Tuesday, November 09, 2010

And That's What Christmas Is All About, Charlie Brown

The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the world, first ordered well their own States.

Wishing to order well their States, they first regulated their families.

Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons.

Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts.

Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts.

Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost of their knowledge.

Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things.

you're gonna carry that weight


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Be My Yoko Ono

At the Hirschhorn museum in Washington, D. C., Yoko Ono has an exhibit in the outdoor sculpture garden - a "wishing tree", where you can write a wish on a little paper tag and tie it into the branches.

Ben suggested that we wish for an infinite number of wishes. I suggested that we wish that Yoko Ono had never split up the Beatles.

We compromised and did neither.

I look just like Buddy Holly

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Document Your Christ-Damned Code

In the context of my research, I've been running a large number of test cases on triangles, which happen to be a good way to look at crystals. My tests were generated with the use of (among other things) a function that takes a triangle and splits it up into four other triangles, like so:

These four sub-trianges are then stored in an array.

Figure 1 above shows the ordering of the sub-triangles, according to the comment above the function I used. Figure 2 shows the actual ordering of the sub-triangles in the array:

Note the subtle but important discrepancy. My test cases were meant to test adjacent triangles, so I used triangle 3 and a randomly-generated second triangle - but by the actual ordering of these triangles, triangle 3 probably wasn't adjacent to the other one.

These worthless tests ran for about 24 hours before I figured out the problem. Now, the fact that I didn't catch this before wasting several trillion processor cycles and ~76 kWh of energy is my own fault, but all this could have been averted had the function been properly fucking documented in the first place.

Note that I'm not saying "comment your code". The code was commented - but the comments themselves contained negative information. The whole point of comments is to prevent the reader from having to go through, line by line, and discern for themselves the functionality of the program - but if you can't trust the comments to be accurate, you have to do that anyway.

So, document your Christ-damned code. The kilowatt-hours and processor cycles you save might be your own.

wake up, put on my riot gear


Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Continuing Adventures of The Secretive Brunch

If you'd like to follow along with the continuing adventures of The Secretive Brunch and the history of Phantomdaggers, you can do so here.

two birds on a wire

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

The History of Phantomdaggers, Chapter III

1 Granite

A happy new year to all! The winter has passed, such as it does in these lands, and we are that much stronger for it. I am known as Benjamin, Master Mason of the fifth degree and Master of the fledgling lodge of Phantomdaggers. It is, I believe, a testament to the waning influence of the Grand Lodge of Hammerbreads that I must cede my authority to this farcical triumverate. All freemasonry is at an end, some say. Doubters, all! I have none whatsoever, and I put no stock in those who would deny the benefit of a strong and morally upright masonic sorority. We simply must be mindful of our words and deeds, and dwarves young and old will flock to our doors.

My fellow leaders are not masons, of course, but I must admit that they have ruled well. We are snug in our caverns, and the stores remain tenable. Indeed, migrants seem to flood in by the dozen, no doubt encouraged by tales of Masonic glory. Most of them are not fit to gaze upon the Great Hall, but there may be a few that can someday hope to achieve our ranks.

2 Granite

Mosus has completed her apprenticeship, and become a Master Mason of the third degree! It is a relief, I admit, to have another fully initiated into the sorority. She has already been serving as the Senior Warden in practice; I will send a letter with the next caravan to make her position official.

5 Granite

Yesterday I ordered the chippies to claim the last remaining trees in the area. They set off enthusiastically; theirs is an endangered profession, it seems. The terrain has proved challenging, and the mountain goats, while not hostile, seem to be pestering them. Libash has always seemed easily distractable to me.

11 Granite

With an eye towards those mountain goats, I have set Soxgaspa to guard the cave entrance. It is elegant and well-worked, to be sure, but nothing but a few poorly maintained traps separates our valuable stockpiles from thieves and intruders. I must remember to bend our efforts towards the common defense in the future.

15 Granite

So much to do! With some help from Evan, who is a wizard with the books, I have dramatically restructured our work force. Joshua certainly was soft on the immigrants; I have heard tell that he did not discourage the epithet "useless" in their presence, and they seem to have taken it to heart. I have simplified the workers into a mere dozen professions, and set them to promoting the general welfare. The peasants I have drafted into a nascent "militia" of sorts; of yet we have no weapons, of course, but farsightedness is a virtue.

This restructuring has dramatically cut down on idling and general buffoonry. I do hear grumbling from time to time, but most dwarves appreciate the opportunity for hard labor, when it comes down to it.

18 Granite

Several days ago, I paused the exploratory digging efforts and ordered the construction a rudimentary barracks near the cavern entrance. After a resentful nap or two, Joshua managed to dig out the place. It's nothing to look at, yet; I will place screw pumps inside shortly for the militia to build their strength. It will be shoddy work, to be sure, as charcoal is even harder to come by than wood, but it will serve for now.

How we all long for the heat of a magma furnace! I will resume the exploration in short order.

24 Granite

Another party at the statue garden. The area will simply have to be expanded, but there are more pressing matters to which I must attend.

26 Granite

Disaster! The elven caravan approached over the hills, and it was nearly to the cavern entrance when it was beset by a goblin ambush. The goblins killed one trader, pursued the other, and then turned their attention to our near-defenseless fortress.

From the instant that the call of "Ambush!" echoed through the fortress, it became clear that most of the newcomers would be useless in a crisis. They rushed about madly, some pouring out of the fortress as if to flee. Perhaps goblins were a mere children's tale to some.

Luckily, I was not the only one to keep my head. Joshua and Sibrek herded the peasant fools inside, urging them to make for their bedrooms and lock themselves inside. I had the handlers muster our remaining war dogs, and Oddom rounded up his chippies as a hasty militia. The miners made ready with their picks near the entrance.

Before long, they were upon us. Armed or otherwise, the chippies set upon the goblin band mercilessly and made quick work of them, but not before beloved war dog Cog Alathostar was cut down where he stood. The few cage traps that had been set proved their worth as well; a couple of goblin prisoners will provide a grim entertainment for our vengeful crew.

On the whole, a troubling encounter. I will attempt to prioritize the development of a proper militia at once. Oddom says he will assist me in cursing some sense into our dwarven comrades.

1 Slate

Cleanup from the goblin raid continues. One bittersweet note; the elven traders dropped their merchendise as they were cut down.

3 Slate

Evan has struck cassiterite, a smeltable metal. Without magma, it is not of much use.

9 Slate

Although one elf did escape from the disaster of 26 granite, it seems his message of danger was misunderstood entirely. Fully 20 new migrants wandered into the fortress today, bringing issues of overcrowding to the fore. I do not know that we possess the wood to construct 20 new beds.

On a happier note, one of the migrants brought word from Hammerbreads that Evan has formally been appointed the mayor of Phantomdaggers.

13 Slate

I have attempted to sort out the most recent crowd of inexperienced fools as best I can. They lounge around the Great Hall, laughing and talking, but they can't seem to be bothered to sponge down the walls of the cavern entrance, where miasma has taken hold. Perhaps it will repel the goblins as well.

22 Slate

I assure you that it was only a formality, but Evan seems to have taken his mayoral posting a bit to the head. Not only does he now insist that he is entitled to larger quarters, but he has decreed that earrings are not to be exported under any circumstances. I am just now constructing a jewelers; perhaps he has friends in Hollowdell, with whom our trade might one day compete.

27 Slate

I must record yet another mishap. I had ordered the area above the entrance dug out, to give us the upper hand in the next goblin raid. Josh and Sibrek went at it eagerly, as usual, but perhaps a bit too eagerly; the entrance to the cavern collapsed upon them as they worked. Those daft miners! Sometimes their lack of foresight astounds me. Josh is unconscious; I had him dragged back to his quarters. Luckily, I had thought to order the construction of several buckets before the fortress ran out of wood entirely.

Sibrek may be worse off. He was hurled up into the air and landed in one of the cage traps. Before I could stop them, a mindless peasent hauled him down to swelter with the caged goblins! I gave the poor fool nightmares. Sibrek was already awake by the time we managed to get him out, and he seems none the worse for wear (apart from his dignity).

6 Felsite

Rimtar Ostarkivish, one of our best farmers, has been acting oddly of late. Yesterday at supper he became very animated about crafting, extolling the virtues of chesnut and tourmaline to his friends. Several of our more skilled craftsdwarves were within earshot, and I'm afraid they did not take it well. Had the company been sober, I'm sure it would have come to blows. I thought it was just a passing oddness, but now Rimtar has claimed a workshop as his own and seems to be raiding every one of our stores at his leisure. Anyone who comes near him gets an earful of curses. He has taken most of our remaining wood, which I had planned to use for more beds. I am glad our chippies found a few more far-flung trees last week; the look in Rimtar's eyes suggests that the alternative would be inestimably worse.

10 Felsite

Rimtar has finished his creation, a chesnut amulet. It's very nice, but I wish he had not used so much of our scanty wood stores.

I'm afraid Josh's injuries are more severe than I first imagined. Our healers tell me that a falling rock struck him in the spine. We can only hope that his sharp wit remains intact when he awakens.

13 Felsite

There are several rotten animal corpses in the statue garden, and no one seems to want to remove them. I wonder how they got there.

21 Felsite

I have taken on Urist Tegiraban as an Initiate. She is utterly inexperienced, of course, but I have been watching her for several weeks, and she shows promise and moral fortitude.

2 Hematite

Joshua is back on his feet! It seems that the entire fortress has a spring in its step as summer dawns. He is aiding me in a tricky mining project that I have undertaken; his expertise in this area is invaluable.

We have struck garnierite, another smeltable metal. The mountain taunts us.

5 Hematite

A miner scrambled up from the depths today. Exploratory digging has become increasingly far-flung; he traveled more than a mile to the surface. The report is strange... a huge, open pit, set far into the mountain. He claims that the stones he tossed did not hit bottom.

10 Hematite

Blast! Errant boulders have deterred another caravan from visiting us. The summer will be a harsh one indeed; we are out of barrels and wood, and are sorely in need of lumber.

12 Hematite

Thank Omer! I managed to clear the boulders in time, and the caravan has arrived. Let us see if we can salvage our precarious resource imbalance.

20 Hematite

The trading was a marked letdown. The lazy humans had nothing but a large quantity of cloth and a bit of meat. We traded them out of all of it, and still have dozens of useless stone crafts lying about.

20 Hematite, later that day

Miners report a magma pipe! Further careful investigation will proceed henceforth.

2 Malachite

We are out of barrels, and very nearly out of booze. This is going to get ugly.

4 Malachite

Evan's absurd demands continue. He thought that smoothed walls would be more becoming of a mayor's bedroom. I had Urist engrave a pair of blazing suns above his bed. Hopefully it will keep him up at night.

7 Malachite

We have struck lignite! With a bit of luck, we can get a rudimentary smelting operation going even before the magma is tapped. This is a thrilling development; the whole fortress is reverberating with excitement. Also, we are out of booze; metal barrels will be essential.

8 Malachite

And hematite, nearby! The smiths are salivating.

25 Malachite

Chaos. Too much to do. There are frogmen in the well.

8 Galena

The dwarves refuse to use the new refuse pile. Miasma abounds.

18 Galena

Oh hell. Unexpected magma breach.

1 Limestone

It has been an eventful summer. I will attempt to recall the more important events for the sake of the records.

We have been out of booze for months, subsisting on water and hating it. My compatriots carry themselves shamefully, sluggishly. But what to be done? There are no barrels, and no wood in sight. The lignite strike was a lucky find, but without a seed, it is useless; some amount of fuel, however small, is required to create more.

Our chippies managed to find a single tree that had thus far been spared. The wood we burned into a tiny lump of charcoal, just enough to smelt lignite into coke, the tiniest dusting. But that was enough to produce more, and by now coke production is starting to ramp up.

This effort seems wasteful, given the presence of lava, but any chance that a metal barrel could be created more quickly had to be siezed. The use of lava is a time-intensive process, and one must be careful. After weeks of digging out the extent of the warm rock, our miners set upon a plan; a series of tunnels below, and a huge production floor above. They set to work, doing their best to get through the working day on water alone.

Alas, my inexperience with the devilish trickery of magma here presented itself. On the lower, exploratory level, the warm rocks gave way, and magma stealthily began flowing through tunnel after long tunnel. One of the brewers, Fikod Tileshvabok, was the first to happen upon this dreaded magma wall; he bravely sounded the alarm, and his voice echoed up the staircases before ominously falling silent. The militia rushed into the depths with floodgates, and managed to seal the corridor, mere meters from the stairs. Fikod was not so lucky; he simply disappeared. The fortress's first casualty was mourned by all.

And so the fortress stands; still in chaos, but now there is hope. Soon the magma works will be complete, and the booze will flow again.

3 Limestone

Olin Sigunamund has had an ugly run-in with a wild horse. His badly mangled leg is a testament to his poor skill as a hunter.

10 Limestone

The caravan from far-off Ezum Caneth has graced us with their presence. Four wagons! What treasures lie within, I wonder...

12 Limestone

The caravan is unloading its goods, and as soon as Evan finishes marveling at his outsized quarters, we can begin this long-needed exchange. Among our trade goods are 117 pairs of earings, banned from export. I wonder what Evan plans to do with them.

24 Limestone

Wealth beyond measure! After more than a week of tedious meetings, and a rather slothful nap, Evan has managed to remove himself to the depot. Ezum Caneth is renowned for their vast, underground tower-cap forest, but I dared not hope until I saw our chippies hauling off bundle after bundle of the finest tower-cap logs you could imagine. To think, the traders seem relieved for us to take the burden off of their hands-- they charge but a pittance!

Evan is ecstatic; he will take to the books for weeks after this, I think. In a fit of generosity, he suspended his ban on earring exports.

9 Sandstone

Everyone has been frantic lately, hauling goods back and forth. We could not trade half of our finished goods simply because we have no bins, so they are scattered willy-nilly about the fortress; even with nearly everyone pitching in, we could not carry everything to the depot in time. But we have booze again!

3 Timber

I never thought I'd say this, but we need more dwarfpower. Everyone is running about, moving lumber and stone. We still have not finished distributing the goods we received from the traders.

9 Timber

A few migrants trickle in. They will be set to work at once.

19 Timber

Evan demands a piccolo. I can't fathom why; none of us has the skill to play it.

23 Timber

I have begun the construction of what I hope will be the first of many roads. Someday, they will be paved with gold...

1 Moonstone

Winter has arrived. The brook is frozen over and frost settles on my beard, yet I am optimistic. Slowly, slowly, we are replenishing our stocks of barrels and beds, working through the gigantic mass of wood that we acquired last season. The magma fill is nearly steady enough to begin smelting, and four forges stand ready to produce steel of wondrous strength and beauty. And if the goblins think to trouble us again, three squads of legendary wrestlers stand with clenched fists and hardened minds.

9 Moonstone

The barracks is a pigsty. The soldiers have strewn rotting food about the room, and no one seems to want to touch it. If they want to wrestle in their own filth, so be it.

13 Moonstone

One Zolak Ongongaspuz, Goblin Master Thief, stumbled into a cage trap today. After he was taken to the dungeons, I went to speak with him. Much to my surprised, "he" claimed to be a misrepresented freemason! I was skeptical, but he presented himself well, so I queried him more closely. When I asked him for the local grip, however, he just stammered, nor did he know the words of the Grand Lodge of the Mountainhomes. A clever imposter, but an imposter nonetheless. He remains caged.

14 Moonstone

Another snatcher, the partner of the first. Their uncoordinated bumbling is the laughingstock of the fortress.

16 Moonstone

I have ordered the slaughter of some of our horses. They have been breeding absurdly of late, clogging up the hallways with their noise and filth.

19 Moonstone

The magma forges will one day be useful, I'm sure, but for now the magma is simply not reliable enough. I have ordered the construction of some temporary coke-powered smelters and forges; we will resume the old ways for now.

21 Moonstone

Gobbos! The lookout must have been sleeping, as we did not hear the cries until they were nearly at the entrance. There were two groups this time, seven in all. Luckily, they were distracted by a stray cat that led them nearly a kilometer afield before they caught up with her. By the time they regrouped, we were ready. I stationed all three squads near the fortress entrance, but this precaution proved unnecessary. Most of their number were undone by traps, and The Reputed Bolts made short work of the last, although one of our war dogs was wounded in the exchange. Our dwarves performed admirably in the crisis; no panicked running about (at least, no more than usual). I am delighted with the state of our armed forces to date.

6 Opal

I have ordered the construction of spartan bedrooms for the military directly beneath the barracks, complete with cabinets. Perhaps a bit of ownership will encourage the wrestlers to clean up after themselves.

11 Opal

Our beloved Sibrek is dead. He had been rather down lately, complaining of the sun and the dullness of our wine. Several days ago, he disappeared, and his whereabouts were unknown until a chippie returned to the fortress in tears today, having come across his corpse perched on a wall. We will have to begin long-overdue construction of a graveyard postehaste.

15 Opal

Another ambush! Our chippies had worked right through the traded wood, so they were out in the field gathering more. The goblins cut down several horses before setting their sights on Eral Osustustuth, a chippy with his baby girl. Eral is truly lucky to be so light on his feet; even with their numbers, she led the goblins on a merry chase about the plain. She escaped entirely unscathed; her baby suffered only a scratch on the arm. Our brave fighting dwarves were not so lucky. I had hastily assembled them and sent them out into the field to rescue Eral; the Purple Wires were the first to reach the goblin train. All but two gave up pursuit to face them, and the battle was joined. Our boys made quick work of two goblins, but Udib Atheluthmik, a poor peasant, found himself surrounded and cut off from his comrades. He struggled valiently, killing one gobbo and wounding another, but he was tragically struck down by a vicious mace blow before help arrived. Soon the Reputed Bolts arrived and mopped up the remaining opposition; the fight was over.

Our fortress's first military casualty, but I daresay it won't be the last.

23 Opal

Olin Sigunamund, the hunter who has been wounded for nearly a year, has been miserable lately, shouting his complaints to the walls. I suspect he has been sleeping poorly, as his bedroom abuts the dining room. I have moved him to a new one; he limps down the hallway now.

2 Obsidian

Mosus gained the third degree today; he is a full mason! I have taught him the rest of the grips and signs.

5 Obsidian

We have exhausted the small hematite vein. I have switched production to garnierite for now; better nickel than nothing.

9 Obsidian

Ninglimul Othosingtak the Jeweler has sculpted a brilliant yellow statue, carved entirely of zircon! I will place it in the crypt, a fitting tribute to our fallen comrades.

14 Obsidian

Perhaps looking to the future, Evan has banned the export of steel items. I do not think that compliance will be an issue.

18 Obsidian

Olin Sigunamund, hunter, has passed away. He had been refusing all food or drink for weeks, just limping around the great hall, looking forlorn. He will receive the solemn buriel that he deserves.

1 Granite

We have survived another long winter. Many challenges lie ahead of us (booze levels drop dangerously low once again), but I judge the fortress to be strong. Some spoke of a curse, but we have seen something else entirely; a blossoming of craft and skill. Long live Zimeshurist, long live freemasonry!

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

The History of Phantomdaggers, Chapter II

1st Granite

Spring has come to Phantomdaggers, and with it, our hopes for the new year. I am Joshua, chief miner of the Secretive Bunch, and I give you my tale, and the tale of my people.

The stony walls of Phantomdaggers hold great promise - who knows what great mysteries and treasures lie within? By the golden lyre of Esrel Kebul Nish, the Sparkle of Trade, I swear that I will not rest until I have uncovered them all!

And yet not all is well in Phantomdaggers. This fortress has languished under the ineptitude of Evan "The Dunce" - perhaps this new year will give him a chance to right his wrongs. There has been too much focus on the petty niceties of agriculture, while red-blooded, four-legged meals walk among us! We need to find iron, though the obsidian to the north, near the pool uncovered by Evan's stumbling bumbling, bears some promise. And I long for a quiet bed of my own, far from the clatter and din of our workshops.

Enough talk - there's crafts to be made.

5th Granite

Enough crafting - there's digging to be done. First step - expanding storage space. Then the bedrooms. While sleeping on the cold stone floor, I had a vision - a fractal pattern, infinite, beautiful. This shall be my guide.

10th Granite

Mica! Smooth, glittering mica!

Seriously, fuck this. Mica, orthoclase, microcline... the gods conspire against us, barring our way with these worthless stones. I am a dwarf! Give me iron, or at least zinc. When I behold a fine floodgate, wrought from zinc... it is then that I know true beauty.

Hold that thought - another vein of microcline! Esrel give me strength.

Thob complained of having nothing to do - Evan has given him the task of smoothing the floor and walls of the Great Hall, using nothing but a wooden augur. This indignity cannot stand.

15th Granite

The Elven caravan has arrived. Perhaps Evan will emerge from his dungeon long enough to offend them.

The brook has thawed - its waters flow freely once again. Its power must be tapped.

1st Slate

Sibrek and I finished clearing out additional storage space below the Great Hall - I consider myself quite the miner, yet I find myself in awe of his abilities. He digs through sand as though it were loam, and loam as though it were air.

Not all of us share this work ethic - that worthless Thob has grown weary of his stone-scrubbing and is throwing a party. Perhaps he should invite the elves - they will make a fine company.

Evan managed to pull away from his books for a moment, and ran off - straight to Thob's party. And yet when Oddom and Kadol showed the slightest signs of idleness, he drafted them into his daft stone-smoothing crusade immediately! Despicable. The elves grow more impatient by the day.

7th Slate

The first of what will surely be many migrants have arrived. They're a sorry, scruffy bunch - perhaps a few months in Phantomdaggers will whip them into shape.

8th Slate

It's worse than I thought. Two carpenters and a woodburner (we have no wood), a weaver (we have no thread), an herbalist (the only thing we grow are plump helmets), a fish dissector (he's welcome to try his hand against the lizard-men), a fishery worker (he can make friends with the fish dissector!), a cheese maker (no milk)... the list goes on. We must make haste to complete the new bedrooms, but this lot doesn't deserve the luxury. It'll be stone detailing for the lot of them.

I've mentally created a new category for these new migrants - I lump them all together as "the Useless". Perhaps in time, they'll be good for something other than military service or manual labor - but I'm not holding my breath.

16th Slate

Work has begun on the bedrooms. Door and bed production ramped up to maximum.

19th Slate

The merchants have departed, unmolested by trade. Damn, damn, a thousand times damn.

10th Felsite

Bedroom digging has been completed. It's just as magnificent as it seemed in my vision - now to flesh out the petty details of doors and beds.

17th Felsite

Construction has begun on a walled-in outdoor farm plot. Evan's hope is that this place will one day be a center of art and culture, and dwarves will come from all over the land to see the great outdoor walled-in farm plot of Phantomdaggers.

He stepped outside to commemorate the occasion, and promptly vomited. Serves him right.

10th Hematite

The human caravan has arrived. Evan has a chance to redeem himself.

18th Hematite

A plague of kobold thieves! The very sight of them makes my blood boil ever since they tried to steal my ring. One escaped - the other was brutally splattered against the wall by the human guardsmen. My fellow dwarves swarmed out of the fortress to swipe his gear, like some sort of gruesome pinata.

Benjamin has been engraving the walls of the Great Hall. His imagery is striking, to say the least - his rendition of the foundation of Phantomdaggers brought a tear to my eye, I'm not ashamed to admit it. I loved it even more when it was repeated six other times on the same stretch of wall.

Evan has redeemed himself; the trading was mutually profitable. We bartered for several iron anvils - it's good to see that we're planning ahead.

Then again, we also bought eleven barrels of cow cheese.

5th Malachite

I was hard at work carefully carving rock crafts for trade, when all of a sudden there came a dreadful din from the Great Hall - a cave-in! Sibrik is unconscious, along with several other dwarves, a musk ox, and a puppy.

The cause was clear - Sibrik had managed to craft a superfluous flight of stairs, but, lacking the wherewithal to deconstruct them, simply dug out the rock around them, with little regard for the consequences. I must say, this has somewhat diminished my respect for his mining abilities.

He re-earned my respect, however, by promptly regaining consciousness, going back up, and finishing the job. No serious inujuries were sustained by any involved.

10th Malachite

I see that Benjamin has seen fit to commit the tale of the kobold thief and his righteous destruction to the walls of the Great Hall. Every time I see it, I stop for a moment and stand in wondrous awe.

26th Malchite.

Another influx of migrants. Phantomdaggers can now proudly boast of possessing a pair of highly trained cheese makers. If anything, this lot is worse than the last.

Evan has conspired to place his sleeping chambers directly adjacent to mine. His snoring keeps me up until dawn.

3rd Galena

Imush, one of the non-useless new migrants, has been put to work training some of the worthless strays taking up space in Phantomdaggers into proper beasts of war. Properly deployed, these will help protect our fortress from skulking kobold filth.

11th Galena

Sibrik caused another cave-in during the excavation of the Great Hall. At this point, I think he's just showing off.

16th Galena

The excavation of the Great Hall is complete, miraculously without further cave-ins. When Benjamin's engravings are finished, it will truly be a wonder to behold.

13th Limestone

Udib the Carpenter has created a magnificent alder chest, depicting Ingish Tongslabored and his ascension to leadership of the Hames of Adventuring. Truly a work of art - it has to be seen to be believed. I have quietly arranged for it to be brought to my room, where I can privately contemplate its beauty.

2nd Sandstone

I have struck stibnite. Magma may be nearby.

11th Timber

Another round of migrants - two more fisherdwarves, two more woodcrafters. They cavort gaily in the statue garden while I ceaselessly toil below, searching for magma.

3rd Moonstone

On a hunch, I dug down near the riverbed. My pick revealed a dull glitter - a vein of native gold. We must investigate! My months of digging shall not have been in vain.

And yet, I fear. The Curse of the Third Year approaches... but we must focus on the present, and not think of such things.

20th Moonstone

A rhesus macaque made off with several useless items. Stupid monkey.

I have sussed out the scope of the gold vein. It is sizeable, and will certainly make us all rich dwarves. And yet, I cannot help but feel disappointed. Gold is not iron - it is a thing of beauty, not a thing of use. Still, it is a good sight better than this damned microcline that haunts my every tunnel.

22nd Opal

The engraving of the Great Hall is complete. It is a sacred place, a magnificent place - when one enters, one is surrounded by graven images of dwarves, roaches, and (my personal favorite) The Spots of Knighting, an alder chest.

3rd Obsidian

Construction of well halted temporarily due to frogmen.

1st Granite

The well is complete, and not a moment too soon - our alcohol supplies are running dangerously low. Is this the beginning of the Curse of the Third Year? Esrel help us all.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The History of Phatomdaggers, Chapter 1

I, Evan, leader of the Secretive Brunch, have struck the Earth at Phantomdaggers on the 1th of Slate, year 38. I and my six companions have struck out from the safety of our nation, the Hames of Adventuring, to build a fortress to stand the test of time. I am a metalworker by trade; my companions are Benjamin the Mason, Joshua the Swordsdwarf and Stonecrafter, Sibrek the Peasant, Thob& Kadol the farmers, and Oddom the woodsman.

We followed the frozen river thirteen days from the dwarven outpost at Hamerbreads, until I saw a butte of microcline rising above us. I climbed the slope, thrust my axe into the cliff side, and felt the blessing of Omer. By my beard, I know that these are rich hills. We tunneled thence immediately further in and further down. I know that this flat topped hill should someday make an excellent battlement. I decided on the full turn corkscrew design heading downwards through a sheet of alunite into dark basalt. The extrusive igneous rocks are a good sign that there may be magma deeper below, and aye, who knows what else?

7th Slate, year 38
Further below we have begun construction of the first few rooms--nothing but a barracks and dining hall so far, which in time shall find a new purpose, I be sure. Once the beds were moved in, all of us took a much needed rest before moving the new obsidian furniture into the dining hall.

19th Slate, year 38
I gazed upon four mighty horses which roam the plains above our new home. Then I became disgusted by the sun and went inside to update records in the dining room. We are running low on booze it seems.
Another note about the plains, Oddom tells me that the terrain here has precious few trees, located mostly to the southeast. We've already cut down half of them building beds and barrels to hold our food. The fields are however an abundant source of fruity berries should we have to resort to them (I prefer plump helmet mushrooms myself of course!).

2nd Felsite, year 38
Joshua struck a formation of yellow zircon near the barracks today. I ordered him not to mine it until we were more skilled in such extraction. I think he's had too little ale lately, for he disagreed, and furthermore he made it clear then and there that he did not approve of my leadership. He stormed off to his craftshop, refusing to do any mining all day. I have asked Sibrek Becorrigoth to take up the second pickaxe and "pick up" the slack. His work be excellent thus far, I declare.

24th Felsite, year 38
I had the farmer boys set up a still this morning. Now we have ourselves a real home! We had to place it outside, but the weather has been getting better everyday, and it will do until we have more space cleared downstairs. Cheers!

18th Hematite
Joshua has been sulking in his workshop most of the time, and I saw the fruits of his labour today. He created a masterpiece, an obsidian ring. Almost on cue, two kobold ratlings were spotted running about the fortress. The hothead former miner took off after them to protect his precious creation. When he returned I uttered a sigh of disappointment.

9th Malachite
I finally decided to order Joshua off of crafting duty entirely for a time, and had him carve me out an office into the basalt walls near the barracks. He still bears me a grudge which only burns stronger with time, it seems.

With safety in mind, I plan to set up a mechanics shop so we can build some traps up above.

15th Galena
Sibrek began excavating a sand pit with Joshua today in the south of the outpost. Soon we'll have more food, and booze too!
My first mechanism, a pit trap assembly, was a total failure, some of the lowest quality work, and I threw it into the refuse pile. I'm going back to work on the books.

9th Limestone
With the coming of Autumn, we had our first birth in the fortress late last night, a puppy.

16th Limestone
The Dwarven caravan from The Hames of Adventuring arrived two days ago. By Omer's Axe, I thought they'd never arrive. Our edible plant dishes are down to a scant 39...

First, I gave 840 ducats worth of obsidian offerings for the King in Ezum Cenath. I then traded everything but Joshua's Obsidian ring for food, picks, cages and leather goods. I do believe that I've become a competent appraiser after that ordeal.

Horse foals were just after the sale, I'm glad we brought a breeding pair along, as they make good eating. The farmer insists it is a blessing of Komut.

I spake with the diplomat for a while and agreed upon a fine trade deal for next year. I insisted that they bring some iron in case we cannot find a source, and asked for some platinum too while I was at it.

Our stocks are up to about 80 foodthings, enough to last us a year without immigration.

18 Sandstone
Merchants departed today. I set our new miner Sibrek to making mechanisms. Benjamin has smoothed out fine fortifications near the main hall.

1st Timber
We have yet another masterpiece obsidian ring from Joshua's workshop.
The new mechanisms are turning out to be no better than mine. I suppose he'll learn with time.

Fell into a deep slumber on the 28th of sandstone that lasted until today, I dreamed of new a better things for the fortress, but I realize my time as overseer is running short. I worry about the curse of the third year, but I must keep such thoughts away.

When I awoke, I Realized that the caravan drivers have been trying to get my attention for a few days now. Since we had been removing the ramps from the microcline hill, we eliminated the path they used to arrive. It seems that some boulders were in the way of their
route, and they couldn't leave until I had Benjamin smooth them down.

5th Moonstone
Winter has entombed us. The brook has frozen and we now rely on only our rum to sate our thirst. The trees have lost all color and the earth is hard as iron.

19th Moonstone
We desperately need a source of Iron. I haven't crafted with metal in what must be a year now. I yearn for the clang of steel in our fortress. I've begun doing some mining myself towards a new storage a level below the halls. Up above, I've decided to use the wintertime to strengthen our security with rock fall traps and cage pits. We used some middling quality mechanisms, since these types of traps are one-shot only.

9th Obsidian
As I was mining to work out my frustration in an exploratory passage, I stumbled upon a massive underground pool. A lizardman chased me all the way to the barracks, whereupon he seemed to think better of it and hurried back into his murky depths. Perhaps they need the water to survive? Regardless, I had the farmer affix a door that we will not open again for a long time. Further in that direction lies granite, which is generally rich for mining, but poor in the iron I so desire.

1st Granite
My time here is over. It's been rather slow, as I'm told first years may go, but the fortress is on solid footing. The combined wealth of the estate, by my estimate, is 50,000 ducats. To the new overseer, I suggest mining further down and to the southwest, under the river. Perhaps then we may find the makings of true steel, eh? I haven't put much focus on making our great hall resound with the crashes of forge hammers, but now with our strong start, it is surely time to do so! It is also my will that the arch of the great hall be completed and the chamber smoothed. And be sure to carve out some proper bedrooms above it! I've grown sick of listening to Thob's snoring.

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Maybe The Internet Is A Good Thing After All

I can't help but feel good when the top two stories in the New York Times are about the use of the Internet to fight oppression - one in China and one in Iran. I'm not naïve enough to think that technology alone can defeat tyranny, but it certainly helps.

Now imagine a world with ubiquitous strong crypto, where anyone could safely and anonymously speak - and at the same time, everyone on the Internet could be clearly and unambiguously identified, if they so chose. The implications of this are vast, and instead of expounding on them, I'm going to bed. But I get the sense that we are living in an era of free speech the likes of which the writers of the First Amendment never imagined - and yet, they somehow managed to make the right choice. That's foresight, right there.

I'll tell you once more before I get off the floor

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, and devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad.

Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson

In Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers, he talks about something he calls the "10,000 hour rule", which is basically the statement that if you do anything for 10,000 hours, you will be good at it. He (or possibly someone else entirely) further argues that "talent" as we normally think of it doesn't really exist - if you're "talented" at something, what it really means is that you love it so much that you're willing to devote 10,000 hours to it.

Lately, I've been thinking that this might apply to relationships as well, based on two observations. One is that two people who don't love each other can build a functional relationship, if they have to - this is how marriage worked for a very long time. The other is that two people who do love each other are not necessarily inherently capable of building a functional relationship.

This is because a relationship isn't just about love - love is important, but there's more to it than that. Maybe the word I'm thinking of is "compatibility". Compatibility might be inherent, to an extent, but a large part it's learned. No two people are perfectly compatible right off the bat - part of any healthy relationship is learning to forgive each other for your flaws, and love each other in spite of (or even because of) them.

My point is that compatibility doesn't come automatically from love, but love makes it easier to develop compatibility in the same way that "talent" makes it easier to develop expertise. You can be compatible without love - it may not be a happy relationship, but it will probably be a functional one for the purposes of familial stability and so forth.

Now, before you start frantically wondering if anything is wrong with the relationships in my life - these are nothing but idle musings that in no way reveal my inner thoughts.

like a moth before a flame

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

A Birthday Recap, for the Morbidly Curious

000: Ding! It's my birthday. I'm playing D&D, and there's nothing I'd rather be doing.
0230: Gale the Elven Ranger gets his head torn off by Regiarax the dragon. This is all I really wanted for my birthday.
0330: The game wraps up. My apartment is a mess - I stagger off to bed.
1000: I wake up and stumble towards the bathroom - Eric is cleaning it, which is odd, but I occasionally have random cleaning jags, so it's not that weird.
1015: The bathroom is cleaned. I use the toilet. It clogs and floods. Fuck.
1020: Plunging fails. I start mopping up the overflow with paper towels, then give up and call maintenance, who presumedly own a mop (unlike me). I tell Eric about these developments; he tells me that he had a similar problem previously, hence the early morning cleaning. Fuck fuck fuck.
1030: I shower downstairs in 203. Later, Meggie will tell me that my soap smells nice, and I won't realize what she's talking about for a long, long time.
1115: I start cleaning the kitchen from last night's festivities. The dishes are innumerable and gross, but I have no one to blame but myself - I put on a New Pornographers album and dig in.
1215: I finish cleaning. Eric and I chat about last night's game, and I begin telling him about last night's epic battle.
1220: The maintenance guy arrives - it's just a guy wearing jeans, sneakers, and a jacket, and carrying a plunger, no other tools or equipment. He opens the door to the bathroom.
"It's flooded."
"Yeah, I mentioned that on the phone."
He goes over and flushes the toilet, which promptly floods, doubling the volume of the water on the floor.
"The toilet's clogged." What did you expect would happen? He plunges it for a while - it's clear.
"You should take care of that water as soon as possible." Gee, thanks - what am I paying you for? Wait, am I paying you? I don't press the issue, and he leaves. I grab a roll of paper towels, and get to work.
1315: That was unpleasant. Eric kindly helped, and I finished telling him the THRILLING STORY of last night's session. He suggests that we take this opportunity to watch The Fountain - he's been suggesting that we do this for some time. "After my bike ride," I agree, but around then Zach returns from the first leg of the Saturday morning shopping trip. He's got an RA event, so I need to cover the second leg. No problem, I love grocery shopping.
1500: Well, that took longer than expected. Jack and I discuss housing - our lead looks promising, and she might be willing to negotiate on the summer rent. I buy some Girl Scout cookies from a troop outside the grocery store, and marvel at the physical and social awkwardness of preteen girls.
1505: Time to get some work done - I pull out some REU applications and start filling them out. Fortunately, they're not due until... later today. So much for that bike ride.
1530: I talk to my parents. Hooray! It's my birthday! The mailroom seems intent on withholding any and all birthday presents - this upsets me more than I let on.
1600: Myself, Eric, and others settle in to watch The Fountain.
1745: Wow, what an incredible movie. I kind of want to watch Requiem for a Dream and Pi now, but I'm too scared - drug use and math make me nervous.
1800: Jack has bad news - Sean can't afford the house, and he's dropping out of the deal. Unless we can find a sixth person in short order, we're right fucked. In my heart, I was already moved in - I contain my tears.
1815: Sully comes over. He brought me a present! Fantastic! I try to be appreciative, but I'm still really upset about the house. I realize this, and make an excuse about calling Ben - I go into my room and lie down, and start crying. I just want to have a place to live, and not have to worry about it anymore. I start feeling that I've wasted the day - I didn't even go on a bike ride that I've been promising myself all week. At this point, it's almost too much for me to handle.
1820: I actually call Ben. This helps a lot. I talk about housing, and how I'm doing poorly academically, and about many other things - he listens patiently and sympathetically, like the good brother he is.
1930: I hang up, feeling much better. Liz is over! I love Liz. We go downstairs, where Jack is making wings.
2030: I have eaten a lot of wings.
2130: Liz and I are wrestling on the floor. Before you get any ideas, let me assure you that this is an act of pure violence on our behalf, the consequence of my attempt to break up another argument of moral relativism vs. moral absolutism between her and Zach. I've got forty pounds on her, but damn, she's scrappy. She tells me that putting her in a chokehold is illegal, w.r.t. wrestling rules - I didn't realize there were rules to beating the bejeezus out of people.
2230: We're teaching Jwatzman how to take off a bra. This is possibly the most useful thing he will learn in his entire undergraduate career.
2330: Good friends, good food, and they got me a cake! I have the best friends ever. I make a wish and blow out the candles.
2359: The party isn't over yet, but I started at 0000, so I should end here. Besides, we all go home pretty soon in the future anyway.

So there you have it - a perfectly lovely birthday. Definitely within the top 20. I am among friends here, dear friends, and don't you forget it.

sing us out

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

You May Giggle Now, Colin Meloy, but I Will Have The Last Laugh

Googling for "legionnaire's lament giggle" yields nothing of value, so I must be the one to ask the Internet - in "The Legionnaire's Lament", by The Decemberists, is there a giggle at 3:35? Or am I just insane?

In other news, I think I want to marry Neko Case. You do too, gentle reader, even if you don't know it yet.


camel in disrepair

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sometimes I Am So Awesome It Hurts

I was riding my bicycle back from the grocery store the other day, and took my usual shortcut home, which involves bypassing a gate of the sort often found at toll booths and the like. It's about a meter off the ground, a little lower than the height of my handlebars. I've been practicing riding under it by putting both of my feet onto the same pedal, so I can act as a counterweight, then leaning the bike over about π/4 radians and coasting underneath, ducking my head so as to avoid obvious consequences. I've made it a few times, but have always fallen over (or had to dismount to avoid falling over) right afterwards.

I finally pulled it off, though - I dismounted, coasted underneath the gate leaning sideways, re-mounted, and pedaled off, all while carrying ~30 lbs. of groceries in my backpack.

That's not the point of the story, though.

It's been snowing quite a bit, and I was walking back to my apartment during a flurry that left an inch-thick dusting on an already icy ground. Pittsburgh being a hilly city, this journey involves at least one flight of stairs - rather than risk my neck on the slick steps, I stepped onto the banister and slid down a good 20 feet, landing on my feet.

That's not the point of the story, either.

The point of the story is this - why can I never pull off any of this stuff whenever there are girls watching?

so she's taking lots of vitamins


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Holy God I Am Still Alive

I stumbled out of my sixth final and was immediately filled with a rush of elation. It's over, I thought to myself, I beat the F08 semester. The end guy was hard.

Such moments of triumph in my life are generally short-lived, so I'm going to ride this one as long as I can. Hopefully, it will take me all the way back to Rhode Island - then I won't have to spend as much on gasoline.

don't break it down


Thursday, December 11, 2008

What do you do when you fall off a horse?

"It pains me to watch you code," said Sullivan.

"Why?" I asked.

"You'll have something that's almost correct, except for one character, and rather than try to fix it, you'll delete the whole line and start over. This is why it takes you so long to write code."

I looked down at the whiteboard, anything to avoid his gaze, but Sullivan's best and worst quality is that he doesn't know when to stop.

"You give up too easily," he said.

"Let's get back to studying," I mumbled, blinking back tears and swallowing hard.

Granted, Sullivan is a bit of a jackass, but his words hurt because they were true, to an extent. I'm used to things being easy. When they aren't, I work at them until they are - or I just give up. This works fine as long as I don't want to do anything difficult, but most of the things I'm interested are pretty heady, and I'm gradually realizing that there's no easy way to get there; as my "head start" wears off, I'm facing the same long slog as everyone else.

These were the thoughts running through my head as I walked through the rain to my physics exam this afternoon. I had rescheduled it due to conflicts with later exams; unfortunately, this left me with about 24 hours to study. And study I did, until the sight of a differential equation made me want to vomit. I slept, poorly and insufficiently, and then it was time.

It was the longest exam I've ever taken (about 4 hours) and probably the hardest to boot. I started off confidently, but around the 2:30 mark, I encountered a problem of a sort that had slipped under my studying radar. After an hour of desperately trying to dredge up ancient memories from lectures and notes, re-deriving relevant properties from first principles, moving on and jumping back in an effort to startle the knowledge out of myself, and sheer wild guesswork, I was on the brink of tears. Digging my nails into my thighs, I resolved to give up and hand it in.

As I put my pencil down, I recalled my earlier conversation with Sullivan. Well, I thought, leaning back in my chair, I guess he was right. Here I am, giving up again.

I looked down at my paper one more time, then sat forward and grabbed my pencil. I wasn't about to give Sullivan the satisfaction of being right.*

*I don't think I got the right answer, but at least I tried...

stop me from thinking of what I once knew

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Just Outside Of Your Front Door

I woke up bright and early* this morning and stumbled out towards the bathroom in my underwear.

Halfway across the living room, I paused - I could hear something from out the window. It's not uncommon to hear voices drifting up from the sidewalk three stories below, but this sounded closer.

Summoning all the energy I could muster at that ungodly hour**, I turned. Sitting in the branches of the tree not five feet from my window was a workman of some sort, avidly clipping branches with those long-handled shears and carrying on an animated conversation with his counterpart on the ground.

I stumbled back to my room to pull on some pants, then went over to the window and opened it.

"Hey," I said.

"Hey," the workman said.

Then I went to take a shower.

It's the little, surreal experiences in life, like waking up to find someone just outside your third-story window, that make it really worth living.

**Still 1130, give or take

he ended up sad


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Nerdiness as a Projection onto Three-Dimensional Vector Space*

This is not a new idea, but it has yet to be committed to print, so it doesn't really count yet.

Subjective measures of nerdiness have been around for some time, but I'd like to propose a quantifiable method, one that could preempt any possible arguments of comparative nerdiness.**

The nerdiness of an activity can be expressed as the product of the obscurity, intensity, and inverse of productivity of that activity.

N(O,T,P) = O(a) * T(a) * 1/P(a)

To clarify, obscurity is defined as the distance outside the mainstream (measured in parsecs), intensity as the volume of skull sweat produced by the average practitioner (measured in milliliters), and productivity as the amount of energy that would be produced if the activity were converted into energy at the ratio of E=mc^2 (measured in ergs).***

Admittedly, this formula was derived empirically, but it can be extrapolated successfully. Compare the locations in coordinate space of the nerdiness of playing football, watching football, and playing fantasy football. Playing football is not at all obscure, very intense, and (arguably) very productive, so this results in a low nerdiness score. Watching football is not at all obscure, not at all intense, and not at all productive, resulting in a comparable nerdiness score to playing football. Note, however, that as the intensity of football-watching increases (e. g. body paint, statistics tracking), the nerdiness also increases - this matches our observations. Finally, fantasy football is fairly obscure, fairly intense, and not at all productive; hence, it is nerdier than watching or playing football, which again matches our observations.

For another example, compare watching Babylon 5 with playing a space combat miniatures game set in the Babylon 5 universe. Watching the show is quite obscure, not very intense (but keeping up with the plotline makes it more intense than watching, say, Friends, and hence nerdier) and not at all productive. Playing the game is even more obscure, much more intense, and even less productive, and therefore much nerdier. Once again, this meets our observations.

The productivity term is included to distinguish between things that are nerdy and useless, and things that are nerdy and useful. Tinkering with obscure automobiles or programming languages is very nerdy, but it becomes less so if the tinkerer is then able to apply that knowledge. In a broader sense, this term distinguishes between theoretical physics (obscure, intense) and role-playing games (obscure, intense).****

Can the formula be used to compare the nerdiness of fantasy football and Babylon 5? Here, it breaks down due to the subjectivity of the measurements - which is more obscure? Which is more intense? If we could accurately assign numerical values to these properties, we could know the answer for certain.

One more interesting property of this formula is that obscurity and intensity are unrelated. The nerdiness of an activity is as much a property of how we interact with that activity as it is an inherent property of the activity. Sure, video games are nerdier than fishing - when taken at the same intensity level. But if one approaches fishing with great intensity, it becomes even nerdier than video games.

This makes sense. In my definition (and in my formula) of nerdiness, you can be a "nerd" about anything. All it means is that you're passionate about what you do.

*This is meaningless mathematical babble. The more accurate statement would be to say that this is nerdiness as a function of three variables in three-dimensional space, where the axes are defined as the variables, and the domain and range are defined in the first octant.

**This method does not solve these problems, unfortunately, as it only introduces additional subjectivity. So why did I come up with it? If you're reading this far, you shouldn't have to ask.

***See what I mean? Incidentally, this means that the units of nerdiness are parsec-millileters/erg, which I'm pretty sure has never happened before ever, so that's cool.

****If you don't think the intensity values for these two activities are comparable... well, you're doing something wrong.

my love is a louvre


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Simple Harmonic Motion

When I am overwhelmed with work, I default to one of two courses of action:
  • Buckle down, work hard, squeak by
  • Curl up in a fetal position and hope my problems go away by themselves

This week, I learned that there's a third option:
  • Oscillate wildly between the two

I guess my point is that Real Content is Forthcoming, which is something I say often enough to need an acronym. (RCIF? RCiF? RCF?) Stay tuned.

please proceed into android hell


Monday, November 17, 2008

Rice, My Old Arch-Nemesis, We Meet Again

I don't think I've ever failed quite so hard at cooking as I did earlier tonight. The meal took a long time, used costly ingredients, and wasn't any damn good whatsoever - and I managed to destroy my friend's wok, to boot.

The culprit, of course, was rice - the rice held everything else up, stuck to the wok, and still wasn't finished long after I had lost my patience for it. How can billions of people subsist on such an obstinate, finicky grain for their daily sustenance? The mind boggles.

Finally, the problem was compounded by the expectations of eight of my friends, waiting to be fed. I didn't just have terrible food, I had a lot of it. Fortunately, my friends are barbarians with no taste, so they didn't particularly care - and for barbarians, they're very polite; the only audible complaints were from me.

This is made even worse when one considers that I've tangled with rice before. Its niceties are not entirely unknown to me. At least, that's what I thought when I started cooking tonight. As with many things in life, there is one correct outcome for rice, and a million failures.

This is the part of the post where I try to make it seem like what I'm writing about is important, but the only conclusion that I can come to is that I suck at cooking rice. Maybe I should... suck less? I'll figure out how to do rice right someday, but I wish I had methods other than "exhaust all possible failures".

As of now, I am formally instituting rice as my culinary arch-nemesis. It's on.

subatomic waves from the underwater caves

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Sleep Would Be Nice

My roommate's hard drive has a tendency to spin up, loudly, at odd hours of the night. As far as I can tell, his computer is idling, so this could be indicative of drive trouble... Regardless of the cause, it provides me with an apt analogy for the state of my mind on a Sunday night - it just won't idle.

Sundays, especially cold, snowy ones, are perfect for lazing around and not getting any real work done. This is lovely when you can afford to do that, but I don't have time for laziness one day a week, much less five or six (which is usually what ends up happening). Combine this with my whiplash-inducing attempts to re-align my sleep cycle from weekend mode back to EST. The end result is that every Sunday night, I lie in bed, wide awake, and think of all the things I didn't do today, this week, this month, this life.

It's a long list, and it only gets longer as time progresses, but eventually I get sleepy counting the nodes and drift off, and wake up exhausted and not at all ready or willing to get back to the business of Doing Stuff.

Tuesdays suck even worse.

all the things we did and didn't do


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Why I Do What I Do

I'm sitting at my desk, writing a recursive search for a binary search tree. It's challenging for me, but I understand it, and big chunks of comprehension keep falling into place. I'm blasting the good bit of Vicious Delicious, and it occurs to me: I really love doing this. I love the work that I do. This is easy to forget when there's so much of it, as there always is, so I savor the moment.

And back to work. Substantive content forthcoming.

I want to touch the back of your right arm


Monday, November 03, 2008

Life in a Swing State

Pennsylvania could still, hypothetically, go either way tomorrow, and so the city is inundated with desperate pleas to go out and vote. (Since Pittsburgh is quite liberal, the subtext "... for Obama" is omnipresent.) It seems to be a little late in the game to be trying to swing swing voters, so that's probably not what they're trying to do, but even so, I can't imagine myself being convinced to vote one way or another by advertising. Is the Obama campaign going for the three-pronged attack? Or do they just have too much money?

And yet, voter turnout in America remains pathetic. 60% of the eligible population is nothing of which we should be proud. So why don't people vote?

The first reason is the simplest. The chance that the vote of an individual will affect the election at large is effectively zero. In a system that uses something as cockamamie as the electoral college, that chance drops even further. If your vote can't possibly effect any change in the outcome, why bother?

This is actually a very reasonable question, because on an individual level, the negligent voter is correct in that the outcome of the election will almost certainly be the same regardless of his actions. The answer, then, comes when the voter realizes that he is not simply an individual, but a manifestation of a greater public consciousness. (I know that doesn't actually mean anything - bear with me.) This is similar to the question of whether or not an individual is justified in jumping turnstiles to ride the subway. One miscreant won't break the system, but one can never consider a miscreant in isolation - anyone who jumps the turnstile must consider not just the effect of their individual action, but the total effect of all turnstile jumpers, which may very well be enough to break the system.

Elections are the same - your vote does not matter (accept it and move on) but a lot of votes put together do. A victory by 10,000 votes means that 10,000 people each decided that even though their individual vote doesn't matter, they'll still vote anyway, because what the hell, why not.

There's always the glib response that while you may not care enough to vote, the other guy who stands for everything that you despise certainly does, and don't you just want to show him who's boss, you grubby little citizen, you. Or consider the alternative - what if they had an election and nobody showed?

Actually, that would be pretty cool. Scratch that.

The other, more complex reason for not voting is that American ballots lack a "none of the above" option. Unfortunately, this means that a deliberate expression of abstention is indistinguishable from a deliberate expression of apathy (if such a thing is possible). There are several reasons for choosing "none of the above":

  • You're very moderate, and thus both candidates appeal to you equally
  • You're very radical, and thus both candidates disgust you equally
  • You're very apathetic, but you heard that sometimes polling places have cool stickers
  • You reject the basic premises on which democracy is founded.

    Voters #1 and #3 are separate issues in and of themselves. #2 can always go vote for a third-party candidate, a can of worms that will for now remain sealed and buried in a lead-lined bunker. Let's discuss #4.

    A common expression is that if you don't vote, you have no right to complain when things go to hell in a handbasket - the "Don't blame me, I voted for Kodos!" philosophy. The alternate perspective is that if two wolves and a sheep vote on who to eat for dinner, the sheep has no right to complain when the polls go south. He accepted the system by participating in it, and must abide by the outcome.

    Unfortunately, even if you don't vote, you still have to live with the outcome, so that argument doesn't hold water - the sheep still gets eaten, even if he deliberately abstains and protests the unfairness of the elections.

    Finally, some people just don't care about politics on any level. Fortunately, these people are the ones most likely to get screwed by the government, so this problem is ultimately self-correcting. I would go so far as to propose that those who don't care about the future of the government could be easily made to care, by (say) indefinite detention without charges, counsel, or habeas corpus.

    Alternately, voting could become a necessary condition of citizenship, but this is reminiscent of the mandatory attendance policy in my calculus class, otherwise known as "Naptime 21-259". You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him think. Forcing people to vote is like drafting people into your military - if your citizens aren't willing to serve their country, you're doing it wrong.

    My father always liked to say, "The choice between bad and worse is always more important than the choice between good and bad." I don't know if it's actually true, but it sounds good, which is the next best thing.

    And really, I don't even care about this all that much. I'm just sick of all those damn flyers all over the goddamn place.

    The article I last promised has been bouncing around in my head with another dozen of its half-formed brethren. Who knows which one will emerge first?

    no wonder the sound has so much body


  • Thursday, October 30, 2008

    Finally, Some Recognition

    Us advocates of the third amendment have to stick together, so I'd like to draw your attention to the shoutout we received in yesterday's xkcd. We really need a catchy slogan, something like, "The one constitutional right you'll never have to worry about being violated by the government!", except I'm pretty sure that the first clause of this sentence specified "catchy".

    I'm typing this into a bog-standard browser text-box, but I just tried to move the cursor with [esc] [hjkl] , which means that I should attempt to reclaim some lost sleep. I last saw it near my pillow; perhaps I'll check there first.

    Upcoming: Music, and the extent to which it makes us lose control.

    but you are my love the astronaut

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    Wednesday, October 22, 2008

    The Archives Of This Blog Are Now Labeled

    This should expedite the copious archive bingeing I've come to expect from my readers as a matter of course. It was more than a little embarrassing to read views espoused by the me of 2006, but this is to be expected. Now you can share in my pain, with the power of metadata.

    While traversing my history, I graphed my post frequency on this blog since its inception.

    Hopefully, this isn't too interesting to you, but it should show that I am fairly serious about updating more frequently. It's easy for me to say this now, though - we'll see how it plays out in the long run. I know that I have ideas, but is the world ready for them? Or will the Internet shatter under their sheer awesome might?

    until I need a pencil


    Tuesday, October 21, 2008

    Open Up The Door, We'll All Come Inside

    I shopped at Costco for the first time a few weeks ago, and the duration of my visit to the store was consumed by considerations of how to fortify it in the extremely likely event of a zombie apocalypse.*

    Costco is a bulk retailer, requiring a membership fee for the privilege of shopping there**. It is particularly notable for the sheer quantity and diversity of products it has for sale. A survivor trapped in a Costco would die of old age before starving for death - a single pallet of foodstuffs could provide basic nourishment for a year (though some diversity of diet would be required to avoid serious malnutrition) and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of such pallets in a given location at a given time. Hundreds of man-years of food is nothing to scoff at in a Class III scenario.

    But what happens when you get bored of eating until you die? Costco also sells tools and some materials, and all sorts of useful things could be scavenged from the broad array of consumer products. Some locations sell alcohol, valuable both as a disinfectant and as a trade good.

    Architecturally, the building has a lot going for it. It's essentially a warehouse, with heavy doors, concrete walls, and no windows, except for skylights. With proper preparation, you could turn a Costco into a veritable bunker.

    However, this is the first hitch. The size of the building is in some ways a weakness. A single person, or even a small group, would have no way to effectively patrol the perimeter. This is not a problem where zombies are concerned, so long as all entrances are properly sealed and secured, but zombies are not the only threat one must face. A hungry human interloper would not be deterred by a simple locked door. And remember those skylights?

    The warehouse-like architecture is also a disadvantage in that it offers little in the way of a second line of defense. The majority of the floor space is open and contiguous. When (not if) the outer perimeter is breached, the prepared defender will have ready a fallback location, but the design of the building offers few options. This shortcoming is not insurmountable; one could certainly construct a secondary perimeter from available materials (pallets, shelving, sofa cushions, etc.) or find an office or back room. The local Costco offers a walled-off section refrigerated for fresh produce; perhaps this will serve. But this leads us into the next issue...

    Costco has a substantial quantity of fresh produce - meat, dairy, fruit and vegetables. All of this requires constant refrigeration, and we cannot assume that this will be readily available during an outbreak. Within a few days, fresh food will go from being an asset to a liability, presenting serious health concerns. Produce could be quarantined, but this represents a massive undertaking, the feasibility of which depends on available manpower and machinery. It must be done if the location is to be considered seriously as a long-term location, but even then, your fortress will become quite rank in short order.

    Costco offers a wide variety of retail products; unfortunately, Costco shoppers have exhibited little demand for weaponry in bulk, and so the supply is likewise limited. Weapons must be improvised from tools; it is unlikely to find anything more effective than a hammer or shovel.

    But these issues are seemingly minor. You've secured the perimeter, and established a secondary line of defense. You've eaten what you can of the fresh food and quarantined the rest. You've scavenged for improvised weapons, and are now safe and secure in your fortress until all this zombie nonsense blows over and you can go back to shopping at Costco instead of living there. Right?

    WRONG, you stupid wrong idiot dummy. You'd be better off locked in your house with a can of beans.

    Retail locations are, by definition, chosen to be accessible. A Class III outbreak might wreak havoc with the commute, but you'll still be in a place chosen specifically so that people could get to it. And get to it they will. There's plenty of precedent for this - retail locations like Costco are often the primary target of looters during real world catastrophes. In an outbreak with no end in sight, the complications are amplified. You can fight off the undead, but could you fight off a starving mother and her children? (Hopefully, the answer is "yes"... but would you?) How about a well-organized, well-armed militia?

    At best, your group will be enlarged substantially. A thousand man-years of food seems like a lot of food... for one person. How many can you handle before you simply run out? Will you be able to handle disputes? The likelihood of a dangerous conflict increases factorially with population.

    At worst, you'll be killed for a can of peas.

    Somewhere in the middle, there's the very real possibility that your defenses will be overrun by rude houseguests who won't close the door behind them, and who will have little consideration for your personal notions of how much is appropriate for a guest to eat.

    When considering the viability of any location as a defense, consider the following question: Who else would want to go here?

    If the answer is "anyone and everyone", just keep moving. A survivable location should be unappealing to anyone who doesn't think of it as home. If you think that it's a good idea to hole up at Costco, that probably means that everyone else thinks so, too.

    So, Costco is a bit of a trap, but don't let that dissuade you from sending out parties from your real secure location to raid the shelves. They have these giant things of fruit snacks for like $10. Beware, however, of those who failed to heed my sage advice - they'll be waiting for you in Aisle 10 with a shotgun.

    *For the purposes of this discussion, consider an outbreak of Class III or larger.
    **Most of these tactical conclusions can be applied to other general retailers. (Wal-Mart, Kroger's, etc.)

    I don't see you laughing

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    Thursday, October 16, 2008

    The Things That Have Kept Me Awake At Night and/or Woken Me Up Early

    • Automobile traffic
    • Loud university students
    • There's this train, which isn't particularly loud in and of itself, but I guess it's really important that it blows its whistle for a good five minutes straight
    • Garbage trucks
    • Street sweepers
    • Carpentry
    • My roommate's ring tone, which is the Dr. Horrible theme
    • A jackhammer
    • My roommate's "text message received" noise, which is the "get item" sound from Zelda
    • People in the apartment above mine, holding combined track and field events / stomp dancing competitions at 0200
    • The ceiling fan, which will every so often start doing this "click click click" noise.
    • My roommate's alarm clock, which is the standard cell phone ring
    • Church bells, though this is usually not on Sunday
    • The knowledge that I will die alone and unloved.

    It's a wonder that I get any sleep at all.


    tell me all of your secrets


    Sunday, October 12, 2008

    Every Society Is Only Three Meals Away From Revolution*

    This article in today's New York Times speaks to a lot of the issues I've recently been considering regarding food.

    The matter is both complicated and simple. It is complicated in that it intricately brings together aspects of economics, agriculture, and politics both foreign and domestick. It is simple in that it is at heart about the answer to the question, "What should we have for dinner?".

    One of the most important observations, made implicitly by the article, is the foolishness with which we try to outdo nature in her own element. Nature abhors a monoculture, and with good reason - the resilience of any ecosystem lies primarily in its diversity. And yet every aspect of the American agricultural system is designed (deliberately or accidentally) to promote monocultures. It's astonishing to think that much of the magnificent topsoil of the American midwest lies bare for five months of the year, but it's the natural outcome of the system implemented by the federal government. The dual problems of nitrogenous fertilizer and waste from high-density feedlots only emphasize the inherent clusterfuckedness of the situation - American industrial agriculture is akin to forcing round pegs into square holes.

    Mother Nature tacitly notes that they are doing it wrong.

    In attempting to divine the source of these problems, one comes to the inevitable conclusion that when the only tool available is federal subsidies, everything starts looking like a nail. The system was designed using subsidies to provide cheap calories, and it does so quite well. However, it's a house of cards, relying heavily on cheap energy both for fertilization and transport. And given the end result of the system, it's not a particularly appetizing house of cards. The design goal of the modern industrial agricultural system was the McDonald's hamburger.

    It's really nice how the article is phrased as a potential agenda for our next president - there's no shortage of reasonable suggestions. It seems to me that the easiest way to politicize this issue is to phrase it in terms of energy, which is already a known quantity within political spheres. The article discusses the necessity of energy independence, which would be part and parcel with a comprehensive energy plan. It's one thing for our economy to be dependent on oil, but our food? See the title of this post.

    There's a lot that I'm not even touching upon here - regulation of CAFOs, water use issues - but it's reassuring to me that this issue is continuing to loom large in the public consciousness. Real change will be slow, since the current system has a lot of momentum. But the question is not if change is coming, but rather what will happen when it comes. Will we direct it, or will it direct us?

    Next: More about zombies.

    EDIT: Oh, it's by the guy who wrote The Omnivore's Dilemma. That makes a lot of sense, actually.

    *I couldn't find a legitimate source for this saying, so I'm just going to claim that I invented it.


    i got more records than the K.G.B.

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    Thursday, October 09, 2008

    This Space Intentionally Left Blank

    Today was Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, and while considering my sins of the past year, first and foremost among them was the degree to which my posting here has lapsed. It's been, what, six months? And it's not like I don't have anything to write about.

    The problem is that I'm only taking a single humanities course this semester, and that course has only a single paper, so I'm worried that I'm going to forget how to write. Without constant vigilance, my already tenuous grip on the English language will continue to wane like the sort of simile I could come up with if I could still remember how to write.

    After that realization (and getting hassled by some security guys from this one place. Funny story.) my atonement was complete - but it will lapse immediately if I don't keep posting.

    So, for the sake of my immortal soul, I will keep writing.

    I will leave you, dear writer, with a link to my friend Jokeserver's blog of jokes so you can appreciate what I have to put up with on a daily basis.

    Also, his jokes are really bad.

    forgive me for leaving you alone


    Monday, April 07, 2008

    All We Want To Do Is Eat Your Brains, Pt. 2
    We're At An Impasse Here, Maybe We Should Compromise

    It's been several months since I last wrote on the subject of zombies, and I'll admit that this is mainly because I found the task so daunting that I nearly gave it up. The subject is vast, and very near to my heart; I didn't want to screw it up. I was spurred into action, however, by the novel Dead in the West, by Joe Lansdale. The book is billed as a "zombie western", and is meant as an homage to the classic pulps of days gone by, but falls into the same trap that snared Rodriguez' Planet Terror; namely, they manage to capture just how terrible pulps were. The book isn't about zombies, per se. It focuses more on the main character, "a gun toting preacher man who came to Mud Creek to escape his past. He has lost his faith in the Lord and his only solace is the whisky (sic) bottle." This quote is from the dust jacket, and it contains more character development than the entire book.

    The zombies aren't even particularly interesting ones; they're magical in nature, and so the resolution of the conflict comes with a heaping dose of deus ex machina. And yet, this book kept me up until three in the morning, and after I finished I got up and made sure that my door was locked and I had weapons readily accessible. Why is it that zombies do this to me?

    First of all, zombies (or at least the zombies under consideration in this case) are unequivocally evil. You don't need to feel bad when you kill them. You don't need to capture them and reform them (as you would with, say, Nazis), and there's no sense of killing something that, while unequivocally evil, has the potential to be good (like vampires). There does not exist a more clear-cut example of "kill or be killed" than with a zombie. Killing zombies is not only Not Evil; it almost certainly falls under the purvey of Good, since by killing a zombie you are protecting not only yourself but others. (Details are, of course, situational.) This isn't to say that moral conflicts don't exist during a zombie apocalypse. I still don't have a good answer to the question of what you do when a stranger comes, begging for help, to the door of your hideout. However, one matter will always be perfectly clear. Zombies will never be anything more than mindless, soulless automata.

    Which brings me to my second point: Zombies are mindless. Thus, any conflict with zombies pits their weakness against humanity's biggest strength - our endless adaptability. If one is battling some other form of evil, like Communists, one must engage in a constant battle of wits, fighting to outsmart them while simultaneously evading the grasp of their Communist wiles. Zombies, on the other hand, are perfectly straightforward. Fighting them has more in common with surviving a natural disaster or disease than fighting a war.

    However, there is one key difference. You don't fight an earthquake, you survive it, if you're lucky. Poverty, hunger, all are greater evils today than zombies, but you can't go out and kill poverty with a shotgun. (If you do, you're probably doing it wrong.) Zombies present a problem that can be addressed in a tangible, unilateral manner. This is in addition to the fact that the situation is lacking in moral ambiguity, as observed above - zombies present an evil that every one of us can confront, and defeat, head-on.

    The key to surviving any natural disaster is preparedness, and surviving a zombie apocalypse is little different. This conclusion is a natural deduction from the previous point; since zombies are mindless automata, their behavior is very predictable. Since their behavior is predictable, one can survive by being prepared. A prepared individual can be practically assured of survival before the dead begin to rise. The careful observer, who checks every building for its defensibility, knows where to find food, water, and shelter in an emergency, and sizes up every item for its utility as an improvised weapon, will be rewarded for his paranoia when the zombies come.

    This leads me into one of my genuinely serious points. Survivalists tend to be crazy people; rather, if you're a survivalist who drives a car, you're an idiot, since you're much more likely to die in a car accident than be in a situation where lifelong paranoia will save you. And yet, the nutbag gun-totin' survivalist understands one very important thing. Modern society is interdependent to an incredible degree. The food I ate today probably came from all over the continent, if not overseas. By its nature, the fragility of any system is proportional to its complexity. Any significant upheaval (such as might be brought on by a zombie apocalypse) would, to put it lightly, have a major impact on modern society as we know it, by disrupting this interconnectedness that is only noticed in its absence.

    As stated previously, this sort of upheaval doesn't have to come from zombies. In fact, the best predictions of the consequences of an outbreak can be found by considering non-zombie-related historical examples. The first one that comes to mind is Hurricane Katrina, and the chaos in New Orleans and the surrounding area that followed, but this is simply a recent, American example. Wars, plagues, famines - all provide us with object lessons in the outcomes of a zombie apocalypse.

    Here's the key bit: the reverse is also true. Zombies aren't real. I'll be the first to admit it. However, acting like they are can give insight that can be applied to other, real dangers. Zombies are not going to come shambling through Pittsburgh, but if there was (say) a flood, a riot, a total collapse of government and civilization... I'd like to think that I'd be better prepared, more likely to keep my cool and make it through alive, because I've spent so much time thinking about zombies.

    (Note: I am not the first to come to this conclusion.)

    So bring on the zombies. I'll be brandishing my machete at the top of my demolished staircase, laughing and thinking This is the day I've been waiting for as they come. And when it's not zombies, but flash floods, or jackbooted fascists, or the onset of middle age... well, maybe I'll be ready for those, too.


    remember that I love you


    Thursday, April 03, 2008

    Ron Paul 08
    Or, "Is A Man Not Entitled To The Sweat Of His Brow?"

    I'll be taking a slightly abnormal turn for this website (the zombies article is, no lie, being written) by delving directly into the political realm. Granted, I've discussed political things here in the past, but politics are not exactly the primary (or secondary, or tertiary) purpose of this site. So, why exactly will I be giving live responses to a speech to be given by Ron Paul in little more than an hour? I would chalk it up to simple curiosity, and I certainly am curious to see and hear the man who is so much more popular within my domain, the Internet, than he is in real life. Sure, there's a celebrity factor, but I could have seen Michelle Obama yesterday afternoon by diverting the course of my walk back from classes by a few hundred yards. So what, exactly, am I doing here?

    I will probably not vote for Ron Paul for president. I didn't vote for him in the primary election, and I doubt I will in the general election. He stands for a lot of things that I support very strongly (civil liberties, foreign policy, the role of the federal government), and is unwavering in the integrity of his beliefs; he is perhaps less of a politician and more of a man of the people than anyone else in Washington. And yet, an America led by Ron Paul would be an America with tighter restrictions on abortion and immigration, an economy more favorable to corporations than individuals, and a byzantine, unaffordable health care system.* This is not an America that I can, in good conscience, help usher into being. I'm not willing to accept the bad along with the good.

    So why, then, am I willing to vote for somebody like Barack Obama, who also supports a lot of things that I oppose? Why am I willing to make some compromises in my beliefs, but not others? And why is the only man in Washington who's willing to call things as they are so unpopular? I hope that listening to his speech will help resolve some of these conflicts, and help me make a decision.

    My opinion of Ron Paul is one formed mostly through a haze of base suppositions. I want to give the man a chance to speak for himself.

    Besides, this is The Third Amendment, and Ron Paul is about nothing if not the Constitution.

    *These might be hyperboles and lies

    Barack Obama held a rally downtown recently. It was packed with thousands, tickets gone weeks ahead of time. I'm sitting in a half-empty auditorium (granted, it's still almost an hour early) that seats 600 when it's full. I wasn't expecting a huge turnout, but I was at least expecting the seats to be filled. Ron Paul isn't exactly mainstream, but he's hardly obscure; he must have more than 600 supporters in the Pittsburgh area who are free on a Thursday night. (Then there's me, of course, but I imagine that the curious form a tiny minority here. By "curious", I mean those driven by curiosity, and not "strange", because there's plenty of the latter present. More on that later.) Judging from the Internet, everyone and their mum is willing to donate their life savings, earned from the good graces of God and the free market, to this guy's campaign fund. So where is everyone?

    Two-thirds full. Demographics time.
    Obviously, there's a somewhat disproportionate number of college-age people here; not only do they form some of Dr. Paul's strongest supporters, but the event is being hosted by the U. Pitt Republicans club. While those within the coveted 18-25 bracket form a clear majority, there is a significant fraction of middle-aged people, maybe in their forties or fifties; these are the folks who probably supported Goldwater. There's quite a few older people as well, probably into their sixties and beyond; I imagine that they're the ones who remember what the Republican party used to mean. (So why do my grandparents support Bush? These people here must abhor him.)

    From my almost certainly statistically invalid analysis, the crowd is maybe 55% male, 45% female - about even. As far as I can tell, every single person here is white. This is not exactly surprising, given the general party affiliation of African-Americans, Dr. Paul's stance on immigration, and other such factors. It is, however, a little unnerving - I'm not sure how representative this group is of the general Oakland population, but Carnegie Mellon isn't this white, and we're pretty white. I mean, it's whiter than my high school, and that's saying something.

    To stereotype blatantly, it's pretty much what one would expect from Ron Paul supporters.

    Perhaps eight-tenths full. I'm contemplating the fact that any given Ron Paul supporter is going to find himself with quite a few strange bedfellows. Case in point: There's a guy wearing a "Gun Owners For Ron Paul" t-shirt; while I support Second Amendment rights on general principles, I get the feeling that this guy supports them in a much less abstract way. I'm surprised they let him in; I had to get my bag sniffed by bomb dogs before I could enter, but there wasn't a metal detector.

    I consider myself to be libertarian in the social sense; I believe that people should be free to make their own choices, and that governments exist to protect that freedom. This gives me a lot in common with many libertarians, but at the same time, I don't give a flying fuck about economic issues, which tend to be big among these people. I mean, "freedom" doesn't mean, to me, "freedom to make as much money as you want, damn the torpedoes." So, I tend not to get along so well with big-L Libertarians. Yet, I can't help but wonder if these differences are superficial when compared to the more fundamental similarities with regards to human nature.

    Heinlein, an author often misappropriated by libertarians, discussed in his book "Starship Troopers" the "inalienable rights" determined by the Declaration of Independence. With respect to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness", he wrote, "What right to life has a man dying of thirst in the desert?" My interpretation of this is that fundamental rights mean fuck-all when Life denies you the opportunity to exercise them. Similarly, what "freedom" has the man with $200,000 in medical debts incurred from a congenital disease? What meaningful choice can he make? It's all well and good to uphold the rights of people who can use those rights, but to me (and at the risk of tautology), freedom means ensuring that everybody has an equal opportunity to be free.

    America has never been a meritocracy, and probably never will be. Anyone who says otherwise is either delusional or trying to sell you something. It doesn't make sense to treat our country like a meritocracy until we can make it into one first.

    We're approaching standing room only, and the demographic keeps shifting to the college bracket. It's a respectable crowd (I certainly would be happy with myself if I could draw a crowd of 600 in Pittsburgh) and yet I can't help but recall the throngs that turn out for Obama wherever he goes. The general response to "Ron Paul is speaking at U. Pitt tonight" was either "Who?" or "Is he still running?" I would blame the media, but the media generally exists to give people what they want; they're merely the perpetuators of the silence, not the perpetrators.

    The guy sitting next to me is an honest-to-god hippie; long, beaded hair, Grateful Dead t-shirt, and he's making something out of hemp. This wouldn't make me nearly as angry if he didn't also have a hot girlfriend. Damn hippies. The girl on the other side is either meditating or sleeping, and I think she's intermittently reading over my shoulder.

    It occurs to me that, with the exception of the babe-in-arms three rows back, I might be the most left-leaning person in this room. Since I'm not terribly liberal, and often find myself among company in which I'm the least left-leaning, this is kind of a scary thought. I'm tempted to stand up and start yelling about universal health care to see if I get beaten up.

    The crowd is sizable, but relatively calm; people walk up and down the aisles distributing pamphlets and petitions (to get Libertarians on the primary ballot in Pennsylvania. I try to sign, but you have to be registered in PA). The facilitator's microphone test of "Ron Paul '08!" is received with thunderous applause, but calls for "Revolution!" are met with only scattered claps. Ronulans seemed much more rabid online; nobody's even mentioned the gold standard.

    My writings will be much more ersatz once he starts talking. I might just stop and listen; we'll see. I'm actually pretty excited; I've never seen a presidential candidate talk, much less an obscure one doomed to political failure.

    National Youth Coordinator for Ron Paul '08 is introducing. I think I can see a black person in the mezzanine; the politically undecided Carnegie Mellon physics majors to black people ratio is no longer undefined. Still pretty white though.

    Chanting "Ron Paul" now. Signs, cheering, etc. Where else would this happen? This is what I'm here for.

    "Ron!" "Paul!" call-and-response. I wish they knew that we did this in the tone of "Mud! Kips!". Should be here any second now.

    Introducer for real takes the stage. Apparently, he didn't expect so many people. I'm pretty happy about it too; at least a kook can get a decent following.

    So it's College Republicans that are doing this. Interesting.

    Ron Paul is from Pittsburgh? Cool. (Basic biography now.) The doctor-and-Congressman thing never fails to blow my mind.

    "Everything he said flowed logically from a set of axioms". Hmm. He is indeed the "only candidate who is also a physician", but I could be the only candidate who is also a rodeo clown.

    And he takes the stage. Standing ovation. Chants, etc.

    "Sounds like the revolution has arrived!" Indeed. His wife is up there with him; that's pretty sweet. They both grew up here, went to HS here. Oh wait, she took off. Never mind.

    Gosh darn, he is charismatic. You just want to give him a hug. He expresses surprise at the amount of support he's gotten - way I see it, he's filling a need. Half million volunteers, 900,000 votes, but the work isn't done yet. The campaign is more successful than the votes represent - he garners sympathy from people who won't vote for him. Like me!

    "Real change" is probably a dig at Obama. "We need less government" -> rampant applause. It's amazing that a presidential candidate can say these things. In a good way.

    "We need to bring our troops home, and save a whole lot of money!" That's one way too look at it.
    "Government tends to mess things up when it gets involved" - more on this later.
    I think the hippies next to me are here for lulz.

    "It's up to us to deal with our own lives, and it's our responsibility to decide how to lead them." This is it in a nutshell, it doesn't get closer to what I believe than this. So why do I disagree with him so much?

    "The purpose of the constitution is to restrain the government, not the people". Finally, somebody gets it. He's touching on all the big freedoms here - religion, speech - why does the government get to decide? Again, I'm all about this.

    Distinction of the aforementioned freedom - economic vs. social.
    One group supports economic freedom, but not social - Republicans, presumedly.
    One group supports social freedom, but not economic - That would be the Democrats, then.
    Well, when you paint it that way...

    "That means you have the right to the fruits of your labor." Is not a man entitled to the sweat of his brow?

    He's calling on the historical basis for his ideas - his politics aren't new, but old. He blames the Bush administration for undermining our freedoms. Right on.

    Terrorism is a problem, but we're going about solving it the wrong way, and we're only hurting ourselves. Habeas corpus, etc. See why people love this guy? Nobody else is saying these things.

    Franklin, liberty, security, and so on. Odd that in my circles, this is a cliché.

    Taxes. Get rid of income taxes, you say? Unfortunately, it's things like this that make libertarians seem crazy. Destroying the Federal Reserve gets a standing ovation. This is the stuff that I just can't get excited about.

    Apparently, he gets the biggest applause w.r.t. taxes on college campuses. More on this later.

    "If you print money, it loses its value." This is the sort of straight talk that appeals to him. He refers to this as the "inflation tax", which is interesting. Inflation tax is regressive, since it hurts the poor the most. Now this is good stuff.

    Now he's onto the national debt and deficit spending. If we had to pay for what we're spending, America would revolt. ("Revolution!" This wouldn't be the good kind.) The government can hide the real costs of doing business - you spend money on your pet projects, get re-elected, and everything's great. Except, OSHI~

    Saying that Soc. Sec. should never have been started gets applause. I guess this is to be expected among mostly college-age people. He's right, though, in that it tends to fuck people over when the cost of living rises higher than payments. Inflation goes up, standard of living goes down, and suddenly everyone's poor and miserable and wondering why. What we're seeing now is bubbles bursting left and right, and it's us who will have to pay Paul.

    We're the ones who will have to ask, "What purpose should the government play?" Simple: "Protection of liberty." Right on.

    He's not regressive; he's less regressive than the people who want to "go back to tyranny". He wants to go back to the time when people knew that "free people can take care of themselves better than government can." Now he sounds like Jefferson; I knew I liked him for a reason.

    And here's the gold standard. Sure, the Constitution isn't perfect, but we need to save the good bits - and yet, the gold standard falls into this category?

    But needing Congressional approval to go to war? Can't argue with that. And who else would say, "We shouldn't have gone to war in Iraq"?

    And yet, the Constitution doesn't mention, say, a Department of Education - so then there shouldn't be one unless we amend the Constitution. Oh, lawd.

    Comparison to Prohibition - which was perfectly constitutional, until it was repealed - with the War on Drugs. Pretty boilerplate, but that doesn't make it any less correct.

    And of course, the hippies applaud for the War on Drugs stuff. Like I said, strange bedfellows.

    Relating to state vs. federal law - this is an interesting perspective on it. Couched in rhetoric of medicinal marijuana, though of course the issue is larger than that.

    And on to foreign policy. "We as a country ought to mind our own business. We ought to treat other countries as we want them to treat us." Pretty much right on, but again, there are some long-reaching implications of this seemingly simple idea.

    A quote comes to mind - "For every complex problem there is a solution which is simple, obvious, and wrong." A lot of the libertarian philosophy seems to be described by this.

    He reminds us that the Cold War was much scarier than terrorism. Why don't more people think like this?

    His position on the war: "We just marched in, we can just march home." See above. But the bitch of it is, he's right. The war is a stupid, stupid waste, of money, sure, but more importantly of lives.

    And of course, it's not just about Iraq. Bring our boys home from S. Korea, from Europe, everywhere. He's making it out to be about the money, but it's not - it's about imperialism, or lack thereof. Why isn't anyone else saying this?

    Holy shit, he just said we should start talking with Cuba again. Fuck yes.

    This will improve diplomatic relations, the economy, and it's not like America is vulnerable. This gives us some more money, which we then use to ease people off unnecessary federal programs. Very pat.

    He's just told a roomful of people that he won't be giving them Soc. Sec. benefits in their old age, and got a standing ovation for it. Amazing.

    Obligations that the U. S. Government has failed to meet:
    1. Taking care of veterans
    2. Protecting our borders
    3. Protecting our sovereignty (i. e. we belong to the United Nations)
    4. Being a member of the North American Union (OK, I have no idea what this means

    So, apparently medical care is more expensive because of government intervention - inflation or something. Socialized medicine met with resounding "boos". *sigh* Why you gotta make me hit you, Ron Paul?

    Oh man, he just dissed McCain. Glove slap, baby glove slap. He's telling people that it's not hopeless, and honestly, he's right. Win or lose, "this is just the beginning of something really big." I hope he's right.

    Pats on the back all around. Go us!

    So, now he's saying why he hasn't spent any money. Or maybe he's just saying, "Thanks for giving me money."

    Next "giving Ron Paul money" day will be April 30th, or "Buy my book, 'The Revolution Manifesto', day". Intriguing.

    The fundraising has brought him attention, sure. You know what else would? Spending it.

    We can't pretend that everything is okay. But, if we recognize that these are our problems, and that the answers lie in the Constitution, we can fix 'em.

    Just as important as real contracts are social contracts. Hellooo, John Locke.

    He's right, though. It doesn't take everyone to be on his side, to make change. It just takes an extremely vocal minority. Hell, that's what the Bush supporters were.

    Anyone can help spread this change. You don't have to be a politician. Just spread the word.

    And today, we have a great political equalizer: the Internet! Ron Paul, /b/!

    This is the time of the revolution. Ron Paul is out of here. Closing remarks to follow.

    Ron Paul inspires a fanatical devotion in many of his followers, and after hearing this speech, I can understand why. There are so many things that he just gets right. And yet, the aforementioned quote holds very much true. Ron Paul offers simple solutions, and people accept them because they're solutions to problems that nobody else even recognizes as problems. (Deficit spending, for example. This really will destroy our economy, and nobody is talking about it.) This tends to appeal to the young, who want to believe that they understand everything, and that the reason these obvious solutions haven't been implemented is because they're the only ones smart enough to see them.

    Ron Paul is ultimately an idealist, and I respect that greatly. However if I'm going to support an idealist, it'll have to be one whose ideals I support fully. I can compromise my beliefs to support Obama's brand of change, because there's actually the possibility of this change happening. On the other hand, if I'm going to support an idealist, it will be one who fully embodies all of my beliefs, not just some of them.

    In the end, pragmatism vs. idealism is a false dichotomy. One can be both idealistic and practical at the same time, it's just harder. The reason I don't support Ron Paul is not because it's not a practical choice, but rather because I don't think that his ideals, played out to their logical conclusion, will result in a better America. We may be free, but that freedom will be meaningless in a world where we cannot exercise our freedoms.

    So Ron Paul, Internet, and thank you for reading. I promise I'll write Zombies, Part II in time for your birthday.

    it's only divine right