res ipsa loquitur

interactive fiction via typewriter

Posted on: Mon, 11/15/2010 - 18:54 By: Tom Swiss

As a young geek, I whiled away many hours playing interactive fiction text games like Adventure (Colossal Cave), Zork, and Planetfall.

So I was quickly enchanted with this video of Jonathan Guberman and Jim Munroe's Automatypewriter. Guberman has essentially converted an old Smith-Corona into a fanciful teletype terminal for interactive fiction.

Watching the type type "by itself" reminds me of a scene from the Star Trek episode "Assignment: Earth", where Roberta Lincoln -- played by a young Terry Garr -- encounters a voice-operated typewriter in the office of time-traveling secret agent Gary Seven. Anyway, it's cool.

the zero body problem

Posted on: Fri, 10/29/2010 - 18:01 By: Tom Swiss

"It might be noted here, for the benefit of those interested in exact solutions, that there is an alternative formulation of the many-body problem, i.e., how many bodies are required before we have a problem? G.E. Brown points out that this can be answered by a look at history. In eighteenth-century Newtonian mechanics, the three-body problem was insoluble. With the birth of general relativity around 1910 and quantum electrodynamics in 1930, the two- and one-body problems became insoluble. And within modern quantum field theory, the problem of zero bodies (vacuum) is insoluble. So, if we are out after exact solutions, no bodies at all is already too many!" -- Richard D. Mattuck, A Guide to Feynman Diagrams in the Many-Body Problem

did we say 2012? would you believe...2062? Or 2112? Or 1962?

Posted on: Tue, 10/19/2010 - 11:05 By: Tom Swiss

If I haven't stated it clearly before, let me do so here: the disaster hype around 2012 is a bunch of muddleheaded nonsense. The Mayans themselves didn't believe that some great disaster was due when their "long count" calendar wraps around; it was just time for a big party, same way 2000 was for us.

And no, there will not be some grand alignment with the center of the galaxy on December 21, 2012: the Milky Way is too blobby for the idea of a visual center to be meaningful, and the winter-solstice sun will never actually eclipse the galaxy's central black hole (which shows up as a point-like radio source) -- it doesn't even make its closest alignment in the sky with that black hole for another 200 years, not that this means anything anyway.

So there's no big deal in 2012. seems that maybe the Mayan calendar doesn't actually wrap around in 2012 after all. A new review of the conversion of the ancient Mayan calendar to our Gregorian one suggests that it may be off by as much as 50 to 100 years. Gerardo Aldana, associate professor at UC Santa Barbara, looked at the arguments anthropologist Floyd Lounsbury made in support of the so-called "GMT constant", and found them wanting, throwing the conversion into doubt.

So it might not wrap around until decades from now -- or it might have already happened decades ago. (Rather than taking this as a debunking, I'll bet that at least one 2012 disaster entrepreneur will try to take advantage of this when the world fails to end in 2012, and start hyping some other date for the apocalypse.)

Now, some folks think that 2012 is a convenient time to think about making a change -- just as with a New Year's resolution, there's actually nothing special about January 1, just a social convention. Fine, great, and wonderful: just don't assign unwarranted supernaturalism to the date.

Me, I'll be turning 42 in 2012, and as a big Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fan that means more to me than any old Mayan calendar. Also, 2012 fits the Law of Fives: 2 + 0 + 1 + 2 = 5, so as a Discordian it's significant. But Mayan prophecy? Astronomical disaster scenarios? Poppycock.

signs of the apocalypse: accidental death rays and monkey security forces

Posted on: Tue, 10/05/2010 - 18:11 By: Tom Swiss

Two signs that the End Times are surely nigh:

  • The new Vdara hotel in Vegas has a problem with its pool. It's not the chlorine balance or a leak: it's an accidental death ray. The glass skyscraper is focusing sunlight to a degree that's burning people and has melted plastic. The "solar convergence phenomenon" was taken into account when the hotel was designed, and owner MGM Mirage hired a consultant -- who placed a filter over the window, reducing the effect by 70 percent, apparently not enough. (Imagine if this filter were to be removed, bwah-ha-ha.)
  • The upcoming Commonwealth Games in Delhi also have a problem: monkeys. Rhesus macaques often cause property damage and occasionally attack people (they were indirectly responsible for the death of Delhi's Deputy Mayor S.S. Bajwa), but are protected by devout Hindus. Delhi has decided that the solution to monkey problems is more monkeys; in a scene that could be part of the next remake of Planet of the Apes, officials are deploying langurs, a larger species of monkey, to keep the macaques at bay.

    (Yes, I know monkeys aren't apes.)

easier to climb up than get down

Posted on: Tue, 09/07/2010 - 21:40 By: Tom Swiss

If you've ever climbed a tree, you may have learned that sometimes it's easier to get up than to get back down. Ringo apparently learned this lesson this evening; I came back from my karate class to find him on top of this deck box/bench on the back patio. (Click on the thumbnails for larger versions of the photos.)

It was apparently within his capability to jump up on top of it; but when I called him to get down, he balked. I finally had to lift him up and place him back on the ground. I don't know what got him up there in the first place -- somehow I'm reminded of old cartoons where fear of a mouse sends a 1950s housewife jumping up on to a table, but I can't see that being the case here.

man shoots server -- computer, not waiter

Posted on: Fri, 08/27/2010 - 15:40 By: Tom Swiss

Anyone who works with computers can understand this guy: after a night of drinking, Joshua Lee Campbell allegedly returned to his workplace (RANLife Home Loans) and opened fire on their computer server with his .45-caliber handgun.

According to prosecutors, Campbell called police and claimed that he had been "mugged, assaulted with his own firearm and drugged" by an assailant who then shot up the server; but Campbell's acquaintances told the cops that they had seen him drunk, armed, and threatening to shoot the computer -- and maybe himself.

I've been programming computers for (counts on fingers) 29 years. (Great ghu, is that right? first programming class was in the summer of 1981, at the Maryland Summer Centers for Gifted Students' "Center for Advanced Studies" program.) Trust me, I know the urge to employ a high-velocity lead debugger all too well!

teabaggers headed to D.C. for revisionist civil rights demo told to avoid African-American parts of the city

Posted on: Tue, 08/24/2010 - 13:53 By: Tom Swiss

When you combine Glenn Beck, the Tea Party, and the recent bizarre historical revisionist attempt of the right wing to claim the Civil Rights movement as a conservative one, you know there's going to be some laughs. Beckites and tea baggers from all over the country are heading to D.C. for a rally on the anniversary of King's "I Have a Dream" speech. The only problem is, D.C. is full of, you know, black people; so a Maine Tea Party group has offered some interesting advice on how to stick to "safe" areas of the city, with such helpful tips as staying off of the entire Green and Yellow Metro lines -- keeping you safely away from such dangerous areas as the National Archives, Howard University, the University of Maryland College Park, and the U Street corridor.

When I head down to D.C., by the way, I usually drive to Greenbelt and take the Green Line downtown. Guess I've just got more guts than these teabaggers. (Of course, I am from Harm City -- okay, the suburbs of Harm City, but still -- so I don't scare easy.)

more Tea Party lunacy: bike-friendly cities are a U.N. plot

Posted on: Sun, 08/08/2010 - 13:25 By: Tom Swiss

As i have said before, I miss having a sane conservative movement in this country. While social conservatism has pretty much always been an intellectually bankrupt attempt to institutionalize a system of prejudice and privilege, I'd like to have some good fiscal conservatives around, some button-down bean-counters making sure we get the best deal for our dollar. As unabashedly leftist as I am, there are a few things where you'll find me in agreement with a stereotypical GOPer -- I'm opposed to excessive regulation on small business, for example (since I run two of them), and to overly strong gun control laws. I'd like to have some Eisenhower-style Republicans (updated with the past 50 years of social progress) around.

But instead, we get Republican politicians like Colorodo gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes, who believes that efforts by Mayor John Hickenlooper to make Denver more bike-friendly are "converting Denver into a United Nations community."

Says Maes, "This is bigger than it looks like on the surface, and it could threaten our personal freedoms...These aren't just warm, fuzzy ideas from the mayor. These are very specific strategies that are dictated to us by this United Nations program that mayors have signed on to." He is apparently talking about the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, an international sustainable-development association with 1,200 member communities, including 600 in the U.S.

Polls show that Maes, a Tea Party favorite, has pulled ahead of former Congressman Scott McInnis, the early frontrunner in the Aug. 10 primary for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Maes acknowledged that some might find his theories "kooky," but he said there are valid reasons to be worried.

"At first, I thought, 'Gosh, public transportation, what's wrong with that, and what's wrong with people parking their cars and riding their bikes? And what's wrong with incentives for green cars?' But if you do your homework and research, you realize ICLEI is part of a greater strategy to rein in American cities under a United Nations treaty," Maes said.


"Some would argue this document that mayors have signed is contradictory to our own Constitution," Maes said.

mama they took my Kodachrome away

Posted on: Sat, 07/24/2010 - 01:51 By: Tom Swiss

Don't tell Paul Simon, but the last roll of Kodachrome ever produced by Eastman Kodak has now been developed at Dwayne's Photo Service in Parsons, Kansas. Dwayne's is the last place still processing Kodachrome, or at least the last place certified by Kodak to do so.

Kodachrome, a color slide film favored by professional photographers, was produced from 1935 to 2009. This last roll was shot by Steve McCurry, a freelance photojournalist whose work has appeared in National Geographic magazine; National Geographic Television was on hand to document that last roll.

Dwayne's will be ending its Kodachrome processing service in December, so if any of you shutterbugs have an old roll in a drawer somewhere, get it in soon.

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