The End.

In case it hasn't been clear: I don't really blog anymore.  :)

I expect this will be my last post, barring the odd little need to put something online for some reason or another.

Thanks for watching, guys.

The Padlock is an Illusion.

I just found this. Since I had a (new) padlock handy, I thought I would give it a quick shot.

The first step was a little awkward, but it worked.

The second step was brain-dead easy.

The third step was too tedious for me to try without really needing to do it, so I just looked up the right block of codes, then looked at the code on my lock to see if it would work.

And it wouldn't! I was terribly upset about this.

But I tried it anyway... and it worked. Surprised by this result, I fiddled around a bit and discovered that the second number was really sloppy. For me, it worked on 11, 12, 13, and 14.

I didn't try all the variants on the first number, but I did notice that the first number was also "sloppy", and worked on other numbers than the number given on the package.

In other words, the padlock is a ruse; an illusion. It's not as "secure" as it makes you think it is.


1kBWC Whimsy IV

The bottom two are actually copies of Blank White Cards that can be found on Flickr.  I did so without permission, but I did leave a comment to them later saying I'd done so...

1kBWC Whimsy III

1kBWC Whimsy II

1kBWC Whimsy I

Yes, I've gotten somewhat carried away with the art on Blank White Cards.  None of these were drawn during a game, nor do I have the skill to pull that off in such a short time.  ...These cards have become, over the past month or so, an excuse to draw and to not care too much about the details.  Whimsy becomes acceptable, which is something I generally don't tolerate in a sketchbook or--PTB preserve us--on sheets of good paper. But I can easily pull out half an index card, take 5 minutes, and draw up some silly idea now and then.

I've been doing almost all of these based on pictures I find on the internet.  I try and find photos to work from, but sometimes I "copy" peoples' art work.  That feels a little dirty... but they make excellent cards, they generally are known to "work" compositionally, and they take away the hard work of abstracting lines and forms from photos.  It's sometimes a chore fitting them onto such a small "canvas", but I'm enjoying that challenge.  Actually, I feel like I'm learning a lot about simplifying line-work, which has been a weakness for me.

Little doses of creativity smattered throughout the day.  It's fun.

Understanding the Tea Party III: A Response

This is part three in my ongoing attempt to understand the Tea Party's underlying motivations.

So, in the previous entry, I outlined what I felt were the four underlying causes for the Tea Party's stance on government:
  1. Constitution
  2. Capitalism
  3. Freedom of choice
  4. Private Industry over Public Works
So, here we have rational ground upon which to have a discussion. (...because how do you respond to "Obama's plan is just like Hitler's!")

And here, in brief, are my feelings on the subjects:
  1. Constitution: Sorry, I only weakly support it. I agree that it was brilliant in its time, and it got us where we are today, and some of the underlying ideas still hold true. ...but I also believe in agility and adaptation, and I don't think a 250-year-old country can be run based on two pages of text which are outdated, particularly in light of what we understand about equality and social justice now. In fact, if I had my way, every law would have a sunset date established when it's signed. If it remains relevant, it will be re-enacted.
  2. Capitalism: Well, I'd be quick to agree that it was a great way to boost a country from obscurity to super-power, but I would just as quickly point out that it leads to corruption and pathological corporations and concentrated power. So, again, I only weakly support it. And I certainly support strong regulation. Super-strong, even. Left to their own devices, corporations are designed to act amorally, and thus must be restricted.
  3. Freedom of choice: well, this is a bit of a misnomer. I certainly believe in personal freedoms (and consequent responsibility). But in the context of mandatory health care, the argument strikes me as a little odd. ...I suppose if you prove that you'll be able to pay for your own medical expenses, I wouldn't argue against your freedom to pass on the plan, and I'd be amenable to some kind of partial kickback/tax-break for your doing so. Still, this seems like such a border case that I feel like we're wasting our breath. As for choosing where your taxes get allocated? ...Sorry, no, I don't believe you have that right. The whole point is to benefit the entire community, and your interests are necessarily biased. A brief lesson in cognitive bias will make that clear. This may seem like a personal burden to you, but that's the cost of a moral society that has the resources to help those less fortunate.
  4. Private Industry over Public Works: whoa, nelly! This is where our opinions part in irreconcilable ways. I whole-heartedly support the Commons. I believe in externalities. I believe that a nation of people should act toward unified goals. I believe in constant improvement of the system. And when you shout "that's communism!", I may just have to shrug and say "perhaps it shares some qualities." And when you shout "the scariest thing a person in need can hear is 'I am from the government, and I am here to help'", then that's where I say we need to improve the system, not disband it. I believe that the greatest accomplishments of mankind are collaborative, public works, not private industry. Art and Science, man. Art and Science! They are the pinnacle of human potential: our collective actualization. ...Now, clearly, industry fuels public works, and I'm cool with that. long a industry behaves as morally as possible, and is continuously pushing itself to be "better", in a moral sense.
...So, it seems I disagree with the Tea Party on every subject I can cull from their torrid comments. My opinion of them has changed slightly, during this process: I feel like I understand their motivations a little better, and while I still see those motivations as greedy and a bit ego-centric, at least I feel my understanding improved.

That said, I probably went into this pre-judging them, and with more than a small dose of confirmation bias, so I'm not surprised that I come out the other side feeling equally "icky". So perhaps my sense of heightened compassion is bullshit. But I'm afraid I am too far along in my self-justification of liberal beliefs. I can't grant them any more clout without losing my ideals. I'm afraid I disagree fundamentally. A society should be more about morality than "earning"... and I'm too jaded to move away from that opinion, despite its flaws. (...and I recognize at least some of my belief's flaws!)

Overall, though, I can't help but feel this exercise was worthwhile. But that's likely just a kind of "post-purchase rationalization!"

On the subject of cognitive dissonance, however, I must admit I still have some serious dissonance. I have friends and family who believe the Tea Party line. I want to continue to believe that they are good people, but I have to wrestle with my underlying assumption that their beliefs are rooted in greed.

I'm still not sure how to resolve that. So, to that end, I'm no better off than when I began. [sigh]

Understanding the Tea Party II: What Lies Beneath

This is part two in my attempts to understand the motivations of the so-called Tea Party. It is based on a very limited look at what they're saying, and of course, my own personal experiences with Libertarians.

Yes, Libertarians. Though I suspect it will upset both groups of people to make the claim, I have yet to find any evidence contrary to the theory that the Tea Party is motivated by an overlapping set of ideals as Libertarians*.

What are those ideals?

  • The government shall hold no powers not expressly outlined in the Constitution of the United States.
  • America is built on capitalism, and the law should maximize those effects: particularly by taking as little in the way of taxation as possible. Notably, taking more money from the rich is biased and unfair.
  • Furthermore, the use of taxed money cannot be used for programs which the people do not individually support. Doing otherwise is stripping people of their freedom of choice.
  • Private industry should never have to compete with public works.
Put even more succinctly:
  1. Federal government is too large.
  2. Federal spending is out of control.
...That's my attempt to be as fair as possible. But here's what I hear, every time people make these arguments:
  1. Stop taking my money.
...I've decided to ignore a lot of the arguments I highlighted in the previous post. Most of them struck me as being ad absurdum arguments (ie: "His actions are tyrannical despotism") or speculation ("the health care plan will put us $1 trillion further into debt"). I wasn't surprised by these fallacies (even Liberals were using them during Bush's administration), but they're easily dismissed with a little rationality, so I've left them out.

It's also worth noting that there is likely underlying-if-unacknowledged-racism (particularly to justify his lack of claim to the presidency) and hypocrisy (if they were equally upset with Bush, why not march on D.C. in the last eight years?), but I'll leave these points to those better-suited to addressing them.

* I have not found confirming evidence, notably, of the argument that taxation is, in fact, abuse. Libertarians are quick to claim that taking a person's money is, in fact, an assault on that person, period.

Understanding the Tea Party

So, I'm trying to understand the argument that the "tea party revolution" has, and I'm outlining some of the arguments they make in this video and this post. The latter is specific to the health-care plan, but so be it. This will be long, and I will be using a lot of quotes, because I want to get this first draft as accurate as possible. Then, later, I'll try to characterize the ideas behind them as fairly as I can (which is to say, I can't honestly do it fairly, so it will be biased, but hey, it's my blog).

  • Obama represents unlimited government, which is evil.
  • Obama represents unlimited spending (of money the gov't doesn't have), which is evil.
  • The stimulus money hasn't been spent, yet we're getting back on track, and the gov't is holding on to the money.
  • One person said "I don't know where [the government] got the idea that you can spend yourself into prosperity".
  • Obama represents tyranny, which is evil. Some have said his actions are a "despotic abuse of authority".
  • The government must be smaller. "Reduce the size and scope..."
  • The government has far exceeded the scope of the Constitution.
  • We need to return to the ideology of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.
  • Taxes must be lower. The government is taking too much of its people's money.
  • They want "smart, hard-working American people to be given the opportunity to earn, and to keep what they earn as best they can." ("That's what this country is all about.")
  • The government is taking away people's choice. Some have even said "he's trying to take away our way of life."
  • The government is getting involved in areas which it has no experience accomplishing.
  • Obama's allies will "attempt to destroy your business and reputation" if you "offer any [alternative] ideas" as in the case of Whole Foods' CEO recently.
  • Obama hasn't met with a single Republican on health care reform since April, despite calling himself bipartisan.
  • Obama claims to be centrist and willing to fight his own party, but only does so on straw-man points.
  • The health plan will destroy large businesses and force small businesses to stay small to avoid health insurance costs.
  • The health plan forces every American to have insurance, and doesn't allow them the choice not to have it.
  • Insurance companies are sure to lose money because they will have to insure those with irresponsible lifestyles.
  • Insurance companies are sure to lose money due to "mammograms and colonoscopies, on demand, no matter how needless your visit may be".
  • Government-run options "have in nearly every other arena" "crowd out" private competition, and Obama is lying when he says otherwise. Interestingly, in the same breath, they'll say things like "As we all know, if any organization has demonstrated an uncanny ability to control costs, drive innovation and foster competition, it's been government."
  • If a gov't-run insurance company could "pay for itself" and "change the dynamics of the competition", then, they argue, why can't a private company?
  • Obama is lying when he says the health care plan will cost nothing to you, and that it will not affect the deficit. They point to "the Congressional Budget Office's $900 billion estimate (and The Lewin Group's $1 trillion estimate)."
  • The health care plan may lead to government rationing for seniors.
  • It is unreasonable to expect to extract $1 trillion dollars in savings from cutting "waste" in the insurance companies.
  • The health care plan represents mandates, which are evil.
  • The health care plan represents price controls, which are evil.
  • The health care plan represents regulations, which are, for the most part, evil.
  • The health care plan represents added costs, which are evil.
  • Obama is acting politically, to push "his very own entrenched ideology."

Other things to note:

  • Most of these people are quick to say that Bush was equally guilty.
  • Most of these people are not pro-war.
  • Most of these people are not pro-life. At least, that's not their beef for now.
  • Most will identify as "former Republicans" and "Libertarians".

Problems with this analysis:

  • I am biased against it and cannot provide a fair account of their beliefs.
  • All of these are quotes, representing individual's ideas, not the beliefs of "the movement", which is a more slippery beast.

Derren Brown's Trick

Okay, the two people actually reading this blog have both asked what Derren Brown's trick was for predicting the lottery.  I doubt either of you are going to like it.  He used crowd-sourcing.

He ostensibly calls it "deep maths", but explains it, quite simply, as averaging.  He didn't go into details (or so I've inferred from other people's discussions on the show--I haven't watched it since it's only aired in the UK), but at the simplest level, what he did was average the predictions of 24 people.

Here's where I think he left some things out.  He's said earlier that it "took a year of preparation".  Given that fact, here's what I think he really did:

  1. Got together 24 of his closest friends.
  2. Had those friends watch the lottery very closely over the course of a year, having each person do their best to "see patterns" and "predict" what the next lottery's results would be.
  3. Lather, rinse, and repeat this over the course of about a year (at least 50 lottery draws).
  4. Arrange each person's predictions on a linear scale (lowest to highest), and average each participant's guess in order (so: average everyone's lowest guess, then next lowest, and so on).
  5. Measure the results carefully, of course.  I imagine the results would get better over time as people get a better "sense" for how the numbers fall, so to speak.
  6. When the group clearly has better-than-average results, start buying one lottery ticket each week.  ...You've gotta pay your participants.  : )
  7. At some point, decide that this is "working" and risk it all on one week's prediction.
Of course, I could be completely wrong!

That said, this is an experiment that is simple enough to attempt, with minimal expense and merely a moderate investment in time (30 minutes a week for each participant).  I plan on trying it, actually.

Something's Gotta Give

I believe in diversity.  I seems healthy to have a host of competing ideas, particularly in the political arena.

Are things going too far?

Bush's behavior was completely unacceptable to me (I was calling for his removal from office), and clearly Obama's behavior is completely unacceptable to some people now (who are calling for his removal from office)... and I fail to see any common ground upon which both sides can comfortably stand. Our respective senses of morality seem too far apart to reconcile.

If the debate comes to blows, I predict the Right wins.  They are stronger-willed, better-suited, and more willing to bend morality to their favor and find advantage.

I fear that time approaches.

I would prefer a more amicable separation.

But at this point: I prefer separation.

How horrible is that thought?


Derren Brown

I'm a Derren Brown fanboy.

So I found myself more than slightly giddy tonight when he...

Predicted the UK lottery numbers.  All six.

This changes things.

My Latest Obsession: Photography (Now With Lists!)

Notice I said "Photography," not "Cameras."

That's key.

Truth be told, since just before my birthday, when I bought myself a Nikon D100 with a (nice) 28-70 close-up lens, my obsession was cameras. And for some time afterward, too. In fact, for a time, I was regretting the D100 and wishing I had gone with a Lumix LX3 or a Canon G10, instead. But then my musings shifted from which box had the best hole in it to a question of how to best let light into that box.

Much like with music, I have no aspirations to be "professional", whatever that means: this is just another hobby for me. Ultimately, perhaps, I would like to be able to draw/paint my own photos--recall, if you will, that I plan to retire into professional art--but that's further down the road. But as of right now, my goal is to build a portfolio of great shots. Photos that like-minded people would see and remark: "Wow. Nice."

To that end, I wanted to understand what I personally consider "great".

I've spent almost every night since my birthday drifting off to sleep looking at photos on flickr, and have amassed a rather bulky-but-well-honed collection of favorites. I've subscribed to a few photography blogs and twitter feeds, too. Typical obsessive behavior for me. : )

As a result of that study, I've noticed a few patterns in what works for me. Of course, the obvious things count: you must have the right focus/depth of field/shutter speed/exposure, and a good subject. But here are the things that really work for me, specifically:

  • Details: things others probably overlooked.
  • Remarkable subjects. That which makes me think, "I want to see that myself." Even a weak photo with an intriguing subject still works. This includes "I would like to know that person," "I would like to go there", "I would like to do that," and even "What's going on, here?" ...that last one particularly through juxtaposition.
  • A sense of mystery.
  • Relatively simple composition. Perhaps I'm just too easily distracted.
  • Texture.
  • Isolated, bold colors. Isolated, mind you. Too much is... too much.
  • Muted colors. I really love photos with smooth, desaturated reds and yellows.
  • A sense of place, context, or interaction. I like it when there are (unidentifiable) people or animals in the shot. I like being reasonably sure where the shot was taken, or at least what it's like there. These add meaning, time, zeitgeist. Of course, that meaning matters, now: I don't like aggression, for example.
  • Art happening: painters painting, photographers shooting, dancers dancing, crafters crafting. It makes humanity feel redeemable.
  • Glowing tones. This works especially well in B&W.
  • Narrow Depth of Field. Sure, sometimes a wide DoF is warranted, but by and large, I will be more fascinated with the narrow shot. Even tilt and shift, for example [wiki][example] works well for me. Someday I'll own a view camera.
And here are the things that really DON'T work for me (aside from the typical stuff like wrong exposure/DoF/composition, bad subject, or clipping the subject):
  • Tilting the camera to be "artsy". Some people really like this: I am NOT one of them.
  • Copyrights. Seeing a copyright, name, or logo plastered along one edge of an image makes me fume. Seriously: if you insist on posting a copyright with your photo (and I would argue pretty vehemently that cc-by-nc-nd is a far better option anyway), put it in plain text far enough OUTSIDE your image so as to avoid disturbing it. It is unprofessional to do otherwise. Some people go so far they make me violent... particularly when they have ruined a fantastic photo with this kind of bullshit. HULK SMASH!
  • Clichés, for the most part. There are a few exceptions for me (trees in fog, for example), but typical stock photography styles make me click "next" quickly, even if the shot is great in every other way. Sunsets, for example. It has to be a really spectacular sunset to warrant my time. ...This may be due to the fact that I live in New Mexico, though. : )
  • Smiling at the camera. It is exceedingly rare that I like a photo where the subject is looking at the camera and smiling.
  • Subjects (people, specifically; dogs too) that I probably wouldn't spend 10 minutes with in real life. Sorry: if you're shooting people (/dogs), your photo will be judged on the subject as much as on the photo. Such is life.
  • "Guess what this is." Thanks, no. If it's not clear from the shot, I tend to click "next" regardless of how nice the composition may seem. If you really want to do that, paint it.
  • Color shots that were supposed to be black and white. Call me old-school. If the color isn't fantastic, make it B&W (or sepia, sure).
  • Dead-center subjects. Some people do this for "symmetry", so perhaps that's what I don't really like...

My Stance on Climate Change

...So much for avoiding political topics...

As I suspect is true of most of you: I have friends on both sides of the political fence.

Some of them are very ...shall we say... vocal, when it comes to "debunking" climate change.

Here's my take.

I don't care whether climate change is a reality or not.

Seriously.  Don't care.  Haven't read the research one way or t'other. The argument is being made to push our country into taking better care of the environment, specifically by cutting emissions, keeping forests healthy, and reducing our use of deletable resources.

I don't give a rat's ass whether or not climate change is real because ...we need to be doing these things anyway.

Now STFU and take care of your planet.


Sick of Political Bickering

As the title implies, I have become rather disenchanted with hearing people's bickering about political... stuff.

So I apologize for posting this.

But... seriously?  Is this true? In short, the article implies that GWB called the Fance's Chirac to goad him into the war on religious grounds.

...'Cause if that's true, it is completely uncool with me.

Gun Control

A friend of mine recently brought up the issue of gun control, about which I have several things to say.  I felt the urge to write about it, and a quick search reveals that I've never actually explained my position on this blog.  So here it is.

First, the exposition of my position:

  1. People should be allowed to own guns.  As many as they want, as deadly as they want.
  2. It is reasonable (and wise) to train/license these individuals before they own such weapons. Several tiers of licenses may be appropriate.
  3. There should be very, very strict penalties applied to crimes committed with guns (or, really, any weapons). Even an attempted crime.  Even an ostensibly accidental crime.  One of these penalties should be that you are not allowed to own a weapon again.  Ever.
  4. There should be very strict penalties for allowing your weapons to be used (by others) in crimes.  It's up to you to ensure they never are. One of these penalties should be that you are not allowed to own a weapon again.  Ever.
I am not going to make the Constitutional argument.  While I think it's a fine document, I'm going out on a sacrilegious limb and saying that the Constitution should not be the end-all, be-all of legislation.  It was written 200 years ago.  Things change.

I think my stance boils down to two core beliefs.  I am of the opinion that personal freedom should be the default stance. Namely, a person has a right to own a weapon. Secondly, preventive legislation is almost always a mistake. This is related to the first belief, but slightly different.

A few logical questions arise at this point.  First, where does the line get drawn?  Should I be allowed to own a bomb? A tank?  A nuke!?  A mortar?  A flamethrower? I don't know.  I agree that there should be a line somewhere, and that it has something to do with the risks involved (of accidents). But, for now, we're talking about guns... and I don't know of a gun that should be outlawed.

The second question is what I really came here to write about.  The opinion that, for example, assault rifles are designed to kill.  I've often heard this argument: if a gun is specifically made to kill people, why should anyone own it?

I'll admit it's a good question.  I'm tempted to address this concern by saying that the design of something shouldn't affect the legality of it, but I don't think that's going to convince anyone.  It's an opinion.

Instead, what I want to suggest to these people is that they're focused on the wrong thing.

First, there is media bias to consider.  The people who make these arguments are probably all people who aren't "into guns", so their only real exposure to them is through the media. And thanks to the whole "if it bleeds, it leads" thang, by and large their exposure is based on people being killed by assault rifles in mass-murders.  Usually, it seems, perpetrated by children.  In schools.  Against other children.

So here's what I suggest: what you want is not a ban on guns.  What you want is to prevent mass murders.  You see assault rifles as a perfect tool for this crime, and a tool that seems ill-fit for any other job than mass murder.

...And you're willing to sacrifice a personal freedom--one that you would never elect to take anyway, conveniently--to help prevent these crimes.

To this I say: noble purpose!  ...But, I fear, misguided.

I think the guns used in these crimes are a convenient and iconic target for your ire. I think that your perception of the people from whom you deem fit to strip these freedoms are not people you hold in a positive light.  Who cares if some hick asshole can't buy one more gun that was really made for killing people, anyway?  Boo-frikkin-hoo.  I can understand this point of view!

I just don't feel it's enlightened.  Or, really, right.

I'll say again: I think the ultimate goal of stopping mass-murder is a noble one.  And I'd love to have some intelligent people spend some amount of time analyzing what might have been most effective in identifying this risk and intervening.  But until I see demonstrable proof that outlawing assault rifles (or, worse, guns in general) is going to have a dramatic effect on the number and/or severity of these crimes, I remain skeptical.

And while I'm skeptical, I stick to my [resists the urge to use a pun] position on the subject:
  • Personal freedom should be the default stance. Even if it's not a freedom I elect to use.  Even if the people who use it are people I don't generally like.
  • Preventive legislation is almost always a mistake. Until it can be clearly demonstrated that it makes a profound difference, it is not worth removing people's personal freedoms.  It is better, to my mind, to rely on people being accountable for their actions.  ...Even if that action involves forgetting to lock their gun chest.
Anyway.  I don't really mean to pick a fight.  I just wanted to get my thoughts down on paper. to speak.  I also wanted people to know that I've thought about the subject and made what I think is a fairly rational decision, whether you disagree with it or not.

In closing, I'll just point out, if it isn't clear already that I don't own a gun.  In fact, I've never even held one, let alone shot one.

That said, I don't have a problem with people who own guns.  ...I have plenty of friends with large numbers of guns, and they are good people.  I think it's a common mistake to think that gun-owners are universally (or even mostly) assholes.

As a last thought, I'll extend that a bit: I think a majority of people's political opinions are governed by the types of friends they've made.  This is (demonstrably) why city-folk tend to be more liberal: they usually have more types of friends.

On the Tedium of Being a Scientist (or Skeptic, at least)

Over the past three years, I have really tried to "up" my level of rational thinking.  My skepticism. I've taken the stance that conjecture is nearly worthless; taking action without solid evidence of its efficacy is generally wasteful.  Assumptions are almost always a mistake.

Note, there are some exceptions that would detract from the point if enumerated.

The inescapable problem with this attitude is tedium.

When someone asks you whether to use "which" or "that" in a sentence, you have to look it up.  When you complain that something isn't working the way you expected, and someone suggests how to fix it, you question whether that's a legitimate solution.  ...And if you eventually decide to "just try it", and it works, you're never satisfied that it wasn't just coincidence. When people ask interesting but less-relevant questions during decision-making meetings, you call them on information bias.

You spend inordinate amounts of time researching decisions, refining processes, and measuring progress.

You can't listen to any mass media, because it's so chock full of unverified, rushed assertions, presuppositions of guilt, and contextual bias.  You can't read opinion pieces, because they are so lop-sided and single-minded. You spend some amount of time after any serious discussion looking up the other participant's claims. You discount people's stories because they are "anecdotal".

When someone asks you to confirm something you're "pretty sure of", you take the time to look it up again anyway, because you know memory is fallible. You question your decisions, because you're aware of confirmation bias.  You refuse to make relative distinctions because of the contrast effect.

In short, your entire life comes into question.  Everything progresses more slowly, because of your perpetual uncertainty.  All in all, what you might have shrugged off and just did all become long processes with multiple steps.

The worst part about it, of course, is that there is no turning back.  Ever.  Because now you know that those old behaviors were wrong.  Simple, biased action is rooted in falsehoods. Now you're on the path of "truth"--or some reasonable epistemological approximation of it. Nothing less is even worth considering.  It's just wrong. Not. An. Option.

But it's hard.  : (

The Happening

About a month ago, the "team lead" on the EOL Website project had to leave the group.  Suddenly.  ...Like, very suddenly.

I received an email that weekend asking if I could take over the role.  I accepted.

So I've spent nearly a month (not quite) working this "new job", as it were.  It's a rather demanding role... I am typically putting in 10-hours days, sometimes much more.  It's kind of exciting, though, and despite the extra work (and, I admit: stress), I'm actually having fun.

However, for reasons you might imagine, I'm not terribly interested in blogging by the time I'm done. : )  On the other hand, by the time I'm done, I do feel like playing a little music, so I have been (minimally) active on Twitter and my other blog, talking music.

I also try to keep current on Facebook.

So... that's the reason things are quiet here.  Sorry!

I expect things will settle... but not for a few months.  I'll be back.


When I was in high school, I took a weightlifting class.  Technically, I was the second strongest person in the class, by the end of it.  That surprises most people, since I look rather... wimpy.

There were two exceptions, though.  The first was lower-leg exercises, where I was quite weak and hardly improved.  But the other exception is the one I want to talk about.

On the first day of class, we tried to establish "benchmarks", so we could measure our progress.  One of the first things I did was situps.  ...I can't remember the details, but I did a respectable number... 60 or something, maybe.  But it hurt.  A lot.

The next day, my stomach was completely shot. I could hardly roll out of bed.

The next class was two days later, and I was in even more pain.  I think I did, like, five, before insisting I was going to tear in half if I did one more.

But I never recovered... for the rest of the semester, I probably got up to maybe a dozen situps.  It was pathetic.  ...But I just couldn't get any more in, it hurt so badly.

Of late, my back has been very sore.  I decided exercise was in order, and I found a nice set of back exercises to try out.  A month later of doing them every three days or so, I can't say I'm much better... but it has gotten me thinking about building up my strength again.

With that in mind, I decided to do some sit ups.  ...My tummy is quite a bit larger now than it was even three years ago, so I thought it might help with that.

I did eight. Eight!  I was embarrassed. That was all I could muster in one set.  The next set, I did three before quitting.  I tried a third set, but just got through one.

The next day, I could hardly roll out of bed.  : |

I knew better than to try again the following day.  And it still hurt the day after that, too.  In fact, it's been a week since I tried it.  ...And I thought today was the right day to try again.  I could still feel some pain, but not much.

I did two sit ups, and then just fell back, stomach muscles screaming.

W. T. F?!?

...How do I fix this?

Obligitory Map

Here's the current map for the upcoming campaign. This is supposed to represent an area a bit smaller than India.

Keepin' it relatively simple.

Spheres of Magic

Made this a few nights ago, I've neglected to post it. Meant for use in an upcoming RPG:

  • Animus: Giving life to lifeless things, or "more life" to other living things. Spells to temporarily boost attributes, to make plants move, to make inanimate objects move, and the like.
  • Air: Spells to create, control, or otherwise affect wind and weather.
  • Binding: Spells to bind non-humans (only) to a particular task.
  • Charm: Spells to beguile, befriend, command, or otherwise affect other human (only) minds.
  • Conjuration: Spells to produce short-lived but ostensibly real items.
  • Earth: Spells to shape, soften, harden, or otherwise affect rock, sand, and the like.
  • Fire: Be careful. Sure, it does lots of damage... but it often comes with collateral! Also offers spells to control or withstand fire.
  • Healing: Yeah, you may need a little of this. Includes curing diseases.
  • Illusion: Spells to create visual and auditory stimulus that has no physical reality.
  • Kinesics: Spells to move things (potentially even yourself).
  • Mysticism: See things no one else can see.
  • Necromancy: controlling the dead. Be careful, here, this is dark stuff.
  • Pathomancy: The antithesis of healing: causing wounds, inflicting diseases, leeching health. Be careful with this one, too: it is also quite dark.
  • Protection: creating shields or barriers, or defending against particular dangers.
  • Shunting: Spells that bend space, creating portals from one place to another.
  • Summoning: briefly conscripting the services of an Outsider.
  • Water: Somewhat weak offensively, but can include spells to breathe underwater, walk on water, and the like.

Observation of the Day

When I see this:

I can't help but think Dave was killing this:

...I'm just sayin'.

Port - ALSO... Churchill's 20-year Tawny

I hasten to add: my father-in-law poured me two half-glasses of Churchill's 20-year tawny. This is a $60 bottle of port!  ...Too rich for my blood.

Perhaps that's why I walked away thinking that the Victoria was still a much better bang for the buck.  ...It was good (very good), but not worth the extra money. Definitely more complex and "refined" than the Victoria, but about as enjoyable, overall.

Trader Joe's (Quarles Harris) 10 Year Old Tawny Port

We don't get up to Trader Joe's that often. But the last time we went, I decided to check out their port selection.

They had several to choose from, and I chose their 10-year tawny, which ran about $15. In a nutshell, I'm disappointed by it.

First of all, it smells awful. I mean really bad. Like earth, metal, and alcohol.

Fortunately, it tastes much better than it smells, but it still isn't nearly as good as other ports in this range. It's decidedly sweet (which is good), it's a bit alcoholic (but that's the nature of the beast), and, to my novice pallate, takes more like Sherry than port: more fig than grape. Some of the smell's "earth tones" are left in the taste, but it is otherwise not very complex.

Here's another reviewer's take. But for me, the Australian "Victoria Tawny" by Buller is a much better bang for the buck.

In fact, I decided to re-try my standing favourite: Taylor-Fladgate's 2003 LBV. ...And, while it's a very good port, I'm convinced it's not so much better than the Victoria that I'm willing to pay the extra $10 for it.

UPDATE: The "R.L. Buller & Son" has apparently renamed itself to simply "Buller", so I've changed that here. In finding this out, I also became aware that they have many other offerings in the fortified-wine realm, and I look forward to trying a few.

Daily sketch, 3/4

Yeah, I didn't do a single daily sketch for all of Feb.  Oops.

But I really want to get back in the habit.  So, here's today's.  REALLY crappy photo.  I should have taken it outside rather than trying to shoot it in this crappy office light:

Video with Mom

I clled my mother last night (I am a dutiful son, no?), and she mentioned getting a new Mac.  Then she asked if I had a camera on my mac... next thing we knew, we'd switched to a video conference.

It was her first time, so of course, I showed her the "effects".  What I didn't show her was that you could take snapshots.  I am a devious son, no?

Note to Shelf: The Gemini Incident

Here's a story idea.

Suddenly, for no obvious reason, all living things on earth leap back two minutes.

Of course, all living things on earth are still *there* two minutes ago.  This creates a rather gruesome catastrophe, where people who hadn't moved in those two minutes are merged with their future selves, and die some horrible convulsive deaths. People who were in planes fall from the skies, people in cars tumble in streets. It would be gruesome, so this is clearly a dark story.  I'm thinkin' zombie-movie-level of gore, for the first scene.

But for the rest of the people--the ones that moved far enough--they are left dealing not only with the catastrophe, but with their doppelgänger.

What would the world be like in the aftermath?

Quake live

You can now play Quake online, for free, using your browser:

...Of course, I tried this, and was greeted with the following:

In case that's still too small to read, that's saying I am #32,730th in line to play.
I closed the window.  : )

Nice graphic, though!

Port: Osbourne Tawny

On a lark, I decided to swing by the package store today and pick up one of the cheaper ports on my list. The store I've been going to doesn't have many things on my list (and most that they do have are the pricey ones), but they did have an Osbourne Tawny Porto. So I grabbed it (for $13).

I was going to save this one until I'd finished off one of the three (!) other bottles I've opened, since ports generally stay fresh for only three weeks or so (and I go through them slowly), but I lost patience and tried it tonight anyway.


It is similar to and slightly better than the Fonseca Bin No. 27. A little sweeter, a little less "alcoholic". About the same complexity. But in the end, I put it in the same category: I'd drink it if it were offered, but I wouldn't buy it again.

...And now I have four (!) open bottles in the fridge, so I won't be buying any new port for a month or more.

Never know until you try.

Update: After drinking a very fine cup of ginger tea, I had another half-glass of this and the Fonseca, and enjoyed both. Again, I preferred the Osbourne, which, upon reflection, had a little more complexity. The Fonseca was a little more mellow in flavor, despite the notable alcoholic strength. The ginger tea (Yogi's--best brand I've found for Ginger) may have contributed to the change of palate. I think I'm underselling both of these: they are fine drinks. ...But, as usual, I'm looking for something even more extraordinary. And I do (still) prefer the Victoria Tawny. : )

Port: The Hit List

Since I had port on the brain this evening, I decided to revamp my "hit list" with prices and quotes reminding me why they're on the list. : ) For the curious (or those who land here via Google), these are the ports that I would like to try over the next year or so (note that I skip over lots of popular ports because they were described as either "dry" or particularly "alcoholic", two traits I dislike):


  • 10-y Tawny $30-32 "delectable,fruity,warming and palatable surprise that certainly stands alone in a market burgeoned with a dizzying array of exquisite notables. The Tawny Porto is exceptional in both its aroma and texture", "Unquestionably the finest Tawny I’ve tasted in years. What makes it profound is its complex fragrance of roasted nuts and sweet fruit. There is impeccable definition and richness, a velvety texture and a long lusty finish. It is all a Tawny should be."
Faun (Californian, this could be hard to find, however):
  • Porto $23 "Luscious and delicious with lots of sweetness and intensity of dark fruit and chocolate flavors."
  • Tawny $14 "It explodes with caramel on the nose and has nice concentration of fruit as well. Nice and mellow."
  • Ruby Porto $14 "Fruity, sweet, and smooth."
  • Master of Porto $18 "very easy to drink 'cause it's very sweet and light bodied. Great aroma!"
  • 2003 LBV $14 "deep plum-prune fruit with spicy notes."
  • Ruby Porto $12 "Concentrated flavors of sweet black cherries, vanilla oak and a mellow finish", "Clean, sweet and rich.", "Youthful fruitiness with a surprisingly soft complex style rarely found in younger Portos."
  • 10-y Tawny $15+ "Lively aromas of plum, cherry and vanilla combine with rich, full caramel flavors enhanced by a long, lush – and slightly sweet – buttery finish.", "Lively aroma of Plum, Cherry and Vanilla. Rich, full caramel flavors enhanced by a long, lush buttery finish. Slightly sweet."
  • 20-year Tawny Porto (375ML) "Elegant and complex with intense nutty flavor joining butterscotch and oak. A wine of exceptional character with a deliciously sweet finish.", "Elegant and complex with intense nutty flavor married with butterscotch and oak. A wine of exceptional character with a nicely sweet finish."
Ramos Pinto:
  • 2001 LBV $20 "Intense and elegant, it offers a very fruity nose of grapes and figs. Fresh and velvety form the start, this is very fruity and full-bodied with smooth tannins and a velvety aftertaste with a hint of chocolate."
  • Collector $15-20 "It has full aromas unveiling dry plum, fig and berry scents with a touch of pepper. On the palate, the attack is soft and succulent. This is a rich, subtle wine with a fine, generous structure and remarkable persistence."
Taylor Fladgate:
  • 10-y Tawny $26 "Elegant and smooth, combining delicate wood notes and rich mellow fruit", "My favourite 'everyday port'"
  • 20-y Tawny $40 (When you've got something spectacular to celebrate) "Taylor's tawny ports are the best of their type. When tasted against other tawnys, they all exhibit more aromatic personalities, greater fruit and ripeness, and a wonderful sweetness and length."
  • Tawny $10 "Although on the fruity side for a tawny port, this one offers exceptional depth and character for a $10 bottle. Candied cherry, subdued nut flavors, and not too "hot" despite being an inexpensive fortified wine."
  • Warrior $13 "With dark, intense fruit, a deep red color, with intensely rich aromas of ripe red fruits and spices. On the palate well balanced and full-bodied, with a long and complex finish. A superb Port in the traditional style and one of the finest available for everyday drinking."
Yalumba (Another Aussie):
  • Antique Reserve Tawny Port $15-20 "I have had many ports, and love the stuff. One day following a hike in Yosemite I stopped in at the hotel bar and got the port sampler. This one blew me away! It's rich and has a little tang to it. This stuff is the most incredible port ever.", "Nose of raisins, molasses, allspice. Thick and heavy on the palate with raisin, honey, brown sugar."

For the record, the winners among what I've tried so far are the Taylor Fladgate LBV 2000, and this Australian R.L. Buller & Son Victoria Tawny. If I don't find anything better, those will be the two I keep in the fridge after this year of testing.

Port: Fonseca Porto Bin 27 and R.L.Buller & Son Victoria Tawny

I recently got paid for some consulting work and decided I would "celebrate" by buying myself a nice bottle of a very fine port. I went to the only package store in town I was familiar with (the one that my parents took me to while they were in town... cause, you know, I've never gone to one on my own!) and they had a very large selection of ports. After talking with the guy there (who evidently knew less than I did about ports, actually), I let him convince me not to buy a nice bottle of something pricey, but instead a $15 tawny. Since I thought that was cheap, I picked up another $10 half-bottle of something I knew I wanted to try. I'll start with that one: a Fonseca, called "Bin 27".
It's good! ...It's not that good. It's like a fine, slightly sweet wine. ...Well, one can definitely taste the grape, which I guess isn't great for a wine (but I wouldn't really know), although it also has a very slight fig flavor to it. ...Overall, it's decent, but I won't buy it again. I'd rather have the Taylor Fladgate, of course. Update: I was underselling this port. It's actually quite good, though I do believe the next port was better...

The dude (yes, dude) from the package store was very nice, and enjoyed talking port, and encouraged me to continue with my little obsession. ...But he wasn't really well-versed. He'd tried a couple, but not even Six Grapes (which, I understand, is sort of a go-to port). That said, when I mentioned I had enjoyed Old Cave, and said it was Australian, he heartily recommended the Victoria Tawny, which he said was also from down under.

My first taste of it was just a sip, and it was warm, and I was unimpressed. It wasn't even as good as the Old Cave.
However, my second taste was chilled, and it was fantastic. Especially for $15. It's definitely fig-flavored, kind of like a Sherry, but with very distinct (and gorgeous) cherry "overtones" (as they say in the wine tasting community, I gather). It's not nearly as complex as Old Cave... it's less for sipping and much more drinkable. ...But, honestly, I think I like this more than Six Grapes, even. I would absolutely buy this again. Well worth the $15.

Still no contest versus the Taylor Fladgate LBV, which remains king of ports.

...So far.

I <3 Accuracy

With apologies to my religulous friends, males do not have one fewer rib than females.

Also--and this has little to do with religion--the human heart is pretty much in the center of your chest, not over to the left.

Sure, it's a little left of center, because one of your lungs is slightly larger, but I've long gotten in trouble for doing the pledge of allegience by holding my hand over the center of my chest. But that's where it lives.

Not here:

And not here:
Not even here (sorry, prez; dug your talk last night):

And probably not in this general area, either:

Pet peeve?

Port: Sandeman Founders Reserve

This week, I picked up (with some appreciated help from my wife) a bottle of Sandeman "Founders Reserve" port. (The one in the background). It comes in a really nice bottle, which I'll be keeping. Nice green glass (which looks black with the port in it), nice logo, well laid-out, nice shape/size/heft. ...But that was about the only really positive thing I could say about it. : )
I'll be drinking the rest of it (slowly) over the next month... maybe it will grow on me. But I can't recommend this port. It's dry, it's not at all sweet, and it's very... strong. More like a (strong) wine than a port... and not a particularly good wine, at that.

I might try their other ports, however... I like their style a lot, and I'm such a sucker for style! ; )

Update: It has been weighed, it has been measured, and it has been found wanting. ...I actually used some of this for cooking, a few days ago, to good effect. ...Not that I would spend $17 on a port just to cook with it. : \

(Image by inspector_81, cc-by-sa 2006.)

Daily sketch, 1/30

Yesterday's, really.  Not entirely happy with this one: her torso is too long, I didn't leave enough room for her top hand, and her left foot totally doesn't jive with her left knee (and is sloppily-drawn).  Overstated the face, too.
Still glad I did it.

Quick Sketch, Bad Photo

It's late.

But one of my goals, which I plan to stick to, is to sketch something--anything--once a day, every day.

I hadn't gotten around to it today, so, here it is.

Like I said, I'm tired. The pic was taken with the built-in MacBook camera in the worst possible light (and tweaked a bit with PS to compensate):

My thoughts? Meh. Could be worse, I guess. Hands and feet are notoriously hard for beginners, and while they aren't good, they're not miserable, either.

WARNING: Previous Post NSFW (Extremely Rude)

PLEASE do not let children or those easily offended by sexuality to see the previous post.

I mean it.

It's really nasty.

You've been warned.

No joke: move on.

1kBWC: You Surfed for Githyanki Porn

This may actually violate my Blogger Terms of Service.  : )

WARNING: *VERY* Rude post coming up next.

PLEASE do not allow women, children, or anyone sane to see the next post.

You have been warned.

I mean it.  Skip the next post.


On Republicans, Our Neighbors, Pork, and Arts

From Arizona Congress Watch (via CDM):

The [eco-stimulus] bill pushes tens of billions of dollars into education, and not just for building and renovation projects, but for everything from Head Start to college loans and Pell Grants. Some Republicans ask: How does that stimulate the economy?

“For example, $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts,” Flake says. “There’s no better example than that. How that stimulates the economy, I don’t know.”
 Seriously?  Seriously?!?

I honestly don't know what else to say, here.  Of course the arts feed the economy.

...Though I will concede: there's evidently a provision in the bill that "includes $200 million to reseed the National Mall in Washington."  That smells like pork to me.

But the arts?

I'd be offended if they weren't included in a stimulus package.

...DISCLAIMER: This is not to say I think the stimulus package is a good idea. I don't. I simply take exception to republicans--especially Arizonan republicans--claiming that the arts are an expendable, second-class, special-needs part of the economy.

On Blasphemy, Lord of the Rings, and Generic Fantasy

This is a response, sort of, to a friend's post about my dislike of Lord of the Rings.  ...In particular, I called the films "generic".

Perhaps I mis-use the word "generic", but I don't particularly want to argue semantics, so I'll rephrase: the production of LotR didn't go out on a single limb.

Perhaps this is a feature rather than a bug to some (true to the novel! true to the genre!), but to my mind, this is a tragic failing. Not once during the entire trilogy did I think to myself "oooh, neat idea".  (I like neat ideas!)  ; )

Perhaps that's what I mean by generic: unsurprising.  LotR was like a fantastically-painted oil landscape... pretty, perhaps, but not truly creative.  (Again, depending on your definition of the term.) [image source]

Detailed?  Sure.  I'll grant it that.  But detail doesn't make a movie for me on its own. My imagination needs to be tripped in some way. I much (!) prefer more interesting interpretations. Everything is relative, of course... and when I watched LotR, I kept thinking "I'd rather be watching The Thirteenth Warrior." ...A vastly more interesting story, with a similar level of detail. [image deep-linked from IMDB, may break] I wouldn't hang a generic landscape oil, but if you make the subject more interesting... [image source]

Redundancy was not limited to the third film.  Every film was fraught with lengthy close-ups of characters making generic (!) expressions. [image cropped from IMDB.  Yes, from the first film.]

I dunno.  I didn't really like the books, so perhaps my trying to like the movies was a lost cause. There was no nostalgia to be triggered for me.  Aside from being visually stunning films with an amazing attention to detail, they hold no entertainment value for me.  I considered watching them again just to give a proper reply, but I have no desire to.  Zero.

LotR was not my induction into fantasy, as it was for many fans of the film. I'm the son of a role-player, so my introduction to fantasy was in the AD&D books... and when I read Tolkien's stuff, I kept thinking "this is just a story based on THE most boring aspects of D&D". I didn't want to be reading a book about orcs and elves.  I wanted to be reading about Berbalangs and Githyanki! [images* from TSR Hobbies, Inc.]

And, yes, I realize that's because my chronology was perverted by my father's gaming habits... but the point is the same: I was incapable of enjoying the books.  ...And, later, the films.

The ideas were not novel to me, nor was my association with the concepts therin positive enough to appreciate the work they put into expressing them.

The movies were lost on me.

Because they were generic.   ; )

* I meant to find that really cool two-page spread of the gith from the Fiend Folio, but I couldn't find a copy.  ...Also, does every image search always end up in porn?!?

101 Things

Dear reader,

I am--believe it or not--presently using Twitter.  You can find me there as JeremyRice.

I will continue to post here (and on my other blogs) as space warrants, but my typical random thoughts will migrate there.

That is all.


Batman is a boring superhero.  He does nothing for me.

Lord of the Rings is generic, redundant, and gratuitous.

Star Wars Episodes I - III weren't that bad.

Matrix Reloaded was the best movie of the trilogy.

Yeah, I've Got Yer Four-Way Chat RIGHT HERE

I work remotely.

As such, there is a need to communicate with co-workers, some of whom also work remotely. Recently we had a meeting where someone was showing off a secret-squirrel new website and how it works and how we might integrate it into our project.

Hence, the four-way video chat:

(Identities have been hidden to protect the innocent.)

The screen on the left is actually local to the screen in the middle; the rest of us wanted to see what was on the middle guy's screen.

Not perfect, but it worked.  And it was lagless, I might add.

iChat is my friend.

The New Office

I'm not claiming I like this setup (I will be getting a new desk soon, I think), but this is currently what my "office" looks like, as of a bout of re-arranging yesterday afternoon:

...It is, again, an expression of the resolution to "simplify".

I think I can take it even further.  We'll see.

A Confession: Rhythm

Part of my New Year's resolution is to simplify my life. To that end, I've been trying to formulate a few watchwords that sum up what I'm trying to achieve with my little existence.

One of those words is rhythm. What I think that word captures is an idea of persistence, with variation. It's brings to mind this idea of "keeping on a path", without sounding tedious. Not only that, but it also evokes the notion of timing, where every action has its appropriate place. I'm not sure I've been heeding the rhythm of life, so to speak.  I'd like to start.

I am also paying attention to rhythm in a more literal sense. As you hopefully know, I write music, and when I do so, it is with a focus on rhythm... without any personal skills at keeping it.  That is, I quantize nearly everything. It's a crutch. I'd like to change that, so I'm starting to practice keeping rhythm and quantizing less. I've even started recording myself tapping out rhythms live.  (Though I admit, I've been looping those samples rather than playing long stretches!)

All of this talk is fancy padding around the admission that I've gone and done something... a little silly. You see, my son got a bunch of money for Christmas. While he initially wanted to spend this on a PSP, my wife and I convinced him that this was a bad idea (he already has a GameBoy, a DS, a Wii, a PC, and access to my PS3... he doesn't need another system). Recently, he's taken to playing Rock Band at his friend's house, and we thought it would be a better use of his money if he went and bought a copy of his own... then he'll be better when playing at the friends house, and so on.

Well... I upgraded his purchase from the basic set to the full band thing, so that it included the little drum set.

Yes, yes.  I have been playing Rock Band drums.  I admit it.

And, dammit, it's fun.

...And also?  Really hard.

Towards a Liberal Morality Part II: Loyalty

Some months ago, I touched on the idea that liberal morality may not have the "holes" in it that Jonathan Haidt suspects. I started by saying that the English meaning of "purity" is slanted toward the right. I want to expand on this broader subject.

Haidt also talks about "minimizing harm" as a moral measure, and both sides of the political spectrum subscribe to it (the left somewhat more so).  I think this concept is spot-on.  Not much to talk about, here.

The next interesting concept in Haidt's study is that of "loyalty", and again this is one of those morals that the Right seems to have corenered the market on.

But, again, I think a subtle shift in terminology may reveal otherwise.  The Right's concept of "loyalty" seems to me to encompass the act of following one's leaders. I think Haidt's definitions includes a clause about "deserving leaders", or some-such.  So, for example, it's okay to question (for example) President-elect Obama, on grounds that he doesn't deserve his role as leader.

The Right can have that definition of loyalty. It's inane.

For me, what "loyalty" means is advocating continuous improvement of the group. Loyalty requires critical analysis, self-measurement: supporting a group without improving it is empty support. I think you'll find that liberals have this "critical loyalty" in spades... so, again, Haidt's political imbalance would disappear.

So, again, loyalty is a word I would like to see the Left re-claim.

Big Mind

I'm going to take a bit of a risk in posting this, but:

...I've made a reputation for myself as a skeptic and an atheist; I am.

But Roshi's train of thought is something that I feel is remarkable. While I think he gets a few observations about "big mind" wrong, the point is still amazing, and this is a technique that I think everyone who cares about practical philosophy* should be familiar with.

* Is that an oxymoron?


Today, I was sick.  So I played a little (more) Oblivion, slept as much as I could, and watched the last of the "Three Colors" films, Red.

(I watched White a few days ago.  It was good, but didn't really do anything for me.)

It was good.  Not nearly as good as Blue, but with a slightly grander scale and meaning. I recommend it, but (obviously) not as highly as Blue.

I would like to watch more movies in the vein: really well-done films, imbued with meaning, well-shot, and superbly acted.  If you have suggestions, please let me know.

Currently in my queue are Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, a Hindi comedy, Léon, the classic French action film (yes, it's true, I haven't seen this yet), and Vozvrashcheniye, a Russian film about a father who returns to his sons after being gone their entire lives.

I'm not specifically looking for foreign films... it's just more likely that I haven't seen them, as opposed to the independent American films, which I've seen pretty much all of.  (...and rather like, mind you!)  ; )

Recommendations appreciated. Obscure is probably better (less likely to have seen), but it must be well-acted and with good cinematography.  I'm not in a forgiving (of quality) mood.  No "you've gotta watch Cube!", please.  ; )


Now Try Coughing

I just watched the move "Three Colors: Blue".

Best film I've seen in a long, long, long time.

Made me cry.


What Makes Someone A Friend?

Scott Adams asked the question, and answered it with insight. Please read his thoughts.

No, not psychically!

I think I will try this out.

Worst. Commercial. EVER.

I hate commercials.

No, I mean I really fucking HATE commericals.

That is, I hate the bad ones.  I'll chuckle at a clever commerical, and can bear the others that just get to the point.  But a bad commercial has been known to evoke violence in me.

Well, now I've seen the worst commercial in history.  So maybe I can finally let it go.

...But not without one last act of violence: inflicting this commercial on YOU, dear reader...

Terrifying Thought

Some time ago, Seth Godin posted about Malcolm Gladwell's essay on music students. One study found that top students outperformed lesser students because of the amount of time, in total, they had spent practicing.

The magic number seemed to be 10,000 hours. That is to say, 10,000 hours of practice puts you at the top of your field. (At least for music, though Gladwell argues that it generalizes well.)

Godin came up with a few exceptions, but that's not what I want to focus on. What I want to focus on are the terrifying realizations I had after churning on this idea for a few weeks.

First, I decided that I haven't spent 10,000 hours doing anything. Not even writing code*. And maybe I should start focusing more.

Then I realized, with horror, I have spent 10,000 hours doing some things:

  • Playing computer games
  • Watching TV
  • Surfing the damn internet

Well, shit.

* Honestly, I've been a developer for about 11 years, which should put me around 20,000 hours! But developers spend--easily--less than 25% of their time actually writing code. ...I hope that I can add to that the many hours I spent coding for fun in my youth. Thus I'd like to think I'm close.

Korean insults?

나무를 껴안는 긴장성 분열증 원숭이 먹는 사람 !

Medical Tidbit

I'm currently working on a job (consulting) dealing with medical costs.  While looking up some information on one of the terms, I found this interesting tidbit of information:

In 1991, the top 10 [categories for inpatient care] overall were: normal newborn, vaginal delivery, heart failure, psychoses, cesarean section, neonate with significant problems, angina pectoris, specific cerebrovascular disorders, pneumonia, and hip/knee replacement. These DRGs comprised nearly 30 percent of all hospital discharges.

...In other words, those are the everyday things that bring people to the hospital for inpatient care.

[shrug] I thought it was interesting. A day-in-the-life kind of thing.

Port Part Two

After finishing my bottle of Old Cave port just before New Year's, I decided to read up on the subject.  I won't bother giving details here: basically, I read the Wikipedia article. I'll start, though, with the most basic fact: port is made by adding (neutral) brandy to fermenting wine. This stops the fermentation process, leaving much of the sugar from the grapes, giving it the sweet taste... and upping the alcohol content significantly. (Brandy is distilled wine, and has a very high alcohol content.) I also did a little hunting and came up with a "to try" list of ports, ranging across the spectrum of types and labels.

I was showing this list to a friend of mine on New Years, and he decided he and I were going to each buy a bottle--this was around 10:00--and try it.We zipped over to his packing store of choice (he's a Scotch drinker and his wife like cocktails), and looked around... they had an excellent selection. He settled on a Late-Bottled Vintage (LBV), though I had to convince him that buying an actual Vintage would be (relatively speaking) a waste of money. Basically--a vintage is a "true" port: a single harvest of grapes, aged for about 18 months, then bottled. They tend to be very expensive because of their limited supply. LBVs, on the other hand, are created when a harvest for vintage wine was not in high enough demand, and so the port sat in the cask longer than 18 months.  It's still a single harvest, but it has a "nuttier" taste because of the extra time with the oak.

I grabbed a sexy-looking bottle of ruby, since this meant that we'd be able to try three of the four common varieties of port (because the bottle he'd gotten me for xmas was a tawny--a mixture of several harvests, each aged for decades).  Ruby is a very different kind of port: not aged in oak casks at all. It does not improve with age.

 We did this because we're both aware of a very nice tawny, and wanted to try these other (common, cheaper) varieties of port.

The LBV he picked up was Taylor Fladgate 2000, which cost $23, and we opened that first because I assured him it would be the better of the two. And, indeed, it was fantastic. Both of us took our first sips and just smiled and said "wow". We immediately agreed that this was much better than the tawny (which is also superb, mind you). Much smoother, much more satisfying. Not nearly as complex, though... and nothing of, as they say, "a finish". It's just a great-tasting drink.  : ) The tawny is something you drink in tiny sips over a long period of time, because the best part is the aftertaste... but this LBV was something you could drink much faster.  Sipping is still appropriate, but it's not long before the taste fades.

Absolutely worth the $23. I'll certainly be buying a bottle of it when I have a chance, and I recommend it even more highly than the Old Cave.  It's something everyone who might like port should try.

The second bottle (the one I bought) was a $20 Graham's Six Grapes (which is ruby. Rubies don't have a year or age designation because it doesn't really matter.) I went in expecting this to be a much simpler drink, probably with a bright red color.  I was a little surprised at just how dark it poured out, though: maroon, not red, and very opaque. It was noticably thicker than the other two... really thick legs on this one. A very sexy-looking drink.  : ) ...But I'll admit, it didn't impress me nearly as much as the Taylor. It was even further down the "drinkable" spectrum than the LBV: this was essentially grape juice with a kick. ; ) My friend said "I could drink an entire bottle of this"... and that's true: it's very easy to drink. I'll admit I enjoyed it (and even more so as the the glass emptied), but I won't buy this again: it lacks the intricacy of the others that are what drew me to port in the first place. My friend claimed he liked this one more than the Taylor, but I find that hard to believe. I think he was being nice.  ; ) (And, as evidence, he poured himself a second glass of the LBV an hour later.  Heh.)

The last thing he said was "it's hard to believe these three drinks are from the same family"... which may be slightly over-stated (they're all sweet, strong wines) but has some truth to it: they are three very different experiences. The ruby is just a great drink, the LBV's a perfect dessert drink, and the tawny is a sipping experience. And, from what I've learned, they are three very different methods to create... so I think it's fair to say they should get a bit more recognition as separate entities.  There's probably as much difference between them as between any of the "types" of wine out there (of which I am ignorant, sorry).

So... one of my resolutions this year is to try a list of new ports: about one a month (my ports-to-try list is 14 items long). While I have no urge to become "a drinker" (despite more drinking in a week than I've done in my entire life, I've still never been drunk*), there are some ostensible health benefits, and I do enjoy the occasional experience.  ; )

* Actually, on Christmas Eve and again on Christmas Day, I ended up with "a buzz"... which was a first. I doubt I'll get to that point again, though.