Monday, July 30, 2007

Mornington Crescent

I knew it first as a song title on Belle and Sebastian's The Life Pursuit, then as a London tube stop, and now it's a game. I guess it was a game a while ago. Read the rules. It's Bob Barry! There's also a link to Mad Magazine's fantastic 43-man Squamish. Note that most of the games like these are pretty nerdy. Mornington Crescent, even, seems to be nerdy and full of itself, so while I appreciate the premise, I'd rather enjoy a round of Bob Barry any day. But I'm glad someone's playing these, anyway.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

AAAAAAaaaaaaaaa Harry Potter Harry Potter Harry Potter

NO SPOILER ALERT. Look, I'm not going to put spoilers on my blog, a week after the book came out. You can read this, don't worry.

What I will say is that I'm sorry it's over. I think that's the longest series I've ever read. (if you've read a longer one, let me know!) I mean, if you count Hardy Boys and stuff, I probably read more of those back in the day, but they were like 100 pages each, and not a continuous story.

Whoop, check that, I read the Wheel of Time, which is like 10 books of 1000 pages each. But by about book 7, they got kinda boring because nobody would do anything.

I got attached to the characters! And the whole world! The level I got drawn into that world was somewhere on the level of Final Fantasy VII or Chrono Trigger, and if you're a geek, you know that means something. More than the Wheel of Time, for sure. It felt like a good RPG: good characters, story, and a lot of fun items and spells along the way.

I was a little disappointed by the ending; the last chapter in particular. And the epilogue. But whatever; at that point it was seven books of history crashing down and JK could have had Harry Wingardium-leviosa a jar of jelly to smack Voldemort in the face, and I wouldn't have cared.

One more thing: wasn't it a cool phenomenon? It was pretty much accepted that you were reading this book, no matter who you are. It was also pretty much accepted that you can't talk about it if there are people around who haven't finished it. I've never seen anything like it!

Okay, make that two more things. Here's a comparison: J.K. Rowling is the Beatles of books. Sure, we've had popular novels before, but nothing to get everyone reading like Harry Potter did. Similarly, we had music before the Beatles, but everyone listened to the Beatles. Harry Potter and the Beatles are both easily consumed, like so much candy, but they both have some depth behind them too. (the Beatles more than J.K., probably, but hey, time will tell) She's no Shakespeare, but the Beatles aren't Mozart. They're both the best at what they do: J.K . Rowling is the best popular novelist, and the Beatles are the best rock and roll band.

So what's next? Will books evolve and flourish like Rock and Roll has? If so, it's an exciting time to be a reader!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Official Government Things

What better way to commemorate my 300th post than with the launch of my new series of cartoons?
Official Government Things
I'll be posting more or less one cartoon a day. Putting them online gives me some incentive to actually keep up with it, and as anyone who has ever done anything knows, that's the hardest part!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Hey, would you give me a kiss? Just a quick smooch?

Harry Potter 7 came out, and we were dementors- Greg, Josh, Missy, and I. We draped sheets over our heads, walked through the line outside Barnes & Noble asking for souls, or maybe just a kiss (surprise! Then we'd take their soul too!) or hey, would you be interested in a free vacation to Azkaban? We were the best.

Speaking of the best, life is spinning along like a Yomega Fireball, which is to say, pretty well! I'm constantly wired full of energy, and I'm sleeping 7-7.5 hrs/night. Work is pretty cool; I'm not sure if I'm doing anything that's worth doing, or what, but the professor and grad students that I'm working with seem pretty happy, and it's sometimes fun and the hours are easy, anyway. I'm surrounded by whatever friends haven't graduated and left, which is surprisingly many. Plus, I finally feel like I did junior year of high school, which is to say "king of the school"... I know my way around this place now, so I can do anything, say anything to anyone, and if you don't like it, bugger off! It's a good place to be.

Plus, I have my iPod, so I'm assimilating music into my mental jukebox.
Recent listens:
Architecture in Helsinki- Places Like This- eergh. Getting lamer and lamer each listen. It's just not got the same pop that "In Case We Die" had. They're trying to go more rock-y or something. Hey, you know what happened when Weezer did that? Right... they sucked a lot. If you're a pop band, that's nothing to be ashamed of.
Battles- Mirrored- Again, the opposite of "growing on me." It's sounding like proggy noodling, not awesome futuristic rock. It's good, but not great, to me at least.
The Hold Steady- Separation Sunday- not quite a fan. I like Craig Finn's vocal delivery- the whole angry talky thing is really pretty cool, and the lyrics are pretty good- but the music itself just bores me. Well, I never was much for classic rock.
Justice- + ("cross")- Hah, I still like this one. Not sure why- none of the songs are really that great, and some ("The Party", "Stress") are hard to listen to, for one reason or another. But whatever- no matter what I'm doing, it makes me pump my fist.
The Knife- Silent Shout- SO GOOD. Did I mention this is good? Here are some adjectives: Danish spooky fist-pumpy icy dancy synthesized pop. If any of those appeal to you, listen to this.
Manitoba- Up In Flames- pretty relaxing, but I wouldn't fawn all over it like the critics apparently did. It is nice. But it's a little too passive for me.
The Rapture- Pieces of the People We Love- This is nice! Yeah, they've got a British accent, but I'd put them two steps ahead of, say, The Futureheads, because they're about fun pop, not British-accent-punk-rock. "Get Myself Into It" has fun drums, "The Devil" has fun saxophone, ... oh yeah, they have a saxophone. There are a couple dull tracks, but overall, a fun listen, even if it's not that substantial.
The Smiths- Singles- Arggh too mopey and 80's and bland. Yeah, that's right, I don't like the Smiths.
OutKast- Speakerboxxx/The Love Below- well, I've done my fair share of making fun of "Hey Ya", and also my fair share of worshiping it as the one top-40 song that actually deserves top-40 status, and well, I suppose it was time I actually listen to this. Now, I'm not a hip-hop critic, but Outkast is pretty much rap for white kids, right? Also, I like pop, and this is as poppy as the next album. It's true what they say, Speakerboxxx (Big Boi's half) is better than The Love Below (Andre3000's half), but they're on different ends of the "black music" (to use a European phrase) spectrum. Speakerboxxx seems to me to be classic hip-hop, maybe a little funkier than most (like on "the rooster" or "bowtie"), but I like that. I really like "Knowing." The Love Below is Andre's R&B sort of disc, pretty much entirely about sex. (song titles include "spread", "vibrate", and "where are my panties?") Whatever, that's fine; also, he's enough of a character to pull this off. And if you listen to it, you'll realize what an accomplishment that is. (sample lyrics: "your roses really smell like poo poo") Well, it mostly works, that is. It wears thin towards the end. A double album with 39 tracks has to have some self-indulgence, and Andre claimed more than his half. Fine. Whatever. Hey Ya is still such a goddamn good song that if there's one song that people remember from the decade, forget the Arcade Fire, forget Broken Social Scene, forget Ted Leo, but remember Hey Ya.

All right, all right, all right, all right, all right, all right, all right, all right, all right, all right, all right, all right, all right, all right, all right. Life is cooler than being cool.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Request for Comments: Laptop Computer for my Sister

If you were some kind of humanities student who doesn't need computing power at all, what would you get?

For example, how about this?

My main questions:
1. Brand: which brands are the most reliable? Here's how I see it: IBM/Lenovo, Sony, and Toshiba are first-class, then maybe HP, then Dell. (Apple's not really in the game, because their basic iBook or whatever costs over $1000, and we can get one of these other brands for cheaper)
2. Celeron vs. Core 2 Duo: I've always been wary of Celerons, but I'm not sure why. Should we spend the extra $50-100 for the mainstream Core 2?
3. Windows XP or Vista? (anyone who says anything about Linux will get pounded, even though I sort of might agree with you)
4. Anything else I (she) should know?

Any input you have would be great!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


So, being a full-fledged adult, I think it'd be pretty classy to learn to mix drinks. In my ideal world, I'd go to bartending school for a couple weeks, but then, in my ideal world, I'm an executive chef at the Wootraunt*. So I'll buy a book and teach myself. Fine. If I'm going to learn to mix drinks, I also need to start a liquor collection, because I don't own any. I've budgeted $100 to buy a few bottles, to get me started. Okay, cool.
* the Wootraunt is the (sadly, still hypothetical) restaurant that works on the business model, where they sell one thing, which is high-quality and cheap, until it's sold out.

Anyway, I worked eight hours today, and my hourly rate is $12.50. 8 * $12.50 = $100.

Now, you can look at this however you want, but here's my take on it: today, I was working for booze!

That makes me feel like a real winner. Also, "Silent Shout" by The Knife. ROCKS.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Apparently, gameplay isn't all that important.

I just finished King's Quest VI.

At this point, those of you who have never heard of it are saying "What's that?" Those of you who have only heard of it are saying "What a nerd." And those of you who were privileged enough to have enjoyed it in your youth, or those of you who are nerds and therefore are into playing old video games are saying "What a great game!"

The King's Quest series is one of those classics, you know... like Chrono Trigger, or Super Mario World, or Myst... while the series may not have been the Beatles of video games, it was maybe the Talking Heads. Quirky, fun, multifaceted, a little hard to get into but definitely rewarding.

Anyway, I've now played King's Quests V-VII, and let me tell you, the gameplay is terrible. King's Quests I-IV had a text-based interface, which apparently sucked. At least KQV-VII had a graphical point-and-click interface, primitive as it was. But you'd have to be a super smart dude to get through the game without a hint book. Also, you'd have to have a lot of save files. Because there were a ton of ways that you could just get screwed! You go through the Land of the Dead without getting the River Styx water or the skeleton key, you're toast! You enter the Labyrinth without the red scarf, brick, tinderbox, and hole-in-the-wall (which you couldn't possibly be expected to know that you need), and you're stuck there forever! And you'd never know! You'd just be clicking around forever, and eventually you'd get so frustrated you'd eat the floppy disk with some salsa and guacamole. Not to mention the many times when you're supposed to just guess until the right thing happens, or the long walking times between screens, or the answers to literally impossible puzzles that are printed only in the manual. (That's early copy protection, right there!)

But these games are so good anyway! The story is fun, the characters at least a little bit likable, the settings innovative, the graphics gorgeous (for a 256-color 640x480 screen), the music agreeable. I mean, what other game brings you through an Arabian village, a beast's magic garden, a labyrinth with a minotaur, a kingdom of winged creatures with an oracle, an "isle of wonder" (which is pretty funny, and you'd have to see it), a druid village, a castle, and the land of the dead? And they were doing this in 1992!

I'm not the only one who thinks this; see Gamespot's "Greatest Games of All Time." So what do we have to learn from this? I mean, besides the gnarled old gamer's standby about how graphics are overrated and they don't make them like they used to? I don't know. I do like the King's Quests, though.

(Don't get me wrong, I appreciate good gameplay too, and not dying all the time!)

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Happy 7's day!

It's 7/7/07, and it's 8:17. Or, you might say... 7:77. Hooray! Go buy a lottery ticket or wish upon a star or step on a crack and break your mother's back or something.

This group made a list of the "New 7 Wonders of the World", released today, and I've been inordinately following this story. Yeah, it's dumb, and it will probably bring tourism to all of these places to catastrophic levels, but boy do I like top-N lists.

Thoughts? I dunno about Christ the Redeemer. A big Jesus statue? Ehh... I hear Petra is awesome, so I can get behind that. Taj Mahal might not deserve winning; it's pretty, but so are Angkor Wat and Neuschwanstein. I'd vote for the Sagrada Familia, but maybe that'll have to wait until it's finished. Things that should not have even been candidates: Eiffel Tower, Sydney Opera House, Statue of Liberty. (and if the Statue of Liberty (145ft) shouldn't win, then Christ the Redeemer (100ft) shouldn't either.) Other than that, though, I'd say it's not a bad list. Picking out 7 wonders of the world is a tough task, and maybe not even one that people should be trying to do, but this voting approach was a good effort.

Lots of other people (like USA Today) tried to make their own lists, and a lot of them seemed like "I know about more cool places than you" sort of wankery. I mean, if you're making a list of the 7 coolest things in the world, the Great Wall of China should probably be on it, right? And "Polar Ice Caps"?! I think we're talking about man-made things here. I was about to debate "The Internet", on grounds that shut up we're talking about architecture, but when you think about it, the Internet really IS one of the coolest things ever.

Canada made a "7 Wonders of Canada", upon hearing that nothing in Canada made it into the list. Good for them.

Also, I'm getting spammed a lot, and I didn't know why. So I googled my email address, and lo and behold, there it is, on the cmu cs site! D'oh!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The confusion sets in before the doctor can even close the door

Any of you guys in academia? I have a question. See, right now, I'm on my third day here at CMU working with some computational linguists (who, let it be said, all seem to be pretty cool folks! I feel like I'm in a good group). I've been reading a lot, maybe half a textbook plus a few articles here and there, and most of it goes over my head.

I'm going to abuse a pretty sorry metaphor here, if you don't mind. Okay. Learning is like eating trees. They start you off in first grade on little saplings, and by high school you're munching down a few birches per year. Then in college, you move on to the big pines and oaks, and it's a tough job, but you manage to cram a lot of trees into your stomach. You adapt, and you learn to digest the wood a little better. Hopefully you poop out a couple of good papers in the meantime.

Every so often, though, you climb a tower and realize that you're on the edge of a big vast forest, full of all sorts of maples, elms, and big ol' redwoods. You think "I can't possibly eat all this!" And then, maybe you realize, it's okay, I don't have to. People will advise you in this direction. You choose. Maybe you say you're going to become an expert on eating Brazil Nut Trees. Then you think "Great! I can easily eat all the Brazil Nut Trees in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky."

But someone drops you in the Amazon river basin, and all of a sudden, you have to eat many more Brazil Nut Trees than you bargained for. Even worse, someone has already eaten all the redfoot trees, frimlock trees, grass-leafed ferryapple trees, and gromplings* and if you leave even a couple of Brazil Nut Trees unmunched, you'll look like a fool.

*Of course none of these exist. Someone ate them all.

Err, my question is: can you ever get to the point where you know what's going on in your field? When you graduate, do they give you a book that explains everything? Is academia always so confusing?

Monday, July 02, 2007

I'm back in Pittsburgh

and it's cool, and I'm excited, and the Pirates will bribe you a whole lot to go to their games. Check out tomorrow: not only do I get fireworks and a coin featuring some guy named something like "Lloyd Wanker", BUT ALSO...