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Thursday, February 24, 2005


This is a picture halfway between Alta and Park City, Utah from our ski trip. I went with my two brothers, two nephews, and some friends. This is a picture out the back window. Hence, the horizontal lines. Posted by Hello

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Definitive Hitchhiker's Guide

The thing is, there's really no definitive Hitchhiker's Guide story, what with the radio series, television show, play, Infocom adventure, comic book, new radio series and so forth. IMO, except for the radio show, they're all adaptations, and considering how you might have discovered H2G2 yourself, even the radio series is merely an adaptation.

What I like about that is it resembles what I presume to be the sort of natural progression which storytelling had prior to copyrights and patents, albeit all within an individual.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Nuclear Attack Sub named after Jimmy Carter

In response to the news of a nuclear attack submarine being named after former US president Jimmy Carter, I called him to find out how he felt about it:

(ring)

JC: Hello?

RK: Hi, Jimmy.

JC: Hey! Robbie! How are you?

RK: Good. You?

JC: It's a beautiful day today. I'm in, uh, Costa Rica right now. It's so lovely. Hey! Did you know that we share the same birthday?

RK: Yeah, I did. But your birthday is public knowledge, mine sure isn't. How did you find out?

JC: I'm a former president of the United States of America; birth dates really aren't something difficult for me to get.

RK: Yeah.

JC: So what's up? How's Beth?

RK: She's good. Uh, you know, she ...

JC: Is she still doing the childcare business?

RK: Yeah. Wait, you mean child advocacy?

JC: Yeah.

RK: Yeah. Yeah. She's there, but the job is hard right now.

JC: What do you mean?

(Rob explains why Beth's job is hard.)

JC: That's a very well thought out explanation, Robbie.

RK: Well, thank you!

JC: Well, um, I have some news, too.

RK: What's that?

JC: The Department of Defense is naming a nuclear attack submarine after me.

RK: A nuclear sub.

JC: Yeah. Crazy, huh?

RK: Yeah.

JC: Yeah.

pause

RK: A sub?

JC: Yeah.

RK: Yeah.

pause

RK: It just seems ...

JC: What!?

RK: Sorry, I don't mean to be ...

JC: Don't be like that. I'm trying ...

RK: Yeah, I'm...

JC: ... trying to have a nice conversation here; please don't ruin it.

RK: You speak with semicolons?

JC: Don't digress. All of a sudden you don't approve?

RK: I guess I don't understand.

JC: What's to understand? I'm a former US president. Commander-in-chief and what-what. And stop making me say 'what-what.' This isn't Mary Poppins.

RK: But you're a pacifist.

JC: Pacifist, yes, but we still need a defense.

RK: Doesn't it seem odd to you that a Nobel Peace Prize winner would have a nuclear attack submarine named after him?

JC: Well, that's it, isn't it? Nobel Peace Prize. Did you happen to hear my acceptance speech?

RK: No, I didn't.

JC: Here's what I said, (pause) Here it is: '... my first chosen career was in the military, as a submarine officer. My shipmates and I realized that we had to be ready to fight if combat was forced upon us, and we were prepared to give our lives to defend our nation and its principles. At the same time, we always prayed fervently that our readiness would ensure that there would be no war.' So what is interesting to me is not the creation of strength, that's just going to happen, but rather, the growth of great wisdom to effectively control that strength.

RK: Right. I should read that.

JC: I think you might find it rather interesting.

RK: Yeah. I'm still not convinced. It still seems like your name on a nuclear attack submarine is an implicit acceptance of war.

JC: I should remind you that I'm also a trained nuclear physicist.

RK: Nuh-uh.

JC: Yuh-huh! Remember Three-Mile Island? When the nuclear energy plant melted down, my, uh, my first priority was to prevent panic and calm the American public. So, I read the hard data about the environment inside the plant, and fortunately it was safe. So to convince the American public that it was safe, I arranged a television broadcast from within the plant, and brought Rosilyn with me. I wouldn't have been able to do that if I didn't know in my head and believe in my heart that the plant was safe.

RK: You're fascinating.

JC: Oh, man. The TV reporters and cameramen set up their equipment and got as far away from me as possible though, I can tell you that. Ha!

RK: Heh heh.

JC: But, Robbie, here's what I like most about all of this. Any time someone hears about the USS Jimmy Carter, what will they think? They'll hear 'Jimmy Carter'. I don't mean to be iconic, but that name does stand for something which people might consider when they hear it.

RK: Like the proper use of a nuclear attack sub.

JC: Like the proper use of a sub specifically, but of their strength in general. That's what I hope it represents: a symbol of tempered strength.

RK: Like you, Jimmy. You're wise and strong.

JC: I wouldn't say that, but your premise is good.

RK: Yeah.

JC: You see the new trailer for the Hitchhiker's movie?

RK: Yeah. It looks good.

JC: So good!

RK: Are we going to see it?

JC: Sorry, now it's 'maybe'. Nigeria is still suffering a lymphatic filariasis outbreak and I'm probably going to have to travel at that time to help expand their program.

RK: But we could maybe get a screening, right? We're buds, Jimmy. Right?

JC: Right, Robbie. We're buds.

RK: OK, love to Roz and everyone. Thanks for the explanation.

JC: Yeah, nice to talk with you. See you in April.

RK: OK. Yeah. Bye.

JC: Bye.

OH, YES!

The new The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trailer is out, and it actually looks as good as the trailer for Star Wars, Episode 1.

I really need to watch this as little as possible.

The bit with the legs, while totally unfamiliar, is a good visual movie joke; I'm very pleased.

My final comments on the Game of Death

What a fun experience it has been these past eight years playing Game of Death. I remember the first game in 1995, which wasn't run by me, but actually run by Brian Smith. It's nice to see some things that haven't changed, like the old-time style website, which still has frames, making it impossible to reasonably link to pages within the site, and the wonderfully trickling blood in the "Game of Death" icon. In addition, the number of people who have played all eight games are very few: in addition to Mark and me, there's Larry Beiderman and Keith Macklin.

Everybody knows Larry; he's not only responsible for our trophies, he's had a rule named after him, a song dedicated to him (people want to *be* him), been mentioned in the news, and the butt of a couple of top-ten lists that are probably too obscure to detail here. Keith Macklin has been a much more silent player, writing his list, sending me $5 every year with a little note wishing me well. Thanks for playing, Keith.

The first game was actually won by ... me. It was my best submission, and probably my last decent one. Not to fear, we had our fingers on the failing pulse of death-prediction, picking such unlucky folks as Spiro Agnew, Carlos Castenada, Leon Hess, Morton Downey, Jr. and Richard Harris (leaving, as Mark J sadly noted, Peter O'Toole without a drinking buddy.) Marsha's dramatic 1998 victory is also notable. You ought to read some of the old game progressions (see the Results links on the main page.)

There are some notable players, including Mike Richard who won three years in a row. Marsha always gave a great fight, and oddly has a significant series of "Cryogenic Awards", including the coveted "L. Ron Hubbard Cup". If you don't know about this, you really missed out, and can find them by looking at the Awards link on the left-side menu.

Thanks for playing, everyone. I'm sad to see it go. --Rob K

Random Events

  • Despite Beth and I both not ascribing to the Valentine's Day consumer phenomenon, we had a most lovely evening at Descanso Gardens, where we were treated to a four course meal, with a prearranged wine selection, a rather good lounge piano player, fairly private setting and servers being great servers. Really wonderful.
  • I learned today that an 'informal presentation' doesn't mean 'preparation is not required'. I gave an informal presentation about my project to coworkers. I don't need Power Point but brushing up on a couple of pieces of information would have helped. As Beth says, "You can't always be the smartest person in the room, but you always be the most prepared." I don't need to be so hard on myself, though. The problem with informal presentations is that you don't know where they're going to go.
  • It's not so hard to work for 12 hours in a row, when your wife is out of town for the day. Are there other things in life except my job? Not right now.
  • Currently reading: Irons in the Fire, by John McPhee. I can't wait to finish it so I can re-read Bridge of Birds, followed by its two sequels, which I have finally received.
  • We finally finished our very last Game of Death. Nine years. It was time. It wasn't fresh any more; it had become a chore. I'm sad that it's gone, but glad that I don't have to tend to it anymore. I think I'm going to post my farewell comments.

Goodbye AT&T, Goodbye Cingular

My first exposure to Cingular was actually at an Ultimate Frisbee tournament in 2001. A two day tournament in Birmingham, Alabama, Mud Bowl, was celebrating its 20th anniversary, and was sponsored by a company I had not heard of, named Cingular Wireless. The tournament logo was wonderful because it was composed of two rounded exes, which, together, looked like the roman numeral equivalent for 20. They looked like two jacks. You know, the kinds with which you play Jacks. The two exes, I found out, were the icons of Cingular's logo. Well, that sure is nice! What a cute, friendly little icon! Hi, Jack!

Fast forward four years. Cingular has purchased AT&T Wireless and is now my provider. Long story short? They gave me poor technical support, and repeatedly have done nothing to make me feel good about the product they sell. My wife will tell you I'm very nice to customer service representatives, particularly those I deal with on the phone, and I'm no longer nice to Cingular. They want me to repeat why I'm frustrated with them every time I call, even though I was guaranteed it was documented on my second call. I believe that support representative. I'm more inclined to believe that it's the support staff down-the-line who won't read my cast history.

While I'm on the subject, try using their automated phone system. I've heard that some automated phone systems can detect stress levels and will route angry customers directly to a human being. I'm trying to find out if Cingular's automated phone system has this feature.

Where's my nice summary? I have none, really. Blogs are free. You get what you pay for.

[Epilogue] Here, you want a summary? Cingular can shove its jacks right up its ass. Bye, Jack! How's that for a summary???!

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Make unimportant things easy

I'm a longtime user of Hotmail, and have always been happy with it. Until recently, there was a free version of a great tool called Hotmal Popper which provides a POP3 interface to your Hotmail accounts, meaning I could use Hotmail with any POP3 client I wanted.

Hotmail's been my secondary email provider for a long time, and is only given out to websites. Recently, I've been depending on Hotmail's web interface, partly because I have abandoned using Microsoft Outlook for home email, but mostly because I depend on Gmail as my primary mail interface.

Hotmail does a good job filtering my junk mail. Used to be, if I wanted to empty my Junk Mail folder, I would click the Empty button. A Yes/No dialog box appeared, and pressing Y (or Space, I don't remember) could confirm my delete request. This dialog box was generated by the OS, so it was easy to identify and was placed right on top of my browser window.

Microsoft has managed to complicate the Empty Junk Mail folder process to the point of a long blog post. See, kids, Microsoft wanted to have Hotmail users take part in the Junk Mail identification game ("your friend may be a spammer! report them to the spam authorities!") So they did this by adding a checkbox to the Empty Folder confirmation window. They even made this confirmation part of the process even when you delete a single message from the Junk Mail folder summary. How was this dialog box rendered? See, as common functionality, all browsers provide some simple dialog boxes including the Yes/No dialog box that used to be the Empty Folder confirmation window. This new dialog box, however, is a Yes/No, with a checkbox. This isn't provided by default with a browser, so Microsoft wrote a new dialog box from scratched, rendered with HTML in displayed in its own mini-browser window.

Why is this a problem? A modal dialog box provided by the OS forces my input to go to that dialog. The dialog box is centered somewhere which grabs my attention, and to confrim, I could hit a single key. With an HTML form, you have less control over where the window goes (particularly on a two-monitor machine) and I have to hunt for it, usually on the other window.

Can I still press the Y key? No. The simplest set of steps I could find to confirm removal was to find the window (remember, on a two monitor machine, it could be out of easy reach of my view and mouse) and press TAB followed by SPACE. Is this really a big deal? Should I complain about such an interface?

I think so, and here are my three reasons. First, I have to hunt my monitor for the delete confirmation window, which means the act of deleting a message from my Junk Mail folder is made more complicated. Second, I believe this act of forcing me to participate in the junk mail identification proces is intrusive and presumptive. I want an interface where the default activity is passive, and only participate when I choose to be active. Finally, and this is what offends me most of all, it takes more work to delete junk mail than to delete regular mail. It just goes against my principles for good user interface design. There's nothing I can do about it, except vote with my feet which I am doing, as soon as I can.

Update 2005-05-02: This should have been called "Make unimportant things unobtrusive." Cause it's the important things which should be easy, no?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Google Snow Jam 2005

I took some photos at Google Snow Jam 2005. I didn't actually post them, but my friend Kenny did, so here they are.

There are some other good pics which I might post separately, but hey.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

British TV Addiction

Woah. I haven't seen a TV show come from Britan that was as promising as this since I, Claudius! Now, I don't speak in terms of new programming; Beth and I watch old British TV from DVDs. We saw I, Claudius about two years ago. Since then we've watched almost all of the Cadfael series, two very good episodes of Prime Suspect and a one disappointing episode of Inspector Morse. A&E's Poirot doesn't count, even though it's fantastic.

Now, we're enjoying two: Cracker, however, stands out. After just one episode, we've both decided this was watchable, exciting, interesting and complex. The other show, a mini-series sadly limited to seven episodes, is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, part of our Alec Guinness obsession. The first episode was weak and difficult to follow, but the second episode more than made up for it. My only disappointment is that Sir Alec doesn't get much screen time in the first two episodes. Is this going to change, given that he has top billing? It doesn't really bother me. If, however, the show starred my son, for example, you would find me standing next to the couch, screaming at the TV for them to put my son in, for chrissake.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Hypnodisk

Everyone should have one of these.

Alec Guinness

My wife and I watched Kind Hearts and Coronets tonight, starring, among others, the great Alec Guinness. I think if you watched absolutely anything else he has done, you will learn to appreciate why people think it's sad he's mostly remembered for Star Wars. It was a surprisingly enjoyable film. It was obvious the story was well written and Sir Alec was almost showing off by creating and portraying eight different convincing characters. It was funny, but more in a Shakespearean kind of way. More like the in-between Shakespeare-and-now kind of funny.

An even more enjoyable film is Sir Alec's The Ladykillers, where he's wonderfully effective, and so is good old reliable Herbert (Going Bananas) Lom. This is a wonderful film, and is much smoother than what the Coen brothers' attempted with their 2004 remake. I urge you to see it.

Quality TV

I'm sick today for the first time in months. In fact, the last time I got sick was my first week at Google. I couldn't manage to fall asleep last night so I perused cable to find something to keep me company. Around 4:30 AM I found the film Going Bananas (other link) an awful film with Dom DeLuise and JJ Walker and a kid who looks like a young Ray Liotta with a coral necklace and a Southern California accent. No offense to Ray, who, by the way, I shared a mutual stare from my Nissan Sentra looking, while he was in his black awesomemobile, both merging onto route 78 at exit 14 on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Let me point out one scene I watched: there's some restaurant, obviously in Africa. A midget in a monkey suit, whom I am supposed to believe is a monkey, is hanging from a ceiling fan while police officers below try to subdue him, including the police chief, played by a jolly fat African man in tan short sleeves and gaps in his teeth. Dom and JJ are also laughing (for us, I think) and Ray Jr. is pleading to Herbert (did he really need the money?) Lom - "Please, sir! Please don't kill my monkey!" Then there's another scene where Dom is sleeping in a safari vehicle and a lion climbs on top of it. The lion sweeps his tail into Dom's face and he wipes it away ... like it's a fly! Get it?! Dom DeLuise swatting a fly and he doesn't even know what danger he's in! Get it? It's funny!

Later on that afternoon I found Divorce Court, which was so obviously phoney I'm not even going to bother finding a link to provide to you.

Lastly, I found Fear Factor, which I'd never seen before. This was Fear Factor of Champions, or something. Nice of NBC to have a link to the show I caught. They had to milk goats ... with their mouths. You read that right. How is that acceptable at 5PM? I long for the good old days when everyone was in an uproar about even showing breasts on TV.

I'm glad Alec Guinness is not alive to see me blog about him in the same posting as goat nipple sucking. Oh, I can't do it. I'll start a fresh post.