Sunday, August 31, 2008

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 61

A great state like a watershed to which streams flow is the place of convergence for All-under-heaven.
It is the meekness of All-under-heaven.
Meekness always overcomes loftiness by stillness.
Stillness is the lowest position.
Therefore, by lowering itself before a little state a great state gains the little one.
By serving a great state, a little state gains the great one.
The one gains by becoming low, the other by being low.
A great state only wishes to embrace and feed more people.
A little state only wishes to be received and to serve.
Each shall get what it wishes if the great becomes low.

The Kingdom offers to welcome and nourish the world.
Its goodness is visible in its humility, meekness, and peace.
Yet it is great, and one day all other kingdoms will serve it.

Concept Study: Favored-Status

Here is a blog post, to discuss the new essay on favored-status.

This essay does not seem complete to me. But I can always add more later.

Concept Study: Iniquity

Here is a blog post, to discuss the new essay on iniquity.

I need to work on this essay's ending. But I can always add more later.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Miscellaneous Photographs

Well, I just did the photo-inclusive blog posts about learning to crawl, month four firsts, and Uncle Nathan's outfits.

A few of recent photographs did not fit any of these categories but are cute and worth sharing. Here they are!

Nom nom nom

To prevent Smiley from getting sunburned while we gardened, we purchased what some companies call a "sun shade" and others call a "beach shelter". It's half a tent.

(The product's box and the company's website have amusing use of obvious Photoshopping of backgrounds into photographs of their products taken in a studio.)

Smiley has a Binky problem. When he is nearly asleep and sucking by instinctive reflex he will use one normally. But when awake they are simply something with a texture that is nice to chew on (and, in our case, silicon, so BPA-free). He can manipulate it in front of him but normally chooses to suck on a side. Occasionally he decides the nipple or handle is best to chew on at the moment.

I purchased two more binkies and tied them together handles-out with ribbon to make an "large all handles and edges" version which he likes best. You can sort of see it in the picture of him smiling while trying to crawl.

Everyone fall asleep on their book while cramming.

Why did it take the Wookie an entire day to finish an eight page children's book? He wasn't very hungry.

Flying time! No snacks are served on this flight but sucking on hands is allowed.

After I do enough Baby Presses to give my arm and chest muscles a workout, I do Sit-Up Crunches. Smiley thinks my face approaching and retreating is vastly amusing.

Good morning!

He still likes to stand supporting himself against the couch.

Inherited Outfits

Smiley was given a music box with colored wooden balls on springs by his Uncle Nathan. Pictures of that were blogged here.

Uncle Nathan also passed down two outfits from his infancy: a pair of blue overalls with an embroidered helicopter and a yellow formal outfit. Here they are on Smiley.

Four Month Firsts

During Smiley's fourth month he had some photogenic "firsts".

We discovered he liked sitting in our butterfly chair.

He discovered his feet

and learned to put his toes in his mouth.

He fits his ExcerSaucer well now, without a cushion under his feet. We still have the toys removed from around the rim, however. Developmentally he is fascinated with manipulating objects in both hands in front of his face; toys fixed in place are only frustrating. He finally is tall enough for his hanging jumping seat, although just barely.

I already mentioned his first time moving across the floor to get somewhere.

His new mobility required us to set up his play yard for the first time.

He can hold his bottle by himself, although he gets bored of this after about a minute.

Learning to Crawl

Smiley can almost crawl now. His learning to crawl has been fascinating to watch.

At four months he could hold his head and shoulders up in a Sphinx posture.

During his seventeenth week he was first able to support himself on his hands and knees and lift his tummy off the ground. But he could not hold this pose for more than a second, so photographing it was difficult.

His legs were plenty strong and he was good at holding a standing pose. But apparently the back muscles required to hold a crawling pose are different.

At nineteen weeks he could hold the crawling pose well enough to bring both his knees up under his hips at the same time. This nearly brought his body forward those inches, but he needed to get out of that compacted position. He lacked the coordination to move his hands forward but could fall over sideways to capture that small amount of forward progress. However, he usually kicked his legs out, relinquishing his potential advance.

The first time he was able to get across the floor to a goal was to touch the fringes on our end table. Here he is after once again having fallen sideways from the tucked-knees scrunch.

(Yes, it is not really and end table. It is a plastic box in which we keep our sacks of amaranth, quinoa, and millet.)

During this past week (Smiley's twentieth) he continued to work on crawling and developed more muscle strength but not any more coordination. This is fine with me; I am in no rush to be chasing after him.

He now works at crawling for about ten minutes at a time, going through three stages each time. First, he starts out enjoying the effort to move forward.

Since he is not successful at moving forward he gets frustrated and tired, but does not give up yet.

Finally he gets emotionally and physically worn out. He stops trying to crawl, and fussed from his "flying pose".

Then it is time to pick him up and give him hugs and attention.

Squirrel Flaunt

I have caught quite a few squirrels in the live trap this year, moving them away from our yard.

The remaining ones are acting more bold, and flaunting their presence.

One gray squirrel sits in our giant oak tree above the deck and as it eats walnuts from a neighbor's yard drops the pieces onto Smiley's toys.

A certain brown squirrel sits on a knob on that oak tree, teasing us with his presence as he eats.

Does anyone know why the squirrel's eye appears white in this photograph?

Black-Capped Chickadee

Early in August I mentioned a group of birds that attacked a cat who was bothering a wounded member of their group.

They are very shy and flee when I approach close enough to get a good picture. But I finally got an okay picture of one.

I showed it to a friend who knows about birds, and he promptly identified it as a Black-Capped Chickadee.

So there we go! Don't mess with those.

A Random Ferret

A little more than a week ago I mentioned that two raccoons occasionally visit our back yard.

A couple days ago we were visited by another predator: a cute ferret.

It was obviously an escaped pet, being not at all afraid of humans. Sadly, it did not stay to catch the gopher that digs by the fruit trees.

We eventually found out which neighbors it belongs to, and that they did get it back.

Drying Fruit

A friend asked me what my wife and I do with all of the pears our two pear trees produce.

The problem, of course, is that pears are only at their best ripeness for a couple days, and most of the pears on each tree ripen at the same time.

The two of us cannot possible eat our pear harvest with that timing. But we can slice the pears into wedges and use our dehydrator.

The result is dried pears, which are so sweet they taste like candy.

Most look like these, which are good for snacking. Some we peel before drying, which works better for baking.

Thick Ones

I just shared one of my childhood stories about When Important Businessmen Visit. Here is the other fun one.

My brother and father both liked Oreos. But my brother liked the insides, whereas my father liked the outsides.

So they had an unspoken deal. When my father opened the container of Oreos, if they were all normal he would unscrew a few and then put the halves with insides together, making thick ones he would leave in the container for my brother. When my brother opened the container of Oreos, if they were all normal he would unscrew a few to make thick ones, leaving the plain halves in the container for my father.

This was back in the days before Double Stuff Oreos or any of the other variations now available.

Well, one day my father had another Important Business Man visit but on short notice. My mother did not have time to make dessert, so she poured out some cookies onto a plate.

The Important Business Man enjoyed dinner and the cookies, and holding up one of the twice-as-thick Oreos said, "I really like these thick ones."

My brother smiled, learning an important lesson about how to impress businessmen. My parents said nothing, since "Well, those are the ones that have already been played with," did not seem appropriate.

How to Kill Flies

B.R. Man writes about why flies are difficult to swat.

Sometimes, back when my brother and I were little, my father would have important businessmen visit the house for dinner. One of these taught my brother a trick.

Flies cannot see directly in front of their noses. Normally this does not hinder them since most objects are wider than a fly's nose. However, it is quite easy to put a rubber band on a ruler, pull back the rubber band, slide it right up to a fly's nose, and WHAP! get the fly.

My brother thought this was great. He ran around the house that evening killing any flies he could find. Then, apparently, he forgot about the trick.

Not so!

To my mother's later embarrassment, he had merely mentally filed away among Things To Do When Important Businessmen Visit. The next time the family had such a visitor, shortly after dinner my brother's voice interrupted the adult conversation as he called out from the next room, "Got it! Mom, I can't find the head!".

Palin vs. Obama

Heh. I have not yet started paying attention to the presidential campaign. But this was amusing. Are there others comparing other candidate pairs?

Rice Duk

A few weeks ago my wife and I discovered that the local Asian market prepares fresh duk for sale on Friday afternoons.

For those not familiar with Korean cooking, duk is basically rice pushed through a press and formed into tubes. It looks a lot like string cheese. The are varieties with white or brown rice, and varying diameters of tube.

Normally it is sliced into discs before cooking. If used fresh it tastes best but sticks to the knife during slicing. If refrigerated it does not taste quite as nice but cuts easily. (If frozen it suffers dramatically in both taste and texture, so do not buy packages from a freezer display.)

For hot weather or lazy chefs this is great stuff. Instead of making rice, which takes a while and heats up the house, simply slice duk. Put it in any soup or stir-fry. The leftovers are as nice as the original meal: unlike pasta in soup the dish does not turn into a puddle of starch in the fridge.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Ozymandias vs. the Dark Knight Batman

One of my very first blog posts was about Batman. Time to write about him again.

On a bookshelf downstairs I have two graphic novels next to each other. One is Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, the other is Watchmen. In my mind they go together, along with a Spider Man comic I no longer own.

Spider Man's motto is "With great power comes great responsibility." He must be a superhero because would feel guilty allowing preventable evil. This is simplistic, but so is that comic book series. During my high school and college years the Spider Man series stood out for having the best supporting characters: its protagonist was witty but not an especially deep or well-developed character. Unlike so many superheroes he did not feel as if his identity prevented him from fitting into the world. Rather, they forced into his life a role and destiny--they made him fit into the world in a certain way.

Batman, in Frank Miller's now-classic comic, has the motto "When the world does not make sense you must force it to." His role is not personal but civic. Gotham City is broken and he must try to fix it both through his business's work and his secret identity. Batman is an anguished character because he can best fix the broken city by becoming like its brokenness: he is addicted to vigilantism despite it being illegal, violent, and merciless. Thus his superhero identity also forces him to fit into the world in a certain way, and it both thrills and torments him.

Ozymandias, in Watchmen, has the unspoken motto "When the world does not make sense you must not make sense either." His life is a series of sliced Gordian Knots; he overcomes challenges by always doing what seems unexpected and unwise. He has no powers but at the end of the story is the one who saves the planet, in deliberate contrast with another character who apparently has every superpower but whose actions only escalate tensions. To Ozymandias, the issues of having a role and fitting into the world are semantic nonsense: the world does not make sense; nothing fits; the only worthy knowledge is perceiving this clearly; the only worthy life is withdrawn (and lonely) so able to help the common man not realize how nonsensical the world really is.

Of the three, Spider Man is happiest. He thinks he fits. He is not lonely. He can feel successful in trying to be responsible.

Batman is depressed. He knows he fits and it haunts him. He is lonely. He realizes he will never finish fixing his city although he will not allow this thought to linger.

Ozymandias sits in between. He accepts that nothing fits. He is lonely but does not mind. There is more to do but he accepts that problems do not end. His only yearning is for an omnipotent being to tell him that some terrible choices he made while saving the planet were the best possible alternatives.

One Turtle can be a Mob

Fear the power of an under-qualified translation department for the company manufacturing alphabet blocks.

I am tempted to hunt these down online and order some for Smiley. But they probably have toxic paint. A pity, just like it is sad the plush Lovecraftian dolls have button eyes instead of infant-safe embroidered eyes. Although perhaps that was done on purpose...

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 60

Ruling a great state is like cooking small fish.
When the One of the Way reigns over All-under-heaven demons will be powerless.
(Not that the demons have no powers, but these spiritual beings do no harm to men.
Not that these spiritual beings would not harm men, but the Saint prevents harm to the people.)
When two do not harm one another, then Virtue converges and returns.

The most important task when ruling
is to protect good progress.
A ruler should not poke at fragile things!
Yeshua's rule is now notable for protecting us from evil
so we may have the peace and unity
that allows us to be filled with the Spirit.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 59

For governing men and serving Heaven nothing is equal to a harvest.
To have a harvest one needs to follow immediately.
To follow immediately is to garner a double harvest of Virtue.
To garner a double harvest of Virtue is to overcome everything.
To overcome everything is reach an invisible height.
Only he who has reached an invisible height inherits the Kingdom.
Only he who has the "mother" of the Kingdom lasts eternally.
This is the way to be deep-rooted and firmly planted in the Way,
the secret of eternal life and lasting vision.

Be led by the Spirit
in willingness and timeliness.
Your days will be fruitful;
your work will be successful;
you will recognize your place in the Kingdom.
With Yeshua abiding in you, you will know eternal life.
With you abiding in Yeshua, you will understand your circumstances.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 58

When laws are near-sighted the people look simple and faultless.
When laws are eagle-eyed the people look like sneaky troublemakers.
Bad fortune is what good fortune leans on.
Good fortune is what bad fortune hides in.
What is the end of this process? Nothing is naturally correct!
The normal becomes the bizarre
and the auspicious becomes ominous.
For a long time indeed have people found this confusing!
So the Saint demonstrates solidity without being blocky,
integrity without being imposing,
straightness without being judgmental,
and brightness without being blinding.

Those who follow Yeshua are reliable yet flexible
and holy yet forgiving.
Do not judge people or events.
Let Adonai who knows all understand and judge.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 57

A nation is made right by laws.
A war is won by exceptional strategies.
Yet the world is gained by Non-Ado.
How do I know this is so? By this:
Having more taboos and prohibitions makes the people poorer.
Having more deadliness of weapons makes the nation confused.
Having more cunning in craftsmen makes bizarre devices abound.
Having more new laws announced makes more thieves and robbers.
Therefore the Saint has said:
"I practice Non-Ado and so the people transform themselves.
I love stillness and so the people live simply and correctly.
I do not engage in enterprise and so the people have true riches.
I have no desires and so the people focus on their potential."

Spiritual leaders let God complete people.
Spiritual truths are simple, although deep.
Spiritual lives are prayerful and patient.

JNT Audiobook on Sale

The audiobook of David Stern's Jewish New Testament, read by Jonathan Settel, is on sale this month here.

As a new item for sale it seems to be normally (so far) "marked down" from $50 to $30. This month it is part of the rotating monthly sale items and its price is further lowered to $20. Use the coupon code AJNT through August 31st.

Back in July I had considered purchasing it. Now I will give it a try.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 56

The Way knows but seldom speaks.
Mankind speaks but seldom knows.
Close the mouth and live simply at home.
The Way blunts sharpness, it unties tangles, it shades brightness, and it unites the world into one whole.
This refers to meekness mysteriously uniting contrasts.
We can neither court it nor shun it;
we can cause it neither benefit nor harm;
we can neither increase its honor nor rob it of its dignity.
It is the most revered in All-under-heaven.

Be quiet in mind, speech, and activity to hear Yeshua.
Avoid extremes. Seek him as he is, and where you are.
We can neither pursue nor escape him. Worship him.
(This chapter weaves together chapters 2, 6, and 52.)

Upload to Gmail

Someone named Mark Lyon has written a program to upload e-mail to gmail.

This would interest me, except that I am dutiful to create occasional backups of my gmail account. I do this much more often than I need to open an e-mail message from my days before gmail. If I were to upload all of my old e-mail to gmail the backup process would take a lot longer.

What I would love is a "clone account" feature for my google account. I use much less than half of my freely allotted google space. If I could periodically make a clone my account then if, Heaven forbid, someone were to hack into my google account and ruin it I could keep going.

Orated Odyssey

For a birthday present my grandmother bought me an audiobook of The Odyssey, translated by George Herbert Palmer in 1900 and read by Norman Dietz in 1989.

I would be fun to have a copy of Palmer's translation on my PDA so at times I could read along. But I cannot find one online.

Project Gutenberg has four translations, by Samuel Butler, Samuel Butcher and Andrew Lang, Alexander Pope, and William Cowper. Of these the first is closest, but of course not close enough to use for reading along.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 55

One who is filled with Virtue is newly-born like an infant,
but poisonous insects and snakes will not sting him,
nor will fierce animals seize him,
nor will birds of prey will not claw him.
An infant's bones are tender and its sinews soft, but it has a firm grasp.
It does not recognize the union of male and female, knowing only their completeness.
This is like bodily essence attaining perfection.
It can cry and howl all day long without becoming hoarse:
This is like bodily harmony attaining perfection.
Harmony is known through constancy.
Constancy is known through enlightenment.
Attempts to extend one's life are unnatural.
Attempts to control one's breath are inflexible.
Those who spend strength on such attempts grow old and wither.
This is contrary to the Way, so it ceases to be.

Those filled with the Spirit of Adonai are born again,
made innocent and strong like an infant,
filled with an infant's love for parents,
and also miraculously protected.
Such harmony is maintained
by faithfully following Yeshua's way,
not through exercising the body in any manner.

Three Dreams

This past week I have had three unusually enjoyable dreams.

The first happened on Wednesday night. Earlier in the day I had read this cartoon by Shamus that mentioned the word "rick-rolling". I have no idea what this word means. Apparently it is an internet meme that I missed seeing. (I didn't even know about the sneezing baby panda video until a few weeks ago.) And apparently my subconscious cared.

In my dream a group of young boys was playing behind a row of houses on an undeveloped hillside by having foot races. There was a slightly similar hillside in my childhood, but the top of the dream one was used for a straight path of telephone poles. The telephone poles were bigger than normal and had buttresses made of three boards: two went a few feet horizontally from the bottom of the telephone pole, the top one short and the lower one longer, and a third board went diagonally from above them to both their ends and to the ground. The telephone poles not only had the usual small metal signs to number them but also a small metal sign with the name of the company that manufactured them: Rickroll.

The game played by the racing boys involved running the path of the telephone poles and alternately climbing over one or both horizontal supports or crawling under the lower one. The boys had nicknamed their game "rickrolling".

The second nifty dream happened on Thursday morning. I was with some people starting out on a walk to a beach. I realized I needed shoes, and that I was dreaming, so poof in the next scene I had shoes. This dream was notable only because I never have lucid dreams. Hopefully the next time I do I'll try to fly and not merely acquire footwear.

The third fun dream happened this morning. My high school had an annual tradition of a huge game of tag played with two teams, using little balls of flour wrapped in tissue paper to tag opponents. (There were a few more rules, but that is enough for now.) In this dream I was watching a the game as a professional sport, played in a building in the tropics built to mimic Mayan architecture. Somewhat like Unreal Tournament but starring Marvin Shagam.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 54

Almost a year has passed since my last Tao of Yeshua chapter. Here is the introduction to the series for those who do not know (or remember!) what it is about.

What is well planted cannot be uprooted.
What is firmly clasped will not slip away.
Then many generations will faithfully offer sacrifices.
Cultivate Virtue in your person and it becomes integral.
Cultivate Virtue in your family and it abides.
Cultivate Virtue in your village and it lives and grows.
Cultivate Virtue in your state and it flourishes abundantly.
Cultivate Virtue in All-under-heaven and it becomes universal.
Thus, although each person will be judged by his or her integrity,
families will be seen as families,
villages will be seen as villages,
states will be seen as states,
and All-under-heaven will be seen as All-under-heaven.
Thus I know what about All-under-heaven
through what is in myself.

Unity with the Spirit of God is true integrity.
This ensures the best for us and our communities.
In the future all the world will offer sacrifices to Adonai.
Practice unity with the Spirit now in preparation for that day.

Spacious Bookstores

Hm. A bibliophile loves books. Is there a name for people who appreciate spacious bookstores?

What We Don't Know We Sing to Kids

From the Bayou Renaissance Man, an article about the history of nursery rhymes.

Raccoons and Kids

My neighborhood has a few raccoons.

We try to catch them in our live trap. Their droppings harbor diseases that can be dangerous to small children: something we definitely do not want in our back yard.

My wife and I are also slightly worried when Smiley is napping on the back deck that a raccoon will find him and try to take a bite. The result is that he often naps inside with only the baby monitor monitoring him but for outside naps we try to always keep him in view.

Are we needlessly concerned? I expect we are during the day, since we only see the raccoons near sunrise and twilight.

Gunnerkrigg Court

Years ago I discovered and read the webcomic Gunnerkrigg Court. Then I lost track of it and could not relocate it.

I stumbled across it last week, to my enjoyment.

From which Game is that "Yeah!"?

A few computer games have quite memorable but simple sounds. For example, when you order a ship to travel in Spaceward Ho! the game goes Ya!.

While playing with Smiley I find myself sometimes saying Yeah! in mimicry of a computer game sound. But I can't place which game! In my mind the longer sound goes ding ding ding ding ding ding Yeah! I think in the game your icon was collecting something (the ding sounds) and then something positive happened (the Yeah! sound).

Can anyone help me identify the game?

The Failure of Thief 3

In my previous post about the Shalebridge Cradle I mentioned my disappointment with that level, which was supposedly the high point of the game Thief 3.

To clarify, the level was very well done and I agree that its merits deserve acclaim. But it really belongs in a different game. In general Thief 3 not only fails to live up to its predecessors, but failed to fit the established setting. The Cradle highlights why.

As a plot for explaining myself I'll borrow some items from jtr7's classic list of what made Thief 1 and Thief 2 special.

First, the tools of the trade. These were changed way too much. Climbing gloves failed to provide the rich three dimensional nature of exploration allowed by older games' rope arrows. Flashbombs or careful leaning no longer allowed your character to knock out alerted opponents. Foes such as zombies that your character cannot knock out were changed so they could be permanently destroyed. Too many small changes to elaborate upon made fighting often more attractive than sneaking, contrary to the intended theme of the series. The Cradle was the worst such place with a very two-dimensional map and the primary foes unable to be knocked out but able to be killed.

Second, the elemental magic. In the first two games the only magic used by city folk had small effects of an elemental theme, such as your water arrows or an enemy mage's fireball attack. There were major magic things but these were mysterious and horrible artifacts left over from the lost civilization whose ruins lie under the city: the entire first game is about how finding one such item completely destroyed a section of the city and three times caused a drastic shift in the balance of powers among the city's factions. The resultant setting has a heavy sense of myths and traditions mysteriously based on long-lost facts. But in Thief 3 there is no myth or mystery; magic is commonplace and fails to fit the established setting. There is an attempt to make the main enemy mythical but this is done through a shallow layer of information layered on top of the rest of the setting rather than arising from the setting's core. The Cradle is again the worst offender, a level about a building with a mind whose existence, abilities, and how you escape simply don't make any sense in that setting.

Third, the atmosphere. In the first two games the city is huge, sprawling, and a definite steampunk setting with machinery and pipes recessed in many alleys and corners. Its streets, slums, and sewers were dirty, littered, and had rats. In contrast the city's wealthy, whether respectable or crime lords, lived in clean mansion full of artwork: paintings, tapestries, statues, vases, rugs, and decorative tile floors. The resulting atmosphere was that art was appreciated and valued by everyone, but like electric lamps only some could afford it. Space was also cherished: the wealthy had plenty but an infrastructure of machines was slowly taking away what little space the poor had. In contrast, in Thief 3 the city is tiny and every place is cramped, dreary, and dirty . With artwork, except for one pirate's mansion the wealthy's artwork is presented as often as not looking inherited and neglected: displayed in hallways no longer well-lit or rooms no longer used. The Cradle is again the worst offender, an ugly building almost completely lacking in artwork. It is huge. But after so many cramped castles, mansions, and catacombs in preceding levels finding a huge and sprawling orphanage seems misplaced and breaks immersion.

Fourth, the city's people. The first two games told long stories about a struggle for power between the pro-industrial Hammers and the pro-nature Pagans. Yet in these stories the action happened just as much among other parties oblivious to the conflict brewing around them: the city's nobles, crime lords, police force, merchants, and intellectuals. The city was a big place with many factions, all of which have some noble goals and some corrupt members. In Thief 3 the main two factions change beyond recognition and their rivalry is an unrecognizable shadow of its former strife, floundered like a failed joke, lacking goals and homogenous in membership. The other parties are nearly absent, except for the Keepers who are also unrecognizable, changed from mysterious intellectuals who rarely act but manipulate other factions with precision and subtlety into inept blunderers who manipulate nothing and wander the streets with weapons drawn until they are noticed and slaughtered by the city guard.

From what I understand the reason Thief 3 fails to fit with or live up to its predecessors is that the game developers wanted to create a game they could release on both the PC and the Xbox, and the ways they catered to the Xbox's hardware and typical user forced them to create a limited product. That might have been a worthwhile decision for people trying to make a living.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Famous APL Fortran Compiler

I just mentioned APL.

Back when I used that programming language one of its claims to fame was that someone had written a Fortran compiler in one line of APL. Now I can't find anything on the internet about this!

Was it not true? Maybe no one ever wrote a Fortran compiler in APL.

The closest I can find is a one-line program that plays the Game of Life. Fun, but not in the same league.

Flip Camcorder: Customer Service

I've blogged earlier about the quality of the Flip Mino camcorder.

This morning it would not turn on. I used the company's website to submit a help request, although I could have used their 24/7 live help. Within an hour they replied with clear directions about how to do a "reset". This took only seconds. The camera works again. No video on its drive was lost.

So the overall verdict is that both the physical machine and customer service are commendable, but the software is dreadful.

Why did they write their video editing software in Macromedia Flash? To me that sounds as sensible as doing website design in APL.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


I've mentioned Kevin and Holle's wedding twice now. The third time's the charm.

My wife works for ZFIN doing data curation. One of her co-workers made the wedding cake, which was amazing.

I jokingly suggested to their boss that the ZFIN website needs a recipe section. Chocolate cake that good must be shared! I mean, it had chocolate mousse between the cake layers and chocolate buttercream frosting under the outer layer of white chocolate frosting. Achilles would have gone to war over this cake.

The boss jokingly replied that I could always crash their next all-office priorities meeting and make the suggestion formally. I think a better idea is simply to make chocolate the number one term searched for in the search box on the ZFIN website.

I need your help! Go there now and search for chocolate. Tell your friends. You know you want this recipe...

Then the next time the file of search statistics is inspected the ZFIN team will know what needs to be done. :-)

This Summertime

Gershwin's Summertime has been a favorite song of mine since high school. I'm not sure when or why a Gershwin CD was among the first I owned, but I love that song (and Rhapsody in Blue).

When I graduated from high school my grandfather took me on a tour of Europe. Gershwin's melody, with a few new verses, became an internal theme song for that trip.

As a swing dancer for the past five years I've enjoyed hearing several swing dance versions of the song during the weekly swing dances. If there were a song for which I might someday shop online for many versions, it would be this one.

Needless to say, the melody is one my wife and I use with new verses when singing to Smiley.

About a week ago I made up a verse starting with Onsie mornings... and suddenly had to create the rest of a new version with minimal changes worthy to accompany that alteration.

Summertime, and the livin' is easy.
Baby's smiling, and holds his head up high.
Your milk is rich, and your toys good to suck on.
So hush little baby, don't you cry.

Onsie mornings you wake up happy and cooing.
Get you clean and fed, then there's so much to do.
Every morning you play and watch daddy do chores.
Smiley baby knows he's here for you.

I should say sorry to a few people to whom I owe e-mail replies. Here's what you're up against. :-)

Actually it's that computer time is hardest to create while caring for Smiley. While he's awake and entertaining himself I need to be doing noisy chores such as dishes, vacuuming, or baking. When he's napping I've found I need to rest: that old saying of "rest when the baby sleeps" is true now that my wife is back at work.

Thank you for your patience, and there's always my cell phone. Smiley and I take one or two long walks each day. Since my phone has an ear piece that's a great time to chat.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Yesterday's Party

Kevin and Holle's wedding was every bit as nice as the invitation I linked to earlier. Wedding receptions are quite nice when more than half the guests are weekly swing dancers.

As a contrasting wedding with less elegance and dancing, this is currently #4 for searching Google Images for "wedding".

Attending a wedding on Tish B'Av was somewhat strange, but no disasters happened at the wedding.

Grilled Potatoes

Today for lunch I tried grilling potatoes for the first time. It worked quite well. Wedges in a metal basket sounds easy. Since I don't own the metal basket and the potatoes were hard I cut them thin. That way I did not cut myself, and they cooked through evenly.

Maybe next time I can figure out how to make wedges that are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

Friday, August 08, 2008

An iTunes Senior Moment

I'm not sure what label to use for this post. Since my previous discussion of combining audiobooks and infant care used "Parenting" and "Enjoyments" then I'll stick with those labels, although this discovery certainly was not enjoyable.

Something happened recently and my copy of iTunes forgot who I was. I have no idea why, but a Google search shows that I am not the only person to experience such behavior.

All of the songs retained their tagged information. This was fortunate for me. I make lots of genres the way most people use playlists.

But all the playlists, display settings, and other library information vanished. The work I spent making a playlist of soothing Classical music for Smiley's nursery was gone. My computer no longer matched with my iPod.

It turns out there is an "Export Library..." command in the iTunes file menu. This saves all of the playlists, display settings, and other library information as an .xml file in case this kind of problem happens. Now I do that after each time I import a CD or change a playlist.

Be warned!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Fixed Hair Links

The internet's Long Hair Community had computer problems and their website was broken for quite a while.

Today I mentioned to someone about the Conditioner Only style of caring for long hair. The main idea is that most modern conditioners contain enough cleansing agents to clean hair while doing so more gently than shampoo. The potential problem is that a conditioner with a silicon product (a "-cone") will coat hair and then not using shampoo will mean that this coating is never removed (leading to very dry hair).

My two posts from last year no longer having working links. So here are replacements.
  • the Conditioner Only wash is introduced and then analyzed
  • a list of "-cones" are in conditioners and how water-soluble they are
Except for the few days each year I fry food ("O Chanukah, O Chanukah...") I have not used shampoo in over a year, and my hair (and my wife) is happy.

UPDATE: There is a new conditioner only washing discussion thread here.

Speaking of Weight

Now, fearless readers, you don't really care about my weight.

Much more interesting is Irony's study of how the Balrog of Moria fell. Read about it in these five comics.

Growing Boys

Smiley is a growing boy. Today he had his Four Month doctor visit, at At 17 weeks, 4 days old. His measurements (and percentiles) were length 24.1 in. (25%), weight 12 lb., 4 oz. (10%), head 16.6 in. (35%).

Compare this to his Two Month doctor visit, when he was 10 weeks, 5 days old. Then his measurements were length 22.1 in. (12%), weight 9 lbs., 15 oz. (5%), head 15.5 in. (25%).

I have no idea what this means. I know I was a tiny baby, but my wife was not. My uneducated guess is that Smiley is slowly shifting from a size resembling my side of the family to a size resembling her side of the family. But this is only a guess. I'm not the geneticist in the family.

More meaningful in my mind since it has a definite application is that I have also gained weight. This happened mostly between January and April. I have not noticed any decrease in energy or endurance, but have love handles now. Our electronic scale says I am above my normal weight by ten pounds and three percent body fat. A friend from China replied to this picture from April with:
And you looks gained some weights, right? It is ok, you guys need more energy to take care of baby, so need take care of youself well first.
Needing more energy has certainly been true, but that increased use has not improved my waistline. Even more insulting is that our electronic scale says I metabolically resemble a fifty year old. Now, I will be thrilled if I still have all of today's energy and endurance when I am fifty. But still...

Anyway, since April I have been snacking less and exercising more, but apparently not enough.

It's Not Just Me (and bonus bird story)

I have not posted much about the squirrels this year. We still are using the live trap to move them to my wife's workplace, but having a baby in the house is much more interesting to write about.

However, I did recently find another Oregonian blogger, Grant Cunningham, who also finds them to be trouble. Unfortunately he does not have a "search" option on his blog, let alone an entire squirrel category like some folk. Here is his best story. Then, if you want, you can go to his humor posts and search for squirrel using your web browser.

On Monday I saw some strange animal behavior too, but not about squirrels. In our back yard a neighbor's cat was near an injured bird. I don't know what kind of bird: small and gray with a blue throat, whose voice is harsh like a finch. Anyway, the bird's eight best friends started screeching and flying at the cat. The cat promptly fled across the yard. All the birds chased it, including the injured one, although the injured one quit halfway across the yard to hide in a bush at the base of our oak tree. Once the cat was over the fence the birds started singing a victory song, to which a few birds of other kinds joined in. I had never seen anything like that before; I've only seen birds gang up against other birds.

Let's Do The Swaddle Again!

Here's a second improvised song that was too fun to not write down.

I only improvised the chorus. The verses took some intentional effort and I'm still not happy with them. The original lyrics merged two themes of directional motions and a trippy sensation; the former was easy to mimc but the latter eludes me.

Time to be dreaming
You'll wake up beaming
With eyes a'gleaming
Face full of smile

But now you need snugness
Maximal hugness
In smiling snugness
You'll sleep a while

Your energy's draining
Your sounds all complaining
Eyelids are straining
To open again

So how should you rest?
One routine is the best!
Let's do The Swaddle again!

It's just a tuck to the left
And then a tuck to the right
Keep your knees out straight
As we wrap you tight
Why this calms you so
I cannot explain
Let's do The Swaddle again!

Now lay on your side
Your mouth opens wide
A finger to soothe
As I jiggle your head

You're spaced out on sensation
Like you're under sedation
Can't resist now
It's time for bed

(repeat chorus)

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Concept Study: Covering

Here is a blog post, to discuss the new essay on covering.

Early August Photographs and Video

August is a busy month. Many relatives visit because it is summer and because of all the birthdays.

(My wife's birthday is the 3rd. My grandmother's is the 7th. My aunt's is the 13th. My brother's is the 14th. Mine is the 20th.)

For those family and friends not able to see Smiley, here are more photographs and videos.


Yummy Towel


Happy Smile

Have Otter, Will Travel

Seventeen Weeks Old

And videos:

Monday, August 04, 2008

Visual Problem Solving: A Thief Game Example

Earlier today I mentioned that the first two Eidos Thief computer games excel at Visual Problem Solving, and then discussed what I meant by that term. Now I should provide an example from the games that illustrates how they excel at enjoyable Visual Problem Solving.

I'll use one of its adventures from Thief 2, which does Visual Problem Solving best. (For the first game the developers wrote the plot and then designed the levels. For the second game the reverse order happened. The second game thus has better adventures but a weaker overall plot.) In this adventure you need to confront the local sheriff, who has been illegally gathering homeless people off the street for an nobleman to use for evil experiments. The objective is to sneak into his manor at midnight, get to his bedroom, and talk to him.

Since some of the same issues remain valid for designing settings in a paper-and-pencil RPG or novel, I'll enumerate them distinctly below.

1. Choose Your Resources

Before the adventure starts you have to choose your equipment. If your style is to sneak in shadows you would stock up on ways to douse torches from a distance, move very quickly for a few seconds, etc. If your style is aggressive you would stock up on weapons. If your style is to knock out guards with sleep gas you would stock up on that gas. If your style is to make distractions you would get appropriate equipment for that. And so on... Many styles work; all will find certain approach strategies optimal, and none make the task trivial.

2. Choose Your Restrictions

On the easiest of the difficulty level you are allowed to kill people. But the game is designed so that you are a reluctant hero, not a murderer. Pretty much everyone who enjoys this game eventually plays it on the harder difficulty levels where you must avoid conflict to increasing degrees.

The fan community has invented even further restrictions, such as ghosting or perfect thief, and people share their successes.

3. Options for the Initial Approach

In this adventure you need to get past the wall around the sheriff's manor. You can simply fight your way through the human and mechanical sentry, but that would be contrary to the spirit of the game. If you explore a bit you will find a way to turn off some lights, which allow you to sneak over the wall unnoticed. Even more exploring shows a hole in the wall hidden by bushes. So planning your route begins with a choice of these three options, each providing their own positional advantages and disadvantages, and each requiring you to use different tools.

4. Options for Entering the Inner Sanctum

In this adventure the "inner" area is not a small, final location but the entire manor once you get beyond the outer wall. There are five ways into the manor. As before, the front doors are the well guarded and thus discouraged option. There are doors into the chapel, kitchen, and a "backfoyer" room with a reflecting pool. There is a also way into the basement under the front porch. Again, each option has its own positional advantages and disadvantages.

5. Options for the Nitty Gritty

In this adventure the opponents are the people in the sheriff's manor: dangerous guards and a few servants who, when alarmed, will run to fetch a guard. From past adventures you know how people in this building will function.

They are either stationary or walking a fixed, never-ending circular or back-and-forth route. They are quite observant but only look straight ahead. Together these mean that they never notice if you creep behind them.

They do not notice when a light is put out, door is opened, or ally is distracted. They do not see you if you are hiding in deep shadow. If they notice you they will react, but if you manage to hide well then in a few minutes they will assume you left the manor, cease hunting for you, and walk back to resume their established routes. These last parameters are very unrealistic but important parts of the puzzle you are solving.

Note that when doing Visual Problem Solving there is usually some sort of "nitty gritty" which involves timing. How much to accelerate when merging into traffic? When to click to photograph the baby's cutest expression? Which grocery store check-out lane to choose?

6. Get to Moving Targets

Most levels have one or more keys you must obtain. This level has a key carried by the steward, and gear-keys carried by multiple guards. By exploring you need to find which doors are important but impassible and where the keys are. Through this task the game designers require you to get to specified, intermediate locations on the map--usually moving locations since keys are carried by guards with patrol routes or servants with tasks to do.

7. Get to Select Rooms

Most levels have one or more rooms that control many lights, devices, or alarms that are not insurmountable obstacles but really get in your way. This manor has the previously mentioned place to turn off the lights by the outer wall and a "security room" inside that turns off security devices inside the building. This is a second near-requirement to get to specified, intermediate, fixed locations on the map.

8. Get to Enough Rooms

Even though the game is named Thief 2, the game is not about stealing stuff. You are trying to save your city from that evil nobleman. But the game does require you to steal a certain percentage of each map's loot, based upon the difficulty level. Since loot is distributed quite evenly across the map this is how the game designers require you to get to a variety of unspecified, intermediate locations on the map. In other words, the higher a difficulty level you choose then the more of the map you are forced to explore.

9. Find the Secrets

Each level also has three secrets. These are completely optional but fun (usually very interactive) things that happen as the result of very through exploration. They reward a player who chooses to explore all of the map well beyond what the objectives require.

10. Get Out

After you complete all of your objectives, you still need to leave safely. If you were super sneaky getting to the final room, you still have all your foes between you and the exit.

Visual Problem Solving

No trees were killed in the sending of this message. However, a large number of electrons were terribly inconvenienced.

I just mentioned (and capitalized) Visual Problem Solving. Now I should be responsible and define my new term.
What I call Visual Problem Solving is a three-step process in which someone studies their objectives, visually examines the situation to plan an approach, and then follows their plan to accomplish the objectives.
As a math teacher at community college, almost every student I encounter has well-developed Visual Problem Solving skills. This is not surprising, for real life provides non-stop opportunities to develop all related skills. Every time someone plans an efficient route through a store to buy a few items or successfully navigates a tricky merge in traffic they have done more complex problem solving than any of my classwork's math problems.

What many students lack is the ability to turn a text problem into a visual problem. Here is an example from the level of math I teach, which would stump most students when provided only as text but would not be very difficult if I also provided a picture.
A stained glass window of area 6 square feet is shaped like a semicircle on a rectangle. The window's height is three times its width. What is the width of the window?
Again this behavior among students is not surprising. Real life is providing increasingly fewer opportunities before college that practice visualizing parameters described in text. People are used to thinking in pictures, and have never encountered the difference between that and thinking in symbolic structures.

This is very important socially! Better jobs in the adult workplace are full of problems described in text that need to be visualized. As popular society includes fewer games, instruction manuals, and educational tasks that require children and teens to visualize situations described by text, those parents who "fill in the gap" do a whole lot towards helping their children aim for better jobs in later life.

As I teach remedial math I sometimes ask students to write about their work, or to do a portfolio assignment that includes an essay. Then I get to see an interesting connection: the students who have trouble with order of operations are the same students who cannot write a structured paragraph.

That is worth rephrasing. The structure of text provides meaning beyond the content of the words. Some students get to college without learning those rules of structure for math and English, and those who have the lack tend to lack it in both.

Now, all of my students can speak well. They speak with decent grammar and their oral presentations of work are acceptable if not good. But many fall apart when dealing with the written word. When those write, they just put down what words feel right. They do keep the first sentence of a paragraph in mind throughout the paragraph, just as in math they do not keep a ( in mind until they see a ). I have even met a few cases so extreme that a sentence's structure is not kept in mind through the sentence; the math equivalent might be a fraction bar.

This produces a deep pedagogical problem. Those students who arrive in my classes not understanding that the very structure of text includes meaning have no concept of structure to build upon. They only know algorithms. They have mastered many kinds of problem-solving, but only kinds that require knowing The Steps To Do. Since the remedial math I teach is all about structure, not algorithms, these students get quickly frustrated. It genuinely feels to them as if the math, or the textbook, or my teaching is somehow Not Fair.

We learn the meaning inherent in structure by seeing lots of examples, by unconsciously comparing and contrasting, and thus by slowly gaining familiarity with the structures. This requires a lot more effort and time than learning a few algorithms.

Part of my role as a math teacher is to try to explain all this. Students benefit from remedial math because they gain experience with structures that have inherent meaning, not because they acquire a handful of additional algorithms.

This essay builds off a discussion I had with Cathy Miner last fall. She gets credit for many of these ideas, as well as the opening joke.

Upcoming SAN Check

I've mentioned earlier that I enjoy the Edios Thief computer games. Most of the game's adventures are carefully made and enjoyable Visual Puzzles (a concept which, as an educator, I should write about at length). The plots are more complex and interesting stories than those in most computer games.

I also mentioned that I will probably be switching to Linux soon. Thief 1 and Thief 2 work great on Linux and have great replay value even aside from more than 700 fan missions. Thief 3 does not like Linux and has no replay value. So I've been playing Thief 3 for the past month, to be done with it before switching computers.

This third edition of the game is my least favorite. The adventures are more linear: so far none are worthy Visual Puzzles. The plot is haphazard: its story lacks cohesion or sense and becomes increasingly unsatisfying.

Fans of Thief 3 almost all agree that one particular adventure, The Shalebridge Cradle, is a tremendous achievement that alone is worth the game's price of admission. This adventure has been called by some "the best computer game level ever". It certainly returns to what makes the series enjoyable for me: a story well told through exploration, observation, planning, and problem solving.

It is also a horror story, almost unanimously called "the most frightening level ever". You can read why in an interview with the level's designer, Jordan Thomas. You can also read Shamus 's reaction to the level here.

Now I am torn. I don't like being scared. I don't find scary stories fun, especially in the multi-sensory experiences of movies and video games. But I do want to play the adventure that most excels at what I love in these games.

So I will soon enter the Cradle.

The adventure's fear is caused by Mr. Thomas's plan for the adventure, augmented by the ambiance created by Eric and Terri Brosius. Eric is responsible for the sounds of the Thief universe. Terri did some ever-present design work. You can read some about the Brosiuses here and here.

The enemies you face are not the most frightening part of the adventure. There are none until you pass into the second map loading-zone. Then the main foes are "puppets", of which there are only nine in the entire place. Your character carries more than enough equipment to deal with nine opponents. Nor are the "puppets" overly powerful; YouTube has a video of someone teasing a group of them with oil slicks. This is truly a horror story about the world being broken in creepy ways, not a things jump out at you story mislabeled as horror.

If you do not mind spoilers, you can download Part 16 of the speed run here, or read a walkthrough here or here.

UPDATE: I gave up on Thief 3 halfway through the level. The building is ugly. The adventure is a series of short "fetch this and bring it somewhere" quests that made no sense. There was not enough story for me to want to put up with ugly, creepy, and nonsensical. As a contrast, the Thief 1 fan mission Lord Edmund Entertains was pretty, sensible, and did creepy in a much more entertaining way.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Concept Study: Blessing

Here is another blog post, to discuss the new essay on blessing.

Most of these concept studies are distilled from my old sermons. Last week, while praying about what to do next, I realized that I had never studied, prayed about, and discussed with friends what "blessing" meant scripturally. That took all week. Thanks especially go to Jeremy for his contributions.