Man, digestive biscuits are good. Digestive biscuits taste exactly like what I always imagined Lembas bread must taste like.
Man, digestive biscuits are good. Digestive biscuits taste exactly like what I always imagined Lembas bread must taste like.
"Cloud Computing". Nobody can get through two sentences without saying "it lives IN THE CLOUD!" about something. As far as I have been able to figure out, saying something "lives in the cloud" is equivalent to saying "it's hosted on an internet server, but you're not allowed to ask where or how." I think the term has become popular precisely because of its vagueness.
"Bread crumbs". Used to describe navigation aids on a website that help you find your way back to the home page. Cute metaphor. Unfortunately everybody seems to have forgotten that Hansel and Gretel's bread crumbs got eaten by animals and completely failed to get them home...
"Laundry list". Everybody's always talking about e.g. a "laundry list of features". Despite the fact that nobody makes lists of their laundry anymore because it's 2010 and people have, like, washing machines. I don't know anybody who's ever made a "list" of their laundry. Grocery lists, yes. Shopping lists, yes. Laundry lists? It's one of those undead linguistic cliches, a metaphor that lives on long after its referent is no longer a common part of life.
Somebody filed this bug on Test Pilot:
I just signed up for Mozilla Labs' Test Pilot program, since it seems like an awesome project for expanding knowledge in the open source/open web community. Unfortunately, when I took the user survey that gathers basic demographic data about Test Pilot users there were only two options under "Gender": Male or Female. This binary option modeled off of biological sex does not reflect every individual's gender identity; there is, for instance, no choice that a transgender person might feel comfortable selecting. This de facto excludes transgender people from having their demographic noticed in the Test Pilot data results and thereby having their voices heard. Furthermore, it weakens the effectiveness of Test Pilot's study since, presumbably, the purpose of asking about users' gender is to observe different usage patterns based on gender. Not having an option for transgender users to choose obscures a data set.
And first I was like "what huh?" but then I was like "Hey, why not do what they ask; it could mean a lot to certain people and poses no possible cost to anyone else." So the "other" option has now been added.
Mom had an infection on her computer that would hijack Firefox when she clicked certain links. It would run a bogus "security scan" in a web page that was made to look like a Windows XP system dialog box, and then try to make her download something to "fix" the many scary problems it "detected". She was too smart to do that (good for her!) but when she tried to navigate away from the page it would throw up a defensive screen of modal dialog boxes with misleading options and she would have to force-quit Firefox.
We looked it up and found out it was a well-known piece of malware "Personal Security", a scam that tries to get your money by generating bogus security threats and then demanding you upgrade to the paid version in order to fix them.
The software equivalent of a scam that involves criminals dressing up as police officers, in other words. Pure evil!
MacAfee, as usual, did absolutely nothing. Mom was able to get rid of the infection with a free program called Panda Cloud Antivirus.
Just throwing this out there as a warning, so y'all have some idea of how to recognize this Personal Security malware and know at least one way to get rid of it.
Still not sure how she got infected in the first place. I need to talk to the Firefox security guys about it and see if there's more we could be doing to block this kind of attack.
Today I donated money to the Pakistan flood relief efforts. The floods were big news back in August, but thanks to the usual media amnesia, we haven't heard a peep about it since then. But the flooding was really bad then, it's still really bad now, and it's going to continue to be bad for a while: the flood has displaced 20 million people (or 1/8 of Pakistan!), it destroyed 17 million acres of cropland and killed 200,000 cattle, meaning they're in for food shortages for a long time to come. It's one of the worst disasters in the country's history. Plus the Taliban are trying to move in and capitalize on the situation.
It's going to be a long hard reconstruction process and they continue to need all the help they can get. But donations have reportedly been slower in coming than for similar disasters. (Due to low immediate death toll, lack of media attention, because everybody gave all their money to Haiti already, or because people don't like Pakistan as much; who knows.)
For both of those reasons, I felt like it was a good time to give them some money. I went through Islamic Relief USA because I heard some not so good stuff about Green Crescent. But Islamic Relief is rated highly and seems to have a lot of experience working with Pakistanis on the ground.
Given the world situation, I figure we should do anything we can, even in a small way, to show ordinary Pakistanis that Americans are not the Great Satan. (not that Obama is making that easy, with all the fucking Predator robot drone attacks, but that's a rant for another blog post.)
The other Christmas activity I really object to is the whole elaborate pretense with the cookies and the presents "from Santa".
I don't care if it's traditional, lying to children is wrong. I keep overhearing parents talking about the lengths they go to, when their kids almost figure it out and they have to come up with a cover story. All that effort! Why not just tell them? Kids can enjoy fiction without having to believe that it's literally true. Is keeping up the ruse really for the kids' benefit, or because like Calvin's dad we think it's cute to watch kids believing arbitrary lies?
I dunno, I think I'm just gonna tell my kids straight-up: "Santa is just a story".
I hate Christmas music. Or rather, I hate that everywhere I go in December (and sometimes the last week of November as well) I get assaulted by the same small, infinitely looping playlist. They have to really scrape the bottom of the barrel to fill up a radio station with nothing but Christmas songs. So there's no quality control, and nothing goes together musically, and a lot of it sounds like Hallmark advertising jingles, cloying children's songs from the 50s, and generally cloying schmaltz. And you run a much higher risk of exposure to Alvin and the Chipmunks than at any other time of year. Yesterday at the airport I swear they played two different cover versions of "Old St. Nick" in a row. I'm not much fun to be around during December since I bitch about this constantly.
Anyway, today I was at the parents' house in Illinois today and found the Wee Sing Christmas Songs booklet from when we were kids. I started playing some - the Jesus ones, not the Santa ones - and discovered that they were 1. easy and 2. didn't sound half bad. Mom was shocked, shocked! to find me playing Christmas music instead of hating on it.
So yeah, even though it's not my religion, the religious music is not bad. "The First Noel" and "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" have some nice chord progressions in them, and I've always liked the mysterious sound of "We Three Kings", Victorian Orientalist pastiche though it may be. (I laughed out loud when I realized "Joy to the World" is just a glorified descending C scale.)
I wouldn't really want to be subjected to "Come All Ye Faithful" all December long, but it would be marginally better than Frosty-the-Snowman and (shudder) All-I-Want-For-Chwifmaf-if-my-Two-Fwont-Teef.
After a few months of weekly Taiko lessons, Sushu and me are getting ready for our first public performance!
It's going to be at the Emeryville secondary school on January 2, from 2-3pm. It's a free concert, and we'll also be making mochi, by smashing sticky rice with wooden mallets, according to the Japanese New Year tradition.
We're performing in the first song, then ceding the stage for the more advanced students.
If you're in the area, you should come!
We've been feeling for a while like it's about time to move out of our current apartment. It's got a lot of drawbacks - the water from the faucets is yellowish and metallic, the dishwasher has never worked, the landlord won't fix anything, and the tiny concrete slab they call a "patio" is too drippy to be usable.
Sushu's parents happen to have a spare house in Palo Alto, so they asked us if we'd like to live there and pay rent to them. (This is how badass Sushu's parents are: When they came to this country, they owned nothing but $30 and some pans. They were smart and worked hard and started a successful business and now they have "spare" houses in Palo Alto. It's a real "American Dream" kind of success story.)
The only drawback of the new place is that it triples the length of my bike ride to and from work - from 15 minutes to 45 minutes. A 45-minute bike ride is just barely still doable. For days when it's raining, there's a bus. The bus takes just as long, if not longer, than biking, since it takes a circuitous route and stops every ten yards.
December in the bay area is very rainy and dark; just about the worst time to be trying out new long-distance bike rides. I spent last week figuring out biking routes and bus stops by trial and error, getting to work late, wet, and tired, and getting home later, wetter, and tireder. It put me in a bit of a grouchy mood, but I think I've figured it out now.
The advantages are many. There's free oranges. There's more space. Washer and dryer are inside the house and don't cost quarters. There's a jacuzzi, which seems to be broken right now, but will be nice if we can figure out how to get it working. I am already salivating at the prospect of turning the garage into my own private workshop for various mischief. There are no longer neighbors right on the other side of the wall, so I can play accordion after 9pm and not worry about the noise. The kitchen has miles and miles of counter space. All this and we'll actually be paying less in rent.
And Sushu has a much shorter drive to work; short enough that she could start biking, which is a fair trade-off for my longer ride.
Palo Alto (Spanish for "Tall Pole" or "Tall Tree") is the site of Stanford university, which makes it essentially the dark heart from which the evil blood of Silicon Valley flows. I didn't think it was possible, but Palo Alto is even more frou-frou than Mountain View. It's, like, full of "old money", or as old as money gets in California anyway. Living here will give me lots of opportunities to write snarky blog posts making fun of the snobs and yuppies.
For my friends in the area, I'd like to have a housewarming / board-game party once we're fully set up (sometime in January probably) so you can all come and enjoy the space. Stay tuned!
A great TED talk about why the office is the often the worst place to try to get work done. It pretty much describes my life.
From the Spanish colonial days up until WW2, the area now known as Silicon Valley was mostly fruit orchards. Due to the warm, mild climate it's the perfect place for growing citrus fruits, strawberries, etc. Back then it was known as the "Valley of Heart's Delight".
Here and there you'll still see an orange or lemon tree peeking up from behind a fence on someone's property, a reminder of what the land used to be. Sometimes I think growing delicious, nutritious fresh fruit is a much more morally justifiable use for the land than what it's used for now -- mostly gigantic mansions for overpaid software engineers and managers. The fruit growers have all had to move further south to the Gilroy area or further east to the Central Valley.
Pictured above is the orange tree in the backyard of the house Sushu's family had built in Palo Alto. The oranges are slightly less sweet/ more sour than the ones you get from the grocery store, but still good. And free!
And yes, the picture above is from this week. They ripen in December. (I've been here almost 3 years now and I still can't get used to this whole no-winter thing.)
I took the twitter feed off the sidebar, since I stopped using Twitter. I replaced it with a permanent link to Googleshng's self-published board game The Massive Vs The Masses which you should totally buy.
Shorter version of my rants against Tron, the radio:
"PEOPLE LIKE THINGS I DON'T LIKE AND THAT MAKES ME ANGRY! RAR!"
This also summarizes my rants against iPhones, Christmas, San Francisco, Facebook... most things, really.
Before taking one of my posts seriously, you should check whether it has the "get_off_my_lawn" tag. That tag means you're in for a rant.
If you didn't already see it on Not The User's Fault, here's the preview video for my HTML 5 -based, multitouch-interface, comic-drawing webapp. (Now called "Pencilbox" - thanks Googleshng and Ben!)
Not shown in the video: the fact that it's got unlimited undo/redo history; you undo by making a counterclockwise circle gesture with your thumb, and redo with a clockwise circle. Also, your history is backed up to a database on the web server, so you can close the page, reopen it, and not only still have your picture, but still be able to undo stuff.
Sorry for the blog outage last night; MySQL just needed to be restarted. Thanks to those who reported bugs to me.
I had a dream last night that Ray, the character from the Achewood webcomic, was hosting a contest in real life, offering a large cash prize to whichever team could sneak tens of thousands of off-brand yogurt cups into a grocery store, and trick the grocery store into thinking they were legitimately for sale there. Sort of a massive reverse shoplifting operation. I had all these elaborate plans involving swapping my operatives in for grocery store employees who were taking sick days, so that they could get the official uniforms and labeling gizmos.
I can't understand why everybody at Mozilla is so excited for this Tron sequel. The original Tron was a terrible movie: Slow, boring, nonsensical plot, stupid costumes, and it pushed the idea that computers are full of magical computer fairies who are like little people running around doing things, which is not just wrong but insultingly wrong, like making a movie where the sun goes around the earth. And sequels, especially ones made 30 years later, are always worse than the originals. Besides, computer graphics, which were the point of Tron, are no longer interesting since they're now in every movie.
How could it be anything but terrible? And yet people at the office today are all excited about it and are planning a group trip to the movie theater. I don't get it.
There's this exercise class that I go to, twice a week during lunch breaks, right downstairs from Mozilla. The teacher is this super-buff macho ponytailed lady named Jamie.
She always has the radio on during class and it drives me nuts, because half the time it's playing commercials. (Back in the fall we'd have to sweat through two or three gubernatorial attack ads per class. At least those are over.) Nobody's even listening to it, but Jamie won't turn it off.
People will complain about it, and Jamie will even agree with them that it's annoying, but she won't turn it off. I know she has the power, since she turns it on at the beginning, but it's like the thought of turning it off is alien to her. It's kind of like when I'm at Googleshng's house and his mom leaves the TV on all the time even when nobody's watching it. Drives me batty. (Sorry, Googleshng. You know I love you anyway.) Apparently there are people in this world who just require a steady background stream of electronic jabber. I don't understand it, but there it is.
Anyway, on Tuesday it was just me and Jamie, and the radio was playing Christmas music, which I pretty much loathe and detest (it makes going shopping anywhere in December a miserable experience). At least they played the Snow Miser / Heat Miser song from "Year Without a Santa Claus", which even I gotta admit is pretty boss:
Wait, why do they call him Heat Miser if he wants to make everybody hot? Wouldn't "miser" imply that he hoards heat and won't share it?
...Um, but I'm getting off topic, where was I? Oh yeah, Jamie and the radio.
Jamie: "It's almost quarter-of, isn't that when the radio station does the thing with the funny noises?"
Me: "I don't know, I don't listen to the radio."
Jamie: "Oh, you mean you have satellite radio in your car?"
Me: "No, I don't have a car, and I don't listen to any radio."
Jamie: "What, like not ever? What do you listen to then?"
Me: "Um, my CD collection?"
Jamie: "How do you know what CDs to buy if you don't hear songs on the radio?"
She asked it in a puzzled tone like I had said something genuinely paradoxical.
Me: "I... research it? Like, I ask people for recommendations, or I go on the web and look up lists of the best recordings in whatever genre I want to learn about?"
I found her attitude just as baffling as she found mine. I mean, letting the radio tell me what music to like would be like getting my opinions on computers from the Best Buy catalog. I assume all paid advertisements are lies, ergo I must go elsewhere for reliable information.
I guess it's a reminder that most people aren't music fans - music to them is just background noise that you put on and ignore. Not a way of life, not something to dive into headfirst, get lost inside, air-drum to, exult in, etc.
Most people, when I try to talk music with them, the first thing they do is change the subject to the clothing styles of the epoch and/or subculture. e.g. "Isn't that the one where they're wearing the really skinny ties in the video? Ha ha their hairdos were so funny back then". Hello, I want to talk about music, not fashion. I don't expect you to be able to name all the chords or anything but, come on, are you listening to what they're playing? And how does it make you feel? Or do you only look at the hairdos?
It makes me really sad at what they're missing out on, cuz it tells me they've never felt it, never had transcendent consciousness-altering music-related experiences. It must be like missing your sense of smell or something.
You don't have to love the same music as me, good heavens no, but for the sake of being fully alive, please, find some music to love.
A Haruspex was a dude in ancient Rome who told the future by killing sheep and reading their livers.
Not something that's likely to come up in conversation a whole lot, but it's a cool-looking and cool-sounding word.
I just spent half an hour looking all over the apartment for my keys. Got really frustrated.
Finally I gave up and decided to leave without them. That's when I found them hanging on the outside of my front door, still in the lock, where they had been all night.
Not the first time this has happened, either. What's wrong with my brain?
That is, although nobody can prove that it's never happened, neither can anybody point to a single documented case of a person putting poison or drugs or razor blades or whatever inside Halloween candy and giving it out to kids. Not one! There have been two documented cases of kids dying from candy that was poisoned by their own family, however. So keep that in mind - you're in more danger taking candy from your own family than taking it from strangers on Halloween. If you want something realistic to worry about, worry about getting hit by cars.
I guess this myth just persists because, like most urban legends, something about the idea of it is so utterly gripping to the imagination that everybody is willing to convince themselves that they heard it from a friend of a friend or on the news some years ago or something that deadly tainted Halloween candy is totally a real thing that happens.
So recently I ran across this image on the internet (source here):
The top is the original Simpsons opening animation. The bottom is from 20 years later when they redid it in HD. Some people disagree with my opinion but I can't believe how much better the original one is! While somewhat crude, the animation has so much more life and personality to it; somebody had fun making Marge's hair whip around and making her emote her relief. The redone version makes Marge look creepily robotic, and it was changed just to add in a Unibrow Baby reference -- which isn't even a joke, it's just a callback to a joke that was only slightly funny the first time, before they ran it into the ground.
I hadn't thought about The Simpsons for years, but this made me all nostalgic for it. New Simpsons episodes used to be the high point of my week, back in high school. I found out Sushu has seasons 4 and 8 on DVD so I've been rewatching them. The Season 4 episodes are amazing and have me cracking up from beginning to end despite the fact that I can quote pretty much every joke from memory. The season 8 episodes are meh (I watched the Mr. Sparkle one tonight. It isn't anywhere near as good as I remembered it being).
I think it jumped the shark with "Who shot Mr. Burns?" which started a trend of really gimmicky plots that edged out the satirical, character-centric stories of the earlier years. (The Simpsons is now in season 22, which means by my count it's been going on more than twice as long after jumping the shark as before!)
Anyway, what I mainly want to talk about is not how much new Simpsons sucks, but rather the impact that the Simpsons had on comedy. When it was brand new it was the funniest thing I had ever seen, because it pioneered a certain style of humor that I had never encountered before. If it doesn't seem so innovative now, it's because every American comedy post-Simpsons couldn't help being influenced by it. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say of people in my age bracket that the Simpsons literally re-programmed our sense of humor. It even re-programmed our use of the English language.
But what was that style of comedy, exactly? Can we identify it and analyze what made it funny?
It's easy to forget now, but the Simpsons of the first few seasons was almost unbelievably bleak. The humor was driven by a level of cynicism bordering on existential despair. The Simpsons were a bunch of losers living in a crapsack world and watching lots of TV to distract themselves from their meaningless lives. The stories involved characters confronting death, having serious crises of faith, making painful choices, trying to do the right thing and getting punished for it by an uncaring world, and at the end when they barely scraped by it counted as a happy ending.
Remember that one where Homer ate the improperly prepared fugu and faced the fact that he likely had only one day left to live? He doesn't even make it to most of the things on his sad little list. He tries to listen to the Bible on tape to comfort him in his last moments but all he gets is a list of "X begat Y, who begat Z..." Religion is powerless even to provide solace in the face of death. When Homer survives, he promises to live each day to its fullest -- but he's soon back on the couch eating pork rinds and watching TV.
See? Bleak as hell! And still hilarious.
The joke about the Bible's contents shows a willingness to make anything a target of satire. There are not a lot of shows today, and there were even fewer in 1991, willing to make such a direct attack on something so sacred, but organized religion is no safer from Simpsons mockery than are public education, local government, or the news media; all of which are, in Springfield, transparently corrupt and self-serving.
The bit where Homer promises to live each day to its fullest and then immediately goes back to watching TV is a great example of the "instant hypocrisy" joke, a mainstay of Simpsons humor -- a character makes a weighty ethical statement; their actions contradict it less than five seconds of screen time later. There are jokes like this in almost every episode. Since The Simpsons, the "instant hypocrisy" joke has popped up almost everywhere; it's just a standard part of humor now, but it's hard to think of examples from before The Simpsons popularized it. More generally, The Simpsons frequently showed its own protagonists as hypocrites, as having their priorities all wrong, and as lacking the basic qualities of a decent human being. (In early Simpsons, before he became a one-note religious fundamentalist, scenes with Ned Flanders were there to show how an ideal non-dysfunctional family treated each other, in stark contrast to the Simpson family.) Comedies have always made their protragonists the butts of jokes, but seldom with the vicious pessimism towards its own characters that the Simpsons regularly showed.
The end of that episode also shows TV as an evil influence - another statement the Simpsons made as frequently as possible. Before The Simpsons, you pretty much never saw a TV family watching a TV of their own; it would have been considered too self-referential. Earlier shows didn't even acknowledge the existence of TV within their fictional universes, let alone show characters talking back to the TV, let alone showing the TV as something that ruined their imagination, just like it's ruined their ability to... uh... oh never mind. I think The Simpsons pioneered the show-within-a-show (Krusty, Itchy&Scratchy, Kent Brockman, many more) as a way of satirizing the media. And every time the Simpsons attacks TV, they're indirectly reaching out through the fourth wall and mocking their own creators and their own audience. Sometimes they're quite blatant about this ("Wow, Fox turned into a hard-core pornography station so slowly I didn't even notice"). This was rare before the Simpsons, to say the least.
(Aside: It's really weird to go back to early Simpsons and see Homer and Marge expressing attraction to each other and having other such traits of a real married couple. Before their personalities got flattened to "idiot" and "nag". It's even weirder to see Lisa joining in mischief along with Bart; she was always the conscience but she wasn't always a one-dimensional spoilsport about it.)
The Simpsons of seasons 4 through 7 was a lot less bleak, but even funnier. They picked wider-ranging targets for satire, they had smart, funny dialogue, and they had an amazing sort of rapid-fire joke density. Watch an episode from this classic period and notice how every line is either a joke or a setup for a joke; there's no dialogue wasted on boring exposition, but the story gets told all the same.
As an example, I present one of my all-time favorite jokes. From the 4th-season monorail episode:
Marge (shocked): "Homer! There's a family of possums living inside the control panel!"
Homer (cheerful): "I call the big one Bitey."
The first line is relevant to the plot because the episode is about the town being ripped off by an unscrupulous pusher of shoddy monoral construction. It hits one of the major themes running through the Simpsons, which is that everybody with any kind of power is corrupt, everything you get is always a crappy and broken version of what you hoped it would be, everything you touch is falling apart, Springfield's schools are inferior to Shelbyville's schools, and life generally sucks. Humor comes from exaggerating this to absurd levels: not just frayed wires or jammed gears, but an infestation of marsupials. Also, possums are funny because it's very specific while being unexpected. Saying a family of "animals" or "rats" would not have been nearly as funny as possums.
Of course that's just a setup for Homer's line, which tells you so much in so few words: He's already encountered the possums. Not only that, one of them bit him. (Implying that something horribly painful has happened offscreen is always funnier than showing it directly, because it forces your brain to fill in the blanks.) Despite getting bitten, he doesn't even recognize it as a problem. (Characters with misplaced priorities: another endless source of humor.) In fact he reacted by essentially adopting them, and naming them the way a 6-year-old would. ("Homer is stupid" jokes work best when he's a very certain kind of stupid - a certain childlike innocence, well-meaning but clueless.) Homer's reaction to the possums is the classic way of coping in the crapsack world of the Simpsons - life gives you absurd situations, you come up with absurd systems in order to deal with it. Life gives you a monorail full of possums, you treat them as pets. These coping mechanisms are another bountiful wellspring of humor.
In just six words, "I call the big one Bitey" squeezes in three different jokes while summing up an entire philosophy of life. That's some efficient writing right there!
Another good example of joke density - from the visit to Duff Gardens:
Bart: "Look, it's the Duff Beer-a-mid!"
Lisa (reading from pamphlet): "It contains so much aluminum that it would take five men to lift it... 22 immigrant laborers died during its construction."
Selma: "Lots more where that came from."
The aluminum thing is funny because it's a parody of the style of those information pamphlets you would get at a tourist attraction; in this case the fact is completely unimpressive but it's still delivered with total seriousness. It also sets up the next line, about the 22 immigrant laborers, also parodying historical factoids, but funny because it's so implausible that 22 people could die while stacking beer cans. (It's also another "Bitey" joke - imply something horrible happened and make the viewer's brain fill in the details). That line sets up the last joke, which is about Selma's incredibly callous disregard for human life. (Again with the showing the main characters as terrible people.)
To recap, we've identified some recurring joke types:
Here are a bunch more that I don't have lengthy examples for:
I'm sure you can think of more.
I came home today to find Sushu passed out on the bed, an empty salami package next to her head.
I LOL'ed. It was like finding Homer passed out next to an empty donut box, or something.
That Sushu, she loves the salami.
Sushu just uncovered some very embarrassing posts I made under a pseudonym on an unsavory message board many years ago. (Well, I'm embarrassed. She thinks it's cute.)
No, I'm not going to tell you what.
But yeah, the Internet never forgets.