Friday, January 29, 2010

Book Report: SuperFreakonomics

I don't generally read a lot of non-fiction books, but I enjoyed Freakonomics a lot, and the follow-up, SuperFreakonomics, did not disappoint.

Unlike some writers, who like to draw lots of conclusions based on sometimes slim or anecdotal evidence (coughMalcolmGladwellcough), Levitt and Dubner love data--the more the better. Their stories concern macroeconomics--the study of complex systems with large populations--and they like to highlight "natural experiments," in which some happenstance holds certain conditions constant while varying others.

For example, they examine the effect of television on children's behavior--specifically, violent crime rates in cities which got broadcast TV at different times during the 1950s:
[D]id the introduction of TV have any discernible effect on a given city’s crime rate?

The answer seems to be yes, indeed. For every extra year a young person was exposed to TV in his first 15 years, we see a 4 percent increase in the number of property- crime arrests later in life and a 2 percent increase in violent- crime arrests. According to our analysis, the total impact of TV on crime in the 1960s was an increase of 50 percent in property crimes and 25 percent in violent crimes.

Why did TV have this dramatic effect?

Our data offer no firm answers. The effect is largest for children who had extra TV exposure from birth to age four. Since most four year-olds weren’t watching violent shows, it’s hard to argue that content was the problem...

You can read the relevant excerpt from that chapter, "Unbelievable Stories About Apathy and Altruism," online at

As you can see above, the book isn't all charts and graphs, though it does include some relevant visual aids. My favorite is the mathematical expression PIMPACT > RIMPACT. You'll have to read all of chapter one to understand why that's so amusing.

And the epilogue, which recounts a totally freaky experiment involving monkeys, is unforgettable and hilarious. I first heard Levitt and Dubner tell that story when they gave a talk at my former employer in 2005, and I wish the video were online so I could share it. You'll just have to settle for reading the book.

ADDENDUM: You can read the complete monkey experiment story online in "Monkey Business" (New York Times Magazine, June 5, 2005).


Friday Flash Fiction: "Telling Tales Out of School"

I blame Robot Chicken for a lot of things, not the least of which is a tendency to say "What a twist!"--in a high-pitched voice, pronouncing the last word as tweest...

You know what? It'll be faster if you just watch the video:

I know, it still doesn't make any sense. That is the insidious nature of this program.

Read "Telling Tales Out of School" at 512 Words or Fewer


Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Quarantine Has Been Lifted

That's the good news. Tye's gums are still a little red, so he'll continue to take antibiotics for a couple more weeks, but he gets to wander around the whole house now. So this is the last you'll see of the TyeCam for a while--hopefully forever. (Other cat-related videos may appear later. No promises.)

The bad news is, Tye is a bit too, shall we say, forward for Jasper's taste. Tye very enthusiastically jumps on Jasper and wants to play, when Jasper would prefer to take things a little more slowly.

All things considered, this isn't a huge problem. We had always intended to keep their territories separated at first, and introduce them to each other gradually. It's just turning out to be slightly more challenging than we anticipated.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: "The Kid Who Noticed Things"

This week's "story" (it's really just an opening) is a perfect example of deadlines driving creativity: if I hadn't needed to write something by Friday, I might never have dug these pieces out of the trunk and tried to make something out of them. Now I've got several different story ideas branching out from this scene. One of them will collapse into an actual, finished piece in a couple of weeks, ready for critique and eventual submission.

Read "The Kid Who Noticed Things" at 512 Words or Fewer


Thursday, January 21, 2010

One Day More!

Tomorrow! It's almost here! The day Tye goes back to the vet and then we find out if he can come out of quarantine! I'm very hopeful! I haven't seen it myself, but I hear his gums are much improved! And he sure seems a lot more energetic than he was just a few days ago:

I can't wait! Of course, it would mean the end of TyeCam, which I'm sure you'll all miss terribly. But just deal with it, folks: The needs of the Jasper outweigh the needs of the you!

And now, here is another YouTube video for you to watch.


Workarounds, Hacks, and Pillows

We didn't go out today, which meant we were able to spend more time sitting with Tye, so I didn't turn on the webcam until later in the evening:

That little red netbook on the counter is the new TyeCam station. I'm also trying out Copilot, which lets me access it remotely.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Return of the TyeCam!

He's still in the bathroom! Still! How much longer? I don't know if I can stand waiting any more! When can he come out? When? Did you say Friday? Maybe Friday? AUGH! What are you people trying to do to me? This is torture! Cruel and unusual! I protest!

...hey, look! Grass! nom nom nom

What was I saying?


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

SnoutCast #5: Proto-Skypecast with JRA

No, we are not actually speaking from inside a tin can this week; we're trying something new: Skypecasting! Which basically amounts to recording an international telephone call, with all the attendant audio problems.

I had to do a lot of "fix it in post," and if you hear a vacuum cleaner in the background, it's because I scheduled the recording session at the same time as our monthly house cleaning. Hopefully there is still enough good content for you to enjoy this comedy of errors.

[ Download mp3 - 43 MB ]

00:00 - Random Teaser™: explaining Crisco
02:45 - introducing our special guest: Jeff!
06:32 - Clue prototypes, generally; why tactile?
08:53 - FoBiK "shrinky dinks" (2002) inspired by Tantrix tiles
16:44 - FoBiK PVC pipe decoder
20:27 - FoBiK "bloody blocks"
24:05 - FoBiK "meat necklace"
26:52 - packaging the Justice Unlimited ruler (2004)
29:06 - Curtis and Jeff get yelled at by their old boss
31:40 - recreational vacuum-forming... for great Justice
37:00 - Dragonhunt (1998): no paper clues!
40:29 - working with Nitinol in Homicide: Life On The Farm (2001)
41:02 - DeeAnn waxes nostalgic about Sutro Baths
45:10 - The End

Oh, yeah: trivia contest! Be the first to e-mail with the correct answer and you will win...

One(1) FREE team entry to the DASH 2 event in Portland, Oregon (the hunt happens on April 24, 2010. More information coming soon; meanwhile, you can read about DASH 1).

Good luck! We'll reveal all on our next episode, in two weeks.

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey," "Ikea," "Baby Got Back," "Chiron Beta Prime," "Shop Vac," and "Mandelbrot Set" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

CKL DeeAnn Jeff

Monday, January 18, 2010

TyeCam is Offline

Aside from my problems with the webcam software crashing about once a day, Lenovo computers are shit. I know that comes as a surprise to no one, but I just had to get it off my chest.

Last night, after a bunch of research and then cleaning up my Windows XP registry to fix a problem with my power management profiles not working, I also updated the power management drivers and utilities on my laptop. Today this hunk of junk kept going into standby mode--even though I explicitly disabled that function, because it kills my wireless networking. (No idea why. Started happening in 2008. Repair shop couldn't fix it either.) Now I've uninstalled all the Lenovo crap, and explorer.exe has started crashing.


Maybe it's time for that Windows 7 upgrade after all. I didn't want to go through all the trouble of reinstalling a whole damn operating system before, but at this point I'm just about ready to salt the fucking earth. I know, I could install Linux, but that would just be a different set of maintenance headaches. And I wouldn't be able to run most of the software I want.

Some days I really hate computers.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Kitty Quarantine, Day Nine

When we first brought Tye home last Thursday night, we put him in the guest bathroom so we could gradually introduce him without threatening Jasper's territory. Turns out that was a good idea, because we've had to keep him isolated due to a viral infection.

We (mostly DeeAnn) have been doing our best to keep him company in there--sitting with him once or twice a day while we read, work, nap, or play cards. He was bottle-raised by humans from one day after birth, and we don't want him to get too lonely.

The fentanyl patch comes off Tye's leg on Monday afternoon, and at that time we'll also ask the vet when we can think about letting him out of quarantine. He and Jasper have been very curious about each other, especially during the brief times when we crack open the bathroom door.

Aside: If you notice some gaps in the time-lapse video, it's because Dorgem periodically locks up, crashes, or has trouble uploading images to TyeCam. Hey, it's free software, and hasn't been updated since 2005; you get what you pay for. But close enough for rock 'n' roll, I say.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Stir crazy!

Jasper here! I'm happy to report Tye was feeling much better today (Friday)! You can clearly see that he's more active than previously:

Also, he seems to have found a new favorite sleeping location on the laptop computer, and developed some sort of grudge against the kleenex box.

Eagle-eyed viewers will note that he's managed to chew free two of his toes from the pink bandage on his leg! Let's see if the wrapping survives until he goes back to the vet on Monday!


Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: "Within Sight"

Apparently one of the newer characters on Heroes can "see" certain sounds as colors. (I gave up on the show last year, so I'm a little behind.) Of course, she can also convert those sounds into concussive energy blasts. Of course. I will refrain from calling her "Deaf Dazzler:"

The medical term for this is sound-color synesthesia, and the condition has also been featured on House.

It's pretty freaky to think about what it would be like to live in a world where everything you heard was instead redirected to your sight. I'm sure that, in reality, it wouldn't be as clean as visible-spectrum colors mapping linearly from audio frequencies, but I'm a lazy writer.

Read "Within Sight" at 512 Words or Fewer


Gathering Data

Tye is definitely more active now than he was a few days ago, before the painkillers and antibiotics. Watch him take down a box of Trader Joe's facial tissues at 1:38...

And yes, he is chewing on his bandaged foot an awful lot. But the fentanyl patch is coming off on Monday anyway. We think it'll hold until then. If not, well, we've got the vet on speed-dial.

I should take a moment to mention that our cats go to the Feline Medical Clinic in Vancouver, Washington. We've received uniformly excellent care and attention from their doctors and staff, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend them to anyone in the area.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Book Report: Star Trek - The Collectibles

This was another "impulse buy" at the library. I know they have at least one volunteer who is active in local sf fandom; I wonder if she's the one sneaking these books into their rotating displays.

I used to fancy myself a bit of a collector, when I was younger; I suppose every child goes through that stage at some point, and either grows out of it or goes pro. I enjoyed the little stories that went along with some of the items in this catalog, about why they're so valuable or the author's memories of acquiring them, and even got nostalgic when I saw pictures of some of the stuff that I used to own. (Most of it is probably still packed away in my parents' garage, but there's nothing really valuable there. I was never a mint-in-box kind of guy; if I got a toy, I wanted to play with it.)

These days, I'm not a big believer in the "collectible" mentality. Maybe it comes from years of working with computer software, which is eminently disposable, but I feel like if you're buying something only to put it on a shelf and look at it, you might as well just take a picture. It's a little embarrassing to realize how much people are willing to pay for a hunk of plastic just because it happens to be shaped like a particular spaceship or fictional character. I know the perceived value is in its history and such, but I just can't get behind it.

If you ask me, there's already too much real scarcity in the world--food, clean water, vaccines; I could go on. Purposefully doing "limited runs" of a mass-produced object in order to make it "rare" and thus drive up its price in the market seems somewhat Ferengi, don't you think?

And now, a link to "Printcrime."


Perhaps I will call him PINKY!

Of course, if Tye is PINKY, that would make me THE BRAIN, which is an inappropriate metaphor since I have no designs on world domination! Yet! As far as you know! Perhaps I've said too much.

The pink bandage you see on Tye's foot is his souvenir from a day spent at the vet: apparently, his mouth was bothering him so much, the doctors wanted to keep him for a few hours to make sure it wasn't something more serious than an upper respiratory infection or bad teeth! (I know about bad teeth. I once had to have several of mine removed! But that's another story.) They didn't find an object lodged in his throat or anything like that, so he just needs to take antibiotics for a few days, starting tomorrow.

Don't feel too sorry for him though! That patch on his foot is dispensing fentanyl, which is about a hundred times more potent than morphine. He's probably flying pretty high by now! Sweet dreams, kid!


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Barry Manilow Called...

...he wants his royalties.

That was The Richter Scales performing at this year's "Crunchies" awards show, in what seems to have become an annual tradition. But as amusing as that song was, I couldn't stop thinking of this one:

And by the way, Barry guest starring on Glee? Could be a train wreck. I am so going to watch anyway. Expect to see an angry blog post if there is a conspicuous absence of Mandy.


We'll Call It CAT-HOUSE... Wait, No

We don't have cable, so I have no idea if Animal Planet or National Geographic or one of the hundreds of Discovery channels already airs some kind of "medical detective" series featuring veterinarians. But if not, they should.

After doing some web research, DeeAnn suspects that feline calicivirus (FCV) may be the source of Tye's troubles. His gums are still red (though slightly better than yesterday), and he cries out in pain when he bites down on something. He's also been sneezing and drooling a little.

DeeAnn thinks Tye was more lethargic today, but her napping with him may have influenced that:

He's going back to the vet at 10:00 AM. If nothing else, we're hoping they can prescribe something for the pain. TyeCam will resume broadcasting in the afternoon.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

It's like a sauna in there!

The humans have decided that it's okay for me to inspect Tye's temporary habitat from time to time! (The contagion is not airborne, so as long as I stay out of licking distance, I should be fine!)

So I ventured inside several times yesterday! His digs are more than adequate, especially considering that he's got the old brown-carpet perch and the green carrier from last year's road trip. He's certainly not shy about climbing everywhere:

Please note that it's not really that hot in the bathroom! I mean, it is warmer than the rest of the house, which is okay because we cats like it hot. But the thermometer on the clock was reading high because it was parked next to the laptop heating vent all morning! Oops! All I can say is, it's not my fault.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Book Report: Tomorrow, When the War Began

I haven't actually made any New Year's Resolutions for 2010, but I did get it into my head to blog about the books I read. (Short capsules, like DeeAnn was doing, but one at a time, like Larry does.) So here goes...

I don't remember how I found Tomorrow, When the War Began at the library. I think it was in one of their featured displays, but I don't think it was part of a particular themed collection. Anyway, the reason I picked it up was the arresting title, and the first couple of pages held my attention pretty well. So I checked it out.

As it turns out, this is the first in a very popular series of Australian YA novels. I didn't look that up until after I'd finished the book, so I thought it ended very abruptly. But it was a pretty engaging read throughout, with the possible exception of the soap-opera bits in the middle. I liked that it was a war story focusing more on the people than the politics of the conflict itself. I suppose that also helps it appeal to youngsters who don't give a toss about world governments and such.

Anyway, I've put a hold on the second book--The Dead of the Night, published in the U.S. as The Dead of Night--and we'll see if I continue to like the story. At least the books in this series don't balloon into doorstops, like some others I could mention. And I've got a few months before the movie opens.


A Day in the Life of Tye

Well, about ten hours, anyway:

He's still in quarantine until his anti-virals kick in. That's me checking his gums for redness at 0:57. Any big time gaps are probably when he's sleeping in the sink, off-screen.

ObGeek: I'm using Dorgem to capture still images (every 15 seconds when the webcam sees motion) and Picasa to create the time-lapse videos.

The live TyeCam will return tomorrow morning.


Sunday, January 10, 2010


I am of two minds about our new kitty! On one hand, I am definitely looking forward to having a friend to keep me company when the humans are out of the house! On the other hand, our interactions so far have been limited to me sniffing him through the bathroom door and him yelling and sticking his paws under the door and smacking me in the face. Not cool!

But he's stuck in that one room for the next few days (until his viral infection clears up), and I still have the run of the house and get to sleep with the humans. So there! Plus, through the magic of technology, we can all keep an eye on him and make sure he doesn't get into too much trouble. Here's what he did tonight while the humans were out and about:

Cambot is currently off-line--there's not much to see with a black cat in the dark--but you'll be able to view more of the live TyeCam again tomorrow! (We were also calling it QuarantineCam, but that doesn't really sound very nice.)


Friday, January 08, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: "Switch"

This week's story has nothing to do with either Blake Edwards or Steve Jobs. Just so you know up front.

Read "Switch" at 512 Words or Fewer


Colonel Tye

Our new kitty has been in the house for less than 12 hours, and he's already a LOLcat (following a few random Twitter comments):

This, my friends, is the power of the Internet.

Thanks to Jeff Phillips of Los Jefes for making the image!


Wednesday, January 06, 2010

On the 12th Day of Xmas

...i.e., today, we start thinking about taking down all the decorations and putting away our presents.

This holiday season was somewhat bittersweet; we got to spend time with many new and old friends, but we also lost Bayla. We still miss her, and we'll never replace her, but we have started the process of adopting a new cat so Jasper will have a friend to keep him company when DeeAnn and I are out of the house.

2009 was our first full year of living in our new home, and while we've been able to cut back on almost every other expenditure, we've found that we really like to travel. So we'll probably be tweaking our budget to accommodate that in the future.

I'm not as down on 2009 as some people--I didn't have a job to lose, and didn't succumb to any major illnesses (knock on wood) or experience any major personal crises--but I'm still looking forward to 2010. I'm going to keep writing, keep getting better, and with a little bit of luck, start making a real living of it. Here's to a Happy New Year.

(Yeah, I know that video is in Spanish, but it's the most concise black-and-white version of that clip I could find on YouTube. And the dubbing on Zuzu's last line, at 0:54, is hilarious.)


Tuesday, January 05, 2010

I am a Professional Writer

Received today: Payment for some of my Wired How-To Wiki articles. And there's more where that came from.


SnoutCast #4: Thanks for the Memories

In this episode, we discuss some memorable moments from the six Games we've run. Thanks to Rich for the suggestion! Maybe next time we'll answer the question you actually asked...

Apologies for running over an hour this time, the incessant digression (we often discuss a different Game or topic than the one listed for each section below), and constant breath noises. We're working on it. Really.

[ Download mp3 - 56 MB ]

0:00:00 - knock-knock joke intro FAIL
0:02:16 - hello listeners; subscription links
0:04:20 - Homicide: Life on the Farm (2001)
0:12:40 - FoBiK (2002)
0:19:00 - Justice Unlimited (2004)
0:26:09 - Hogwarts and the Draconian Prophecy (2006)
0:37:18 - Midnight Madness: Back To Basics! (2008)
0:50:12 - DASH 1 PDX (2009)
0:57:31 - what have we learned, Charlie Brown?
1:00:27 - The End

That quacking you hear is our attempt to use a timer to limit the length of our ramblings. Clearly, we failed at that, too. Oh well.

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey," "A Talk With George," "Tom Cruise Crazy," "Mandelbrot Set," "My Monkey," "I Feel Fantastic," "First of May," and "The Future Soon" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

CKL DeeAnn Jasper

Friday, January 01, 2010