Another weird dream
I was hanging out with Jesus, and he was a black man, and I was a teenage girl, and I was his sidekick. And as part of our mission to fight crime or whatever we were doing, we were in this spooky parking garage. Jesus tied two homeless guys together with a piece of string. I didn't always understand his actions but I figured he had a good reason. The glowing embers of the homeless guys' cigarettes traced out spiral patterns in the darkness. Then a big mean dog attacked me, so I sprayed WD40 in its face to keep it away. And then some zombies tried to attack Jesus, but he walked out on top of a pond and when the zombies tried to follow him, they sank.
Just wanted to show off this cool picture. Many years ago, someone's pet parrots escaped into the wilds of Hyde Park. They thrived and multiplied and built huge nests in the park. They don't seem to bother with flying south for the winter (Parrots probably don't have the instinct, being tropical) so here they are clustered in a tree outside my window in the dead of winter.
And another thing
So, Aza and I have been carpooling from Hyde Park to our workplace (way up near Montrose on the Blue Line). On Friday morning (after I was out sick for two days) I called Aza to say I was alive again, and he told me "The car has a little problem. Somehow a hole melted through the tube for the radiator fluid, and so the engine overheated. But I patched the hole up with epoxy and put new coolant in, so maybe it'll be OK to drive now."
Well, maybe. We drove slow and kept our eyes on the temperature guage, which as you know goes from "C" to "H", with a red bar next to the "H" to indicate hotness. Well, for a while it seemed fine. But then we got onto Lake Shore Drive and headed north and had to speed up, and the needle started climbing, and around Roosevelt it went into the red, and then past the red, and smoke started pouring out from under the hood and the car started making horrible crunching noises. We went into neutral and coasted downhill for a while, finally grinding to a stop on the left side of the road across from the Field Museum. Well. We got out, swatting at the cloud of white smoke, and opened the hood. The radiator was a mess -- melted rubber everywhere. We decided to try putting snow on the engine to cool it down, and then maybe drive far enough to find a parking space and take the train to work.
I should mention, by the way, that this car did not belong to either of us; Aza's borrowing it from Atul, which adds a whole new dimension of guilt.
So I waited for a break in traffic, ran across six lanes, and jumped over the guardrail onto the snowy hill. I gathered up an armfull of snow, ran back across the road (crossing LSD on foot is often called "playing human frogger") and dumped it on the engine. Hiss, melt, steam; the snow all disappeared. I went back for a second batch, and this time I used my snowman-making skills and rolled the biggest ball I could. I waddled back to the car and just sort of put it on top of the engine. We closed the hood, smashing the snowball more or less flat, and got back in the car. Sure enough, the needle was back down to C.
And it worked! The crunching noises stopped, the car was handling fine, and the temperature guage held steady. We drove around in many circles looking for a parking space, with meltwater dripping out the whole way. We figured we'd have to leave the car where we parked for the weekend, at least, and so we had to find a free space, not one with a parking meter. Not a chance in hell! We finally found one of those signs that's like "No parking except these times and these days, unless bla bla bla, and snow is less than six inches or there's an event at soldier field, and..." Man, is this a parking space or not? We followed all the boolean variables and figured it probably was. It was right across the street from a line of ten police cars parked in front of police headquarters, so it's the last place you want to park if you're wrong about interpreting the sign. On the other hand, nobody's going to steal anything from the car. On the gripping hand, if they tow us, they're probably doing us a favor.
An unrelated story: Aleksa picked out a totally cool green dragon figurine as a present for me. I figured was just about to scale with 25mm RPG figurines, towering over them just as a dragon ought to. Hmmm, sudden desire to play D&D with miniatures. I ended up using some of my christmas money to buy the new D&D intro box set, which is full of pre-painted minis, dice, rearrangeable dungeon boards, etc. It's pretty nice, since you can either play it as a simple HeroQuest type of board game, or else use the minis to start a collection for playing out battles in a real campaign. Wizards of the Coast has started selling sealed boxes of random plastic miniatures. This is an obvious ploy to apply the Magic the Gathering model to D&D by encouraging people to buy and trade and collect. But I won't hold it against them, cuz the minis come with pretty good paint jobs, they look nice, they're much much cheaper than metal ones, and there's a huge variety.
Well, when Aleksa saw this game, she wanted to know all about it. She immediately siezed on an armored human fighter figure, and said "I wanna be this guy!" Sure, why not? So I ended up playing a very simple dungeon-crawl version of D&D with a five-year-old. If you think about it, role-playing is not very different from the way little kids play anyway -- you make up stories and act them out with toys. It's a very natural activity, but somehow we lose it when we pass puberty, and we have to use a stack of complicated rulebooks and pythagorean dice to get back to it.
Aleksa loves the idea of killing monsters and taking their treasure! She loves finding out what's going to be in the next room, and she gets real excited about rolling dice. (I do all the math and just tell her what she needs to roll.) I was surprised by what a good attention span she had for it. By the time I left to come back home, Aleksa was saying "Next time I'm gonna be the dungeon master! And I'll put monsters in every room!" Mom was astounded. "My little girl wants to be a dungeon master! What have you done to her, Jono?"
Mom and Dad got a brand new shiny Dell from "Santa". (i.e. from themselves). Now, every computer I've ever had has either been bought used, or assembled from parts, or a Macintosh, so this was my first experience with setting up a brand-new modern PC out of the box.
In the old days, setting up a new PC was hard because you had to fumble around with BIOS settings, DOS, maybe even hardware jumpers. And once all the cryptic stuff was done, your computer still wasn't good for anything until you installed some software on it.
Well, these days we seem to have gone to the opposite extreme. It's a nightmare for whole new reasons.
The first sign of trouble was the EULA (End User License Agreement) replacing the normal BIOS screen on startup. It didn't actually put the legalese on screen; it just told us to read and agree to the pile of fine print in the box before proceeding. Um... yeah, right. This turned out to be the first of eight EULAs we had to click through before we even got to the point of installing software of our own.
Once past the EULA, we had a series of multiple-choice screens. An arrow icon jumped up and danced around the screen, telling us what to do and when to click on it. Each radio-button choice was on a screen by itself, non-skippable, and asked us things like time zone and language and do you want to sign up for 6 months of free AOL now? Are you sure? How about now?
For a moment, we get a tantalizing glimpse of the desktop, but it's going to be a long time before the computer is going to let us dumb users take command.
McAfee automatically starts up. This is a security system comprising a software firewall, virus scanner, spam filter, and "privacy protection".
The firewall is redundant with the Windows software firewall and the hardware one in the router. The spam filter does no good, since everyone using this computer will be using webmail. And who knows what "privacy protection" is actually going to do? Only the virus scanner seems useful. But all of these programs are demanding my attention.
While McAfee is telling us to install stuff and download updates, etc, some "jukebox" program also starts up by itself in the background and tries to access the internet, and mcAfee pops up another dialog box asking if we want to let it. I ignore that for now. Clicking on the update-mc-afee stuff opens up IE and takes us to the McAfee website, where it tells us that the offer for 15 free months of mcafee service which we were supposed to get have either already ended, or not started yet. (This website will later change its mind.) McAfee wants us to sign more EULAs and set some passwords, while Windows pops up some windows telling us that "updates are ready for your computer", and some Dell-specific popup appears too, wanting me to go through some kind of tutorial on how to use all their great security measures. The Dell window is apparently a message queue of some kind which won't go away until you click to get rid of each of the two or three useless messages that it's trying to bring to your attention.
Meanwhile, yet another pop-up window is telling me that the computer has logged a bunch of stuff which it needs to submit to Dell for some Orwellian quality-control purpose. I can look at what it's going to send, before I approve, but it's all encrypted so I have no idea what's actually being logged. I assume that it tells where and when we bought the computer, and when we started it up, since we haven't yet done anything else worth logging.
McAffee tries to connect to the Internet, and the Windows firewall pops up an alert that this program is trying to make an outgoing connection. Great; first instance of one security program trying to prevent another security program from working. Even though all I want from McAfee is the virus scanner, McAfee wants me to click on a bunch of stuff right now to have it download upgrades for the redundant firewall, useless spam filter, and mysterious privacy protection. McAfee shows a bar which is red, yellow or green to indicate how well-protected against each type of "threat". Oh boy, a green bar, I sure feel safe now. That's about as meaningful as those graphics in over-the-counter medicine commercials where they show CG of the pill sending out pulses of light which make the red glowing pain lines disappear.
On the screen about "privacy protection", McAffee gives me some dire warnings about how dishonest websites will try to steal my personal data, but what is this privacy protection software going to do about it, exactly? It's all vaguely worded to avoid any hint of computer jargon which might be scary to the average idiot user, so the description is really devoid of meaning. Am I signing up for a phishing site blacklist, or a spyware blocker, or is it just going to change my browser settings to something sane and then flash more stupid pop-up warning windows at me every time I fill in a form on a website? There's no way to know. Also, the privacy protection software appears to be some kind of content filter, too, maybe to block out those evil adult websites (which will try to get into your computer without your permission!!!).
Now, if you ask me, securing your computer ought to be more about what programs you don't use, what features you don't turn on, and what holes you don't open. Installing more programs to plug up holes seems like the wrong philosophy. On that note, I installed Firefox at about this point, since getting rid of IE seems to be the single most important step to securing a windows box.
Now, the virus scan, which is the one thing I might actually want, gives me a warning that it's out of date, and so I click update, which of course launches a web browser, and another round of do-you-want-to-configure this now, and do-you-want-to-let-this-program-connect, and do you want windows to remember this password? and do you want firefox to remember this password? And then finally we get to a site where it says that I can only download the virus updates with IE. What kind of BS is this? Apparently, they download virus updates through some kind of ActiveX control. Whatever. So, back to IE. Now, IE has security features set to something that won't let it install the ActiveX control. Second instance of one security program blocking another one. The IE settings dialog box lets you put security level to something asinine like "low", "medium", or "high" -- like that's supposed to mean something -- or "custom", where you actually click on all the radio buttons yourself. (The windows philosophy: Make a really bad GUI with zillions of useless options and dialog boxes, and then because that's too hard to use, make another really bad GUI to overlay the first one.) So I'm hunting through the radio buttons looking for the one to turn on ActiveX controls so I can download virus updates, and as soon as I turn security features off, the Dell pop-up window appears again, warning me that I am in mortal peril because my internet security settings are not set right. Well duh, I just did that. Now, I STILL can't install the thing McAfee wants me to install -- the website says to click on the popup window that appears, but there isn't one, even after i turn off all the popup blockers I can find.
So finally, I give up on the idea of updating my virus definitions, even though McAfee is going to keep bugging me about it. The Dell window is still bugging me about IE settings being wrong, so in order to set them back, I click "fix it" in the Dell window -- big mistake! This launches a "tutorial", meaning I lose control of my mouse and it slowly goes through the motions of putting IE back to the default security level for me, while text slowly appears explaining what to do. I KNOW HOW TO CHANGE THOSE SETTINGS ALREADY! I JUST CHANGED THEM, THAT'S WHY I'M IN THIS SITUATION! I mash a bunch of keys to try to get the tutorial to stop.
So, to review -- I have a computer that was pre-configured at the factory to have McAfee virus scan installed on it, all ready to go; I have McAfee falling all over itself with eagerness to do everything for me that I could want; I have a master's degree in computer science; after an hour of trying, I was unable to figure out how to update McAfee's virus definitions, one of the most basic features of the software.
Now Mom wants to listen to the new Prince CD. We put the CD in the drive, just to see what happens. Some program with a really pretentious name, like "Media Jukebox Center" or something like that, starts up and takes up the whole screen. It gives us another EULA, and then tries to sell us a whole bunch more stuff -- do we want to sign up for their online music store? No. Do we want to recieve music reccomendations targeted to our unique musical tastes, based on this programs' algorithm for determining what those are? Do we want free 6 months of AOL? NO! SHUT UP! JUST PLAY THIS CD! Then, for several minutes, the program can't find the CD in the drive, even though the program was started up by the act of putting the CD in there. Finally, it's playing the CD, but then the program's window (its totally nonstandard window, made to look flashy and imitate iTunes at the expense of providing recognizable controls) somehow loses a chunk at the top, so there is no longer a minimize button, so no way to hide the window and have the music keep playing.
After that, we have a look at the dozens of shortcut icons on the desktop. Most of them are basically advertisements -- trial versions of software, or links to websites. Here's the 6 free months of AOL offer again, along with Earthlink and NetZero. Yeah, I'm sure those would be nice if we didn't already have DSL from the phone company. There's one which says "games" which we decided to check out. It brings up a window with names of like sixty cheesy games; you click one to download and install it. So it's an index of shareware trials, basically, but the window is real flashy and tries to make it sound like you're About To Enter a Whole New Universe of Futuristic Online On-Demand Gaming Experience. Bejewelled was on there, and mom says Aleksa likes that one, so I clicked to download it. Another EULA, and then it says we need to download some more software with some meaningless name to "Enhance our Online Multimedia Gaming Experience" (which means what exactly?). Which means EULA again, and the Windows dialog box that asks are you sure you want to download and run this .exe file? That means "executable code", you know. "Executable code" can do bad stuff. Are you sure you're sure? (Well, no, I'm not, since there's no way to find out that this file is going to do, but apparently Bejewelled needs it, so I'm gonna click "Yes".) So, finally we have Bejewelled installed, and it pops up a screen that says we can play free for a total of 60 minutes, then it will cost $19.95. Oh boy, 60 minutes, how generous of you.
By the way, somewhere along the line the McAfee privacy thing has made it so that after you log in to any account on the computer, you have to give the administrator password before you can use the internet connection. Great.
Just for fun, I showed Mom and Dad that when you go to "Program Files" on a new Windows XP system, it gives you a message which says basically "Don't go in here, because we don't think you're smart enough to touch the program files yourself."
Now I can finally get back to installing those windows updates which have been flashing at me from the bottom of the screen. These are the third or fourth thing which has upgraded itself and then requested that I restart. I have been declining all of these, wanting to do just one restart after everything is updated.
When I do restart (which you do on windows XP by clicking "Start", then "Turn off computer", then "restart" -- of course!), Windows decides that it first needs to download and install five more software updates, please don't turn me off before I finish all five. There's no way to find out what these update are, of course. No need for the poor ignorant users to worry about that, no, just have faith in Windows doing the right thing without your input or permission.
When Mom came to use the computer after the restart, she had to go though much of the same stuff all over again, even being forced to reinstall a bunch of the updates which I had already installed. She was on a different account, but why should any of that stuff have been account-specific? And when Mom shut down the computer, Windows decided it needed to download and install twenty more mystery updates.
I felt like, I turned on a computer, which I expect to be a tool that I can configure to do my bidding; and about a dozen lawyers, advertising agents, and beaurocrats, along with one kindergarten teacher, jump out of the screen and start interrogating me, demanding I sign things, trying to sell me stuff, and starting fights with each other in my living room.
Somebody should record the whole process of setting this thing up, and make it into a Linux commercial. The slogan could be something like this: "Linux puts you, not corporate lawyers, in charge of your computer."
Blaarrrgg sick gruuu
Blaarrrrgggg sick gruuuuuuu can't get out of bed all day. This sucks. There's a hundred things I ought to be getting done, and I'm not doing any of them.
But I thought I'd post this link that Jeremy sent me yesterday, something to be happy about, a solid legal triumph for the forces of sanity: Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District was decided for the plaintiff yesterday. The school district in question (in Pennsylvania) tried to force science teachers to read a statement critical of evolution and supportive of "Intelligent Design".
The conclusion from the judge says in no uncertain terms that ID is religion, not science, and that teaching it in public schools is an unconstitutional establishment of religion. Good!
This will not stop the creationists from being loud, stupid, and annoying, but it will at least stop them from getting religion into science classrooms. (For a couple decades anyway -- see the 1983 court battle over "creation science", of which this is basically a re-run.)
I am reminded of the reasons to be glad that America is not a direct democracy; according to this poll last year, 55% of Americans think God created humans in their present form, and 65% favor teaching creationism alongside, or instead of, evolution. Answers to other questions were generally more sensible, and even provide a few things to be optimistic about, as analyzed here .
Following links from the Wikipedia article led me to this fascinating blog, which I wasted much of the day reading.
Oh, OK, as long as I'm posting links and talking about news, I might as well go all the way.
NASA is soliciting designs for future space missions; this is open to anyone, and the winners get significant piles of money with which to develop their ideas. Deadline: February 13.
Speaking of NASA, did anybody else hear Bush's terrible press conference on the radio the other morning? Ignoring for the moment the horrifying contents of his words, that guy is the lousiest public speaker I've ever heard. At one point he was talking about the NSA -- the National Security Agency which has been secretly spying on Americn civilians -- and he called it "NASA". At another point he went off onto a long ramble about the PATRIOT act, which had nothing to do with the question he was asked. His ramble trailed off into incoherency, then an awkward silence; finally he said "I forgot what got me on the subject, but anyway, I'm doing the right thing.". Man, that quote sums up the administration, doesn't it? "We may not know what we're doing, but we're sure we're right!"
Doubtless offensive to some, but I found fuckchristmas.org hilarious, and right on the money.
Aikido adventures: the industrial art complex
I never know what I'm getting myself into when I go somewhere with Don-sensei, but it's never boring.
Yesterday I went to his office to try to fix the Aiki-Extensions database (didn't finish it)... and then to his house to try to fix the FTP setup on his home computer (didn't finish that either). (Curse you, NAT!) (Double-curse you, modem-router-hooked-to-wireless-router-doing-two-levels-of-NAT!)
(I really need to stop doing free tech support for people, but somehow Sensei is hard to say "no" to.)
Then we went to an abandoned warehouse or factory or something near 35th and Halsted where we met up with a guy named Chris. Chris is a high-level aikido dude and an artist, and with some other artists is turning this warehouse (owned by a pair of Chinese artist brothers) into an art gallery. Chris apparently hasn't been with an official dojo for a while (something to do with the politics -- there is an incredibly stupid long-time rivalry between different aikido styles; I'll tell you about that another time.) But Chris has been training on his own, with a few students, in the warehouse. (I may be getting some facts wrong: Chris, Don, Krishna, if any of you are reading this site, please write a comment and correct me.)
The whole business felt daring and illicit, like we were going to some remote mountaintop to meet some master-in-exile and his secret underground dojo. Except instead of a remote mountaintop it was a huge, ugly, concrete industrial building, with a huge freight elevator (move it up and down with a lever, stop it more or less in front of a door, and pull the door open) and a gallery of car-crash themed artwork downstairs. Weird.
And in the middle of this cavernous concrete space, with columns disappearing into darkness, there was a small square of mats set up, and so we changed into our gear and practiced aikido there for an hour or two. Don wants to start a new community aikido dojo in Hyde Park, so part of this adventure was to see if Chris was interested in being one of the teachers. It sounds promising! If this works, I'm going to be involved in some way with the new dojo, so I'll tell you about it here as it takes shape.
By the way, Don-sensei is preparing another trip to Ethiopia. I knew that. But what I found out last night is that he's going there to mediate between the prime minister and the opposition party. He was all like "We can't let the Chinese get a foothold in Ethiopia, or all is lost!". Also, "I needed official status, so I got Barack to write a letter for me." Gee, it sounds like they're on a first-name basis.
Can a Ninja Escape from a Black Hole?
(Click for a bigger version.)
The last time I was home visitng Aleksa, she turned to me and in her very serious voice, "Jono", she said, "Ninjas are awesome."
Turns out mom has been reading her, as a bedtime story, some "Magic Treehouse"-series book about ninjas.
I will give a special prize to anyone who can draw me a Feynman diagram of the ninja escape plan sketched out above. (Employees of Humanized, Inc not eligible. Void where prohibited.)
Narnia is kinda lame
There are currently five computers in my room, all running and all online. I'm typing this and talking to Isaac on my laptop. Aza is playing World of Warcraft on computer number two while using computer number three to run voice-over-IP with a headset to talk to his party members. Computer number four is my mac that hosts this website, and number five is a headless Linux box under the desk acting as a backup server for Humanized. I estimate I have more computing power in this one room than the entire world had in 1970. I love living in the future!
But now, to the purpose of this post, which is to complain about The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. It was disappointing. It was slow-paced, schmaltzy, pompous, and humorless. The characters had no clear motivation to do anything and the plot was one awkward contrivance after another. The worst part: it was entirely faithful to the book. That means that every problem with the movie is a problem with the book, and that makes me kinda sad. I mean, I haven't read it since I was, what, twelve? So I guess I shouldn't expect it to be more than a children's book. The movie tried to make everything super-Signficant-and-Dramatic (imitating the LOTR movies perhaps), and the material just didn't support that kind of treatment.
Christians are apparently being encouraged to support this movie because C.S. Lewis was an infamous Christian apologist and snuck all kinds of allegories into his fantasy. Meanwhile, of course, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are evil because they promote witchcraft. (Never mind that it was Tolkien who converted Lewis to christianity in the first place, and that Narnia has just as much sorcery going on as the others.) My irony meter is redlining.
I was originally going to make this a short rant, but the more I think about this movie, and the book it's based on, the more I realize that it represents the worst kind of lazy, illogical plotting. I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about what separates good fantasy from bad fantasy. (Largely because I want to become a better Dungeon Master, but also because it has some bearing on the comic I'm writing.) And The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (let's abbreviate that LWW from now on) is full of lessons about what not to do. So, anyone who has an interest in writing better fantasy, read on. If you want to keep your fond childhood memories of the book intact, better stop now (and avoid seeing the movie).
Let's talk about the humans. They show up in Narnia by accident, after many tedious pages/minutes of coming and going and arguing and hanging around. Until about an hour into the movie, they have no motivation other than boredom. Not an auspicious start. Aspiring fantasy authors: Give your story some direction right from the beginning. Give your protagonists some goals or something.
Once they're all finally in Narnia, they get themselves into trouble and have to be rescued by Narnian inhabitants over and over again. Count the animals who put themselves in harm's way to save the humans. When the humans are finallyu able to be useful, it's just because of the super-powerful magic items that Santa Claus gave them. I've heard of overly-generous DMs being called "Santa Claus", but this was literally Santa Claus.
Aslan, the all-powerful lion who does the real job of saving Narnia, is "on the move", says the beaver conspiratorially. What exactly has Aslan been doing for the past 100 years of winter?, I wonder. Oh, right, he was waiting for the kids to get to Narnia. And Santa couldn't get here, but now he could. Because the kids are here. And the winter is starting to end. Because the kids are here! They don't have to do anything, their mere presence is enough. Peter is supposed to be a leader, but he seemed like a pretty worthless commander in that big battle. He never would have even slain that wolf if the wolf hadn't jumped directly onto his sword.
So, in the final analysis, the kids did nothing useful and were treated like heroes for it, even being given run of the country despite their lack of experience or skills. Who cares if they're good leaders or not? They're the right species, that's all we care about, let the coronation begin! Basically, the movie is saying that these four kids are just so darn wonderful and special that they save a world just by virtue of having accidentally fallen through a closet.
Oh, right, it's because of a "Prophecy"!
A prophecy is when a fantasy author has some ideas for what's going to happen in a story, but can't figure out any sensible reason for the events to unfold that way, so he just says that this particular series of events was magically foreordained by destiny, problem solved. It's quite possibly the laziest plot device ever invented in any genre.
Let's look at some silly things that break suspension of disbelief. When the kids get to Tumnus' house after it's been ransacked, they find a note stuck to the wall. It accuses Tumnus of harboring the enemy, and is signed "The Secret Police" and marked with a paw print. What kind of lame-o Secret Police force signs things "The Secret Police"?? If the secret police force is all wolves, as they seem to be, how did any of them pick up a pen to write this? Why do the wolves (and everybody else) speak (and write) 20th century English? This note is obviously here to Tell The Audience What's Going On, but man, it does a great job of calling our attention to the silliness of the premise.
The idea of the White Witch covering the land with eternal winter is good. Screwing up the balance of nature is always a good move for a fantasy villian. But what's this "always winter and never Christmas" claptrap? First of all, why the heck do they have Christmas in Narnia in the first place? Doesn't that kind of screw up the allegory? They should be celebrating, like, "Aslanmas" or something. And, I could see if the Witch's servants went around violently suppressing displays of religion, but when they talk about "never Christmas" they make it sound more like some kind of calendar malfunction where the 25th never happens. WTF? Can't all you talking animals just have a secretive celebration on some arbitrary winter day? Didn't you guys learn anything from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"? The Whos down in Whoville proceed defiantly with their singing and good cheer, but all you talking animals just hide in your burrows and complain?
The most obvious point of Christian allegory, the Stone Table business, is severly contrived. Consider it point by point:
- Edmund is a traitor, because he helps out the Witch. Not that he knew she was evil, at the time. Well, he didn't really help her -- he told her he'd bring the humans, but he never did. So, is he a traitor? Or just a poor judge of character? He does lie to his brothers and sisters a couple of times. I'd say that's a worse crime, but somehow the "treason" is the important thing.
- Much, much later in the movie, the Witch suddenly decides that Edmund's blood belongs to her, because Narnia has some "deep magic" law about all traitors belonging to her. Now, the Witch has already had Edmund in irons for several days now. She wants him dead to stop the prophecy. And he's already outlived his usefulness. WHY HASN'T SHE KILLED HIM ALREADY? (Because the plot requires him to be alive. Sigh.)
- If she doesn't appease the deep magic by sacrificing Edmund on the stone table, "all of Narnia will perish in fire and water". Ooh, that sounds serious! No. Wait. Actually it sounds like something you just made up. This oh-so-important Deep Magic From the Dawn of Time has not been mentioned yet, and it never comes up again in the rest of the series. (Who gets to kill traitors after the witch is dead? Doesn't it matter anymore?) But everybody believes in this fire-and-water business, like a bunch of superstitious peasants.
- Aslan volunteers to take Edmund's place in the sacrifice. (So, the deep magic demands the blood of traitors... but it's not picky about taking substitutions? What kind of deep magic is this?) The witch is excited. She doesn't stop to think that maybe this deal is too good to be true.
- The witch's ugly minions (cuz the bad guys are always ugly and the good guys are always pretty) tie up, humiliate, and shave Aslan. Then she stabs him. I guess we're supposed to be outraged at his undeserved suffering and impressed that he's sacrificing his mighty bad-ass self to save Edmund's sorry hide. I assume it's a clumsy attempt to maniuplate the audience's emotions, otherwise there's no point to this scene at all. Just in case it was too subtle, Lucy and Susan are there to tell us how we should feel.
- At dawn, the stone table cracks, and Aslan rises from the dead (with all his hair back, even). There's a "Deeper magic" from "before the dawn of time", he says, which means that I get to come back to life, and everything's hunky-dory now, and Narnia isn't perishing in fire and water! Now ride on my back girls, and let's go gather an army to fight a deadly battle over a strategically insignificant empty field!
So now we're back to exactly where we were several chapters ago, before the witch brought up the deep magic thing. Plot-wise, it accomplished nothing. What, exactly, is the lesson we're supposed to learn from all this?
A. When dealing with deep magic from the dawn of time, make sure you have a good lawyer who knows all the loopholes.
B. Self-sacrifice is way cool. Especially if you magically get back everything you sacrificed, so it's not really a sacrifice at all. Especially if you know ahead of time that this is going to happen, but don't tell anybody. You can have your cake and eat it too!
C. Aslan is Jesus, the witch is Satan, you are a worthless sinner like Edmund, and the witch would be getting your soul, except Aslan sacrifices himself for you and then comes back to life, isn't that great? By the way, we're giving away free Bibles here, and why don't you come to our prayer circle tomorrow night, I'm sure everyone will be happy to meet you?
D. If you're writing fantasy, stay the heck away from allegory! It will warp your plot all out of shape and you'll have to resort to blatant emotional manipulation to get the audience to swallow one illogical proposition after another.
Bah. Well, I remember liking books 2 through 6 a lot better anyway (and hating 7). Maybe if this movie does well they'll make some of the sequels. "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" and "The Silver Chair" would make pretty cool movies.
I ought to check my friends' websites more often! I will compile a list of them here. I ought to make this post into a permanent page. Actually, I ought to add a feature to my blog scripts where I can make certain posts stick to category indices. Hmmmm...
Edit: This feature has been added, and this page is its first victim.
Here's the list. If you have a page that's not here and should be, make a comment and post a link!!
In the future, there is a giant purple dinosaur that has a very clever way of hunting humans. It builds a church, or a fake stone structure that looks like a church, with the pews all grouped together in the middle. The people all congregate inside, and the dinosaur (or his friends) drop a bomb on the church, trapping everybody inside the burning wreckage and throwing them into disarray. Then the dinosaur opens up the church and eats all the people at his leisure.
It was the school librarian's fault. She was this small, harmless-looking middle-aged lady. Nobody ever paid much attention to her. She had set the whole thing up, inviting the dinosaur to town and helping to trick everybody to get into the church. I cornered her about it later. "I thought you were cool", I said. "But you just let one-third of the faculty get eaten by that dinosaur. That is just not acceptable. I don't like you anymore." I said. Why did she do it? It turns out she had gone mad because of the premature death of her best friend, Irene. This had happened just before I started working at the school, a year earlier. Looking back, I remembered her being distraught about Irene, but I never paid it much attention. Now I realized that it had pushed her over the edge into hatred of humanity, and she wanted to get some kind of revenge. She was laughing, or crying, I couldn't tell. There was no reasoning with her.
Later, all the teachers at the school were cleaning out this trench. It was like a storm drain grate, but about thirty feet long, two feet deep at one end and ten feet deep at the other. We had removed the entire grate from the top of it, and we were cleaning out all the muck which had built up down there. There was all sorts of nasty stuff like old CTA cards covered with black oily mud. Also I found a Magic card. Instead of costing one blue mana, it cost one scallop mana. I recalled hearing that this was a good card for some reason, but I couldn't figure out what was so good about it.
There were also a lot of crawly animals at this school. There were two tiny baby snakes, a red one and a green one. Mom told Kristin to kill them, but I intervened, pleading that even snakes have a right to live. I tried to remember the four poisonous snakes native to North America so I could figure out whether either of these was one of them. What were those four again? Rattlensake, copperhead, cottonmouth, and... um... was it that one where red touches yellow? There was also a black widow spider, that crawled into a trash can. George Bush was too scared to do anything about it so he told me to deal with it. I was looking at the trash can, trying to figure out whether the black widow was still in there (maybe I could seal up the whole plastic bag and bring it outside quickly...) or whether it had already crawled out and was in the room somewhere.
I was in downtown Chicago. There was a man on the ground all wrapped up in bubble wrap and packing tape. He couldn't breathe. Nobody was helping him. I freed him with my swiss army knife. He was naked in the cold. He asked me to give him money or food. I told him that I had already done my good deed by cutting him free, and he would have to beg somebody else for money. He started following me. I ran. He ran after me. I darted into side alleys, ducked in and out of stores, ran up and down stairs, and finally I lost him.
I was on top of a decrepit tenement building. A huge, whitewashed concrete block of a building, from the cold-war era of architecture. It would have taken up several blocks all by itself, if it had been in the city. It wasn't in the city. It was surrounded by some kind of jungle. On the roof of the building was a kind of settlement, with third-world peoples living in abject poverty and squalor. It made me sad. There were a few UN aid workers too. And there was a staircase leading down into the inside of the building, and it was all overgrown with cobwebs. I started to brush the cobwebs aside and go down the stairs, but the UN guys stopped me right away. "Do NOT go down there" they said with dead seriousness "unless you want to DIE". They weren't talking about natural causes, I somehow knew, but about some kind of scary degenerate humans... I'm really curious about what was going on inside that building.
Chess Matrix Boxing
OK, as I type this I am watching a movie called "Chess Matrix Boxing", which appears to be a total mistranslation of its Chinese title. It's about time-traveling kung-fu zombie vampires. Or "Rampires" if you believe the subtitles. This has got to be the most... well, the most something movie I've ever seen. This... wow.
There's a whole family of those hopping Chinese vampire/ghost/zombie things, and this woman in white with a sword that turns into things using low-tech camera trickery sealed them all in a cave for 700 years along with King Evil, who has a bad kabuki wig, and there are a bunch of otehr vampire/ghost/zombies controlled by this dorky old man dressed in yellow who puts paper things on their heads to control them, and he's obsessed with mah-jong and there's this extended scene where he plays mah-jong against three zombies. In real time. Twice. Why is this scene even in the movie?
And grampa gets posessed by King Evil, or something, and fights his granddaughter, who has kung-fu table-setting powers and can light incense with her mind, and they're all fighting over some magic god-pearl, and now they're lost in a foggy maze of time, and they're all fighting each other with kung fu for some reason, and it's stiff-armed hopping kung-fu but still. And I can't even tell who's supposed to be the good guys or the bad guys at this point. And grampa gets shot with an arrow in the back and the subtitles say "It pushes on my ask hole! and then he pulls it out and says "It so boring you go inside!" Later a kid is watching fish jump in a river and he says "What a big luck chomp!" And there's something about a "bloody heary sword", and the mother zombie has a mirror that flies into the air and shoots lasers. I'M SO CONFUSED!!
And apparently King Evil wants to catch the cute little kid zombie named Chian Chian and eat him so he can live forever or something. And characters and weapons keep appearing out of nowhere, and some evil woman just breathed fire at everybody, and the little kid zombie escapes from a bad guy by farting in his face and the bad guy says "I was hurt by his air!" and... I don't think I appreciated before how little understanding of a movie it is possible to have.
Bicycle seeks fish!
The other night I had a dream about [[a certain female teacher]] naked. Now, she is cool and everything, but women my mother's age should not be appearing naked in my dream-world. So this was slightly disturbing. I woke up and said "Oh my. This is not right at all. Something must be done.".
So, I have officially Made A Decision! I am going to find a girlfriend! For the first time in my life I am going to actively look for one. Key word = "actively". Up until now I have never done anything until overcome with unrequited crushing on someone. Well, that sucks. Time to take charge of my own destiny.
What have I learned from Aikido lately? I've learned that conflicted intentions make you lose. To win, your mind must be made up, your body parts all going the same direction, your will unified. I've also learned that there's nothing evil about being decisive. This was a hard lesson for me to learn, because my natural inclination is to give way to avoid conflicts; part of me has always thought "if you're telling other people what to do, you're a bad guy". But lately I have realized that being good and being nice are not the same thing. Taking a firm position on something that you know other people may disagree with is often required. In practice this might mean taking a firm position on an ethical or political issue, or a technical one (how a certain piece of a software design should be written) or even something like "where should we go for lunch".
Up until now I've been fighting myself, because part of me wants somebody to snuggle with but the other part of me is resisting the idea. As a result, all my attempts have been half-hearted at best. So I did some analysis of the anti-snuggling part of my brain. On top there was a camoflague layer touting the benefits of solitude and celibacy. Well, what do I have to compare them to? Next! Then there's a layer of good old-fashioned fear-of-rejection. Well, the fact that I'm still friends with all of the people who have rejected me kinda takes the edge off of that one. At the bottom of the anti-snuggling faction I found three unacknowleged motives. One is a desire to hang on to my innocence, or at least the image thereof. Sorry, self, this is a stupid reason. Two is the fear that hitting on girls is some kind of bad, sexist thing to do. I am starting to suspect, however, that most people secretly like being hit upon as long as it's not creepy. Three, and this is the silliest, is the fear that admitting to wanting a girlfriend would make me turn normal. I think it's safe to say there is no danger of that ever happening.
So, I've changed my mind gradually since this entry. The dream was just the last straw. Even if this plan fails miserably, at least it will probably lead to some new adventures, meeting interesting people, having new stories to tell, etc.
I suspect that I will discover that the Internet has fundamentally changed the dating game. Facebook (a student-to-student social site) has an "end relationship" button. Think about that. An "end relationship" button. I have heard of people saying things like "she clicked the end relationship button, that makes it official". Does that just sum up the zeitgeist of the times or what?
For starters, I made myself a profile on a Geek 2 Geek which is a geeks-only dating site. Go check that site out, it's funny.
So... yeah. Tell me if you know anyone you think I should meet! Or if you have advice for me! Huzzah!
I like to say burninate when I can't think of any other words to say.
I'm sick of losing my gloves all the time. Here's my solution.
I like to go exploring.
I added permalink buttons to the blog, too.
I love crackpot physics
Being able to distinguish real science from crackpot science is an essential skill for survival in the modern world. I came upon a truly charming crackpot theory the other day thanks to an ad link that Google put next to my mail.
Tangent: Google has created the internet's first advertising system that is easy to ignore, since it's only text, and highly likely to be something the reader is interested in, since it's algorithmically matched up with the reader's email or search contents. People don't get annoyed by Google ads. People actually buy things from Google ads. Google has revived the moribund internet-advertising field and made it non-evil. They are getting rich off of this and they deserve every penny.
So anyway, this guy thinks he has come up with the Theory of Everything that overthrows all known physics and explains all observable phenomena. He has self-published a book about it, which he is selling through his website. Take a look. The first chapter of the book is a free download, and it sounds quite reasonable in the objections it raises to Newtonian gravity. This guy is not a Time Cube level crackpot: he comes off as a bright student who got confused over a few fundamental things, thought he had made a breakthrough, and wrote a 400-page book about it. It's kind of cute.
(Note the ongoing logical fallacy of "Any problem with standard physics constitutes support for my theory!" Note the accusations that mainstream scientists are stuck to their dogma. Note the lack of any experimental evidence -- or any experiments at all -- of course, he doesn't need to do experiments, he was "inspired".)
Reading the first chapter online, he is wrong in very subtle ways. For example: he thinks that our theory of gravity is wrong because it doesn't explain what the "power source" of gravity is. After all, if gravity can accelerate things, it must be expending energy to do so, right? Where's that energy coming from? It never seems to get used up! Planets in orbits are like perpetual motion machines! Doesn't that violate conservation of energy? Something screwy must be going on here! Right? It's rather a seductive argument. If I was teaching a physics course, I would make all my students read this book and then explain why it's wrong. If you can't explain why it's wrong, you don't understand physics.
(My physics friends ought to be cracking up or at least groaning after that last paragraph, but for the one or two of you readers who aren't in physics, I'll explain the mistake: invoking conservation of energy does you no good unless you're accounting for all forms of energy, and that includes potential energy: yes, gravity accelerates things without exhausting any power source, but if you tried to build a machine to take advantage of the "free energy" of falling things, you would find that you have to first expend an equal amount of energy to lift the things up to their starting position. In other words, gravity only converts energy between kinetic and potential. A boring and prosaic explanation, I know. I'm sure that the explanation in the crazy-book is far more exciting.)
Here's the book on Amazon. Notice how much the commenters love it. Notice the common subtext of "Standard physics is too hard! This book offers simplistic explanations so it must be right!"
Next up, Randall Mills and his company, Blacklight Power, believe they have disproved quantum mechanics and found a source of free energy. The basic idea is to make the electron in a hydrogen atom drop into an energy state lower than the ground state, releasing the extra energy and creating a new type of atom they call a "hydrino". Most physicists think this is total nonsense. The theory is parodied in this article about the "doofusino". The Guardian has a good explanation of it.
I understand the impulse. Physics has been in a frustrating position the last couple of decades. We feel like we're so close to a final theory, but quantum and gravity refuse to play nice together, there are mathematical discontinuities we can't get rid of, we can't explain why the universe's expansion seems to be accelerating, the list of subatomic particles has gone from being beautifully simple to being a crazy zoo of quarks and pi-mesons, we still can't find the Higgs boson, our picture of how the universe works goes against all common sense and is entirely unsatisfying to human intuition, and building bigger particle-accelerators doesn't seem to be helping. Where do we go from here? One of my undergrad professors once filled a blackboard with a summary of the standard model and then said, "You know what this reminds me of? The Ptolmaic model of the solar system. All those cycles and epicycles invented to explain observations because nobody could imagine the earth not being the center." So we're due for another revolution in physics. And of course everybody is wishing for a new, practical, unlimited, non-polluting energy source. So there's a tendency to want to believe these guys. Or the Zero-Point Energy guys.
Oh, brilliant, Google ads strikes again! While searching for the above links, Google put up an ad for an even better crackpot site! These guys think that zero-point energy is God, or the Tao, or something, and they want to sell you products to help you attract healing tachyons to cure your arthritis pain.
That leads me to another tangent: I'm officially fed up with new-agey types invoking quantum mechanics (especially the Uncertainty Principle) to support their idea that reality is subjective, or influenced by thoughts or beliefs, or that "western scientific rationalism" is a flawed belief system, or basically any other random statement they want to support. No. You guys are wrong. Quantum mechanics is weird, yes, but it's not an excuse for anti-rationalism. The double-slit experiment shows surprising behavior, usually interpreted to mean that the act of observation affects the observed system; but the double-slit experiment works exactly the same way for anyone who does it. It is an objective reality. It does not depend on the belifs of the experimenter! It is mathematically analyzable, reproducible, and very well-understood by "western scientific rationalism", and it provides exactly zero evidence in favor of Buddhism, Wicca, or whatever other philosophy you're selling. Please read a book or two about the theory before assuming that "Uncertainty Principle" means "reality is uncertain". Thank you and good night.
As long as I'm ranting along these lines, here are some fun links:
I'm going to Connecticut next week. I leave December 9th, 4:15pm and return December 15th, 8:25pm. Despite the proximity of this visit to certain religious/commercial holidays, no presents will be given or accepted during the trip! My priorities are 1. to visit all the relatives I haven't seen in a couple of years and 2. to get together with Jake and finish the Masses Vs The Massive computer-game version we have been sporadically collaborating on.
Next quarter, I want to run a one-shot RPG adventure. Since trying to run a continuing campaign just hasn't been working out for me (or anybody else) logistically, I'm trying to make a self-contained story that we can finish in one marathon weekend. I have a couple of players lined up already, but if you're interested, drop me a line. I want to stake an early claim to a date right now: Martin Luther King Day Weekend it will be.