31.01.04

the pink tea cozy changes hands

for quite some time now, in fact, for as long as I can remember, orelia has been the reigning queen of cute but crazy at rivendell. the cute part goes without saying, and the crazy part, well, this is a family-oriented website so we won't go into that here. let's just say that no one cared to challenge orelia on the crazy part.

until yesterday, when, in a stunning upset victory, carolyn snatched the cute but crazy crown right off of orelia's head. (the crown is actually a pink tea cozy with a little bobble on top but it works nicely as a hat as well.) carolyn had come close to assuming the high office of CbC once before, when it became apparent that she considers sailing a full contact sport of the "you're not really having fun unless you end up with purple bruises on 80% of your body" variety. but orelia got to keep the crown because she agrees with carolyn on this point, um, minus the part about sailing.

the early rumblings of the coming CbC upset started yesterday morning when carolyn remarked "hey, that's kinda cool!" upon learning that the temperature outside was -11 F. she was not dissuaded from her enthusiasm for sub-zero temperatures by the more accurate description provided by one of her housemates: "it's not 'kinda cool,' carolyn, it's fscking cold."

rivendwellers gathered at the dressing/undressing station and boot storage zone in the front hallway yesterday afternoon to recount tales of courage and valor in the face of adversity, the personal experience of the archetypal struggle between (hu)man and nature. I, for example, walked all the way to the post office and the video store.

meanwhile, carolyn was in the kitchen cutting up vegetables in preparation for a camping trip.

like many people who are identifiably insane, carolyn had a whole list of reasons to justify her behavior. it's awesomely quiet in the woods this time of year. (that's because there are no living creatures wandering about in the woods this time of year, even squirrels and birds stay in their nests. also when every muscle in your face is flash frozen in place, no one can hear you scream because you can't scream.) matt just got a new sleeping bag for christmas and wants to try it out. (unfortunately, luke didn't bring any of those fluorescent orange survival suits back from antarctica -- it would have made it much easier to locate the bodies come spring.) it's really not that cold when you're hiking, and then you make dinner really quickly and get in the tent. (newsflash: it's not cold at all when you're inside watching movies and then have pizza delivered.)

carolyn concluded by confidently stating that it was going to get warmer over the weekend, up into the double digits even. alas, she had fallen under the sway of the great deceiver: yahoo weather. lest any of you be similarly deceived, let me reveal the true face of the beast. yahoo weather lies. it is the betrayer of hopes and dreams, the false prophet of the internet, a shiny golden website with electrons of clay. and yet I pay homage to it still, clicking the bookmark again and again in vain tribute.

it is currently -9 F in madison. but there's no wind, so it only feels like -9 F. meanwhile, yahoo weather predicts a low of +8 F and a high of +11 F for today.

if carolyn decides not to go camping after all, orelia gets to keep the tea cozy.

PS 9:52 AM

it's now a balmy 0 F and yahoo weather predicts a low of +10 F and a high of +13. caroline has left for her camping trip, but she says if they get really cold they're going to come back. does she get the CbC tea cozy of honor just for making the attempt, or does she have to give it back if she doesn't actually spend the night in a tent?

PPS 11:27 AM

the pink tea cozy is invisible.

29.01.04

blackjack kerouac

I updated the instant friends page. (the downside of writing my own html and using el-cheapo web hosting is it's my fault when things don't get updated.) here's the long overdue tally of the responses to my query:

if jack kerouac were a color, he would be _____.

the modal response was black. in fact, only one of the people I polled or who responded via instant friends said anything other than black: that was nathan, he said blue. I gave nathan's vote extra weight because he has a mug with a caricature of jack kerouac on it and because he was listed as jack kerouac in the rivendell blackboard poll

if ______ were a famous writer, he/she would be ______.

but even with weighting nathan's vote disproportionately there's no hope for it: by popular declamation jack kerouac is black. the reasons varied but the responses did not: jack kerouac is black like a black beret; like a black turtleneck; like the fender of a new cadillac; like greased hair; also waldo the wonderlizard sez

Jack Kerouac is the color of tar. A dark, shiny, sheen like some greaser's haircut. The sticky texture that makes you dream of molasses licked out of a jar. The smell of Satan's aphrodisiac, dark, musky and sickening.

Tar is the answer. The tar that binds the wounds of cracked highways. The tar that embraces every dancing spark from a cigarette that is thrown from a car. The tar that turns the working man's hands into a furoughed roadmap of America. The tar that gently embraces each footfall, binding me to the road as I walk back to my darling's arms.

which is all well and good but it doesn't help me much, because the reason I asked the question is that one of my backburner writing/web projects explores the digital offspring of dadaist and beat writing techniques that use randomness as a source of inspiration and I'm looking for design ideas for a webpage tentatively titled "beat geek" that collects and discusses various computer programs and uses of the computer for random/artificial language generation.

here's a comment I made in the discussion of Kurzweil's poetry generator: on /.:

I've been working on a project (nicknamed "beat geek" in my head) that uses the digital equivalents of dada/beat cut-up techniques and other forms of randomness in or artificial generation of language.

For example, I have a program called autopoem (written by Bill Sethares) loosely based on an idea from Shannon's original paper on information theory.

Suppose you took all the words in the English language and calculated how often the character "s" is followed by the character "t", the character "e", and so on. You'd end with a table of transition probabilities that showed how often each letter is followed by any other letter (or punctuation mark or space) and starting with a single seed letter you could generate "english-like" words randomly. The output using the probability that a single letter is followed by another letter doesn't actually resemble English much, nor does the output using probabilities based on two letter combinations (how often is "th" followed by "e", by "a", and so on) but by the time you get to 3 letter combinations, (how often is "the" followed by "a" or by "s") the output starts to look a lot like 'twas brillig and the slithy toves, like ye olde englishe with very creative spelling.

The scheme I described above is difficult to implement in practice, because the table of probabilities gets big fast as the number of letters used to determine the next letter gets longer. Autopoem uses a particular text as a source and instead of generating a table of probabilities it scans the text looking for the next of the letter sequence, say "the", and then selects whatever letter or punctuation mark comes next, say "a", then it continues scanning until it finds the next occurrence of "hea", and selects the following letter, and so on. the longer the sequence of letters, the more likely it is that whole words or phrases from the original text will appear in the output. An alternative version, requiring a reasonably long text, applies the same principle on the word level, how often is the word "red" followed by the word "hat" or "dog" or so on.

Here's some autopoem output:

Your strip of entirely
tired witches scarecrow me at night
That reached the next
He witches at and glow in a cruel head
Done behind the mark

Nothing but the Land of blue
And the green wizard answer with sharp teeth

(anyone care to guess the source text?)

Other ideas/algorithms/programs that fall into the same genre are dilbert's corporate values generator (now defunct?), eliza (especially when she interacts with zippy), madlibs (I don't know of a computer inplementation), scott reynen's poetry and prose generators, rob malda's poetry generator (currently offline) & googlism.

Any suggestions or links to related ideas or programs would be greatly appreciated --- anything having to do with language generated digitally would be of interest.
PS: comments can be sent via the instant friends page.

today I started annotating the links to related projects that I've found on the web. I'm not sure I'll stick with the name "beat geek" but as for the design, okay, black it is.

25.01.04

how to make a penguin vomit

orelia and I were hanging out at michelangelo's coffeshop yesterday evening, so we missed seeing the pictures and videos of carolyn's friend luke's trip to antarctica. he was part of a scientific team with two responsibilities: installing a new internet connection on an ice breaker and molesting innocent penguins for the advancement of science.

because I missed luke's presentation I can only you give the reader's digest version. according to bill, luke said:

antarctica is cold. humans in antarctica wear fluorescent orange survival suits. penguins are cute. humans in fluorescent orange survival suits are not cute. penguins are not afraid of humans, even uncute fluorescent orange ones. penguins like to be hugged. in order to calm a penguin down while it is being weighed and tagged someone wearing a fluorescent orange survival suit gives it a big squishy penguin hug. penguins do not like to drink salt water. penguins do not like being held upside down. to make a penguin vomit you force it to drink salt water and then hold it upside down. after a penguin vomits, the former contents of its stomach are collected and examined by grad students wearing fluorescent orange survival suits.

science marches on.

rivendell update

our first house meeting of the semester was merged with our post-holiday secret santa treasure hunt. andrea made a great dinner and we all squeezed in around the table in the dining room. we didn't do the usual meeting check-in, or if we did I missed it because I was upstairs folding the origami box that I made for andrea's present. so I'll just have to check every in myself this semester:

  • andrea: kicked butt last semester at MATC and has applied to the UW school of social work for the fall. and she got some really cute workout clothes to go with her new improved outdoorsy exercising non-smoking lifestyle.

  • ann: is thinking about starting a rivendell flossing club. the club will have a big chart with all the members' names on it. members will get a gold star on the chart for every day they floss. members with a perfect flossing record will win a prize at the end of the semester as well as the admiration and respect of their fellow flossing club members.

  • bill: continues to be a paragon of billness. his is currently reading a book called: the lord of the rings and philosophy: one book to rule them all. he just sent the camera-ready version of the second edition of tuning, timbre, spectrum and scale off to the publisher. phay! (that's phew! and yay! at the same time.)

  • bryan: has been seen wearing the bandanas that he got in the rivendell gift exchange and eating a lot of frozen pizza.

  • carolyn: shovelled the sidewalk right after it snowed two days ago. carolyn made pizza for dinner. carolyn organized a group excursion to see the madfest juggling show. carolyn is totally an a-list housemate. not that there is an a-list at rivendell. I mean, there is an a-list at rivendell but everyone is on it. we are all above average at rivendell. it's sort of like carolyn is in the top half of the a-list. not that the rivendell a-list has a top or bottom. it's, um, a sphere. everyone's name is written on it in exactly the same size, perfectly spaced so that each name is adjacent to the same number of other names with the exact same distance between them. the rivendell a-list is inscribed on an n-dimensional hyper-sphere made out of superstrings and tachyion particles and filled with baby lima beans. in invisible ink.

  • cheeto: perfectly expresses the catly nature of the cat.

  • comella: has been laid off from her job working with autistic children but is having problems collecting unemployment. her former employer claims that "we're not actually firing you because you might have quit anyway."

  • hunter: is a cat, you got a problem with that?

  • jamie: has been spending a lot of time blowing her nose.

  • jason: rules. what more can I say?

  • julie: came by for the rivendell post-holiday celebration and non-meeting. she brought us a lovely potato gun and a pig catapult as a house present. we like julie.

  • matt: was laid low over the holidays by an onslaught of microbes. fortunately, the changes in brain operating temperature caused by the operation of his microbe defense system enabled him to morph together the movie version of "fantastic voyage" with several episodes of "buffy the vampire slayer" to produce "buffy the microbe slayer's most fantastic voyage," a full length feature movie in which an r.v. containing buffy, willow, xander, spike and giles is shrunken down to microscopic size and injected into matt's blood stream. the microbe slayer is a BGI character which integrates racquel welch, sarah michelle gellar and andy serkis into one virtual body/mind, fully rendered by matt's wetware. the hordes of demon microbes, microscopic vampires, and KGB agents living in matt's bloodstream have been duly slayed. matt is feeling much better.

  • megan: may be willing to live with her sister carolyn and the rest of us rivenelves. she has come by for dinner a couple of times to check us out. megan is currently living in a barn. so far, living at rivendell seems to have a slight edge over living in the barn. we're keeping our fingers crossed.

  • nathan: is planning on building his own canoe. it sounds really cool --- I read about it on his blog. we haven't seen too much of nathan since he found that invisibility cloak while cleaning out "the scary room" in rivendell's basement. nathan not only removed years of accumulated crap from the aforementioned room he also built a really nice workbench along one wall and patched and painted the cement floor. the newly improved basement room shall henceforth be referred to as "the room formerly known as scary."

  • orelia: is a goddess, a princess, a paragon. she excels, outshines, astonishes, transcends. she is perfection incarnate in a female form. she is single.

  • sara: and her mother cooked dinner together at rivendell this month. it was great to have some mom energy to go with the burritos and spaghetti.

22.01.04

-5 F, wind 13 mph

crunchy nose hair weather.
 

thoughts from the dalai lama

last year my mother gave me a quote-of-the-day calendar featuring the words of the dalai lama, compiled from speeches and public addresses. over the year I tacked some of my favorites up on a bulletin board in my room. now I'm tacking them up on my website. excerpted excerpts:

Violence cannot address the real causes of terrorism. Terrorism cannot be overcome by the use of force because it does not address the complex, underlying problems. In fact, the use of force may not only fail to solve the problems, it may exacerbate them and frequently leaves destruction and suffering in its wake.

The time has come to think more wisely, hasn't it?

Afflictive emotions -- our jealousy, anger, hatred, fear -- can be put to an end. When you realize that these emotions are only temporary, that they always pass on like clouds in the sky, you also realize they can ultimately be abandoned.

The way to overcome negative thoughts and destructive emotions is to develop opposing, positive emotions that are stronger and more powerful.

People are too serious. All the time, too serious.

more dalai lama

20.01.04

Ann Maria Bell
High School Flashback
January 20, 2004

Title:
The Discontent of My Winter:
The Pathos of Human Existence and
Seasonal Weather Patterns in the Midwestern United States

Thesis:

Not only does the weather in Madison, Wisconsin fail to promote human happiness, it is malicious and spiteful as well.

Outline:

  1. Recurring and persistent weather trends in Madison, WI that contribute directly to human misery, ie. to mine.
     
    1. Lack of snow
       
      1. Third winter in a row with a precipitation deficit
         
        1. Limited opportunities for winter sports
           
        2. Frozen ground and dirty patches of snow are ugly
           
      2. Abundance of snow in other parts of country/world
         
        1. Much higher than average snowfall on the east coast of the United States for the past two winters
           
        2. 12 inches of snow in Jerusalem last winter
           
    2. Excess of cold
       
      1. Further limits opportunities for winter sports
         
        1. Makes you fat
           
      2. Increases appetite
         
        1. Makes you fat
           
      3. Clothing necessitated by excess cold resembles that worn by South Park characters
         
        1. Makes you look even fatter than you really are which in Wisconsin is really saying something
           
      4. Frostbite and hypothermia do not "build character" no matter what my mother says.
         
    3. Lack of sun
       
      1. Gray
         
        1. Gray
           
        2. Gray
           
        3. Gray
           
      2. Depressing
         
        1. I'd throw myself into the lake if I could find a hole in the ice that was big enough
           
           
  2. Recent weather events that have occurred for the specific purpose of making me miserable
     
    1. Ice skating conditions on Lake Mendota
       
      1. The temperature in Madison dropped relatively slowly this year and the lake still hadn't frozen completely when I got back here on the 8th. After a week or so of bitterly cold "character building" weather the ice was solid and I walked out from the Memorial Union to discover the most amazingly smooth expanse of black ice I had ever seen. The next day Bill & I grabbed our skates and headed onto the lake. It was truly awesome, the best skating conditions I've ever seen outdoors. We could have skated for miles, out to Picnic Point or even all the way across the lake, with a little clambering over rough patches. I couldn't wait to go back out.
         
      2. Within 12 hours 1/2 inch of icy drizzle had fallen, the only precipitation in Madison since we got back, completely ruining the surface of the ice.
         
    2. Deceptive return of the sun on January 18, 2004
       
      1. The skies in Madison, Wisconsin were completely gray and featureless, casting a weak dirty featureless light on the barren snowless dirt for four soul crushing days in a row from January 14 - 17. Late on the 17th, with the temperature hovering near 30 and a slight misty fog hanging in the air the stars came out over head. The next morning the sun was shining brightly and the sky was crystal blue. I was so happy to see the sun again that I jumped out of bed and told Bill that I was going outside to play.
         
      2. Then I checked the weather.
         
        1. 4 F
           
        2. winds 12 mph out of the NW.
           
        3. -11 F wind chill factor
           
           
  3. Discussion and conclusions
     
    1. Several locations in the United States and around the world have weather which is preferable to the weather in Madison, Wisconsin.
       
      1. Santa Cruz, California
         
      2. Sydney, Australia
         
        1. currently summer in Australia
           
      3. Juneau, Alaska
         
        1. currently 32 degrees warmer in Juneau than in Madison
           
    2. Transporting my body to one of these locations would likely result in my experiencing weather which is more conducive to human happiness as well as less spiteful and malicious than the weather that I am currently experiencing in Madison, Wisconsin.
       
       

17.01.04

flotsam, part I

started this right after I got back to madison on 7 january. I kept hoping it would get funnier.

I'm going to settle for it getting finished.

. . . .

okay, it's a little bit funnier and a lot more finished.

floss

now that I'm back in madison my new year has finally begun. the annnal solstice tour de relatives (19.12.03 - 07.01.04 this year) is an ellipsis at the end of the year, a period of time that is deleted from my normal existence and inserted into a different narrative, a different text.

the featureless winter sky outside my window casts a weak gray light. the sky looks dirty, like the old snow that clings to the ground, defeated, long past the memory of falling. the accumulated layers of dirt on the glass and the layer of plastic on the inside of the window filter the light in turn, gray upon gray.

but the solar cycle has turned, surely if imperceptibly, and I mark the turning with my annual ritual: new year's resolutions. like many rituals, paradox wavers just below the surface of this simple activity. on the one hand, the new year is a new beginning, a time to look forward into a brighter and better future. new year's resolutions project a brighter, better self into that future, rooted in a belief in the ultimate perfectablity of the human enterprise.

on the other hand, the process of making resolutions typically starts with a review of the most wince-worthy events of the past year, just to make sure that you won't be repeating them again this year followed by the creation of long sprawling list of inadequacies, personal failings and character flaws, all of which you resolve to eliminate in the coming year. making resolutions turns out to be a combined exercise in optimism and self-abuse. inexplicably, bill considers this a reason not to make any in the first place.

I have made new year's resolutions every year for as long as I can remember, although I can no longer remember what those resolutions were for the most part. for many years "keep my room clean" was my flagship resolution, I'm happy to report this is no longer necessary. entropy continues to maximize itself quite relentlessly in my vicinity but over the years I've gained the upper hand. it's still a constant battle against the invisible forces of disorder, I just win most of the time.

for several years now my new's year resolutions have consisted of small, observable and achievable goals, a strategy heartily endorsed by the women's magazines I read at the gym and the doctor's office. in fact, I might have taken it too far last year: I made only two resolutions, both of the small-observable-achievable ilk.

1) write every day.

2) um, not for public display, actually, but no, it does not involve bodily fluids, any product made by microsoft, or unclaimed funds in a bank account in nigeria.

I abandoned the first sometime over the summer, I stuck with the second all the way through. I'm still batting .500, but it's a bit of a shame about the first one, which produced two blog entries that I'm fond of: 12.01.03 and 09.02.03. (I gave it up when I was spending so much time writing everyday that the occasional day off seemed inconsequential.)

this year's resolving produced a disorganized assortment of small-observable-achievable-goals, projects-to-start-and/or-finish, lifestyle-changes and character-flaws-to-be-remedied. I've made myself a handy chart to keep track of my progress, at least between 09.01 and 22.01, and I'm moving right along with this year's small-observable-achievable-goals, and last year's as well:

1) write every day.

2) still not for public display and still does not involve bodily fluids, any product made by microsoft, or unclaimed funds in a bank account in nigeria.

3) take calcium supplements.

4) floss.

the projects-to-start-and/or-finish category includes building the potato palace, keeping my website up-to-date and writing a will and last email testament; lifestyle-changes include the usual suspects, exercising more and eating less; and as for character-flaws-to-be-remedied, well, let's just say it's a long list and leave it at that.

according to a poll taken by marist college, which I read about in the paper on new year's day, 34% of americans joined me in making resolutions. the number one resolution was "get a better job," chosen by 15% of the respondents, narrowly edging out "be a better person," also chosen by approximately 15% of the respondents.

I couldn't find the original newspaper article online, though there were numerous clones conveying the same information. when I looked up the actual poll results I found that the articles only told part of the story. I normally despise discussions of the women-are-from-venus-men-are-from-mars ilk, but I think the most striking feature in the table below is disparity in the resolutions made by men and women, a fact overlooked or ommitted in all the articles I read. the distribution of the top two replies is bimodal by gender: men overwhelmingly chose "get a better job" while women chose "be a better person." in fact, as the table below shows, there is almost no overlap between the resolutions made by men and women, with the exception of "stop smoking" and "exercise more" which appear on the list for women 18-34.

Top Three Resolutions

Women

Men

Be a better person

22%

Get a better job

28%

Lose weight

15%

Exercise more

11%

Stop smoking

10%

Spend less money

10%

 

Women 18-34

Men 18-34

Stop smoking

17%

Get a better job

30%

Go back to school

14%

Travel

19%

Exercise more

11%

Stop smoking

15%

 

Women 35 and older

Men 35 and older

Lose weight

25%

Exercise more

15%

Be a better person

23%

Get a better job

15%

Be kinder to others

11%

Spend less money

11%

I'm still wondering about the 22% of women who answered "be a better person" to an open-ended survey question. you'd think they'd know better than to set such lofty but vague goals for themselves. clearly, they haven't spent enough time reading women's magazines. but maybe I'm just not seeing the bigger picture. maybe they've already translated that aspiration into small, observable and achievable goals.

like flossing. and taking calcium supplements.

14.01.04

radio silence on planet ann

half finished entries lurk on my hard drive, half finished thoughts mutter through my neural net. moving forward on the assumption that something is better than nothing, after 25 days of blog blackout.

it took me an hour to vacuum the 10' x 20' area rug in my room this morning, most of it spent doing vacuum cleaner repair and maintenance. yuk. that's all I have to say about that.

wilma, my trusty G3 powerbook, has a new keyboard. the old keyboard never really recovered from me dumping a beer on it two summers ago. (note to self: don't drink and type) the new one is the same spiffy bronze color but it has japanese characters alongside the roman alphabet and a few extra keys as well. the characters and punctuation marks are all in the same place they were before, though not according to the keyboard. not much of a problem, except for ( and ) which have moved over one key from 9 and 0 to 8 and 9, I don't look at the keys much when I type, but the occasional peripheral glance has me starting my parenthetical remarks with * and backspacing to undo errors that I haven't actually made. the extra keys don't do anything either. haven't figured out how to reassign individual keys in OS X, or even if it's possible. didn't need that tilde anyway.

another upgrade for wilma: an airport card and base station in the room. I can receive email and surf the web when sitting on the couch or when I'm trying to write at the hidden desk near the window, which is a good thing because, really, I haven't been spending enough time checking my email and surfing the web. it's comforting to know that I can no longer escape the internet by retreating to the other desk, or even to another room in the house.

still no snow in madison. yesterday I went ice skating with orelia and jason. that's it for the update. the rest of the unfinished mental flotsam and jetsam should be floating along any day now.

found in the kitchen

a napkin with this written on it:

          The O monster hath landed, learned, and will be unstoppable.

orelia's back.

found on slashdot

"This is all theory and in theory, there's no difference between theory and practice. But in practice there is."

-----------

Q: What do you get when you cross a Post Modernist with a Mafioso?

A: An offer you can't understand.

more blog-O-rama
entries from 12.03