfortable, great views, the best way to travel - and it leaves and arrives exactly on time, you can show up at the last minute and get on, not like horrible horrible air planes. The cell network in Europe is far better than America - partly because they had such crappy land lines, expensive fees for land line calls, no high speed networks, very little cable TV lines; on the other hand, we had great land lines (subsidized by the government and developed by aggressive venture cap), which puts far less demand on the cell network, especially for things like internet and high-speed access.


12-25-04

Merry Christmas!


12-22-04

If I look at my hourly salary (before tax) as if I had a 40 hour work week, it looks really good. I go wow, it seems like I could just work a few hours and be able to do things like buy a nice dinner. Then I look at it in terms of the actual # of hours I work (probably about 55/week on average), after tax, and suddenly it looks like shit. All of a sudden that ridiculous sandwich from across the street looks way too expensive. Plumbers, city workers, etc. all make more per hour than me, and I work way harder, not just in terms of hours, but in terms of stress and intensity of work. Cursed ambition and desire to do something productive with my life!

On the other hand, if you actually think about working for minimum wage, it's mind boggling. Think about it - $6/hour, for 8 hours, gives you $50 a day. I spend nearly that much on food on many days! $50 a day, for your rent, health care, utilities, clothes, transportation, food, everything!? My god, what's the point of even going to work if you make so little. That's $1 for 10 minutes of work. You surely make more money begging. If you ever have any hope of making decent money, then it's foolish to work for minimum wage. eg. if you're a kid in college - don't work some stupid job, just get loans. You'll easily pay them off later, and it's better to just have that time to enjoy. If you don't understand this, think of the value of an hour of leisure. Maybe it's $20. Thus, if you earn $40/hour, you're effectively getting a +$20 value for that hour, since you're losing an hour of your life in exchange for the work you're doing. If you work for $10/hour, you are losing $10 each hour! That is, the value of your life that you are giving up for that hour is worth more than what they are paying you. If you really think your life is only worth $6/hour, that's very sad.


12-22-04

In the last rant I wrote about optimization and life decisions. There are two related things I've been thinking about a lot recently.

Responsibility and impulsiveness. This is sort of an interesting and difficult life trade-off. On the one hand, if you are wise in your decisions, you can avoid regrets - note that this does not necessarilly mean you are just a cautious stick in the mud, you still might make decisions like running away with the Circus or doing drugs or whatever, it's just that you actually thought about it, you saw the consequences, and decided that was the good thing to do. To be bold & thoughtful is difficult, but it is in some ways great. One problem with this is that making wise decisions takes time, and by taking that time, you will miss many opportunities, especially in social situations where split-second reactions are important. On the other hand, if you are impulsive and don't consider your actions carefully, you are liberated in a way, free from considering consequences, and you can do a lot more fun wild things; the disadvantage is you will wind up doing a lot of things that cause you trouble and pain, and of course you risk a small chance of very bad things like injury or jail. Finding a good balance here is almost impossible, because once you start considering what the right balance is, you've fallen into the careful/thoughtful camp. Of course, what many people do is behave very carefully most of the time, and then get themselves drunk to free themselves from that thought and allow themselves to be impulsive. This is of course very silly - if impulsiveness is good and fun, then it's good all the time, and you should do it when sober too.

The other thing I've been thinking about a lot is the way very small differences in the way you weight various outcomes in decision making lead to very large differences in behavior. Let's imagine you're making decisions as I described previously, by considering the choices and generating an EV based on your perceptual rating of the value of the various outcomes. If we were all perfectly smart, we would still make different choices, because the way we rate the outcomes is different. As a simple example, you have people who generally find confrontation to be very unpleasant. So, any outcome involving confrontation they would rate very negative, and that biases their whole decision making to avoid those situations. Every normal person enjoys good times and doesn't like bad times, but even small differences in how you rate them lead to very large behavior variation. For example, someone might really enjoy the good times (as opposed to neutral times), and not care too much about bad times - this person is more likely to make decisions that have a chance of going very good or very bad, such as running off to Vegas with a stranger; someone else might not rate the good times very high, but rate the bad times very low - this person will have totally different behavior, making decisions based primarily on avoiding the bad times, so they're more likely to just stay home all the time and watch TV.


12-16-04

Every day in life, with almost every action, I consider mathematical optimization of the outcomes. Of course mathematics is the basis of everything - math is just abstract expression and formalism for dealing with things. The most obvious cases are if you're making decisions about investing - how do you maximize your return? But that's even getting complicated, because in life your overall goal is maximizing your happiness (with uneven weighting factors - eg. it's not a pure EV, but more on that later). Of course you can optimize with things like route planning on your drive to work; if you turn one way or another, what's the expected time? You have to consider the probability of hitting red lights, the probability of hitting traffic; eg. one path might take roughly 15 minutes always, another way might be 10 minutes 75% of the time, but it crosses a train track, so it takes 30 minutes 25% of the time, so the average time there is also 15 minutes. But now we also remember that our overall goal is optimizing happiness, and that's not a straight weight. Let's say the 15 minute path is the baseline, so that's the 0 happiness point. If you go the other way and get a 10 minute trip, that might be a +1 happiness score (that sets the scaling factor). If you go that way and hit traffic and get a 30 minute trip, that might give you a -5 happiness (the value here depends on your exact personality - how much do you enjoy being in your car? how angry does traffic make you? how much do you need those 15 minutes on that day?). One thing I always think about is the idea of pipelining, latency, parallelization. These are software optimization ideas, but anyone who's good at time management (like a chef) thinks about them. Let's say I want to make a meal - how long will it take? Well, if I have lots of people to help, then the limitting factor is the longest serial path - eg. any things that can be done simultaneously without dependencies, I split out to a lot of people (of course then there's also the overhead of the splitting and bringing back together). Even the longest serial path may have long steps that are low bandwidth (eg. not much work) but high latency (won't be done for a long time), like waiting for something to bake. During that time I can divert my processor (myself) to other tasks without slowing down the longest serial path. This stuff is all sort of very obvious, but hardly anyone thinks about these things and uses them in their daily life. When I wake up in the morning - I need to get to work as quickly as possible and still do some things. First I start the water boiling, then that has long latency, so I prep everything for the coffee, get my toast out (but don't push it down), by that time the water has boiled so I start dripping the coffee; while it's dripping I can usually run around and get my brief case together and ready to go, then push down the toast (again, latency) so it will finish about the same time as the coffee; start sipping the coffee and check the morning emails (I turned on the computer earlier so it would be all ready to go when I'm ready for it); deal with the mails, then hop over to the shower, turn it on so it starts warming (more latency), and while that's going assemble my clothes and put the brief case next to them; hop in the shower, throw on the clothes and run out the door. How can you be in a rush and yet sit around and wait for long latency operations to finish? There are two things that makes all this optimization even more interesting in real life. First of all, there's the non-even weighting. The exact rating of various possibilities depends on your personality. For example, let's say you have one job offer for $100k/year. You have another job offer for $300k/year, but it's all in stock options, so there's a 50% chance the company goes under and it's worth nothing. Now, in the second case, your EV is $150k/year, so with straight rating, that's the obvious choice. For most people, the first choice is better, because the rating for income is very uneven - eg. for most people it's very important to make at least $30k , then pretty important to make $50k, then each dollar after that is less important - eg. it's something like a log scale. However, if you don't mind being broke, then maybe the second choice is right for you. The other thing that really makes this optimization interesting in real life is that the process of doing the optimization is part of your life, and your overall goal is to maximize your happiness. For example, things like picking up pennies are generally bad for you financially if you make much money at all (the time spent is not worth the money made), but if you enjoy picking up pennies, then by all means, do it. If you really don't enjoy thinking about optimization, then it may be optimal for you to make poor decisions in an absolute sense, because you improve your happiness by not thinking about the decisions. For me personally, I usually enjoy doing correct optimization, but I like to be able to do things like go out on the town and just not think about it. Note that this is seperate from counting your contemplation time as part of the optimization problem - eg. you could just buy a video card at best buy for $300 , or you could probably find it online for $200 , but the time wasted searching for the best deal and going through the ordering, etc. is not worth the savings (or even if it's still a win, it's a much smaller win that it seems on paper). That's just part of what you should consider when optimizing, and actually if you consider that and decide not to do further contemplation, you have in fact optimized.


12-15-04

Finally watched "Wag the Dog" last night. Kind of a crappy movie; DeNiro is really a rather bad actor, and Anne Heche is horrendous. As political satire, it's rather thin. The "dirty tricks" that they use to cover up the sex scandal are really very tame in comparison to the real things done by Nixon's crew, and more recently by Rove et.al. Sort of as a funny historical side bar - you remember when Clinton was in the shit over the whole Lewinski thing, and he ordered those missile strikes at a supposed "Al Qaeda" weapons lab in Africa? At the time no one knew anything about Al Qaeda, and many people accused Clinton of trying a "Wag the Dog" distraction technique. Turns out, Clinton was actually pursuing legitimate and important terrorism deterence, which our wise Bush derided and stopped doing when he took office. Anyhoo, one thing really bugged me in Wag the Dog - that stupid quote at the beginning. It's something like - "Why does a dog wag it's tail? Because it's smarter. If the tail were smarter, the tail would wag the dog". Wow, aside from being trite and pedantic, that's just wrong. The dog wags the tail because it's bigger, brains have nothing to do with it. The side that's bigger and stronger always controls the side that's smaller and weaker.


12-12-04

The Arcade Fire!! Damn shows in December all sold out, so they added 4 more shows in January, and they're all sold out! Damn this band is hot hot hot right now, I want to see them so bad. Someone give me tickets!


12-12-04

God damn the stupid web pages that are server generated and you can't go back on! Why are you all such stupid asses? Keep it simple and functional.


12-09-04

I find myself more and more boring every day. I say things that are pretty reasonable, and reasonable things are bland. It's much more fun to say things that are extreme, ridiculous, not true, but controversial. I used to say offensive extreme things, that I basically believe to be true - like Republicans are corrupt, cheap people are fools, the Bible is fiction, etc. etc. Now, I find that lots of people that I really like would be offended by those comments, so I don't make them. I used to think that if you were dumb enough to be offended by something stupid like that, then fuck you; now I know that good people are rare, and they usually have many flaws, and driving them away does no good. So, I find myself unable to say anything interesting. I'm also crippled by having thought about almost every subject extensively; I don't mean to brag, it's just that I spend every waking moment in thought on all sorts of subjects, so almost anything that someone says to me, I've already thought of. It makes it really tough to have a conversation with someone. Of course, in those cases that I meet someone who's really done some deep thinking on issues that I haven't mastered, like at Game-Tech recently, I crave their wisdom, I want to drink deeply from the fountain of their thoughts, like a man who's been lost in the desert these many months.

Being a geek is really stupid. Did you hang out with other geeks in high school, play computer games and D&D ? Yeah, maybe we went to good colleges, maybe we have good jobs now, are we happy? We like to pretend we're so smart and superior to the "jocks", but they were out there living life, having fun - the whole point of life is to maximize your total enjoyment - we have failed miserably. Being a geek is really dumb.


12-07-04

Another process note about code development - we try to keep everyone in the company basically on the main line in perforce at all times. Letting people go off on branches (or even just not sync for a while), or hold modified files open - all of these have caused us huge problems, because someone will report a problem, and you don't know if that problem is something weird on their box or a real problem on the main line. We also try to make everyone in content wipe their xbox and sync to perforce daily. Before we did these we would have tons of problems where someone would report a bug, we'd have to go investigate it - and hey, they just didn't sync, or they had a bunch of files open for edit, etc.

Coders have a bad habit of holding big change lists open as work in progress for a long time. I try to kill that - check it in, or revert it. Either it goes in the main line or it doesn't belong on your system. We also try to get people to check in often - once a feature is working or crash-free, check it in, even if it's not done, then keep checking in the little improvements. Also, we fire builds after each check-in. If there are problems, I want to find them right away, not the next day when everyone syncs. As always, the goal is to isolate the problem - if one guy checks in, fires a build, uh-oh, it failed, he can fix it real quick before too many coders sync to the broken build. Another little thing that helps here is whenever you are adding files or changing the project, go ahead and add empty files to p4 and put them in the project, and check that in so the project changes are done. Then check the files back out and work on them just as edits.


12-07-04

I enjoy something about getting in shape the old school way - pushups, pullups, situps, running, medecine balls, running through tires. Avoid the gym, avoid pilates and yoga and machines, all that fru-fru crap, just go sweat and move your own body around.


12-06-04

I basically never blame the development team for their failures or mistakes. If a team was not directed to do the right thing, how can you blame them for doing the wrong thing? If there were not policies and procedures in place for smooth execution, how can you expect them to work smoothly? 99% of these breakdowns are from management and leads - if there isn't good direction and procedure, it IS their fault. Yes, it would be nice if the team members would take care of their shit even if they're not directed to, but that's above and beyond the call of duty - yes, it makes my life much easier when guys take care of themselves, but I don't expect that. Sure, sometimes people are told to do the right thing and still don't do it, but even then that's often management's fault, because they're pulled in different directions by different people, they're distracted, etc.


12-06-04

I don't believe that good people do bad things. I believe bad people do bad things. Also, I don't believe that difficult circumstances are an excuse for bad behavior. Difficult circumstances are the test that reveal your true character. Anybody can be nice when everything's going well, it's when the shit hits the fan that you need to step up. Now, I don't expect everyone to be perfect all the time - it's about how the handle the shit. Certainly I have plenty of weaknesses myself; when I'm stressed I get very snippy and rude, sometimes I just can't handle a situation and I run away from it. Those behaviors suck, but I also try to get a hold of myself and go back to it and apologize after the fact. If the shit hits the fan, and you turn on the people who are trying to help you - that I can never forgive; if, in the moment of trial, you abandon your friends and screw your neighbor and save yourself, you are a bad person and I want nothing to do with you.


12-06-04

A couple of followups on my talk at game-tech :

First and mainly, I think I made a mistake in presenting the reason for robustness and decoupling. Robustness is the idea that the game never goes down, even with horribly broken use, and decoupling is the idea that when someone horribly breaks one system, the other systems keep running so people can still work. These are not just important for small teams or with junior people, they're always important. We acheive these things primarily by making the engine and code resilient to even fatal errors. There are other ways to meet these goals, namely Branches (source-control branches, so people work in isolation until their work is stable, then they merge to the main tree), and Build Escrow (in which the coder's build first goes through test approval before going to the content team). Branches and Build Escrow are both good, but they only work once the game is reasonably well established. We were building the code base from scratch, and rapidly iterating on design trying to hit milestones and demos, so it was frequently important to be able to code up a feature in the morning, deliver it to design and have it done by evening. For larger teams, the ideas of robustness and decoupling are even more important. This is part of the idea of overall team productivity. If a programmer takes the time to make his code extra safe, maybe it takes him 5% or 10% more time. If he does not, and he checks in code that breaks the build for the entire company, he's costing 100% of the work of maybe 50 other people. That's a catastrophic loss of productivity, even if it only happens once every hundred days it's a disaster. Most games these days are "design limitted", that is, the things that really prevent you from shipping a great game on time are in design, so it's silly to save coder time and potentially cost a lot of designer time.

What are the disadvantages of a clean self-protecting C++ coding style? Well, the compile times are slightly slonger, but our build is around 10 minutes and Halo 2's is around 7 minutes, so the difference is not very big. Also, that has more to do with arranging your headers well, we're currently sloppy about that, we could do much better to hide implementations. Having more clean separation of modules and opaque interfaces around whole systems would help that immensely. A related problem is that things like smart pointers and classes used in scopes forces you to put some things in the headers; you can't have a pure C-style hidden interface without doing a lot of work with pimpls and such. A lot of people think it takes too much time to code this way - that's just not the case; once you get used to it, the additional time needed is totally negligible, and is more than made up for with the time savings of having nice templates and classes that automate so many operations for you. The only two real disadvantages that I know of are - 1) when you hire new people, you have to teach them your base classes and your system; our system forms a sort of meta-language on top of C++, which is mostly enforced through compiler errors, but there are some things that you just have to know to do; 2) the protections seem to make people lazy, both in code and content; the protections are supposed to be in addition to proper testing and good algorithms, etc, not instead of them.

A little thing - the hierarchical allocation parser can obviously be used on things other than memory size; you can do it on allocation count, you can do it on CPU usage, vert count, etc. It's a nice way to track anything and figure out where it's coming from. This is especially nice with a "long frame tracker". To do the long frame tracking, you just run the tracking stats every frame, and you reset them to zero between frames. Then, as soon as you see a frame that you consider long, eg. longer than 1/20th of a second for example, you log the stats for that frame.


12-04-04

I was just away at the Game Tech conference, giving a talk on OSW. It was really interesting to see the talks on Halo 2 and Half-Life 2, mainly to see that they really aren't do anything we aren't. I look up to those games immensely, and I always imagine in the back of my head that maybe they have some amazing technology or process or something that is helping them be so superior. In fact, their tech/engine process is very similar to ours and the goals are mostly pretty similar, though there are some differences in philosophy. Mainly we at OW just can't trust anyone on the team to do things right if left to their own devices - we have to enforce a lot of structure and rules through the code, whereas Valve and Bungie can be more flexible, because they have the process and responsibility in other departments that makes that possible. The biggest differences between OW and those two H2's are - A) their teams are huge, and B) they have good process outside of code. We at OW have a big company - almost 50 people - but we only have about 20 in game production (!!), whereas Valve and Bungie both have over 50 people in actual production (and a fraction of the admin staff!). Also, it's not like the H2's are really these ivory towers - their tools still have a lot of problems; in Halo 2's case, they were way behind schedule and the game suffered badly, mainly due to game design, in HL2's case, they just took a really long time. Both of them really managed to make great games I think because the core direction was good - eg. the base mechanics are identical to the previous games, so everyone on the team knows how to do that and agrees on it, and then the core philosophy of game design was good - for HL2, it's fully interactive, immersive, for Halo 2, it's systems-based gameplay, etc. Compare that to us where our direction didn't really crystallize until a few months before shipping.

I had to come back from the talk a bit early because we're trying to go gold here (maybe today!). We had four crash bugs when I got back (!!). Only one of them was found by the lovely EA test, and three of them were found by us internally, despite the fact that we have basically no internal test department at all. Lovely. The four crashes were - 1) XACT seems to have a bug with auto release cues and a bad linked list walk, 2) we had a resource registration bug in our code that caused a null deref in a very rare case (only on the DVD build), 3) one crash in the granny "UUU" department, 4) another crash in granny, again UUU/paging related. Amazingly, we fixed them all in like one hour. The UUU bugs in particular have been with us for a long time, and we never had a repro, and in fact I thought maybe they were fixed, but suddenly they came back. In fact, the previous fix I thought I'd done was a total red herring. When I did the fix, I also put in lots of catching to detect if the error happened again. It turns out that my check/catch code was being hit, and the damn content team was seeing those errors reported and skipping past them without telling us or sending us the logs. This has been going on for months, so we could have easily fixed this bug long ago. In general, our whole company and content departments are extremely unaware of how their behavior affects us. In code, we have to start first and crunch hard to get the engine and tools going; then we all work hard, and the content guys slip and slip and finish way late, and then we in code have to continue crunching to finish up. We try to make the code super robust so they can work, we try to put in error checking to help them and to help us find errors and fix them early so we don't wind up with crash bugs at the last minute. It's extremely bad to be making these fixes so late - we've had weeks of test, and we're making these fixes now, so all that testing has not tested these fixes. Also, our producers at OW and EA have become totally irresponsible. They're obviously sick of working on the game and with each other, they just want to kick the game to manufacturing, they don't really care if it's tested right; we make these fixes, they just want to play through it once, call it good and send it out. So, anyhoo, we found these UUU crashes which were tricky little buggers - we've known there was a problem for months and could never find it. I think it was just having those couple of days away at Game-Tech that made it possible. When you work 6 or 7 days a week for months, your brain just gets fried, you can't think straight. Game-Tech was intense, but it was still a break from coding, so I came back with a bit of a clear mind and was able to see the problem. Getting that time away is so valuable for intellectual labor, it's hard to quantify what a productivity boost you get.


11-21-04

I was telling Andy yesterday the sky renderer I really wanted to do for Stranger's Wrath - scrolling cloud layers like we have now, but make them normal maps (currently they're A8 alpha-only to save space), and do a shader that colors them by normal and where they are on the sky, so you can get things like sunset effects where the clouds are purple on one side, then dark overhead, then get red as they go in front of the sun; as they pass in front of the sun, the clouds should pick up glare and get written into the glare buffer for bloom filtering.


11-20-04

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - has two of my favorite actors - Mark Ruffalo and Tom Wilkinson (!) Unfortunately, I hate both of the leads (Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet).


11-20-04

There's a very fine line between actually being happy and at peace, and simply deluding yourself and lying to yourself about reality. The only way to acheieve true Nirvana is via lobotomy.


11-20-04

The Stranger's Wrath code is possibly the most stable and robust game code base ever; certainly it's by far the most stable I've ever seen. On the entire project, we've only had two persistent nasty crash bugs - one was from Granny (a licensed library), and another is from XACT (the XBox audio library). Both of those libraries fail to follow our guidelines of being self-checking, input-validating, etc. For example, XACT will simply crash any time you play sounds with an index out of bounds, which can happen easily due to people have different revisions of the content. It's been extremely important for us to have this level of stability. We are able to take the development build and deliver it as a fully stable milestone in about 1 days' notice. Generally the bad bugs we have to fix are "stop playthrough" bugs, not crash bugs, and quite often the "stop playthrough" is just a design issue, that eg. this door doesn't open so you can't move on. We had to deliver numerous demos to publishers, to MS, to EA, to press, and it was all reasonably easy because we could go from full development to a stable build so quickly. In fact, it encouraged some practices I wasn't too fond of - the design team would frequently work on demos until the day before delivery, so we only got one day of content lock to test & fix code. In the past I've always wanted closer to a week of content lock to make sure we get a stable build.

I would discourage all programmers from relying on repro for bugs. I don't use repros unless it's a strange bug or needs a specific case to test, etc. Generally I try to fix bugs just by looking at the code. When someone describes a bug to me, I think of where in the code that problem could be caused, then I simply go and look at that part of the code. You can look at that code and see how it might break, and 99% of the time you can spot the bug just by looking and making sure it's robust. Even if you don't spot the bug, if you have a good idea where it is, you just add some more asserts and self-checks and logs in that part of the code, and hopefully those will trip in the future and give you more information, and they can stay there to make sure the code seems strong. Another thing that I emphasize is to look at how the bug happened and try to prevent that from happening in the future. Look at the buggy code - how did that get in? Was it reviewed? Did both people involved actually understand that bit of code? Did they talk to the original author? Did they test it? Did they have good asserts checking the code? I try to not only fix the bug, but also fix the behavior that made the bug. Sure, sometimes you just have mistakes that make bugs and everyone was doing the right thing, but that's actually rare compared to bugs made from someone trying to be too fast or sloppy (often me). Repro is sort of a crutch for bugs. I don't like to fix the code for one specific repro case - I like to make the code bulletproof for all possible break cases.

It's funny to me that we (Oddworld) and Bungie use the absolute opposite coding styles, and yet the result is extremely similar. We use heavy C++, dynamic allocation, multiple inheritance, STL. They use almost straight C, macros, function pointers instead of inheritance, no dynamic allocation at all, etc. In the end, we both push the XBox very hard, running the GPU to the limit, using all the 64 megs of RAM to the fullest. I know they don't believe that we use the hardware or memory optimally (in reality, we do stall on L2 cache misses because of our polymorphism, but that's maybe 3% of CPU time lost), and we don't believe they can possibly develop rapidly and robustly, but probably we're both wrong. However, our situations are very different, and I can't imagine their style would work here. We've had to hack in crazy new features on a daily basis; if I want to make some types of objects support some new interface, I can just define that interface and dynamic_cast to it at the query point; I don't have to push my crazy feature up to the base class.


11-20-04

The testing we've gotten from EA has been really terrible. We've not gotten a single decent focus test or play test from them. When we ask them for play test feedback, they have some exec assigned to the project play the game and send us notes. Uh, thanks, but no thanks - have you guys ever made a video game before? Have you ever heard of getting people in the target demographic to play the game, maybe tape video of them? Of course, Oddworld also failed to do it themselves. So, we're left with our own play-throughs to tweak the game. I think we've done a decent job, but it's hard to tell, because we're also so jilted from playing the game for the last 3 years, there might be really major flaws that a new eye would perceive that we don't see. Our bug test has been pretty poor too; I don't know what the deal is, but the testers seem really junior. They enter bugs without decent repro steps; when we question them about it repeatedly, they wind up completely changing the repro steps and describing a totally other bug. They also have failed to find all sorts of major bugs, which we had to find and enter ourselves. In fact, here we are a few days from Beta, and we're still finding major bugs in house and they're not finding much of anything significant. I don't know if EA test sucks in general, or if we've just been given the "C team" because we're not one of EA's darlings at the moment.


11-17-04

In the development of Stranger's Wrath, we had various people on the team who really wanted to make a shooter, so they tried to push that on the game, we had people who wanted to make an RPG, so they pushed that on the game. We had basically no one actually looking at the cool strong unique elements of the game and trying to make them richer. Probably the strongest unique element in the game is the 3rd person fast run and ramming. It wound up being not really a major element because it wasn't played up. Things that would have jazzed it up - hold a button to lower your head which prevents you from turning but makes your ram blow guys to pieces; the ram should create fear in guys who see it coming - some just panic and stand still, others dive out of the way, etc; make your 1st person weapons more complementary to ramming, eg. a freeze shot, a slow-down shot, etc.; make other ramming and anti-ramming enemies, like a Matador boss who side-steps you, other enemies that are very fast and ram, like a goat-demon.

Some really cool scenarious with the fast run & ram might have been: a chase - some giant guy that you can't kill chases after you; you just have to run away, ala the big rock in Raiders of the Lost Ark; chasing down enemies who are fleeing (we did get some of this) or a carriage hijacking or something - in a big level, a carriage is speeding away with the outlaw boss in it, you have to run up along side it, while his goons on top shoot at you; you can ram it and bump it, you have to get up to speed with it and try to jump in. In general, the enemy could've had fast vehicle you have to run along side of.

Often when I suggest ideas, the designers say "I didn't think that was possible in the engine". Well, it probably isn't, but it easily could have been. Engine features are made based on what's needed for the game. The design has to be done (considering the schedule) based on what will work, not what does work.


11-16-04

We were originally scheduled to ship about a year before we actually are. There's certainly no good reason why we didn't make that date, but various things came up, like having to make demos and sign a new publisher, and the fact that we had no game design or designers for the whole first year of dev. Oh well, minor issues. Anyway, shipping at the wrong date really screws up development. If I had known our actual ship date, we would have done things very differently - better renderer (with dynamic lighting), better physics (maybe a real licensed physics engine), better tools, better animation system & pipeline, etc. - all those things were cut to make the original ship date. For the whole last half of development (18 months) we were in the mode of "we have to ship in two months", and that deadline was continually moved back. Well, if you only have two months to go, you have to be in feature freeze, so we had lots of problems with pipeline, etc. that we couldn't fix. The result was that everyone was working less efficiently than they needed to. When you know your real schedule you can do proper planning - heavy tools work in the first 25%, finish the engine by the next 25%, finish the features in the next 25%, and polish in the last 25%.


11-16-04

I would have loved to have taken the "Live Ammo" concept to the extreme - everything in the "Stranger's Wrath" universe could be alive. There are some famous scifi artists who do this, I forget their names. Anyhoo, the cars are animals, tanks are turtles (for their armor, of course), instead of a boat you ride like a loch ness monster, your crossbow is a living creature, everything is wet and soft and shiny and slithering and alive. The live ammo could talk to you all the time, run around on your body, steer through the air, etc.


11-16-04

I hate "Just Too Late" algorithms on a deep moral level. The so-called "Just in Time" compiling is really JTL. If it was really JIT, it would be ready to go when I need it. Instead, I ask the app to run, and then I have to wait while JIT does its thing, then I get to go. That's sort of like if you asked a nurse in an operating room for a scalpel, and she goes, "oh, I've got it just in time, let me go get it from the supply cabinet" - No! That's Just Too Late! It looks to me like Halo 2's paging is JTL. Resources request residency when they are used, which means they don't actually become resident until after they're needed. The worst case for this kind of thing is when the camera is jumping all over the places, the resources you need keep changing, and the paging can never catch up with what's actually needed. We try to do all our paging with a true "JIT" system, which means they become resident just in time before they are needed, so the user never actually sees them non-resident. To do this you need good foreknowledge of what will be needed, which is generally pretty easy in gameplay because the user can only run around coherently - you can't teleport to arbitrary random spots, so I know what's near you and what direction you're going and I can anticipate the needed resources. In cinematics it's really easy, because the whole thing is hard-coded, you can compute exactly what's needed at what time and store a timeline track of when things should page in and out.


11-15-04

"Oddworld : Stranger's Wrath" stories - we have great big seamless levels. The state of the whole world is persistent, so if you drop a coin somewhere in the game, then play for hours and go back to it, the coin is still there. In the shipping game, the levels are pretty linear. We imagined them as being more like an RPG, with exploration, and big wild spaces, spawning persistent enemies you could kill for money and resources. We have towns, but we imagined big towns like hubs for the levels. You could stock up in town, talk to people, then go out on missions, go back to town and stock up, finish the mission, etc. We still have some of that, but not much.

We have various different character types and races. In the shipping game, they basically never mix. We originally planned on mixing them, and wrote most of the code for that. Part of the original vision was a sort of play of the races and their interaction - like, you have the oppressed races and their oppressors, you have rednecks and city folk, and they sort of interact and mix and talk to each other and you can interact with them and manipulate their reactions, etc. Most of the races are in the shipping game, and they have their character and whatnot, but they don't interact.

With a lot of features we had a sort of chicken/egg problem. We'd sort of do a feature, like supporting moving collision and animated objects. I always imagined levels where there were giant gears and pistons and you could run around on them - avoid getting smashed yourself, and knock your enemies into getting smashed. Nobody ever implemented anything like this and there was no call from design to improve the "moving collision" code, so we didn't work on it. The result was the code is rather sketchy and unpolished, because it just wasn't a priority. The design guys tend to try to use what works and exists, so they never used moving collision much. This is why coherent direction and cross-department vision is so important, you need someone in design who knows what's useful and what's not, and you need someone in code who knows what can be done and what can't, and they need to get together and agree; then the game needs to be designed based on the features that will exist, not the features that do exist.

Everything takes us 5X longer than most game devs, because every feature has to be extremely polished. A game like GTA:SA could never be done here - their controls suck, it glitches like crazy, but they have tons of features. We would take one of their features and spend years tweaking and polishing it. Obviously GTA:SA is very successful, but I find it intolerable to play. I think the optimal game dev model is somewhere in between, but much closer to GTA. Basically polish doesn't matter much except on the player controls. The game should be responsive and solid so far as controls are concerned, but if it looks like crap, glitches, pops, the animations are terrible, no one cares (well, the average consumer doesn't care), and it's a waste of dev time. In a way, that makes me sad, because I have a very high quality standard and like to work on solid product, but it just doesn't pay in the marketplace.


11-15-04

"Oddworld : Stranger's Wrath" is almost done. I think it's a very good game. Not nearly as good as it could have been, not as good as Halo 2 or Half Life 2 (probably, we'll see), and of course we're just talking about the single player, they have great multiplayer and we have none, but still one of the better single player experiences in the last year. Our lovely friends at EA are doing almost zero marketting for us, so I thought I'd do some here -

Clearly the semi-innovative thing about it is the 1st to 3rd person gameplay. This is the first game I know of that has a really fully functional 1st person shooter and a 3rd person platformer/melee/driving put together, and quite seamless and smooth where you can switch back & forth and it feels good and natural. You actually switch in combat to do various moves, unlike some games where you move in 3rd and snipe in 1st, etc. The 1st and 3rd are also actually different, it's not like Heretic or Everquest or something where you can use either view, but the 3rd person is really just 1st person on a stick behind the axis of rotation.

In 1st person, the game is basically a shooter, but the weapons are a bit quirky. Many of the weapons are not basic damage weapons, they're tools for manipulating the enemies, and you can combine them in sequences for "combos". One of the basic combos is just to freeze a guy with bees so you can lay a thudslug or boombat on him. Another common one is to skunk a mob then drop a boombat in the middle of them. There are also lots of environmental traps that you can make use of; there's lots of knocking guys through glass to their death, things like that.

In 3rd person, the game is like a platformer/adventure/driving/melee game. Here, you are fast, very fast, and control sort of like a car or motorcycle (actually the controls morph from standard walking at low speed to more like a car at high speed). You can ram and meelee. One move few people know is that if you jump before you ram a guy, you keep your velocity and go through him - very useful.

One of my favorite things about the game is the twist. I won't give it away (we've asked all the press to keep it a secret), but part way through, there's a big story twist. That's pretty standard in movies and games, but there's a difference - the play actually changes a lot as well. Unlike most games where you get a story twist, or play as the enemy, and the gameplay is basically identical, here the whole feel of the gameplay changes a lot, the pacing changes. It's a cinematic thing, there's a shift and suddenly the feel is different for the 3rd act building to the climax. In the beginning, you're a bounty hunter, in the end?


11-14-04

Halo 2's first level (tutorial) is pretty horrible. It's ugly, the play is nothing that wasn't in Halo 1, it really doesn't sell the game. After that, the game gets much better. This is such a huge and common mistake - for them, it's okay because they have such hype they don't need to sell new players, and people will get past the beginning. For most games, like mine, if the first level is bad, no one will play farther. I think our tutorial now is actually pretty good so far as tutorials go. It's not as good as Sly Cooper or Halo 1, which both do the right thing - put you straight into gameplay, and introduce the controls gradually over the duration of the first gameplay level, as you need them.

Halo 2 actually reminds me a lot of "Colony Wars". That was a great game! Great music, story, voice acting, and beautiful graphics.


11-14-04

Wow, Halo 2 is really good. This is the first video game I've played till 3 AM in a long time. The first level looks like shit, but after that the graphics are mostly beautiful. Sometimes the shaders and lighting are just fantastic; I wouldn't say they were super realistic, but they're very beautiful. The gameplay is rather monotonous, it is pretty much the same thing the whole time - take cover, shoot, reload, repeat. The vehicles are ok, but I hate the way they do the controls like a 1st person cam; I'd rather have cars that drive like cars, not like strafing people. The flying vehicles really feel bad/weird to me with those darn controls. The cinematics are amazing; the graphical quality in the cines is awesome (if you ignore the horrible LOD and paging pops!); the basic renderer doesn't impress me as much as all the custom anims and effects and fancy background and matte work that they did for the cines. In general the level design is very good and the integration of the story and the levels is very smooth, coherent, solid.


11-13-04

I saw a tiny bit of that history of Video Games thing on PBS; I think maybe it's old, but it was ok. In one bit, Jason Rubin is talking about why video games are great. He says something like - "In real life, I'll never be on a pro sports team, I'll never be able to drive a Formula 1 car, but with video games I can do those things, and that's what makes video games great" (he chooses not to say "in real life, I'll never get the pleasure of running around with a machine gun and spraying bullets into other mens' heads"). Anyway, that's all well and good, but I find it incredibly boring and sad. I don't want video games that let me do things other humans do - I want video games that let me do things no man has ever done! Let me drive a car 1000 miles an hour through the cities of the moon, then take a swim in the oceans of mercury (the metal, not the planet), let me grow enormous and consume the stars, or grow small and fight bacteria. I'm sick of all this real world sim shit.


11-10-04

I think one of the big mistakes people in game dev make is they put their best programmers on core engine technology, like rendering or networking, etc. Yes, that stuff is important, but once it's reasonably good, the user can't really feel the difference between good and great renderer programming. On the other hand, things like controls, camera, motion, input, latency, animation, these things provide direct feedback to the play experience, and even small improvements can make a big difference in the sensation of quality. Those are the things that really make a game feel polished and good, that make it like a Nintendo or Naughty Dog game - clean, responsive, pleasant to interface with.

Engine coding is fun because the technology is challenging, the algorithms are interesting. It's frustrating because an engine in itself doesn't show up on the screen - you need people to use it well, which rarely happens. Gameplay coding is fun because you can do features all alone and get cool results in the actual game. Gameplay coding is frustrating because you do 3 features that are cut for every 1 that's used, and you have to spend tons of time polishing silly little features and eventualities that the player will never notice.


11-9-04

Halo 2 is out; I haven't seen it yet, but I see Halo 2 as sort a quiet insult to us game developers. Any game company that's half competent should be able to make Halo 2. This is not intended as an insult to Bungie, I have much respect for them, they're one of the best studios around, but basically Halo 2 is not very innovative in terms of gameplay or technology. Sure, some of their tech is fancy, but not in a way that's really important to the quality of the game. Yes, the gameplay is well polished, but it's just a shooter, they don't do anything that hasn't been done many times before. And yet, it's one of the best games of the year, and almost no other game company could make a game as good. This isn't so much because Halo 2 is so good - Halo 2 is the level of quality any game could be - it's because all other games are so *bad*. Bungie gets their priorities right - improve the things that will make the experience better (the networking, the match-making, the basic controls), and not other things. They make time for actual focus ("usability") testing, which almost no other game dev does. On the other hand, I'm not sure how they do it, because all the stories I've heard about development at Bungie sound just as F'ed up as anywhere else - stories of ridiculous gameplay features that they try that don't make it into the shipping game, stories of going off on pointless tangents, only to scramble back to your core gameplay (cut levels) at the last minute and kick out a game.


11-8-04

I used to hate Tony Dungy when he was coach of the Bucs. He's kind of a quiet guy, and I hate quiet coaches; I like in-your-face, yelling, angry coaches, like Bill Cowher and Bill Parcells. But, these days, I have lots of respect for Tony. He went into Indianapolis, and he saw the talent he had there, and he didn't force his style of football on them, he went with what the team had to offer. The worst coaches are the ones who bring a "system" and try to put it in place regardless of the team they have. The best coaches look at their talent and devise a way to win with those people. Tony Dungy went from a defense-first, no-score team, to a super scoring team with no defense, and I respect that.


11-8-04

I wuv The Decembewists!


11-8-04

Businesses are all shit-sucking scamming bastards. Sports Illustrated gave me a free subscription, and now they're using semi-illegal schemes to make it hard for me to cancel, by making it difficult and time-consuming. The fucking city of SLO gave me the most ridiculous parking ticket ever for crossing the lines in parking spot (at the end of a row, when other cars were already shifted) - the ticket was for $30, it was upheld on appeal, and now to fight it further I have to pay a court processing fee of $25. My damn bank charges me $3 for an ATM withdrawal from any other bank, even though it's free for them.


11-8-04

I'm doing my damndest to ensure that all the little horrible things are right in our game - the load times are quick, the GUI's are ergonomic, the frame rate is solid, the latency is low, the game is responsive and nice to the user. These are some of the most important things in games, but producers will never give you time to work on them, and directors & publishers will happilly sacrifice them in exchange for some unneeded feature.

Non-skippable cinematics are just an insult to the player. It tells the player "we don't give a damn what you want to do, we're going to force you to sit there and watch this". There's nothing else like it in media - if I watch TV, I can change the channel - can you imagine a show that prevented you from changing the channel away? I would never watch that show. Can you imagine a DVD that turns off your skip and fast-forward? It's my DVD player, in my house, I'll skip if I want to. (in fact DVD's do have those non-skippable intros which are infuriating). With a book or magazine, you can turn the page any time you want; if the story gets boring, you can jump ahead, but you can also go back if you want. A game is not a movie in a theatre, it's an interactive experience that the user is creating for themselves, they should be allowed to craft that experience for themselves. Now, some people take that too far and ruin the game - the game universe should still have a rule set and logic, and even if people want to do things outside of that, they can't, but they can try (eg. the player might want to drive a future mech tank in your fantasy RPG, don't let them!). You see, that's part of the content, which the game developer should control, the user should be in control of the medium, the mechanism for viewing the content.


11-7-04

One of the basic important things in management is to correctly identify the people who are doing well and those who are not. If management goes around praising people who are actually doing a bad job, and chastizing those who are really doing the work, that not only pisses off the people who are doing the work, it creates a bad atmosphere for the entire team - they see that good work is not rewarded. Usually when this happens, the people who are incorrectly rewarded are friends of management, or charismatic, or liars who take credit for others' work, etc.


11-7-04

It would be fun to work on a 3d engine that's all physically accurate lighting. So far as I know, such a thing has never been done, and is even rarely done in pre-rendered CG. We still can't do realtime radiosity, so we have to hack the rendering equation in various ways. One thing we can simulate quite well now is a semi-static environment, where the radiosity effects are precomputed in various ways and the direct lighting effects are evaluated in real time in various ways. The main flaws with these approaches are that the dynamic objects don't interact with the render equation well, eg. they don't contribute to the radiosity solution correctly, and the less static the world is, the less correct the lighting can be. The biggest thing for physically accurate lighting in 3d hardware is floating point buffers; this lets you capture the massive differences in brightness between lit and unlit areas. You of course then need an exposure function to simulate the aperture of the eye or a camera.


11-7-04

So many stars in the sky in San Luis Obispo.


11-7-04

A good director should be able to see the game with the eyes of someone who's never seen it before. Often there's some major feature or character which it seems horrible to cut - but that's just because we've been through the development of that thing, and it seems important to us; if someone saw the game and never knew that thing was supposed to be there, they would have no idea something was missing. It's such a simple point, but everyone gets it wrong; the game should not be directed based on what you the developer think would be cool, but by what a typical player who didn't make the game would feel was missing or would actually perceive as improving the game.


11-7-04

The parable of the painter. There once was a painter; he wanted to do great masterworks of oil, but he struggled in that world, and took to painting houses. Still, he strove to be the greatest house painter that ever was. He saw the other house painters - using spray guns and cheap paint, and he thought their work denigrated the art of house painting. And so, he tried to prove himself on every job. He would go into the house, survey it, but the houses were never right - too old, the walls too small, the materials too cheap - what sort of canvas was that for his work? With many complaints, he would get to work. The painter would carefully remove all the furniture, strip the old paint, usually he would find some bad plaster and tear it out and replace it - perhaps the ridge of a stud was poking through, he'd try to smooth it out. Weeks into the job, the home owners would be nagging him, and he would say - if you want quality, this is the time you have to take. So, he would start on the undercoats. He would lay perfect, even white undercoats; usually there would be an imperfection or two, so he'd lay another coat. But by this time the homeowner was always at wits end - "we need our house back!" they'd cry, and tell him to finish in a day or get out. Panic! The painter would work fast, throwing the paint up on the wall any way he could - the special paint that was supposed to mix for three hours - no time for that. When he was done the paint was in goopy smears all over, an uneven ugly job, and he was despondent - "cursed homeowners" he'd think "didn't give me enough time for the job". Finally, despite his many mediocre jobs, the painter found a perfect client (for he had some esteem among the bourgeois, more for his attitude than his work) - "give my house the best paint job anyone has ever seen - and you can have six months to do it". Oh happy day for our painter! He surveyed the house and emptied it, and began to study the walls, taking color samples of the lawn, the roof, the furniture. He ordered special custom paints, and planned. Weeks went by and he planned and re-planned, and finally started to improve the walls - we need spackle here, all this drywall here has to be replaced, there's a leaky pipe here, the mortar in these brings isn't perfect - soon he was tearing up the house improving the walls, trying to make the perfect canvas for his work. Another month went by and the homeowner returned to see the house in shambles - "what are you doing?" he cried, and hired a crew to fix the walls. He threatened to fire the painter, but the painter convinced him "just give me another chance, I'll wrap it up". The painter started on the base coats; he was working along, doing coat after coat, making the perfect even white; he was most of the way through, then he noticed the white at the end wasn't the same as the white at the beginning! He was taking so long, the base coat was discoloring in the air, so each day's work was slightly different. That would never do! He stripped it all off, and started over; this time he applied a first coat to the whole house, then a second coat, then a third, so it was all even. Another month past, and he began the color. He started painting, but after a few days of looking at the color, he realized it wasn't perfect for the house. So, he mixed a new one, ordered it, and had to wait for it to come. He started again with the new one, he was content, working along. Then, one day, he visited a friend and saw his work - he was painting with gold flake, and holographic colors, and everyone was talking about it. Damn! thought the painter - this is a new standard, my work can't compete, I have to be on this level. So he stripped his work again and ordered this new high-tech paint. He began painting with it, but it clumped and ran; he didn't know the technique, and his base coat was the wrong type! But then the homeowner arrived - the six months were up - "show me my amazing home!" he bellowed. The painter was aghast, he stalled the owner and ran to the home and tried to throw the paint on the walls again, but it just made splashes and blobs and a horrible mess, even worse than any of his previous jobs where he didn't have enough time to perfect them. The moral is - parables are stupid.


11-4-04

Game difficulty has a form of relativity. If you are in a car looking at another car, and you both keep speeding up, you don't feel fast - you feel like you are still. In our game (Stranger) at the moment, we introduce a new set of harder enemies, and we give the player upgraded weapons at exactly the same time. The result is that the difficulty doesn't change at all, it feels just the same as before. Good games will typically introduce the harder enemies before they give you upgraded ammo. This gives you a chance to perceive that they are harder, to go "whoa, that guy is tough". Then you get more powerful yourself, and difficulty comes back to the sweet spot. RPG's all are built on this principle - you go into a new area, and it's really tough at first, then you start to level up, at some point it probably becomes pretty easy as you are now more powerful, then you go to the next area and the process happens again. The difficulty oscillated up and down across the sweet spot, which gives you the perception of movement, of getting more powerful.

A related note is that for difficulty to remain in the sweet spot (I've been assuming you know about the sweet spot - the spot where it's challenging, but not frustrating, where it takes a little while to beat, but not too long), for difficult to remain in the sweet spot as you play, it must ramp up over the course of the game. The reason is that the player is getting better at the game. If you don't give them harder challenges, they don't really have a chance to experience the fact that they're getting better. Some of the old jumping platforms were really good at this ramp. The later levels would have just felt impossible at first, but if you actually play through the whole game to them, they feel fine.


11-3-04

I'm trying not to even think about the election. I want to pretend it didn't happen. My overall feeling is of disgust, not just for Bush and his cronies, but for the people who voted for him. I'm totally disappointed in America. How can you all be so blind? How can you let yourself be lied to and manipulated? This bastard has taken the deaths of Americans on 9/11 and twisted it and lied about it as a way to seize power and do all manner of unbelievable unreasonable things.


11-1-04

I hate John Carmack. I've never met the guy, so he might be the nicest guy in the world, but I'd still hate him. He's probably the only video game programmer in the world who can get girls based on his work. He is the only VGP that's interviewed in the major press, he's like a rock star. That would all be okay if he really deserved it now, but I don't see it. Yeah, his early stuff was great, he did the right thing at the right time, and very few people could have gotten real-time 3d going the way he did back in the day. His new stuff, however, is very ordinary; I'd say Quake is the last thing he did that's really special; in fact, since then, he's been trailing the technology and gameplay leaders in most ways. There are quite a few programmers that I'd put in the same class as Carmack, like Butcher and Stelly, probably others. The other thing is that he did get very lucky with Id. If he would have done the Doom engine and had crap artists and crap level designers and crazy gameplay ideas coming from all directions, the game would have sucked, and noone would have remembered it. Maybe he would have still been famous in the VGP community, but not in the world at large. Instead, he got lucky, and got some really talented guys working around him, and they made games back in those days that really defined the genre.


11-1-04

Born again Christians really scare me. I respect the ideals of Christianity, and I'm sure there are plenty of evangelical born-again Christians (EBACs) who are good people, but most are not. EBACs are really a fascist belief system . They can justify any action in the name of their belief. They believe any action by another EBAC is good, and any pain caused to non-believers can be rationalized. Independent thought and questioning is discouraged, you should believe. Any sort of hippocracy or personal flaws can be ignored as long as you believe. For an EBAC, belief in Jesus becomes a justification and excuse for any action, and makes them "good" no matter what their actions may be, since the lord forgives all.


11-1-04

To all the leads who hurt their company by using plain C (or plain C++) and stay away from language features that would help them -

If you're working in some file, and you need to perform some operation, like say a "partial sort" to take the N highest elements of a set to the front, and you code that up your self - you are just wasting a huge amount of time. Not only are you wasting the time to write it, but the time to debug it, the time for someone else to review it, fix bugs in it, learn it, etc. etc. If you're worried about build times, you can isolate the STL usage into cpp files.

Similarly, not using exceptions is just silly. Exceptions have almost no penalty for use, there's only upside. Even if you don't want to throw your own, catching the hardware exceptions (access violations, float invalid ops) is clearly good. This is what has allowed us to keep the game running almost all the time, even when people check in broken code, which is inevitable. People write buggy code, and if that is allowed to bring down the game, you are wasting massive amounts of time. Once you are doing catches for hardware exceptions, you may as well start throwing as well. Throw reduces errors by forcing the caller to deal with it; ordinary error returns can be easily ignored. Any time that continuing to execute will crash the game, you throw, and the game keeps running - just the broken portion stops working.

The next point is using self-checking classes. Rather than using blind data with structs and pointers and such, you use classes which enforce their own correctness with asserts & exceptions and such. Again, on a large team, this is just clearly a win. Documentation and comments are always ignored; the only way to enforce correct coding is if the code itself screams when you use it wrong.

Once you are using all these self-checking classes, it's hard to avoid templates and containers and such. Perhaps you could, and there's nothing wrong with that, but it's certainly easier.

Garbage collection is similar. GC is clearly good, manually managed pointers are clearly bad. Now, if you have some fancy automatic GC solution that's robust and simple and debugged (such as, maybe you are using Managed C++), ok, fine. If not, smart pointers are a very simple, low-overhead, easy to write & debug way to do GC. This is actually related to all the other points; smart pointers or GC pointers are just examples of types that check & handle themselves and clean themselves up when they go out of scope.

In general, objects that close themselves and clean themselves up are clearly good; forcing the user to do it is always worse. Once you start doing that, use of tight scopes is clearly good. It restricts the lifetimes of variables, which reduces bugs.

Now, I just have no idea how to write software without polymorphism. Even my very first C apps had polymorphism; eg. you have some base type (Object) and many different variants. If you're going to do polymorphism, you should do it in the language. Some home-brew with function pointers and manual casting is just worse, because it's not safe. There are some very rare cases where home-brew could be beneficial, such as very deep in a performance-critical section where you want to avoid the virtual functions, but this is quite rare.

etc. etc.


10-27-04

One issue I like to think about is "real productivity". That is not just "productivity" in the sense of how much work is getting done per hour, or per dollar, or per 'effort'. Rather, it's productivity *times* how much of that work is actually useful towards the end product. You may have guys slaving away, but not efficiently, so of course their productivity is low. You may also have very productive guys, but they tend to do work that's maybe only 50% needed, so their real productivity is also low.


10-27-04

Most game companies work in this ridiculous two-phase style. In the first phase, no one is thinking about shipping, and people spend time on all kinds of silly pointless ideas that never make into the game, or that are just so un-important in the game. In the second phase, they go "oh shit, we need to ship", and then you start cutting all kinds of really important features, or half-assing them. The result is that you wind up with games that have like beautiful explosion fx, but where you can't save anywhere because they never got around to writing the save game feature and had to cut it.

The two-phase style is not just about scheduling and focus. We also see it with oversight. In the first phase, people are just sort of doing tasks and they get checked off the list, and nobody verifies them. The executives and directors and such as paying very little attention to development, which of course is hurting production efficiency. In the second phase, oversight goes crazy, suddenly the directors want to verify every bug fix. This also severely hurts productivity.


10-27-04

Part of the whole idea of Oddworld-style robust coding is to make the error or exception occur at the spot of the bug. In a normal codebase, someone might screw up a pointer, or write some invalid floats, or stomp on memory, whatever, and then the crash occurs later in some other code. We try to catch these ops and verify objects after operations, so that if something is wrong, we see it immediately in the spot that caused the problem.


10-26-04

You can't miss every single one of your milestones and think you're on track. You can't be late all through the project and then be on time to ship. The complete lack of reason & rationality in management is just insane to me. Maybe I should write a book on producing with some very simple step by step rules and guidelines.


10-24-04

More news from the back page - the defense department has now quietly denied several attempts to investigate the chain of command in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. There's mounting evidence that the torture was ordered from the top, perhaps as high as Rumsfeld, but they refuse to provide any of the commanders for interviews. Now, in the trial of some of the soldiers who committed the abuse, the judge has refused to summon those soldiers' commanders (as their lawyers requested). There's no possible reason to refuse the summons other than to protect the department and cover up the chain of command. In other news from the back page - Dick Cheney the other night told some ridiculous lie that the Flu vaccine shortage was caused by not low prices on flu vaccine, that the drug companies didn't make enough money on it so there weren't enough suppliers; in fact, that's complete nonsense; there are over 30 suppliers world-wide, and no other 1st world country has a shortage. The only reason we have a shortage is because we only have a few approved suppliers, which is one of the many government subsidies for private business. The government is not allowed to negotiate freely to buy the things it needs, it's locked into certain suppliers at certain prices, which is a totally corrupt way of pumping them money. Thanks to the supposedly-Laissez-faire Republicans, this same form of subsidy has been written into the prescription drug law.


10-23-04

Russia has signed the Kyoto treaty on emissions reductions, which ratifies it. The freaking Russians have shown more maturity and un-selfishness than the supposedly great and magnanimous Americans. We are now the only major nation to not have signed it. God forbid we ever make our business profits a little lower to save the lives of people all over the world.


10-20-04

There are two great things about baseball that basically no other game has - 1) there are no fouls; there are no refs; it's basically impossible for the outcome of the game to depend on refs calling fouls. Sure, the umps sometimes call a tag wrong, but that's not really a foul, there's no replay, etc. 2) in reasonably close games, every single moment is tense; that is, the game can be decided on almost any play, if someone makes a big error or hits a home run or whatever, almost every pitch is decisive; contrast to most sports that have long periods of boredom and brief spikes of excitement.


10-20-04

I love it when people take social statements that are kind of sarcastic, and just take them wrong and use them as anthems. "Born in the USA" is a classic; it's a song about a vietnam vet and how his country has pissed on him, and he's like begging for some respect, and it's become like a patriotic anthem. The movies "Scarface" and "Taxi Driver" are classic too; people idolize Pacino and Deniro as tough guys, they want to be like them; of course in both movies the heros are sort of insane losers and their lives spiral into disaster. The masters of this were Dire Straits; almost all of their songs are sarcastic or tongue-in-cheek, but you see people singing along with the straight message.


10-19-04

The reality of the fervent Bush supporters is many fold -

There are the people who really just have no idea what's going on in the world. These people still think Saddam had nukes and was helping Al Qaeda. They think "Clear Skies" actually is a pro-environment program. Well, you can't blame them all that much, because the media and the administration constantly lie at them. Something like 50% of the population is in this group.

There are the absolute wacko Christians. I'm not talking about your ordinary Christians. I mean people who believe that Angels really exist and come down to earth, people who literally believe in a fiery hell, people who believe the world will come to an end and final judgement will take place in the next 100 years. This is roughly a shocking 20% of the population.

There are people who are afraid of all foreigners. In their mind "moslem" and "islamic terrorist" are roughly the same thing; and those Chinese, they're communist right? Hell, we invaded Iraq, and I don't care if they had weapons or dictators or what, this is a Crusade - it's a war between civilizations.

There are the people who just want their money. This is a wide group, consisting of business and labor groups that want various shelters and protections and tax breaks that Bush has given (such as for cotton growers, the steel industry, all agribusiness, pharma, aerospace, etc. etc.). It consists of many of the rich, who want their lower taxes (so low, that many of the super-rich (like Dick Cheney) pay around a 5% tax on their total income). It also consists of foolish people in lower tax brackets, who will take a $400 tax break and lose $2000 of government programs (these are the same people who pay for $20 for discount club memberships in order to save $2).


10-19-04

We need a new law in place, that the president is required to go before Congress and answer questions, ala the Brittish "Prime Minister's Minutes". He must answer all questions truthfully; any questions which would cross into classified information can be deferred, but still must be answered behind closed doors to the congress.


10-18-04

I'm doing a talk at the "Game Tech" Seminar on December 2. It'll be about how we made the engine and game behind "Stranger", with emphasis on specific things that I think we've done well in code that people can benefit from. This seminar is very good, the quality of people attending and speaking is very high, it's much more useful than GDC. Just the people you get to talk to at lunch make it worth it. I'm definitely the odd man out talking about games - Chris will talk about Halo 2, Jay will talk about Half Life 2, and Andrew will talk about The Sims 2 - all huge games that I would love to hear about, then I get to talk about this damn Oddworld game that failed to make it to the PS2, etc. It's also a bit of a challenge to keep my talk from being preachy, like "you all are bad programmers; use C++ and STL and exceptions and get with fucking reality".


10-18-04

Hey Coors, I think Kenmore deserves the credit for the coldness of my beer, so shut up about it already.


10-17-04

My fat makes me angry, not because I think it looks bad or anything like that, but because it is a physical symbol of my weakness. Only a weak will keeps me from destroying it.


10-17-04

Ever since WW2, our government has had the spectre of "Communism" as an excuse for doing anything they wanted, and the "Cold War" was a permanent state of war which granted the president extra-constitutional powers. Worried about some hippie liberals exposing illegal activity in the government? Call them communists and bug them and have the FBI watch them and spread false news articles about them. Some democratically elected government is not cooperating with your demands? Call them communist and sponsor a coup, or arms rebels to fight against them. This has been de-facto American practice from Truman to Reagan. Now we have "Terrorism".


10-17-04

The new Ford GT is awesome. 0-60 in 3.3 seconds !! It's one of the fastest production cars ever made, and definitely the fastest ever sold under $200k. It lists at $143, but I'm sure the dealers will sell them for much more with the limited supply.


10-16-04

Celebrex, Vioxx, and Bextra are pain-killers in the COX-2 family. These drugs increase the risk of heart attack. They are no more effective at reducing pain than Aspirin or Ibuprofen, and no gentler on the stomach than Ibuprofen (Aspirin does have bad side effects for some people, but for most people it has very beneficial side effects, actually reducing the risk of heart attack). These drugs cost roughly $3 a pill. Ibuprofen costs roughly 10 cents a pill. In total, these drugs have cost the US health care market roughly $20 billion dollars in the last 5 years.

Prozac and other mental health drugs have never been shown to be beneficial in impartial long-term studies, and yet they continue to be heavily prescribed. Seratonin-inhibitors (SSRI's) have now been shown to greatly increase the suicide rate (in addition to their many previously known side effects). The negative studies were intentionally not published. The entire psychiatric drug industry is a scam, since the doctors really have no idea what they're doing, and placebos are extremely effective at treating all the mild psychoses. I can't easily find total numbers for Prozac proficts, but it was around $3 billion/year at peak, so something like $10-20 billion over the life of the drug seems reasonable. (of course Prozac was also relabeled Serafem and sold under that name for a while).

Drug companies *each* pay roughly $15,000 of semi-legal incentives to doctors to encourage them to prescribe their drugs. In the old days (5-10 years ago), they used to actually send checks to doctors that said "I recommend this drug" on it, you sign it and send it back, they deposit it for you. They aren't so obvious any more, but they give grants for "trials", fly doctors to conferences, hire them for speaking engagements, buy them dinners, take them to shows, etc.

A lot of the problem is not just that the doctors are corrupt and taking the kickbacks from drug companies, it's that the doctors don't have time to independently research every drug they prescribe. They see all this marketing from drug companies (drug companies market to doctors directly with tax-deductible funds), and they believe it. The drug companies publish a bunch of positive clinical trials (they are not required to publish them all, so they just do 100 and pick the good ones), so the drug looks good. The next problem comes with the HMO's, which offer prescription advice. The HMO's really are corrupt and in league with the pharma companies.

How do we solve this? First of all, we need some good trial lawyers to sue these bastards to straighten them out ;) Second, you require all drug studies to be supervised by some independent body (like the FDA); you require all studies to be published whether they are positive or not. Next, you make it illegal for drug companies to offer any prescription incentives to doctors or HMO's. You have the FDA prepare summaries of effectiveness and side effects for all drugs, and this should be the primary prescription guide for doctors. In the end, the system has to be reformed in some way to give doctors and HMO's more incentive to choose the cheaper alternatives. This is a hard problem. It's hard to restrict the pharma companies without infringing on their rights to free speech. One key point is a principle of Chomsky - the rights of corporations should not ever be protected over the rights of individuals. The big "prescription drug benefit" that our government now provides is yet another big benefit for big business, not for people.

reform pharma , pharma bribes doctors , prozac is crap , drugs kill people


10-14-04

Former President George HW Bush was Director of Central Intelligence and head of the Central Intelligence Agency from 30 January 1976 to 20 January 1977


10-14-04

Immediately after Britain and the US opened Libya, Shell and BP announced deals to develop oil fields in Libya. Now the EU has announced deals to sell modern arms to Libya. So, Ghaddafi was a terrible terrorist, but he's apologized and now we can sell him weapons.

Dick Cheney at Halliburton has always pushed for the US to drop sanctions on Iran. He also pushed for us to drop sanctions on Iraq.

Within twenty five years, only six countries will have all the oil reserves in the world - Iraq, Iran, Venezuala, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia has by far the most.

Saudi ARAMCO promo site (this site is really sick, they're a Saudi promo site and they show all these pictures of US presidents hanging out with the Saudis.)
In 2020, the middle east will have all the oil , with Iraq being the #2 or #3 player, and China and India and others very thirsty for crude.
Oil in the Iraq wars


10-14-04

Modern art's ridiculous. There's a lack of real judgement, and the critics are all such buffoons, they hoo and ha over the most terrible works. If an artist sets up an exhibition and doesn't tell the critics what the art is, they might start fawning over the "starkness of the fluourescent lights, which speaks to our isolation", or the "rattling of the air conditioner, like the sound of a tin cup on jail cell bars", before the artists points out, "no, it's the linoleum floor, that's my work". Yes, there was once a place for this. You had realism, you had impressionism, etc. and then people started making deconstructionist statements. The thing about "statements" is they only need to be made once. Hey, a blank canvas is art too if I hang it in a museum; ok, wow, that made me think - now NEVER do that again! Hey, a foam toilet is art, well, sort of, but isn't it just stupid? Found objects - every thing in the world is art, yes, good, now stop charging me money to see it. Wow, you can make beautiful color with splatters; hmm.. didn't someone already make this statement? Let's move on. I think this stuff appeals to a very pretentious false-intelligentsia who enjoy going to the same sort of art shows over and over and acting like they "get it" and they're so far beyond ordinary people, when in fact it's really a very safe repetition that's not actually challenging.


10-12-04

If I compare a Ferrari and a Pinto and decide the Ferrari is better, is that because I'm biased towards Ferraris?


10-12-04

Creepy blast from the past : when Kerry was speaking for VVAW against the war, a Republican attack group was set up by Nixon for this guy John O'Neil to smear Kerry. O'Neil probably had his own ideas, but it was engineered by Colson and Haldeman, who were Nixon's right hand attack dogs, the engineers of the Watergate enterprises. Now, many people think of Watergate as this one event where the Republicans were breaking into the Watergate hotel to bug the democrats - it's not. That was just the final event in a long string of illegal bugging, manipulation, false news articles, false protestors, support for opposing candidates, illegal financing for campaigning from public funds, etc. etc. (of course, O'Neil is the guy now behind the Swift Boat nonsense which is smearing Kerry, and now he's supported underhandedly by Rove/Bush et.al.).


10-10-04

Hip-Hop is sort of a great metaphor for America in general. You get these kids from the inner city who are dirt-poor, live in government housing, get poor educations. Some of them have some talent, or some luck, and become a hip-hop star. They've risen to riches, and live the good life. Now, they could use their fame and fortune to help people from the streets, to speak about the inequality in this country, but nah, they use their podium to tell the world how big their diamonds are, how many girls they sleep with. In the final act, their money is managed by corrupt and manipulative people, and the hip-hop star ends broke and pathetic, doing cameos on Hollywood Squares and shows at the local Indian Casino to make ends meet.


10-10-04

How to fix baseball (speed up the game, and get more hits) : 1) batters are not allowed to step out of the box. Once they're in the box, the pitcher can go at any time, so no long prep ceremonies are possible. 2) pitch timer; pitchers get 20 seconds between getting the ball and having to make a pitch; failure to make a pitch in time counts as a Ball. 3) Teams get only 3 conferences on the mound per game. 4) Pitchers called in from the bull-pen have 2 minutes from the previous last pitch to the first pitch they must make. 5) Use "K-zone" or something similar, and enforce the small strike zone.


10-10-04

Jesus, jesus, are you not outraged at what's happening in this country?

When judges vote along party lines, it's a mockery of our government system, a mockery of justice, a false-justice, a kangaroo court. It clearly shows they are voting based on their party and not on the facts of the matter at hand. Judges are supposed to be above that; they're supposed to defend the law and the constitution and peoples' rights. Even the Surpreme Court of the United States has become basically a partisan rubber-stamp machine; their party-line vote to interfere with the Florida election in 2000 was just a part of their recent history of voting exactly on party lines.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled on October 7 to kill a man for party politics. Paul House was sentenced to death for the murder of Carolyn Muncey over 15 years ago, and has been on death row all that time. Recent DNA evidence has exonerated him, and eyewitnesses have also cleared him and pointed at Muncey's husband, Hubert Muncey. Despite all this, the 8 republicans on the appeals court have ruled that House's conviction should stand, and he should die. Presumably this is a show of toughness and support for the death penalty - it's unconscionable! Those judges should all be stripped of their seats. The 7 democrats who voted to clear House are not necessarilly any better - they happen to be on the right side of this issue, but confronted with another partisan issue, would they just vote on party lines as well?

Read about the case at - NYT op-ed , AP white-wash , death penalty info , truth in justice , TCASK

All presidents in recent history use their power to pack the Federal Appeals courts full of un-qualified compliant partisan judges. Judicial appointments have become merely ways for the parties to keep some power over longer spans of time. Congressional approval of judicial appointments is supposed to be a check to make sure that they are qualified and reasonably non-partisan. In recent years, the president has swept aside that approval and rammed through judges that congress won't approve - Bush avoids approval of Pickering , The Pickering Affair , Progressive judiciary watch , Politics in the Judiciary , On republican court-packing


10-10-04

I keep thinking to myself - Self, wouldn't it be great if there was a news source that was truly non-partisan, that would point out the bullshit that both sides are spewing, that would not just stick to "administration sources say", that would ask the hard questions, and that would vigorously fact check their work and summarize the context? They should be well-respected and established so they can tell the truth about people in power without being shut down or run out of town. Why hasn't anyone made such an organization? Now just today I realized, wow, that's what newspapers are supposed to be. Were they ever? They certainly aren't now.


10-10-04

President Bush says "I admit it, I'm a master-debater. Those trial lawyers need to get off our backs and let us practice the love with our hands!".

Kerry : This administration has not created jobs.
Bush : He's a flip-flopper!
Kerry : He claims to be pro-environment, but actually has weakened environment protection on power plants, opened our national forests to logging, done nothing to clean the air, and allowed destructive forms of strip-mining!
Bush : But he changed his mind!
Kerry : He took us into Iraq and took our focus off Al Qaeda and allowed Osama bin Laden to escape!
Bush : Doesn't he look kind of French to you?
Kerry : He said Iraq had WMD's, was trying to make nuclear weapons, and had ties to Al Qaeda, and claimed it was part of the war on terror.
Bush : I think he's a wimp; he wouldn't have the guts to use American Power
Kerry : He is using the war on terror as an excuse to dismiss all critism and take war-time powers; he's pushed the Patriot Act which does little to help security, but a lot to invade the privacy of American Citizens; he's holding Americans and others hostage in prisons around the world, with no trial, and torturing them in interrogations!
Bush : He uses big fancy words.
Kerry : He refuses to admit that he's made a single mistake!
Bush : I like cheese.
Kerry : He's cut taxes, primarily for the very rich, including huge tax cuts on dividends, capitol gains, and inheritance - that doesn't boost the economy or help any of you!
Bush : But he's a flip-flopper!

Ah, yes, well done Mr. Bush, that debate was clearly a tie.


10-8-04

Great link from Dave - a short movie with reckless social commentary and beautiful computer graphics - What Barry Says


10-8-04

Cheney said "there's no doubt that Iraq has WMD's" (it doesn't). Cheney said Iraq was connected to Al Qaeda (it wasn't, really). Cheney said Saddam Hussein helped Al Qaeda prepare for the 9/11 attacks (he didn't). Cheney said Iraq was close to having nuclear weapons (it wasn't), and was buying nuclear material (he wasn't). Cheney said we would be greeted as liberators (we weren't). Bush said "Mission Accomplished" (it wasn't). Rumsfeld said we don't need more troops on the ground (we do). Bush says we have a strong coalition (we don't). They say we didn't allow Osama to escape (they did). Now Cheney says that knowing what he knows now, he still believes they did everything right and would do it all exactly the same way again.


10-7-04

Wow, there was an appropriate Simpsons rerun on the other night. A three-eyed fish is found near the nuclear plant, so it becomes a scandal and inspectors check out Burns' plant. The inspectors find all kinds of gross violations and give Burns the list of things to fix. Smithers tells him it will cost him $56 million to fix. Burns is despondent - he thinks he's ruined, until Homer happens upon him, and accidentally suggests that Burns run for governor. Of course! Burns is delighted - a run for governor would only cost a few mil, and he could decide what's safe and get hose fat cats in capitol city off his back. What ensues is frighteningly like reality, as Burns spins lies and follows the directions of his campaign image staff and the people lap it up.


10-7-04

Another thing that bugs me is this idea that war against an "evil" person is inherently good. NO! Just because an administration is rotten, doesn't mean war against that country is a good idea or is justified by law or moral standards. Hell, I think our administration is rotten, but that doesn't mean violence against them is justified. You have to look at two things - 1) what are the likely consequences of war? the cost, the benefit, the human toll (how many innocent people will you kill?), the political ramifications, the long term results in the target country, etc. etc. 2) you have to obey the "golden rule", set an example, obey international law - you can't just go invading anywhere you want, because that sets a standard for war to break out anywhere in the world!


10-7-04

I continue to hear people say that Cheney did well in the debate, and that "Edwards got a lot of facts wrong too". We're not talking about little facts here, people! Yes, they both exaggerated the numbers slightly in technical ways, though I don't really see any points that Edwards got wrong, he just phrased some things in ways that make his argument look good. You can see all the fact garbage here - at factcheck but they seem to be very biased. The whole headline suggests both sides "mangled facts" in sort of an equal way. Bullshit - Edwards massaged some numbers, but never really outright lied - Cheney very intentionally lied and manipulated semi-truths almost constantly!!

Look, this is not some small thing. To say "they both got things wrong" is a huge distortion - that's what Fox News would say - Cheney's lies were not some small arcane points that you have to search around to find the problems - anyone who understands English knew he was lying the whole time. He was attacking Edwards with bogus points. He was saying "Edwards got his facts wrong", when in fact, Edwards was basically right and Cheney was completely wrong. It's all so unbelievable.


10-6-04

I made an annotated transcript of the Vice Presidential debate, held Tuesday October 5, showing the truth of what Dick Cheney says - transcript ; thanks to some boys at work who helped me find the references.


10-5-04

The "NOW with Bill Moyers" on the 9/11 commision report was shocking. Seeing in pictures the way this administration handled the lead-up to and day of 9/11 was unbelievable; the incompetence! the laziness! the pig-headedness! However, despite being a great show, I must call out one silly sin. At one point in the episode, they are talking about the PDB entitled "Bin Laden determined to attack within this country" (PDB = Presidential Daily Briefing, not Program DataBase). When this PDB was delivered, Bush was on vacation in Crawford, TX, as he often was. As Bill reads about the PDB, they show a slow-motion clip of Bush on his ranch in the background. Yes, it's true, but that's typical sleazy negative attack-ad tactics. I know the republicans would do exactly the same, and Fox news does much worse all the time, but still, it stood out like a sore thumb of partisan production in the middle of a valuable factual program.


10-5-04

Self-awareness has very little correlation with self-improvement. In fact, it generally makes you less happy.


10-5-04

Rebellion is not a teenage phase, like writing poetry. Becoming a cog in the corporate machine is not maturity.


10-5-04

Levels of robustness in coding :

This last step is the "nirvana" of robust coding. Most people don't even know it exists, and few really see it. Basically any time you would assert(), or any time you say "oh, this must be done", get rid of that - don't assert, don't say "this must be done" - make those conditions happen automatically!

The first place to start is pointers; if you say "this pointer must be released". Don't say that. Put all your pointers in smart pointer classes that auto-release. Now you might say "make sure to use the smart pointer class". Don't say that. Have your class factory always return a smart pointer. Similarly, you might do something like take a mutex lock with EnterCriticalSection. You say "make sure you Leave". Don't say that. Hide the OS calls and make a Mutex class that lives on the stack and does Enter/Leave with its lifetime.

Any time you have an assert like ASSERT( x == y ) - get rid of one of those variables! Any time there's a relationship between state values that must hold, get rid of them!! In general, less variables makes code more robust. In a very technical sense, your variables are degrees of freedom in the state space of the simulation - the goal is to make every value in those DOF a valid state in the simulation. If you have extra variables with constraints (such as x == y), you're doing an un-necessary cover of the state space with constraints. Everyone in physics knows contraints are a pain - try to find the minimal set of variables that describe the actual free degrees of freedom. You are removing logical constraints and making it impossible to invalidate the sim state.


10-5-04

How many tools programmers do we have? Every coder on the game is a tools programmer. Our game engine is a tool for the content team to create an interactive experience.

We've done a very good job of writing a robust, friendly, error-tolerance engine. The result is that our content guys have made content with lots of errors.


10-5-04

The administration is now trying to blame the war in Iraq on the CIA. That's a load of shit, and I hope someone fucks them for it. In the run-up to the war, the CIA repeatedly emphasized its uncertainty about WMD's and Saddam's capabilities. Intelligence is an imperfect game, so they had some analysts and some information supporting the idea that Saddam was an immediate deadly thread, but before Rumsfeld got to them, that was not their primary belief. In repeated meetings at Defense, the CIA was told to "look harder" to find a link between Saddam and Al Qaeda, or to find WMD's in Iraq. In fact, the administration already had a plan to invade Iraq, and they went to the CIA for evidence, the CIA did not go to the administration and point out that Saddam was a threat. This has been investigated only slightly and brushed under the rug.


10-4-04

Our entire foreign policy approach is wrong. Basically, we have pursued a policy of having a strong military that can make small powerful strikes. We have that, and it's useless. It is a powerful deterrent against responsible nation-states, but those are not our enemy. Our enemies are individual angry people. Our military is useless against them. In fact, using our military power only makes them stronger, because we destroy states and create more unrest. Our foreign policy since WW2 has been based on meddling in other countries, helping factions that we thought were aligned to our interests, trying to get power bases against the soviets and other countries. This has been a huge mistake and it's back-fired in almost every single case (Indonesia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Chile, Panama, etc. etc.). The best way for America to bring peace and open-ness to the world is by leading with peace and open-ness. The best way for us to democratize a country is simply with contact, and trade, and communication, by exporting our entertainment and values.

It's so naive to think that we can create democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq and that that will lead the neighbors to follow, as Bush has said repeatedly. Iran already knows what democracy is like - they see it on TV, they were moving in that direction. Now, we have created the fear that America will strike them, and we've make an American client state on two of their borders. This has driven them back to extremism. In Saudi Arabia, they see the Iraqi state and fear the American military power. Do you realize that Al Qaeda started its Jihad against America because we had troops in the holy land of Saudi Arabia? Now we have troops all over Iraq, in some of the holiest places in Islam!? Saudi Arabia is an incredibly important state, and it's very unstable. The people are largely moslem, and the government is not. In Afghanistan, democracy is a sham. The power brokers in Afghanistan are - the US, Iran, Russia, Pakistan, and the warlords who are heavily armed and deal in opium. The warlords have alliances, mainly with Iran, Russia, and Pakistan, all of whom continue to provide money and arms in Afghanistan. The US is trying to balance those powers by supporting Hamid Kharzai; our aid to help the election has been de-factor aid to help Karzai. We fear that anyone else who wins may be a puppet of those other powers. Pakistan's secret police help set up the Taliban, and are still operating in Afghanistan. We don't stop them, because we fear the situation in Pakistan - they are our purported ally, but they are the world's largest illegal nuclear proliferator, probably harbor much of Al Qaeda.

Which reminds me - I wrote on 9-28-04 about the "big announcement" that you then roll back. I read about a nice one in Pakistan recently. President Musharraf is the basically secular dictator of Pakistan. Over the last 10 years, Pakistan has harbored many terrorist cells, some of which it intentionally helps to fight the war in Kashmir. They claim that the Kashmiri fighters are local guerillas, but actually they are terrorists that live safely in Pakistan, where India dares not attack them. They were trained by the Pakistani secret police, in conjunction with the Taliban; many of them were mujahadeen who fought the soviets in Afghanistan. Anyhoo, Musharraf made a big show of "cracking down on terrorists" in Pakistan, and he arrested some 2000 of these fighters. This was a big announcement, blah blah. Unfortunately, Musharraf has no real power to fight terrorism, since much of his country is Pashtun, and the terrorists have close ties with his military and secret police, both of which he controls only as long as they like him. A few months after the round up, the vast majority of the fighters were released, to little notice.


10-4-04

Bill Clinton was chased by a massive partisan circus, many times during his political life. They caught him with Monica Lewinsky, and the worst charge against him was that he lied about it to the American people. So, Bill Clinton was nearly impeached because he made a small lie about a personal matter. Let's be clear on that - this lie was not about his duties, or his office, his government, his policies, his country, even his campagin or anything poltiical. For a president to lie about any of those things is far far worse. For a president to lie about the case for going to war is a huge crime. Why then, was Clinton hounded so ferociously, and Bush has not been investigated at all?!?


10-4-04

Everyone should read "Another Century of War?" by Gabriel Kolko. He makes many of the points I've made here, but of course he did it first and much more eloquently. He also has all the details to back up the summaries. Basically it's about the way we're horribly mis-handling the "war on terror".


10-4-04

Kerry hasn't really ever changed his stance on the Iraq war. It's part of the massive Republican "new-speak" brain-washing, they repeat it all the time, they get their goons at Fox to repeat it every day, we start to believe it. One of the tricks they use is to excerpt only part of what he says. Most of his declarations about the war have been on one theme - "If Saddam had WMD, we should have invaded. We should have had international support, we should have allowed inspections to take their course. With the information we were given about Iraq (which was false), I supported the war; knowing what I know now, I believe it was the wrong war, and it was done in the wrong way. Now that we are there, we must be strong and finish the job." However, Kerry, unlike Bush, doesn't just recite a prepared statement, he uses slightly different words each time, and then the Republicans can excerpt just the one different line and say "look, he said something different". In contrast, Bush just repeats his writers' line every time, which makes him "strong and consistent".

One specific "flip-flop" accusation is over this $87 billion vote. Part of the problem with that is it was a piece of typical politics in Washington. When the war funding bill came up, the Democrats proposed a version which would pay for the $87 billion by cancelling GWB's tax cut for people with income over $200k. Now, first of all, let's make sure you understand - that $87 billion has to come from somewhere; if it doesn't come from the richest Americans, then it will come from all Americans. There are many mechanisms for that, one is that the federal govt just gives less money to the states (as they are doing), so the states then have to 1) cut programs, which mainly help the poor, or 2) raise taxes, which are mainly regressive taxes like sales tax or utility surcharges, etc. So, Kerry voted *for* the democratic version of the bill. Of course that bill was killed, and the Republican version came up, which would just spend the $87 billion and not worry about where it came from. Kerry voted against that version of the bill. This is a standard move in congress - the votes were already counted, he knew it would pass, there was no danger of not providing that money, it was just a vote to show that they preferred the other version of the bill. To call this "flip-flopping" is to show a complete mis-understanding of the democratic process.


10-4-04

The fact that Fox News gets to continually spew lies and claim to be "news" is outrageous, there should be laws about this (in fact there are, but they're not enforced). The latest sham is the story they did on "Communists for Kerry", in which they smear liberals repeatedly and try to associate Kerry with communists and weakness on security. The truth is that "Communists for Kerry" is a Republican 527 organization, which is entirely set up to smear Kerry. The Republicans have been really good at this for ages, sending their staffers to be in protests by "the people", and now they're funding Ralph Nader's campaign, and also working with the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, and the lying muck-raker Robert Novak, etc.


10-4-04

I've been hearing a lot of stories that China's currency (the Yuan) is low (against the dollar). That makes Chinese exports cheaper in the US. Currently China holds the Yuan fixed at 8.28 Yuan to the dollar. There's some talk of letting it float, in which case it would probably go up. That opens up an interesting investment possibility - buying Yuan. An even more interesting possibility is buying Chinese stocks that are traded in Yuan. That way the stocks go up if the Yuan does, but they should also go up on their own.


10-4-04

The illegal manipulation of the vote is underway. In Florida, thousands of voter registration cards from minorities and low-income people have been ruled invalid. They failed to check a citizenship check-box, even though they did sign the form declaring they are citizens. Gov. Jeb Bush has ruled that this does invalidate their voter registration, and now there's basically no time to fix it. In the mean time, the Pentagon has posted ballots on the internet for military personell. This makes it much easier for the military to get their ballots, which is nice, but it's not provided to any civilians. The military votes predominantly Republican. Conversely, it's become even harder for the millions of civilians living abroad to vote; they have to go to their consulate or embassy and wait in lines and get papers from embassies that are more difficult than ever since 9/11.


10-2-04

There's a horrible problem these days with the dilution of media. There are more books published than ever, more newspapers, magazines, blogs, web zines, more movies, more TV channels, more video games, etc. The total amount of quality content, however, is about the same. The massive explosion in the amount of content just means there's more crap, more filler, more duplication. This makes it harder to find the good bits. It used to be that if you bought a video game by Nintendo, or saw a major RKO picture, or read an article in the New York Times, it would probably be pretty good. More and more we're just deluged with crap media, and it becomes a difficult search to find the quality original content.


10-1-04

I reject the idea that personal proximity makes you more qualified to speak on any issue. People who have experienced something often know less about that thing than wise people who have not. I'm sick of the liberals bringing out mothers of soldiers and vietnam vets for their grief stories.


10-1-04

The content team leaves us with levels that don't work. We, the coders, have to work extra hours and make the build solid. We start first, we finish last, we are the quiet workers. They go out and party and talk about big nonsense ideas and get the women and the fame, we do the work. We're suckers.


10-1-04

How to vote the crazy California props -

Prop 59 - provides more access to public documents - Yes
Prop 60 - provides access to all Primary winners in the general election - No (let's leave the law alone, no need for more cooks)
Prop 60A - directs funds from sale of state surplus properties to pay back bonds - Yes looks a little corrupt, but WTF
Prop 61 - money for children's hospitals - No (I oppose all money allocated by propositions)
Prop 62 - allows only two candidates in the general election - NO
Prop 63 - tax on incomes about $1 million to pay for mental health care - NO I like the tax, but I don't like locking it into mental health care programs
Prop 64 - prevents consumers from suing business for unfair practices in some cases - NO
Prop 65 ?
Prop 66 - limits on 3 strikes law - YES
Prop 67 - funding for EMS using a regressive telephone surchange - NO No funding in propositions and no regressive tasks
Prop 68 - changes tax structure on Indian gaming and opens up more gaming - NO We shouldn't allow any new casinos to be built without higher taxes on them
Prop 69 - DNA collection - NO I don't like the idea of the gov having a database of everyone's DNA
Prop 70 - opens up tribal gaming laws and reduces gaming taxes - NO
Prop 71 - provides for a stem cell research institute - NO As much as I want to stick it to GWB, funding stem cell research seems unwise
Prop 72 - requires many employers to provide reasonable health care to employees - YES This is imperfect, but better than nothing.


9-30-04

I watched "All the President's Men" a few days ago. Classic, great, great movie about Woodward and Bernstein and the Watergate scandal. One thing that really reminded me of the present is the way the administration then tried to smear the "liberal media" for making up nonsense and going on a partisan witch-hunt. I think any time a politician blames anything on the media, it's a clear sign they're hiding something, they don't want the truth out, they're scum. This administration blames the media if it's a rainy day.


9-30-04

"The Newshour" , the old MacNeil/Lehrer show, now Lehrer only, is probably the most respected news show on television. It's also the least watched. People always say they want solid non-partisan reporting, but in the end partisan vitriol is what sells.


9-30-04

The presidential debate was tonight. Kerry obviously did very well - he can actually speak English! The more debates there are, the better Kerry will do. Still, I think Kerry made some mistakes. In general, he was too soft on Bush. Especially after Bush attacks, you need to counterattack. When Bush says you are a "flip-flopper", you must attack back at his ridiculous unwillingness to ever admit he was wrong about anything. You can simply say something like "I am able to consider new information and make a new decision; that's better for America that staying with a bad decision". I think Kerry's continuing to bring up the need for international support is a mistake (though Bush bringing up Poland was ridiculous. Poland? What did Poland contribute to the war in Iraq? Sausages?). In the end, if America needs to act to protect itself, it doesn't need the approval of the U.N. The point is that we were not protecting ourselves in Iraq. There was no threat to America - Saddam had no weapons, they were not able to strike the U.S., and he was not threatening us. Kerry needs to ram home the fact that the war in Iraq has made us *less* safe. It's distracted us and kept our troops away from where they could really help - Afghanistan, Sudan, Israel/Palestine, Iran, N. Korea, Syria, Chechnya, Indonesia, The Phillipenes, Pakistan, etc. - major terrorist hot-beds unlike Iraq!! Kerry needs to stress that Al-Qaeda has been hardly weakened by this administration, and we are doing nothing to fight the real source of terrorism, which is anti-Americanism, which is bred by us using our heavy hand to meddle all over the world, as we did in Iraq.


9-30-04

Watched "Dogville" by Lars von Trier. Lars is getting rather repetetive; he's made some other types of movies (Zentropa), but the majority are tear-jerkers on one note. A fragile woman in need goes to someone for help; she trusts him, she puts herself in his hands. He is an ordinary guy; he betrays her trust and takes advantage of her and does something horrible. The rotten black soul of the average human is revealed. I hate the staging of Dogville; it's staged like a play, abstractly. It's a formal exercise, which I'm sure Lars got off on as a challenge to himself, but it's very distracting and ruins the immersion and reality. Fortunately, in the end, we are presented with a great moral moment. The moral dillema comes not in the film, but in ourselves, when we find ourselves happy that ordinary people are killed. They're basically normal people, and we agree, the world is better off without them. Lars ends with a David Bowie song, which is really bizarre; he did the same thing in "Breaking the Waves" with the whole bells in the sky sequence; it's just a really odd surreal ending moment that sort of ruins the mood the whole movie has made; I don't know why he does that, it takes your mind off the difficult situations he's created.


9-28-04

My brother is starting to get rich, and is becoming a conservative. Over labor day he was making the argument that higher taxes motivate people to work less; lower taxes motivate them to work more. I think this is basically a ridiculous argument, but it's very commonly used. The basic idea is of course true in the extreme, but in the real-world case of small changes in the tax rate, and a generally low tax rate, I don't think it applies. Now, the problem is, that it certainly IS true here in America - our tax code does discourage real work. The reason is not the taxes, but because of a number of complicated issues. For one thing, we keep raising and lowering taxes. That means if I find myself in a high tax bracket, say 35%, I should just take it easy for those years; if some new administration comes in, I might wind up with some new tax break which will now give me a much better return on my work time. Furthermore, because of all the loop-holes and tax breaks, it is often more profitable for me to spend my productivity working on lowering my taxes than it is to do real work. Now that is a disaster for the economy - you have a lot of smart people spending their time just working to avoid taxes. The way you fix that problem is not lowering taxes - it's eliminating all the complication and loop-holes in the law. Furthermore, lowering taxes really only encourages people who are not working at full capacity to work even harder. That is, the only problem with high taxes are when people who are already very rich decide that working half time is fine for them. Is that even a problem? Getting more work hours out of people has been a staple of the American economy, but it's leading to disaster (and Americans already work far more hours than any other 1st world country). It increases unemployment (because fewer people are working more hours each), and creates other massive strains on society (such as parents being out of the house full time).


9-28-04

The New York Times is fond now of saying "liberalism has failed". I think it's their way of showing off that they're not a liberal paper (not that the conservatives will ever believe that). This is the kind of ridiculous un-supported slur that works its way into the lexicon and gets treated as fact. Yes, the major liberal institutions in America (conservation, job training, welfare, child support, health care, social security, etc.) are all in trouble. But, BUT - to say "liberalism has failed" is nonsense! Those institutions are the best things our government has done for its people - they are the crowning acheivements of the U.S. government. They need reform, they need less corruption, better funding, they need to be leaner and more fair, but we should be proud of them, and the liberal tradition should be proud of their creation. Do you realize that Nixon would be social liberal by today's standards !? (and earlier Republicans are down-right hippies!).

Which reminds me - the guys at work frequently make fun of hippies and tree-huggers and activists (as does South Park and countless other comedies). I have great respect for those people. Sure, there are a lot of loser hippies who joined the movement just to have sex and smoke pot and hang out (ok, maybe that's the majority), but the core of the movement is a really beautiful thing - the idea that love and community and peace and cooperation and our planet are more important than posessions and money and nation-states - that's a beautiful idea, that's what life is all about. To actually give up your comfortable yuppie life and go chain yourself to a tree (or whatever) and get thrown in jail for it, you should respect that. Yeah, maybe the guy is confused and not really helping the message, but he's trying to do something for what he believes in; he's not being ruled by his greed or his gluttony or his lust, I have huge respect activists and believers of all types, including the ones whose cause I don't agree with.


9-28-04

Lead Programmer is a miserable job. The creative guys don't really want you in the loop. You get no time to do research or innovative coding (if you did spend your time on un-necessary research, you'd be a bad lead). Everyone around you is so irresponsible, you have to spend half your time policing people like a nanny. You have to fix everyone's bugs and maintain the build process, police the check-ins, check up on all the content work, schedule your team and the content teams, deal with test and bug fix, etc. Most people who are actually creative and sensitive and intelligent quit the job. The people who are long-term leads are of a certain very sad personality type. They are generally very smart and hard-working and responsible, but also not very ambitious, not very creative, not rebellious, have low self-esteem, are often quiet and take abuse without fighting back. I don't want to be that guy.


9-28-04

This whole CBS national-guard thing is quite a travesty. First of all, people are incorrectly saying that "the democrats have been attacking Bush over his national guard service"; well, not really; Kerry hasn't said much about it at all, even though he really should have. The fact is, Kerry went to Vietnam and served; Bush pulled strings with his well-connected family, to get into the Guard (which he was not qualified for), and then he didn't even serve in the guard. Now, it seems CBS used falsified documents; that sucks, but it doesn't change the basic story. Alas, it's been twisted and spun now in a way that doesn't make Bush look so bad.

This is part of the standard Johnnie Cochran style defense. Basically your jury (the populace) are a bunch of morons. When somone presents some really strong evidence against you, what you do is find some little minor pointless issue that they got wrong, and you attack the hell out of that. Like, let's say Bush's policies have put us $537 billion in debt, and his tax cut has given $52 billion back to the top-1% of the rich (I'm just making those numbers up). Now, some democrat makes a speech and says "he put us $500 billion in debt and gave $60 billion to the rich". The next day you get GOP operatives all over the news going "this democrat is lying to you; how can you even trust him if he can't get his figures right? blah blah", then the news focuses on the attack and the counter-attack, and the original point is lost.

Another good trick I've seen a lot of recently is the "big announcement" followed by inaction or retraction. There have been some nice ones in corporate America. Some company is accused of cooking the books and financial fraud, etc. They make a big announcement, and the CEO steps down. That all makes the front page of the business section. A few weeks later, they re-hire the same CEO, and he gets a nice signing bonus. That makes page 5. The gov does it a lot too; some big attrocity happens, like the Abu Ghraib torture, etc. so they act all serious and "form a committee to investigate". That's all front-page. Time passes and people forget about it, and finally the committee announces its findings (hopefully after the election), which is a lot of BS, and never makes big news.


9-28-04

The New York Times is a pawn of large corporations and the US government.

They say ".. we have few options with North Korea. The Bush administration has been in intensive negotiations for two years...". Um, no, no we haven't. This administration intentionally cut off negotiations with NK as a show of macho strength, and as part of their policy of intentionally not doing anything that Clinton was (such as pursuing Al Qaeda). All signs seem to indicate that a humble U.S. negotiating team could have made a deal to provide security and economic development to NK in exchange for disarmament, but our gov didn't want to give them any prizes for their thuggery.

The NYT says "the high cost of health care pays for innovation". Um, no, maybe a little bit, but mainly it pays for profits in health care corps; it's also not malpractice insurance that's driving up the cost over all (as the GOP would have you believe) (except in a few specific cases). In general, it's the use of unnecessary expensive treatments, and unnecessary expensive drugs. The pharma companies and other heavy push their product on doctors (providing semi- legal kickbacks and incentives in various ways); the vast majority of recent "miracle drugs" are no better than the previous drugs (such as aspirin), but cost far far more; many have worse side effects. All the recent fancy pain killers are in this group, most of the recent ant-acids, and all the recent psychotropic drugs.


9-28-04

I know people who are seriously thinking of not voting because "John Kerry's a douche", basically. Um, okay, maybe he's not the coolest guy in the world, but are you fucking kidding me? GWB presides over an incredibly manipulative disingenuous corrupt organization that has led us falsely into a foolish war and is running this country just incredibly bad, which being constantly two-faced about it, and you won't vote him out because you think John Kerry doesn't have enough charisma?

Just in case you haven't been paying attention at all over the last four years I'll give you a quick hit list - GWB says "clean skies" and rolls back environmental law, and the EPA sues states to defeat their environmental laws, the gov releases the name of under-cover CIA operatives to try to quiet anyone who speaks out against them, the gov detains US citizens indefinately with no charge, and tortures people in Guantanamo, Iraq, and Afghanistan; the Justice department preps for a case to claim that the Geneva Convention against torture does not apply; the gov takes us into Afghanistan, but does not create stability, leaving armed warlords in power, and setting up a puppet democracy with our hand-picked partisan (Karzai) receiving US aid to campaign; the US supports the Pakistani leader Musharraf and says nothing against their country, while they harbor the greatest force of Al Qaeda, as well as the world's worst nuclear proliforator Dr. Khan, and a huge terrorist province of Waziris; the gov leads us into the war on Iraq, which they were planning for even before 9/11, with false claims of terrorist ties and WMD, which they pushed the CIA to find evidence of, they lie to the public repeatedly before going to war and after, and now Iraq breeds more terrorists than ever; the US does nothing about the major Israel-Palestine problem, as the Israelis continue to build a wall across their country; the US calls Iran "evil" and dis-engages diplomacy (which was working, with a moderate president in power), and Iran becomes more and more conservative and anti-US and steps up development of its nuclear arms program; the gov tells us "if you vote for Kerry, you vote for terrorists"; the gov tells us "really the media is to blame"; the gov tells us "if you don't support Bush, you're unpatriotic"; the gov says they want to roll back the tax cuts, but they propose rolling back only the tax cuts on the POOR! so of course all the tax cuts must stand; the gov says the tax cuts stimulate the economy, but the tax cuts were planned when the economy was still at its peak! the gov says they support the assault-rifle ban, but they let it lapse. The gov says they are pro-free-market, but they increase protection of steel and increase farm subsidies, because that plays well in the swing states. Our gov has run its military time table based on the US election schedule, which is jeopardizing Iraq and Afghanistan.

How can you possibly not be outraged and see that there is only one reasonable choice? And don't be a goon like Nader and abstain or something because "they're both bad". Yes, they are both bad, but you still need to choose the lesser of two evils.


9-28-04

Tips are an economic system in which the generous underwrite the skinflints. Do not kid yourself and think that this is the rich underwriting the poor; the rich are frequently bad tippers; in fact the best tippers are the poor who work or have worked recently in service/tip industries themselves.


9-28-04

The thing that makes a brilliant creative director is the ability to know something will work, even when the audience might say at first that it wouldn't. In the end the measure of your success if your audience is happy. It's relatively easy to take an idea like "he's a hard-nosed cop who plays by his own rules"; uh, yeah, you can probably excite people about that. The real genius comes when you have an idea like "he's a guy who's writing a book, but the events are actually happening, and he's having a nervous breakdown and gets caught up in the book"; the audience might originally say "eh, that sounds kinda crappy", but then if you actually make it and it's great, they go "oh yeah, that was a good idea after all". Anybody can have ideas; my baby brother's left toe is full of ideas; the brilliant ideas are the ones that don't initially seem great. The art of a great director is to be able to pick out the ones that really are great and to execute them well.


9-28-04

Decisions like whether to go for it or kick on 4th down should *OF COURSE* be analyzed with EV (Expected Value) in a proper cost basis. I mean, this is well known decision theory, but everybody is dumb. You look at like - if you go for it, what's the value? well, what's my chance of making the 1st down? maybe you estimate 50% for your team in this situation; if you do make it, then, what's the value? Value is measured as an affect on your chance of winning the game. If you go for it and fail, what's the value? If you kick, we can just assume that it's a reasonably affective kick and nothing crazy happens, that can be the baseline zero-EV case.


9-19-04

"Seize" is a fucked up word. It stomps all over the "i before e" rule. The other main exception seems to be "protein" (and related words). There are many other pretend exceptions, but of course, you know the "ay" sound rule, and the "heh" sound rule (as in heifer and leisure), and note that words like "sheik" might seem to be exceptions if you mis-pronounce them as "sheek", in fact it should be pronounced "shake" in which case the "ay" sound rule applies (same for "neither" which is "n-eye-ther" not "knee-ther"). ridiculous link


9-18-04

I'm a worrier. I can't believe the amount of money I could have made buying property, it's just sick; I could be close to retirement now !!! Now, I think it's too late. The housing market looks dangerously close to a major collapse to me. Maybe it won't, but maybe it will. In fact, it's making me think about getting completely out of the American stock market. I'm worried about a massive crash in the US economy, driven by the debt and lack of spending power of our consumers. Emerging markets have roughly doubled in the last year; unfortunately I didn't have the balls to get into them heavily. Now, I need a good opportunity to get out of the US market. A good value opportunity in a foreign market is what I need; I little dip overseas, or a dip in the exchange rate, and I'll buy out of the US en masse.

This is part of a principal of investing - you need opportunities that are safe enough that you can get into them heavily. Something like the Chinese market looks very appealing, but if you only put $1,000 into it, even if it goes up 10% (very nice), that's $100. To make big money, you have to commit big money. You make more by putting $10,000 into a plain savings acount that gives 2%.


9-16-04

The way we vote by state is so clearly fucked up. It disenfranchizes the majority of Americans, because their states are locked up one way or the other, they are basically ignored by the parties. The fate of our country will be decided by loons in Florida and Ohio and such, which are not at all representative of the majority of the country. Those states have very odd and strong special interests, like the elderly or Cuba or old-school manufacturing. The President should clearly be directly elected. That makes one person = one vote, and forces the candidates to really address the issues that matter to the majority of the country.


9-14-04

There will soon be a tyrrany of the old. All the major "1st world" countries will have a majority of elderly and retired people, certainly by 2050, some countries like the Scandanavian countries and Japan even sooner. At that point, the old can dominate the government and the laws of the country with their majority. They're a very powerful majority because they're easily manipulated by special interests, and it's easy to get them to vote in a bloc. They will enslave the young into paying for them and keeping them alive and healthy. It will destroy these countries, and then will be the rise of the "emerging markets".


9-14-04

It seems there may be a day soon when there are more words written than read. Why should we read someone else's words when we can make our own? I'm certainly part of the problem.


9-13-04

Addendum to assault rifle ban rant - Most gun deaths are not from intentional shootings, they're accidental, mainly from bone-heads being unsafe with their guns. If you give them more powerful guns, it just increases the chance of accidental death. After that, the #2 cause of gun death are "crimes of passion" - not hardened criminals, but pretty normal people who go a little crazy with rage or booze or whatever and decide to shoot their wife who's been cheating on them, or their buddy who ran over their dog. The smallest fraction of gun deaths are in intentional, planned criminal acts. Again, the vast majority of these are not wisened criminals, but just pretty ordinary people who went bankrupt or somehow slipped through the cracks and decide to rob a liquor store or whatever; you can easily turn a pretty routine robbery into a blood-bath if the robber and the liquor store owner both have automatic weapons. Another nonsensical argument is that "the crooks will get them anyway". Well, yes, major drug dealers and such will have heavy weapons whether they're legal or not, but they are a tiny portion of armed crime. The vast majority are pretty ordinary people who buy their guns at gun shops. If some guy's gonna break into your house, it's far more likely to be a petty criminal who has no access to black market smuggled weapons. Furthermore, this country is quite intentionally very lax in its enforcement of international arms smuggling and dealing; if we would outlaw that and crack down, there would be far fewer heavy weapons in American, and all over the world. Another reason why it's dangerous for ordinary people to buy heavy weapons is that many people don't keep them locked up; guns are often stolen, kids frequently get at them, etc. The reality is that making it easier to get heavy weapons will increase the number of gun-related deaths, and increase the number of heavy weapons used in crimes. This also leads to an escalation in the level of violence with Police. Police now need more body armor and even heavier weapons in order to have an advantage, which is scary on many levels.


9-12-04

I can't play poker any more. I get bored of the game and start playing impatient and just messing around, which is a recipe to lose your money. If you give me a real challenge against good players, I can turn on the ability, but just playing online or the home game against a lot of bad players doesn't keep my focus. Poker's a game where you have to be careful and focused and patient at all times. You might make 100 great plays in a row, but one single bad play can ruin you.

Yesterday I rode Old Creek and Santa Rosa Creek Road . Total climbing is about 6000 feet, but that's doesn't tell the story of the brutal grades. I had to get off and walk some of the hardest bits near the end. I was in excruciating pain from head to toe - not just in my legs, but in my stomach from eating too soon before the ride, and in my lungs, and my side and my back and neck. The weirdest thing is that the whole day after the ride, by chest hurt like crazy, it still does. Any time I breathe deep or swallow or cough or anything I get pain all through my chest - it feels like a broken rib, but I can't imagine that's the case. I've never felt anything like this pain, it's quite extraordinary!


9-11-04

Cheney says if you vote for Kerry, Al Qaeda will attack again. Who exactly was president when 9/11 happened? Who could have prevented it? Who very intentionally dropped the Clinton administration's policy of fiercely pursuing Al Qaeda? Who has enraged the middle east by attacking Iraq, doing nothing while Al Qaeda still looms strong and terrorism has foot-holds all over the world that we do nothing about. First of all, Cheney's accusation is ridiculous. Second of all, it's disgusting. It's an abuse of the trust of the American people in the office of the Vice President, for him to come out and say "if you vote for the other guy, we will be attacked". It's preposterous, slimy, pure evil.


9-11-04

I've written about this before, but one of the most nefarious things about the Bush administration is the way they've used the "War on Terror" as a distraction from all the things they're pushing through with executive orders, that are getting no publicity, no vote in congress, pure stealth. Many of these are environmental rollbacks. For example, they've rolled back the Clinton-era rule banning "mountain top removal", an incredibly destructive method of coal mining. They've also rolled back the requirement on power plants to meet new stricter standards on pollution (this one's a little complicated, but the key point remains). They've opened up tons of National Forest land to road-building and logging. Another nice little stealth move they're slipping through now is this assault-weapons ban. Bush claims to be in favor of the ban, but his cronies in congress won't let it even come to a vote. This is a sort of disgusting form of political two-facedness where he gets to represent both sides. Of course if the ban lapses even briefly, people all over the US will stock up on assault weapons, and then when the ban goes back in place, they get to keep them. Good job, shrub, making America safer, my ass! Some other nice rule changes that haven't gotten much attention at all - the rules were changed so that media companies are now allowed to own several TV stations, newspapers, radio stations, all in the same market. This favors Fox heavily, along with the other mega media corporations; basically it continues the break-down of guarantees that there be some honesty and debate in the media. Another topic that isn't being addressed at all in this election is the horrible tax cut. The cuts to the income tax were bad enough - they severely favored the rich, and reduced the progressiveness of America's tax brackets even further - but the ones that are just incredibly clearly wrong are the cuts to capital gains and the inheritance tax. These two tax cuts are clearly only for the benefit of the rich - average Americans get ZERO benefit from them - and they are clearly NOT an economic stimulus. The way you get stimulus from tax cuts is by cutting the taxes on the poor, people who need the money and are more likely to turn around and spend it.


9-11-04

The right form of tax is so clearly a flat tax with a deductible. The basic formula is :

T = (I - D)*R

I = income
D = deductible
R = tax rate
T = tax

You set your taxes with D and R. Obviously T is clamped at zero, not allowed to go negative. I can't say exactly what D & R should be, they need to be tweaked to keep the total amount of taxes collected roughly the same. It's important to keep the discussion on changing the tax formulation separate from the question of changing the total amount of taxes collected.

My rough thinking would be that R should be 35% (0.35), which keeps the tax on the top bracket roughly the same. D should be something like $30,000 , so that anyone making less than that (eg. people near the poverty line) pay zero tax.

I would also propose that you remove all deductions - children, houses, etc. get rid of them all, they're just too easily abused. Also, all forms of income count as income - capital gains, inheritance, etc. all go into your income for that year and get taxed as part of this total. Furthermore, there's no separate Social Security tax or anything like that, all this money goes into the general pool and gets divided out as needed.

The result of removing all the shelters and loop-holes is that the rich would get a real-world increase in their tax rate. The poor would get a huge real-world reduction in their tax rate. The government would also save a huge amount of money by simplifying the tax code, you can cut the IRS severely. Furthermore, the American economy gets a huge boost by not having workers waste time doing complicated taxes.


9-11-04

I think I've written about this before, but here I go again. It seems crystal clear to me that the right way to regulate pollution is by charging companies a fee for the damage they do to the environment. Roughly, you want a charge a fee that's close to the cost of repairing the damage they do, plus a sort of "rent" for the fact that it's damaged between the time they do damage and when it can be repaired (so the rent is proportional to how long it takes to repair). The guideline is the idea that all the people in a country own that country - the geography and air and water of that country is really the property of all the people. If you fuck that up, you must pay for the damage, you must buy the right to do it, and the way you buy it is by paying the government, which is the representative of all the people. So, let's say you have a power plant that pollutes some amount, you pay based on the amount of pollution. If you have a very dirty plant, it may be economically non-viable to run that plant unless you clean it up. The penalty rates have to be carefully tweaked so that it's profitable to run a plant that's reasonably clean, but not profitable to run a plant that's very dirty. If you do something like logging, you have to pay for the defacing of the forest, some reasonable fee; obviously logging old-growth that takes a hundred years to be restored would be very expensive. If you do something like clear-cutting or strip-mining, the fees become very large. Something like mountain-top-removal would have astronomical fees, making it for all real purposes forbidden - how much does it cost to restore a mountain-top? The valley that was filled? The river that was clogged? Billions!


9-11-04

If I had the balls, I'd buy property around SLO. This is the best investment opportunity I can see at the moment. Not houses - they're way over-priced, but undeveloped land, just outside the city limits. SLO is growing, and it's going to continue to be a very expensive area. It's just a matter of time before developers want to buy that land from you and build houses on it, and they'll pay a huge premium. The problem is it could take 10 years before you get a really tasty buyer, and there could be a property crash in the mean time that you'd have to wait out. I think with the growth limits and such around here it's pretty well immune to a bad crash, and of course there are already speculators driving up land values here, but I still see it as a good buy.


9-10-04

All this politics stuff just makes me so furious I can hardly write about it, I begin composing thoughts, and then I start to twitch and foam at the mouth and have to jump and yell and punch something and then I can't think clearly anymore.

I watched a little bit of "Out Foxed" , the documentary on Fox News. I couldn't watch all of it, because it just made me so mad. It's also all stuff I already knew; you just have to watch Fox for a minute and you'll see these incredibly disgusting manipulative tactics, blurring reporting and fiction, presenting propaganda as fact, mixing messages in an intentionally confusing way. The heads of Fox News, Moody and Ailes, intentionally spin the presentation to benefit the Republicans, and they refer to this as "Patriotism". The sad thing about this kind of movie is that the people who really need to see it are the people who watch Fox News, and of course they won't watch it, and they'll call it "liberal black helicopter shit". Furthermore, there's sort of a nasty media balance at play here. If you make some outrageous lie, even if it's not true, it has a lot of impact, a lot of publicity, it sticks in peoples' heads. Now if someone else comes out and goes "wait, he's lying", that is pretty boring, it doesn't even makes the front page. The result of the whole exchange is that people remember the lie.

A good example is this whole "Swift Boat" bullshit. Of course John Kerry served admirably; maybe his Purple Hearts weren't really deserved, but that happens all the time, lots of sort of marginal hearts are given. George Bush got a sweet-heart deal to stay in the US to avoid the war and didn't even show up for his National Guard service. The "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" are clearly a hired gang representing the Republicans and intentionally spewing lies to smear Kerry. Reasonable people know that, but for the average American, the original lie is stronger in their memory.

There's sort of an interesting thing that happens in a debate. You need to debate in a way that sways your audience. Consider the difference between lawyers arguing before the Supreme Court or a Grand Jury vs. lawyers arguing before a normal jury of peers. In the former case, the lawyers know their audience is wise and won't be swayed by theatrics, so they have to win on substance. Before a jury, the truth of the case hardly matters - it's about who makes a more impactful statement, who seems more believable. This is the situation of politics.

One of the problems with liberals in politics is they're far too reasonable. The Republicans are destroying the liberals using tactics that the liberals find disgusting and cheap. The liberals don't use those tactics, and it's killing us. We need to fight fire with fire, we have no choice but to drop to their level. Some of the general things you have to do -


9-07-04

Sometimes I come across as very negative. Part of this is because I think negative critiques are more interesting. There are a lot of famous book critics who are famous for tearing books apart. If you just write glowing reviews (even if they're honest) - they're not interesting. There's far more tension and controversy in taking something that most people like and pointing out how stupid it really is.

The other tricky thing is that I always think in terms of the "deltas" (differences) from what I assume is the baseline opinion. For example on 8-18, I wrote how I "hate DVDs". I don't mention any of the good things about DVD's (better video quality than VHS, great sound quality, instant seeking to labels, etc.), because I assume you all know them, so I don't need to go over them. I only mention the points that aren't generally accepted, which are often critical.

This same principal is at play in the news. Newspapers (and TV news) generally only cover the new developments, they don't give context because they assume everyone knows it. Of course, the vast majority of people actually don't know it, and the result is a very strange understanding of the world, because you are only reading the "deltas" from the past and you don't know what the baseline was.

There's a similar principal with stocks and happiness. The baseline expectation for a company is already built into its stock price. So, if the company does very well, the stock won't rise if that was already in the valuation. Even if the company does very well, if it's below expectation, the stock will fall. This can lead to a very strange predicament where a company has a great hugely profitable year, but the stock falls because it didn't meet expectation. Of course the same thing happens with human emotions. You build up expectations for something, and then even if it's great, if it doesn't meet expectations, you won't enjoy it.


9-04-04

A model for sports records - a real number is drawn from a random Gaussian source; this is the performance of an individual athelete. One is drawn at each time t. If the number is larger than any seen before, a record is set. What is the mean time between records, as a function of t? At time 0, the chance of a record is 100%; at time 1, the chance is 50% on average, etc. Obviously the mean time between records decreases rapidly as t gets larger. The actual mathematics is left as an excercise for the reader ;) The rough answer is that the mean time between records increases exponentially.


9-02-04

TV keeps you from having to think. Thinking is horrible agony.

It's funny watching preseason football, because it SUCKS. The games don't matter, and they play the 2nd string guys. But then I realize - these guys are still like 100X better than me at football, and yet it totally sucks to watch them? That must mean it's agony to watch me play sports.

I rejoice in the different speeds of seeing the world. Driving - you see a vineyard, a barn, a road, a cliff. Flying - you see a green square, a line of mountains, the line of the coast. Walking - you see a rose bush, a nickel on the sidewalk, a doorway. Biking - you see the wild plants between the houses, the prices on the road-side farm stand.


9-01-04

It's funny what makes a really great rock vocalist. You need a good voice, you need to be able to hit a reasonable range and hold a note and things like that, but you also need a kind of messed up strange voice - fragile, frail, rough, gravely, etc. I can't stand hard rock music with really clean vocals (I always liked Lennon, not McCartney), though I'm also not a fan of the totally ridiculous F'ed up voice like that guy who used to sing for ACDC.

I hate it when bands have one lead singer and then they do that one song on each album where they let some other douche sing who wants to break out of his role as just a member of the band, and he always just really sucks bad.


9-01-04

I'm very torn about where the American economy is going. Here are the positives - 1) after the election, no matter who wins, the economy will calm down and stocks will rise; 2) the current high oil prices are a totally artificial creation due to speculators, they will come down soon, related to #1, which will boost the economy; 3) as China and India and Brazil and other countries develop, international demand for our most lucrative products (entertainment and knowledge) will balloon which will give us another brief bubble (that bubble will collapse when those countries replace us as the suppliers of those products).

Here are the negatives - 1) The American economy is largely driven by consumerism within America, which requires strong buying from the average person, which is in major trouble. Income inequality continues to grow, which is driving down the real wealth of the average person; the number of Americans under the poverty line is now 36 million and it keeps growing (many of these people work full time). 2) The housing market is dangerously close to exploding; people who can't afford it have bought in heavily, and then have re-mortgaged and taken even more debt to get more cash; any sort of down-turn could make this system explode. Already forceclosures are occuring at a record rate. 3) American consumerism is heavily driven by debt spending in general, related to #2, again this is trouble. Especially as interest rates begin to rise back to normal levels, the heavy debt of many Americans will destroy their spending power. 4) As mentioned in #3, interest rates must rise, this will slow the economy.

So, I have no idea really if stocks will rise in the next few years.


9-01-04

[someone said:] Whenever possible I favour ground up design, i.e. design that works to exploit what you can do well. Good designers are able to find those gems that a) you can do effectively, and b) players want. A good example of this is simulating car crash dynamics. I think that Burnout 3 will do very well, it will probably sell several million units.

This is an excellent way to make games (it seems to me Doom 3 was made this way). Pick one strong tech or design feature that's novel and interesting and then build up a game around that feature using well-known and traditional elements (car driving, shooting, what have you).


8-30-04

Ok, I confess, I don't like Wilco. I know I'm supposed to like them, but their music is so incoherent, their albums have no flow, it's very lurching and random. I also hate all music that musicians love. They love intricate technical well-crafted arcane crap. Give me amateur, simple, unsophisticated, technically poor music, if it's creative and has feeling and reality. The Decemberists have some really great tunes, but the lead singer has that funny Brittish "W" accent, where everything is a "W", the funniest is when he says "willows" and it sounds like "wiwows". It's just really hard to listen to them and take it all seriously when the guy is saying "when-ewer I wondaw whehw youw ahw". Other good stuff - Elefant, The Kills. Mediocre stuff - Songs:Ohia, Fridge, more.

Is it just a coincidence that Kyoto and Tokyo are anagrams?

So, I got this parking ticket a little while ago. It's like the most ridonculous parking ticket in history. The ticket is for crossing lane markers. Now, I could see if I was the jackass in his Boxster who intentionally parked in the middle of two spots to avoid dings, or the jackass in his giant ass Ford F150 who parked in a compact space and wound up taking like five spots. Neither of those happened - rather, I was slightly offset in the space so that my car was just crossing into an adjacent space. Making it even more ridonculous - I parked there after the neighboring cars had already parked and were shifted over. Making it yet more ridonculous - this was all at one end of a row of parking spaces, where people routinely park shifted over to give everyone more space. So, anyhoo, I submitted a protest of the ticket, where I described these conditions. I just recently got the reply, which was - "citation upheld; if cars have previously parked out of their spaces, you must find a different parking spot" - which just adds yet another piece of ridonculosity to the whole thing. So, of course I'm not going to pay this damn ticket, so now I have to go to court. I'm trying my best to get prepared so that I don't show up in court going "fuck the fucking ridiculous fucking screw you all fucking hell".

I've discovered that barbecued trout is fantastic (purists would point out that it's actually "grilled" trout). Very simple - just stuff it with rosemary everywhere you can fit it, and of course coat in salt, pepper and olive oil (that almost goes without saying, everything I do is with SPOO (Salt, Pepper, Olive Oil), I bathe and moisturize with Salt Pepper and Olive Oil).

I did Old Creek again yesterday. I had to stop again, but just once, briefly. I was standing almost the whole way, I hit the whole thing very fast, just one hour round trip. Next time no stopping.


8-28-04

There's been much talk about the USA Olympic basketball team here, how they're not the best NBA players, how they're not used to playing the zone, etc. Something that hasn't been mentioned much is this - the NBA style of play is sloppy, undisciplined, boring, ugly basketball. The Olympic style of play (as demonstrated by other countries), is crisp, with lots of good passing, team work, hard defense, active coaches, interesting, competetive.

How much is a year of your life worth? If someone came to you and said that you had to be locked in a little box for 60 hours a week during the best years of your life, how much money would you demand in exchange? A million dollars? Ten million? Most of us take that deal for $50k or less. You never get that year of your life back.


8-23-04

I rode Old Creek road on Sunday. It's about 3000 feet of climbing, mostly around 6%, with a small part at 10% (very hard, a good link is here ). It's the hardest ride I've done in my life; I did have to stop briefly a few times, I considered turning back, I didn't think I would make it, but in the end it wasn't that hard. I think if I did it again I could do it without stopping, knowing the top was near. The scenery is beautiful, fields and groves and trees, bee keeper's hives and tumbledown red barns. I love that hard push on the road - just you and the bike, you can beat your personal best, no one else can fuck that up, it's beautiful pure hard work.

My freaking CD's are better sorted than my MP3's. That's so fucking stupid it hurts me. My MP3's should be indexed by my quality rating, my mood classification, by genre, by similarity and relation to other artists, etc. I should browse my MP3's with something like GNOD , but better cuz it would have all this other metadata.

I want to watch the olympics, I really do - NBC , I want to watch your advertising! but the presentation is just so horrible I can't stand to watch it. For one thing, it's never on when I flip to it - it should be on CNBC like 24 hours a day - what do you have that's better? John McEnroe stumbling over topics he knows nothing about? For another, you only show me the damn Americans, who often suck. Show me the best damn athletes! I want to see beautiful human achievement, not some stupid Americans. For another, give me announcers who have charisma AND know something about their sport, not this horrible mix of two guys - one who knows nothing and and ex-athlete who is a terrible speaker.

The best sites for music on the net - matador , insound , epitonic , kexp , other?

I'm extremely attracted to mothers and pregnant women.

Poor Stephen Malkmus. His life has no further purpose. He should just retire and wait for 20 years from now when he can get together with his old, fat, washed up mates and do a sad Pavement reunion tour for all the aged hipsters-cum-yuppies.

Distributing a free promo MP3 and not filling out the artist/title metadata is just about the stupidest thing you could ever do. Nice one. I hate songs that do a big switch between hard and mellow. Pick a fucking mood and stick to it. I'm listening to your music in the background and I want it to fit a certain mood, so when you try to do some artsy-fartsy shit and mix in a big rock break-out in the middle of your ballad it just doesn't work.

Yo La Tengo is touring for John Kerry . How in the world could you possible vote against Yo La Tengo? Oh yeah, I forgot, you're a total moron, you like Lincoln Park ("Linkin Park"), and professional wrestling, and such. God help us.


8-23-04

Is there a single major corporation that isn't severely corrupt, dishonest, disingenuous, almost-illegal, cheating, manipulative, etc. ? I challenge you to name a single one - send me one, and I shall point out their evil.

Movie review - "The Fog of War". First of all, it's very interesting, everyone should watch it. It's an interview with Robert McNamara. He's a very interesting sort of mildly pathological personality; he's an excellent case study of someone who's basically reasonable, very analytical, tries to be rational, and winds up doing horrible things. As a movie, it's only mediocre; it doesn't put in context the reality of what McNamara did or the views of him by others, it also has this sort of pretentious method of conveying import with long musical interludes. Yes, I get it, that was very heavy, move on already. Directed by Erol Morris - a very over-rated documentary director.

Movie review - "American Splendor". Crap, so disappointing, could have been so good. Tries to be creative by mixing the real people and the actors, but it doesn't work and just goes nowhere. The basic material is very interesting, the characters are fascinating, the acting is good, it should have been a good movie, but it is just too concerned with form and should have just been a more traditional narrative movie. The directors seem like newbies, hopefully they'll get better.

My favorite directors are getting ruined by hollywood, as so often happens - Caro & Jeunet - down the tubes - Guillermo del Toro (not to be confused with Benicio, the poof).


8-23-04

It's unbelievable to listen to hunters talk. There are all these hunting shows on OLN and the guys talk along; when they see a nice dear - "Wow, look at that buck ... three ... four ... six points, wow, he's beautiful" [bang] "Nice shot, he's down". So strange to love a beautiful animal and kill it.

Why does Rose McGowan have blonde hair now? What the hell is wrong with the world? Who allowed this to happen?

I need my Network of Trust. I know there are good DJ's out there making great song selections - why can't my mp3 player tap into their mixes? I know there are people with good taste in movies making movie lists - why can't I get that? The whole idea of "critics" is obsolete. What we have instead of networks and taste-clusters. People with similar opinions on topics are grouped and share information.


8-23-04

I think it's interesting that I could write any kind of crazy crap in a novel, but if I write something here, it would shock and disturb people. There's a way that a blog is treated as more personal than a novel. Lots of writers write totally psychopathic things, like Clive Barker, Irvine Welsh, Chuck Palahniuk, etc. but they are not accused of being psychopaths themselves - well, of course, they are - they're having those thoughts in their head in order to write them. The fact that they don't act on those things just means they're in control of their insanity. Common society has this foolish taboo against ever admitting you have thoughts like that. Of course I have thoughts like that - I just don't act on them.


8-21-04

The fact that I have to wire my electronics together is ridiculous. It should all be WiFi and just work. When I buy a new DVD player, I should be able just plug it in to power (though Tesla would say the power should be wireless too), put in my DVD, and wham - it plays on my TV. That would be *easy*.

I can't stand the noise of TV's ; I need a web site that has decibel readings for the ambient noise of TV's so I can buy the one that's the quietest.

Our office Republican (Drew) used to appeal to me about the Bush administration - "these people are not evil, they love America and they're doing what they think is right for the country". Well, first of all, I don't believe that one bit, I think there are quite a few people in the administration who are really just evil (evil = selfish, egomaniacal, dangerous, destructive, greedy, corrupt, etc.). On the other hand, I do believe there probably are a lot of people in the administration who actually believe they are doing what's best for the country (G.W. may be one of these, in a sort of naive manipulated sort of way). The problem with this is that there's a sort of diabolical narrowness of vision that comes into play. When you believe that America is really great, and whatever America wants for the world is what's best for the world, and you administration is great, and having your administration in power is what's best for America - now you are a truly dangerous man. I believe that much of our administration is in this camp; it's sort of a righteous narrowness of vision, very similar to a religious jihad martyr - you believe your cause is so right, that any sort of immoral act you may do to advance your cause is justified - breaking the law, lying, bribing, manipulating, war, imprisonment, torture, murder, etc. I suspect people like Hitler and Stalin really did believe they were doing what was best. I think the clear conclusion is that "good intentions" is not a valid defense for anything, and patriotism is a very questionable attribute.


8-20-04

Here's your fun physics-based gameplay for you : The Evil Genius Game. You're an evil genius, and you're trying to destroy the world, by doing all the crazy crap that all us evil geniuses dream up. It's played out in a big physical simulation of the earth, with a solar system and gravity and fluid dynamics for the oceans, etc. You can set off a nuke in a volcano and try to black out the sky and kill off plants, you can try to melt the polar caps, you can drop a giant mass in the ocean to try to make tsunamis, you can put thrusters on the moon try to push into the earth, you can freeze the earth's core to ruin the magnetic fields and kill us all with cosmic rays, etc. etc.


8-20-04

The Google banner images are pissing me off. They are not cute or clever, they cheapen us all. They're sort of like hallmark teddy bears. They scream out for you to say "oh, how cute", and by doing so they make reasonable men sick.

NetFlix is okay, but the selection is rather poor, very mainstream. That may just be because a lot of things don't exist on DVD, dunno. The great thing about NetFlix is that you can select your movies at any time. In general, removal of temporal constraints is a great thing. If I have to do A some time this week, ok, that's cool. If I have to do A at exactly 5:00 PM on Tuesday, that's much much harder, not just because I have to remember to do it, but I have to make sure that leading up to that moment I'm in good condition to do A, whatever it is. If an artist could never paint when they wanted to, and was only allowed to paint when you told them "go", their work would be shit. You need to be able to do a task when your mind/body/life are in the right state to do that thing. In general the modern work-place goes totally against this principle, which crushes the productivity of creative/compulsive/inspired performers.


8-18-04

I despise fucking DVD's. For one thing, the video quality is shite. MPEG2 my ass. For another, the damn menus are just so rotten. For another, there's no on-the-hardware memory of where I stopped watching, so if I pop it out and then put it back in, I lose my place. Finally, and worst of all, it's a rotten ass digitial medium, which is inherently crappy. If you have a bad scratch on your VHS tape, it just screws up the picture - the loss is analog and doesn't fundamentally ruin playback. On a DVD, a bad scratch makes it crap out and skip or stop playing altogether (just like a CD does). Digital blows, analog rules. Analog is like a smooth lossy encoding system, damage just degrades the signal proportionally to the amount of damage. (note that clever digital encoding can actually work this way too, but no one has ever put that into actual use. There are variants of JPEG2000 that downgrade smoothly with the amount of damage done to the bits. This is in contrast to error-correcting codes which have a certain tolerance for error, and once that tolerance is exceeded, they fail completely).

I cashed out of Party Poker. I think I'm done with it. I make good money there, but it's just not fun. Well, okay, some times it's fun, when you're winning big, but these days the losses hurt so much more than the wins. Furthermore, I can't really enjoy the big wins either. When I hit a draw on a guy and make a big pot, I just feel guilty, not delighted like I once did.

My job had turned me off of everything I once loved - games, programming, computers - I can hardly stand them any more. I want nothing to do with them in my free time. Perhaps I should do the thing I hate most for a living, since I'm going to hate my job anyway, at least that way I won't ruin something I love. I've always believed that good programming is an art form - it's a craft, artisan, maestria. It's creative, it's not left-brain.


8-10-04

Realism is killing video games. The constraint of realism makes games very difficult to make, it makes the simplest things take weeks and weeks to do, which stifles creativity and the organic creation process. It also forbids you from using gameplay elements that make the game better if they can't be explained in the real world. Sure, realism is nice and immersive, but it's a horrible thing for game development, and overall it makes the play much worse. The crux of gameplay is in abstract forms, where you are free to use the systems that are most amenable to the play, not the simulation world.


7-24-04

It's interesting to me how the human mind thinks about things differently than computers. If you look at how a compute plays Chess or Poker, and then compare that to how a human compares Chess or Poker, it's very interesting. In both games, humans and computers are pretty close to even at the moment, though with a little more work and time to program, computers will dominate both games. In both cases, computers work by running massive simulations of all possible future moves, with various clever things to make the evaluation more efficient. The interesting thing is that humans don't do that at all when they play.

The human mind, as a computing device, is very good at a particular form of problem solution, which is sort of fuzzy matching and interpolation/extrapolation. Humans can look at a Chess board layout, and recognize that it is "tactically similar" to something they've seen before, even though the details may be totally different. Computers are very bad at making this sort of reasonable judgment of similarity. Humans can also recall the right move in a similar situation and extrapolate that to make a very good guess at the right move in a new situation. This kind of thinking seems to be something we're extremely good at - when we see a new situation, we can recall other situations that are similar in key ways, and we can interpolate/extrapolate to make good decisions.


7-15-04

I cannot stand fucking DVD's. I put the disc in, now play the fucking thing immediately, don't show me any damn intro screens or fancy graphics or fucking menus. This is a general problem with bad product design, primarily in America. A product has a primary function, it should do that and do it well, it should not do a lot of other shite that doesn't enhance the primary function. If I wanted all the fun of browsing annoying menus, I'll go browse my damn Tivo or something.


7-14-04

I just saw a fruity stat in the NYT. Americans believe roughly 25% of the news they read in major newspapers. That's totally fruity. Do they really believe 75% of it are lies or wrong? Republicans are around 20%, Dems around 30% , so the Reps are more black-helicopter, generally not believing anything they disagree with.


7-14-04

I am not anti-free-market. I believe that markets are basically *useful* things, they encourage innovation and development, but markets are not inherently *good*. Markets are inherently competetive and greedy things; each entity looks out only for its own best interests. In a pure free market capitalist society, the very rich would be in control and would have the majority of the power and wealth. The only thing preventing that is the organization and mass movement of the people that the rich try to control. In order to prevent this, the people form a government. The purpose of the government is to protect the interests of every man as well as possible - not just the majority, and not just the rich or powerful, but every man. Government should moderate the greed of the markets, and also help and provide for every man. To be clear, government should help and encourage businesses in as much as they help the people by providing structures for work; business is not inherently good, and should never ever be favored over the interests of people - government is for people, not for money or other artificial power organizations. This is the contract and promise government makes to the people who agree to be a part of it. A government should not be a power structure that controls the people; it is a collective agreement by the people to abide by certain rules which they believe are for the benefit of them all.

The government is in breach of its contract when -

it takes public land and allows businesses to permanently devastate that land for the profit of the few, such as with strip-mining or mountain-top removal, or cutting old growth forests.

it allows businesses to pollute, especially with pollution that is impossible to clean up, such as nuclear waste or large oil spills, or the many poisons released into the environment. This permanently damages our earth which we all share, which is the property of all people.

it takes money from all the people in taxes and gives it to the few in the form of subsidies and protections and tarriffs that raise the price of goods the people need.

it wages unnecessary wars that put our peoples' lives at risk and creates hate for us around the world.

it taxes the poor excessively, beyond their means of what they can be expected to pay, making it impossible for them to rise from poverty. These taxes can be in many insiduous forms - local taxes, sales tax, lotteries, credit scams, unnecessary loans, etc.

businesses are allowed to lie or manipulate markets for the profit of the few. The markets must be open, accurate, provide full disclosure to all.

it does not allow reasonable immigration and travel.

it spreads lies and half-truths to manipulate the will of the people.

etc..


7-12-04

The US and Soviets have created a huge supply of weapons in the world market. During the cold war this would have been complicated to control, but now it's just ridiculous. The US and Soviets are currently in a competition to be the world's largest exporter of arms. This is sort of like competing over who can stab themselves more times in the foot. Our government subsidizes arms exports, and arms development, under the excuse of "national security" and because "competing international companies also get subsidies". We then sell those arms to countries like Pakistan, Indonesia, Libya, Colombia, etc. which are sort of our allies at the moment, but that are very unstable, and where our arms are likely to be used against us in the future. In every war since WW2, we have faced primarily US, Soviet, and Chinese weapons. At this point we've created a huge supply of weapons in the 3rd world, but it's not too late. We must 1) make treaties with the other major suppliers to put heavy limits on arms exports. 3rd world countries should not be able to easily purchase arms from "the west". 2) stop subsidizing exports of arms; if anything, they should have extra tarriffs - other countries should be paying us extra for arms, we should not have our taxes funneling cash into arms developers and foreign armies. 3) stop the illegal government programs which allow sales of forbidden arms, like armor-piercing 50 caliber rifles, etc. (these are already illegal under international treaties, but the US continues to export them through non-enforcement). 4) stop the US government loan and grant programs that help foreign countries buy US arms, as we've done in Turkey, Israel, Libya, Indonesia, Signapore, etc. Any argument that these programs are needed to keep our arms industry strong is ridiculous, because the arms sold overseas are not even the arms that our government buys any more, they are solely sold for the profit of the military-industrial complex.


They're showing a new ridiculous Republican attack add on TV here, continuing the line of showing nothing but attack adds. This one is really hillarious, classic political manipulation. It's about how John Kerry has missed all these votes (since he started campaigning). The first nice bit is they say "he has the worst attendance record of any senator", then they show the little asterisk (since he started campaigning); of course they don't mention that that's totally standard practice for any senator or congressman running for President; Bob Dole did the same thing; they also don't mention that our Pres Mr. Bush has the worst attendance record at his job of any modern President!! The next bit is another bit of silly political manipulation; they start mentioning all the "important bills" that Kerry has missed the vote on, as if missing those votes means he's against them, and they turn the bills into silly tear-jerker summaries, like "Kerry missed the bill that supports puppies; do you want a President who doesn't like puppies?". I'm Charles Bloom and I support this message.


7-10-04

I'm on the worst poker losing streak of my young poker life. I keep getting all-in with the best hand, and I keep losing. That's part of life in poker, you get some good luck, you get some bad luck, but recently it's been all down hill. Tonight I made another good read; I saw a guy bet too big at the pot, I knew he didn't want a call, so I re-raised all-in. He called me and showed a flush draw. It was a terrible call, he had nowhere near odds, and of course he made his flush. Bad luck is the kind of thing that can make you religious; I feel like god is pissing on me. I take poker too personally; I see it as a way of finding truth and justice in the world; when it's a bad run.


7-08-04

The idea that G.W. Bush is a "uniter" or that he would "end the partisan split" is one of the great acts of double-speak by the administration. The reality of course is that GWB is one of the most right-wing conservative partisan presidents we've had in recent history. The country is more polarized, and the Pres is famously unwilling to compromise or change his mind; he's clearly not someone who can listen to all sides and reach a middle ground (which Clinton did, like it or not). The lovely thing is that the republican machine so bald-facedly claims the opposite of the truth.

Some charming moments from the past - the Rove/Hughes have been using the fake new method for quite a while; here's a semi-recent article, link , but the better one is when they pay various staffers to write editorials to send in to the major papers, masquerading as public opinion; there's nothing particularly illegal about this, but it sure is dishonest. This is semi-related link

One of the most disgusting things to me is the blatant Orwellian use of the war and the terrorists as distractions and excuses. There's a great Simpsons where the Principal Skinner and Marge are debating. Marge says "but the children", Skinner says "the taxes"! Over and over. I feel like this debate is turning into "but the jobs" and Bush says "we have to battle evil", Kerry says "the environment", Bush says "evil", anything you say, he says "eh eh, the evil". Anyhoo, the interesting case in point I want to site is when Ashcroft called a news conference a few months ago specifically to say "we've been hearing chatter that indicates there may be an attack soon somewhere in the US". They had no information when or where, or by who, and they didn't raise the terror alert level, and Tom Ridge said he knew nothing of it. Ashcroft is a pure puppet-monkey of the administration, this move clearly had no benefit except to keep the public in fear and focused on the "war against evil".

Perhaps people should have to answer some basic questions about the world in order to vote. If you get your information just from TV adds, you can't vote. I know this is problematic and exclusionary, and would hurt the dems as much as the repubs, but all the morons who pay no attention to world events and then go vote for Reagan because "he seems like a nice man" - that's just sick. We can ask some multiple choice questions about the world, and you only get to vote if you get them right. For example you might ask, what country has the most population (A=China), what country has the largest economy in terms of GDP (A=USA), did Saddam have anything to do with 9/11 (A=no), who provided the majority of the advanced weapons used by the Taliban (A=USA), who has veto'd more human rights in the UN than any other country? (A=USA), etc.

I have great disdain for the average American. I have even greater hate for anyone who takes advantage of the average American, by manipulating them, lying to them, stealing from them, duping/con-ing them, etc.


7-08-04

I'm a freedom hater. I don't believe that powerful megacorps should be able to push their power to the detriment of the common man; that's un-American. I don't believe CEO's should be able to commit crimes and make themselves rich and then have their corps subsidized and bailed out by the gov; that's anarchist. I don't believe that people who speak out against the government should be smeared or bullied, that's unpatriotic. I believe in the freedom of speech and the right to privacy; that's pro-terrorist. I believe that open debate based on facts is critical to democracy, and speaking out against the government is part of the process. I believe that creating a "time of war" and then claiming the power to break our own country's laws and international law is an impeachable offense; my beliefs are unreasonable in this post-9/11 era.


7-08-04

I like the way the Bush administration is always publicly saying "we welcome a friendly clean race, without mud-slinging or negativity", and then proceed to immediately do the opposite. The main adds run by Bush/GOP have been attack adds, complete with black and white old-timey reels that they somehow equate with Kerry.


7-06-04

Pros always say No Limit Hold'Em is much more a game of skill than Limit. I don't think that's true at all. Very-Low-Limit is indeed a mechanical game. Very High Limit is a game of great skill, it's a very tight tricky game. No Limit games are determined by the blinds. No Limit with very high blinds is a very mechanical luck-based game. No Limit with very small blinds is not really a skill game, it's more just a contest of patience; there's no reason to play anything but monster hands. Any game heads up is much more of a skill game than a multi-way game.


7-06-04

Why must TV taunt me so? Where do they get these freaking morons to commentate? Seriously, the Sports Center announcers are morons. The old golden days of Dan Patrick and Kenny Mayne were pretty funny, but now it's just recycled, pompous, tedious, repetetive, and the people are morons who nothing of their sports. The announcers for the WPT are terrible. Vince Van Patten is a pretty-boy moron, bad at poker and just unpleasant; Mike Sexton is sleazy and also a bad poker analyst. He's an ok player, but he wants to bet every flush draw, and he doesn't really understand the principles of slow playing or inducing bluffs; compare his analysis to Howard Lederer's analysis on Fox and you'll see the difference. Anyhoo, that's nit-picking. The guys who announce the WSoP on ESPN are really morons. You have a talking head guy who's ok and knows nothing of poker, and you have their so-called "poker expert" who seems to no nothing of even the most basic principles of poker (bluffing, slow playing, etc.), he just wants people to bet when they have the best hand - he's also a jealous, bitter ass hole, who makes fun of the players in mean annoying ways, not funny good ways.


7-03-04

Bob Roll has got to be just about the worst sports announcer ever. His main event is the Tour de France, which he pronounces "Toor day Frants", which just burns my ears every time I hear it; he's got a giant gap in his front teeth, and he makes ridiculous hand gestures as he talks.


7-01-04

Cynbe ru Taren (who did a nice moderinzation of PPMZ2) passes along this link to a nice whitelist - TMDA . Spam is a major problem, the damn government should step in.

Paper is too cheap. It's subsidized by the US and Canadian government, and it leads to shit like an un-asked for phone book showing up at my door. I throw it straight in the recycling bin. That's a hell of a lot of paper to just throw out - that should have cost them a lot, a *fair* amount. Capitalism is a pretty fucked up system when left alone (money moves towards the top, it's bouyant and attracted to other money), but capitalism with corrupt government subsidies and protections is a really really fucked up system that leads to all kind of strange skewing in the market and the world.


7-01-04

I've been talking to Drew about education recently. When I see elementary school kids bored and frustrated, in remedial classes and needing personal attention, it just kills me, it makes me sick, especially with principals and superintendents who are idiots and bastards that claim they're helping these poor kids. Kids need personal attention, kids need to be engaged and challenged. Those kids can be something, more than their parents, they could be brilliant, special, good people, it might depend on having good schools, good teachers. The modern era of schools really kills me. Schools these days have fixed lesson plans that teachers are required to use. The text books are set by these horrible committes that are dominated by crazy special interests, and teachers are required to teach to them. The pay is horrible and the teachers are bound by beaurocracy and constrains that drives out all the good people. I personally know several good teachers who have quit or been driven out by the system (including my mom), and several great people here in San Luis who would love to teach, but can't even get jobs because the funding is such crap, they have a few teachers teaching very large classes - even here in SLO, the city of huge property taxes that pumps its tax money back into public works projects in a huge pork conspiracy. "Teaching to the test" is a reality - I've seen it - it really is dramatically different now than it's ever been - and it's terrible. As an aside, the Prez, Mr. Bush, has pushed his "No Child Left Behind" program, which was based on his program in Texas. In Texas he touted his success in education; his big example of success was always the Houston school district. Well, guess what? The superindent and much of his staff have recently quit in disgrace, under revelation that they falsified statistics about the success of the school district. My mom has worked in HISD during that time, and my siblings went to school there, and we've seen the schools degrade during that period, with larger classes, more beaurocracy, and the emphasis on teaching to the test. The super claimed that the dropout rate fell during that period; in fact it rose. The TAAS (Texas' Standardized Test) scores rose slightly in the last five years, but how much of that is due to teaching for the test?

Here's a pretty unbiased article- link , and here's an anti-TAAS analysis by the ultra-conservative RAND corporation (famous for advocating anti-communist wars and nuclear proliferation) link , here's one more liberal argument - link , or here link

There's no doubt that you can teach math and test math reasonably effectively. The big problem I have is with other skills - and the focus of education; testing in itself is not inherently bad, it's the importance put on the test, especially in Texas - teacher's jobs and the funding to schools depends on the tests, which means that teachers and schools will put all their focus on the tests. I think education is perhaps the single most important thing that government does - it leads to the future of the entire country. How many people are in jail, the economic success of the country, they come from education, and right now, we are fucking it up.


7-01-04

In the triple crown I picked any bet against Smarty Jones, he was just too favored, people were caught up in the excitement and overbetting. In the Tour de France I pick almost any bet against Armstrong. Clearly he's the favorite, and I would take him any day at 1:1 against anyone else (not everyone else), but the odds are way off. There's a lot of randomness in cycling, there are lots of factors that could make Armstrong lose. Bet against Ullrich any day - he's a born loser, he may take 2nd or 3rd, but never 1st. If you want to hedge your bets, split Mayo and Hamilton. Personally I would put my bet on Hamilton. That's not saying I pick him to win, I just think he's the money bet; I think Tyler has maybe a 1/5 to 1/6 chance, and he's getting 7:1 odds. Heras might also be a good bet on the odds; he's a superb climber, and this year favors climbers; I would bet Heras to win.

Cycling: To win the 2004 Tour de France 
Closing Date: Jul 03, 2004 04:00 GMT -4  
from Liege(Prologue) to Paris- 3rd to 25th of July 2004
Odds on others available upon request. Place Odds are to finish 1st, 2nd or 3rd  
Option Win Odds  Place Odds  
Lance Armstrong 1.8   1.16   
Jan Ullrich 2.55   1.2   
Iban Mayo 5   1.6   
Tyler Hamilton 7   1.85   
Roberto Heras 14   3.6   
Ivan Basso 21   5   
Gilberto Simoni 29   6.6   
Francisco Mancebo 41   9   
Haimar Zubeldia 41   9   
Christophe Moreau 51   11   
Dennis Menchov 51   11   
Levi Leipheimer 51   11   
Oscar Sevilla 51   11   
Carlos Sastre 67   14.2   
Georg Totschnig 67   14.2   
Jorg Jaksche 67   14.2   
Santiago Botero 67   14.2   
Bradley McGee 151   31   


6-29-04

This Ken O'Keefe guy is pretty fruity link , but I have a lot of respect for him, really doing something to stand up to the warmongers of the world. He organized the human shields in Iraq - link and now is in jail in Israel for trying to bring a force of westerners to Palestine to document and protest the atrocities the Israelis commit daily - link . I do like the general idea of getting 10k Americans/Westerners in Palestine. Then just stand in front of the Israeli bulldozers when they try to knock over the homes of some more innocent Palestinians.


Michael Moore is obviously a little fruity, but pretty much all of his points are correct, even if he does push the facts a little bit. The one thing that he's absolutely right about is that our media has been shamefully cow-towing to the white house since 9/11, not challenging anything, not asking the tough questions.


I hate people who treat the American people like idiots, but I also have no faith in the American people. I mean, the freaking people believe that Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden were good buddies (thanks to the lies of our government). The moron masses will belive the BS they're told, and then they see the media, which is under the thumb of our government, showing the "harsh other side" (which is some softball debate), and they think they've seen both sides. If something major happens in the next few months, the stupid people will vote based on that, and totally forget everything that's happened.


The democratic party and the republican party are both scum. The party machines both just want power and the money from lobbyists and special interests. Ok, fine, that's true on both sides. Now, there are different views on issues, the republicans claim to be more small-government, laissez-faire, etc. (though, historically, that's not been true at all). The actual difference on issues is that republicans are pro-rich, pro-big-business. Even if you just take that as an issues matter, ok, that's a difference on issues and we can debate that and we can respect different opinions. If you subtract off all that, you're left with the people who are on both sides. If you look at the people, it's just scum on the republican side. You have Karl Rove, the Shrub, Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld, Reagan (the doddering, Alzheimers-inflicted actor), Nixon, etc. On the demo side you have Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Clinton, Gore, Kerry. Now, remember, we're subtracting off the fact that both sides are political scum and there's a difference of issues. With that basis subtracted off your left with liars and criminals in the good old boy network of big business on the republican side, and perhaps somewhat naive and personally weak good guys on the demo side. Personally, I think the absolute morality of Jimmy Carter stands far above any other politician we've had in recent memory. Sure, maybe he made some mistakes in office, but they all do, but if you look at his record after office - he's the only president, the *only* president in modern history who has continued to work to better the world, rather than just taking lucrative speaking engagements and board seat or partner positions at big businesses that he illegally helped during his term. I believe Jimmy Carter is the only recent president who was deeply moral and trying to help every person in the world with his decisions.


6-29-04

One thing that lots of people fuck up is not having hysteresis in their game triggers. For example, let's say you have some volume trigger. When the player is inside that volume he's considered "hidden". If you just do a normal volume check, he can flicker in and out every other frame. If you add hysteresis, you prevent these sudden changes. The easy way to do it is by having a slightly larger volume for the "exit volume" and smaller one for the "entry volume". That way if you are considered "out", you don't switch to "in" unless you qualify the smaller entry volume. Then you stay "in" until you are rejected by the larger "exit volume". This gives you a little transition fuzz region where your previous state is held. Of course if you can use an analog key instead of a bool, that makes it a smooth transition. More generally, if you can key the transition off an analog, you can have hysteresis with biased transition points. Let's say you have some simple distance trigger, you generate a float in [0,1] based on the distance to some point. You want to generate a boolean for whether you are "near" or not. If you did it trivially, you'd just say :

near = f > 0.5

But with hysteresis, you make the previous value "sticky" like this :

if ( ! was near )
        near = ( f > 0.6 );
else // was near
        near = ( f > 0.4 );

here we've encoded an 0.2 "hysteresis" region, where the previous state is preserved, whatever it was. Another way to encode this is :

if ( f > 0.4 && f < 0.6 )
        // no change, leave previous state
else
        near = f > 0.5


or


if ( f < 0.4 )
        not near
else if ( f > 0.6 )
        near
else
        // no change, leave previous state


6-29-04

I like burgers and beer. I like burgers and pickles. I don't like pickles and beer. What am I to do?

The hippocracy of the Republican machine is just shocking. They clearly intentionally have made this election a referendum on personalities, but then they say "why don't the democrats stick to the issues?". Cheney goes around saying "Bush is for optimism, Kerry is for pessimism", and "if you want a leader who's tough on terrorists, vote Bush". Ok, that's fine, but then don't bitch when the dems attack Bush. It's like The Trial (Kafka), the Judge says "now, stop all the personal attacks, Mr. K, we won't stand it. The court now calls Theresa M. who will testify on the poor character of Mr. K". It would be funny if it wasn't so sickening. Of course, this whole administration is a sick Kafka-esque nightmare. All the "environmental programs" like "Clear Skies" which are really rolling back regulations. Reagan was one of the masters of cutting funding for medicare and then taking a photo-op with elderly in the hospital the next day. Slimy sucks.

The laptop boom is going to create a whole new generation of people who are badly crippled. Laptops are terrible for ergonomics, the keyboards are cramped, and worst of all you tend to use them with bad elbow position, and the screen is usually way too low. You should be looking straight at your screen, or even slightly up, never ever down. The keyboard and monitor should generally be 12 inches or more apart, not directly adjacent. Invest in physical therapy and wrist & neck treatment.

Invest in OldCo. The big business of the future is taking advantage of the elderly. This is already somewhat true, but it will be ever more true going into the future. More and more of the population is old. In many countries (Japan, Sweden) it will become catastrophic soon (in 50 years), with over 50% of the population retired!! The old give up their money quickly, and then are subsidized by the government, which pays outrageously high prices for unnecessarry services. It's one of the big ways money is pumped from the masses to private business. So, I'm starting OldCo (TM). OldCo will focus on exploiting the eldery with a many-pronged attack. We will invest in pharmaceuticals, retirement housing developments, nursing homes ("assisted living"), telemarketting scams, bad clothing, golf, Matlock, Murder She Wrote, Cadillac, etc.


6-26-04

good read 1
good read 2

The one thing that's very true is that military action only makes terrorists stronger. You cannot defeat terrorists with direct action. Even if you kill most of the terrorists, that just makes them stronger, because it increases recruitment from the millions who support them. The way to defeat terrorists is to get rid of the things that give them support - the Israeli violence against Palestinians, the poverty and oppressive regime in Pakistan, the corrupt monarchy in Saudi Arabia, the corrupt US-run "democracy" in Indonesia and the Phillipenes, etc. etc.

Hezzbollah and the IRA have nearly been defeated, two fo the world's worst terrorist organizations, and the method was not military - it was negotiation and withdrawal. When Israel occupied southern Lebanon, the Hezzbollah attacks were fierce and it was supported all over the Middle East; for every guerilla they killed, ten more took his place; now Israel has pulled out, and support for Hezzbollah as crumpled, and now when the Israelis do strike back at Hezzbollah there's not much uproar from the Arab community. The IRA was engaged in negotiation and brought into the government, and their acts of violence have almost entirely stopped.

You cannot possibly eliminate all the safe-havens for terrorists, not any time soon anyway; any country with massive poverty and anarchy (of which there are many) can be a safe haven. Even the war in Afghanistan was only a temporary setback for Al Qaeda; it forces them to disperse a bit more, but does nothing to destroy them.

When you see children playing terrorist, as you do in Palestine, and now in Iraq, you're losing the real war on terror.

The other argument, that Saddam may have had weapons that would be dangerous for Terrorists to get their hands on - that has some merit, though the evidence was weak, and invasion is a major over reaction. The big problem I have with that argument is that we've done nothing to secure dangerous weapons in the past. We sell our own military equipment to countries that may easily give it to terrorists to use against us (like Yemen, the rebels in Afghanistan, etc.) We did nothing to secure the huge amounts of deadly material in Russia when it broke up - there are literally unaccounted for nuclear weapons from the Russian stock piles. The huge Russian germ development labs were never secured or properly cleaned. There were countless Russian scientists who were experts in developing all kinds of weapons - many people around the world pushed for these guys to get hired by the US or UN so they wouldn't go on the open market, but no one did anything, and those guys can now sell their expertise to the highest bidder. Why did we help India develop nuclear reactors? Why did we allow Pakistan and Israel to develop nuclear weapons?


6-26-04

The difference between a great programmer and a really valuable coding leader is that the leader does far more than their job description. They don't just do what they're told - they actively look for problems and solutions, they foresee pitfalls and prepare for them before they arrive. They handle bad managers and do their own scheduling; they foresee demos and prepare for the unexpected; they handle art & design problems. A good coder who's a bad leader will just do their task assignments, perhaps very well, but not follow-up. This is part of why I advocate "feature teams". It encourages codes to take a holistic approach - if the result isn't good, make it better. Good code that's not used well is just a crappy result.


It's odd how we have so many smart people in the industry thinking carefully about game design, and yet so many of the games that even these smart people make are full of design decisions that are just frustrating and not fun. I think there's a big problem between the theory of games and the practice of making good games; it seems very hard for people to sit back and objectively make good decisions on their own game creations. A lot of people will blame it on the schedule and such, but taking your schedule into account is part of the process. A lot of artists in all media will blame their failures on schedule constraints or budget constraints - that's a total bullshit excuse, it just means they didn't take their situation into account properly.

I see a lot of the Junior High Theory of Game Design - add more skulls, make bigger explosions, make my hero a hot chick with huge boobs, yeah that'll be cool, make my shotgun shoot nukes, etc. I also see the I Know What's Best For You theory of game design - the holier than thou game designer who knows that "real fun" is, and doesn't let the player do what they want so that the experience will be pure or "true to his vision", and winds up just making something painful and frustrating.

People cling to features in game dev just because they've gotten used to them. You must remember the real audience has never seen any of this before. Just because some way you've been playing is "broken" doesn't mean anything's wrong - that's not how the new audience will play.

People do things the wrong way, you keep telling them to fix it, and then it becomes too late to make the changes, and you're stuck with shit. Smart people try to do things right before it's too late.


6-22-04

The unbelievable lies and manipulation of this government have succeeded in one big way - their massive crimes in Iraq have completely distracted the left wing movement from all the horrible things they've done internally - insane tax cuts for the rich, cutting capital gains for god's sake, cutting the inheritance tax, such huge tax cuts for the super-rich, rolling back the environmental protections that Clinton put in place, rolling back the rules on power plant emissions, intentionally covering up the mad-cow problems, and probably a thousand other horrific things that would be big deals, but are dwarfed by the unwarranted invasion of a sovereign state with completely false evidence and the continued lieing to the American people and Congress. The things we did to *legal* middle eastern immigrants was totally immoral, the way we're holding American citizens hostage in Guantanamo with no trial and no evidence is sickening. The hippocracy of preaching free market and cutting taxes while *increasing* subsidies and protections to big agri-business (Monsanto & ADM), tobacco farmers, the steel industry, Boeing, and of course all the many military contractors involved in the war.

That damn MoveOn.org goes too far, they spew a bunch of half-truths to try to make their case. Damn you Move On ! It's not necessary to lower yourself to the partisan lies - the truth is bad enough!!


6-22-04

One of the more callow things that's come out of 9/11 is this valuation of human lives. This is totally separate from peoples' life insurance and savings and whatnot, remember that. The government in all their wisdom has decided that people who made more should get more money from the victim's fund. So, basically, if you were successful in life, your life is worth more, and the subsidy from the American people to the victims should be greater. So the firefighter who died trying to help, or the janitor who was just unlucky, get much less than the stock trader. Of course the stock trader's widow is accustomed to dining on the brains of the poor and buying handbags made from endangered species, it would be quite a horrible unjust shock to her if she had to live on less than $300k a year. Isn't that what America's all about?

One of the myths about the people of the world is that the mass market really wants crap. That's just not completely true; people are very easily cajoled and carried along with trends, but they usually come to their senses eventually and go "wow, that was crap" (while, of course, jumping onto the new crap-wagon). So, people will say, wow I can't believe we liked New Kids on The Block, that really was shit, but this Nickelback, it's good stuff. Occasionally you see shining exceptions, like the success of Radiohead, or Amelie, that show you interesting, intelligent stuff really can have a pretty wide appeal; there are a lot of people with good taste out there. It's the producers and marketting goons who are really dominated by short-sighted small-minded people. They can't tell quality from crap themselves, so they go with what's easy. The thing that saves the music industry is that you really can still make a record very cheaply; you may not be able to get it distributed, but you can record it, and then shop it around and try to get some money for disribution with a finished product. With games and movies, it's hard to have much of anything to shop around before you get some big money commitment.


6-22-04

Look, the Bush administration intentionally lied going into the war on Iraq. I've written about this before, but you people just don't seem to get it. People still seem to talk about "intelligence failures". Sure, there were intelligence failures, like when the CIA came to Rumsfeld and said they saw no evidence of WMD's in Iraq, and Rumsfeld told them "you're not looking hard enough", which was when they found the so-called "weapons vans". When Colin Powell when to testify before the UN, he was visibly pained, you could tell he was not confident and comfortable with the case he was making. They intentionally fabricated the story about Saddam trying to buy uranium. They intentionally fabricated the supposed "link" between Iraq and Al Qaeda, (which, ridiculously, they still claim). The great thing about this administration is that they stick to their guns so thoroughly even when they're obviously caught lying, there's a very "Empereror's New Clothes" aspect of it all; I cam imagine Rummy with blood all over him and a knife in his hand insisting "no, I didn't kill him, I'm given a lot of information that you haven't seen, and I know I didn't kill him, oh and by the way, we've restored dignity to the white house!".

Why in the world did we go to war in Iraq? There were no WMD's, there were no terrorists in Iraq to speak of (not compared to Pakistan or Saudi Arabia or Iran or Lebanon or Indonesia or the Phillipenes, etc. etc.), there was zero immediate threat from Saddam to anyone in the US (except perhaps to big oil business interests). You can't say it was "humanitarian", as we do nothing in Chechnya, Darfur, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Colombia, North Korea, Palestine, and countless African nations where rebels and government death squads roam freely. You can't say it was to prevent terrorism; if anything, it's escelated terrorism; it's rather like poking a tiger with a stick, it doesn't make you more secure, it makes you much much less secure. In fact, we're dangerously close to destabilizing Saudi Arabia, which would be a major disaster. Saudi Arabia is run by a US-backed oppressive monarchy; 95% of the people are Muslim, and' a very large percentage are very militant. The stability of Saudi Arabia is hanging by a thread; if their government is seen to be in cahoots with the US, there may be an uprising. Already terrorists are forming and being recruited from the streets. Hmm... maybe that is the master plan; now, this is pure speculation, but it's amusing. Let's say you have a revolution in Saudi Arabia. Then the US military will have to go in to restore the peace, we set up US Oil Companies and make it a "democracy" (what we really mean by "democracy" is a "free market" controlled by US megacorps). Suddenly the oil profits from Saudi Arabia go to US corporations instead of to the people, as they do now (with a large chunk going to the monarchy).

Who was in Cheney's secret meeting on energy policy? Probably Ken Lay. Perhaps a bin Laden, certainly a few Saudis. Perhaps some military advisers? One of the thinly kept secrets of US government is that our domestic energy policy and our Middle East foreign policy have always been tied; they're generally both led by a few very high up people, not separate groups. This administration is very wise about the use of the stone wall. They know the media are fickle and won't stick to issues if they aren't exciting. The administration just keeps stone-walling and denying, and eventually the issue just dies from lack of interest.

One of the funny things about Ronald Reagan is that the reality of his domenstic policy was exactly the opposite of what his fans think it was. In reality he created a massive tax-and-spend stimulus; his government spent more than all previous governments combined (not inflation adjusted). He also presided over the largest import tarriffs, which provided cozy protection from international competition.


6-21-04

It's very hard to pitch actually realistic good game ideas. For one thing, if the guy next to you is promising all kinds of whiz bang and "things that have never been seen before", etc. your modest idea doesn't sound like much. For another thing, the bits that actually make a game good are the core mechanics, and they're just not that sexy. Another problem is that "pitching" is like story telling, it's a verbal exhance, you want to paint pictures, tell stories. That's inherently anathemic to good gameplay! It means you're making game ideas that are good in little descriptions, not in actual extended play sessions.


6-21-04

One of the things that kills me is people who have a problem with something I'm doing but don't say anything about it. I get it at work, in relationships, just with friends, all the time. People just sit and steam and get all peeved but don't say a damn thing until it becomes so annoying that they crack and then lay into me. Then I'm like "whoah, why didn't you tell me? It's no big deal, I can do what you want". I used to just never do what I wanted for fear of it inconveniencing someone else. Now, I think, fuck 'em, if they don't speak up, I'll do it my way, and they can just suck it up, if they don't speak up it's their fault. I can't stand to work/live/date people who do this over and over. In relationships I've always admired the saucy Italian stereotype; if someone pisses you off you just scream at them, throw your spaghetti in their face, work it out, then have hot sex. Let's have real aggression rather than this damn WASP passive-aggression.


6-20-04

Hey! If you live in Santa Barbara, go support the Hard To Find Showspace. They rock. Bring some canned food.

Lots of horrific animal accidents at the house recently. A little while ago some baby birds fell out of their nest before they could fly. The cats immediately pounced on them and started playing with them. I tried to save them, but it was too late; they were probably doomed anyway, falling out too soon. Today, a big beautiful bird flew straight into one of my big plate glass windows. Again, the cats pounced in a second and broke the bird's neck.

Holy crap, the freaking mayonaise and butter have big stickers on them that say "0 carbs". The freaking vodka ads are touting their "0 carbs". This is just like the fat-free craze, when all kinds of shit like rice got "fat free" stickers on them. The marketting industry treats us like morons. The sad thing is they're right to do so.

Cakes coated in fondant are disgusting and look terrible. They look and taste like plastic. Food should look like food.

People who are freaky weirdos in some little way tend to be rotten to the core. Perhaps you have a friend who's excessively clean, or who has a freaky obsession with Disney shit. You might thing "eh, he's pretty cool except for that one thing". In my experience, that's not the case. That one obvious freaky thing is usually just the small outward sign of a rotten core, bad mental shit going on inside. He'll betray you, keep him at arms length.


Pretty good result in a multi-table today. $30 NL Holdem, 600 entrants. I placed 25th, it paid like $150 or something crappy like that, all the big money is in the top few places. The blinds get so big near the end, that it gets very random at that point. The blinds were $1000/2000 when I went out, and the average stack was about $20,000 , so the big blind was like 1/10th of my stack, that's a lot. I had 8T from one off the button. Now, you may say that's not a very good hand, but it folded around to me, and everyone is playing very tight. I'm one off the button; in this scenario, I will raise it with almost any two cards - they're just folding so often, it's +EV to raise any two. 8T is actually not bad, because if he does call, I may hit something. In fact, the big blind did call, and I did hit - top pair, the flop was like 23T. I know I'm good. The guy in the big blind is a bad player, I've been watching him and have him picked out as one of the guys who's going to pay me. He bets big on the flop, I go all in, he calls. He has overcards, AQ. He's played it terribly - he should have raised me preflop. Instead he let me flop top pair and make the best hand. He has only 6 outs - that's about a 25% chance of winning the hand, I'm way ahead. Of course, he spikes his Queen and knocks me out of the tournament. I just can't see how anyone can win a multi-table. You have to get in so many times as a 75/25 favorite, you won't win all of those.

Which reminds me - an example of doing math with powers of two. I can hardly do math any more, but I'm a master of powers of two. So, to win a big multi-table tournament you'll have to get all-in at least 5 times, and at best you'll be an 80/20 favorite. To win, you have to win them all, so your chance of winning them all is 0.8^5. That's (2^3/10)^5 = 2^15/10^5 = 32768/10^5 = 0.32768 , about a 33% chance.


6-20-04

The stock market is an interesting sociological problem. In the long term, you get paid my investments that are actually smart, eg. buying good companies that are undervalued. Generally that means going against popular opinion - if most people are under-valuing a company you know is solid, buy it; if the public are over-valuing a company you know is no good, avoid it. The problem is that in the short term, you make money by doing just the opposite. When the public latches onto some company and keep driving the price up, you do very well to get on that band-wagon, even though you know the price is over-valued and won't hold up in the long term.


Poker has lots of little "bad beats" that aren't the normal kind. Today I played a big multi-table. Some of my funny "bad beats" were - I hit an ace on the flop, play it cautious, make 2 pair on the turn, I trap and pull a nice check-raise, I bet the river; he calls - we have the identical hand. Split pot. Another - I flopped a straight flush (!!), but it's just me and the big blind in the hand! I check the flop, bet the turn, he folds. Damn! Got zero pay on it.


Any potential job I think of just seems a bit tedious, including game programming. One of the fundamental problems I have with "work" is that in America to be at all successful, you have to totally focus on one thing, work 60+ hours/week, live that thing. There just isn't any single one thing I could stand to do 60 hrs/week. I love music, but just a few hours a week, movies, same thing, reading, same thing, eating, cooking, poker, exercise, programming, managing, etc. How can anyone stand to do any one thing with such single focus? It sucks.


6-20-04

I'd like to do a series of history books like "What Really Happened, 1968-1972". I'd use all the new research and de-classified government papers to document the reality of the major world events in those years. The difference with other books would be that I wouldn't just focus on the crimes and scandals and revelations, it would really just be a summary of the major world events and political figures, but telling the truth instead of the official story. The problem with current expository books is that they don't summarize the history, put it in context, remind us what the official line was. Kids these days coming out of college have almost zero knowledge of recent American history, which is either a shame or an intentional scandal, and even if they did have much knowledge it would be a thin sanitized version of recent US history. I would say most kids know more about Grover Cleveland than they do about Jimmy Carter, which is stupid. The focus of education on the ancient past is a huge mistake; sure, it's good to know ancient history, but not nearly as important as modern history.


The NYT today cautions that the S&P 500 is getting too heavily weighting with financial service stocks. I disagree; that's not some anomaly or mistake in the balance of the index - it's just a reflection that American business is more and more just financial services. We are the puppet master, the controllers of money flow; we make nothing, do nothing, we just own the people who do. I read another interesting figure recently. These days, the amount of money (liquid assets) that are transferred around the world each day is roughly equal to the total amount of hard liquid assets (cash and cash equivalents) in the world. In other words, 100% of the world's wealth is transferred each day. That's quite astonishing; that percentage has been going up rapidly since 1900. Even in 1950 it was below 10%, and in the last 50 years it has grown nearly exponentially to the current 100%. The way that so much money is transferred is because our financial institutions are very highly leveraged; they control many times the amount of liquid assets as the amount of hard cash they can back it with; those liquid assets are in the form of debt ownership, bonds, loans, stocks, etc., and it can be transferred and purveyed into further leveraged assets. This is part of why small problems in any part of the world can cause massive disasters in the financial markets. Let's say some country suddenly can't pay out the bonds its issued to cover its debt; all the finance companies were relying on taking that payout and rolling it back around to other loans; suddenly they have to cover their contracts some other way, so they start calling in their bonds and loans, a chain reaction forms where people have to cover their funny paper with real money, and there's a massive short-fall of real-money; the market instantly tightens up like a python, and crashes catastrophically.

Part of the problem with corporate governance these days is that there's basically no downside to taking ludicrous risks. Let's say I'm some CEO guy; I get the job running a nice solid company like Johnson&Johnson. Now, I could just run it well, stay in our core business, and make money and give jobs to lots of people. The problem with that is it doesn't make me massively rich. Furthermore, the stock holders are pushing for massive increases in the stock, not moderate growth, but big jumps. The only way that can happen is if I go into new businesses, take big risks. So, let's say I see some opportunity; 50% of the time, we'll be massively successful; the other 50% we go out of business. Well, that's really a win-win situation for me; if we're a big success, great; if we go out of business, I get a nice big severance payment, perhaps a massive retainer for "continuity" when the company goes into bankruptcy, I can take a few years off, and then get a new job as a CEO somewhere else. Of course all the staffers get screwed, but it doesn't affect the executives who make the decisions. There needs to be way more connection of management's personal wealth and happiness to the success of the companies they run. This is the principle of "personal capitalism".


6-16-04

The home theater craze in America is very telling. Once upon a time there was this concept of communal goods and activities. If you have a bunch of people on a street, not all of them need a tractor. Maybe betwen them, a tractor would be useful, so one of them buys one, and then all of them share it and use it as need; they certainly couldn't afford to each buy all the things they would rarely need, and it would be silly. A big fancy theater was once the same - not every could buy a giant screen and big speakers, so you would go to a movie theater to see movies on the big screen. These days, people want to stay home more, talk to their neighbors less, and live by their own schedule, not anyone else's. So, everyone buys their own setups, and they lock themselves in, and the blue light flickers from their windows at night.


6-16-04

It'll be fun to code for the Xbox 2 and PS3. "Fun" in a challenging sort of technically stimulating way. You get lots of processors/threads and you have to organize your world cleverly to parallelize well. One processor to coordinate the game logic, one to stream everything off DVD, two to perform the physics calculations, three to render all the objects in the world to see, seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone, nine for Mortal Men doomed to die, One Ring to rule them all, one Ring to find them, one Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

Some interesting tech things that will be possible in the next gen that could lead to game ideas -

1) Really *really* big worlds, with procedural content, like enormous terrains with lots of detail and trees that just go on forever. Could lead to some interesting play involving some really macro/micro scale play, like you fly a Dragon or a space ship or something and you can zoom all around this planet, and then hop off and run around on the ground and coordinate things and take things back and forth across huge distances.

2) Lots and lots of NPC's. Like you could play in the middle of a war with thousands of guys on each side fighting it out. You're in the mess fighting it up (ala Onimusha), or commanding a squad, or something.


Some game ideas I've always wanted to do - 1) a modern Trade Wars; nobody has done this decently yet; Eve Online is probably the closest thing, but it's too complex and too slow and there's not enough of a macro goal. I actually prefer Galactic Warzone to Trade Wars - simpler, purer, more combat, and more of a goal. 2) a mature Tamagochi game; this is an MMO where you can play single player and build up your avatar, but then get together and fight in arenas or do little co-op runs, and also trade items and do training and such with other people as you need.


6-14-04

Damn. I want to do persistent MMO games on cell phones with internet and GPS. Imagine this - you jack into the game in SF; as you log in you get a couple alerts - a rare item drop has spawned in Oakland, and there's a big battle going on downtown; you also see a few bogeys around you that you could hunt for and take on. You decide to go for the item drop; you hop in your car and drive out, navigating in the game world; as you travel some random encounters pop up that you run away from. As you get into Oakland you see bogeys light up all over your radar; lots of people are circling for the item drop; you hook up with some of your team mates and talk voice and decide to meet up at a pizza place; while chowing you talk strategy; you decide that you'll first try to sabotage some of the other teams and then make a run for the item while they're out of commision; one of the guys on your team is a double-agent, he pretends to be friendly with another squad; he goes off to meet them and send them into a trap. Another guy heads out to find your main threats and try to drop an energy net on them. Your main crew heads for the item drop. When you get there a mad battle is under way; a bunch of players are fighting the NPC's guarding the goods; the drop is in a park, so the players are running around all over more or less; your crew tries to go under cover (spread out and look confused and not too geeky) to get close, then you break for a run and try to avoid the other players as you go to the core; you're dropping buffs and using skills, trying to focus totally on the phone while trying not to trip. There are a lot of tough gameplay issues that I haven't worked out, but that shit would be fun.


6-14-04

Semi-bluffing (mainly a big raise with a flush draw) is not nearly so good as it was 20 years ago. Semi-bluffing is only valuable if they will fold pretty big hands often. It's risking a lot of chips (in No Limit) when you are an underdog. The problem is that it's so common these days that people look for the semi-bluff, they sniff it out, they almost put you on the semi-bluff rather than actually having a hand. Because of that I think the semi-bluff-bluff is actually the great play of the modern era. This is a deceptively simple play, it's also known as "betting your good hand". You might slowplay that hand normally, but when you get an inkling that he may put you on the semi-bluff, you go ahead and bet it in the straight-forward way; your hope is that he'll call you down trying to catch a semi-bluff. This play then makes your semi-bluffs valuable again for a while.


6-14-04

Terrorist organizations are a very dangerous thing to create. They are generally created by The West (mainly the US, and previously by the USSR), either through directly creating them by giving them funds and arms, or through tolerance and creating a power vacuum and letting them succeed, or by creating a situation where terrorists *must* arise; we've done this by establishing corrupt dictators in countries with great inequalities, or approving invasions, etc. The problem with terroist organizations is that they are generally created by some true hardship (eg. the Soviets in Afghanistan), but once they get power, they will not give it up even after their cause is gone (eg. the Taliban remains).


The Enron tapes are quite shocking. Just like the torture in Abu Ghraib, they bring us viscellary close to the crime, even though these crimes are relatively minor compared to what the US Power Structure commits on a regular basis. One of the really interesting things I see in the Enron transcripts is how arrogant and small-minded and greedy these traders were (great Republicans!). Several of the conversations were about the price caps that California was trying to establish to get control of the price-gouging that was screwing the CA economy. One trader says about the price caps "it goes against what this country was founded on". The guy sees what he's doing as good capitalism; if he can manipulate markets to make more money, that's good capitalism, what this country's all about, right? Another guy rails that the price caps are "fucking him" out of 500 million dollars. He really believes he deserves 500 million dollars for trading energy contracts, and by trying to keep control of their prices, he's being unfairly fucked.


Fox has taken Andy Richter out of "Andy Richer Controls the Universe" (creative, funny, different, but didn't always work) and put him in "Quintuplets" (predictable, bourgeios, recycled, shmalz). Way to go, America.


The thing that makes America great is the same thing that fucks it. The poor of America really believe they can make it big, buy a nice house, move up and get rich, etc. Of course the reality is that 99% of them won't. But, they still vote for tax cuts for the rich, because they hope to get there some day themselves, and didn't those rich guys earn it?


6-13-04

One thing I struggle with in Poker is giving up on a hand. Sometimes you just have a lose a hand, give up the pot, but I have trouble accepting that, especially when the pot is big and I've already put in a lot of chips.

I've started playing $50 single-table tournaments just as practice for my tournament mojo. So, I'm playing today and I'm totally dominating the game, if I do say so myself. I get the big stack near the end, about 30% of the chips. Everyone tightends up, trying to slink into the money, so I start raising and raising, and I just keep taking the blinds; a few times people play back at me, I fold the bad hands and get all-in with the good ones and catch them a few times. By the time it gets heads up, I have 90% of the chips. I figure I'm a shoe-in to win. Ah, Poker's not so nice! First he gets all in with the Q8; I have the K7. I hit the K on the flop, and he proceeds to hit two running 8's ! Now he has 20% of the chips and I have to worry a bit, but I can still just get all-in a few times and knock him out. We steal each others blinds a few times, until I pick up 44. I raise, he goes all-in (we're both playing very aggressive at this point), I call. He has KT. I'm a slight favorite. He hits trip tens. Now our stacks are roughly even. We go back and forth a few more times, the blinds are getting very big now. I'm stealing more often, but every so often he comes over the top of one of my raises and I have to let it go, so we're staying about even. Finally I raise, he reraises, I go all-in with the A9, a pretty good hand heads up; he has the A4. I figure I'm gold. The board comes all junk, no pairs, I'm starting to dance, then I see all the chips moving to him - what's this? He made a flush! Damn you Richie Rich! Richie played well, but if I'd only hit one of those hands where I was a slight favorite, I'd be in 1st instead of 2nd.

My style in poker tournaments is very aggressive, constant raising. That's not because I particularly want to play that style, it's because my opponents' bad play *forces* me to play that way. When I see people folding to the minimum bet, that just cries out to me "please, take my money, I'm weak, just breathe on me and I'll fold up like origami". So, I have to bet at them. So many players never adjust properly, or they do try to adjust and do it wrong. Many players just always play poker a certain way; they've learned from experience what hands are good, they play by patterns. That's completely the wrong way to play poker; poker is about situational strategies and adaptation; the way you play should be entirely based on how your opponents are playing and responding to you. Since most people don't respond well to variations, you can beat them simply by playing very differently than they're used to. Generally that means playing very aggressive; against some people you can kill them by playing very loose (surprising them by hitting junk flops), or playing very tight (letting them take small pots, but then taking their whole stack when you show a monster).


6-13-04

Of *course* interrogations should be taped. If you're legally interrogating a suspect, the tape would provide the evidence that the questioning was not coercive, and it would keep an incontrovertible record of what's said. The only reason you would not want it taped would be if you were doing illegal things in the questions (torture). Of course the US Military doesn't tape an interrogations, and much of law enforcement opposes it.


Our medical system is inherently corrupt. What we have are private contractors (doctors) who get to choose their own jobs, and they get paid more the more complicated & expensive their work is. They are inherently motivated to do more surgeries, prescribe more drugs, etc. They have no motivation for preventive care, because they're hardly paid for that. Also, there's a complete disconnect between what the patient gets and what they pay. Patients have no motivation to choose cheaper care, though by choosing the expensive care it comes back to bite us all in the long run. Patients may choose a $10,000 epidural shot rather than the $4 bottle of aspirin, even though all studies show they are equally effective. In fact, with insurance it's sometimes cheaper for patients to choose the $100 bottle of Clarinex (covered by insurance) rather than the $10 bottle of Claritin (not covered).

Medical insurance is fucked up, but all insurance is fucked up these days. Insurance is supposed to take a premium and hold it (invest it) and pay it out for people who need it for unexpected problems. It's a sort of hedge, it takes out the spikes in random events and puts everyone more at an EV (expected value). The problem is that insurance companies are for-profit companies, and you don't have much choice, and you must have insurance, legally and just because the consequences are too great if you don't. The first problem is that when people make insurance claims, they're way higher than they need to be. When mechanics are working on an insurance claim, they way over-charge, same with doctors, etc. there's lots of collusion and kickbacks between the insurance companies and the people who do the work. The second problem is that your monthly payments have to cover punative damages. Your car insurance and medical insurance are partly going to the big jury awards for accidents and malpractice. The third problem is that the insurance company makes their money right back when something goes wrong; this is legally limitted for medical insurance, but for car insurance, if you have an accident, they immediately raise your rates and make back the value from you quickly. You say, wait a minute, what were all those monthly premiums for?! The final problem is that whenever something really bad happens, they get bailed out by the government. They take your insurance premiums, they pay them out to themselves as salaries and profits, they use them to grow their business, advertise, etc. Then when a big flood hits, or whatever, hey, they don't have the money to cover it, they need the government to step in and pay the people. Well what the fuck did you do with all those insurance payments!? You're supposed to be a hedge that can handle those occasional spikes and make it up over time.


6-12-04

I think America will get much fatter because of the Atkins diet, just like it got fatter from the "fat free" craze. In the fat free craze, people ate sugar-filled Snackwell crap. Now, people will load up on bacon and butter. Americans are really stupid; they go way overboard with every craze. You always do well to bet against the average American.


Ben Stiller is not funny. No he's not.


The false casting of the New York Times as a liberal rag is one of the masterstrokes of the Republican machine. It's actually a very mainstream paper; they're generally supportive of Bush, they said nothing substantive against the war on terror; their reporting is generally directly fed by the administration, and they don't even fact-check or apply any criticism to the garbage they're fed. By casting this main-stream view as "liberal", the Republicans succeed in marginalizing the true left. You see the trick? If mainstream people think the NYT is left-wing, then anything farther left is crazy. With tricks like this you can slant and push baseline of popular debate. People are really dumb; people who think of themselves as "mainstream" don't actually have their own views that they stick with; they just sort of take what they're hearing and making a mash of it. If the Republicans go way to the Right (as they have, with massive tax cuts for the rich, complete rollbacks of environmental protection, a total anti-welfare, anti-social-security, anti-medicare stance, invasions of foreign countries, etc. etc.), then the middle goes to the Right.


Eddie Merckx was the greatest cyclist ever. He won the Tour de France 5 times, just like Lance, but Eddie also raced in all the other major races, and won almost all of them at least once. He was a great climber, a great sprinter, he could beat anyone at anything. Lance focuses entirely on the tour, and has a great team focused on helping him. Eddie would take off on his own in Tour stages, leaving the rest of the rides behind, and ride a solo breakway for a hundred miles. Lance is a very carefully tuned machine, he trains and builds for the tour and rides smartly, he doesn't chase down breakaways that aren't necessary. Eddie would chase anyone, he had raw ability unlike any other. Just to try to put it in context - just about any pro cyclist is amazing by normal human standards; those guys can ride for 8 hours, up steep hills, *fast*, like they ride up hill as fast as I ride on flats. In our modern era, Lance has lots of science, he can tell that he almost never goes "Lactic", that is, starts the anaerobic metabolism process that builds lactic acid; that burn in your legs when you've pushed it too hard - Lance never even gets there after 6 hours riding up hills. And Eddie could crush those guys. Unfortunately, biking in those days is somewhat stained by drugs; lots of cyclists took stims. Pretty much any athletic performance from 1950-1995 has an asterisk on it, because drugs were available and testing was basically non-existant. Of course, the baseball goons are still doping up, as are some people in every sport, but these days it's much reduced in most sports.


6-12-04

I keep getting stuck with big draws that I can't possibly fold, and then not hitting them. I'm starting to understand why top pros play very conservatively with draws - you really want the best made hand. Even when you have a great draw, you will have less than a 70% chance of winning, and you can do better than that. Today I hit a straight flush draw again. I had the 8Ts from late position, and I made one of my favorite moves - stealing from the button with hands like that. You want to just steal the blinds, which you usually do, but if the blinds do call, you have something you can hit. What's more, you've represented an Ace, so if an Ace comes, you often win it that way. In a sense, you have more cards to hit than you do with a hand like A5 - with the 8Ts, I can hit the flush draw, the straight, the 8 or T, or the Ace ! Anyway, I hit the straight and flush draw, 9JK (K and 9 in my suit). He checks, I bet to just steal it, he calls. Turn comes an Ace. He goes all-in. I figure he has the ace, so I'm beat, but I still have 15 outs, a 32% chance of winning. The pots giving me like 5:1 at that point, so I have to call. I think in this case I do have to call, but I'm starting to question the idea of pot odds in tournaments. The thing is, you're not playing for cash, you're playing to evenually win the tournament. If the call isn't much of your chips, then sure, you still call on pot odds, but if it's your whole stack, the issue becomes different. In my case, I have a 68% chance of being eliminated - zero EV. I have a 32% chance of winning a big stack, like 4000 chips, 40% of the chips in the tournament, so we'll say that gives me an EV of something like a 40% chance of winning; the net chance of winning is 40%*32% = 12.8%. If I fold, I have 700 chips all the time, so that's a 7% chance of winning. Already it's becoming a close decision, but if you add in the 3-place payout and the fact that I'm close to the end - those 700 chips may give me something like a 50% chance of making 3rd place, it's become much more possible that a fold is correct. I think in my case I still had to call, but it's become clear to me that chasing draws in tournaments is a very bad idea indeed.

Ronald Reagan's Chief of Staff was Donald Regan. That's weird. Reagan's own trusted staff said he was inattentive, inaffective, often confused and unaware of what was going on around him. I think it's pretty obvious he had Alzheimers, or some form of senility, while in office. Of course it will always be denied, but he was obviously doddering and not involved in running his own government. He was like your befuddled old Grandpa who keeps calling you by the wrong name and telling the same joke over and over. RR armed the Taliban and created the military force there; he gave arms to Iran (illegally, in exchange for hostages), and fed arms to the Contras in Nicaragua (also illegally, the CIA also had operatives in Nicaragua helping and training the Contras), his "great" negotiation with the Russians was stalled out because he wouldn't abandon SDI ("Star Wars") which never would have worked anyway. The fact that we had a President in office with Alzheimers is just terrifying.


6-11-04

More bad results in the multi-table tourneys. I sit down at the $50 multi-table NL tourney. Right away, this guy "downtown" starts raising every hand. You get a lot of these guys, just insanely aggressive. I see him show down pure junk a few times, he wins some of those so his stack stays about even. I'm staying out of the way of the action, until I get AQs on the button. Downtown raises it up to $175 (we all have about $1000 stacks). Another player calls, but that other player has also been showing down junk, so I'm a little cautios, but I figure this is my time to play back. With someone who's being over-aggressive, the correct response is to come back over the top some time when you're pretty sure you have them killed. So, I make my move, I raise it up to $500. The blinds fold; Downtown thinks a second and calls, the other guy thinks longer and calls too. Flop comes KT3, with two spades, so I have the flush draw and the gut shot, 12 outs. That gives me a 45% chance of winning, even if I'm beat, which I may not be! Downtown bets his remaining $400, of course I call. He shows the K7. He's got a pair of kings now, but K7 before the flop, my god. I read it perfectly, played it perfectly, and of course I don't hit my draw. I have a lot of sympathy for Phil Helmuth.


6-10-04

It's interesting to me that the French seem to be very good at interesting, creative, unusual CG (computer graphics). In contrast, the US is by far the leader at technical advances in CG. There are a lot of little cultural differences like this. I don't think they're related to any particular aptitude in the people, more to to a cultural value base, what's considered valuable serious work, and also to corporate structure differences; the French value individual freedom, etc. which helps to create more variation in creative works.


6-09-04

More big money on Party Poker. I've been playing a lot of 5-10 6-handed lately. It's great because A) the limit is low enough you have a lot of fish still, B) you get more action with 6-handed, I get bored playing 10-handed, C) you can really study all the players and get good reads on them because there are fewer D) I can play two tables instead of four and still get a lot of hands, which lets me focus more on each table.

Lately I've really been noticing the way the pros circulate on party poker. There are a lot of pros on all the time; "pros" in the sence that they play poker for a living. The pros are like sharks, circulating, sniffing for blood, they come and go from the tables looking for the big money bleeders. If a table lights up, someone starts pumping money out, the sharks attack, they line up in the waiting list trying to get in. The fish don't even realize what's happening, that they have a big giant target on their head. They think they're playing pretty well, just getting a bad run of cards. We're talking to them, chatting with them, trying to keep them relaxed and happy.

In gambling, the only big long-term winner is the house. Just like in the market, the big winner is the brokers, the hedge funds, and the investment banks.

I've been reading about so many scandals recently, it's just mind-numbing. The justice department believes torture is justified if ordered by the commander in chief; of course American citizens who are even *accused* of terrorism are "enemy combatants" and can be held and tortured outside the law. Bernie Ebbers who ran WorldCom was one of the great corporate robbers of the modern era; he falsely inflated profits, took giant loans from the company for himself, etc, and now it's come out that Citigroup, which underwrote Worldcom and took stock public for Worldcom, knew that Worldcom's finances were shaky, and nonetheless encouraged their customers to buy it and talked it up on the street. I've been reading "The Trial of Henry Kissinger". The crimes commited by Nixon and Kissinger and just staggering. The war in Iraq is a horrific crime against humanity, but it's nothing compared to what these maniacal men did; endorsing genocide in Bandladesh, committing genocide in Laos and Cambodia, assasinating democratically elected officials and conspiring with a criminal dictator in Chile, etc.


6-07-04

Perforce is a solid product, but the company is run by tech-smart business-morons. They have that stupid unix attitude of "we've exposed the functionality in the command line, our job is done". Uh, no. We have artists using p4win, and it's clumbsy and hard to use right. Any sensible programmer knows that they job is not only to provide the capabilities, it's to make it easy to use, and to make it easy to use *right*. There are very simple ops in perforce that artists should be able to do, like renaming a file, rolling back a check-in, etc. which p4 makes very difficult. The other giant fuckup is their case-sensitivity; it causes tons of problems, since we're running on windows which is not case-sensitive. Now, all you unix bangers should just hold up before you send me emails, no, stop, stop it, you're wrong - case sensitivity is a huge mistake. Maybe, *maybe*, it's a nice thing if you're a hard core sysadmin guy, but when you have a bunch of barely-computer-literate people making files called "heLlo" , "Hello", "hello", and "HELLO", and they come down and ask why their computer is acting all weird ("I make changes to my files, but then when I load it up, the changes aren't there!"), it's just a huge mistakes to have case-sensitivity in your file system. Ok, now, even if you think it is a good thing, it is *ridiculous* for p4 to not provide the option for insensitivity. It can't hurt anyone to provide the option, they're just banging their holy war by not doing it because it's "wrong". Any time your customers are asking you for something and you refuse because "it's not the right way", you need to stop talking to customers and go back to your cubby hole and build a tower of Mountain Dew cans; clearly that is a more suitable occupation.


6-06-04

Ronald Reagan is dead. All the memorials are out touting his greatness. Reagan was indeed a charismatic speaker, he was a good actor, and he was buffled, just like the people who loved him. Reagan spent huge amounts of money on silly defense projects, drove our economy into great debt, which partially led to the recession at the end of his term and into Bush 2's. Reagan continued the tradition of cold-war "realpolitik", supporting the regimes in Iran (even making secret deals to keep Americans hostage), Iraq, Panama, Columbia, Nicaragua, Indonesia, etc. Looking back we can now see that this was the beginning of cultivation of the great terrorist upswell - our government was providing arms and money to oppressive totalitarian regimes all around the world, which led to the populations of those countries forming deep anti-American feelings (while also stock-piling American arms and CIA training). Reagan presided over Iran-Contra. Worst of all, it seems that Reagan truly was unaware of what was going on in the world and in his government. He has some old simplistic vision of capitalism = good (not democracy, capitalism), and communism = bad. I think he seriously believed the Soviet Union was a major threat to our safety, which of course it was not. Many silly republicans claim that Reagan somehow broke the Soviet Union and brought democracy to them. That's ridiculous. The Soviet Union broke on its own due to horrible internal mis-management. There was no way it could survive with the corruption and poverty going on inside. We now know that the United States Government knew nothing about this. The CIA's intelligence on the S.U. was completely wrong, all the way up to the very end. We grossly over-estimated their fighting abilities; in reality they could not deploy a functioning army 1/10 as strong as ours; their machinery was in horrible disrepair; many of their nukes were only partially built, they had horrible supply shortages and staffing and training problems. The CIA had no idea what bad economic shape the S.U. was in. If someone should get credit for the SU coming down, it should be Gorbachev (and then Yeltsin), because they helped push it to democracy. The SU collapsed on its own, but it could have easily turned into a dictatorship run by their military, rather than a democracy; it was the strength of Gorbachev and Yeltsin that pushed it to democracy. Of course, in death, the reality of the puppet Reagan will slowly die, and his foolish followers will swell the myth of the "great leader" Reagan.


6-06-04

In the one year 2004, slot machines will make more money than video games have made in the entire history of video games. Gambling as a whole makes more money that any other form of entertainment, even porn (and porn makes more money than all other forms of entertainment). I could work in slots, bring them into the video-game era, make them more appealing to the younger generations that are growing into the slot demographic.

Go Pistons! I despise the Lakers, prima-donnas, babied by their coaches and the refs, freaking Shaq the bruiser who fouls basically every time he touches the ball (it's not called); Kobe the sexual-assaulting ball-hog (but damn does he have skills). Rick Fox is no longer much of a factor, but he's such a ridiculous pretty boy, I bet he calls himself "sexual chocolate".

The Nuge Tribe is awesome. Their credo is basically "preserve nature so we can shoot it". Why do so many girls have sex with lunatics like Ted Nugent?

I burned my fingertips bad, it's right on my typing pads, it hurts to write this. I was barbecuing some crusty bread for bruschetta, and I figure "it's bread, I can bare hand it", so I grab it and carry it in the house. Of course I forgot I had painted some olive oil on the bread, so I'm holding scorching hot oil in my hands basically.

I loved playing rugby with a real team, cuz everyone is serious, everyone is giving their all trying to win, and everyone is doing their job, getting their assignments, in the right place. I love playing pickup games too, but it's not nearly as good, it's not the same.

The whole Paris Hilton thing disgusts me. You have all these super-rich trust fund babies (Paris is not even close to the top of the money list), there are thousands of them, and they have some several hundred billion dollars depending on exactly how you count them. What they've done is made it sort of entertaining to the masses to watch these robber-baron's heirs. Of course the Bush repeal of the estate tax just helps cultivate this super-rich ruling class. The world is their playground; the working men are like serfs, but the working people have been conned in the most despicable manipulation into admiring and following the lives of these inhuman bitches.


6-06-04

Apparently they are doing the thing I talked about of using LCD panels as piezo speakers - 1, 2


Party Poker provides free, no-fee money transfers between accounts, no questions asked. The business is in Antigua, the records are totally off-limits to the US Govt. It's the perfect mechanism for money laundering and illegal purchases. Two people make accounts, one puts money in, transfer to the other, they take it out. On paper it just looks like one person had gambling losses, another had gambling profits. Guns and cocaine are exchanged in the real world, the money is all wired and untraceable. Your party poker account can also be directly linked to an offshore private bank account for extra security.


6-05-04

More money making at the Party 5-10 tables. I can make money at the limit game whenever I want. I still haven't figured out the no-limit cash games. I can dominate single-table tournaments, but I haven't cracked a multi-table. I've made it pretty far in the multis, but I never get a huge stack, and I always get a run of bad cards and then lose my focus and blow it.

Today I tried another $50 multi-table tourney. Very first hand I get two pair on the flop with a Q9. I bet, he goes all-in, I call. He has TT, which is really a junk hand, all I need is a Q to beat him, and I have Q9! He has two outs, guess what card is on the river? Is this shit going to follow me forever in the multis? Maybe my multi-table play should be more aggressive, more risky, like Hoyt, Barry, and Phil Ivey. That's easy to say, but at the Party Poker tables there are a lot of people you can't bluff out of pots, so big moves with poor hands aren't really a good idea. My strategy has mainly been to make smart steals, come over the top of their bluffs, try to get into a lot of hands cheap and hit big flops and get paid by all the bad players. I mostly try to avoid 50/50 shots (unless it comes from me putting big-raise pressure on them) because I figure I can do much better than that. Maybe it's just been bad luck; I've only played like 10 multi-tables now, so that's still a very small number for statistical variance.


5-31-04

Who is this Kevin Harlan character? Is he Marv Albert in disguise? Marv Albert has one of the sweetest hair pieces in the business. Just imagine him in an S&M three-way dressed in ladies lingerie with that sweet hair-piece, it makes me hot.


5-31-04

I know the WSOP is over, but if you're getting ready for next year, here are my tips for taking out the top pros -

1. They're better than you. That means if you can get all your chips in against a top pro with a 50/50 shot, that's not a bad thing. At the same time, they think they're much better than you, so they will be loathe to risk their chips in a 50/50 shot - they will want to save them for a better opportunity. Put these two together, and it means you should raise them all-in whenever you're pretty sure you're in a race. eg. if you have a low PP and you're pretty sure they're on AK or AQ, or if you have AK yourself. If you were playing against worse players, you would often fold these situations, just as they will often fold when you put all your chips in.

2. Let them push you around. One of the few mistakes that pros will make is that they will underestimate you. They are a bunch of egotistical pricks, and they will try to push you around. Let them think that you are a fish who can be easily pushed around (but don't lose too many chips doing that). You will make your most money by slow-playing, letting the very aggressive pros bet at you, and calling them down with the winning hand. They'll whine and say "how can you call with A-junk, you have no kicker, I could've had blah blah", you just smile and know you played their arrogance like a fiddle.

3. You know them, they don't know you. You've seen them on TV, you've read their blogs, they don't know anything about you. That scared them a little bit. Use your knowledge of them (Daniel and Gus like to play junk, Dan Harrington is very tight, etc.), and also try to stay unknown. Keep your play a little erratic so they can't pick up an easy pattern on you. Some pros don't like to get involved in pots with the "fish" unless they have very big hands, because they don't like playing against unknown factors. This is very good for you, it takes away all their advantages. Steal their blinds, and when they do play back, just get out.

Good luck.


5-31-04

The "Most Cashes" list is a good way to see who's really dominating the WSOP (who wins the main event tourney is very random) -

here

Howard Lederer, Daniel Negreanu, John Juanda, Scotty Nguyen - some of the players I admire most. Howard and Daniel in particular are very good players, and I like their style; aggressive and smart. But who's this Minh Nguyen ? Is he part of Men The Master's collusion squad? Or is it just a coincidence?

I also like The Hendon Mob ; Ram is a very good player, and Barney is ok; the other guys are pansies. I just really like the idea of a bunch of blue collar guys from a small part of London forming a Poker Syndicate and travelling around the world playing tournaments.


The animation in Spider Man 2 just looks awful. Someone tells those idiots not to move the camera in strange, digital, herky-jerky ways, especially when the focus character is also moving in weird ways; the combination just makes the motion look really odd.


5-28-04

Ode to developing on the Xbox - O sweet fixed platform! O knowing I can just use SSE without checking the processor! Having full control over the disks and memory - storing game data in the frame buffer memory and then doing direct DMA writes from there!


When you get bug reports you have to consider the utility of examining them. How likely are they to just be user error? Users have to realize that when they "cry wolf" a lot by reporting bogus bugs, they're going to get ignored more because it becomes quite likely that the bug is not worth exploring.


The thing that games in general (and software in general) don't do is to let people control their experience, *and* make the default smart. My thinking in software design is always like this :

The default should be what the *stupidest* user will want, because they don't know how to do anything else. Options that semi-savy people will want (like resolution changes, etc.) can be a little bit harder to get to. Options that only a power-user would want can be very very hard to get to (eg. only in a .ini file or only in script language, etc.)

That way your average dope installs it, all the fancy options are totally hidden from them, and they get a decent game/tool/whatever. Then your more power users still have the ability to make it how they like it.

Controls are a classic example of this - the controls should always default to what the mass-market least-savy user will want. That's true even if you don't think those are really the best controls!!! If the best controls are more "hard core", put it on an option. The hard core people will find them, the mass-market will never touch the options and be happy.


A good way to do development would be with "flash squads" for features. Someone coordinates the squad, generally I would recommend it should be a programmer. The squad is one or a few people from each department, as needed. The squad works together to make the feature; they can brainstorm and talk and try things and get it done. They still get scheduled and such, but they have more freedom to talk to each other and work cross-department. The point here is that the org chart is temporarily changed. Rather than having director/leads/producer assign tasks to each department, and then have the various people doing the work report to their leads & producers, you have the director/producer assign the task to the flash squad; then the people in the squad report to the coordinator; the squad can agree to change up what they're doing, etc. and the coordinate controls it; he's responsible for scheduling and reporting progress up the chain. In the end the whole squad is responsible for the quality of the result, you don't get a situation like "we did our work in code and the artists just didn't make it pretty" or whatever.


The Law of Conservation of Complaints. When I was in physics we used to make a lot of jokes about fake conservation laws. It seeems to me complaints are conserved. The better you make things for people, the more shit they'll find to complain about. When things are really good, people find really dumb little things to be annoyed by. In fact it often seems that people in good situations are more prone to complain because they have the time and energy to do so; people who are really in the shit don't have the time to bitch about what's wrong.


I hate the way people show "direct lighting" vs. "radiosity" screen shots, and they show the direct lighting with no freaking ambient (like here ). Hey dumb-asses, if you used like a bipolar gradient ambient, you'd have 95% of the radiosity affect there. The actual thing that radiosity gets you over decent non-radiosity lighting is a 2nd order effect, it's the subtle darkening in the deeper folds, etc. (affect/effect !)


5-27-04

It's quite difficult to play well on a typical Party Poker 3/6 table these days. You have a lot of very bad players, but also some very good players. There are a lot of pros that play 2/4,3/6, and 5/10. If you assume you're just against fruity players, you will do very badly, but if you assume your opponents are all reasonable, you will also do badly. You will only do very well if you can rapidly tell the pros from the fish and adjust properly for each player.


5-24-04

Let's stop kidding ourselves. Online comics are *rotten*. Penny Arcade just blows. Sinfest blows. Deisel Sweeties really blows. Give me some good old newspaper single-panels any day, like Non Sequitor or Fusco Brothers.

Something about games makes me always want the one that isn't out yet. I don't do that with anything else - movies, cars, whatnot, I think I'm pretty reasonable about looking forward to things and then also enjoying them after they arrive. With games, it always seems like the game I'm gonna really like is right around the corner, and then when they arrive, they're always just okay. Maybe it's because the hype and promos in games are so much sweeter than the reality of the annoying bugs, slow loads, and repetetive, tedious gameplay.


5-23-04

I want to punch anyone on the Atkins diet. There should be more punching in the world, just get your feelings out, we'd all be better off. The McDonalds fit-meals are un-freaking-believable. The fact that it's low carb doesn't change the fact that it's a happy meal!


5-23-04

I'd like to set up a real-time mocap system that can drive straight to my game characters and be captured in real time. I'd like to do it with a little SDK and off-the-shelf hardware. Seems pretty easy, you have the performer wear black or white, then you put colored markers on them; you watch them in real-time with 4-6 video cameras doing real-time capture using videocap cards; you track the markers and figure out the 3d animation of all the joints. You have to have some tool where the markers are assigned to the pre-made character skeletons (or the tool could automatically find a pretty good fit). You could run at 15 fps and still get pretty great quality. The video has to be decently high res to capture, like 640x480 is probably the minimum; you can almost use just higher-end webcams. You have to do a calibration at startup to figure out the positions of the cameras. You can do this just by having some stock marked object, like a colored cube or tetrahedron that you've measured exactly and entered into the system, so the system can just see that object and calibrate to figure out the 3d positions of all the cameras. To track the markers you have to scan 640*480*15*6 pixels a second; that's 30 million. This is probably doable on a 3GHz P4, but worst case you should be able to do it with a dual CPU box. You do need all the cameras to be in-sync for timing, which I would imagine should just happen automatically if all the hardware is the same and decent quality. The full mocap setup with computer should cost about $3000 for hardware. We could sell it for $5000, compare to $20k or more for current mocap systems.

Another fun project would be a full-object scanner using off-the-shelf parts. To do this you set up a rig that you're place your objects in. The rig is a frame with like 10 high resolution digital cameras (or you could just use one and have motors to rotate the rig around, but it's probably cheaper just to have more cameras), and a bunch of colored lights all around the rig that are computer controlled. You take lots of pictures of the object under different lighting conditions, with different colors and different angles. From this you can deduce the albedo texture on the object, and the BRDF, as well as the (visible) 3d geometry of the object! I say "visible" because this only really works on mostly-convex objects, you can't get into nooks and crannies on the hidden insides of the object.


5-22-04

Definition of "Icing" - When both teams have an even number of players on the ice, and one player shoots the puck from behind the centre line and it cross the opponent's goal line but does not go into the goal.

People who are foolish and wrong hate and envy the people who are right. Fortunately we have the big fucking advantage of being right!


5-22-04

It seems to me there's a huge missing business, which is a service of expert consultants with various specialties that can do these kinds of jobs. Ken Demarest and I have talked about trying to start up such a company. You get like 20 consultants, someone who's an Id-engine expert, someone who's a Havok expert, etc., someone who's a COM/GDI/MFC expert, someone's whos' a VU/MIPS assembly expert, etc. so you have a man for just about every job. You charge like $200/hr or more, but you're offering top experts who can quickly jump on a small problem and give you a very good solution. Certainly at Oddworld I would have used such a thing myself.

It's funny when the management treats the employees to something nice, I'm very grateful and all, I think it's a nice gesture, but really it's your own money. It's like, hey, all these profits we've gotten from your hard work, here you can have a tiny bit back. It's sort of like after the feudal lord collects the taxes from his hard-working peasants, and then when he rides through the streets he tosses coins out his window for the riff-raff to fight over, and they think he's so kind and generous.


5-18-04

The next frontier for games is animation. Lip sync and facial animation is important, but even just good full-body animation is really important. Current games are just crap. HL2 looks reasonable, and our game is pretty good, but most are shite, and you can even do much much better than those games. A lot of people don't understand how important this is, they think the current games are ok, but they're not. When you really get people moving realistically, it's a *huge* visual difference, the characters suddenly start to feel really human and alive, and it's like a sudden different level of connection you feel to the game environment. It's like the difference between seeing a VR sim of some toy soldiers vs. actually seeing real people getting torn up by gun fire. I should clarify - there are a lot of games with good canned anims, and the transitions are pretty good now, games like Prince of Persia and Ratchet and Clank and our game all qualify for that. The next stage is more dynamic animation, more reactive, more physical, responding to your terrain, anticipating future mores, etc.


5-18-04

Part of the job of a good game director is to foresee problems and to help the team out. You should be able to know from intuition and experience what's going to play well, where the time and energy should be spent. You should be able to focus development without actually trying lots of dead ends. Anybody can just try it lots of ways and pick the result that works the best (well, not anybody, a lot of people can't see greatness even when it stares them in the face), the real talent lies in knowing what's going to work before you try it. It seems to me that so-called great creative game directors like Molyneaux are terrible in this way, while systems-based houses like Bungie, Id, are much better at getting straight to the point. Of course, you have to do a little prototyping and experimenting; the houses like Bungie and Id wind up making very unimaginative and predictable games. Like all important things in real life, it's subtle; the true "maestria" is in the balance - you need to prototype and experiment, but you also need to have enough clarity and foresight not to waste a lot of time.s


5-16-04

Another day for writing down game ideas. Some of these aren't mine, but they're all very obvious and would be easy and cool.

The Lawrence of Arabia / Horse Whisperer game - okay, actually this is like an RTS with heroes. There's an evil race of gargoyle creatures ruling over the land, and the people have started a guerilla revolution to try to overthrow them; you come from a mysterious place and have come to help; you know their cause is helpless without a miracle, but you have a secret. Now, there are several different players you can be - one is like a "beast master" who can talk to animals and recruit an army of wolves, lions, horses, etc. one is a practitioner of black arts who can raise the undead, etc.. The gameplay is like RTS + heroes; you commmand your armies to do what you want, but the key behind the battles is if you can take out the enemy commanders, either personally or by good use of your minions. The play is personal, like 3rd & 1st person, not a top-down RTS. Then the really interesting thing is playing co-op with other heroes who can command different army types, and you get interesting combos of capabilities.

Shaft - you're shaft, a bad mutha, full blacksploitation game, pipms and informants, big afros, just go silly; you get your dual 45's, women are all over you.

Mad Max - this is so obvious and fun; sort of low-tech future weapons, like crossbows and grappling hooks and shotguns, cool vehicles. Make it an MMO, let the user get parts and bolt-ons and customize their cars; ambush other players and take their cars; find an old camaro and bolt on a fully-auto machine gun, etc. I don't want a super hero - I want a big fat character with a mohawk and ass-less leather chaps and football pads with spikes.

Cops and Robbers MMO - bad name, what really would be cool would be like a corrupt NYPD-style police force against the Mafia. When you join the MMO you're a peon, and there's a whole structure you have to work yourself up. You can start by running little missions for your side (shake-downs) and as you advance you get into all-out wars between the sides (and of course, you can also make deals with people on the other side on the sly). In many parts of the city, during the day, the cops and Mafia exist together and can't just take each other out in the open.

WW2 MMO - the idea here is to do the full logistics of a real war. You have a hierarchy of command that people have to qualify for with experience points. The top commanders stay back at base and look at top-down maps (if they choose that role), and they send out messages to the people on their team. You get squad commanders doing coms, people manning supply lines, planes carrying in paratroopers, etc. Your average group of players would sign up to be a squad together, so you could play with your buddies and have basically a BattleField-like experience, but it's part of a big battle, and there's a commander above you coordinating things, telling you your objective, and there are other teams supporting you, bringing in reinforcements, etc. The key would be to combine the ability to have a quick pickup game of BF, with character development and more depth and complex battles and the opporunity for character improvement and advancement. For example, with XP you qualify to move up the chain of command, but that also qualifies you for pilot training or heavy-weapons training, etc.


5-14-04

There's one more big thing to do in game engines - that's to go fully floating point for lighting, do all physically-based lighting, get atmospheric scattering in, radiosity, etc. have realistic intensities for your lights, etc. Note that to really have this you need an Exposure function. Even the current crop of games are nowhere near physically-accurate lighting values, because they don't do exposure. That means the balance between their bright outdoors and dark indoors is faked. It makes them have a lot less contrast than they should, it's why Half-Life 2 looks very washed out. Once you start going fully physically-based, you have to drop all the old hacks, like ambient.

The big problems remain - alpha is a pain in the ass, and there's no real good solution for dynamic lighting and shadows. Probably the best bet is something along the lines of Halo 2 or Half-Life 2, where you have basically static background and lights, but you allow dynamic objects and lights and you just sort of let things be slightly wrong for your dynamic objects (eg. you get the one-bounce lighting right still, but let the radiosity be wrong). On next-gen hardware you can at least do soft-stencil shadows, so that'll be a nice hack solution.


5-14-04

Half-Life 2 looks amazing. To me, Valve and Bungie and Id really represent what code-driven game production is all about. You decide on what is really important to you and you do that really well. All three are groups that do things right, they don't just hack and tweak, they get the lighting right, they do things the way the coders know is right (physically based lighting and physics in the motion engine), they don't just let the artists hack up the lighting or make physics that "feels good" but isn't based on reality. All three also have the wisdom to realize that in the end they're working on a game, so you make the experience fun and interactive, not tedious, you don't stick to any of your principles if they violate the all-overriding fun principle. Their engines are solid, but in all cases their engines seem difficult to work with at first. Our artists would have screamed and moaned about having to use CSG, or having to make your models water-tight, having to do high-poly models, etc. but the results make it all worth while, and once you start actually doing it it's not so painful. It's the kind of thing where they know it's worth it and they can make the artists try it, and once they try it, they like it.

The lighting in all 3 engines is different and all are good. Id is fully dynamic, with the core look driven by bump maps and stencil shadows. Valve is mainly baked-in, but they encode a precomputed light field so that dynamic objects can move around in that light field. Bungie is a mix; they do fully-dynamic first-bounce lighting, and add on precomputed more-bounces radiosity; they're also heavily driven by bump maps. Valve's technique is very cool, I'll put my notes about it in the 3d section...


5-11-04

Chris Webber, I know you read my rants, don't deny it. Listen up, YOU SUCK! Give up the rock, let Bibby and Stoyo shoot it, they can carry the team to success, you just bring it down to perpetual mediocrity.

What if you got one of those like 1000 lbs super-fat guys and made him your hockey goalie and just stuffed him in the goal so there was no space to get a shot in. He'd be the greatest goalie ever!


5-10-04

What if you just bought any cheap stock that has an extremely favorable P/E ratio? Is that not an easy money-making proposition?


5-08-04

There are two new ways of making games that I'm interested in -

Prototyping. You take a small talented team, you have an idea and you make a rough rapid prototype of the engine and gameplay. The entire duration is maybe 6 months, you make something that's totally playable and fun, but not polished. Once this is done, you pass it off to a larger established team to finish, like one of the many 2nd teir game coompanies, or some team within your corporate group. You supervise this team loosely in executing your vision, and they should be able to finish in about a year since your prototype has very clearly defined what the game is.

Mutating/Enhancing. You take some existing game and improve it, change it, tweak it, and re-sell it. This is not a trivial or superficial thing, you may be making major gameplay changes, totally changing the flavor of the game, the key is that the basic structure is similar, you can use the previous code base and engine, so it should be easy and quick. This is done constantly with first person shooters, since you can license Unreal or Quake and have basically a good shooter framework to adapt. Insomniac sort of did this with Ratcher & Clank, but largely this is not done outside of the shooter genre. I'd like to adapt this production model to all sorts of games. There are a lot of games that are basically bad games, but still have a good structure and engine, that you could purchase and pretty easily turn into very good games.


5-07-04

Is AMD a good buy now? Intel looks like its roadmap for the future is screwed. As China leaps into the 21st century, will they be buying lots of nice Athlon64 servers and laptops? In October 2002, AMD hit a crazy trough of $3/share , it's now back to $15/share. What happened then to cause such a plummet?


5-03-04

I want to make a game that's flat-shaded and wireframe, with just tons of debug draw; show trails of previous positions, coordinate frames, tangent spaces, show frame rates and memory uses and gpu times, etc. all with colors and shades and such. We have some really awesome beautiful "debug draw" in the current Steef game, it looks very military-sim with all these vectors and frames and numbers flying around the sky.


5-01-04

Hip hop guys are very much the poor people with no class who somehow got money; they understand that they need to push themselves and their product, but they don't have that classy British repressedness where they don't admit they're pushing it. It's sick to see someone on a talk show just saying "yo, buy my album". It's much nicer to see someone say "oh yes, I do have an album, now that you mention, ho ho".


5-01-04

If I was smart I would patent my internet ideas (see "network of trust" 8-10-03) and start a startup. I'm not saying the ideas are actually very new or legitimately patentable, but that's never stopped anyone before. I'll make a funny name for my company and Wall Street will just throw cash at me.

My new big idea is to use the search to improve the search. Google has become so mainstream that they should use searches to improve the searches. It goes like this - you search for some keywords, "a b c", you're trying to find the best pages that are about those things. You go clicking around the search results, eventually you find a good one. That's the page that should be found first! So, you take the behavior of the searcher and roll it back into the search; you mark the final page as being the best page "about" a,b,c. This approval could be done using some extra thumbs-up/thumbs-down buttons, or even just by watching a person's activity as they browse around. This could also be enhanced by the old "network of trust", since you know *who* approved the page, my searches can be conditioned on people who are approved in my network.

Basically this becomes a fuzzy way of experts sharing information. When I go searching for 3d graphics stuff, I can make use of all the searches that other 3d graphics gurus have done. My "network of trust" will be conditioned on other people who are smart and expert, so the pages they found will be more likely for me to find. This kind of thing could *very* rapidly improve the quality of searches, especially difficult ones. For example, trying to find something like an SSE 4x4 matrix multiply is nearly impossible with Google, but would be very easy once the conditioning on quality results and similar experts is done.

Another trick for conditioning is the use of "base pages". For example, if you condition from a hub page like www.realtimerendering.com , then you prefer pages based on how close their web graph-distance is to that page, you will automatically get much better results for any 3d graphics search.


4-30-04

Back in like '99 working on Genesis, I used to talk to Jason Wood and John Pollard, and we'd talk about increasing visual realism, and the things we really wanted were - floating point buffers, radiosity, fresnel & better surface lighting, and ambient occlusions. Now all this stuff is coming to be! It's sort of a let down in a way, back then there were very few clever people in game graphics who could actually think of things like that and implement them - now you have big teams of demo guys at the IHV's and researchers in academia, all paying attention to games now, and writing tons of papers and demos, and tons of game devs are implementing all kinds of crazy things, you can't really sit in a closet and come up with clever things and blow people away any more. Everybody basically knows what can be done and what would look good, and now it's all just a matter of actually doing it. Dumb issues like the art pipeline and getting the designers to make a game that takes good advantage of the tech are what dominate the results now.

Making technology-driven games is fun, and it's really not bad for gameplay. Basically game designers have very vague ideas anyway, so if you give them some heavy tech direction and constraints, it really doesn't make the game any worse, as long as they can still experiment and tweak and have good-workflow and fast turnaround, etc. Letting the programmers choose the primary structure of the game is clearly the way to go. Then the designers and artists fill that structure with fun and decorations. Not only does that make it easier to write the code, it makes the design & art much better, because you get a system which is doing something very well, doing what it was made to do, rather than just a random mix of ideas built on a system that was made to do something else.


4-29-04

Management should be aggressive but realistic.

It's funny how America is in fact run by an elite wealthy ruling class, and yet they are constantly pretending to be rustic "everymen" from average America. Only in front of the camera, of course. I like the way Kerry uses the little moment when he can pretend he thought the mic was off to sneak out little comments that he doesn't want to stand behind. It sucks the way no politician can ever actually take a controvercial stance on anything. There's a very "emperor's new clothes" situation going on, everyone has to basically tow the line, if you have the guts to speak out, you'll get crucified by the media and the PR machine of the political parties.


Wow, those guys at EA are geniuses. They took the biggest movie in recent history, which was a fantasy movie that very easily lends itself to games, and they made a halfway decent game, and released it somewhere near the time the movie actually came out. Wow, that really took vision, my 10 year old brother never could have come up with that plan.

Funny thing is, every other publisher is so grossly incompetent they can't even manage that. I estimate that the game industry is losing 10 billion dollars a year due to gross incompetence at many levels. If they just made decent games that were tied to good media properties and released simultaneously, wow, you could actually make money. Then, beyond that, it gets into details, you have to do things like design games that are actually fun, not just tedious and punative and repetetive. You have to give away free CD's and demo's online that can be easily converted to full licenses online, or even sell play level-by-level in $5 increments, etc. etc.


4-24-04

Science prizes, like the Nobel prize and so many others, are totally misguided. They give big monetary awards to people who made their big discovery 20 years ago; the winners have almost always had some large amount of success, since the prizes are very conservative, they only go to people whose work is well recognized. The winners are rarely still doing major research, and certainly don't need the money. Science prizes should go to the young, up and coming scientists who actually need the cash. Also, it shouldn't be simply a cash reward, but rather a grant for research, or funds for a laboratory or institute, etc. The idea that the rewards are a motivating factor is ridiculous. Scientists are some of the least greedy and altruistic people in the world - they are motivated by making a great discovery, by being admired by their peers, not by winning cash. Sadly, the "rich get richer" mechanism is everywhere.


4-22-04

Ode to the early days of game development. Yes, the games now really are much better, but man development was so much better, even two or three years ago. Back then, you had small teams where you really felt like a crew, you could know and be friends with everyone on the team. A few smart guys could get together and start a game company and be a big success. If you were talented at all, you were bound to innovate because everything was new; every decent game was breaking new ground. The machines were so limiting that you had to be very clever and creative to find ways to make things work. Everything was very free-form, you weren't a cog in a production machine like today. People could cross disclipines, programmers could do game design, anyone on the team could have ideas and get them in the game. Alas!


4-20-04

I just can't stand it when I ask people to do things and they just don't do it, and then the next day I ask them "is blah done", and they say "blah? what are you talking about blah?". Perhaps worse is when people do something quickly, sloppily, lazily, without thinking, and do a bad job, and tell me it's done. Then a few days later I start seeing mysterious problems and I look into it, and it's not done at all! In my job I went up being constantly worried about every single thing that anyone at the company is doing, because I just can't assume that they're actually getting done. I'd much rather have people who do less, but do it reliably and actually get it done. The thing that people don't understand is that if they are 90% reliable, I still have to keep my eye on them 100% of the time. You have to be nearly 100% reliable before I can just trust you. I'm not talking about just mistakes here, it's fine if people make mistakes. I'm talking about when I tell someone to do something, they don't write it down, don't track their todo list, and just never do it. Or, I tell someone to do something and they do it totally without thinking (like they change a base-class virtual function signature and don't search for the subclasses overriding it, thereby totally breaking the code). Sigh.


4-18-04

Tournament report. $50 buy in NLHE. As usual, I'm playing like a champ, folding hands like AT when they're probably dominated. I make it in the money, it gets very tight and aggressive, everyone is stealing, going all-in, very tough play. My stack is around average, I'm doing well. I get down to 39th place. An early player comes in for a raise and someone flat calls. Now, this smells like mediocre hands to me. The early raiser I know is a very loose aggressive player, he could have almost any two cards. The flat call smells like a low PP to me. I see AQ. Now, as long as they don't have AK, I figure I'm at 50/50. I'm getting excellent odds on my money because the blinds will surely fold, so I'm getting roughly 2:1 on a 1:1 shot. I figure it's the time to double up or get out, so I go all-in. All fold to the UTG raiser. He thinks a minute then folds as expected. The early caller calls me! I'm thinking low PP all the way, and hoping for no AK (or KK or AA or QQ). He shows KTs !! I can't believe it, I'm a favorite (about 62%) and then the cards suddenly come junk - King - junk - Queen (just to rub it in) - junk. DAMN! Knocked out again. Probably I should have just folded. I had a good read on the situation, as usual, but I wasn't much of a favorite, I could have surely waited for a better spot and made it farther in the money. This is one of the flaws in my tournament play still, near the end, and when I'm getting tired, I feel the pressure to push a marginal situation, I want to get in my 50/50 and either win or lose. Paid about $200.


4-18-04

When an aggressive, stealing, bluffing player also hits some big hands, they're unstoppable. When you finally have the guts to look them up with a mediocre hand and it's the one time they actually have a hand - you're just screwed. That's part of why being aggressive is so good. If you're a tight solid player, the only way you can win is by hitting big hands. If you're an aggressive, stealing player, you win from all the folding, and you win big if you also hit hands. Of course, it's not that simple, because being tight and solid you are keeping your chips safe for better opportunities, but you get the idea.


4-18-04

Damn it I hate it when I spot the fish, I know exactly how I'm going to nail them - they get too attached to medium pair, they think if they go all-in they can bluff me out of any pot - I'm just waiting for my chance, crouched like a viper, and then all of a sudden the fish stumbles into someone else's trap and gives all their chips away! Damn!


4-18-04

It's killing me to think how rich I could be now if I had been more aggressive with my money in the past 5 years. In 1999 I bought my car, a Honda Prelude, with cash. If I had instead used that as a down payment on a house in Austin, and the bought a house when I moved to Seattle, and again bought a house when I moved to San Luis, I would be up about $500k (counting the money not spent on rent and the tax savings as well). If during that time I had smartly invested in the market (which is not hard to do it - the internet bubble was very obvious, it would have been easy to get in on the rise and get out safely and play it all smart, and then buy big again after the crash and buy big in all the stocks that were crazy undervalued after 9/11), that would be another huge upside; your investment could easily have gone up 200-300% in that time frame, and I'm not talking unrealistic lucky bets, but just playing it smart. These days are a pretty mediocre time to get into the market. I'm bullish on the American economy, so I think that we will resolve the Iraq issues and the economy will come back even stronger than it has. I think there is another IT revolution to come, involving wireless and portables; we will soon have our digicam+cellphone+MP3+GPS+PDA, and there will be a whole industry built around those devices and it will be another explosion, but it's hard to say who to bet on in that space. The cell phone companies seem to just be incompetent, I would put my bets on someone like Sony or Samsung, but their stock is so diluted that they don't get much upside even if that one unit does very very well. I think I need to invest in cbloom.com , or Chuck-Co if you prefer the old school name.


4-17-04

Poker tournament report. The big Party Poker Million Dollar No Limit Holdem Tournament. Buy-in is $600+40.

I grind it out early on, there are tons of bad players, so I take their chips; I limp a lot, make big hands and take their chips. After a few hours of tough solid play...

I have a very good stack, $7000 with the average around $3500 and only 600 people left out of 2000. The big stack at the table has about $8000 and is playing pretty tight. I get AK, big stack raises preflop, I call. I hit the A on the flop. He bets at me, I call to suck him in. T on the turn. He makes a small bet, I call. Fucker had TT. He makes a small milking river bet. I'm down to $2000 chips.

I get all-in with KQ and split the pot! Again with QQ and split the pot! Again with AK and split the pot! Crazy, I keep getting all-in with the exact same hand! Also all-in with 88 and a guy beats me with A9. All-in with 66 and it holds up against KQ.

I grind it out for the next hour, slowly grow my stack back to $6000. I get 88 in the big blind. UTG raises, but it's almost surely a steal. SB flat calls. That's a little odd, but it's an aggressive player who plays oddly, so I come over the top, to 2000. UTG folds as expected, SB flat calls. Odd. Flop is KTJ. Well, I'm almost certainly beat, check check. Turn is a 6, he bets 400, I call. River is a 5, check check. He shows 99 and takes my chips. I'm down to $4000 and struggling again. I should've gone all-in on the turn when he made the small bet. Slow down, think carefully! I was hoping he has a lower PP and I could show it down. There weren't many hands that beat me that he would lay down, 99 was probably the only one.

My stack is pretty low now, about half average, and the blinds are getting big. I need to make a move. Aggressive player comes in for a steal, he's been stealing with junk (56,A3) all night. I go over the top all-in with AJs. He calls with AQs and it holds up. DAMN!!!

Finish in 291st place (out of 2000). Top 130 pay.

Overall, I think I played very well. I had several bad beats, but managed to not lose my whole stack on the first two, and both times I built my stack back to above average. I played smart, laying down big hands when it was pretty likely they were dominated. I got good reads on everyone at my tables. I watched lots of bad players playing terribly and getting lucky. If I had had a little more luck, I'd be in the money. In a NLHE tournament, you have to get all-in with some 50/50 situations, and I roughly split them; I think I won two and lost two. The quality of opponents was obviously going way up as we got to fewer people, but I still felt way better than everyone else at my table. The big stacks at my table were mainly built on luck and aggression, often at my expense.


03-28-4

I just made Galaxy3 work nicely with multimon and laptops and such. My home dev environment is now a laptop at 1400x1050 hooked up to a sideways LCD at 1024x1280. The sideways LCD is the primary display, so that throws off the vast majority of 3d apps. In fact, I can't think of any 3d app that runs right on my box. And - it's so easy to get it right. You just enumerator the adapters and pick the one that supports all the caps. If they both support all the caps, use the desktop monitor. Then you can get the monitor rect and put your window there. Then if you want to go fullscreen, you should default to using the desktop rez and refresh rate. That gets you all good for laptops and LCD's, which are best just running at their native rez and refresh (which presumably the desktop is).


03-27-04

I've started keeping all my files in perforce. So far it causes me only pain and helps me not at all.

I'm convinced now that game industry crunch is caused almost 100% by bad management. And my "bad" I don't mean "hasn't read Peopleware" bad, I mean completely irresponsible and juvenile bad. Basically what happens is this : up until 3 months before ship, management pays very little attention to whether the game is actually getting done; the only way they participate in the process is by diverting people onto tasks that aren't really important, or onto personal fetishes, or needlessly changing major facets of the project. Then, when you get within that 3 month end period they final go "oh shit" and get responsible and start making the people in the pit actually finish it. Now, I'm not saying the people in the pit are all responsible and good, they will also screw around and not wrap if left to their own devices - but the point is it's not their job to supervise themselves! If the people on the floor are not doing solid, directed work towards wrapping the project - it is the fault of the management.

It's tough being a lead sometimes, because I want to be all friendly with my team, but sometimes they just really fuck up and do stupid things or waste their time on unimportant tasks that they weren't supposed to be doing. Then I have to lay down the law, and noone likes that. It would be easier if it were just a situation of "do what I tell you", but it's not, I try to encourage some freedom and let people figure out their own issues, and it's tough when you have that mixed with straight task-mastering. People can take direction very comfortably when they don't feel invested in the work at all, but when they become personally attached to the work they become very resistant to direction.

Sadness. My Galaxy3 meshing stuff was probably the best in the world a few years ago (it may still be, even though I haven't really touched it). In 2001 I could render models that looked almostly exactly like the 1-million-poly original, but with 1-4k polys. There's no great invention there, it's all obvious stuff, VIPM + normal maps = good. But noone did it, still noone has done it, though we are getting very close finally with Doom 3 and all the copy-cats. My PPMZ and LZP and WaveCode coders were the best in the world at their specialties, but were never really used for anything. Then I stop maintaining them, and they get old, and they're no longer the best, and so now they're just totally useless historical curiosities. The code isn't even clean enough for them to be good learning platforms.


03-25-04

I hate it when ordinary people use computer or technical terms out of context conversation.


03-22-04

I went to the Indie Game Jam over the weekend with Ryan and Thatcher from Oddworld. It's a 4 day event, but we just went for 3 days, because we worked right up to it and have to resume working again. The theme this year was Physics, which was very tough. The first day I really struggled; I was tired from over-work, and couldn't really get any good ideas. The last day, I finally found a fun game mechanic and got into a good flow.


03-09-04

Laptops should use those solid-state piezo-electric speakers. The entire back face of the LCD should be the speaker surface.

I've gotten so out of shape recently that I jiggle when I jump up and down. I hate the feeling of that. When I was in high school in Texas I was a real porker, and when it would get hot and humid in the summer my rolls of fat would get all sticky and sweaty, and I would run my finger down the groove of soft flesh to wipe out the dewy warm moisture and wet linty gunk that would collect inside.


03-09-04

My rants page is a half-ways house on the road of productive internet searches. A dark back alley. Perhaps you started your search looking for something useful like compression information or 3d algorithms; you went searching Google, ignoring the call to check a blog, and started browsing pages, so bravely ignoring the pop-ups offering live nude girls; somehow you stumbled onto my page, and perhaps you clicked around a bit in the crufty old dusty un-loved tomes of technical trivial; then, feeling bored and frustrated, you saw the Rants link and decided to see what it was, and here you are, getting the blog-trivia-date-formatted fix from your internet back alley pusher.


03-07-04

Grand Theft Auto was all very successful and what-not, but can you imagine if they had actually given the game a good story & character development? I mean, nobody even remembers the name of the guy you're supposed to be, much less anything about him - they could have had licensing and movie deals out the wazoo.

Computer software is a weird endeavor. The vast majority of work we do is to make it easier to do work on computers. It's sort of like a car mechanic who works on his car all the time so that he can drive it to the auto part shop.

I like to work with people who will do a good solid job without being watched and ridden all the time. I like people who will do solid productive work even if no tasks are assigned to them. I like people who are constantly keeping a list of tasks in their head that they wish they had time to do, that they will do when they get a day free.


03-06-04

I need to be able to submit perforce changes to a personal "purgatory" area. Then I could check those same files out on my machine and start making unrelated changes for new work, while the queued up files would still be in the purgatory area, not in the main depot. Then I need to be able to do a full codebase build on a network appliance from the state of my purgatory submission. If that goes through, then my queue is applied to the main depot. If not, I can apply fixes to it. In the mean time I was able to start new work on my main machine as if the change had been submitted.


03-06-04

If you're managing a tech group and one of your programmers shows you the "cool project" they've been working on at home, tell them "that's nice", and *walk away*. By no means put it in your code base! It's hard to resist when someone shows you something that's "already working" and cool and has a sexy demo. But resist you must! Just because it's working in a demo doesn't mean it will work in a real production pipeline, or that it is bug-free, low in memory use & CPU use, etc. etc., in fact the whole technique may fall apart when stressed (eg. PSM, Stencil Shadows). BTW, I used to be the *worst* offender ever for this type of practice. At Eclipse and Wild Tangent I would work my ass off late and night and on the weekends and come up with crazy crap, and then show it to management and get it snuck into the code base. It was a lot of fun, but it certainly was not the best way to serve the engine. On the plus side, I got to learn Terrain LOD, VIPM, curved surfaces, etc. etc. none of which were really needed for the engine. If I were managing the old me, I would tell old me that it was great stuff, and keep up the learning process, but keep that shite the hell away from my code base. And if you do sneak it into my code base and then tell me "it's already in", I'll tell you to get it the fuck out and don't sneak it in without asking me ever again.

The proper way to make a profiler (for CPU use and Memory use) is as a "two-way" hierarchical view. That is, you have a normal hierarchy with 100% usage at the root, then you can see his kids, and all the kids add up to the parent value, etc. Then, you can also go backwards. For any element, you can grab that element and switch to a backwards view, where you instead see the sum for that element across all parents, and you see a tree going backwards to the parents, so that leaves are at the top and the parents are at the bottom. Let me try to show an example, cuz that writing is really unclear. Say you have a normal tree like this :

A-{ B,  C }
    |   |
    |   +-{D, E}
    +-{C, D}
Then the backwards (multi-root) tree would be :
C - {B , A }
     |
     +-A
D - {B, C }
        |
        +-A
E - C - A
Each node of the tree should be sorted by the biggest offender. The key to being a really fluid profiler is the ability to switch on the fly between the forward tree and the backward tree; you need to be able to select any element and switch between forward and backward tree views.


03-05-04

We're in heavy crunch now to finish the Steef game. Crunch sucks, but we are getting a lot done. Personally, I'm working at 2-3X my normal productivity, which is very high; there's no way I can sustain this for long, hopefully I can do it for the rest of the game. I've got to start going to my Chiropractor and exercising, though, or I'm going to self-destruct, my body is falling apart and I feel like shit.

The management at Oddworld rightly thinks that our code team is great. Well, that's true, but we also have many many weaknesses. We've run way behind on this game and made several signifiant medium-sized mistakes in the technology design. We've been led badly by management, producing, desing, and publishers. We've probably done 1/2 or less of what we could have done in the 28 months we've been working on this game (we could have finished a better game in 18 months). Now, if our management ever reads this they'll be shocked and say "dear god, what's wrong!". Well, nothing's really wrong. Most teams in the game industry work at far lower efficiency than what we've acheived. I think our productivity is about 2X of what a normal team reaches. Yes, we've made some mistakes, but most teams make a large number of mistakes, and some of our bigger mistakes were because we were led in the wrong direction.

Our wise Dave says there are two ways that game development can go smoothly - either you 1) have a locked down code base, and the designers can fiddle with it and experiment and come up with a game, or 2) you have a locked down design, and the coders figure out how to make it happen. Having unstable code and experimental unclear design is a recipe for disaster.

Many people think making a game engine or a fresh game code base is fundamentally very hard. Not so, it's actually very easy. A good, focused, responsible, disciplined team could do it in 6 months. Making a new game engine while supporting an ever-changing design and keeping a content team running is very very hard. Just the fact that we have to keep our code-base always working and always backwards compatible probably takes at least 1/2 of our work each day (!!). Managers never understand the idea that keeping the code running and bug-free is a huge task in itself. If you're freed of the burden of keeping the code running, you get a huge productivity boost.


02-28-04

People are shocked that this Steve Erwin (Crocodile Hunter) held his baby while playing with a Crocodile. Don't be a moron, of *course* he's going to endanger the life of his baby, the guy is a lunatic!

Sometimes capitalism works very badly. Case in point : IT infrastructure. Currently we have phone lines running everywhere and big expensive switch boxes, we have cable running many places, and we have the phone companies converting to DSL and ATM. We have cell towers scattered around with various networks and standards. This is all way behind what it could be, and worst of all its very redundant. If we just had one good standard, we could spend a lot less and get a lot better product. Competition doesn't work well when there's a huge cost of entry to the business. I once say the figure that laying digital cable to someone's house costs $2,000 on average. That is, setting up the neighborhood routing and wiring and such probably costs some $500,000 or something, then you divide by the number of people served. That means it will take many many years to make back that money.

Why does it seem like there are so many girls that are as dumb as nails? Where are all the guys that are dumb as nails? It seems there are all these couples with a good smart guy and a girl that's just dumb dumb dumb. Maybe the difference is that hot dumb girls can make it in the world, but hot dumb guys usually just wind up pumping gas, so I'm not aware of them, they don't enter into my social circle. If that was true, and the world was really balanced, then there should be a lot of smart ugly girls that I'm not seeing. Where are they? I see a whole lot of smart ugly guys, but nothing near an even number in girls.

I am the McGuyver of making desserts from hopeless ingredients. The other week I made berry brown betties = frozen berries, flower, butter, brown sugar, tasty. Tonight I made chocolate cake ala fondant, from just cocoa, butter, eggs, sugar, flour; the cake was mediocre but I whipped up a chocolate sauce from cocoa, sugar, half & half and some old left-over Frangelico. The sauce was surprisingly good, thickened in the microwave.


02-27-04

To do great things, you have to be a little bit crazy or stupid in a sort of over-confident, over-optimistic sort of way. If you really knew how hard an endeavor was going into it, you wouldn't even try it.


02-26-04

One good thing about outsourcing I.T. jobs is that it will help distinguish between low-level craptastic programmers (send their jobs to India) and high-level guys who can direct a project and coordinate the codebase and such (give them raises). This is the future of the American economy in general - even more stratification, even more money for the top and less for the bottom.


02-25-04

Amplified musical instruments with cords are ridiculous. How long it takes them to set up is ridiculous. All the gear should just be 802.11g wireless, then you have a laptop with a virtual wiring diagram that lets you route the guitar to the effects box to the mixer, etc. (and change the "wiring" in realtime with scripted configurations if you want). Of course the "wiring" is just a router for which data stream goes where. To set up for a gig, you just unpack your gear and start, no hookup, no layout, no testing, it's all automatically ready to go, and wireless so you can dance around. Silly people.


02-25-04

How to make games (and movies) with actually interesting characters and plots : the key is to make a lead character that's totally stereotypical, so all the dumbasses out there can relate to him. Then you put all the interesting stuff in little sub-plots and side characters. This is a pretty standard ploy (eg. Seinfeld).


02-24-04

The United States will have agile, stealthy, fast, and powerful unmanned aircraft. It's hard to say exactly when, but soon, perhaps in our next major conflict (North Korea?). We will be able to deliver lethal force (eg. bombs that kill people, blow them into bloody bits, maim them and leave their half-bodies strewn around a field of wreckage) without deploying troops on the ground or risking our soldiers' lives at all. That's incredibly scary to me, not because of any ridiculous fantasy of robots going awry and turning on us. It terrifies me because it gives us carte blanche to wreak havok on the world. We'll be able to quickly send drones anywhere in the world, transported on aircraft carriers, without even consulting the public or congress; there will be no reporters around, so all the information released will be from our military, so they can spin it however they want or keep it totally quiet, and worst of all, because there is no risk to average American soldiers, the American people just won't care. The average American seems to care very little about the lives of anyone else in the world. Cotton subsidies are contributing to the starvation of millions of Africans? eh, fuck'em, my brother the Cotton farmer wants to buy a new Dodge Ram and he needs that subsidy. Vietnam war killed 2 million Vietnamese? fuck'em, gooks, it's their own fault for messing with the US; the reason we left is because of the deaths of the US soldiers. The American public doesn't seem to care about death and depravation in the world unless it happens to someone they knew. If we can go into countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, where our government has certain interests that they think can best be acheived with force (but we really shouldn't be there, and certainly the American public wouldn't support it if people were dying), then we'll do it all the time, and it won't even be a big issue. Good lord, that's scary. I believe that the American Empire will decay over the next 100 years, but in that period it will first become even more powerful and horrible.

The Nova on UAV's was really funny. It started with some interesting background info on U2's and satellites and such. Then it gets to the UAV's, and you get all these scenes of serious military guys who are talking about model airplanes. They're using all these military acronyms and such to talk about a little balsa wood plane that someone put together in their garage - and, I'm sure Lockheed or someone charged them $5 million for that model airplane.


02-22-04

The new Quiznos adds just fucking rock. They're wacky-tastic. Comedy in the future will just be incredibly bizarre. Each year, you have to get more bizarre, because the previous stuff just seems normal. Simple gags like making fun of the TV production process, or looking at the camera, or non-sequitors, or awkward silences, etc. all are pretty old hat now, so you've got to go even more bizarre. The Simpsons used to just be hillarious and surprising; these days it looks very plain, compared to Family Guy and such. Of course it's a fine line, if you try to just go with constant non-sequitors and really delve into the "so bad it's funny", you end up just making something that's bad.

Addendum - I'm told these adds are just based on "We like the Moon". It's up there very high. Tha moon is very useful everyone. Indeed, wacky eye-bulging hamsters, indeed it is.

Addendum 2 - I think the commercial is actually much funnier than the flash. The reason is the context. When you're watching pretty ordinary TV and suddenly this crazy crap pops up, it's so surprising and funny it makes you shit your pants. When you're browsing the internet, you see wacky weird shit all the time, so it's not really out of the ordinary to see the flying hamster oddness.


01-31-04

I hate that look that scientists give when they think they just said something really important and clever that you might have missed. They raise their eyebrows, their eyes bulge out, and they sort of smile. John Wheeler (string theory) does it, Craig Ventner (biotech) and Jim Watson (DNA), and in acting, Jeff Goldblum is the horrible despicable master of it.


01-29-04

A laptop with 802.11g is a blessing from god. I walk around the house on the internet. Now if only there was a decent way to have a portable mouse (touchpad is shite!).


01-28-04

I bought a laptop, to use as a portable and to replace my desktop, I'm now writing this on it. It's a non-brand (it just says "NoteBook on the case"). The chassis is actually an Aopen 1557G, which is Taiwanese. I got mine assembled from ABS, under the name "ZForce 2", but you can also get an iBuyPower Battalion-E or a CyberPower S4-3200, they're all the same thing. I've got the Hitatchi 60 GB 7200 RPM disk, the SXGA+ 1400x1050 screen, 1 Gig of RAM (DDR 266), the 1.7 GHz Centrino, all the top of the line stuff. Battery life is about 4 hours and weight is about 6 pounds. It's got Radeon 9600 graphics (DirectX 9) and a 15" screen. It's similar to an IBM T41p, maybe a little weaker, but about half the price. If you're loaded with mega-bucks, the T41p (it's a ThinkPad) is the way to go. These things are the best compromise I could find between great power and portability. If you just want a pure-power desktop replacement, Sager is the way to go. They put top of the line PC parts in notebook cases; I almost went with one of those, but my AOpen is nice and quiet and cool, as opposed to Sagers that are noisy and very hot. The hard disk is a bit loud on my box, but it's still much quieter than a typical PC. (if I had bought a desktop it would have been a "Silent PC" of some sort). As for speed, it's roughly twice as fast in all categories as my old 1 GHz Dell desktop. It's comparable to a P4-2.8 desktop with PC2100 RAM and a 7200 RPM disk. So, all is good in laptop land, except a few little things about it that aren't perfect - A) no DVI output, only VGA; sigh, my second monitor is an LCD and it's just not nearly as crisp with VGA feeding it instead of DVI; this really blows, but there are currently near zero laptops with DVI out. B) no Firewire 800, only Firewire 400; C) no Bluetooth, but it does have integrated 802.11g D) only DDR 266; the chipset is a little on the slow side; DDR 333 or 400 would have been nice; in the future Intel will release the Dothan line, which will give mobile processors a big upgrade. E) annoying keyboard; it's about the same as all laptops; it seems these keyboards are always designed by people who don't actually do any typing!! The big problems are : placement of the left Control, lack of right Windows key, and placement of Home & End. I may have to get the old Key Remapper out and do some fiddling. F) Damn the stickers! It's got "Windows XP" and "ATI" stickers right where I rest my wrists; I've got to get the stickers off but I'm afraid of making a dirty mess of stick-um. G) front-loading DVD drive is annoying; side-loading would be much better. H) it's fast, smooth, and beautiful, did I mention I love it like a son?


01-25-04

All this "celebrity poker" on TV is just horrendous. It's excruciating to watch, really really unpleasant. The worst thing is that it's a tease to me - it says "look Charles, there's poker on TV, watch it", and go "ooh, Poker!" (in a Homer voice), and turn it on, and then I see someone go all-in with KTo or some shit like that, or get pocket aces and never bet them at all, and I go "wait a minute, this isn't poker! it's monkeys with a deck of cards!" (and then Homer voice says "I like monkeys" and I say "shut up!"). Anyway, this shit was obviously the idea of some TV producer type. He says "people like poker, and people like celebrities - let's put them together!". Um, no. They don't show celebrity baseball or celebrity basketball, etc. for a reason - when people watch sports they want to see players who are actually good and know how to play. At least Jack Black played pretty well, so I didn't have to lose all respect for him.


01-25-04

Most coaches and sports analysists really have no concept of game play study and theory. For that matter, most people who make and play games don't. Let me consider a simple typical case from the game I'm playing these days, Rugby. The correct way to analyze decisions in a game like this is using probability and EV (Expected Value). In Rugby you are constantly running with the ball and you must decide whether you should keep it or pass. Let's examine. Say if you keep it, you have a 10% chance of scoring, a 50% chance of being tackled and keeping possesion, and 40% chance of being tackled and losing possession. If you pass, the guy will have a 20% chance of scoring, 40 of keeping possessions and 40 of losing. However, your pass has a 75% chance of completing, a 20% chance of being dropped or knocking on for loss of posession, and a 5% chance of an interception for a catastrophic turnover. Now we must assign values to each of these. For concreteness, let's say - scoring is 100 value, keeping possession is 0, losing possession is -10, and interception is -50. So what's the EV of each move? Holding the ball is : 100*.1 + 0*0.5 + -10*0.4 = 10-4 = 6 ; If the pass is made the EV is 100*.2 - 4 = 16. The EV of the pass, however, is 15*0.75 - 10*.2 - 50*.05 = 6.75 ; we see the pass is very slightly better than holding the ball. The main thing this illustrates is all the factors and how delicate they are. For example, if one of you is a bad thrower or bad catacher, that probably throws the balance to where keeping the ball is better. Similarly, if they are in no position to intercept, that makes the pass much higher EV, so even if your catching and throwing aren't the greatest, it's probably worth it.

Another type of analysis that's completely missing from sport is the sort of thinking you have in poker - whenever you make a move that makes them feel sick, that's probably a good move. Similarly the concept of exploiting their weaknesses and playing to your own strengths, I almost never see people or teams do this.


01-08-04

There are three primary types of people in the world (when it comes to work) :

Now, many of the people in charge tend to be type 2, (they're almost never type 1, since you don't get to be in charge by being purely lazy). The type 2's tend to create emergencies so that work gets done. The 2's also believe that everyone else in the world is a type 1, eg. the emergencies are needed to make people work. The 1's think that they're always doing a reasonable amount of work, comparable to the 3's. The 3's refuse to admit that the emergencies serve any purpose at all, and most realize they're not real emergencies.


12-30-03

Fucking dumb broken TiVo software. I want to watch Law & Order. I have a season pass. Hmm.. there are no epsiodes recorded. Why not? Hmm.. Law & Order is on right now (it's always on) and nothing is being taped!? Why not? Hmm.. it's in my Season Pass list, everything looks good. When I View Upcoming episodes, only 1 of the 30 have a record symbol. WTF !? I cancel the season pass and get it again. Ok, now everything looks proper. This is a problem I've known about for a while, it's incredibly frustrating. What makes it even more frustrating is that manipulating your record list takes like several seconds per click, and it's very very annoying. With proper software it would be instantaneous. And don't tell me it's the hardware - even if they put a 1 MHz CPU in the thing (which is slower than you can even buy these days), that would be plenty fast so that all the clicks would be instantaneous (all the fancy video interface shite would have to go, though).

God damn you bad programmers out there! This is what many managers don't understand. Programmers are not interchangeable. The guys who wrote Windows Media Player - they're shite! The guys who wrote the TiVo software - shite! If I was in charge of a team that was making junk like this, I'd be ashamed, and we'd be in there working 24/7 to fix it, but really we never would have written such shite in the first place. This is not difficult stuff, it doesn't require some amazing algorithms, it's just a matter of doing your job somewhat competently. The worst thing is that these packages do have some bits of very good code down in the internals, but the UI and installers and database management and high level stuff is just so bad it hides that.

The TiVo box "We're Sorry.. This might take a minute" should be changed to "We're sorry.. we fucking suck at programming; we were only taught Java in college, we think we're 3lit3 haxors, but we can't code a linked list, and we don't even know what a tree is, we drive BMW's and think Linux is cool."


12-30-03

Dating and serious relationships are so incredibly different, it's amazing that the one turns into the other. Sort of like a caterpillar and butterfly, though often the other way round.


12-30-03

Is my love for Kids In the Hall based solely on their cool theme song?

What's worse - snot hanging from your nose, or snot wiped on your t-shirt? I am faced with this classic dilemma almost daily.

Playing the Game of Life with my family, we encountered an interesting game theory problem. Here it is boiled down - ten players each has a card numbered from 1 to 10 (one of each). They are initially distributed in order, eg. the first player has #1, etc. The game has ten turns (each person goes once). On each turn, first *everyone* collects chips equal to the number on their card. Next, the person whose turn it is may exchange their card with any other card (if they like). Play proceed clockwise through all the players. So, what is the optimal strategy? The naive strategy is to always take #10. The problem with that is the next player will then just take it from you! So, player 1 should do something more like take #7. My brother guesses there's no equilibrium, but he seems to be no fan of game theory.

I can't do math in my head quickly & correctly any more; I used to be able to jump several steps, you know like if you had a problem that goes A-B-C-D, I could just go A..D, you know? Just see the answer. My younger brothers make fun of me. Ha! They too will grow old and feeble-minded soon!


12-29-03

My Christmas trip has gotten me addicted to slovenly short-term pleasures : I play online poker while watching TV, eating desserts, and drinking booze. Arg, it makes me feel sick, but it feels so good!

Cleverness gets you 99% of the way very quickly. The problem is that when you take the fast clever approach, that last 1% is very difficult. For example, in Physics, you can almost write down the answer to most problems based on symmetry and conservation and knowing the basic terms and proportionalities that must be involved. The trouble with this is that you're missing the constant factor in front, and to get it you've got to go do all the full careful work.


12-27-03

I got my brother James the video games XIII ("Thirteen") and KotOR for Christmas. Funny comments overheard as he's playing are - "this game is cool, but I don't care about any Star Wars stories" (as he skips the cinematics in KotOR); "yeah, this game is almost as tedious as Half-Life" (says a friend watching James play a semi-cinematic segment of XIII); James also frequently complained about any way that XIII differed from Halo or Counter-Strike, and about the lack of checkpoints.

I dig XIII. The toon rendering style is cool; I love the little windows they show when you get a head-shot, and they pop up sometimes at surprising times, like when you toss a grenade into an enemy fox-hole. The music is perfect, and the cinematics are gorgeous, and the story isn't in sultingly bad like most games. The weapons are nicely balanced, they feel good, require skill, and each has strengths and weaknesses. It has a lot of annoying gameplay glitches - we died or lost various times and were left going "what the fuck happened?" or "why didn't that work?"; another few months of polish would have been good.


12-27-03

What did our troops die for in Iraq? Apparently it was the right for our country to work on the reconstruction.

When you cleverly dodge your taxes by taking business expenses instead of pay (or using any number of shelters), you are basically screwing the poor. When the rich don't pay their share, the result is that taxes must be higher overall, so the non-rich are forced to make up the difference. Any rich liberal who brags about how cleverly they got their tax payments down to 20% is quite a hypocrite. However, everyone does it, so why not me too? Of course the same thing goes for any tax cuts for the rich; proportionately, that screws the poor. There's no such thing as "it's good for me and it doesn't hurt anyone else". When you reduce your share, that increases others share (proportionately, which is all that matters).

The real defining characteristic of the social environment in the 00 decade (this decade has no real name yet) is the strong formation of "scene" groups,and the fact that all of them are snoby, elitist, unaccepting, cliquey, exclusionary, etc. All the characteristics of the "preppy" crowd in the 90's have been adopted by every scene in the 00's. The so-called punk scene, the retro-ironic scene, the hipsters the emo kids, and the ever-present frat crowd, all of them are fashion-oriented, superficial, condescending, etc. There's no real anti-clique movement, like grunge was for a while in the 90's (before it became a clique of its own), or like the true hippies were, etc. I dub this the "scene" generation, and you are all "scenesters".

Verb. Hit the after-xmas sales. Scanned: Express, GAP, Banana Republic, Urban Outfitters. Depressing - are these the only places that exist to shop? They're all so bland and typical and boring. Of course you can hit the little boutiques too, but 1) they're mainly for women and 2) they're pricey. Back to the thrift stores I go... oh, and I refuse to shop anywhere that sells skater or surf wear, Dickies, or Von Dutch. I prefer a prep to a fake rebel - at least a prep is honest about wanting to fit in and impress people.


12-26-03

Most tech people who aren't business-savvy plan too far ahead. In my experience, there's a certain type of smart tech person who is willfully uninterested in practical matters that they feel shouldn't exist, but do. These people tend to plan to minimize the total long-term work for themselves. That's an extremely bad way to plan. I've been thinking about cross-platform recently. It's not secret that Oddworld is currently Xbox- exclusive, but of course we won't stay that way forever. Maybe we'll just go to Xbox2 when the time comes, or who knows what other platform we'll wind up on. So, how do we prepare for that? Our imaginary techie would make the entire engine cross-platform, abstracted, data-driven. That's huge mistake. My approach - completely ignore the future (for now). Make an Xbox-only engine, make it damn good. When the time comes to deal with another platform, deal with it then. Of course the time frame is important, I'm not considering going cross-platform any time very soon. All your great plans for the future will come to nothing unless your current game is damn good. I see all these startup game companies that are building the "coolest 3d engine ever" which they'll use in "all their future titles". Of course, they don't even finish one, or if they do, it's a bad game. Guess what, that "cool 3d engine" (which was probably crap anyway) goes in the garbage. Better to make your current game good.


12-24-03

Sean Connery is the only decent Bond. He has an amazing rough sexuality which he exudes without ever being crude or forceful. He's my role model for dating - don't say anything crass, just be charming and polite while saying "I will make love to you in the alley on our way out" with your eyes.


12-24-03

My family's been playing Munch a bit in the last few days. They never played it when it came out, and it's been interesting to see them play now. It's been my chance to see it clearly too, since I was tainted close to development. Some things I've seen -


12-20-03

Freaking Joel on Software is a bunch of plattitudes and truisms and the bastard is famous.

I think the modern ironic-rock, tongue-in-cheek 70's style is totally pretentious and condescending, but I like it anyway. It rocks.

Dave at work described some incredibly complicated scheme for short-selling stock. Here's my scheme - you make a contract with someone that goes like this - at the end of the short period, you will buy the stock at the market price at that time, and sell it to them for the price at the beginning of the short. Very simple. If the stock goes down, you make money equal to the difference in price. If the stock goes up, they make money similarly. Why in the world is this system not used?


12-10-03

Our country's entire concept of crime prevention doesn't work on terrorists. We try to prevent crime by punishing criminals, trying to scare would-be criminals with the death penalty and such - look, if you do wrong, think of the consequences. These techniques are very poor against criminals in general (this has been statistically proven; harsher penalties do not reduce crime rates), but especially poor against someone as desperate and determined as a terrorist. Our other major technique is trying to capture them before the fact. This is marred by constant mistakes because it's very hard to exactly identify terrorists. The result is that we end up disturbing the lives of the people and killing many innocents, which of course just increases resentment towards us and breeds more terrorists.


12-10-03

Architecture is almost too powerful an art form. You can make a painting or a photograph that is uncomfortable, sad, bleak, grotesque, sickening. Sure, it may be moving when you look at it, but you can simply look away, and return to the space you're in. When you go into a physical space that makes you feel that way, it sneaks up on you, and then creeps into you, and you feel it from the inside, and you can't escape it - you have to leave. Because of this, the emotional palette of architecture has been limitted to positives - cozy, grand, impressive, elegant, cheery, quiant, etc. We had a brief expansion with Bauhaus and the International style, where a slightly broader palette of positives was introduced - pure, starkly beautiful - though there was something bad about the beginning of the modern period, which was that some architects started making buildings that appealed to critics instead of spaces that could be felt by the average people who were in them. Spaces should be visceral things which are felt at a base level by anyone with a sensitive spine and tingling hairs on the back of their neck (probing the air like antenae). They should not be things you have to ponder and compare to previous works, think of their allegorical meaning, their symbolism or message, that's intellectual snobbery and masturbation.


11-29-03

Government involvement in marriage is ridiculous. It should be a private agreement between two people, which is optionally encoded in a legal contract (essentially what current marriage is). We should remove special legal status for married couples, special tax breaks, etc. it is not the business of the government to be involved in encouraging people to have good Christian lives. Strange how conservatives claim to be so "Laissez-faire" and yet want the government to be involved in subsidizing big business and people who behave like good Christians. In fact, I would say that current laws are a violation of the separation of church & state, since marriage is really a very religious institution, and the various forms of marriage differ greatly from one religion to another. Traditional monogamous marriage is a very Christian thing, and outlawing other forms is very discriminatory.


11-19-03

I finally watched the Nova on String Theory, since I'm home sick for the day. Horrendous, and not just for someone who knows some physics, but just horrendous in general. Four hours and almost totally devoid of information, very repetetive and insultingly simplified. I think that any smart person who doesn't know physics would have felt the same way. When I watch the Novas on other fields, biology, chemistry, etc. I find them to be too simple, lacking in depth. There's also a way that programs like that could talk to multiple levels at the same time; just toss out a little bit of more advanced stuff once in a while and you'll keep the higher level people occupied. In fact, the program was very un-compelling. String Theory is really magical and amazing stuff; when I learned it, it sent shivers down my spine, literally, the things that come together to make it possible are just astounding - the magical cancellations of the infinities, the dimensions and symmetry groups, the fact that it just so happens that the Standard Model is found inside the only possible string theory, it is like the theory was meant to be - and that's why people have stuck with it through so many difficulties. The show gave none of that impression, really.

There is no good description of quantum mechanics for the lay person. I bet I could write one. Quantum mechanics is definitely correct; even if it's not the way the universe works, it's correct as a model. That is, even if the universe works in some other unknown way, QM is still correct as a predictive model. In fact, under some philosophies of science, all you can ever do is form a predictive model. That is, let's say we did have a "Theory of Everything" - let's say String Theory worked out and explained everything. Now, is the universe actually made of strings? Who knows! In fact, what does it mean to say "actually made of" ? All we can say is that string theory is an incredibly good *model* of the universe. We can say that the model of the universe acting as strings predicts the same thing that actually occurs. I think that even many scientists fail to grasp this and believe that when they work with strings, it means the universe is actually made of strings. That's ok, it's a form of religion, and it helps to make thought clearer.

Quantum mechanics requires you to visualize branching amplitude trees, state overlaps and collapses, probability amplitude spreading and coupling and forming conditional probabilities, etc. Even plain probability is very difficult and paradoxical to most people, amplitudes (square roots of probabilities) are even more bizarre, and the idea that the universe works this way is just incomprehensible to most.


11-19-03

Green leaf lettuce is the lowest form of lettuce. Boston is better, Butter, Romaine, even Red Leaf & Iceberg have more character.

I've had a bit of an epiphany about manipulation. Yes, sure, there is lots of manipulation and lying in the world, but there's also this idea of "helping people do what they really want to do". Most people won't do what they really want to. If you just ask someone "do you want to go to the lake and go skinny-dipping?", they might love to, but they can't say yes for various reasons. You need to help them to be able to say what they really want to say. This "help" often takes the same forms as manipulation. Manipulation of course is getting people to agree to something they don't really want to, and the techniques are very similar. I'm learning that I need to help people along.

I went to Vegas last weekend. It was a good time (it was also pretty damn expensive). It's my first time going, so part of the purpose was just to check it out, see the spectacle and whatnot. We went out dancing and clubbing, that was good, there are some definite nice clubs in Vegas. I dig dressing up in my fly gear and talking to the ladies, and there was some really interesting people-watching. The whole seedy-Vegas-slot-machine thing is really disgusting, as is the way everyone is trying to take all your money all the time; I hate being around so many people who live off tips, it brings out greed and pettiness and just a nasty side of humanity; I'm pretty disgusted by the whole Disney-land aspect of the really fake casinos too. I like the old-school classy joints that don't really have much of a theme; even if they're starting to decay a little bit, that doesn't bug me, I don't really like things to be sparkling brand new. I'd like to go back some time in the summer when it's hot, so I can spend all day at a nice pool, and all night in dance clubs, and maybe hit the blackjack a tiny bit. I played some poker in Vegas, but playing ring games just isn't that much fun for me. It is a big thrill when you win a big pot, so it's fun to sit down and play enough to do that, you get a big adrenaline rush, your hands shake, etc. Proper poker in a casino is like work. I played some blackjack, and that was more fun; some of the tables were rotten boring, but on the last day we got a fun table, mainly we made it fun ourselves, and we were winning money and hooting and it was all good. After the trip I felt hung over and smokey and un-fit and drained. Time for a cleansing.

My grandpa died a little while ago, and now I get paid by his life insurance. It sucks. Every month I get a reminder in the mail that my grandpa is gone.


11-11-03

What really sucks is being smart enough to realize how things should be done, but not skilled enough to actually do them that way.


11-6-03

People think about what they deal with daily, not what they're interested in. I have lots of thoughts about games; I don't real give a rat's ass about games, but I have lots of great ideas for how to do them better. If I worked at a toaster factory, I'd be writing papers on how to improve toasters. I always chuckle when I see some guy who's got a patent on something like "method for vibrational damping of corn syrup injection in snack cakes".


11-5-03

If someone tries to hang you : first, bend your knees, try to let your weight rest in the noose, don't support yourself with your legs. Death by hanging is caused by the sudden jerk breaking the neck, not strangulation. Now, when they kick out the chair or open the trap-door, you have already got your weight in the noose, and you should be able to ease into the hang. Try to get a big breath of air right before they do it. Now, make a strangling noise and twitch a bit, then twitch your fit, then be perfectly still and play dead. Hopefully now they'll assume you're dead and either A) cut you down, or B) leave. If they leave, pull yourself up the rope with your arms. Once you have some slack, wrap your left arm in the rope tightly so you can hang your weight on it without using your muscles. Pull the noose with your right arm to get some slack into it so you can slip out.


11-5-03

In all traditional media, you know where you are in the experience. With books, you can feel the number of pages before and after the current, with television, you know the duration and the current time, with movies you have the convention of the standard duration. This is a major part of our experience; if a mystery starts wrapping up and you know it's only half-way done, you know there's a big twist yet to come. If on the other hand you're near the end of a book and a mystery is wrapping up, you know it's the real wrap-up, and you commit yourself to it emotionally. Now, if someone suddenly hands you another book and says "surprise, there's a second volume!" you feel betrayed, bothered that the end was held in front of you and didn't come. This happens with movies that are longer than the conventional hour and a half. When the movie keeps giving false wrap-ups and then just keeps going, we feel emotionally strung along, and we just want it to be over already. With modern electronic media, we have the occasion now to provide variable length experiences and not let the consumer know where they are or how long the experience is. This is generally a bad thing, it's disorienting to the consumer. It can sometimes be used to artful purpose to convey a sense of being lost in the story, but almost always it's done without being aware of how important this idea of knowing your position in the experience is.


11-2-03

I'm a rugby player now, on the local SLO Rugby team. It's Division III amateur, but they're pretty serious, they went to nationals last year and plan to do it again this year. I'm a winger; it's the perfect position for me, because I'm pretty fast, but small by rugby standards (180 lbs, a mere 81 kilos), and my passing isn't very good, so winger is ideal because I mainly just take the last pass and run. I had my first real game yesterday, an exhibition match against Cal Poly (their 2nd team) to start our season. I scored a try - pretty rare for a first game. It was a beautiful team try, I take no credit - we were near their goal line and our forwards were crashing in; their defense bunched up to stop our forwards, and our scrum-half kicked the ball out to the backs; our backs charged and passed the ball down the line at a nice angle, and I was last in line, took the ball at good pace with a burst and beat the last defender to the outside. Today I'm in great pain, I took a beating all over. The worst hit was when I got tackled right in my thigh by a guy diving into me; it's given me a horrendous "charlie horse", and my whole thigh (quadricep) is like one big knot, I can barely stand on it. I'm taking aspirin, icing it, heating it, stretching, massaging, etc. I need to get it rehabilitated quickly so I can get back to training. I need to run run run and work on my skills.


10-30-03

I'd like to make an electronica album where every song sounds smooth either as a loop, or going into the next song. What that requires basically is that the boundary of every song is basically the same, some simple beat. the goal would be to do this without it feeling repetetive or forced. Then, you could put the album on shuffle and just listen to it forever and it would always sound totally smooth and be a different experience each time. Of course even better would be to have the album sort of generated and mixed and beat-matched on the fly on your PC.


10-30-03

Here's a new internet project - The Political Connection Machine, kind of like GNOD or something. Have a bot that scans the net and all kinds of public records and look for things like - people owning lots of stock in companies, meetings with CEO's, people who worked closely together in the past, companies who donated to various campaigns or lobbying groups, etc. then draw the connections and graph the beautiful spider web that comes out. The purpose is not for information, it's for art. The web of lines of different thicknesses would be beautiful.


10-28-03

I was away for the weekend and made a beautiful connection with my family; it's helped me enormously to have had that experience, and if any of you are visiting my page, I thank you. It's wonderful to be around people who love you and you can really talk to about important things, not just everyday tedium. It's kind of hard to be back to work, but also exciting to come back to my home as a different person.


10-23-03

I despise the Yankees. They just buy anyone they want; the team is full of veterans with the best post-season stats of anyone in sports; they have no character, no pluck, no team spirit, they don't play *fun*. Compare them to the Angels last year, or the Athletics, or the Twins or the Marlins - little teams on tiny budgets that bring up talent, play team ball, and find ways to win. Hurray for the underdog! ; addendum - Marlins win! Hurrah!


10-23-03

Most of us live our lives like a greedy search - that is, we make improvements every day when we can, but we try to only move towards short-term better lives. This is all well and good, but "life quality" is not a linear function, so there are severe local maxima where you get stuck; that is, you get to a spot in your life where it's pretty good, but not great, but then you can't make any changes, because any change would make your life worse; you don't want to give up a lot in order to make a big improvement. This happens in everything (jobs, friends, lovers, houses) - you get something pretty good, and you don't want to give it up because to be without for a while as you search for something better is just too unbearable. If you want to reach real maxima, you have to do the same things you do in computer science to improve the greedy search - 1) Simulated Annealing type searches - basically this means randomly trying some completely different things from time to time; as you try them, you pick the one that looks most promising; over time, you reduce the randomness; so, initially you're trying things that are just totally different, then over time your search should converge and you try things that are pretty close to the maximum you've found. 2) Genetic algorithms - you can treat all the other people in the world as other genotypes that are exploring this search space; then, the driver algorithm can examine the people with the highest quality of life; you then try to "cross" some of their properties and try again; often that cross has also already been tried for you, so you don't have to try them all yourself; basically this turns into following the example of people you think have succeeded in searching the space, and perhaps combining a few.


10-19-03

The invasion of Iraq was completely ridiculous and unjustifiable. I've written about this a lot, so if you want more details, see below. This all feels a lot like the Kafka book, "The Trial". People all around me are debating whether the sky is purple or yellow. What!? How can you even debate such a thing!? It's absurd! Of course we weren't intervening for humanitarian reasons - we did nothing when Saddam was actually killing his people, we're doing nothing in Africa as Mugabe and others continue to kill. Of course we're not trying to stop terrorism - if we were we'd make a serious effort to make peace in Palestine (instead of quite intentionally dis-engaging the peace process). Of course Saddam was not a threat - we had no evidence that he even had weapons, much less that he was plotting to use them against America (and had a chance of doing so). It's just propesterous that the Bush administration is even taken seriously, they're such insulting lies, they treat the American public like the easily manipulated morons that they are. Of course, the Bush administration does this on countless issues; they're "helping the environment" by crippling the EPA, etc.. I imagine it almost like a dare; Bush, Cheney, Rummy, Card, etc. get together and have a laugh and say "what ridiculous farce are we going to pass off as incontrovertable fact this week?".


10-19-03

Politicians who do economic analysis are such dumb shits. They say Indian Casinos are good for an area, because those Casinos spend millions on roads, hire local workers, buy local services, etc. Hmm.. if a Casino spends $1 million locally, it probably took in $10 million in profit. That money is coming almost entirely from lower/middle class people who live locally. What if the casino wasn't there? The people would spend their money locally. So, with no Casino, you get $10 million of local spending. So, essentially by having a Casino, you're losing $9 million. Where's that money going? To the executives of the management company running the casino, to the bankers and investors that bank-roled it, etc.

Money should be looked at like a fluid. It flows, it doesn't come out of no where, and it doesn't just disappear. It comes from people and goes to people. What you want is money to flow from outside systems to local systems. Just generating a lot of activity and exchange of money is not inherently good. If I go to my neighbor and we trade money over and over, we're not improving the economy or anyone's lives at all. When you do something like bring a Casino to town, all you're doing is creating a spigot, an outlet for the money fluid to flow to these mega-rich who operate the Casino. It's important to note here that I'm talking about Indian Casinos which draw primarily from local people, not Resort Casinos like Las Vegas which are tourist attractions and cause money to flow into the state.

Money flow and systems acts as a sort of "screw your neighbor". When you open an Indian Casino, you do create a little local flow from the neighboring community into the immediate area around the Casino. If you look at the system within a 100 mile radius, there's a net loss, as I detailed above, but the small area around the Casino gets a net bonus. Because much of politics is very selfish and small-time, we get these "net loss / local win" propositions all the time.


10-19-03

I've got a new LCD monitor for home; it's a Planar PX191. I've got two 22" CRT's at work, and the result is that I'm pissed off at both monitors. After looking at an LCD, the CRT's look incredibly blurry, so much so that my eyes feel strange when I look at them (CRT's are the reason I have to wear glasses). On the other hand, the LCD refresh rate is annoying (40 fps) after being used to CRTs, especially with scrolling text (like just doing "dir" in a big directory). LCDs are worthless for games. I was told that CRT's still have better brightness and contrast, but the LCD seems to have *way* more of both than any CRT I've ever had. The damn thing is sharp and bright. mush.

I'm running my LCD vertical now, rotated 90 degrees, at 1024x1280. It's quite excellent; it's wide enough to fit any reasonable line of text, and it gives me a lot more lines on the page. I'm using it for coding, and it's perfect, I get to see lots of lines, it's plenty wide, all good. I'm surprised I've never seen it before, and it makes me realize how silly the 4:3 aspect ratio is. We've just stuck to it for no particular reason all these years. I'd love to have two vertical LCD's side by side. That would be the bomb.

One funny thing about LCD's is how it brings out all the quirks in Windows and the GUI. Any drawing that's not anti-aliased stands out like a sore thumb. Any refresh that's not double-buffered flashes like mad. There's also tons of funny stipple in windows, lots of shading that's alternative on/off pixels. On a CRT, that just looks like half-toning, but on an LCD, it has texture, you actually see the on/off pixels.


10-17-03

This is some of the best beer in the world - Affligem


10-16-03

It's crazy to me how far ahead the Amiga was back in the day. I long for its sweet fast GUI - instant full-window drags, never a slow refresh, on a 7 MHz CPU for gods sakes! On my 3 GHZ CPU in a damn win-tel box I can see my screen flicker and my icons refresh one by one and windows struggles to draw them. Apps started up blazing fast on my poor Amy, which had 512K of RAM, and a CPU almost 1000 times slower!! The Amy's GUI (BOOPSI) architecture was sweet and fast and extensible; the task-swapping and multi-threading was awesome, unmatched in any OS; the task-swap was literally like 10 clocks, totally pre-emptive. Well written apps would never ever have a GUI stall. The extensive device layer was just awesome; you could map virtual named drives to any location or function, such as COM: , LPT:, HTTP: , XPK: (a compressor), RAM: (a ram disk), etc. Funny people even made SCREEN: devices so you could copy files to the screen, etc. The Amy Screen system was rocking; it let you run multiple apps *in different video modes* simultaneously - and let you instantly switch between them, and even see multiple of them at much!! This was faccilitated by the Copper GPU which was able to switch video modes during a horizontal sync, so you could have totally separate screens across horizontal break lines. I miss programming for the sweet little Amy; I knew her elegant OS and loved it; I wanted to memorize the RKRM (ROM Kernel Reference Manual) and be a master of the many co-pro's. It's too bad I was so young then, I would have loved to work on games on the Amy, it would have been a fun time of simplicity, low-to-the-bone, groovy goodness.

Which reminds me of a huge software engineering rant - for fucks sake, all you bad bad programmers : your GUI should be on a thread, and it should be very high priority; it should just process clicks and run the basic GUI functions; your GUI should *always* be blazing fast and responsive, even if you're doing some major computation or IO or whatever in the background.


10-16-03

I think my kitties have poision oak on their fur, I'm scared to pet them. They're going crazy cuz they want love so bad, but I don't want to touch them. I need to bathe them, but man is that a tough ordeal. Bathing cats is something you need a partner to do, and it thoroughly tests your rapore with each other - you must be in sync, work well as a team, give & take orders, be strong, sacrifice yourself for the good of the two, etc.


10-16-03

My letter to the NYT from a few weeks ago:

The October 4 editorial "Sound-Biting the Deficit" suggests that Tom DeLay and the Republican Congress are engaging in disingenuous politicking by simultaneously pushing for tax cuts and a balanced budget amendment. The reality may be far more sinister : if a balanced budget amendment were passed and the Bush tax cuts were made permanent (as the president is advocating), Congress would be constitutionally required to severely cut government programs. This would provide the excuse to dismantle Welfare, Medicare, and Social Security which "starve the beast" Republicans dream of. Unfortunately, "balanced budget" and "low taxes" are both phrases which the average American voter seems unable to resist.


10-5-03

In order to be a famous sports player, you can't be too workman-like. If you just dominate and give your team big leads and win games, you will be celebrated, but you won't be a thing of legend. The real legends are inconsistent, emotional, fickle, they don't put in their best effort until the last minute and then they save the day. These guys lead their teams to great comebacks, and that's what people remember. Nobody tells stories of the game when you were in the lead the whole time - they want stories of amazing last-minute comebacks. They way you do that is by first screwing up. This is why John Elway and Brett Favre are celebrated quarterbacks - they both kind of suck, they throw lots of picks early in the game and usually start badly, but they have a well of reserves of great play that they can turn on at the last minute and run the "two minute drill" beautifully.

The same is true of employees. If you just go to work every day and do a good job, management doesn't notice you. If, on the other hand, you thoroughly screw things up and then put in an amazing effort to save things, you're a big hero. This isn't so much a fault of management as it is the fact that people who do unusual things get noticed more than poor shlubs who just do their best and don't stand out.


10-2-03

Parenting is tricky. Not all the silly logistic crap that comedians talk about, but the way you are psychologically sculpting another human being. So many of your little actions can have profound affects on your child's whole life. You come home from work, you're tired, you just want some peace, your daughter tries to show you a drawing she made, and you yell at her and tell her to get out of the room. Uh oh, she's shy and insecure for life.

One tough issue is what to do with kids who don't want to do anything. Most kids are too "cool" for lots of activities. The question then is whether to let them do nothing or to force them to go to soccer practice, piano lessons, whatever. Often if you force them it will make them hate that activity just because they were being made to do it.

Another tough issue is how to react to your child's success. Obviously you want to encourage success, applaud them when they get good grades, etc. but it's very easy for this to be interpretted by the child as "you're only loved when you do well". This leads to obsessive perfectionism. Much of parenting seems like a tricky tight-rope walk : make your child feel like they're the center of the world - but not too much!! Of course, it's not that hard if you just truly love and respect your child and treat them as another human being, and if you treat all people well, but such parents do not exist.

People who molest children or look at child pornography, I just can't understand at all. They must have some missing circuit that disconnects how their actions affect others. I mean, think of how they're fucking up that child - how could they do that to another human being? I suppose the same is true for rapists - there's just some depraved indifference to how your actions are ruining someone else, or perhaps even an intentional desire to fuck up someone else's life. The scary thing is that if you add up the child molestors and child pornographers and rapists (including "date rape"), you have *at least* 10% of the male population. This is not some crazy fringe, they're your neighbors and coworkers.


9-30-03

How in the fuck can you look me in the eye and tell me that marijuana should be illegal, but guns should be legal? Oh yes, it might be good fun for you to blow away deer with your 50-caliber, or shoot at beer cans with your semi-automatic, but guns are fucking deadly weapons, unlike marijuana which never hurt anybody. This one just amazes me. Oh yes, marijuana leads to violence and drug dealers - um, guess what, guns lead to violence and deaths, directly! Get a fucking clue, America!


My kitty Potemkin is so sweet and nice, but he's kind of clumsy. He also rather smells, he needs a bath now but he always gets kind of stinky for a cat. He gets freaked out easily and jumps away from me and claws me. The result is that I don't really like him to sit on my lap. I also have a kitty Kaya who I usually call Little One, who is graceful and beautiful and I love him to sit with me. Poor Potemkin, I know he has a good heart, but I'd rather spend my little bit of time with the spritely and charming Kaya.

If this was a poem and not a web rant, the metaphor wouldn't need to be pointed out.


We should go back to a terminal model for notebooks. I want a powerful desktop at home and at work, and a little terminal notebook on WiFi that can talk to both to them. It could have a medium sized disk and no peripherals, just a good screen, decent CPU and RAM. It's mainly a data transfer box and a way to be able to type text & code while sitting on the couch or whatever. They could sell for like $600 with a pretty good 15" TFT LCD.


9-25-03

The conservative anti-tax crusade is destroying America. It sure feels like a vast conspiracy. They're lying to and mis-leading the American public about the way government spends and the ability to cut. The people (being badly educated by under-funded public education systems) are easily fooled into thinking "taxes bad, money good". The result is the starvation of government, which will cause it to horrendously implode. Seriously, this is not about "cutting fat" - you cannot make up $1 trillion by cutting fat - you have cut real services, like education, welfare, social security, medicare. The vast majority of these are services which help the less-fortunate to survive and improve in life. Instead, these people are going to be forced into a service class.

Which leads to be a big problem I see - America is headed for the shitter. Our government is going to shit, which means our education system is going to shit. America is the most productive economy in the world because of education. Our education system has led to the internet boom, telecom, genetics, etc. etc. Furthermore, people in mid-level jobs, like technicians, engineers, etc. are being forced out of the middle class, no longer able to buy homes, send their children to college, etc. Already things like low-level computer programming jobs are moving out of this country. All these middle-range jobs will be gone, because it's too expensive to do them here, they'll be done in the up & coming countries of the world. America will shift to a work-force of ultra-wealthy high end managers (who are usually managing a work-force that's primarily overseas), and another segment that is below the poverty line, doing the gardening and cooking and service work to maintain the high end. Sure, there will be a small middle segment of people who entertain the high end, but the vast skilled middle of manufacturing and production and technology will be gone. Eventually this will destroy America's entreprenuerial pool as well. People who have good ideas and make startups come from the middle segment; entrepreneurs are by definition people who haven't run a company before, people who aren't yet in the upper echelon, who got skilled by actually working in some field and now are starting a company from that skill. In the future these mid-level skilled people will be in India, China, Korea, etc. not America.

How could we prevent this? I'm not sure if we can. With the massive misleading and ambivalence of the American public, the callow puppet masters will have their way. It's not even clear what the solution is. Clearly we need to keep a strong support system in place, we must shore up education, make it the best education system in the world; offer cheap college to anyone who gets good grades, offer small classes and adequate funding in public schools, etc.

Medicare and Social Security are very hard problems. Clearly the insurance and pharmaceutical industries are raping the American tax-payer, and our government is protecting them. All over the world, governments are trying to force our pharma companies to sell their drugs for only small profits, and our government is viciously defending them by doing things like cutting off funding to organizations that demand reasonable prices for drugs. Social Security may be even worse. Life expectancy keeps going up, and birth rate is going down. We will have more and more non-working old people that can't support themselves. Due to our morality code, we won't just let them die, so we'll spend a fortune keeping them alive to 100, 120, 150. Japan will face this crisis well before us; by 2020 their population will be 50% non-working elderly. This is a major world-wide disaster for the developed nations, and clearly can't be sustained. Medical advances that prolong life are a big disaster. The elderly do clearly have more discretionary money than they need. Social Security should be cut down to a minimum. A lot of semi-intelligent people say "look at all the money in social security - if that was invested properly it would return a huge amount!". Um, no. The first problem with that is that the payout to the elderly is *much* bigger than the interest earnable on the principle; thus the money we pay to social security cannot go into savings to accrue interest, it must go directly to paying current recipients of social security. The second problem is that the # of recipients of social security is growing faster than the number of payers. Thus the drain on the balance is ever growing, and there's no way you could invest it and pay off the needs from interest. The money paid into social security simply cannot sit long enough to be invested and accrue any interest.


9-21-03

Terrel Owens is severly over-rated. He's okay, but he's a mediocre to poor catcher. People are blown away by his Adonis-like physique, and they forget how often he drops easy passes. There are a lot of better receivers, like Marvis Harrison of the Colts and Eric Moulds of the Bills. Randy Moss is similarly over-rated. So are all the "physical" quarterbacks - Daunte Cullpepper, Donovan McNabb, Mike Vick, etc.


9-21-03

I think there's a very easy way to make money betting on sports - bet the spread, and always bet against the team in the major market or with the biggest stars. These teams are over-rated and over-bet, so all you have to do is bet against them on the spread. Their team may win the game, but you win the spread. This works because of the principles I outlined earlier in these rants. If you do this, you should bet near the end of the week, after the common man has had a chance to influence the line. The only problem with this is the "rake" or "vig" that the house takes, which will destroy your margin.


9-21-03

I've never met anyone who thinks about money wisely in their daily life. They conserve money foolishly and spend it ridiculously. For example, people consider paying $20 to join our Poker game too much. But is it? You'll play for 4-5 hours, and you do have some chance of winning. For a good player, that actually makes the game free, because you win often enough that your average cost is $0, but the silly people still see it as "costing $20". Even for a bad player, maybe it costs $15. That's $15 for several hours of fun, much cheaper than buying a video game, for example. People will buy cheap products that are a little cheaper, but much lower quality, like poor meat, store brand Macaroni & Cheese, generic tires for their car, etc. All the savings from that add up to like $500/yr and make a big difference in quality of life. On the other hand, they go out a lot and get glasses of wine at restaurants for $7/glass, when you can get a whole bottle for $4 ! Again, that would be fine if you're doing it because you really enjoy the experience, but you do have to realize it's a big cost and that's a huge chunk of your entertainment budget.

Perhaps the biggest mistake people make is spending a lot of time to make very little or save very little. For example, people will spend weeks shopping around trying to find the best price on a TV. In the end they might save $100 because of this. But they spent 10 hours looking at all the different stores! That means they only saved $10/hour, which is good if they're making minimum wage, but if your salary is much more than that, you're wasting time. This becomes especially pointed once your salary is very high. For example, an execute making $100/hour or more should do almost nothing to save money outside of work. All you should do is work or enjoy yourself. You should not mow your own lawn, clip coupons, shop around, etc. (unless you enjoy those things). If you feel up to doing some work to make some money, you should work for your job. At some point you shouldn't even drive yourself to work, you should get a driver and a laptop and work on your commute (again, unless you enjoy the drive).

There's an awesome Smith's song about the death of a pop star, and how the record company releases compilation albums as soon as he dies, and how they have a party and are so glad he's dead -- I think of this as I see all the Johnny Cash albums come out. Damn, I can't remember the name of the song!


9-21-03

I have a big problem with the Jewish establishment. I'm sure I'll be lambasted as being "anti-semitic" for saying that, and that's exactly my problem. The Jewish establishment has become the most defensive reactionary group in the world these days. If you say anything criticizing the practice of Jews, Zionists, or Israel, you are an "anti-semite" and it's defamatory and it must be stopped. One recent strong example of this was when Harvard's President, Larry Summers, criticized several of his professors for supporting Palestine. Many Jews believe that any support of "Political Islam" is a form of anti-semitism. This is ridiculous and reactionary. Jews will deny that there is a massive Jewish control network, but of course there is! They claim that the idea that "Jews run Hollywood" or "Jews run Wall Street" is ridiculous, but again - of course they do! Not so much anymore, but they still have influence far beyond their numbers. Jews largely started Hollywood and Wall Street and still have huge influence and power there. Furthermore, Jews have massive influence on the American government, as evidenced by our extremely friendly support of Israel, beyond anything that's politically reasonable. Jews also are in extreme positions of power in the major liberal media outlets, which leads to very little anti-Israel news getting out (and if it did, a huge outcry of anti-semitism would shut it down). The "anti-semitism" card is worse now than the sexist or racist card was a few years ago, it's the remaining tool of extreme political-correctness, one that they take incredible seriously. Now, of course I believe that real anti-semitism is horrible, just like real racism, real sexism, etc. but anti-Zionism or anti-Israeli dialog is NOT anti-semitism. I can think that the political actions of Israel are horrible without having anything against Judaism. Now, what about Mel Gibson's movie? He's being attacked as an anti-semite for portraying Jews capturing and killing Jesus Christ. This is somewhat complicated because it seems Mel Gibson actually is an anti-semite who should rightly be dragged through the mud. *However* so far as I can tell, there's nothing anti-semitic about his movie, he's simply showing the facts - the Jews did (with the Romans) capture and kill Jesus Christ, they considered him a heretic. Even prior to Gibson flying off the handle he was being lambasted as anti-semitic for showing the facts. That's ridiculous. The same thing happens when someone writes an article about the Israeli government firing on Palestinian children, bull-dozing apartment complexes, driving the Palestinians into poverty, enforcing curfews, treating the Palestinians just like Jews in a Ghetto. Those are just the facts, but it creates a wave of cries of "anti-semite", just like cries of "communist!" or "witch!".


9-20-03

I got my wisdom teeth out yesterday, so I'm stuck just moping around the house. I watched all 3 Godfather movies (for the first time). The first two are good, if a little slow and sappy. Coppola makes better wine than movies. Anyway, it's really funny to watch Al Pacino change between the first two movies and the third. In the first two, his character is pretty quiet, reserved, and Pacino shows a variety of emotions. By the time the third movie was filmed, Pacino was becoming his "hoo-ha" character, always bellowing, always over-acting. Pacino's bellowing gesticulating self was good in the Dick Tracy movie. I kept imagining that while watching Godfather III. Sofia Coppola was horrendous in GF3 and now she's way over-rated as a director (Virgin Suicides was pretentious crap).


9-20-03

Fucking BlockBuster. Every time I go there they screw me over and I swear I'll never go back, then I have to go back for something and they screw me again. The biggest screw was in Houston one time I rented some movies and then returned them to a different BlockBuster location by accident. I didn't realize what had happened until the first location sent me a bill for like $150.00 for lost movies. I called over and over and waited on hold and cursed and they gave me all this shit about how they couldn't track the movies at the other location, etc; eventually, it got straightened out.

I can't stand TV news. On all channels it's dominated by media talking heads making predictions about things they don't know. Show me journalists talking about the recent *past* , not the *future* so they can actually give me facts which I can learn from !!

Did President Bush lie about the case for invading Iraq? Of course! The administration all along wanted to topple Saddam Hussein, wanted to establish a base in the Middle East, etc. It had nothing to do with the war on terror on weapons of mass destruction. I just cannot fucking believe that this is even a matter of debate. There were these reported "links to Al Qaeda" that Bush quoted which the administration had to admit were backed by little to no evidence. Furthermore, if we really cared about Al Qaeda, we'd be doing more work in Afghanistan & Pakistan!! In reality we don't *want* to catch Osama bin Laden, because if we did catch him the public's support for the Bush war games would die down. The other reason for invading Iraq was these Weapons of Mass Destruction. Now, first of all, the evidence for them was very weak, second they weas no evidence they were an impending threat to the US, third, there are countless more dangerous countries with worse weapons, fourth, *we* gave them those weapons, fifth, even if all of what the administration said was true, that still doesn't give us the right to invade a sovereign power and take out their government without the support of the international security. Now, about these WMD's. Yes, I believe that the CIA had some hints that Saddam had them. But what did Bush say? He said that Iraq *HAS* WMD's, not "We have some possibly correct intelligence which loosely links Saddam to WMD's". Just as a topic for you to consider, recall that in the days before 9/11 the CIA was seeing a lot of intelligence indicating that there would be a massive terrorist attack using commercial airliners. This intelligence was not acted upon because there was not sufficient evidence indicating that it was accurate, and the CIA said something like "we receive lots of information about terrorist attacks, and very little of it is accurate, so we can't create hysteria over every bit of 'chatter' we see". So, based on chatter we can't protect our country, but we can invade Iraq. Draw your own conclusions.


9-07-03

Charles Shaw is the wine for the semi-intelligent; the thing that really gets me about it is people who drink it think they're so clever. Hey, don't be insulted, that's better than most of the world, which isn't even doing as well as you. Charles Shaw costs $1.99/bottle and tastes very plain, no bite, no complexity, no depth, but drinkable. Good for sangria. Certainly some uses of it are good - sangria, big parties, stuff like that. For most purposes - why would you drink $1.99 wine when you can get quite excellent wine for $3.99 or $4.99 ? Those two dollars are just not a very good savings. Now some people have learned that Charles Shaw is made by Franzia, and they've stopped liking it. Yes, of course that kind of information changes the taste; expensive wine tastes better if you know it's expensive. Side information like that really does affect the senses, it's a complicated thing; art looks better if you know it's made by a famous artist, etc. Anyway, the Franzia thing should be no surprise, most of the wine in the world is made by a few mega-corporations which just put different labels and prices on their product; the major wine groups make everything from box wine to $100/bottle stuff, but they try their damndest to hide it. Go get yourself a bottle of the Bear's Lair Cabernet at Trader Joe's for $3.99 or a bottle of anything by Montes (I think they're Argentinian) for $4.99 at "Cost Plus" aka "World Market". There's no reason to ever spend more than $8.99 on a bottle of wine if you're not a real connosieur. "connosieur" is French for "one who knows". And it's "know" in the "experience of the world" sense, not the "book-knowledge logical reasoning" sense.


9-07-03

I want a combined I-pod/cell phone/Palm/digital camera/voice recorder ; I want all of them to be quality and I want the whole thing to about the size of a deck of cards. I bought a Pentax Optio-S digital camera; it's 3.2 mega-pixels, smaller than a deck of cards, pretty nifty, easy to take everywhere. Carrying it and a cell phone is too much, though, I can only handle one or the other. Seems to me this combined device shouldn't be very hard. The big parts are : LCD screen, Hard disk, lens, CCD, cell antenna, chips. The storage for all the devices can just be the disk, they can all use the same CPU and the same LCD; you should really be able to make the combined device about the same size as an I-Pod, since big hard-disks already exist that are much smaller than the one in the I-Pod. I think it could be sold for about $600.

Followup - this is a start in the right direction - Motorola A920


9-07-03

I want to offer love and greetings and kindness to the world.

On that note, people who scream or honk at bicyclists from their cars should be killed. I want to tie them up and beat them with a household hammer until each and every one of their bones is nothing but splinters. Die in pain, you bastards.

I used to think most people were inherently shit, and fuck 'em, I don't have time for them, I was going to be one of the greatest physicists who ever lived, I didn't have time for them. My opinion of others hasn't really changed, but my opinion of myself has gone straight down the toilet, putting us more on the level, and even aside from that I want to offer smiles and friendliness to people, not scowls and coldness.

I wish Tivo had a 5-second skip. I would skip through the boring bits of shows; 5 seconds is a very long time to be bored.


9-04-03

Still sick; drinking Robitussin (they have so many varieties now it's hard too choose! I just want the red liquid stuff!). My head is all loopy and I can't work, so I'll just ramble to the web. I miss the connection and people of Burning Man, the generosity and compassion and connection. Maybe all you wise web readers out there can help me find similar worlds? I want places where people are rewarded for being themselves and giving what they have to offer, not mocked, where people laugh together, without sarcasm. Even Burning Man didn't completely live up to that ideal, but I'm sure there are small conclaves where it is true, if even just briefly.


9-03-03

(preamble : I know you're going to think this rant is related to my recent Burning Man trip, but it's not, it's actually a thought I've had for a long time and have expressed verbally before).

I enjoy doing various drugs ocassionally, but not in a habitual way; I like them as a perception-altering device, something that makes you experience the world in a different way. I'm very sensitive to this type of thing, even little feelings like unusual temperatures can alter my senses and give me a very different view of the world. Things like looking through binoculars, or seeing the world from a moving car or train - these things change and heighten my perceptions in a powerful way, which helps me see new things or experience new things in the world. Mind-altering drugs are particularly great because they make you *behave* differently than you normally would, which leads to different experiences and a broadening of your life. I'm not interested in permanently changing my experience of the world, I see these things as vacations from my ordinary life, which change you when you get back. Going to an exotic place has a lot of the same effect, you behave differently, see new things, and when you get back to ordinary life, you're changed because of it. I contrast this to the way most people use alcohol or nicotine or cannabis, which is just to enhance their experience of their ordinary life, to make it more pleasant, more bearable; they don't really learn anything or experience anything new because of it. That's ok too, it's just a very different thing.


9-03-03

I'm just back from Burning Man (and the several-day trance that followed). It was incredible. I won't write about it here.

Does our personality come from our genes or our environment? Are you a bastard because of your genetics or your parents? The funny thing about this debate is that your *self* is left entirely out of it; is there really any self, though? So, maybe you're a bastard because you choose not to think about your own actions? Why do you choose that? Because you want short-term pleasure, not work for the long-term. Why do you want that? Because your low-level pleasure responses are stronger than your will-power? Why is that? genetics or environment. This argument of reduction of the mental picture is an easy way to remove the "self" from responsibility.


8-20-03

Thoughts on the Atkins diet - first of all, I think it's ridiculous the way everyone in America is dieting these days. I've been working out and watching my diet since I was 15, about ten years now; at first I was kind of out of place; I'd go to an aunt's for dinner and they'd make some cheesy butter-drenched thing that I would just hate to have to eat. These days when I go to an aunt's they're serving low-fat ice cream, low-carb cookies, and all manner of ridiculous food. Which brings me to another rant - if you want to eat healthy food, eat grilled fish, eat vegetables, eat natural delicious good food, don't eat chemical bizarre artificial "healthy" versions of unhealthy foods! don't eat low-carb cakes for desert and low-fat soy bacon for breakfast, have yogurt for desert and ham for breakfast!

Ok, back to Atkins. I think Atkins is a little nuts and perhaps unhealthy, but to some extent it does work. Why?


8-20-03

I think the new Mac G5 is a design disaster. Yes, it's fast, but it looks like a PC, which is destroying Apple's cool branding and image which they had established with the iMac and G4 Cube and such. Update - Greg G says Apple is not going for the consumer market here, they're going for the server market, so they intentionally want the machine to look "professional" and "industrial" and all that; maybe, I still don't like it.


Tom Green is at times like a new Andy Kaufman (at other times he's just a moron, but let's not talk about that). At his best, he's making fun of his audience and the people he's interviewing. Sometimes he'll interview really trivial celebrities and just point out to them how lame what they're plugging is and make them so uncomfortable, totally ruin the flow of an interview. One of his best schticks is to do something odd or wacky, and then do it again, and again, and again, and again, the audience laughs a bit at first, then again, then the laughter peters out, and they're silent as Tom does it again and again; the audience gets uncomfortable becuse they're not sure if they're being made fun of or if this is supposed to be funny or what. Just when they're on the border of walking out, Tom will stop.


I have a real moral quandry with girls. I've always been disgusted by the objectification of girls; so many of the married men I know just talk about girls all the time, how hot Britney Spears is, etc; all these 40 year old men watching girls their daughters' age "go wild". That stuff turns my stomach. At the same time though, the attraction of the female body affects me strongly; I think in this the difference is a bit of class and discretion. If you're a married man, you shouldn't blatantly stare as the young girls walk by, and you shouldn't talk about it to the guys; it is ok if you sneak a bit of a peak, though.

The bigger issue I've had lately is that I've been going out to the bars more; I've never really enjoyed the pick-up scene, and I've never had a "one night stand" in my life, not that I'm morally opposed to any of that, I just find it kind of disgusting, like watching "Elimidate" or one of those shows - the desperation and the manipulation just turn me off. Actually, I am morally opposed to doing things like taking home girls who are really drunk and hardly know what's going on and certainly can't resist. There's this pattern that most people go through in a night out with the bars, it goes something like this -

Early on, the groups of girls sit together and talk; the guys sit together and ogle them. Ocassionally at this point there are some forays across the breach, but usually the girls turn them back with some BS about "I'm just out with my friends"; of course what they really want is hot loving, but at this point they still are trying to be proper and not do what they really want. Everyone drinks. As it gets later, people drink and start to get crazy, the girls become exhbitionists, they want to be oggled now; the same stares they would have complained about during the day are exactly what they crave now; more than anything they want to be wanted, they want to be admired by lots of men. As it gets close to 2 (or whatever time last-call is) everyone starts to think about going home, and the people who came out to hook up don't want to go home alone. At this point the bar becomes kind of like a game of musical chairs - everyone wants to pair up so they're not left as the odd man out. Now, the girls and guys will hook up with people they would have called "dogs" to their friends earlier. Some of the pairing up here is done not because they really want to, but more because they don't want to be seen to "fail" and go home alone. Generally these people have nothing in common, usually the sex is poor (drunk sex is never good), and they don't speak to each other again. The guys feel happy afterward, proud that they succeeded in their conquest, and they want to brag about it, and their guy friends feel jealous. I don't really know how girls feel after one of these nights, I've never had an honest conversation with a girl about these things. The most disgusting thing about this all is that the guys who are experts at the pick-up/one-night thing tend to be real scum-bags. They manipulate and lie; I've known many guys who say "the secret is just to lie, lie, and lie some more"; they tend to think of girls are brainless physical objects, and just say horrible things about them and totally degrade them.

Anyway, the quandry I'm faced with is this - given that I find all this repulsive, I also find it attractive. Sure, it's a desparate meat market, but sex is great and I like to meet girls. It's a very fine line to walk, being in that world without letting your mind think terrible demeaning thoughts; I know it's not a healthy emotional environment, I wish it could be. I like to meet girls when we're both sober, it's a much better experience, but the vast majority of people won't act on their impluses unless they're inebriated; everyone dreams of just throwing caution to the wind and running away with a stranger, but faced with the chance, I have yet to meet someone who will actually do it. Part of my problem with going out is I don't know any/many guys who are womanizers but also respect women; I think that's the fine line that I try to walk - I love women, their bodies, their emotional sides, conversation, etcetera, but I also respect them and treat them as human beings, and there are actually very few people that do both. I really think that in some ways women bring the "macho man" upon themselves; guys don't naturally want to be that way, it's an act that they very consciously put on in order to hook up with girls, and the reason they do it is because it works, many girls really do go for the thing they always say they hate. The girls that don't go for the macho man are incredibly difficult to pick up in a bar, so their opinion doesn't really affect the sample. If you only consider the subset of girls which are likely to go home with you, 90% of them will go for the arrogant-demeaning-macho-bastard act.

I wonder if all the dating and reality shows on TV are contributing to the downfall of civilization? They make you feel rotten and take your mind to a place where all sorts of disgusting behavior are acceptable.


I'm thinking about buying a new car or motorcycle; I don't really need one, but I figure my youth is on the way out, and I should get a toy while I can still enjoy it, rather than waiting for my mid-life crisis; or maybe I'm just having an early mid-life crisis now? I have always done things early in my life, coding at 9, college at 15, grey hair at 22, mid-life crisis at 26, makes sense. I'll probably be in depends when I'm 30.

Anyway, the primary car under consideration is the BMW M Roadster, probably a 2000 model. If I get a motorcycle, it would be a pretty cheap cruiser, maybe something like a Japanese 800cc V-twin, used. If I get the car, I'd sell my Prelude (SH, 99). I suppose I could always do both. The M Roadster would cut into my savings quite a bit; it would cost about $15k to upgrade from the Prelude to the Roadster, which is something like 6 months of decent living without working. That's a lot of money to spend on a toy, but of course I just spent $400 on one night in LA, and could easily spend $3000 on a new computer.


8-10-03

My oven exploded again. Every time I cook Italian sausage in wine (the only way to do it), the alcohol in the wine explodes in my oven. The first time I did it, it burned off my eye lashes. I wonder if this is common or am I doing something wrong? Maybe I shouldn't keep the lid on the pot? Update - Mama Muratori gave me some great tips; to prevent explosions, just cook on the stove-stop in a dutch oven, so the alcohol fumes can escape. She also gave me some nice recipes, the core of which is to saute' the sausage a bit first with some savories like garlic and onion before boiling in wine.


The internet is the core of computing these days. It's still woefully under-used. I want to know a good restaurant near the Bicycle Casino - how do I find that on the internet? It's a big mess. Only the most crafty of computer users (like myself and most readers of my site) can build up a repertoire of search techniques that can answer their queries; the average shlub has no hope of navigating the mess of information that is the net.

So, some ideas of how to make this better. The key is a big database of side-data which has information associated with a user id and a web site. So, for example, I would log into the net, and then there would be various queries of this database. Some examples -

Comments on web sites. At every web site, you would have a side-bar. You would be able to rate the site, and that would go into the database; you could also comment on it, ideally even insert comments ala Wiki. You would also be shown several comments. You would be shown the comments of the people that you had most highly rated (more on this later), plus a few more random ones. These comments could for example, include things like "this site sucks, use one instead".

Crucial to all this is the "network of trust". You rate other users, just by adding your friends, or by putting approvals on other peoples' comments. This way the database builds up a network, of "who do I trust", then indirectly "who do they trust", and "who do they trust twice removed", etc. Then, you can do searches like "show me a website on bicycles which is approved by someone I trust (directly or indirectly)". Obviously the strength of trust goes down by the indirection of the relationship. You could even get into "similar-taste networks" on specific topics, like so you could find web-sites on music that are highly-rated by people who you agree with *on music*. That way your trust network could be different by topic.

Then you can add nice little UI things, like whenever you go to a site, you get some links in your side-bar which are related recommended sites that your "friends" approved. You can also just play around and navigate your friends recommendations in ways like GNOD


7-03-03

I want a silent PC. It should have no fan, but lots of power, and a smoking hot graphics card. I want it to have a giant heat-sink coming out the top of it, like soft coral ( particularly, a sea fan ). I want to be a "bespoke" manufacturer.


7-01-03

Lisa Germano's album Slide is great. It sold 6,000 copies. I have one.
http://www.nudeasthenews.com/interviews/55

I just discovered American Analog Set. They're cool. They're playing up at SF this weekend. I'd love to go, but I don't have anyone to go with, and a four hour drive to see a band just isn't that fun alone; it would be a blast with the right company, but those kind of people are hard to find. I miss taking road trips, just taking off to nowhere in particular for no good reason, smoking in the car and buying food at gas stations.

My family (well, my mom and siblings) is in Mexico right now (Cozumel) for our first family vacation in a year or so. My brother from London came in, as did my sister from New York. I can't go because I have to deliver a damn demo at work. I'm pretty bitter about the whole thing. I briefly considered quitting this damn job, it's that important to me to see all my family together, but I want to finish this damn game ! It's so constraining to have this big commitment (this game) that I'm not in control of. It's a form of servitude; my life is not my own because my fate is tied up in this big project which is in the hands of others. It's not a good feeling.

Flash web sites are just killing me. Use plain damn HTML!!!


4-17-03

Recent ideas that won't make me rich - 1) hair salons should have digital cameras and computers to let you preview various treatments (styles, colors, etc); you could easily rig up software now to do it all automatically so that the non-computer-savvy employees would be able to handle it. 2) a contraption for Julienne-ing. Cutting carrots fine is a damn lot of work, but makes for delicious carrots (Provencal); so, you want this like box with one open side, and a hinge at the bottom of the open side, then there's a big handle coming off the hing with a bunch of blades; imagine kind of like a dumpling maker or a garlic press, you close the handle and blades go into the box and perfectly slice whatever is inside. Then you need to be able to rotate the box 90 degrees and push the blades through again - voila, instant juliene.


4-17-03

The new Apple adds for applemusic are disgusting. They feel incredibly phoney, first of all, these "real people" adds make me sick, especially when the veneer is so thin I feel like the makers are almost mocking me, insulting me with how poor a job they did. I imagine them in the wings, smoking cigars and getting blow-jobs from whores and saying to each other "those dumb consumer, they'll believe anything! ha ha ha". Anyway, the next problem is this - $0.99 per song? A buck a song? What a rip-off !!! That's about the same price you pay for a real CD, but with a real CD, you get a physical product, you get liner notes, you get nice art, you get a nice carrying case, you're paying for shipping, and you're paying for the real estate of the brick and mortar store, etc. Which reminds me - Amazon's prices are a fucking jip. The idea of online shopping is that they are supposed to be saving on overhead for not maintaining thousands of local stores, and they're supposed to pass the savings on to me, and make it up in volume. But no, they're so incompetent in how they run their operation, that they have to charge me the same rip-off prices as a physical store, and still they can't turn a profit. What's a fair price for applemusic? Something more like $0.25 per song. That's closer to what the IP actually costs when you buy a CD. Of a $14 CD, something like $10 goes to the shipping, merchandiser, manufacturng, packaging, etc. About $4 goes to the publisher, and then something like $0-$1 of that goes to the artist, depending on your fame. So, if artists sold their songs directly online for $0.25, they'd actually be making more than they do with a publisher.


4-09-03

Just now I was thinking of getting a new computer, and I realized I don't even want one. My current box is a 1 GHz box running Windows ME (god damn ME!). I could easily get a nice new computer, but the pain in the butt of getting it all set up outweighs the benefit. This made me realize two things - 1) computer upgrades really don't matter any more; I used to constantly want the next upgrade, now I really don't care. 2) it's far too hard to copy your config from one machine to another. I want my home and work machine to be almost complete copies of each other and stay in sync.


4-06-03

I can't write about the war any more. It's surreal to me - I can't believe it's happening. I feel like this is some sort of Kafka story - people are doing just incredible and cruel things, so arbitrary and baffling, but it's all real, and they believe they are acting perfectly reasonably.


3-31-03

Often when I'm alone, I wish I was with friends. Often, when I'm with friends, I wish I was alone.


3-24-03

One of the more horrible feelings I've had since the war started is when I feel little moments of pride over the American military machine. I immediately surpress them - but for a moment there, when I see those videos of planes flying at 10,000 feet and putting cross-hairs on a specific truck and then watching it explode - a shiver goes down my spine, my hairs rise on the back of my neck, I get a slight erection, I feel awe and fear and pride over the fearsome power of the American military machine. Then I shudder and shake it off, but I know that it's only a few little microbes in my brain that prevent me from being really taken by such things. I too could be satisfied by bravado, excited by the power of being able to take the life of other men. Military men scare me, because they are like the childish violent part of me, and I know that part of me is not to be trusted.


3-24-03

I've been thinking about how random it is when two people get together. We have some many little encounters with other people that never go anywhere - who's to say that wasn't your "soul mate"? When you do find someone you really connect with, you think "wow, how did I find this one person in this town of millions?". But of course, you didn't really talk to all those millions. Maybe you talked to a thousand of them. So really, your lover was the best fit for you of all the thousand people you actually met. There are probably thousands more people in any major city that fit you better, just by statistics. So, the next time you look over at your lover, think "why the hell are we two together?" - probably because you both don't want to be alone, and you can tolerate each other. I'm feeling very romantic today.


3-18-03

I want to live more like the internet. I want to talk like a blog. I am a super highway.


3-13-03

Back from the GDC and Indie Jam. The Indie Jam was rocking. I made two games, we all had a blast, got to play the games more this year. Met new cool developers, the guys from GameLab and the wise physicist Atman Binstock. Always good to hang out with Hecker and Casey and Blow and Sean and the Ion Storm guys. I was *wasted* exhausted after the Jam, but I got better.


3-13-03

The other day we were talking at work, and realized that the government running a deficit is an elaborate way to pump money from the poor to the rich. (actually, more like the middle class to the ultra-rich). The deal goes like this :

When the government runs a deficit, it's covered by loans. Those loans come from various places; private individuals buying government bonds, other governments, but the vast majority comes from large financial instutions. The loans are usually in the form of something like a "Treasury Bill" (T-Bill) where the investor "buys" some amount of debt, and is gauranteed payment in some amount of time, at some return, usually something like 6% after 1 year. The reason that financial institutions buy T-Bills is because they provide profit. So, the financial instution is making money. Where did that money come from? Well, when the T-Bill term is up, the government has to pay it. They pay for it by taking more loans, and also by using their available resources. Eventually, (let's assume), the government must return to a debt-free state, so they must pay off all their loans. To do this, they have to cover not only the original loan amount, but also the interest. This basically done through taxes. The result is that taxes are being used to directly pay profit to financial institutions.

So, money is coming in from all over the populace; most of that money actually comes from the middle class. Money is going out to the financial institutions, which means it's going into the pockets of the very rich. This is relying on a funny bit of tax distribution - the very rich take in the vast majority of investment income, but the middle class pays the majority of taxes. For example, if you took all the tax income and then redistributed it based on the amount of money you had invested, the money would continuously transfer upward in the income scale, which of course is exactly what is happening all the time.


2-25-03

The anti-war response of liberal politicians is so fucking pathetic. All they do is call for a UN resolution. All of them cave and say that if the UN approved invasion, they would support it. What does it matter if the UN approves this bloody charade? It makes it no better, no more justified, no more moral. It only means that our influence managed to coerce various other corrupt nations into approving our actions.


2-23-03

New tunes from the used bins at BooBoos - Ikara Colt, The Catheters, Cinerama. Not bad stuff. Listened to the Derailers for a while, not quite hitting the spot. I love the country rock twang, especially old school and Elvislike the way they are, but it needs to be a little bit harder, more punk, less lounge.


2-22-03

This is the age of ridiculous company names. We now have Agilent, Lucent, Experian, Accenture, etc. which were once respectable ordinary names like HP, AT&T, TRW, Andersen. And, as Aaron at work wisely noted, this is the age of pastel colors in computer UI. It's like those god-awful rounded cars. Give me primary colors! Give me big old companies with guys who wear short-sleeve dress shirts! Give me a big boxy Lincoln, with the shape of a cigarette pack!


2-11-03

It strikes me that the US government is rather like a good Mafia boss. A Mafia boss is very clever; he never commits any crimes himself. He's a "legitimate businessman". If his associates happen to commit crimes, hey, he didn't want them to do it, they made that decision on their own. Just because he introduced the hitman to the gun smuggler, doesn't mean he was giving arms to killers, he didn't know what they were going to do with the guns.

I've been amused lately to see many of the things I've always considered cool becoming mainstream pop-culture. This happens all the time, but it's kind of interesting what's at work. I imagine it's because the people who grew up at the same time as me are now becoming the designers and making the decisions, so those people grew up with the same movies, the same pop stars, the Vision skate-wear, the Vans and Converse, etc. They have the same background aesthetic, the same collective subconscious, so they tend to like and design the same thing. People often think "I'm so cool, I liked that way before it became popular", well yeah, so did millions of people, including the designers who made and pushed the product. Of course, as you get older, the opposite starts to happen; the people who are similar to you start leaving the pop-culture world, getting replaced by the new generation who has grown up with something different. Then pop-culture starts to become strange and alien to you. Getting old stinks.

I did see a cool interview with Norman Mailer on Charlie Rose the other day. Best thing in the interview - Norman talked about growing old. He said that in your youth, you are constantly struggling to be something you are not - trying to "grow", be more than you can be, do things that don't come naturally. In your old age, you finally relax, you realize that you're probably not going to be anything other than what you are. You're not really "ok" with that, but you accept it, and that brings peace and clarity.


2-11-03

Back to Iraq - did I mention that it's completely preposterous to think that we're doing this for the benefit of the world? Why does the intellectual liberal establishment go along with it? Are they really idiots? Is it really a corrupt cadre of people in the pocket of the government (as Chomsky suggests)? It's really hard to explain without believing the worst. I'm finding it hard to read the New York Times these days - they're supposed to be liberal, but now all the articles just take this Iraq BULLSHIT so seriously.

Let's review a bit of history - these are facts - Saddam Hussein came to power in Iraq in 1968 by staging a coup d'etat of the semi-democratic regime. This was done with the help and support of the US Government, as is common. The US wanted a client state in the Middle East, primarily because of fear of Iran and Saudi Arabia, which they considered dangerous and hard to control. Saddam Hussein at that point already had a history of violence, having tried to assasinate the Iraqi Prime Minister in 1959. Once in power, Saddam received support and arms from the United States. Iraq was given trade priveledges by various US governments (Carter, Bush Sr.), welcomed to the white house. Both Carter and Bush called him a "great man" and such garbage. In the mean time, Saddam was busy locking up polticial opponents in Iraq, and working on a genocide of the Kurdish people. Tens of thousands of Kurds were killed with poison gas and other weapons, and much of the Kurdish population fled Iraq to Turkey (see later). In 1980, Iraq attacked Iran. This matter becomes complicated, it's not exactly clear just how involved to US government was. We initially gave and sold arms to Iraq to support them against Iran, and sent CIA agents to train their commanders. Later the whole Ollie North/Reagan thing happened and we gave arms to Iran in return for releasing the hostages. Iran suffered the much greater casualties of the two, having received much bombing from Iraq's US-supplied arsenal of missiles and poisons. Throughout this, Iraq and Saddam Hussein were our good buddy. There was no talk of "evil-doing". Finally in 1990 things went south. Famously, our government made some remarks which seemed to indicate to Hussein that we would look the other way if he invaded Kuwait. Some people find this so hard to believe that I'm forced to include a link to some of the transcript. Why then did we attack Iraq to get them out of Kuwait? That's more complicated. I estimate that it was basically because we decided that Saddam was becoming too difficult for us to control. We wanted a client state, not an independent one, so we decided to fuck with them. The primary result of the gulf war, of course, has been the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians due our destruction of infrastructure and impoverishment of the nation. In fact, during the embargo after the war, the US fought hard to keep food and medicine from getting into the country, and even when we did allow it, we made sure a large portion of it was high-priced American product. Here's a bit of history : from asia , and there's lots more if you search a bit. You have to get past all the crap from the American journalists.

Now back to a side comment. The Kurds fled Iraq into Turkey, because of US-sponsored terrorism by Saddam. Turkey, of course, has been our good friend for quite some times. We've sold them a huge amount of arms (subsidized by the American taxpayer), second only to Israel. In turn the Turkish government has been violent and oppressive. Their invasion of Cyprus was historically brutal, and to this day they lock up and torture anyone who speaks out against the government. Political prisoners are held for any length of time with no trial, or perhaps a show trial. In the mean time, the Turkish government has been going about its own slaughter of the Kurds. The US government once again is helping with the slaughter to this very day. The Kurds of course are "dangerous rebels" which must be controlled by the Turks (just like the people of East Timor were controlled by the Indonesians). We will continue to look the other way in Turkey, because we need them as a power base in the Middle East. We prefer to use them instead of improving relations with Saudi Arabia, mainly because they are less powerful, so we can control them better. Good information on Turkey and the Kurdss is a bit difficult to come buy because the oppressed are rather fanatical themselves. This seems to be a decent page . By ignoring/supporting this attrocity, our government makes it completely clear that we have no interest what-so-ever in human rights. We care only for our interests.

Better watch out, I might be taken to Guantanamo...


2-10-03

It's just struck me that the whole idea of live music is rather strange. The basic premise of live music goes like this : people go out to hang out and hear music; the band wants to play, put the two together. The idealist might say that the band are trying to share their vision/message/art and the audience wants to partake of it, but that's rare enough that it has no real bearing on the typical "live music" event. The funny thing is when you think about what's really going on at both ends of the equation :

The Audience - doesn't really care that much about music; aren't particularly great music lovers, and really the band's not very good anyway, and the audio system in this joint sucks. We could all hear better music at home. So, it's not about the music. Ideally in a punk show, it would be about some interaction of the band and the audience, and a release, and getting crazy and dancing and whatnot. But why is the audience out at a bar at all? It's not to hear music, it's not to get drunk (that's cheaper at home) - it's to hang out with other people, it's to get out of the house, have some fun, do something in the evening. So why are we in this shitty bar listening to a shitty band? Why are our only choices of evening entertainment bands?

The Band - don't really care the much about music; they probably weren't too great at other things in their lives, so they're not doctors or sports stars or whatever, so they did something else; they wanted to hang out with their mates, and being in a band together was a good way to do it; being in a band is one of the few ways to have a real communal experience with a bunch of guys, to fullfill homo-erotic longing for intimacy; maybe some of the band members wanted the groupies and the social life of the band, but this isn't so much about the music as the side effects of being in the bar scene, meeting girls and whatnot.

I think the club/music/bar scene in the Western World is pretty stuck in a rut. It's not what anyone really wants. Being yet another band is pretty lame, pretty old hat (granted, it's fun). What people really want is a communal experience.


2-10-03

Freaking Levis changed their jeans. I've been wearing 501 jeans, size 34x34, for the past ten years. Each time one pair would wear out (and "wear out" means so many holes that the jeans have become like a few patches of cloth held together with strands) I would just go buy another pair of exactly the same thing. A few days ago I just did that again. I got home, washed the jeans (trying on jeans before washing them is pointless), and was surprised to find the damn jeans aren't the same. They're like looser, the fabric is stretchier. Now, maybe you're thinking "you're crazy, your body's changed". No, not at all. I'm replacing a previous pair and these are *looser* than the previous pair. New jeans should be much much tighter than a pair that are well worked-in. In fact, I believe new jeans should be too tight to wear, even on a guy. You should loosen them through wear, wearing them at home for a while before they're broken in enough to be decent to wear out. Funny how I curse the capitalist machinima, but when they change one of my favorite products I rant and rave about it.


2-09-03

I can't even watch freaking Charlie Rose anymore. He's become a puppet of the nefarious Bush apparatus. I just watched the egomaniac Charlie telling the great and wild Hunter S. Thompson that the impending war is about bringing freedom to the Middle East. WHAT A LOAD OF SHIT! Anyone who thinks that this war is being conducted for the benefit of the Iraqi people is a FREAKING MORON. The United States has never EVER done anything in foreign affairs for the benefit of the other people. Look at our history - look at the ongoing atrocities all over the world. Just as a tiny example, the Ivory Coast is a country that is on the verge of destabilizing. At the moment it is semi-democratic, but any day now it's going to break out in a civil war that will split on religious lines and lead to massacres. That is a situation where a bit of intervention could save a whole country without even a war, just a bit of stabilization. Are we doing a damn thing? Hell no. We're far more likely to sell arms to both sides than to prevent a conflict. How can a reasonable person talk about "Is Bush trying to bring peace ot the Middle East?" That question is ridiculous, it's stupid to even ask! More like "What is Bush trying to gain for himself and his cronies?". Of course you start with Oil, but we also get a power base in the Middle East, maybe a nice puppet government (we love puppet governments; we made them all over South and Central America), re-election, distraction from domestic problems, funding for the military-industrial establishment, etc. etc. Damn that Charlie Rose. Damn him. And damn that Condoleeza Rice too.


2-09-03

Nice cars of the moment - Infiniti G35 Coupe, Subaru Impreza WRX, Acura CL Type-S. The Lexus SC430 is pretty damn sweet, but it's just a bit too ugly. BMW has discontinued their M Roadster which was their greatest price/performance/beauty car; you have to go with a Z4 or Z8 now, but the Z8 is way too expensive and the Z4 is underpowered for the cost.


2-07-03

Reporting from the front line, the US War on Terror against itself - today one of the casualties of this war has become bitingly clear to me. With the massive budget shortfalls affecting the country and the states, tuition in public colleges is being severely raised. In New York and California, many of the cheapest public colleges are drastically raising tuition because their funding from the state is being cut off. The result is that tuition changes from a very low $1000/year to $5000/year. This difference is not much to the wealthy, but it's catastrophic to the poor and lower middle class. The result is that we are keeping more underpriveledged people out of educated society. They will wind up in prisons, or on welfare rolls, we're preventing the social elevation of the people who need it most.


2-06-03

It's been a while since I last wrote here. When I read other peoples' blogs, I often wonder "what motivates them to pour themselves out to the anonymous internet?". But, then I do it myself. For most people, I think it probably traces back to the need to show the world you're cool. eg. let me write things that are interesting, let me put my personality out there on the web, then people will drop me emails remarking on my web site, and I will feel good about myself. There's this strange behavioral paradox that you can only live well by not dwelling on others' opinion of you, and yet so much of what we do can only be explained by the need to be liked.

I've been having trouble with the social world of the mid-20's life. I crave contact with more interesting people out of the Games and Tech industry, but I don't really know how to get it. In college there were all kinds of different people all around all the time, so it was easy. Now, I hardly see anyone outside of work, much less real connected moments with stimulating people. Much worse is that I don't always feel this way. I get tired and frustrated and such very easily. When I'm out, I just want to be home; when I'm home, I want to be out.

Being satisfied is the worst curse in life. Hunger is the blessing of youth.

Thinking more about why we blog - one reason for me has always been that I hate to repeat myself. I can write a thought once in the blog, and I feel like I've told it to lots of people. In the real world, if I want to share it with my "audience", I have to tell the same damn thing to countless people (so tedious!). Another reason we blog is to say things that we have trouble saying in person. Me, I love to drop strange pearls of wisdom on anyone I meet, but I don't just do it right off the bat (maybe I should), but only after sitting and smoking and drinking and listening to music in the dark; those moments of intense conversation about real personal things I rarely have these days, so instead I have them with my cold buzzing beige computer.


12-08-02

Concrete figures for something I regularly cite -

In the financial year 2001-2002, ending March 31, Sony posted net revenue of $56.9 billion (US dollars), with "net profit" of roughly $115 million ("operating income" of $1 billion). Granted, it was an especially bad year for Sony. In the current fiscal year, ending March 31, 2003, Sony expects to do much better, with closer to $1 billion (net) profit, on about the same revenue, $60 billion. Still, in this year Sony expects only a 1% profit margin on most of its business (consumer electronics), with the difference being made up by the 10% profit margin on PS2 games. Sony has a miniscule $5 million in cash reserves available. Sony has around $16 billion in hard assets (mainly machinery) that Microsoft doesn't have, but that's not really any sort of advantage.

In the same period, (year ended June 30, 2002), Microsoft posted revenue of $28.3 billion and net income of $7.8 billion (operating income of $11 billion). Microsoft has a staggering $38 billion dollars in cash (and non-cash liquid assets). This year (2003) appears to be even better for Microsoft, with estimated revenue around $32 billion, and "operating income" around $14 billion (net income around $10 billion). Microsoft has a staggering profit margin in the 25% to 30% range.

Just to compare, let's look at GE, perhaps the largest and most powerful corporation in the world. GE has total assets in excess of $500 billion, revenue around $130 billion, with profit around $14 billion.

Interestingly enough, GE and Microsoft are two of the largest tax-break-receivers in America. GE largely gets them through complicated leasing schemes; GE has paid on average a 10% tax on its profit in recent years (it should be paying 35% - that's a savings of over $3 billion each year). Notably, GE would be paying even much less (around 2%) if it weren't for the AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax) laws. Microsoft has received huge tax breaks due to a huge loop-hole for stock option grants. Stock options today are an essentially tax-free way to pay employees and write off profit. Microsoft has received roughly $3 billion in breaks each year, and in fact pays almost zero dollars in taxes.

All of this information is public; you can search Google and easy find it, and more. Most of it is available straight off the companies' own web sites, if you go and read their financial reports.

Another point of comparison - the entire GNP of Somalia is around $1 billion, about $200-300 per capita (I just picked Somalia to look up at random, by the way). The outstanding foreign debt that Somalia owes is around $3 billion. If you look at the world with importance assigned to dollars (which the people in power clearly do) it's easy to see how we can give breaks to GE ($495 billion) and bomb Somalia ($0).


12-08-02

There's been much hubbub lately of the five New York boys who have been found not guilty of the rape & murder in Central Park in 1989. The five boys confessed, but new evidence (and a new suspect) has led to them recanting the confession and their convictions being over-turned.

Why is there any surprise about this at all? University studies estimate that around 20% of the people in prison did not commit the crimes they are in for. And having a "confession" is almost anectodal evidence. Suspects are pressured to confess in many ways - with pure intimidation and physical violence, but mainly with promises that they'll be put in jail for much longer if they don't confess. These tactics are illegal, but widespread. The American criminal "justice" system is designed to put someone (preferably someone poor) in jail for the crime as fast as possible, whether they did it or not. The law enforcement establishment generally can't be concerned with complicated things like the truth or due process, which tend to get in the way of quickly finding a scapegoat.

Another fun development in this vein is the fact that a circuit court has recently ruled that "Enemy combatants" may be held prisoner indefinetely without being charged and with only the slightest evidence. These "enemy combatants" may be American citizens captured on American soil (though in all honesty, I don't understand why it's deemed reasonable to not provide non-citizens with the same due process rights as citizens). This is clearly the action of a police state, not a free democracy, and yet the puppet-courts are all too eager to uphold these gross violations of human rights that our commandant has inflicted upon us.


12-04-02

Yet more of the war on terror making me sick. All these adds about "if you buy drugs, you may be supporting terrorists" are fucking shit. Let's look at the facts - if you pay your taxes, you ARE supporting terrorists. Essentially every major terrorist area (Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Columbia, Nicaragua, Israel, Turkey) has received direct aid and arms from the US government. If you buy gas (oil), you ARE supporting terrorists. That oil money goes directly to the rich of the middle east, who pass it on to terrorists. Yet our government resists all drives to make the US less oil-dependent. It all makes me want to puke.


11-24-02

Some simple analysis of Capitalism. First of all, the only way to profit in a capitalist business is to swindle your customers. This is almost true by definition. If you sell an asset at cost, you haven't made any profit, you've simplify turned a non-liquid asset into a liquid asset. In order to make a profit, you must sell over cost. In order to make a big profit, you must sell something that's worth very little at a very high price. For example, Wall Street sold internet stock during the boom this way; they were really the same as a "pet rock" - very high price, very low value (HPLV). Generally, the Capitalist establishment is very excited about HPLV commodities, it spends a lot more on advertising them. Some examples are stocks, entertainment, fancy cars, diet foods, fancy clothes, cigarettes, booze, lottery tickets, software, etc. There are other more complicated ways that the Establishment acheives HPLV. One is with subsidies. Agribusiness, for example, gets the cost of production subsidized, while keeping the cost the same through price controls. The result is that if you grow wheat yourself, it has low value, because it must compete with the wholesale price of subsidized product, but major agribusiness has still made a large profit.

The next interesting thing in Capitalism is to realize that corporations are run by people. In an "ideal" capitalist model, corporations are just like individuals - they choose the things that are best for them. In reality, this doesn't happen. The reason is that corporations are run by CEO's, and CEO's are human, therefore they are greedy and selfish. The result is that Corporations do what is best for CEO's. Now, CEO's are almost by definition part of the Moneyed Elite. The Moneyed Elite in general sticks together and watches out for each other, since they live in great fear that the people will become empowered and try to acheive decent living conditions, which would ruin the great skewing of wealth that the Elite enjoy. CEO's also have connections in the Elite in their friends and family, their Alma Mater, their previous job, and of course they want to make sure they can jump to another good job when they run their current company into thye ground. The result is that CEO's generally do what is good for the Elite, hence Corporations generally make decisions based on benefitting the Moneyed Elite. Corporations clearly care nothing for their employees; they will do things to make them happy, but only in so far as it improves productivity, hence their bottom line. Furthermore, CEO's are generally very short sighted, and logically so. They really don't care how the Corporation does in the long term, because they want to get fired (and thus earn a huge severance) and then either retire (subsidized by the workers of the Corporation) or take a huge hiring bonus (and stock option grant that waters down the holdings of the average stock holder). CEO's only want to improve the profits of the company for the major shareholders (the Elite) in the short term. Thus, doing things like breaking up companies, shutting down factories, etc. are all "good for the company" (meaning "good for the Moneyed Elite") despite the human cost to the workers.

Governments and corporations in general are machines to improve the lives of the few at the cost of the many. Of course, not all governments are this way, but the US certainly is, and any one else that gets out of line, we rapidly bring back into line through sactions, IMF rules, etc. You may think, "hey, I have my DVD player and my SUV, I'm doing fine" - well, you're getting close to Moneyed Elite yourself (did you approve of the recent tax cut?), but you've still been thoroughly taken advantage of. Can you afford to buy the house you live in? How long could you afford to live without work? Are there open spaces near you, clean air to breathe? Are you afraid of the dangerous poor element? The real life-quality-improving benefit of your labor has been skimmed and diluted and sabotaged.

Taxes. Many people object to taxes, because it is a direct transfer of money from you to Government, and the Government will generally use it for bad things (direct transer of money to the Elite, via Lockheed, Boeing, ADM, Monsanto, EDS, foreign intervention, etc.). This is true, but to take out all your resentment on taxes is foolish. You must realize that your real wealth has been much more heavily adversely affected through subtle means - you're paid less than you should be, health insurance costs more than it should, things you buy are price-inflated, the things you own are depreciated, and the wonderful free things in the world (nature, community) are destroyed. Furthermore, Government is not all bad. Neither Governments nor Corporations are really entirely intentionally corrupt. There's no vast conspiracy. Many of the people who do these things don't really realize what they're doing. They're only doing what they were taught was right in a capitalist system - they are doing what's best for themselves (and their friends). America glorifies greed more than any other country. If you can gain fame and fortune by screwing over your neighbor, you are a clever hero, not the bastard that you should be considered. Our cultures idolatizes robbers and thugs like John Rockefeller, JP Morgan, Teddy Roosevelt, Andrew Carnegie, Jack Welch, etc. Even modern anti-heros like Bill Gates may be occasionally villified (out of jealousy), but anyone would trade places with him any day. Money is far more important than the means used to get it. Money is far more important than any side effects inflicted on others to obtain it.


11-21-02

The "War on Terror" is a horrible sham. Violence against the oppressed has never in the history of world made terrorists stop. It only enrages them, it makes the problem worse. After every major crack-down, terrorism INCREASES. Washington planners are smart, they must have known this. The purpose of the so-called "war on terror" was never to stop terrorism. What was it for? To create a pretext for invading Iraq? To distract the US from the horrible handling of domestic policy by the President? To change the flow of the opium trade? To destabilize Pakistan? or Saudi Arabia? Who knows what Machiavellian mischief is at work in the minds of the puppet masters.


11-9-02

I wonder why publishers allow games to be rented. Do video game rentals really reduce sales? Maybe they actually increase sales of good games? I wonder why there's no CD rental shops; obviously the people would just copy the CDs, but the rental shop would still make money - have the record labels made it illegal? If so, why don't game publishers do the same?


11-7-02

It's about the code. Who cares what comes out on the screen? The end result is always the same, it's the architecture, the foundation, the firmament, the supports - therein lies the beauty. Munch's Oddysee was a mediocrity-fest, but little bits of code inside were sweet shining gems. Some programmers really don't get this; they make unnecessary function calls, allocations, long ugly functions, overly terse variable names, overly long variable names, unclear strange ways of doing simple things. Their code may work fine, but it does not speak to the heart of the sensitive programmer. All books of poetry work equally well as timber, the beauty is in the composition.


11-7-02

Sales, and the whole principle behind sales, really bugs me. Almost any interaction where you're trying to get someone to endorse you or agree with you is a form of a "sale". Politics is a sale. Your interaction with your management is sales, and the interaction of your company with its funders is sales.

Sales is all about lying. If you try to sell the truth, you will fail. Even if your product is better, someone else will come in and promise impossible things, and they will get the sale. They will lie, BS, tell half truths, and take the sale from you.

In game development this happens in the pitch to the publisher. I could go to a publisher and say "In 2 years, I will form a company and develop a console shooter which is competetive with Halo 2", and I could be telling the truth (really!). Someone else will go to the publisher and say "in 1 year I will develop a game that will open up new markets and be a AAA hit". They are full of shit, but the publisher will give them the deal. If the publisher even thought about it a second they'd know which one was the better deal, but the reality is that they're a bunch of idiots.

I have problems with selling ideas all the time. If I go to someone and tell them an idea about how to do something better, probably 75% of the time they say "oh yeah" and then they don't do it. This is because I've given them gold, but it hasn't been sold well. Those same people will *pay* to go to GDC and get told the same thing from so-called experts. If the experts tell it to them, they'll think it's a great idea.

Sales sucks.


11-7-02

Sometimes it's amazing to me that decent games ever get made. Every single game development house seems to be a complete distaster of poor management, poor game designers, poor scheduling, poor communication, unnecessary crunches, etc. etc. And yet, somehow, some people occasionally manage to make a good game.

10-16-02

It's amusing to me that essentially all software companies won't give you time to do research, and yet they'll fire you if you don't. If you don't do research, your knowledge gets old, you're not on the cutting edge, you're not the good shit. In the worst companies, they restrict developers' time so badly that the developers' really lose touch with the cutting edge, and the only way to get educated people in is by hiring from somewhere that was more liberal. This is all part of a gross pattern of poor management of software developers.


10-15-02

NYPD Blue, and most TV "Cop Dramas", glorify police brutality. Then again, so do most "ra ra" war movies, etc.. This fiction of the out-of-control authority figure who doesn't play by the rules and takes justic into his own hands is some kind of sexy idol. I think it's disgusting. In the real world these guys are cowboys who usually don't know what the hell they're doing and just go around showing their dick to the world by slapping people around. These cop shows need to show a lot more cases of cops beating people up who did nothing wrong.


10-12-02

The profusion of medical drugs for afflictions of the mind is really disturbing to me. The idea of treating the populace at large for minor problems in their mental state is based on the underlying assumption that the doctors can define a "normal" mind state, and that it's inherently good to have a mind which is more "normal". Now, certainly I agree that there are people like manic-depressives and schizophrenics who have serious chemical problems in their brains and who can really benefit from treatment. But, millions of americans with depression? "bipolar disorder"? "anxiety disorder"? "panic disorder"? "social phobia"? People are not perfect, we all have strange little behaviors that we're not always happy about. We're shy, insecure, stressed, pushy, selfish, hyperactive, etc. etc. at what point is this just "you" vs. "a problem"?

The obvious next step is that in order to increase sales of pharmaceuticals, more and more mundane behavior will be treated. Did you miss the bus and feel upset? Pop a pill. Did you spill wine on your shirt? You may have critical embarrasment disorder, pop a pill. Do you stand at the side of the room in dance clubs, ashamed to shake your booty? You have booty-shake phobia, pop a pill. Are you a bit of a bastard? You may have not-very-nice disorder. Pop a pill.

What scares me even more is when parents drug their children. I've seen many of my own friends in high school put on Prozac. Sure, they were a little depressed - but that was probably because their parents were divorced, their dad treated them like shit, and their mom slept around. The parents surely complained to the doctor about their "hard to manage little brat", and the doctor suggested Prozac. I've seem little kids on Ritalin being fed bowls of Frosted Flakes and drinking Coke. This shit really pisses me off, because these psychotropic drugs are not well understood, the brain is not well understood, and childhood is a critical development time - these children are quite possibly being permanently damaged.

There are tons of web pages on this stuff, search "psychotropic" on google.


8-28-02

I saw "The Good Girl" last night; good movie. Jennifer Aniston is used as a lure to get people into the theater that normally wouldn't watch an "art" movie. It's written by Mike White, who wrote "Chuck & Buck", which was a *great* movie. Those movies are exactly the kind I've always been interested in making - little sad stories about life. The characters are a little bit unusual, but still believable, they're not over-the-top characitures like so many movies. I think that sadness (and the associated compassion) is one of the few beautiful things in the world.

I'd like to make a movie about a telemarketer. He's despised by most of the people he talks to throughout the day, how can he live with himself given that he spends his days doing such an insulting and pointless job? To him, his life is just like the rest of the human experience - the work's unpleasant, the people he talks to are rude to him, but he tries to joke with coworkers, he hates his boss, he's shy around a girl he likes at the coffee machine, and he looks at garbage men and wonders how they can stand their job. He wants more from his life, and he dreams of going to a fashion design school, but instead he watches TV at night.

I want to work on stories about the human experience.


5-22-02

BRDF for leaves (on trees and plants) would work well. I hope to get to try it some time reasonably soon.

Some software that should exist (I could/would write if I had time) :

5-11-02

I finally saw "Eyes Wide Shut". It's incredibly beautiful, visually; Kubrik's use of color is really amazing. I particularly liked the way all the interiors at night are so orange and warm, with such strong blues outdoors. Other than the technical prowess, I found it very bland. It left me feeling nothing strong, feeling like nothing had really happened. I certainly couldn't imagine why so many people felt so strongly for or against the movie. Maybe I wanted it to be longer; I felt like the first 2 hours of the movie were a good setup for something interesting to happen - maybe the Tom Cruise character would try to inflitrate the secret society, maybe the couple would be torn apart by their desires for other people, maybe they would act out some of their urges for transgression and then find that they really didn't want that life, etc. something! anything passionate and powerful and dramatic, but none of that happened.

In the same match of movies, I saw "Hidden Agenda" by Ken Loach, one of my new favorite directors. This movie also leaves you with an ending where nothing really happens, but it's quite satisfying. Hidden Agenda is an interesting twist on the traditional detective narrative; throughout the movie, you essentially know who did, and most of why. The plot is about the detective trying to find a way to bring the perpetrators to justice without tearing apart his own life and the whole world he lives in. In the end, he can't, so the movie ends with the world being stuck in the same corrupt shit-hole it's always in.

5-05-02

I think there's a big market in games for non-hardcore gamers. The problem is that it's very hard to make games for these people. The Sims does a very good job at it, but there aren't many others. Of course there are the puzzle games (Bejewelled, etc.), but I haven't seen a single puzzle game since Tetris which does anything new. Also, people won't pay much for puzzle games and it's not a huge market, though this will continue to be a market. To make a game for these people, it can't involve twitch, it can't involve precise control, since many of these people find the mouse or gamepad to be a very awkward input device; it can't be too complicated or be a contest of wits since many of these people aren't very bright. It needs to be something like a card game; most card games are not very complicated, don't require speed or lots of brains, etc. the best card games have an element of skill so that a better player will statistically beat a less skilled player, but they also have enough of an element of luck that a weaker player will win often enough to not be discouraged. Games like the MMORPG's are sort of a start in this direction, though the high end players of those games are very hard-core and savvy there are also barely-computer-literate people who play them almost as chat rooms.

5-05-02

Dungeon Siege - we put the TS in RPG

5-05-02

I've been thinking about audio analysis and modification a lot lately. Audio's weird because it seems very simple compared to images, being a 1d signal instead of a 2d signal, but in fact it's quite complicated. For one thing, you have a very wide frequency range; you need to work from about 10 Hz to 10 KHz , that means that the very-large-scale structure (low frequency sound) can span (at least) 2k samples, and as much as 96k samples if you're really picky. For another thing, there's a lot of complicated perceptual stuff like chords, harmonics, octaves and such which are very deeply embedded in the brain. For another, there's this whole issue of phase; that is, you can take a continuous wave and shift it without changing the way it sounds to the ear. I like to think of audio as made up of two parts : the "shapes" of sounds, like you see in the attack of a sound; this stuff is very phase-dependent, like drums and such are primarily in the "shape". The other part is the continuous tones; this stuff is just a superposition of simple waveforms, and it's phase-invariant. The funny thing is that this is a totally overcomplete representation; either "shape" or "waves" can represent the whole signal on their own, but usually one or the other is natural. I haven't found this well addressed in the literature; it seems like a big problem for audio in general. For example, if I want to do instrument recognition (like to take a recorded audio track and separate out the components), I need to do this shape/wave analysis. To recognize an instrument, I want to look at it in a phase-invariant way, I want to scale out ther frequency of the note, and I want to scale out the amplitude; I want to get the sample into a standard reference frame so that I can just compare it to a library.

The Windowed Fourier Transform is sort of a good start for analyzing audio. The goal is get a picture of the frequency content of the signal at each time. So, at each time, you do a Fourier Transform to sample at max frequency with a very small window (a window is something like a Gaussian function that you multiply on to smoothly select out just a portion of the original signal), then you sample the next lower frequency with a slightly larger window, all the way up to a very low frequency with a very large window. This is some kind of crazy analysis, and it's not a correct complete orthonormal basis; the goal is not to exactly regenerate the original signal. So, now we have this set of data which says at each time, how much of a given frequency is present. We can say "at time t, what's the spectrum?". Now we can do things like adjust the pitch of the sound without changing the speed it plays, just be up-shifting all this information. Similarly, we can change the speed of the sound without changing the pitch. We regenerate an output signal by interpolating all this information; we need to phase-adjust to make the regeneration smooth and continuous, eg. not introducing any lumps in the signal that we're going to hear. The signal that comes out is not anything like the original, but it sounds just like the original. The differences lie only in small phase adjustments of various frequency components; this can make the waveform look really different in something like a trivial difference (ala RMSE), but it hasn't changed so far as your ear is concerned.

Of course, this is much too slow; it's O(N^2log(N)) . In practice, instead of sampling at every time, you sample in intervals, like 0.1 milliseconds apart. Then you also don't analyze all the way down to very low frequencies; you just stop at some reasonably high frequency, like 100 Hz, and you hope that the lower stuff sort of comes out right.

4-16-02

Kung Fu Chess is great; in many ways it's superior to the games we big-budget game developers make; it's a blast, it's simple, it's quick, and it's deep.

I have some sympathy for terrorism; I need to explain that a lot more, because at first sight it's sort of offensive. If you were a small ethnic group tormented by oppressors who took your freedom and killed your relatives, how could you stand up to them? You cannot hope to defeat their army, so traditional war will get you nowhere, but at the same time you cannot allow this to happen. It's all very nice to say "rely on the international community", but that typically gets you nowhere. So, how can you possibly affect change? The only way is to make it too difficult for the oppressors to keep their hold on you. The most effective way to do that is with terrorism. The Algerians did it to the French, the East Timorese did it to the Indonesians, hell the Americans did it to the Brittish. In all those cases, the terrorists were clearly in the right; of course, when we agree with them we call them "revolutionaries" or "freedom fighters" or something. Now, I'm not saying that the Al Qaeda falls into this group, nor am I saying that the Palestinians necessarily do either (that's very complicated), but certainly many Palestinians *believe* that they are in this group, fighting the just fight for their freedom in the only way they can. The support that the United States gives to Israel, which has become a totalitarian state with no mercy, disgusts me.

4-12-02

I just put up the PPMZ2 code here on my site, and it's reminded me why I stopped working on it back in 1999. I hit a couple of funny issues; I was working mainly with the Calgary Corpus, and I was (and still am) convinced that PPMZ is very close to the best you can do with a Markov coder. There were some funny files in the Corpus - "geo" and "pic". "pic" is an actual binary image, and you could compress it better if you could tell it was an image, deduce its dimensions, and use a bilevel image coder on it. You could also do well on it just be transposing it, so that you packing image columns rather than rows. PPMZ was incapable of figuring any of this out on its own, of course. "geo" is a binary file from a GIS database or something like that; anyway it consists of a bunch of 4-byte floats one after another. You can pack it best if you can figure that out, and actually read it in 4-byte chunks and do some special float packer. You can also do well just by reorganizing it so that the significant bits of the floats are together; that is, reorg it from ABCDABCD... to AAA..BBB..CCC..DDD... ; again, PPMZ couldn't figure this out on its own. This was all old news, and somewhat depressing, but I pressed on. Then, around the time that I gave up, people started really working on coders that special-cased English text. PPMZ has always been very good at English text, so I thought I would play that game as well. In fact, PPMZ2 right now has a mode with a pre-conditioned order-0 model for text which knows the nature frequency of occurance of the letters in English. Anyway, most of the special casing for text involves taking advantage of rule-based patterns that a finite-context coder (like a Markov model) cannot capture. For example, capitol letters in English text primarily occur only in a few places; at the start of a sentence or on a proper noun. So, you can first compress your text all in lower case, and then go back through and pack the capitols as a boolean flag on each letter; that flag is highly predictable; ". " predicts a capitol very well, as does "english" (trying to make "English"), etc. Similarly, punctuation is highly predictable. You can do very well by packing English text as all lower case with no punctuation, eg. with a 27-letter alphabet (sending spaces), and then filling in the remaining characters, which are highly predictable from the text. There's a lot more you can do, but this is a good sampling. This depresses me. What I'm doing here is building *my* special knowledge of the data into the coder. The idea of general-purpose coder is that it should be figuring these things out on its own. Part of the problem with that is that I have seen millions and millions of words of English text; that is my coding model is very well conditioned and very large; in a sense we humans have a massive amount of "side information" in the form of our shared collective knowledge. I'm reminded of this Star Trek TNG episode where a race of people speak entirely in references; they say "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra" (or something like that) and it means a huge amount because of their shared side-information. The other depressing thing is that a lot of this information is rule-based or "finite state", and not well described with a finite context model. We still have no way of efficienctly learning (approximate) rules or finite-state information in compression, and it's unclear to me how to get there. I'm sure it will happen, but we're really getting into the realm of AI and computer learning. You need a multi-stage compressor, where at the lowest level, you're running something like PPMZ, but it's also feeding the text through some fancy AI (like a Neural Net or what ever) that's learning about rules in the data and feeding probabilities back to the base compression engine. The only problem with this picture is the one I mentioned before about the amount of conditioning data. Most compression engines are "one-off" without long-term memory, which is a mess to deal with; this means that they don't have long to learn about the data, and these AI engine do need a lot of time to learn.

4-12-02

I'd like to see a research project to try to simulate a single real scene in CG. So far as I know this has never been done; pick a place, like my living room, and try to build it in CG and render images that look "real". The test of "real" should be done by comparing photos and CG shots and asking a blind sample of people which is the computer-generated shot. The CG qualifies as "real" when >= 50% of the people say the CG shot is the real one. I think it would be interesting, once the image gets really close to looking real, then you can take photos and compare, and ask yourself "why doesn't the CG image look real?". I think a lot of interesting stuff could come out of that; is it dust in the air making the lighing more diffuse in the real world? Is it that the sun light arriving in the real world is varying and non-uniform because it's been through all kinds of interactions on the way to the living room? Is it the layers of dirt and dust on objects in the real world? Is it subtle subsurface scattering and other micro-surface effects? Is it that 2d textures just can't look really real; that you actually need cloth and wood and such that have 3d shape, etc...

4-11-02

More and more projects that I'm considering working on are in the realm of human-mimicing machines. Let me start back at the beginning. Some things I'm interested in are shape identification in images and extraction of instruments in audio. I know these things are possible in a reliable and accurate way, because humans can do it. You must be able to describe what humans do with some algorithm, that could be reproduced in a machine. The problem with this argument is that it may not be practical; that is, how close are tasks like these to "true AI" - that is, making a machine that has creativity, etc. For example, when I see that a "zebra" is a "zebra", as opposed to a funny-looking white horse with extreme shadows on it, how much of my database of knowledge about the world am I using? How hard is it to fool the brain? (pretty hard, with real images).

4-06-02

The Spherical Harmonic technique of Hanrahan et.al. in Siggraph 2001 is pretty great; it's practical in realtime on PixelShader 1.4 hardware (eg. the new Radeons). You can think of it as an enhancement of the old "environment mapped lighting" technique, which I've discussed many times in various places. On the other hand, the useful applications of this technique are still quite low due to some difficult problems. It really only works with static lighting environments, because you need to spend a lot of time precomputing these maps (that's kind of the whole point, to be able to do much higher quality lighting math in your precomputation step), and it only works for the moment in very small closed environments, because there's no good way to sample at multiple points and interpolate, or whatever.

2-27-02

I think it's quite possible that the laws of the universe are infinite. First, a bit of Goedel argument, ala Penrose :

The physical laws of the universe correpond to a formal system, in that they specify which computations can be done in that universe, and computations correspond to logical statements ala Turing/Penrose. Now, the Goedel theorem says that for any consistent formal system F, there exist statements which cannot be proved with F. In fact, the Goedel statement on F, let's call it G(F), is a true statement that cannot be proved with F. Now if F is the formal system of the physical laws of the universe, then G(F) cannot be proved with it, but G(F) is true, so those laws must not be all the laws of the universe!! This is a bad paradox, and the only way to solve it is by making F exempt to Goedel. One way to do that is if F is infinitely large.

Let me digress briefly to say that an "infinite" F need not be infinite in the way you might think; that is, it need not really be an infinite set of rules. It might just be an infinitely precise number with infinite entropy (like the "Chaikin number"). Now, a number like PI does not count, because it can be computed with a finite set of rules, and a number like sqrt(2) certainly doesn't count, but maybe the (unitless) charge of the electron (the "alpha" constant, roughly 137 (more like 137.03597... though perhaps different in an infinite number of places) might be such a number. Note that an infinite set of rules can be encoded in an infinite number, so in a sense, they are equivalent, but thinking in terms of infinite numbers seems closer to our every day experience. Now, it's quite possible that numbers like alpha will be derived by some deeper theory, and so not really have infinite entropy, but for the moment our physics has lots of these infinite numbers.

Anyway, this is all sort of an aside to my main point, which is - so what if the rules of the universe are infinite? I think it was Einstein's achilles heel in the end that he thought there must be a finite set of knowable rules that control the universe. Sure, there might be, but there also might not be. Note that I'm talking here about "knowable in principle", and not "knowable in practice", because it's possible that the rules of the universe are finite and knowable, but are just far too complex for our minds to ever understand. For example, the rules might take 2^9999 bits to encode, which would prevent humans from ever knowing them. So, whatever, who cares? The role of physics is not to find the absolute answer about what the universe is doing; even if you had the final set of rules, you could never know that it was the final set of rules! The role of physics is to find a good model for the universe. A model should be able to predict what will happen when a certain configuration moves through time in the universe with a high degree of accuracy. Our current model (quantum field theory + general relativity) is incredibly good; it's certainly not the end, and I suggest there may be no end, and in fact whether there is an end is the wrong the question to ask.

The question "is quantum mechanics the final answer?" is usually asked for the wrong reasons, as if it not being the final answer somehow invalidates it. It's not the final answer, but that doesn't make it any less valid. The ideas that quantum mechanics puts in our heads, about superpositions of amplitudes moving through time, sampling all possible paths, those ideas are good ideas, even if they're not right! Why? Because they fit the universe so closely, that they're a good approximation. Wave theory of sound is not "right"; what's actually happening is a complicated QFT interaction of all those atoms; who cares? wave theory is perfectly valid as an approximation, and it's very useful to think that way. The question "what is actually happening when a sound wave moves through air?" might be a bad question, it might be unanswerable; and who cares if it is? The right question is "what is the simplest very good approximation of the mechanism for sound waves moving through air?" (or something like that).

Non-scientists (and surprisingly many scientists) have a lot of trouble giving up this idea that science is about figuring out the root of the universe. It's not, and to ever claim that you have the final laws is a completely indefensible position.

1-13-02

I wonder when modern band name styles developed. I mean, at some point in history, like in the 19th century, bands were named in logical ways, like "The London Quartet" or the "David Goliath and his Large Band". Then, some group started calling themself something like "Bedspread". That must have been a weird time; by the 40s it seems that weird group names were an accepted thing. Weird-band-namers in that time must have thought themselves very clever; now, names like "Pavement" or "Cake" don't seem clever at all, and are completely divorced of meaning; even in the age of "The Crickets" and "The Beatles" the bands felt compelled to have some logical reason for their name, be it an insect on one of their recordings, or a pun.

I wonder if toilet paper companies do "field" product testing. I have this image of the Charmin toilet paper lab; they develop a new product, and then they're like "ok, Stan, make some beans, gotta test it".

I've been wondering this for a long time, but don't think I've written it down : all those products that say "not tested on animals" - what are they tested on? The consumer? Should I be scared of using a shampoo that's not tested on animals? Better to test on chimpanzees than humans, no?

12-18-01

Idea for better enlarging of images :

Take an image. Wavelet transform it with a nice smooth-basis wavelet. You will end up seeing the shape of the mother wavelet in the enlarged image, so choice of the wavelet may be important; for best quality, allow several choices and let the user pick the one that turns out best. Now, increase the size of the image in the wavelet domain by adding more subband levels. For example, a 1x1 source image would just make an "LL" band. A 4x4 would make an LL and 2 sets of {LH,HL,HH} ; you can double the image size by adding an {LH,HL,HH} band. Fill out the new bands somehow (see later). Now inverse-transform the wavelet image. Result is a higher resolution image.

Now the question is how to fill out the added bands. The easiest thing is to make them zero. If you do this, it's equivalent to using the source pixels as coefficients for mother wavelets in a higher resolution; if, for example, the wavelet is a "cosine" wavelet transform (ala EZDCT) then this is just Fourier-upsampling. The reason this is cool is that there are better things to do. It turns out that natural images have correlation at all levels of resolution. What that means is that all the "LH" bands roughly look the same; in particular, the correlation matrix between an "LH" band at level (n-1) and an "LH" band at level (n) is roughly the same for all (n) !! This means that we can build a deduced heurstic correlation matrix (via stastical analysis, just like a compressor would do) and then use that to predict the next level!

(minor note to self/implementer : make sure your wavelets are normalized; work in YUV space; maybe gamma-adjust to make the intensities light linear? use doubles throughout).

12-17-01

There's this really old idea to do virtual storage by having a small hard drive, and then keep lots of data floating around on the wires and routers of the internet. It occurred to me the other day that this could actually be done now in a cool "guerilla" way. So, idea for using the internet to back up your hard drive :

This is a lossy storage system, so it's used only for optional backups, and ideally each file would be stored in several places for RAID-style safety. Basically, you run a background task which is constantly feeding your data out to the internet. Your data can be crammed into lots of places. The program can get you lots of free website accounts on geocities, yahoo, etc. and cram your data up there; the program can post your data to the usenet newsgroups and then recover it via news archives; the program can get you lots of free email accounts and email the data to those accounts. Of course the data would be encrypted! Someone more sneakily, the data can just be routed around in loops. You can send out data to bad email addresses all over the internet; when it bounces back to you, you can delete it if you don't need it (and immediately send it out again). The result is that at least one backup of every file on your machine is floating around as an email in transit. You can make the turn-around longer by routing the mail through loops of anonymous re-senders and other such free services. You can use a chain of free email accounts to keep your data flowing in loops.

12-11-01

I bought 4 kiwis. The first I ate was very unripe, quite sour and hard. I waited a few days and ate the next, it was pretty sour and not soft at all. Today I ate the third kiwi; it has a slight hint of sweetness, and a little bit of softness. Perhaps the last kiwi will be good.

Today I thought to tell my youngest brother, James, that he needs to learn to do things that he finds unpleasant or disagrees with, "since in life, it's sometimes necessary to do those things to reach your goals". Then I paused and realized that I'm still not convinced of that fact. In my youth I would have flown into a rage over that edict, crying that it's senseless - why would you do something unpleasant in your life in order to acheive pleasantness in your life!? if the goal of life is to enjoy it, then just do it now! Why is enjoyment later considered better than enjoyment now? (as an aside, there is of course no "goal" or "reason" for life except to get to the end (why did the chicken live? to die), by which reasoning the suicides are the real "winners" in life, and the martyrs are doing a good job too, but they've got some confused side track about some nonsense "cause" or other). Anyway, I was saying that in my youth I rebelled against the idea that one must ocassionally conform to the social rules and "play the game" (as the say) in order to get ahead. I would mouth off in school, trying to show the teachers that I didn't consider them superior, and that this enforced heirarchy was only an obstruction to real learning; I would refuse to do busy-work, occasionally getting B's in classes I should have aced because of things like "points off for using pencil when you're required to use pen" or "points off for handwriting" or "didn't do the assignment to write each vocabulary word ten times". I felt the same way socially, and still do somewhat. I would intentionally violate social mores that I thought were silly. For example, at various times I thought religion was just insane - how can a rational person believe that a woman was made from a man's rib? (for example) - and I would tell people so. I would call people by slurs just to see their reaction, because I thought it insane to get riled up over what a complete stranger calls you. I would wear ragged, ripped clothing all the time to outrage the goofs.

I've moved past all this silliness to some extent; I now find it just as silly for me to find amusement in someone getting riled up as I find it silly that they got riled up. (as an aside, I used to be incredibly amused by the pure insanity and ridiculousness of the world; now I find it much more depressing; what I once thought just insane I now see as a manifestation of greed, sloth, avarice, and stupidity in the human race). Anyway, I now (sometimes) hold my tongue when I know someone is telling a lie, or when I have an opportunity for an "I told you so" or such. I now play some of the "games". For example, a good "game" that my dad me is this one : if you have an idea which you expect will receive resistance, first place the seed of the idea, then coax the decision maker towards that idea. When he arrives at it on his own, praise him for his brilliance, all the while basking in getting your way. This method is much more likely to get results than just presenting the idea and all the pros and cons, since people are much more likely to support their own idea than someone else's. Is it wrong to play this "game" ? Certainly not; it's a very mild form of manipulation compared to what some people do. Does it make me feel sick inside? Yes, a little bit. Do I wish I worked and lived in a place where I never had to do things like that? Yes, very much. Does such a place exist? Maybe not.

11-27-01

A mini survey of sorts; I've got a bunch of research I've done that I could write about, so you all can vote on what you'd like to hear about :

11-19-01

Movies : The Eel (Shohei Imamura) ; Music : The Shins

9-29-01

More thoughts on work as war. It's amazing what trials and horror you can fight through in war. BUT the minute you feel that your cause is not just, your resolve disintegrates and the leeches and mud and cold and hunger all become unbearable. Also, if your general is lobbing grenades into your platoon and giggling (I imagine something like a cross between MacArthur in Dr. Strangelove and the policeman in Young Frankenstein), you sort of turn around say "what the fuck are you doing?" incredulously, like "you want us to fight this war, but you're killing us!". Then you toss down your guns and go home.

9-23-01

Reading about the horrible human rights violations China has committed recently (and throughout its history), I initially think that it's a horrible irony to grant the 2008 Olympic games to Beijing, games that are supposed to unite the world and be a symbol of a free peaceful society. What's the alternative, though? Denying them that, and trade, and normal relations with the west? Isolating China (like a child sent to its room for bad behavior) is surely the wrong tack. An isolated China would stew and build hatred for the west. The political think tanks are right that the only way to free China is by embracing it, and simply trying to ignore its transgressions (while still voicing disapproval). Of course, this business of not even acknowledging the violations has got to go.

9-20-01

I guess I'll never be really happy in any corporation. A human needs freedom, a human needs to be able to be really wrong once in a while, to get naked and run around the office, to punch holes in the wall, to just scream, to curse at everyone around and then buy them coffees, to take all your mates on a drive to Mexico. I can't handle this idea of working with people you don't like and living your life in the time outside of work; I'm not sure why, lots of people seem to do it, but not I. I need my coworkers to be my mates, to have that camraderie, etc. It's not just about getting personally wild, though, it's about the company being wild. It's about not using focus groups, it's about doing things that don't appeal to the mass market. I want to write Kafka, not Steven King, I want to make Rushmore, not Rush Hour, I want to paint Francis Bacon, not Dali. Unfortunately, most of the people doing wild things don't know WTF they're doing. It's also very hard to find them. Genius is a rare thing, and it's very hard to spot before it's exploded publicly (genius and insanity are only epsilon apart).

I read recently that the way modern armies work is entirely based on the pack mentality of the troops in a platoon. Any one soldier on his own might stop and say "wait, what the fuck am I doing here?" and run on home, but if he has that good bond with his platoon, he'll think "no, I can't bail out on my mates". A good workplace is the same way - even if you're ready to collapse, you know you have to suck it up to help out your crew. I've been thinking a lot lately about these analogies between armies and companies. I think the dream in a corporation is to have a strong and wise leader that you can respect, like Duke Leto Atreides or Romell or Napoleon or Henry V, and not a maniac or idiot or coward. The best feeling is to trust and feel secure in the hands of your leadership - to know that if you can follow orders and execute them, then all will be well. Humans can do amazing things when they're set up for it. The best situation is to have a trusted leader and for him to say "Look, I've got this master plan, and here's your role : do this and this, and if everyone does their part, we'll be victorious". If you really believe it, then you'll get it done and go to incredible lenghs to do so. The worst thing is when you don't trust your leader, and they give you that same speech, and you know inside that even if you do your part perfectly, the war won't be won, and you'll be hearing the same speech next week.

9-20-01

Sometimes I just want to get crazy, to be poor, broke, live in the big city, and do something important, do something to change the world, do something different, like art or music or *something*, to be addicted to drugs, or a criminal. To not just be a cog in the machine, to not just do the same crap that everyone in the world is doing, to not be replaceable, to not enjoy nice wine, to not have a nice car, to not watch television. But then that feeling passes and I go back to doing all those things that I despised a moment ago, because after all, I do like them so.

One of my best memories is sitting on the floor in college, drinking and smoking and playing poker (badly), listening to Pavement and Luna and the Replacements and such. It was simple, it wasn't big fun, but it was pure. I wasn't hanging out with them for any calculated reason, it wasn't to build business relationships, or to get invited on their next ski trip, or to get with the sister, or whatever, it was just a moment.

I need to find someone older who's gotten through this. It seems like many people feel this lack of satisfaction in their youth, and most people get over it by simply having their spirit killed over the years, until eventually they just are content to work like drones and go home to their dog and their television. One of the better attitudes that I've seen is to just sort of ignore the crap that's going on around, and just try to do your own thing in whatever situation you're in and make the best of it. Perhaps I need to do more of that, but I still have too much desire to improve the world to just sit back and laugh when crazy shit happens. For example, when someone tries to run me off the road, I can't just laugh about it, I want to cut them off and get out of my car and give them a lecture about the shit they're doing. If you're Kieslowski, making films in communist Poland, the right thing to do is to try to express yourself, but to work within the system. Even when the censors chop up your movie, or when you have to put all your meaning into subtle subtext, you can be happy about doing what you really want to; it's futile and fruitless to rail against the system. I must learn from this.

In the real world, commercial pressures and focus groups and such are a must. So, the secret is to find that compromise, that sweet spot, where you can do the artistic things that you really want to, and to also be successful enough to keep going.

9-16-01

In article , hsutter@acm.org says...
> note that the above version has other problems
>(e.g., the return value should be a reference to non-const and the function
>should end with "return *this;").

I've read this over and over and just can't understand it.  I don't
see what the possible benefit of this is.  The only reason why you
should return a reference from your assignment operator (that I can see)
is so that you can write code like

a = b = c;

or

(a = b) == c

etc.

I don't think it's a good idea to write interfaces that permit this, and
I have no interest in supporting client code that does this.

Now, I've often heard it said that "integral types support it, so you
should support it" , but integral types support all kinds of things that
I don't support, like bitwise OR operators.  Why should my Mutex class
try to act like an integer?

9-12-01

Jesse Helms, Phil Gramm, and Strom Thurmond are all finally leaving the Senate (by not running for re-election) due to old age. The enemy is vanquished by attrition, but surely the Hydra will grow new heads.

I have very little time for the "rants" these days; I can't get to my web-site from work, and I have very few moments of free time at home.

There's this traditional casting of blame in companies up and down the heirarchy. Management sits around and says "my workers are a bunch of bums, it's their fault the job's not getting done", and the workers sit around and say "management is a bunch of bums, it's their fault we weren't told to do the right job". This is inevitable to some extent; it takes a very extraordinary personality to actually accept the blame, and anyway a lot of the time everyone is to blame so both people may be correct. Regardless, this breeds bad blood, and is to be avoided. I think the only way to do this is to merge management and labor; that way, labor can't blame the schedulers - they made the schedule themselves! To do this you need a really open environment, where everyone knows everything and is involved in all aspects of the work.

This whole terrorism this has captivated the county, of course. The sick side of me can't help being proud of the terrorists - everyone was so sure that they could never do any significant damage in America, but look how they've succeeded! Of course, the deaths of the innocents is terrible, but it's also terrible in Palestine, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Timor, in Indonesia, in China, in Haiti, in Cuba, in Columbia, etc. etc. Chances are, the US will retaliate hard against someone (not necessarilly the culprit). This is a huge mistake; it's what creates terrorists in the first place. The only remedy for terrorism is defense and bringing peace to the troubled parts of the world, not counter-attack.

9-3-01

I've been thinking a lot lately about the comparison of "work" and "school". It seems that in the games industry, there is widespread acceptance that you have to crunch to finish a product (this is a belief held through most of the software industry). In school, someone who crunches to finish a report is a slacker, a procrastinator. Often, you can get the job done that way (in school), but it definitely doesn't produce the best results. The best work is done by getting as much done as early as possible. I was always a bit of a procrastinator when I knew I could get away with it, but whenever I got an assignment that was actually difficult I would say "oh crap" and immediately get to work. Now, in industry you could blame this on a couple of things. You could say it's due to bad scheduling, it's due to the difficulty of estimating how long things will take, it's due to the changing nature of the task, etc. However, all of these excuses presume that you originally intended to meet your deadline by steady even progress. I think that assumption is wrong. I think most executives and producers in the game industry have the intention from the beginning of making a hard crunch at the end. Now, almost all of them (except for the cowboys) will tell you that they don't have that intention, and some of them will even believe it when they say it (it's a truism that the higher you are in the corporate machine, the more you lie; that's not necessarilly a personal flaw, it's just a very strong pattern (part of the reason for that is just that the lower-rung people have less to lie about; they don't know the secrets so they can't keep them! (and let me qualify that again : much of the "lieing" isn't straightforward; it's usually in the form of not sharing all the information you have))).

Anyway, where does this come from? Certainly, in school, most people were procrastinators. Only a handful actually started early, and many of those were just brown-nosers, honor-rollers that end up going nowhere in their lives. So, what's left is a handful of magna-cum-laude who start things early, and a mess of procrastinating business (&c) majors. So, given those odds, chances are your boss is one of the latter. Now, I'm not sure this accounts for all of it. There are many more issues. One is that the schedulers have often never done the work they're scheduling. Because of that they really don't believe the truth that everyone in the business knows : when you work creative people beyond their limit, their net work goes down even as their number of hours goes up. This has been documented over and over in productivity studies, but the corporate machine just doesn't get it. The fundamental reason for this is that until you've experienced it, you just don't believe it. Most writers and composers know it; if you try to work too hard, you'll never get done at all. Dante wrote one page of the Inferno each day; this pace is normal for writers (though the regularity isn't). The other big issue is that the schedulers really believe that they'll get tons of work done in the final crunch. The really sad thing about this is that it's partially true. The damned employees are very irresponsible and just don't do the right work. It's not a matter of working hard, it's a matter of what you're doing when you work. They'll say "there're months left, no need to do the hard stuff, let's work on the fun stuff" and the hard stuff will never get done until crunch. There's also a way that crunch focuses you on really helping out the bottleneck in the pipeline, as opposed to just doing your own thing.

8-22-01

I was just thinking about cleaning the house, and it made me think of programming. When I clean, I tend to have one of two modes of operation. In one mode, I'm on a mission to eradicate every last ounce of filth. I usually start somewhere juicy, like the bathroom, and scrub and scrub for hours, dusting the ceilings, replacing the air filters, etc. Alas, once I've finished my one room, hours have passed, and I have no energy to clean any more. In the other mode, I'm just trying to straighten up for guests (or whatever); I attack only the very visible filth - clothes on the floor, dishes in the sink. Dust and grime goes completely ignored.

This strikes me as just what programming personalities are like - either meticulous and perfectionist, but isolated, or comprehensive but not thorough. Now, the ideal programmer will initially do the most important things, and then refine to get more thorough as necessary or as he ("he" not "she", let's not kid ourselves) has time. So, what's this like in a house? You do a first pass to clean the most obvious things, then a second pass to scrub the floor, next do the laundry, wash the windows, finally dust, etc. It's interesting that nobody actually works or lives like this. It's the logic thing, but it's just not human.

8-20-01

(very old) Interesting compression idea :

16-bit fixed width codes.

Basically, the 16-bits refers into a
static dictionary.

Two ways to generate :

1. Explicity dictionary.  Transmit the dictionary, or
precompute and store it for a set of data.  You compute
it by finding the most common 65536 strings of 1 or 
more characters and just listing them in order and
assigning each a code.

2. Implicit dictionary.  You just transmit probabilities
for all the characters, eg. order-0 statistics.  Then
you make the code by making the highest-probability 64k
combinations.  First, load in the 256 single-characters,
then add the highest-probability string, then the next,
etc.

8-20-01

I've been doing a lot of wacky template programming lately (I'll be posting some of it on my page as soon as I get around to it). It's helped me to become much more comfortable with it, which is somewhat of a bad thing. I no longer have such a nice healthy fear of templates. Of course I still fear the compile time, the code bloat, the many instructions generated from a single line, the exposing of functionality to headers, etc. ; what I'm losing is the concept of how damn confusing they are to people who aren't familiar with them. This is important - my code is becoming harder for people at large to understand, and that's a bad thing.

8-3-01

Excessive sarcasm makes my ears bleed.

4-4-01

The new Lexus SC 430 is a beauty. I must resist blowing all my cash on cars. One of my favorite quotes from John Carmack was in response to "why do you blow so much cash on cars?"; he responded with something like "I spend 90% of my time at work or sleeping; the rest of the time is spent primarily driving between work and home; I want that free time to be as pleasurable as possible".

The difference between great programmers and terrible ones is not that the great programmers are somehow much better at solving hard problems. They are, but that's not where the big difference (a factor of 2-10X productivity) comes from. The big difference comes from the fact that great programmers don't make the problems easy for themselves.

3-6-01

The grape boycott ended with a whimper a few months ago. In the 80's with Cesar Chavez at the helm, it was quite high profile. In the 90's, after beatings from teamsters and much apathy from the populace, the boycott was called off and hardly anyone actually noticed. There are more illegals and temporary workers in grape picking now, and the strength of the union is greatly decreased. In the mean time, we can all boycott Carl's Junior. The owner, Carl Karcher, is an ultra-right-wing political reactionary. He takes his profits from your hamburger purchases and gives the money to anti-abortion groups and other such insanity. Anyway, we should boycott Carl's Jr. just for the insult of those disgusting commercials.

2-16-01

Part of me loves coding on my own. I'm 2 or 3 times more productive when I'm working alone - no meetings, no bugs caused by other people, all the code is quality, and I know it all well cuz I did it, it's all in the style I find most readable and sensible, etc. For example, I did the whole "Galaxy" demo in about a week or two or real work time (I did it in the hours before and after the work day at Surreal). That would've taken months of developer work time as part of a team! Alas, whenever I work alone I come back to the same damn problems : 1. I can't make money doing that, and 2. I can never make anything really great that way, since there's only so much one person can do, and of course I'm missing and the art and etc. Hmm.. I must be unhappy no matter what I do !? (Addendum : reading Code Complete now, I see all kind of studies and figures which show how the productivity per person takes a *hard* dive as you add more people. They estimate that productivity (measured in lines of code) goes down by a factor of 10 (an order of magnitude) from an individual project to a large team).

2-16-01

Affirmative action based on race is preposterous. Medical schools and colleges let in rich spoiled caucausianized minorities because of it who have no business getting in that way. The whole idea of affirmative action is to account for previous disadvantages - those ricks blacks and latinos had no disadvantages! Now, affirmative action based on poverty does make sense and is reasonable. A child from the inner city has an unfair disadvantage on the SAT's (for example) regardless of race. The same is true for contractors and city jobs; most governments have an AA policy in hiring contract jobs; they should instead of poverty or neighborhood based policies.

2-12-01

I just found a Sushi Robo CD for 98 cents. It rocks. Also check out Grandaddy and Silkworm.

I went to the game developer "hard core" technical seminar last week. It was great to meet lots of people that I have been emailing with for the past two years; lots of smart guys there. I left like a lot of people were stuck on accuracy and CPU-intensive work, and not nearly enough people were blown away by just how hot current graphics hardware is, and how much we can do with it.

12-7-00

D3DX for DirectX 8 is better than most (all?) 3d engines out there. Yes, your 3d engine sucks (and so does mine). Why do I think it's so great? It's got a mesh optimizer for vertex cache, it's got a good implementation of VIPM progressive meshes, it's got a "Technique" abstraction of multiple passes with fallback techniques for older hardware, it's got an efficient smoothed skin mesh, it's got exporters to get meshes from popular 3d art packages, it's got a lean and efficient model class. Hmm.. that sounds like a pretty full feature list for a 3d engine, and while being full-featured it's also lean, efficient, and pretty well documented. By contrast, most current 3d engines don't have many of those features, and instead they have kludgy big inefficient memory-wasteful classes with bad art paths and bugs galore, poor 3d content exporters, no abstracted multi-pass fallbacks for old hardware, and very bad speed on GeForce2. Don't whine that you couldn't have done what D3DX does - you could easily have done all of that just using the DirectX 7 interfaces if you actually knew what to do with a 3d engine. I haven't seen a single 3d engine that made the right decisions about its feature set - D3DX gets them right (I certainly made the wrong decisions at Wild Tangent; I wasn't nearly quick enough to see the power of modern hardware, and how it should be pushed, and how important it is to have a minimalist 3d engine which is low-featured, but every feature is *quality*).

I (or you) could make the best 3D engine in the world by taking D3DX/Dx8 and slapping a scene-graph + collision wrapper on it.


12-7-00

I'm going to take a moment to respond to some comments on my rants, rather than simply spouting more crap into the void of the internet as I usually do.

One wise reader remarked on my suggestion to eliminate farm subsidies. He pointed out that the rural economy of small towns in most of the central US (eg. anywhere away from the coats) would crash. He's right, and it's a bad thing. The reason why we need subsidies, let's recall, is because we can get some crops much cheaper by exporting from Mexico & South America, Australia, South Africa, Russia, and China (primarily). So, something still gnaws at me - if we're a capitalist country, why are we paying farmers to make crops which sell on the world market for cheaper than they cost to produce here? Hmm.. well, this is actually part of a general hard problem which I mentioned in that long political rant of 11-27 : if you apply lots of restrictions and taxes and minimum wages and whatnot (all of which I advocate) it pushes up the cost of operation in your country so much that your exports aren't competitively priced (and similarly, you can import things for cheaper than you can make them). This, I think, is one of the nasty big problems which is unsolved in the world today. It's why your sneakers are made in Thailand, and your momma can't get a job in a factory no more [sic]. Is it a terrible thing that environmental regulations (etc.) cause factories to move outside of the U.S., and force displaced factory works to become white collar (secretaries and whatnot)? I'm not sure. There's an additional tricky factor with the farm subsidies : a lot of the small farmers have land and/or have farmed for generations, and want to keep doing it even if they can't produce a crop at competitive prices. I have a soft spot in my heart for small farmers, it's one of the things I love about Europe - there are so many beautiful small farms, it looks so pastoral, picturesque, with crumbling stone walls between the farms - so much better than the massive fields of wheat with giant threshing machines that we have in the mega-farm of the midwest. Is it the taxpayers job to pay for the subsidization of the small farms, though? I'm not sure, I don't think so. Of course, there's one final complication with critical commodities like food and oil and weapons - the US government has the need to make sure that we have the ability to meet our demand with internal supply. This is for the unlikely eventuality that the entire rest of the world declares war on us, and suddenly we can't import rice - we've got to have the farmers and the land to grow it ourselves. Thus the government has a policy of paying the farmers to stay on their land for the purposes of having that supply if we need it. For the same reason we pay defense contractors to maintain big factories which operate way below potential, just in case we suddenly need to increase production. Viewed in this way, the farm subsidy is just like the fifty dollar screw-driver purchased from defense contractors. The question is how seriously should we consider the possibility of an import embargo, or a sudden descrease in the world supply levels - probably not that seriously. It is an issue, but we probably only need enough internal supply to meet half our demand, we can almost certainly get the rest externally even in times of crisis.

Another wise reader pointed out that the death penalty is by tautology an effective measure when applied to repeat offenders. That is, if a killer is released and kills again, then if the death penalty had been applied initially, a crime would've been prevented. Now, that is certainly true, but it's also true that life imprisonment would have done the same trick. I didn't mean to suggest in my 11-27 rant that serial killers should be released. No, they should be imprisoned without parole. Now there are a few issues to address. 1) the death penalty is cheaper than life imprisonment. Yes, that is true, but it's hardly a good reason to apply it, since the number of prisoners sentenced to death are an infinitesimal fraction of the prison population 2) is the death penalty a better deterrant for *other criminals* than life imprisonment; perhaps, but there are no figures that suggest that violent crime goes down when/where the death penalty is instituted. Personally, I would find life imprisonment much more unpleasant than to simply die (it's a long slow pain, instead of a short concentrated one). 3) life imprisonment may seem very similar to the death penalty, but there's a key difference which is the basis of my entire argument - it can be undone. The death penalty can never be undone if you make a mistake, life imprisonment allows time for appeals, new evidence, new science (like DNA testing), new laws, etc. This is a key difference, and I think that the slight arguments for the death penalty (points 1 and 2) are dwarfed by the major point against it - many mistakes are made in the US legal system, and of course it's much worse in many countries (Turkey, Ira[q/n]).


11-27-00

Well, I'm a bit fired up about politics all of a sudden. There are a lot of hard problems. I have no solutions for them, perhaps they have no solutions, but the major political parties don't even address them or acknowledge that they exist, and that just absolutely discusts me. The fact that George Bush can prance around saying that he is a "Uniter, not a divider" without addressing the fact that we are currently murdering people in the form of the death penalty applied to people who have not been given just trials, and in the form of embargos on Cuba and Iraq, embargos that have only recently been opened to food and medical supplies.

Strict election reform.

The goal here is three-fold : eliminate the power of corporations on government; eliminate the gridlock of the two party system; let candidates be elected on merit and issues instead of image and money. I propose to eliminate political parties completely. Only individuals run for and hold elected office. Thus, primary elections are eliminated, there is only a single general election. Close votes (within 10%) would go to run-off between those candidates. All campaigns are funded by the government. Funding is minimal, so anyone may qualify (with 10,000 signatures or some such minor obstruction to frivolous entry). There would be debates and news coverage of all candidates. Some steps would be needed to weed out the real lunatics. Without a funding structure, politicial parties would cease to exist. Without political parties, people would run as individuals on their own merits and ideas. In congress there would be no partisan conflict, because there would be no parties! With political donations completely outlawed, lobbying would cease to exist, and the sway of special interests on policy would end. Groups like the AARP and the NRA would not be allowed to encourage their members to vote for a particular candidate. The would be allowed to encourage voter turnout and to educate their members, but political advertising of any kind by anyone would be illegal. Everything else is based on this, because we'll never pass any laws which don't serve the establishment without this.

The death penalty.

This is an easy one and doesn't really have any caveats. The death penalty should be immediately stopped. To kill a man is never ever justified. Even if you were absolutely certain that he had killed another man, which we almost never are, you have no right to kill him. Think about it this way, if the death penalty should be applied to murderers, then everyone who has taken part in applying or supporting the death penalty should receive it as well. The fact that hundreds of convicted prisoners on death row have been proved innocent with DNA evidence is astounding and disgusting. It means that without that scientific proof of their innocence they would have been wrongly put to death. It also means that hundreds of other men on death row that haven't had the benefit of DNA clearance are probably also innocent. Something like 80% of the people on death row are minorites, who could not afford a proper lawyer and so got an incompetent public defendant who handed them to the well-paid prosecution. Granted, there are a handful of people who are beyond help, that will never by rehabilitated into society. However, those men are literally a handful, perhaps twenty in the history of this country, and they are all insane, therefore they get put in asylums and the death penalty isn't even applied to them! The death penalty does not work as a deterrant, it simply seems unreal to most criminals, it has not caused crime to go down.

Legalize drugs.

This one is somewhat difficult. Certainly, marijuana should be legal. Enforcement of its illegality is incredibly expensive; the plants are very hard to find. Because marijuana is illegal, growth of legal hemp is banned because they're too hard for the DEA to tell apart. It's obvious to anyone that marijuana has fewer detrimental side-effects than alcohol; alcohol kills many, many more people per year than marijuana. Whether or not MJ is worse than tobacco is unclear, since there exist no good statistics on the health effect of extended MJ smoking (eg. does it also cause lung cancer and whatnot?). Harder drugs are less clear. They have awfully severe side effects and are very dangerous. We know very well that children have no trouble getting their hands on alcohol and cigarettes, and they probably would get their hands on cocaine and heroin if it were legal. Our current policy of giving money to the Colombian army is also not a sane solution; it will end up destabilizing the balance in the fragile South American peace. Legalizing MJ will provide us with a nice surplus, eliminating the cost of enforcement and providing the taxes from the sales.

Tax all drugs

(that means alcohol and nicotine too). The logical rule is as follows : high taxes should be applied to all luxury items (things which are clearly not essential to life or happiness), especially when the use of those items adversely affects the population at large. Alcohol makes you a threat to everyone around you. You should pay for the right to drink it in the form of a high tax (perhaps 20%). Nicotine gives you costly future health problems, and causes you to stink up the world and leave liter all around; you should pay for the right to do that in the form of a high tax. Note that large and/or fuel-inefficient cars also fall under this "penalty tax" bracket, as do golf clothes ;^).

Use taxes to encourage new behaviours.

What I'm talking about here are a few things that I've written in great detail about in the past. One is applying large corporate taxes to cutting lumber and mining coal, make those companies pay not only a fair price for the goods they are taking (which they do NOT do now), but also make them pay a penalty for destroying our nature. Another is applying taxes for the burning of coal, gasoline, milling of paper, etc. This is the only way to discourage the use of fossil fuels, and to encourage recycling - you must tax the old behaviour just enough so that the new behaviour (recycling, renewable energy, and just reducing energy use) is more cost efficient. That might get single mothers to drive Hondas instead of Suburbans. The third is to tax builders for spreading out the city; tax builders heavily any time they develop on previously undeveloped land. Make builders pay a fair price for the infrastructure like roads and sewers that their subdivisions need, instead of subsidising them with city and taxpayer money. Apply tax penalties for tearing down historic buildings, for blocking views, etc. Give tax benefits for developing parts, for improving old buildings and for tearing down slums to build better things in their place. As I mentioned before, I've written about this in more detail in the past, so see that if interested.

Free and efficient public transportation in cities.

People need to be able to get around to hold a job in this day and age. Mobility empowers the worker, and reduces the effect of "geographical monopolies" (one of the basic forms of monopoly, inequality of price at different locations). Free and efficient public transit would also revitalize the city centers and reduce suburbanification. Finally, it would reduce unecessary urban driving, greatly reducing pollution.

Ban assault weapons and handguns.

There's no reason for anyone to have these. The argument that they are used in hunting is preposterous, I need not adress it. The argument that they are useful for self defence is also wrong. Many more people are killed by legally registered handguns (very common) than are saved by firing on intruders (very rare). There are countless cases of suburban teenagers with guns killing each other over tennis shoes or some such stupidity (one such case just occurred near my town, Seattle); there are equally many cases of couples getting in heated arguments, going out and buying guns and going home to shoot their lover. Guns are much too easy to get in America. Many proponents of gun rights suggest that criminals will always have guns whether or not guns are legal. That's just absolutely wrong, and every other civilized country around the world proves it : when you have strict and strong gun control, criminals don't have guns. Our violent crime rate and armed robbery rate is far higher than any other industrialized nation, and legal guns are part of the reason. I suggest that only non-automatic hunting rifles be legal. This is absolutely fine with the constitution, which gives citizens the rights to bear arms, not the right to bear any type of arm whatsoever (eg. nuclear bombs are not legal, neither should automatic handguns be!). Note that we do have a bit of a nasty problem because there are so many guns out there already, if we banned them now we'd have to enforce a radical and rapid cleanup to get them out of criminal hands and quickly stomp on any black market leaks. It's much easier to enforce gun control when you start with a country where noone has guns. Guns are like tax cuts - I hate to let the people have them, since once they're out there, they're very hard to get back.

The Price of Prisons.

It's well known that the cost of housing a prisoner is far greater than the cost of rehabilitating him, and that still is more expensive than the cost of programs like work training and wellfare which would have prevented him from getting in prison in the first place. Punitive and strict programs like "three strikes" in California are disgusting, completely unfair, and very very expensive for society at large. Not only do they cost us the price of housing prisoners, they also create single mothers with no income when their husbands are jailed, they also create men with a prison history which makes it hard for them to find a job, it also puts minor criminals in jail with real thugs, where they learn that lifestyle. There are massive numbers of people in prison. At any one time, roughly one third of black males around the age of 20 are in jail. Think about that, roughly one third of the men the community who should be in college or earning a living, who should be in the prime of their life, instead are in jail learning to be gangsters. We need severe prison reform. First, separate the minor criminals from the repeat offenders and the serious criminals, put them in separate prisons where they have no contact. Eliminate the prison factories which are corrupt profit machines for the state. Instead, educate the prisoners, give them job training and let them out early on good-behaviour work probation. Don't jail minor drug offenders (eg. just posession of marijuana), instead give them counseling and work programs with supervision for the first few minor offenses, to prevent them from ever setting foot in jail. People should *not* be punished for minor crimes, no matter how vengeful and angry your black heart may be - it simply isn't good for the country in the long run; instead they should be helped so that they never commit crimes again in the most efficient way possible, and prison is not it.

The minimum wage.

Lots of people talk about a "living wage", but let's think about it for a minute. The current minimum wage is about $6.50; now, if you made that, you'd get about $12k per year. That's the poverty line, folks. It's almost possible to live on that income, if you eat rice and beans all the time, take the bus to work and live in a house in a cheap neighborhood with several working roommates. You certainly cannot afford a car or a family on that wage, nor can you afford any savings or health care (god help you if you get sick or pregnant, or have any sort of acccident). That's a pretty damn poor life for someone who is holding a steady full-time job. The minimum wage should probably be more like $12.0 - anyone who works full time year round should make $20k annually, enough to perhaps afford a cheap used car, or have a family (still difficult on that wage), save a little, or live in an apartment with not so many roommates. I myself lived on about $30k in college (about $20k of my income and $10k worth of past assets in the form of childhood clothes and furniture, housewares and whatnot), and that was definitely ok, but of course I had the college health care, and I had no family, and I had no health problems. In a similar vein, support strong but reasonable unions. This basically means not letting the government or anyone else break strikes. Companies should not be able to fire anyone for union activities which don't prevent them from doing their job. On the other hand, companies should be able to fire employees for striking and hire new ones. If there's an excess of labor and not enough jobs, then people must worker

The cost of destroying the environment.

Hmm. I guess I already mentioned this in the bit about applying penalty taxes to destructive behaviour in general. I want to stress here that I think most Americans think it is a "good thing" to help the environment, almost none do anything about it on a daily basis. In fact, countless suburban soccer moms drive Suburbans and throw away everything, and then give $50 a year to Greenpeace. I think it is the role of government to use taxes to convert long term benefits into short term immediate ones. This is because while most people want to be good, in their daily lives they make decisions based on selfish, short-sighted reasoning. The government must convert long-term goods (like saving urban centers, preventing suburbanification and destruction of our natural open spaces, preservation of the environment) into short-term ones, using its means, such as penalty taxes as I have described.

Reduce the military.

This one's pretty simple. Here are some neat figures : American military spending has gone *up* since the end of the cold war. American military spending is seven times the total of the spending of all the countries which are not our allies. Those two facts are astounding to me, and ridiculous. Clearly, seven times the sum of all our enemies is more than adequate deterrent. The US has no threat on its soil whatsoever. Military spending should be cut in half or more. Along with this, we should stand down from many of our archaic and harsh mini-cold-wars around the world. The emargos on North Korea, Cuba, and Iraq must stop. The only thing they are accomplishing is the slaughter of the poor children and elderly that cannot eat. I think we've stuck to it long enough to see that an American embargo will never make the people rise up and revolt; in fact, it just makes the dictators stronger by letting them direct the hatred of the people at America! We must kill the dictactors with kindness. It's been shown in Russia and all of eastern europe that the best way to make democracies is not through hostility, but rather through trade and communication; given open channels, all countries will eventually become just like America.

Pay down the defecit.

With all the money I'm raising from cutting this and that and raising taxes here and there, we'll have plenty of cash to pay off the defecit, even without the mythical surplus which will disappear if our economy doesn't stay as strong as it is now. Egg-head financiers like to point out that in a strong economy it can be better to invest the surplus than to pay down the debt, since the return may be higher than the interest. That's all very nice, but this is a damned country we're running, not a bank. If you take out margin loans and then the economy bombs, you're screwed. We must pay down the debt while we're in an economic boom to make sure we are in a good position if or when things go sour again. Has everyone forgotten that economies go in cycles?

Free college education for good students.

This one is pretty simple, and should obviously be a good thing to everyone. All state universities should be free to anyone maintaining a C average or better. Education should not be a privilege of the rich. In order to be successful in the modern world, education is what you need. In order to get education in the modern world, you must be wealthy. In order to break this cycle, my proposal must be taken. It would provide a whole new class of hard-working smart people an entrance into the world of the successful. Obviously for this to work, the secondary and elementary schools must also be made equal. I'm not going to get into the whole pre-college education issue, because that would eat up my whole night and piss off my girlfriend even more, but I'll just mention that one major issue which noone ever talks about is separation of students. Recent education trends have acted towards intermingling students more, and requiring more group work. This is a huge mistake. At the top level, the best kids need to be grouped with their peers, otherwise they are held back by their classmates. At the lowest level, the really really bad kids need special attention, they need counseling and attention disorder medication, they need help with their family problems; if they're put into classes with the mediocre students, the result is like a brawl or a mad-house, where noone can improve themselves.

Eliminate farm subsidies.

If small farms are not profitable, we should not have them. Our taxes should NOT go to paying some small farmer to grow sorghum which this country does not need, which the government will buy and then destroy. That small farmer should take advantage of free federal job training, to become a computer-aided draftsman or something.

Make law enforcement accountable to the community.

Police in America have become like a society apart. They don't live in the communities they police. They seem to not think of the so-called "perps" as human beings. When they shoot someone dead for carrying a toy handgun, as seems to happen at least once a year, they act like it's a regular part of the job, and it's almost that person's fault for having a realistic looking toy. Police should be held accountable by the people they govern. The allocation of cops to various duties should be voted on by the people, so that for example we could vote for 0% of the police budget to go to speed traps. Similarly, when an officer does something horendous like murder or beat an innocent man, he should be subject to impeachment by a jury of citizens, and then tried in a court of law. Police should not be able to hold someone without charging them (you can currently hold someone 48 hours or something like that). There's *probably* widespread discrimination among police. Many people claim to prove this by citing the fact that 15% of the population (minorities) account for 80% of arrests. While that number is suspicious, it doesn't necessarily imply discrimination, it could just mean that minorities commit many more crimes. I think the best solution to this is a strong affirmative action plan for the police force; try to get more minority police on the street, and try to get a police force which matches the ethnic makeup of the area is oversees. Unfortunately, having "cops police the area they live in" is not necessarily a great thing, because it encourages favoritism, special treatment of friends, bribes, corruption and all that; some amount of detachment is a good thing.

Open immigration for the educated and skilled.

It just seems preposterous to me that we don't already do this (though congress is urgently working in this direction). We should welcome with open arms anyone with a college degree or other advanced training or skill who wants to come to this country. They only improve the overall welfare of the country, and are great for our economy. How much better would the last few years have been had silican valley been able to fill all its job openings? Of course, the implication here is closed immigration for the unskilled and uneducated. That's a sad but necessary step, I think.

Problem : elimination of frivolous lawsuits, elimination of the "money wins" rule in law.

This is a bit off the theme of the other topics, which are all sort of traditional government issues. However, in our country, the courts make law, and end up deciding the quality of life of many people. Thus, in order to have a fair government, we need fair courts. Our courts these days have three problems. First, judgements are passed by juries which don't understand the issues in complex cases, juries which don't include the cream of the population (which can get our of jury duty). Second, courts and people are bombarded with frivolous and nuisance lawsuits. To fix this, there needs to be a fast-track for throwing out cases, which could be used for example when one company counter-sues another just to tie up the initial suit. There also needs to an independent oversight process in which frivolous and excessive suits are identified, and the litigator is fined and forced to return any winnings. Finally (third), we have a problem of a "best lawyer wins" system, which often means that the side with more money wins, regardless of the merits of the case (see the OJ trial, for example, see also most Microsoft trials, and essentially any trial involving an individual and a corporation (not involving hot coffee)). This is hard to fix, and I don't really have any great ideas. One thing I've been tossing around in my head is a "loser pays all legal fees system", along with court-granted loans to pay for counsel. This seems alright in some cases, but when the loser is broke, he ends up going to jail with a potentially massive outstanding loan on his head, which is hardly what we want.

Problem : The cost of making your government too big.

This is a problem with my suggestions that libertarians and republicans will be quick to point out. Government is inefficient, in a literal sense; the amount by which the GNP is increased per federal employee is not very good when compared to the efficiency of Microsoft (for example). Now, I'm not a proponent of "big government", in fact I think that with all the special-incentive taxes I propose, I would be able to afford a tax cut for the poor and middle class (none for the wealthy, of which I am a member). Still, I grant that with any government involvement there is bound to be inefficiency and incompenetence. Actually, I have no great faith in the private sector either, so I would say that with any human involvement there is bound to be incompetence and corruption, and government is just one example of this. This is related to the next one :

Problem : Interaction of Public and Private Sectors.

There are a lot of ways that the public sector must contract the private sector. Some examples : public-provided health care, the military/defence industry, NASA, public transportation, road and infrastructure construction, power and water, etc. In all of these are massive opportunies for the private sector to rip off the public. The biggest problem is when you've got monopolies, such as Lockheed in military contracting, and all the local power and water utilities and public transit services. These kind of semi-private industries are not a good thing, they are just public-enforced monopolies which lead to profit for private individuals at the tax payers' expense. These industries must either be totally open, totally private and competitive, or they must be totally government run, non-profit ventures. Both solutions are unsavory for different reasons. The government run one is unresponsive, tends to not adapt to new technology, not be aggressive, not be as cost efficient. On the other hand, if all local phone was private (you think it is? no, no, prices are still regulated by the states), if all power was privatized, then it would be out of the hands of government, and the power companies (for example) could very strongly control many peoples' lives with rate hikes or poor service (outtages and such). This is a difficult problem. America tends to be going the way of privatization, and that's a reasonable thing, but we need to be very careful about how we handle the left-over monopolies from the semi-public days.

Problem : The cost of making your country too beneficial for the poor, and taxing your corporations too much.

This is a nasty problem which plagues the plans of the Green and Socialist (and to a lesser extent, Democratic) platform, and it certainly plagues my position. If you make a country which has fantastic benefits like high minimum wage, free health care, free child care, etc, then you suddenly are faced with two nasty problems : 1. the cost of basic labor becomes so high, that manufactured goods can no longer be produced at prices that are competitive with the global market. 2. you get mass immigration of the poor and unskilled from neighboring countries (ie Mexico). I'll start with #2 since it's more straighforward. #2 has been seen a lot in western europe recently, in Germany and France in particular, and it's causing huge problems. The basic foundation of a government like a I propose is to elevate the disadvantaged. In a government like I propose (or even in the government of today), poor and unskilled people are a drain on the economic health of the country, because the infrastructure to support them costs more than they contribute. This is all right as long as their number is constant, because the surplus from the other taxes can support them, and the programs I outline should elevate them to help them contribute to the country. The problem is when there's a steady influx of the unskilled poor, they simply cost too much and contribute too little, and there's not enough surplus to handle it. This can perhaps only be adressed by a strict closed border, which is a very unpleasant solution that I don't like at all, but can't seem to avoid. #1 is trickier. If you penalize businesses for polluting, and make them pay for employees' healthcare and whatnot, then they operate at higher costs than businesses in 3rd world countries which don't have those laws. This makes their exports unprofitable. I don't know how to handle this. Probably, you have to fix prices by applying tarriffs to imports based on the laws of their source, and by applies rebates to exports to lower their prices based on the target country. You would also need to try to use trade deals and other incentives to get other countries to adopt the same practices as you, since in a world economy it's not good to have laws which differ too wildly from others'.


11-27-00 Other

Movie recommendations for November/December : Dancer in the Dark, the new musical from Lars Von Trier, starring Bjork. It's a sad beautiful movie, with a very sly tongue-in-cheek awareness of its own form (musical). Maborosi; a Japanese movie; the title refers to a spirit light which calls people into it, never to return, which is a metaphor for the lives of the characters (director: Hirokazu Kore-Eda, writer: Yoshihisa Ogita, based on a story by Teru Miyamoto). Maborosi has fantastic use of light and color, it's very tranquil, many of the shots look like photographics or still life paintings. Finally, The Last Days of Chez Nous. After seeing Dancer, I was thinking back on other sad movies I've seen lately (many of which are Lars Von Trier movies), and I remembered Last Days. It's a somewhat hard to watch movie, since the characters are all rather unpleasant and you don't form a bond with any of them. That's the magic of the movie, however - you get to see these people who are very realistic and rather unpleasant, and you can imagine how they could be like that, actually trying to be good people but just somehow failing, and being weak and unpleasant instead. People whose lives are ruined by themselves, a very powerful and important theme; this movie captures it as well as any I've seen.

I wish we had some more options in texture compression. For example, palettizing textures can be a very good way to compress them. Unfortunately, NVidia doesn't support them in hardware (why not?) so they're right out.
Also, some textures look terrible in 16-bit color. It would be nice if there were a 32-bit verstion of S3TC. It would require 12 bytes per 4x4 chunk instead of 8, that's 6 bits per pixel instead of 4. This is hardly a huge compression price to pay, and would let me use S3TC on a lot of textures that I really can't use it one right now.


11-8-00

Well, the election has captivated me. It appears for the moment that Bush will win, due to a majority in Florida (which is in turn caused by a rather confusing Republic leaning the Cuban population; can anyone explain that to me?). There will be many things to blame for Gore losing. I think the primary culprits are the massive lack of political knowledge of the voting people, and thus their likelihood to vote based on just an impression or image. If you forget all about the candidates' specific policy proposals for the moment (since I know many of you will have supported Bush just to get your tax cut, you greedy bastards) then I think you will see that Gore is a very intelligent and well-educated man, with lots of experience in politics. Al Gore has been the most active vice president in history (though that's not saying a whole lot, because most VP's just sit on their asses for four years); he's been coordinating environmental summits, visiting Yugoslavia, Isreal, Northern Ireland, trying to make peace, he's been personally talking to senators and congressman to drum up votes for legislation supported by the administration. Bush is a daddy's boy, who has essentially never held and office or a job that he got on his own. His father (illegally) got him a position in the national guard so that he could avoid service in the Vietnam War (Al Gore did serve). Bush was arrested for DUI (driving drunk) at the age of 30, and has a questionable past involving self-avowed screwing around and probably cocaine use. His only political experience is as Governor of Texas, which is a state where the governor has essentially no power. While governor, Texas has kept its record as the pollutinest, gun-totinest, prisoner-killingest, bad-educatinest state west of the Mississipi.

If Gore loses, there will be one sure thing to blame : Nader voters. If you add the Green party vote to Gore's vote (and they surely would have voted democratic if they didn't vote Green), Gore would easily win Florida and other close states, and take the presidency. Now, first of all I have no problem with Nader (well, I do have a little problem in that he's a bit of a loon; if you actually listen to his speeches, he's full of crap quite often, and will take back what he said if you push him. For example, he often says "the other two candidates are identical, and bad for the environment". If you push him, he'll eventually come out with "Well, yes, Gore has worked for the environment, and Bush hasn't, so there is a bit of a different, but they're both establishment beaurocrats compared to me!"; also, his foreign policy is terribly reactionary, like the WTO crazy protestors). Anyway, I respect him for running for his cause, just like John McCain, Jerry Brown, and Jesse Jackson before him (hmm, lots of J's there). In states that weren't close (like New York and Texas), I have no problem with Nader voters. In states that were (or are) close, I have a big problem. How could they vote Nader, knowing it could put Bush in the white house? The only way I can explain it is to imagine that these are people who actually don't follow current affairs, politics, and government. They actually believe that the government is a big evil beaurocracy and that there's no difference between getting one bad beaurocrat or another. That's absolutely wrong. Terrible individuals like Tom Delay, Newt Gingrich, Strom Thurman, Pat Moynihan, etc. can make a huge difference in our lives, in the role of powerful committee chairmanships. Have a republican president and congress is terrifying to me. It means that we have no hope for good health care reform, education programs, internet infrastructure, anti-trust prosecution, abortion rights, gun control, protection of forests from logging, penalties for polluting companies and companies that use excessive numbers of temp workers and workers in 3rd work countries, an open and active position in the UN and IMF and WTO, programs to educate and elevate the disadvantaged to keep them out of prisons, etc. etc. We could be in for some bad things over the next four years.

Oh, BTW the "electoral college" is damn stupid. We should just elect the president with a national popular vote. This ridiculousness just doesn't make sense any more.

Another addendum : the primary system, that is having a primary and then general election, biases the election for the two major parties. If we didn't have primaries, then all the democratic and republican candidates would run at once, all against eachother. This would split the democratic and republican money and voters; the result is that voters would be choosing candidates on an individual basis, not parties. Libertarian, independent, and Green candidates would have a much better chance. In fact, if you think about, there is no point to a Primary except to focus the money and votes of the major parties, which is NOT a good thing for politics.

The major problem with politics in America these days is the two party system. The only way to fix this is major campaign finance reform. We must ban all forms of political advertising. We must ban all forms of political fundraising and contributions. The only media coverage of the election should be in non-partisan open debates, and of course news reports, etc (though we saw with Nader this year how the news coverage could completely shut out a 3rd party candidate).


11-3-00

Airport security is obviously just there to make foolish passengers feel safer. It's trivial for any terrorist with a bit of money and creativity to blow up an airplane. Here's one way :

Luggage loaded into the belly of the plane is only cursorily examined. You can, for instance, ship computers and other electronics in the belly. You could easily ship a bomb in the belly of the plane that's activated by seeing a certain cell phone number dialed on the plane. You can also take your cell phone on the plane, and thus trigger the bomb. Of course, there are countless other things it would be easy for a terrorist to do : poison the water supply of major cities, take out the power grid simply by blowing up some of the big lines that run between states, set off bombs on major freeways, etc. Terrorists (and miscreants in general) are quite unimaginative, and not nearly as resourceful as governments would have us believe.


10-24-00

I made a comment a while ago about the relation of word length and frequency. Here are some good web pages on Zipf's law, which is what this is all about :
http://www.btinternet.com/~g.r.turner/ZipfDoc.htm
http://linkage.rockefeller.edu/wli/zipf/
http://www.cut-the-knot.com/do_you_know/zipfLaw.html

Apparently Zipf was a bit of a loon. He approved of Hitler's "rearrangement" of national boundaries in Europe, because it made the population distributions more closely match Zipf's Law, hence it was "natural".

I saw a report on 60 Minutes last night about purchasing high-priced sperm for artificial inseminations. First of all, I think 60 Minutes is a terrible, awful show. They tell constant half truths, are completely biased and lacking impartiality in their reporting, and mislead to make the story say what they want. It always makes me sick to watch it, and it terrifies me to think how many Americans get their news that way and believe it. Anyway, what they were talking about were families that have payed tens of thousands of dollars to buy the sperm of skilled people, such as CEO's of e-commerce successes with genius IQ's, or olympic athletes.

My first reaction was revulsion and disgust. For one thing, these parents have doomed these children to very twisted lives. The children know about their background, and it's got to warp them, give them huge egos and huge expectations for themselves. At the same time, there's no gaurantee that that special sperm has given them any advantages, because their natural mother's DNA has been mixed in, and you never know which of the doubled chromoses you get from the sperm in meiosis. My second reaction was selfish. Is it fair for my children to have to compete to be on the football team with other kids who were born from the sperm of Jim Brown and Walter Peyton?

I'm still not sure what I think about all this. It brings us one step closer to animals, where the rancher will take his prize bull and mate him with all his sows in order to spread those good genes. My objections have diminished, though. For one thing, parents that would do that to their children would probably screw their kids up anyway, by grounding them when they lost the "big game" for example. Secondly, it's better to get some quality genes in the populace, rather than the genes of those awful parents. The thing we have to watch out for in this process is our genetic diversity. Our farm animals are pretty screwed up by selective breeding; they've lost critical diversity, and we need to make sure this never happens to humans.


10-23-00

What ever happened to the little head seat covers on air-planes? Remember when air-plane seats used to have those white cloths on the head rest? They don't any more; does that mean that we don't have lice any more, or do the airlines just not care anymore?

Local control of schools is a terrible idea. I'm ranting about this because GW Bush keeps going on as if it's a solution to our educational woes. By contrast, I think it's a big cause of problems in education. Local control of anything in general is a bad idea. The basic reason for this is that you get idiots running the local system, because of a poor accountability framework. Nationally run schools would have specific programs, hiring policies, that would be set with some reasonable basis. Locally, the superintendent is only accountable to the voters, as are city council and school board members. The problem is that nobody cares about school board elections. They're not covered on the news, their debates aren't televised, etc. Do you know the voting history of your school board members? Did they vote to stop teaching of sex education? So, it's a given that very few people vote and/or care about these local elections, and the voting populace is in general very uninformed about them. When you have a small voting group like this, the psychos and weirdos can easily dominate, because they do get out and vote. In America, these weirdos are basically the religious right. The result is that school boards across America have been doing awful things like telling the schools to teach creation instead of evolution, and to not teach sex education, etc. A school district in Kansas recently banned homework, because some parents' children were crying and unable to go to all their extra-curricular activities. Now, one solution is just for all us reasonable people to get more active in our local governments. I think this is an unecessary burden on us. The more intelligent we are, typically, the more other interesting things we have to do that take us away from politics. We shouldn't have to closly follow, local, state, and national politics. Furthermore, the whole concept of local control is archaic. In our modern world, there's essentially no reason for a school in Kansas and a school in New York to have different curricula. Finally, local control of schools also means local funding. As our presidential candidates like to point out, over 90% of school funding comes from local taxes. This is horrible unfair. It results in grossly imbalanced funding of schools. Many states have started equalization programs to transfer money from richer areas to poorer, but the richer areas compensate for this with donations from local companies and parents, in the form of band uniforms, a new gym, new lockers, etc. Local funding also makes it very hard for needy districts to get the money they need. In order to raise new money, they either have to get a local property tax increase passed into law (essentially impossible, nobody will vote yes on a tax increase) or pass a bond issue to raise money. These are especially difficult to pass in poor school districts. We need federal funding of schools. (see my earlier rant on the fact that states are obsolete).

Houston is quite the screwed-up city. It's one of the most severe examples I've ever seen of a town which was wrecked by having too much space, along with the help of corrupt builders and politicians (Bob Lanier, Tom DeLay, etc.). Houston is surrounded by suburbs. The traffic is awful. Freeways sprawl out from the city center to the suburbs, which are dozens of miles from city center. The freeways are continually being widened to accomodate more traffic, which just encourages more building in the suburbs. Of course, all this building is payed for by the state and city, while the suburb developers rake in the profits by finding the land they bought in the country suddenly rocket up in price. Now, LA has some long commutes and people live way out away from it, but for the most part that's because LA is just big, and all the little communities in LA (Pasadena, Santa Montica) are thriving neighborhoods in their own right. In Houston, the suburbs are nothing but homes, and they're so spread out and wasteful of land; the roads are so wide, the yards so big, every 7-11 so far from the neighboring dry cleaner. There's no life there, nothing but child care centers and soccer moms in SUV's.


10-5-00

Skill-based contests that are open to the public at large are a ridiculous thing. For example : sports picks contests on web sites and newspapers. In a small group, like an office pool, you have a good chance of winning based on making good picks. In a large group, someone is going to get it exactly right, so you have almost no chance (becaues the change of getting it exactly right is infinitesimal). The same thing happens anytime you have an extremely unlikely event, and a huge pool of competitors million contestants.

The most important trait of a programmer is attitude. Really, I know it sounds cheesy, but it's true. There are some people who are great coders, maybe they're experts in their field, or great API writers, great at writing modular code and good OOP classes, or maybe they're wizards with CPU's and assembler. None of that is as important as attitude. What are the good attitude traights I'm referring to? Well, I'll tell you.

I think the fitness industry is currently filled with sleeze bags. A lot of the people who work in gyms these days are part of a recent explosion in fitness professionals in america. These people a. want your money, b. don't know much about fitness, form, how to not hurt yourself, c. are trying to pick up chicks, d. have minimal training and awful customer service skills, e. are semi-temporary workers and have no job loyalty and hence no desire to treat you right so as to retain you. Bastards.

It's amazing how much you can get done when you have nothing to do.


Idea : take a recording of a guitar playing; in the silences, edit out the sound of hands sliding over frets which you usually here, and replace it with the sounds you here in the silences of a wind-instrument : inhaling of breath, clacking of valves.


12-31-99

I'm thinking of getting a tattoo on my arm. The current choices are : "Geek","Nerd", or a heart with "C" in it, or maybe "i h Del Psi = Gamma Psi". Register your vote now.


Possibility is a form of slavery. In the modern world, a man of intelligence can have and do anything. If you don't, you are lazy. Any pain you incur is your own fault, since you could have prevented it. Compare this life to that of a celtic warrior around the time of the birth of Christ. He has essentially nothing to plan for in the long term - he will never be a millionaire, he will never find a unified theory of physics, so he does not worry about either. The most important thing for him to do is to stay alive, and knowing he will die soon anyway, he partakes of life's pleasures lustily, fearing little for the consequences.


One of the geniuses of MicroSoft is pre-release hype. The only other companies that have ever done this well are media companies, namely games and movies (oil companies do not make you anticipate a promised lowering of prices in six months, for obvious reasons). Pre-release hype is a great thing; it lets you sell a massive number of items even if your reviews and word of mouth are terrible (this phenomenon is obvious in movies, but win98 is also a great example, as are many awful and popular computer games, like most of the new games by 989 studios). Anyway, more computer companies should learn from Microsoft. MS devastated OS/2 and MacOS with early promises of their nonexistant Windows 3.0 . Obviously, some people can't do this; for example it would be counterproductive for Intel to hype their future processors because it would undercut their massive brainwashing effort to make you buy older processors at inflated prices. It should also be noted that software pre-release hype is much easier than anything else, because such a high percentage of software users get their information on the net, where communication is essentially free.


12-4-99

I'm so fucking sick of the fat-free craze. Fat does not make you fat - unspent calories make you fat! Sugar can make you just as fat as butter! And if you don't want to eat fatty foods, fine, eat pasta, eat fish, but don't eat low-fat butter, low-fat mayonaise, low-fat ice cream - those foods are fat! You make them low fat, you have nothing! For breakfast, have some lean ham, not low-fat bacon!! Now, tell me about "lite bread"; what a load of shit. "lite syrup" is hilarious too - it's just syrup diluted by more water! How do you make syrup lite? Syrup is just sugar and water! If you want to lose weight, go get some exercise. Are you curing cancer? Are you researching the unified theory of gravity and quantum fields? No, you're not? Then get off your lazy ass, and pass the cream.


11-27-99

The whole Millenium thing is such a load of crap. The numbering of the days is totally arbitrary, and to all you atheists out there : you realize the year 2000 is based on the birth of christ, right? I could see christians celebrating their 2000th anniversary with christ, but most of the world (asia, africa, etc.) has no connection at all to our convention for numbering the years. If I told you that today was the 99999th day since the speciation of the nutria (a large rodent) would you celebrate it?

The only broadcast TV station I get here in Seattle is 'PAX', for the love of god. I actually watched "touched by an angel" and "diagnosis : murder" last night; at first I was amused by just how cheezy they are, but I quickly converted to homicidal urges... anyway, I'm watching a documentary on just how historically accurate the bible is. Some examples of their logic : "The myth of Hercules says he killed animals with his bear hands, so Samson could have too" , "This ancient table says that there was a man with the name of Shadrak at a gathering of the advisors of Nebuchadnezzar, so this proves the Shadrak in the bible was real!"...

Construction companies should be charged for the inconvenience they cause. I'm serious! Not a crippling amount (eg. if they were actually charged for the GNP (productivity) that they crippled, they couldn't afford it), but just enough to motivate them to minimize the inconvenience they cause. It should be more than the hourly overtime wage of a staff of workers, so that it is worth their while to pay their workers to work nights and weekends. Construction on a freeway, in particular, is very expensive in terms of inconvenience fines, so that the company would do things like only tear up part of the road at a time (instead of tearing it all up and then letting it sit and doing nothing), and they would work 24 hours and weekends on major freeways. The only way to make them do this is to make it in their best interest - eg. fine them for the inconvenience they cause!


11-11-99

Well, I'm moving to Seattle to join Wild Tangent . I'll be doing 3D and streaming internet transmission, my two specialities...


A File Systems is really a classification system for files. Viewed that way, it's like a database; the file path & name are the key for searches, and a "current directory" is just a prefix of a search key. Obviously, a single-index database is archaic; why do we put up with it? I want to store my bookmarks as link files, and I want to be able to index them by their name, their http address, by comments I put on them, by category, by how often I visit them, etc... similarly, I have a mass of postscript and pdf files of papers; I want to index them by name, by category, by whether I've read them yet or not, by a rating I put on them, etc. Clearly, we need a better database for our file system.

Oh, BTW while I'm on the subject of file systems, let me remind you of the Amiga's virtual drive mounting system; you could mount a device (mydev:) and then copy files to and from it; the device could be anything, you just had to provide some standard functions (DoIORequest or such). The result is that you could do things like:

	copy myfile COMPRESS:
		(would create myfile.compressed)
	or type COMPRESS:myfile
		(would uncompress myfile and show the data)
	and type afile.txt > CONSOLE:640x480xBlueOnWhite
		(would pop a new console window and show your file there;
		actually even more power than this was in the standard console device).
This is obviously an AWESOME system (lets you make a RAM: drive very easily). In the modern internet world it would make great sense to use this system to make virtual devices for "ftp:" , "http:" , "pop:" , etc. so that I could do things like
	copy ftp:/ftp.sunet.se/pub/amiga/coolness.lha hd0:coolness.lha
	copy attachment.file pop:myfriend@dudes.com
And all that molto-bene stuff. (The wise Ken Demarest is pursuing a similar syntax in his own DOS utils, but the framework is just not nearly as elegant in Windoze)...


11-4-99

Here are some windows oddities for you:
1. change the subst of a drive; all of a sudden windows will pop an explorer in the root of that drive! (and BTW the lack of long-named virtual drive assignments is just ridiculous; the new Active Directory avoids that elegant solution and hits the problem with a sledgehammer)
2. use 'send to' an editor (like notepad) on a shortcut; sometime the ".lnk" shortcut file is sent, sometimes the target of the shortcut is sent. Very mysterious
3. when windows are busy (like web browsers) sometimes the window background doesn't paint and you see through to the desktop..
4. lots of oddities occur when a window tries to grab focus when you are in fullscreen directdraw; sometimes you crash, sometimes you flash back to the desktop, and sometimes the complaining window draws over the DDraw scren! 5. The blasted OS stalls out completely when a CD track is starting streaming. Win95 used to stall for all floppy drive accesses, Win98 was primarily a bug-fix for that monstrous idiocy.


A plethora of features may attract new users to a product (ex : MS Office), but solid functionality keeps loyal users (ex: Matrox Gfx Cards, HP Printers & Calculators, Micron PC's)


11-2-99

It's cold now in Texas; my lungs hurt when I jog, my muscles are stiff and my bones ache; I just want to curl up in my feather blanket and hibernate until the sun comes out again.



Video cards need an 844 YUV mode. For one thing, the visual quality of 844 YUV is far superior to that of 555 or 565 RGB. For another, it would greatly accelerate JPEG and MPEG viewing. To make it really practical, you would need to be able to mix 844YUV and 555RGB in one screen. There should be a hardware 'layer' system...


We are so used to horrible operating systems that we hardly even think about how they should be any more. A computer should be liberating, it should help you create the UI that you desire, it should not be like a constraint, like walking in water. I should have a keyboard shortcut to maximize this window right now. I should be able to move a program once it is installed, and god help if you want to change the viewer associated to an extension once it's registered!
I should be able to drag open files between various programs. Programs should be able to find eachother (see the assign system on the amy). The window CLI is just awful; the task-swap overhead is ridiculous (CPUs are so fast that we forget that identical programs run 10-20% faster in DOS!).
And how about a file types registry? I should have simple functions to open any image, and the loaded file should be passed through registered file parsers the convert it to the data I need (eg. I pick a JPEG file and ask for the raw bits). Yes, I know windows can actually do this type of thing, but it's just such a ridiculous complicated mess; there should just be a directory where these modules are kept, and simple little functions to get to them... most of the fancy windows functionality is so screwed up and complicated by awful APIs that it's easier to just write your own code than use their libraries...
Microsoft clearly has no strong direction from programmers. That is, they have some good coders in the lower echelon, and loads of business guys at the top telling them "do OLE, no wait scrap that, do COM, no wait, do Active Asshole", etc. making for the most useless and gigantic codebase ever created...


10-26-99

It's very interesting that curse words & sexual words are so short (usually four letters : fuck, dick, cunt, ass, ..) because it is well known that the length of words is inversely proportional to their frequency (eg. shorter words are more common "I","a","do","the" vs. iconoclast or parallelopiped)]

Amusing scene for a "naked gun" style movie : people sneaking around in the dark in LA Lights tennis shoes.


10-26-99

Recycling costs money (eg. the process is more expensive than the natural resources paid; you and I who recycle must pay the recycling company to take our stuff). This is totally ridiculous. In the (far) future, it will obviously be very beneficial to recycle, because all our easily-extractable natural resources will be used up, and the remaining dump land will be very expensive. Now, the cost of recycling is basically a constant (assuming no process changes, and btw it gets cheaper if you do more), so what we're talking about is an increase in the cost of other resources. Why hasn't that happened? Because you and I are paying for them.

Most natural resources are extracted either in the US on government land, or out of the US in disgusting fashion. The US rents its national forest land to loggers and strip miners for essentially free (literaly pennies per acre), cutting down old growth forests and making a handy profit; we are literally subsidizing these companies so that their trees make paper cheaper than hemp or recycled papers, etc. This is absolutely disgusting and ridiculous, and one of the many attrocious results of the lobbying system in our fucked up government. Not only should this land be rented at market value, it should be rented at well above market value, and the renters should have to pay a large fee per tree cut down or hill levelled. Now, you fools reading this may say "but that'll make products more expensive for us to buy!". Nonsense. The governments increased income from all this will save you the huge money you are indirectly already paying for these products in taxes. You will get a tax cut that will balance out the rise in prices; furthermore, with that money in hand, you will now be able to make a fair decision between products that are more or less environmentally sound (buy a wicker chair for $50 instead of a mahogany one for $500). Finally, many of the mining & logging companies get ridiculous environmental breaks (eg. that are not shown to nuclear power or factories, or whatever); they create runoff that destroys rivers, they separate poisons from their ore in the extraction process, etc. To summarize, the natural-resource extraction industry needs to stop being subsidized by you and me (and in fact, penalized!) so that the price of recycled goods becomes lower than that of raw materials.


10-22-99

CPUs will soon be powerful enough to do real-time raytracing. I estimate that a 1 GHz CPU can do 1-hit tracing in a 320x240 window at 30 fps. This wouldn't be terribly impressive, but with a few of them, or a 4 GHz CPU, you could be doing multiple reflections at hi res. Whoever has a good real-time raytracer when CPUs get here (very soon!) will have first-mover advantage in a very cool future market.

A lot of things like this that were once considered way too computationally expensive to be realtime will be very soon. CPUs are getting ridiculously fast and cheap. The rumored limit of waver fab sizes and interference and heat and whatnot are totally irrelevant, because when CPU speeds start to max out, we can just start parallel processing more agressively, and the machine speeds will continue to double every year.

Unfortunately, the result will probably just be that the OS and application software will just get lazier and bulkier. Do you realize that MS Word is *SLOWER* on my 350 Mhz machine than ProWrite was on my 25 Mhz Amiga! I'm not exaggerating, it's true. Sure, it has more features, but I never use them, and they shouldn't be taking up CPU cycles when they're disabled...


The world through newly cleaned glasses is crisp and bright. I've discovered that I don't really like contracting (don't let this scare away potential job offers - the insanity of my ranting may scare you away, though). I get no sense of accomplishment, of being part of a team and finishing some big task when I just write some little part of a big thing. Plus there's the ramp-up time of conforming with whatever conventions of the team your contracting for...


10-14-99

Shorts:

Suggestion to Tom Green : go to an Indian restaurant and keep trying to order hamburgers and steaks..

Just because Acura used a Galaxy 500 song in a recent commercial doesn't mean you should buy one.

How about those credits at the start of a movie? I don't give a rat's ass who the hell the sound editor was. Furthermore, you don't need to even tell me who the director, writer, etc. was - either I knew before I got to the movie, or I don't want to know until after the movie is over. If it's a bad movie, I don't care, and I don't want to like it just because I saw some famous name; if it's a good movie I might want to try to remember the people who made it, and then the bastards don't tell me who made it!?

Habitually preparing yourself for the doldrums sucks the fire out of your spririt. Some days I'll get excited, bouncing off the walls, and end up doing nothing; the next you feel like you could get revved up, you just don't bother, and go to sleep instead...

The problem with relationships is that you are attracted to the "on" act of someone - cool, bulletproof, charming - and once you settle in to eachother, you become lazy, showing your soft underbelly, not dressing up and preening, not going out...
On further consideration, that's only part of it; there's also the ambiguity, the excitement, the unsureness of not knowing eachothers thoughts about eachother.

There's a tree in my yard that grows like a weed; it has children everywhere, and its leaves are so big and grow so fast, that it breaks its own branches, unable to support their weight. There's also a huge vine growing over several trees; the vine is an interesting evolutionary animal : it has the advantage of not having to support its own weight, but it relies on trees to hold it close to the sun...

I wish I had played more sports as a child; it's very hard to get into them as an adult (and essentially impossible to get into them at any high level), not only because your peak years are past you (I'm in the best shape of my life at 22), but because once you're old everyone expects you to be good; you can't play intramural baseball if you don't know how to swing a bat...


10-14-99

Why is porn so bad? (or, why is there no good porn?). In literature, you have great works of erotic/illicit literature : Lolita (and other works of Nabokov; even his non-explicit prose is humming with eroticism, palpatating, quivering, sensitive spines and downy napes of necks), books of Henry Miller, G of John Berger, Dracula and Carmilla (or whatever it's called, the Sheridan LeFanu female vampire story), and much much more. This genre is completely missing from film/video. On the other hand, a "porn" novel seems so ridiculous one can hardly imagine reading one.

So, why do we put up with it in video? Basically, because there's no alternative. Now, in a capitalistic world, that doesn't really make sense - someone should provide it if there really is a demand. Ah, but here's the problem - the demand is not vocal. The educated men (& women) of america have some ridiculous hang-up about talking about erotica in "proper" situations (an interview on Charlie Rose, the New York Times), insinuating that it is somehow below them (though they may secretly masturbate while reading the literature cited above). Furthermore, there is a stigma associated with anyone who's done porn. This is particularly ridiculous : models, for example, are not some socially upstanding examples for our youth, such that doing porn would somehow make them morally less savory, and yet the stigma hits them, as it does minor (bit part) actors & actresses.

It's all a bit mysterious, and somehow says things about the bizarre culture of America. Of course, a lot of better stuff is made in foreign countries, but most of it doesn't make its way over here (perceived lack of demand? the moronic porn-watching masses can't tolerate subtitles?).

Part of the problem is that when this awful crap (silicone breasted, fake nailed, dyed blonded, tummy-tucked, overly-tanned, melanomic coarse unfeeling untender women saying "oh, yeah!") is all there is, you become accustomed to it (like you become accustomed to all the ridiculous awful crap we're constantly bombarded with in life (eg. the partisan senate rejecting the nuclear test ban treaty, which is absolutely unreasonable and probably just done so that Clinton couldn't take credit for it; they want George W. to get that laurel)).


10-11-99

Why do I love football? Well, the real reason is because it's the exact opposite of most of my life - I get to zone out and watch tv, while big stupid guys run into eachother and smack eachother up. Or maybe it's because I get to think about how the big guy can get penetration and drive into the end-zone...


9-15-99

(Disclaimer : this does not apply to all women; I use the word 'women' to apply to most females, and to the stereotype; if this doesn't apply to you, give me a call, you amazingly well-adjusted girl (wink))

Why are women so stupid? They feel bad about themselves when a guy stares at them - it's a totally irrational reaction, the exact *opposite* of logic! (eg. they only stare when they find you attractive; normal people avert their eyes from the ugly and freakish) And, when they feel unattractive or modest, they behave sheepishly, when being bold and confident can only make them more attractive (while their self-perception of unattractiveness can only succeed in making them unattractive!). Why should anyone ever feel bad about themselves? Either you care enough to do something about it, or you don't and you shouldn't think about it! Sitting around feeling bad has no possible positive benefit - so just don't do it !

This idea of brainwashing by the media is a crock. Part of the problem is an unrealistic greedy-ness. Women want to be the only woman who can give any pleasure to their lover. This is a preposterous stance. Genetically, men are made to want to mate with all the healthy young nubile women they can (which causes the men to fight over mating rights, and the most powerful, wiliest man then wins and gets to spread his seed; hence evolution). Yes, we can feel "love" and devotion and all the other feelings that some women profess to feel exclusively, but we also feel lust, and any lust that we feel for our lover we must feel equally for any attractive girl (that's the way the wiring works!). Women are naturally attracted to virile, passionate men (eg. lots of testosterone) presumably as a genetic impetus (eg. those men have a much higher chance of giving them children, therefore it is a behaviour which is dominant evolutionarily) - (which raises the interesting question : can women smell testosterone, or some analogous pheromone?); unfortunately for them these are the exact same men who have strong sex drives for *everyone* (sex drive *cannot* be directed; it can be controlled and exhausted upon one person, but when it returns it is once again indescriminate).


9-14-99

More weight-loss techniques :

1. Have some of your intestines removed. You have a huge amount of intestines in the cavity right behind your belly button; this will make a huge difference in your appearance. It has the added benefit of decreasing your digestive efficiency - eg. food passes through you faster and you get fewer calories from it, thereby also allowing you to eat more in a day! (aside : this idea is actually so good I'm not sure if it's a joke anymore...) (related idea: have some of your liver removed so you can't process alcohol as well, so you can get drunk on less alcohol; this saves you money and reduces your fat intake from alcohol).

2. Beat the crap out of yourself. This is easy and fun; just find a friend with a baseball bat to thoroughly bludgeon you. The optimal beating gives you full-body bruises but without breaking any bones or bruising any internal organs. Your body has to rapidly breakdown huge amounts of energy to heal all the damaged tissue, allowing you to consume 4000+ calories a day without gaining weight. This will also let your friends work off excess agression towards you (such as is caused by their jealousy of your thin (albeit black & blue) figure).


7-27-99

Taking a curve at 100+ MPh feels so goddamed good; the sideways/diagonal forces on your body feel like sex - like your muscles are all flexing, like you're made of energy. It's not an adrenaline rush the way drag-racing is (there, you are so distracted by the testosterone-fueled competition that you can't concentrate on the purely physical sensations), it's more of a feeling of domination of nature, like watching the cheetah run or the tiger prowl and leap - you are fast, strong, sleek, and hugging that corner in a way which is ever so tight and smooth.


7-22-99

The composition of elegant sentences is far more important than the veracity of the content they contain; this is an exquisite example of this assertion.

Words of advice to people hoping to lose weight : get a tapeworm! I recommend hanging out in a poor area of a 3rd world country. Don't wash, and eat lots of feces for a week or two. Now, return to your home and delight - eat heavily and gain no weight! After a few months, the tape worm will be quite huge in your intestines, and it may become uncomfortable. At this point you should flush it out by pouring not-quite-lethal-poisons into your body. Once the tapeworm falls out in a great bloody bowel movement, repeat the process by going to get a new one. (enterprising young girls may keep the babies of the previous tapeworm to re-impregnate themselves after the flushing process).

(Addendum : if you don't have the money and leasure time to pursue this method, you can compromise by eating tainted seafood every morning. It'll make you feel sick all day, which will reduce your appetite, and make you vomit if you ever eat too much. You should be able to get tainted seafood for free from grocery store and restaurant dumpsters).


7-22-99

The definition of sensitivity vs. insanity is a very dangerous issue. Let me pretend for a moment that I am not so brilliant as to recognize this issue, and demonstrate the thinking of a normal human being:

There exist basically intelligent and reasonable people who are "assholes". They do things I hate, and must know that I hate them. They cut me off when I drive, they drink my milk leaving none for me, they mock my hair-style, they play loud music when I try to read, they chew their food noisily, etc..

At the same time there exist absurd, unreasonable, hyper-sensitive people who react ridiculously to thing I do. They honk at me just for driving fast, they turn away from jeans with the hole in the crotch, or my bare feet in stores and offices; they get angry when I say the Pope is a master con artist, or quote George Carlin's "believe in angels? why not goblins!?"; they get upset when I call them fat, even though their fatness is a simple obvious fact. These people are obviously idiots for taking offense to such trivial and reasonable things.

Well, if you don't get my argument now, then you're an idiot, but here it is anyway : everything you do might offend someone, and everything others do might offend you, and (just like morality) there is no way to determine which actions are "ok" and which are "wrong". So, what should we do? Most importantly, try to ignore others actions, and not be affected by them. When I flip off another driver and watch them turn into an idiot, accelerating and braking, trying to cut me off or ram me in their rage, I am now amused by their sheer stupidity at such a reaction to my behaviour. (of course, this cool detachment is a clear sign of emotional death, but we'll ignore that for now).

Now, given all this, there are still some things we can reasonably say about critizing others behaviour :


7-14-99

It's one of the sad facts about life that you can gain weight much more easily than you can lose it. One month of indulgence may take several of attrition to cancel. The human body cannot lose more than 3-4 pounds a month (in normal living conditions; more can be lost in concentration camps, and army basic training)

I have very little sympathy for women who complain about the ridiculous model set for them by the media; many use it as an excuse to not even try to be fit. If they would work out an hour a day, they could be in fabulous shape. Whatever problems they may have that they think are insurmountable (eg. breast size) probably aren't very important. If they would spend the time they waste obsessing over looks or eating snackwells doing something active instead, they'd be far better off (anyone who has seen the gorgeous women in Paris striding around in tight black pants and eating Pain au Chocolat knows the truth of this).
Twice as many men work-out as women. Only 2% of women below the age of 30 work out regularly. How dare you complain about any problem without trying to fix it!?

It astounds me what a bunch of assholes and idiots I'm surrounded by. My coworkers eat my Thai leftovers right out of the community fridge. Disgusting men stand around nude weighing themselves in the gym (as if their goddamned underwear would weigh too much!). Assholes pick up my magazine and lose my place in it every time I set it down. People drive 50 in the fast lane and just sit there; this is made worse when they think they have some holy reason to do so. It's also bad when someone who wants to go 55 gets behind someone who goes 50 and then just sits there waiting for some change which will never come. Stupid senile seniors take half an hour to check out at the grocery store (trying to get cash back from their library card) - just die already! Bastard cleaning service shows up at my house at 7 AM and starts banging the pots and pans together and singing the spic-and-span song. And this is just one day. Bastards and Idiots, all of you.


7-13-99

Here's an odd little game of perception for you. Find a place where you can see an interesting cloud formation and with an object in the foreground in your field-of-view (such a lamp post or tree). Now set your eyes to long focus, stare at the clouds, and take a few steps. Make sure the ground is not in your field of view. It will appear that you are stationary in the frame in the clouds, and the object (lamppost, tree) is sliding along on its own. Suddenly reality spontaneously atrophies and amputates and you have treads instead of legs; flap your vestigial wings on your carpace and take some lurching steps.


7-7-99

Driving at one hundred miles per hour (one hundred fifty feet per second), you can easily observe Bernoulli's Law (should be called Bernoulli's Approximation, just like Newton's so-called Laws). Simply roll your driver-side window up and down, and feel your ears pop as the pressure in the cabin changes.

What causes this? Well, let's review Bernoulli :

1/2 * p * v^2 + P = Constant along flow lines
where p means 'rho', the density, v is the velocity, and P is the pressure. Where does this law come from? well, let's multiply through by V, some volume, and let m = p * V , a mass of air or fluid :
1/2 * m v^2 + P V = constant
Now, we should recognize the first term as the kinetic energy of a moving mass. Then we assume it's an ideal gas, and so
P V = N k T
Now, k T is just the thermal energy per molecule, and N is the number of molecules, so we have :
1/2 m v^2 + N k T = Energy = constant
Thus Bernoulli is just conservation of energy in disguise.

What does this mean for us? Well, when the window is down, we have very fast air flowing past us. Inside the car, the air is very slow. Thus, and flow that happens to go from the inside out (or vice versa) must make a huge velocity change. To keep energy constant, there must be a corresponding pressure change. Since the density of air is low, this pressure change is low, but at 100 Mph it's enough to feel.

With water, the pressure change is much more sensitive, and fluid dynamicists make flow velocity meters by running a tune off of the pipe they want to measure. To measure the pressure in this tube, you simply point it up and leave some air in it (with a sealed end). The volume of this air will change as the pressure on it changes, so you can just read off the velocity of the fluid!


7-6-99

In no small way, the current prosperity in the USA is a direct balance to the horrible impoverishment in Russia, Korea, Indonesia, Africa, Brazil, & elsewhere. Do not be misled by the high yields of your stocks, or the reassuring words or the western puppeteers in the IMF and the Treasury - most of the 3rd world countries are currently as poor (in terms of the citizens real spending power) as they have been in the last 20 years. Many countries have the highest unemployment they have ever had since WW2. Famines are slaughtering people in North Korea, Indonesia, and all over Africa.

First of all, we should not be surprised at this balance of wealth & poverty. Where did your money come from? There is essentially a finite amount of money & wealth and real goods in the world. Wealth does not appear, it simply moves around. There are some transitory sources of "free" goods - eg. the sun gives free light, which makes energy (which = money). The most efficient way to harness sunlight is in crops; on the other hand, you eat food to survive which is *literally* flushing wealth down the toilet. (Similarly with drinking water and etc). This daily evaporation of wealth through basic functions is roughly balanced by the free sources of wealth creation.

So, where could new wealth come from? Well, one way is discovering untapped wealth, or wealth without owners, as occurred in the colonial and imperialistic times. Another way is to convert the latent wealth stored in natural resources (trees, oil) into liquid wealth (cash). Of course this is not really "new" wealth, it is just putting latent wealth into circulation. Countries can print new currency, but that causes deflation which keeps their total monetary value constant.

Hence we see that money only flows. Thus, when you get a raise, someone somewhere just lost the money they needed to eat.

Now, beyond these hypothetical rantings, we have very solid evidence that much of the recent stock boom is due to *direct* financial co-opting of 3rd world countries. So, how is this done? eg. how do I make poor people starve to death so I can buy a BMW or two for myself?

First, you need to have a couple million dollars to earn the right to play in the serious financial markets. (see later on how see poor schlubs can play the game nonetheless). Now, with your millions, you can buy junk bonds. The best type of junk bonds are foreign, because you're taking the money from people who are much farther away, where they won't be able to sue you, or complain to their sissy government. Furthermore, 3rd world countries have messy and corrupt financial markets where you can pull off any shady deal you want to. A semi-reliable and excellent source of these bonds are foreign governments. They give high-yield short term bonds to raise cash, to invest in their burgeoning economies and to pay off debts (they're all corrupt and poorly run, so they tend to run budget defecits, so they need to get this foreign money in to stay solvent; in fact, most of the naughty stuff that goes on in 3rd world countries has foreign money behind it). So, I buy my high-yield bonds and start making a killing. I can make a 50% return on profit every month (with, for example, the Russian GKO bonds which they sold in the year prior to the crash of the Ruble).

Now, of course, these countries get into trouble. They are essentially getting very high interest rate loans from foreign investors; to pay off one loan they have to take another at a still higher interest rate. There are two basic alternatives now : 1. heavily tax the citizens, and tighten your purse strings internally; the result is that the citizens of this country are indirectly pouring their wealth into the pockets of the western financier. 2. default on your debt. Now, if they choose to default, most of the western investors will be paid back by the IMF (aka the US government). Internal investors tend to not be paid off. After defaulting, they lose confidence in foreign investors, who liquidate their holdings in that country, causing the currency to plummet. The result is that imports become ridiculously expensive, so the people's real wealth plummets (eg. they can't afford gasoline, etc.) Furthermore, with no investment, companies fail and unemployment shoots up. To make matters worse, the country has to do something like option 1 anyway, so money becomes tighter internally.

The conclusion is that your new Beamer has been paid for by the taxes of Russians, Indonesians, Koreans, Thais, etc. living well below the US poverty line. Oh well, here, have another sip of champagne; I can't stand to drink anything else...


6-22-99

"I" am not what I say; I am not what I do; I am not what I believe. If my behaviour changes, I have not changed. A human being is like an S-Matrix (that is, a particle- particle scattering amplitude) : we "collide" with the outside world, and the collision changes both of us; the input initial state of the human being is just a coincidence of initial conditions, the S-Matrix is immutable. Any physicist will tell you that the state of the universe is just a coincidence - the way it *changes* is law. (I take that back, Stephen Hawking might be trying to derive the initial conditions of the universe, but so few people understand his modern research that it'll be years before I can tell). From an information theory viewpoint, a human being is a finite state machine; our actions and environment are IO streams in and out of our machine; as we take in events, it changes the internal state, based on a transition table, and we output events corresponding to our state. The human being is *not* in the output (you could try to model the machine that created the output, but such a thing is far beyond the capabilities of psychology) it is the *state machine transition table*.

I hope I have spouted the requisite gobbledy-gook for the day. ps ridiculous and radical reformists do more to hurt their cause than any lying opponents; cases in point : feminists who claim that women can be just as capable athletes as men (absolutely absurd), and integrationists who claim that there are no mental differences between the races (the probability of having *NO* genetic difference between two groups that have been separated geographically and/or culturally is just naive).


6-21-99

Well, the panel commisioned by congress has announced that there are no statistical correlations between breast implants and the health problems of some women with implants. Of course, the good experts have been saying this from the very beginning, but that didn't prevent all the flaming losers and greedy scum-sucking undeservingly-rich lawyers from driving the mighty Dow-Corning into bankruptcy. It is estimated that breat implant manufacturers have lost over $7 billion in suits, and we know that at least ten percent of that (eg. 700 million dollars) went straight into lawyers' pockets...

BTW if you get a chance to see a rerun of "Breast Men", you should check it out; it's a historical fiction about the inventors of breast implants. Vaguely amusing.


6-16-99
The generation I have been forced to grow up in is the most pathetic and apathetic in quite some time. They are cynical, downtrodden, uninformed, entertained, and lazy. In the 17th century, playing cards didn't have the numbers on them, eg. the four of clubs just had four clubs on them, you had to be able to count to play; now we are too lazy and even incapable of counting clubs well enough to play cards. In the 60's and 70's, there were revolutionaries, thinkers; people would get excited (fire in their bellies) if I started talking about Trotsky. Of course they were mostly deluded, but at least they cared about something, and they were open minded and active. Now, most kids don't even know who Trotsky is.

ps. the song with the highest ever single-day sales in Japan is swim! fish-shaped pancake!, from the post-war era; it was recently challenged (but not beaten) by the three little rice dumpling brothers on a stick. (rough translations)


6-7-99
We can model traffic as a propagating disturbance. One car does something stupid - slams on its brakes, cuts someone off, looks at a parked car, etc. (this is a random i.i.d. event). This car's action propagates : another car has to brake. This cascade flows like an exponential in (d - dc) where d is the density of cars and dc is a critical density. That is, the number of cars effected by the first one is like (d - dc), then each of those then moves affecting another (d-dc) each, for a total of (d - dc)^2 , but we've overcounted there moves by the permutation redundancy of the two cars (they are indistinguishable particles to us). When d < dc, this disturbance rapidly fizzles out, because someone can make a move into an open space. When d > dc, there are no open spaces, and so the disturbance spreads rapidly, and we get traffic jams.


6-6-99
One hundred miles per hour feels slow to me now. First it was sixty; I would get on a city street and be going sixty and just feel *slow*. Now, it's inched up, and I find myself regularly doing 110 on the highway, and 80 on curvy city streets. I've also got a sweet little car which has much higher safe speeds, but my driving has already adjusted for that, so that I'm pushing it harder, and I end up with the same danger level that I had in my LeMans doing much lower speeds.

The world looks beautiful when it's whizzing past you. As Nabokov once noted, a change of physical viewing parameters gives us poetic insight into things we've taken for granted; so a drape under a microscope becomes a seething ocean of strands, and so the smoggy city when stretched by my speed becomes a pastoral countryside.


6-5-99
The classical methods for spatial subdivision are octrees and sphere trees. The goal here is to answer the question "what objects are in this specific region" ? For now let's consider a small discrete space. The octree just cuts up this space like a binary tree cuts up a 1d space; obviously the depth of the tree is ~ log(N) where N is the dimension of the space.

The BSP tree cuts the space up with planes. Each plane is a node in the tree, and the region on each side are its children. The advantage here is that you eliminate worst cases - eg. a tree with one member will always have depth 0, whereas the octree will still have depth log(N). If the space is totally filled, the optimal BSP tree will actually be equal to an actree, and so have depth log(N). A BSP can always be as good as ~ log(M) where M is the number of unique spaces occupied.

Constructing an optimal BSP tree off line is easy; you just find a plane that has half of the objects on each side, and then repeat on each side. Doing it efficiently in real-time online (eg. re-balancing as you add members to the tree) is an unsolved problem so far as I know. (you acheive a pretty good heuristic by using an actree of only a few levels (say 4) to index into a bunch of smaller BSP trees in the cubic leaves of the octree).

Anyway, the reason I wrote this rant is to say : a BSP tree is to an Oct-Tree like a binary tree based on the actual values (logM) is to one based on power-of-two splitting of space (logN).


6-5-99
Once you acheive a certain level of income, the economics of everyday things become totally different. Let's imagine you make > $36 dollars an hour (if you can read this, you should be making more than that); that means you make 1 cent each second. Now let's imagine you are a real work machine - eg. you can make yourself efficiently work at any time, and that if you work excess hours you get excess money (of course you don't get paid by the hour, but if you work more and don't get extra appreciation, you need to quit your job; otherwise, you can slack off in your salaried job, and work consulting jobs where you really do get paid based on how much you work).

So, given all that, what does this mean? If you drop a penny on the ground, it takes you about 2 seconds to bend over and pick it up - you've lost money!!! Even worse, if you take the time to actually spend it, or count them, or put them in a change machine, you've lost even more money! (oh, and BTW if you ignore your penny, then someone with a salary < $36/hr can pick it up for a net win; this is the best real example of "trickle-down economics" I've ever seen :^> )

If you're thinking of driving anywhere, don't! You can hire a chauffeur for less than you make, and then work in the back seat for a net profit. (Of course, some of us enjoy driving, but if you own a truck or something awfull like that, then you can't possibly be driving for the fun of it.. oh, and if you go slow in the fast lane, you deserve to die).

Clipping coupons - another way to lose money. You save maybe 35 cents on average from a coupon. It took you 10 - 15 seconds (at least) to find it and cut it out; about 5 to keep it in a drawer and find it again to take to the grocery store, another 10 - 60 seconds to find the product in the grocery store that matches the coupon, and another few seconds to use it at the checkout (5-10 counting the time for the checker to scan it). All in all, you've spent at least 40 seconds (probably more) - a net loss of money.

Then there are some ways that the government and society are horribly wrong. If part of the goal of the government is to increase the net GNP of the country, they are not doing all they can. 10% of the population creates 90% of the income. That means that every time one of the ten percenters has to wait on one of the 90%'ers, the country is losing productivity. This happens whenever you have to wait on a secretary, or even in a grocery store, or on a repairman. The most obvious infractions are in road repair and traffic. The average metropolis loses at least 5 million dollars a day in productivity which is wasted by efficient people sitting in traffic instead of working. When a freeway (or anything) is being repaired, it should be worked on 24-7. This of course increases the cost of the repairs, but gives a huge net win to the country (eg. the increased incomes of the people not slowed by the repairs is far greater than the cost).

Some of these things are obviously impractical mind games. Some are not. The next time you drop a penny - ignore it.


5-26-99
I'm pretty sure the guy in the neighboring cubicle (here at HP) is eating my food out of the community fridge.

I just took a drive down the PCH to Santa Cruz; it was nice, but I kept thinking that when James Dean and Marilyn Monroe hopped in their ragtops and went crusing down highway 1, they never got stuck behind slow lincolns...

I took highway 9 back through the mountains; it cuts right through a stand of redwoods (coastal redwoods, not the Tolkein-ish monsters in the mountains). You can smell bay leaves, the sea, and evergreens. Look up through your sunroof - the sun shines above, with an army of pine soldiers forming ranks around you (I can't imagine driving in California without a sunroof or a convertible). Lots of bikers - crotch rocket jockeys passing people down the center divider, and harley big bad boys in parking lots comparing tattoos and investment bankers.

This highway must have been cut in the old days, when we had a different view of conservation and nature. Back in those days, a tunnel was cut through a living Sequoia (in Sequoia, of course); the Pescadero creek was dammed (killing more redwoods) to make a swimming hole for campers; park signs and mock-choochoos were cut from redwood, and even the rangers cabins were made of felled great trees. The Teddy Roosevelt naturalist was half conservationist, half exploiter & destroyer.


4-30-99
(BTW : this is really directed at people who live in the South or the West, eg. places where road conditions are basically good all the time). Anyone who owns an SUV is an asshole. Please don't take that as an irrational expression of anger, for it is not. Instead, it is a simple observation of logical correlation. The set of people who own SUVs is (mostly) included within the set of people who are assholes.

The proof of this is very simple. What are the motivations for buying an SUV?

So, what's to be done? What can stop our cars from turning into tanks on stilts? Unfortunately, not much. The SUV drivers of the world are the people who do something more convenient for themselves, and damn the effects on anyone else. These are people who leave their trash cans in their yards, who cut in line at the grocery store, or take 20 items in the express lane, or cut you off to make a turn, or drive 50 in the left lane, etc.

In every one of these behaviours, the victims are only motivated to emulate or despise their tormentor. I choose the latter.

addendum essentially the same logic applies to day-time running lights : they make the owner more visible at the cost of hurting the visibility of everything else; from there the argument follows as above.


4-26-99
Some thoughts on the wavelet problem. Wavelet decompressors are inherently slower than JPEG decompressors. The biggest problem by far is in memory access times.

Let's first study JPEG. The basic steps of the jpeg decompressor are : decode the coded stream into a block of coefficients, untranform an 8x8 block of DCT (Fourier) transform coefficients into pixel space, upsample the UV color spaces (we'll ignore this, it's irrelevent), transform the color spaces.

One thing we note immediately is that we can do all of this one block at a time. Thinking practically, we can work on a width*8 block of the target image. For typical widths (say < 1024), this takes 3 * 8 * 1024 = 24k bytes. This easily fits in the L1 cache, and leaves plenty of room for data structures. We can work across this strip, filling one block at time.

The wavelet decompressor is not so nice. The data comes in an LOD-first ordering; that is, instead of coming in spatially coherent, the data effects random places all over the image, adding detail where it is most needed. This is one of the advantages of wavelets, and it is also an inherent drawback : to progressively decode, we must touch all over the image.

Let's see if we can fix this. What if we abandon the progressive decoding of wavelets, abandon the streaming and LOD, and see if we can speed up the decoder? Our basic decoding steps will be : decode the stream to wavelet coefficients, untransform from wavelet to pixel space, then untransform the YUV (or whatever) color space to RGB.

Now we've got another problem. Most wavelet coefficients affect many pixels! The popular 7/9 FBI wavelet filter affects a 9x9 hunk of pixels around the coefficient. Now, you might say "well JPEG coefficients affect an 8x8 hunk" - but that's *one* 8x8 hunk; good wavelet transforms affect a hunk *centered* on that coefficient. This is the excellent spatial localization of wavelets, and it also eliminates the blocky artifacts of JPEG. Of course, we could use some transform like Haar or the "DCT wavelet" which gives spatially localized hunks, but these are really just JPEG improvements (in fact, they're good ways to improve JPEG and retain all the speed).

So, again we're stuck with the fact that in order for the transform errors to be nice and blurry (as opposed to blocky), we must have this non-local transform that touches all the memory around it. The best thing for memory accesses is to do a full-2D-wavelet basis. That is, we apply a full 2D filter to the wavelet coefficients to create one pixel. We go down, making one pixel at a time. For the FBI filter, this means 81 coefficients to make a pixel, which means something like 81 multiplies & adds per pixel (reduced by symmetry). If we compare this to the 1Dx1D two-pass reconstruction, we only have to do 9 per pixel in X, and then 9 per pixel in Y, so we have 18 multiplies & adds (again reduced by symmetry). Since we're going pixel-by-pixel, we can do the color space conversion right there.

Ok, so we've found that we can make a wavelet decoder whose memory access characteristics are pretty similar to a JPEG decoder. To do so, we've had to sacrifice embedded coding (and in face, all bitplane based coders are unacceptable for memory accesses), and fast lifting transforms. This is probably an unnacceptable solution, and seems inherently impossible to get around : that is, the very advantages of wavelets are also its achilles heels!


4-6-99
I broke another coffee cup from by Rainbow Pottery set. My parents' first set of dishes after they got married was Rainbow (grey speckled plates, solidly and balanced for throwing, with deep watery blue trim; my set substitues the blue for a sick swampy green), and I have some strange attachment to my set. I miss my youth (I'm 21, but ever so old), as everyone does. However, contrary to ridiculous suggestions, when a "human" (in the sense of Dune) misses their youth, they don't miss anything so trivial as classmates, or silly pranks (fireworks and toiletpapered houses), or the local athletical association. Instead, they miss the boundlessness of the future. When I look at the future today, I see only the inevitable rotting of my soul, the sapping of my individuality, the steading breaking of my back from the blows of incompetent and uncompassionate. Part of that future is the great expanse of things to learn, all the tricks and knowledge, the prospect of becoming an expert in something. When you grow as old as I am, you realize that you can learn or do anything with no trouble, it's simply a matter of spending the time to do it; that horrible realization destroys the whole motivation to do it : people don't climb Mount Bonnel or Mount Wilson as life-goals - they climb Mount Everest! There's no point to do it if there's not challenge.

Actually, William S. Burroughs has an excellent rant on a similar subjection : "God cannot go anywhere, because he is already everywhere. God cannot do anything because the act of doing something pre-supposes opposition". When you get old realize the difference between God and Man is simply a matter of time. The problem of becoming an expert in some field is not a problem of technical brilliance, but of devotion to irrelevent minutia. The biggest idiot on the street could quickly become the world's leading expert on the political opinions of the left side of south Maple St.

Most of the crappiness of life is due to other people being assholes. When you are young, you know that there is no inherent reason for people to be such dick-lickers, and you foolishly believe that some day you might meet people who will mutually agree to be nice to eachother. A mutually-supportive society is a form of social contract; it works wonderfully only as long as everyone does it. Once one person breaks the contract, they temporarily gain benefits beyond the other members, which makes the other members resentfull, so they also break contract, until the whole thing falls apart. In other words, a mutually- supportive social contract is a lower-energy configuration, but it's unstable.


4-5-99
People who cling to coding conventions for their own sake are simply idiots. The whole idea of coding style guidelines is to make code readable, debugable, extensible, flexible, powerful, transferrable, understandable, modularizable, reusable, and other 'ble' words. Unintelligent powers that be tend to think that the power of coding style guidelines is to crush the individuality of the workers : if the individual has no unique stamp on a project, then he (never she!) is more easily replaced. This is simply the disgusting objectification of human beings.

At the point that a coding convention gets in the way of the coding, it becomes vestigial. The problem of course, is that some people are just terrible coders, and if you give them an inch of freedom they'll just write crap. Thus the evil overheads must inflict their rigid rules on everyone. This keeps the quality of work constrained inside a tiny band : the best cannot excel and the worst cannot be terrible. This is a general phenomenon in modern america.


3-29-99
Happiness is a funny thing, because we measure it relative to the local average. (That is, the thing we call happiness is really the second derivative with respect to time of the "abstract happiness" (AH) measure). The AH (or enjoyability of a life), is defined as observer-independent. We could do this, for example, by putting any number of ideal observers in the same situation, and querying their happiness; thereby we assign an AH to a situation.

First we must modify the AH; we subtract off the average AH of the local population. By "local" I mean that we take a weighted average of AH's based on the strength of affect of the individual. The result is the Adjust AH (AAH).

So, I conjecture that instantaneous perceived happiness (IPH) is the second derivative wrst time of the AAH. The result is that PH is only possitive (ergo, you are happy) when the AAH increases *faster*. Note that a steady linear increase does not result in IPH. Bleh, there are some problems at this point. For example, a steady linear decrease of AAH should not be a zero IPH. Similarly, a sudden decrease in the AH of the population should not result in a big increase of IPH. Continuing regardless..

Now the IPH still isn't the true perceived happiness (PH). The PH is actually some kind o dying curve convoluted with the IPH. This dying curve is like a big spike at zero which then tails off semi-exponentially; the onset is sharp and the decay is soft. The result of the convolution is that when the AAH starts going up faster, the PH goes up and then slowly back down again, at which point it is zero again.

With all of this background, we can finally attack the ridiculous statement that wishy-washy people often make, that "money can't buy hapiness; I was just as happy when I was poor". In fact, their AH has increased dramatically because of money, but their PH has decayed back to zero when they make comments like that.


3-7-99
Sony and Microsoft are competing for the small-devices operating system market (with Aperios and Windows CE).

About two years about, MS won a deal with TCI (Tele-Com Inc.), one of the country's biggest cable providers, to use Windows CE set top boxes. (MS stole the deal from Sun's Java by bribing the execs with an over-market stock purchase of part of the company).

About a year ago, AT&T bought most of TCI to faccilitate their planned diversification. They have announced that they will be providing multi-purpose digitial set-top boxes made by General Instrument.

General Instrument is a joint venture of TCI and Sony.

(Sony's Aperios and HAVI will use Apple's I-Link and be compatible with Sun's Jini. Windows CE based boxes will of course support neither of those emerging standards).
(I-Link is a super-fast local network for multimedia data; you can play multiple digital movies across it, so that's at least a 1 Gigabits/sec speed)
(I'd also imagine that AT&T has partial ownership of some Java or Jini consortium, which would complete the tangle..)
(Of course, Dreamcast will be using Windows CE; Playstation II might use Aperios. Hmm.. can you guess which will have more reboots, wasted memory and processing power? PS2 almost certainly will have a HAVI/Jini/I-Link port so it can act as a smart DVD player in your home network).


3-6-99
Fractal image compression is such a foaming crock of crap, it disgusts me. First of all, the compression performance is simply not competitive with modern wavelet schemes (in fact, it's not even close, and it's much slower!!). Second, it doesn't stream nearly as well (there are no optimal embedded streams!). Third, the supposed ability to create detail at higher scales is a load of crap. JPEG and Wavelet, and etc. can all do the same thing, just by using higher resolution (than used in sampling) basis functions when they reconstruct. (Of course, information theoretically *Zero* detail has been created! And comparing to a pixelated image is just ridiculous).

The thing that makes me so upset is that Michael Barnsely (who seems quite bright, and I have nothing against personally) is getting a $2 million grant to put fractal image compression in spy satellites. Academia can be so repulsive!


3-6-99
Well, Texas is beautiful again : the blue bonnets dance with the indian paint. The air is sweet and blue (with a little taste of steer and cowboy hats); the imported flowering trees add fragrance to the rich mens' mansions.

Spring in Texas has a beauty which is accentuated by its temporality; it is the fleeting beauty of butterflies, of sunrise, or the downy nape of a nymphette's neck - you must savour them because they shall soon pass; in this case, (like the nymphette) to be replaced by horrid, hot, sweaty, suffocating smoggy summer.


2-20-99
I occasionally make the mistake of having social contact with other human beings. When I do, I invariably end up becoming furious with their incompetence, disgusted by their inconsiderateness, and amazed by their lack of sensitivity. When I say "sensitivity", I don't mean it in the "telling someone lies to assuage their fears about their foibles and flaws", rather I mean it literally, in the sense of Nabokov's "sensitive spine" s. The fact that people can do things without thinking about them is literally astounding to me; it makes me feel alien - I cannot imagine what goes on in their heads, and I feel like every moment I spend with them drains the strength and individuality and creativity right out me (much as watching bad television does).

John Berger says of his anti-hero G. : He was afraid and disgusted. It was a fear every man felt once, but was quickly forgotten if ignored. In G., it never grew weaker .


2-19-99
It now seems that microsoft will lose the antitrust suit. For those of that have always been amazed by the sleazy tactics of that software bully, the facts that have come out in this case have been merely amuzing, and frequently underblown. They have an amazing history of forcing people into compromising contracts; of blatantly stealing others' technology and customers, of deliberately lying about release dates and such, and intentionally secret bugs in their operating systems that damage others' programs (while putting in secret hooks for their own programs).

The question is : what will the government do? This is a very difficult question. Perhaps a better question is what *should* the government do? (though I hate the word should without qualifiers; here, I mean "in order to restore a competitive and legal capitalistic marketplace where ideas and standard are not dictated by a single foolish behemoth").

Right now I'm leaning towards splitting up the OS and Application divisions of microsoft. Perhaps compilers and development should also be split off to a third company. Once this was done there would have to be careful enforcement of anti-collusion and price- fixing agreements between the new companies.

Now, when talking about these types of things, I hear a lot of people say that Microsoft's monopoly has been a good thing because it has given them the power to provide technology to consumers at low prices, and to establish standards. This is absolutely ridiculous. The amount of high tech in software, and the amount of software in homes, gets higher all the time as the natural progression of the computer revolution continues. Microsoft is merely riding the wave of the computer revolution, not leading it. In fact, anyone who has witnessed the recent price wars over long-distance telephony will tell you that splitting Ma Bell and ATT were good ideas. As for standards, ANSI C was a great standard (note that MS Visual C it *NOT* ANSI compatible. Java is great open standard (note that MS virtual machine, and J++ are *NOT* Java compliant). HTML is a fine standard (Internet Exploiter is not pure-HTML standard). etcetera..

In some industries, monopolies are necessary. Boeing would not be able to compete with Airbus if it were split up. The phone companies and the railroads would not have been able to blanket the country without their monopolies (and government subsidies that created many a mansion). Even CPU and RAM manufacturers face the problem of collosal start-up costs, that virtually exclude new competitors from entering the market. (witness AMD's continual inability to keep their fab facilities up to production). The unique thing about software is that this is not true. There's no need for monopolies. There's no cost of entry in the business! Furthermore, because of the internet and the many independent standardization groups, small software companies work very well together.

(Update 3-5 : it seems Apple, Oracle, Sun, & etc. agree with me, but they think the third division should be Internet Products. Perhaps they are right; I would encourage a four-way split.)


2-19-99
I'm extremely amused by seeing 255*sin(x)*cos(y) plotted as a Hue; I ask myself why. I think the reason is that the intricate and beautiful patterns are such a surprise. Painting and other such craftsman-like art has always left me singularly unsatisfied, because it's not really surprising. Your work is continuously transforming towards some final point; of course, the moment of inspiration is surprising and beautiful, but actually realizing it only gives you the satisfaction of a job done.


2-17-99
People who rant on their web pages suck! Complaint of the day : more people need to use my pattern matcher. rename *puk~.bak *zoo* !

I watch too much TV. I've got oodles of programs to put on my web page, and just never get around to it... I need to write up a doc for WaveCode and enter it in the German Wavelet competition...

I've been going car shopping lately. There's an odd problem : I can either buy the car that fits my needs best, or buy the car which is the best value, but I can't do both. The best products (example: SCSI hard drivers, Crossbar buses) can often be just as cheap as the inferior, but we're caught by the catch-22 that they can't be cheaper until more people buy them, and more people won't buy them until they're cheaper. (Amigas and Macs always had this problem too).

Anyway, I think the Acura TL is a real steal right now. It has many of the features in a Lexus (roadside service gaurantees, LCD rearview mirror, leather and wood interior, double wishbone suspension, etc.), for about half the price. Unfortunately, I don't want one...


2-16-99
People underestimate the subconscious effect of computing environments. I think Steve Jobs might understand this (don't get me wrong, I hate Macs..). The look of the desktop, the sound of the mouse click, the time it takes to boot - all of these things subtely act to soothe or anger the psyche. Microsoft products are full of wonderful features (structure completion in Visual C 6 is awesome, though it rarely works), but fill me with nothing but hate. (glitches and inconsistencies in OS level code is just ridiculous!).

Why is that only idiots write me about my web page? Why are quacks the most energetic and devoted hobbyists?

Everyone should check out 98lite , which removes internet exploder and all active-ass components of windows 98, and replaces the slow 98 shell with the much faster 95 explorer. Hmm... after some use, it does seem to make internet exploder unstable. However, if you use 98lite, and remove internet exploiter, and then install on older internet exporter for win95, you should be good to go.


Charles Blooom [cb][at][cbloom][dot][com]
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