Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lists dovetailing into other lists: comics, phones, Cranium

Number of comics in the good-old-fashioned dead-tree newspaper here in Cleveland today that are about trying to party on new year's but going to sleep early: 6.

What does that tell us?
- dead-tree comic writers are old
- their comics are really really really not funny ever
- they are so out of ideas
- newspapers are truly on their way out
- oh my god traditional comics are so bad (Get Fuzzy and maybe Frazz excepted)
- quit reading newspapers, get on the internet, and by the way get an Android phone; it is now better than the iphone*
- you should do what you want on New Year's; partying for the sake of partying is just as lame as buying christmas presents for the sake of buying christmas presents.

* so I've got an Android phone now. And I like it better than the iphone. I'm biased because I work for Google and the open Android Market is better ideologically than the apple-approved App Store. But in case those reasons do not convince you:
- the hardware is just as good as the iphone's
- driving directions is maybe the killer app; it is literally a Garmin
- haptic response (it shakes a little when you press a button)
- voice-powered everything
- i've already found a game I'm hooked onto (Robo Defense)
I think the tides are turning, and these are the first days that android > iphone. As more developers make more android apps, this will only get better. New phone? Make it an Android.

And speaking of games, I will list reasons that Cranium is not a good board game:
- most of the time is waiting. You sit out half the time or more (when it's not your turn). This is the good ol' American Risk-Monopoly-Clue model, and as we all know, it quite sucks.
- even in the time that is not waiting, you spend a lot of time reading instructions. 4 colors times 4 types of card per color = 16 games to learn. Even if you know them, other people don't, so you must explain them all. Compare that to Pictionary, where you pull a card and you know what to do immediately.
- the roll-and-move structure is flawed. You feel screwed by a random god when someone rolls a purple and jumps you.
- the inner-track-outer-track is terribly flawed! Given that you win the card, say, 80% of the time, what other game gives you such an easy way to lose big instantly? Miss your first question on the first brain, get on the outer track, and well I guess maybe you might win the next game. (I've heard that later Cranium editions have skipped the outer track, so I guess they've fixed this one.)
- the brain-in-the-center win condition feels like molasses. Oh hey I got all the way around, I'm going to win! ... in four turns, maybe. Bleh!
- as I've mentioned, you win the card 80% of the time. So when you lose it, it feels really bad. And some cards are orders of magnitude harder than others, so sometimes you will randomly lose.
- Charades and Pictionary are roughly equivalent games. Trivial pursuit is not; figuring out the answer to a question is less fun than acting a charade. "Word worm" is also not. Spelling bee? Really? Are you saying it's as much fun for a team to pick one person to spell a word, as it is to draw and guess a Pictionary?
- the cards are dated, already. I am 23 years old. If a game is going to come in hip flashy colors, but still have songs and actors from before I was born, that is a flaw. Thrice in the last game with me, my sister, my mom, and my uncle, we had to skip a card because it was too old. Are families supposed to play this? How will the kids have a chance?
- the clay goes stale. Don't make a perishable game. Didn't we learn from The Grape Escape?
- finally, it takes a long time.

Boy, I did not think I could actually come up with this many reasons. Err, have fun playing Cranium at your New Year's parties tonight! (for the record, if you're looking for better games: Catch Phrase, Time's Up/Identity Crisis, uhh Pictionary or Charades, and if you like word games then Bananagrams or of course Boggle.)

Monday, December 28, 2009

How To Get Awesome, or, those "my brain is a computer" jokes are not at all jokes.

Happy blahblah! Christmas has passed, and as long as you didn't spend the weekend drinken de kerstman onder tafel, you're ready for the New Year. Perhaps you'll make resolutions. But you know those don't work, so perhaps you'll make resolutions knowing that they won't work. Or perhaps you're sick of pessimism, so you're convincing yourself that this is the year that your resolutions will work, and you're making a resolution to keep your resolutions.

Here's my challenge to you: make ONE resolution. You can keep one resolution. You probably can't keep ten or five or three resolutions. Why not? The same reason you can bench press 100 lbs but not 200 or 1000 lbs. Start small. Stay small, until it's second nature. Even do something that's not even that meaningful, but do it! Your willpower is limited, and it's not because you're a bad dude. It's because your brain is subject to the same chemicals etc as the rest of ours.

Super interesting, right? Even willpower, this very "human" thing, is sorta just a basic mechanistic thing that is controlled by your brain.

Also this is neat: a map of how remote places are. Enjoy your days, I'm feeling pretty happy and excited about life, thank you for everything, etc. I have a cold so I may go nap.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

You weren't there that day for the Naming of Things

Naming things at work is hard. I mean, and at home, and everywhere. Say I'm working on a project to resize videos (to pick some random thing out of the air)- what should I call it? Video Resizer? Video Shrinker? I'm sure these are both taken. Or if it were an XML parser, or whatever: I'm sure every single configuration of the words "xml", "parser", "interpreter", "understander", etc is also taken. It gets worse when you have to name every class you write, every binary you make, every concept you think about ("this project frings the glorbs. no, it doesn't really fring them, it first slarfs them and then it frings them, so it's really a GlorbSlarferAndFringer").

The internet hit this problem with domain names, kind of. And links. A temporary solution: everyone uses url-shortened links. Instead of "hey go to (long website name)" it's "go to this bitly link". What if we did the same thing at work? Every project, every idea, every time you need an abstract name for something simple, you just pick a short, recognizable word with no attachments. I need a binary to connect to this DB and slurp out this information and send it to a server somewhere? Call it "Whortle". I'm sure there's nothing at work called "whortle." How about something to read in a feed of some data and compute some thing for each account? "Polyrhythm". Then there's a globally-accessible dictionary somewhere that tells you what these things mean.

Better yet, invent a set of nonsense words. Or use Pokemons.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Oll Raigth!

I've realized two things recently, and the second is more fun than the first:

1. My whole complicated relationship with Christmas? It's not really some high and mighty deal against consumerism or mindless waste or whatever (although those are bad too). It's really just because Christmas is complicated, and I don't want more complications in my life. Receiving presents is nice, but it doesn't make up for the difficult process of buying presents, so I'd rather do neither. Similarly, a nice gemutlich Christmas atmosphere is nice, but it's not worth the struggle to decorate for Christmas (and own so many more things), so I would not like to do that.

Which is not to say it's not worth it to go all out to do hard things. Quite the contrary; it is SO worth it to go all out to do hard things, even if it's only because they are hard! I just want to do them on my own terms: I'll create a nice atmosphere in my house, but it's for a flaming wine party or a dinner with friends, and mostly achieved through food and drink. If someone else wants to decorate, that's great, but that's their task. In this sense, I'd put in the effort to do something cool, but I'd enjoy it, instead of being forced into it by custom. Christmas rolls around and I am forced into someone else's idea of a task.

So, no worries, I'll play along in the presents-buying game a little bit. Still, simplicity simplicity simplicity! That is what I would like for Christmas.

2. This is a most genius thing: Prisencolinen sinainciusol. Yeah it's worth your four minutes. I'm not even sure whether it's funny or terrifying! But any way you slice it, it's undoubtedly the single best song with one chord, constant 4-square beats, and a structure of "verse chant verse chant harmonica-solo". A+!

EDIT: oh geez, I forgot to even mention WHY this was so great: it's fake-English gibberish. This Italian guy wrote this song, not in English, but to sound like English.

Friday, December 11, 2009


I was riding my bike, listening to French tapes, and I totally rolled an R! Like all casually, back of the throat sort of French-style R rolling, not the helicopter tongue-flapping front of the mouth R rolling that takes about twelve seconds. Least, I think I did it right; it sounded pretty good. This just goes to show that I, and you, can learn to do almost anything, and that all it takes is a little bit of regular practice.

It's going to be a good day.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Bluetooth for my phone?

Bluetooth is hilarious. First of all, there's the game "Bluetooth or crazy?", which is almost as fun as "moose or fox?". Second, there's the linguistic usage of Bluetooth, where it has become an aspect of your phone instead of a separate thing: you get "bluetooth for your phone", you don't get "a bluetooth headset to use with your phone." It'd be like your phone getting super-calling-powers or x-ray vision or something; all of a sudden, your phone "has bluetooth."

Language geekery and sidewalk games aside, I'm interested to know what a Bluetooth headset can actually do. In my mind, it's this totally-programmable other interface to your phone; basically a headphone and microphone, minus a cord.

Here's what I want: I want to be Captain Picard. I want to be walking around, and then just say "Computer: call someone" or "Computer: make a note. I had a thought just now that I want to save for later" or even "Computer: run this python script that I wrote." And then the computer (which is sleeping) would turn on when it heard its name, and do the thing for me. And I'd like the computer to be able to contact me, too; ring a bell or something. And by "computer", I mean my iphone. Or maybe android phone, because I'm sure it's more customizable.

Any of you ever played or hacked around with a Bluetooth earpiece? Can a Bluetooth do this all for me? Is there something better than a Bluetooth that I should be using? Will I become a "bluetooth AND crazy"? Time will tell. Either way, within the next five years, I will be pretty disappointed if I can't say "computer, make it so."

Sunday, December 06, 2009

A little heavy philosophy for a Sunday

Okay, question 1. Is the world deterministic?

Answer 1. Yes. Neurons in my brain fire based on which chemicals they get which is from some other neuron, these things happened because atoms interacted in some way, the way in which they interact is prescribed by how physics works, etc. If the universe were to start over again right now, with the same starting conditions, it would end up the exact same way.

Do you agree? I do. And this is way more than a theoretical blahblah. It's super relevant, because it means that I don't have any say in what I do right now! It's all just physics in my brain! The same way that a cockroach seeks darkness because its few neurons fired, I "think" because my many neurons fired. Furthermore, there's not even any "I"! Wow. Now I sort of understand the whole "the world is all one, you're just a wave in the ocean," etc.

(Straw-man: What about radioactive atoms? They decay randomly!
Daniel: okay, fine, random, same as deterministic; the point is, I don't have a say in it all.)

Wow! Let me know what you think, and I'll continue this train of thought next post.

Friday, December 04, 2009

I was looking for some stuff

and I stumbled upon this essay by Paul Graham. I think it pretty well captures my view of stuff, but of course he says it better than I could. Two main points:
1. Having lots of stuff is not very good!
subpoint 1a. Stuff is not valuable.
subpoint 1b. Stuff in fact has negative value because then you have to think about it a lot.
2. Point #1 is not some grand truth.

Stuff these days is like dirt used to be. You kinda need some stuff (to build a mud hut or something) but if you have too much it's kind of bad. But if you're all "I don't like to have a lot of dirt", it's not some revolutionary idea and you're not automatically an enlightened hero. It's just true, and then you get on with your life.