Archives : October 2003

2003 October 2

Hurricane aftermath

I just got another report from my parents, calling from my grandmother's. They're still without power or phone service, four days later, and no power means no water either. They're okay, but they did lose the greenhouse, at least part of the dock and possibly the slipway as well (it floated off its foundation, but is still basically intact), and half a dozen or a dozen big trees, including a couple of giants that have been there since before I was born. (Well, they only built the house there the year after I was born, but the trees were already there before that.) The place is going to have a few big holes in it next time I see it.

Halifax got properly clobbered. Juan was "only" a Class 1 hurricane when it hit, but the eye apparently went right through the city, which makes it the first direct hit by a hurricane in fifty years. It set a new record for high water in the Harbour, something like five feet above the usual high tide, which wrecked wharves that had stood for a hundred years. The other big loss was tens of thousands of the biggest trees. I'd have thought they'd do better, having survived decades of ice storms, but I guess ice load does a different kind of damage than hurricane winds. Trees were just uprooted and downed into the roads everywhere -- this, apparently, is a big part of why it's taking so long to get the power back on. Many roads are still impassable.


Trader Joe's

Fall is a nice time of year in Massachusetts.

Date Route Dist Time Avg Spd Year Total
2003/10/02 Trader Joe's (Arlington Heights) 14.7 km 37:37 23.4 km/h 870 km
I felt stronger today than the last couple times. Last time my performance was so sad I couldn't even bring myself to record the time.

Pop quiz

In what sport are the powers, in increasing order: China, Germany, Norway, and the United States? (Come on, guess before you look.)


2003 October 4

A step in the right direction

Announcing the Robert A. and Virginia Heinlein Prize, to be given no more often than annually to one or more individuals who have achieved practical accomplishments in the field of commercial space activities. The prize is funded by the estate of Robert Heinlein; the first award has been set at $500,000. The announcement was made at the 54th International Aeronautical Congress in Bremen, Germany on September 29th, 2003.

2003 October 6

Postmodern roleplaying

For the role-players out there:

Neel Krishnaswami: I use reification -- making a metagame convention a character-level fact -- a lot in the games I run. For example, in my End of the Line game the PCs all knew that since they were primal archetypes story was an unavoidable fact of life. An even better example was in my friend Shinpei's D&D game. We ran across the demon Asmodeus, Prince of the Game. Asmodeus would teach any character the D&D rules, and give advice on min-maxing, in exchange for his or her soul.

Asmodeus did this because teaching humans to treat each other as collections of statistics encouraged them to dehumanize one another. This was an effective set-piece *because* it both legitimized and subverted the role of minmaxing in D&D.

(In response to Jim Henley in Rock Scissors Blog.)


2003 October 7

Lexington VFW

What I learned today: the difference between 'reasonably hard' and 'really hard' tires is worth at least a mile an hour.

Date Route Dist Time Avg Spd Year Total
2003/10/07 Lexington VFW 22.0 km 55:18 23.9 km/h 900 km

2003 October 8

Beaver Pond

What a beautiful afternoon. Being unemployed does have some upside, and I'm glad I managed to get off my ass and take advantage.

Date Route Dist Time Avg Spd Year Total
2003/10/08 I-95/beaver pond 30.8 km 1:15:16 24.6 km/h 931 km
A new personal best! I am much relieved. That's my first recorded improvement since July. I felt good out there.

2003 October 9

Trader Joe's

Riding through crunching leaves is the pinnacle of the biking experience. They're just starting to come down, so leaf volume is bound only to increas for the next few weeks.

Date Route Dist Time Avg Spd Year Total
2003/10/09 Trader Joe's (Arlington Heights) 14.6 km 35:26 24.7 km/h 951 km
A righteous new personal best for the distance.

2003 October 12

Trader Joe's

Another beautiful autumn day. I love this weather.

Date Route Dist Time Avg Spd Year Total
2003/10/09 Trader Joe's (Arlington Heights) 14.6 km 34:42 25.2 km/h 973 km
Another new best, greatly helped by a couple of other bikers who were cruising at just the right speed to let me chase them. I don't know which helps more -- the physical drafting effect, or the psychological effect of having a challenge to match.

2003 October 14

An open letter to Google concerning blog comment spamming

I just sent the following letter to If anybody knows anybody who works there, please feel free to forward it along and/or let me know, so I can.


2003 October 16

One thousand kilometres

On my way home from Jon & Amy's tonight, my bike odometer ticked over 1000 km for the year. Woo.

I may not have completed the goal I set for myself in January, but I'm still pretty pleased with myself.

I did go out for a ride this afternoon, but I'm not going to bother recording a time because I took it pretty easy -- more of a roll than a ride, really. But the winds and all the leaves and branches down on the trail provided a bit of drama to make up for my lack of aggression.

Dark galaxies

Astronomers find first 'dark galaxy': Astronomers have found the first "dark galaxy" - a black cloud of hydrogen gas and exotic particles, devoid of stars. . . . It appears to be rotating so fast it would fall apart unless it contains a strong, hidden source of gravity. The researchers therefore argue that the cloud must be at least 80 per cent dark matter.

Angle-Grinder Man and the psychology of the real-life superhero

Teresa Nielsen-Hayden is on the case of Angle-Grinder Man (superhero with a website), Superbarrio, Terrifica, Mister Twister, and Polarman, Masked Hero of Iqaluit.

"Any parent who gets a phone call from his son saying, `Oh, you might see me in the newspaper; I'm a superhero wheel clamp vigilante' - it might take them a little while to formulate their views," [Angle-Grinder Man] said in an interview. [+]
For the record, "I'm a heterosexual superhero," Angle-Grinder Man said, "although I have no problem being a gay icon." [+]

Teresa's conclusion:

I believe we have enough data to say that real superheroes tend to work in support of single issues, or on behalf of the needs of specific populations. I don't expect the writers at DC and Marvel to take notice of this anytime soon. [+]

The funniest man on the internet, 2003

Dong Resin makes me cry.

2003 October 17

That baseball thing

I flipped back and forth to the game last night, and have two comments: (1) I simply cannot believe how many commercials there were, in what was ostensibly a live sporting event, and (2) baseball is the most excruciating sport in the world to watch, if you make the mistake of beginning to care even a little bit about thinking maybe it's time for the Red Sox to win one. Wagner has nothing on this. I don't think there's any other sport that can summon up a cloud of Grand Operatic Doom this large, and then crank it out, second after agonizing second, for hours on end. How long did it take to get from the seventh inning to the end of the game, anyway? It's like a big rubbery Cloud of Grand Operatic Doom, and you're waiting for the thing to snap in your face and take out an eye. I don't understand how Red Sox fans can do this to themselves.

I couldn't watch. Like I say, I was just flipping back and forth.

Just as well, really. I would have had to sit through five hundred thousand commercials.

2003 October 19

I'm a freak

There was a party tonight at LSE. I failed to go, because I couldn't manage to put down the book I was reading. This book, I should emphasize, was about cooking tools. Yes, like the difference between cast-iron and cladded-stainless-steel frying pans.

Alton Brown is an interesting writer, but jebus. What the hell is wrong with me?

2003 October 20

Scale illustrations

A cool comparison of the world's 10 tallest buildings. The Taipei 101 tower is still under construction, but apparently is complete enough that they can now declare it to be taller than the cheating Petronas Towers. (Look at them. Sears Tower, 108 floors. Petronas Towers, 88 floors. But Petronas gets to claim to be taller because they put a spike on it. If spikes count, I want the CN Tower, 553 m, on the list. For a fuller discussion by a Chicago partisan, see Aziz Poonawalla.)

Update (2003/11/14): The tallest structure of any kind on the planet is apparently the guyed KVLY-TV broadcast tower in Blanchard, North Dakota, at 629 m (2063 ft). Via Colby Cosh.

2003 October 21

The universe is screwier than we imagine

I saw an ad last night that left my jaw on the floor -- for K-tel Drug Mart of Canada, Ltd, advertising prescription drugs by mail. I still can't entirely process it.

When I first came to the U.S., I used to be surprised every now and then to discover that certain brand names I'd grown up with were Canadian, and that Americans had never heard of them. Things that had been everywhere, and I'd kind of assumed they were American to begin with, like Coffee Crisp or good good whole-wheat Shreddies. I thought by now that I'd got a handle on all those, but apparently I'd missed one. K-tel. Oh, my god.

Canadian boys and girls, they are now advertising themselves as having brought "35 years of customer satisfaction" to Canadians -- not mentioning, of course, that that was in the cheesy late-night compilation album business.

Yes, Americans can now buy their Lipitor from the same outfit that brought you Disco Rocket, and their Celebrex from the makers of 25 Polka Greats, vol 2. I can't wait for the Ginsu Drug Mart to open.

At least, I'm assuming this must mean that K-tel is Canadian. That it might not be and Americans are really going to buy drugs from K-tel anyway is a possibility that I can't bear to think about.

Best practices for time travellers

Maciej Ceglowski of Idle Words has been looking into the theory and practice of convincing people you're a time traveller.

When John Titor first showed up on IRC chat in October of 2000, he was enjoying a neat kind of double billing - as his 38-year-old self sat downstairs in the kitchen, typing away, a two-year-old version of himself lay sound asleep upstairs in bed. The elder Titor had been sent back in time by the U.S. Army, which needed him to fetch some legacy computer hardware from the 1970's, and he had a sort of layover in the year 2000. So like anyone with time to kill, he went online.

Titor arrived in Florida in a 2036 model Corvette (later sold off) outfitted with a 500 pound military-grade time travel device that he photographed and posted online, complete with manual. The reason for his visit was utilitarian - he had been sent back to the 1970's to fetch a model IBM 5100 computer, "because Unix has problems in 2038", and the 5100 had an undocumented feature that made it highly desirable to programmers working on the Unix bug. Apparently the Army of 2036 knew enough to build a time machine, but wasn't able to fix a word-size error in a legacy operating system.

That bit actually made the whole story sound plausible to me.

He continues with a state-of-the-art analysis of Discordian time-traveller impersonation theory, starting with: "1. Act like you don't care whether people believe you."

2003 October 22

The examined life

Maciej Ceglowski of the NITLE Blog Census know what he believes:

I just got a headhunting letter from one Kat Morrell, inviting me to apply for a job with the MSN Search people, as part of " an ambitious project to create a revolutionary new search engine from scratch". From the letter, it sounds like they're preparing the Anti-Google ó indexing the entire Internet to create "a search engine that will leapfrog over current technologies".

To which I say, leapfrog over my FLYING SHAOLIN FIST OF DEATH! [+]

2003 October 25