Journal Archives - October 1-15, 2000
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October 2, 2K ... The Baxil Weekly Name-Drop: When "this weekend" -- the period of time bounded by leaving work on Friday and arriving at work on Monday -- arrived, I had just finished shopping for art at Novica. I bought a scupture made by an independent artist in Sumatra; the piece was called 'Taksaka' (apparently the Sumatran dragon god of the sky). When I left the office and walked out into the parking lot, I staggered against 30-mph winds (yes, Virginia, the Beaufort Scale is handy) to get to my car. When I drove home and pulled into our driveway, an (unnamed) opossum skittered away to hide underneath the safety of one of our upstairs neighbor's cars. (It's the first "wild animal" I've seen in our neighborhood.) Whether these synchronicities adequately describe my weekend, I leave as an exercise to the reader.
On Saturday, I attempted to visit the bank, with no success; the trip was interesting enough that I will save the tale for tomorrow. I then skittered under the sheltering embrace of Myles' computer and played Diablo II for the rest of the day. (Mine isn't fast enough, alas.)
Sunday found me waking up early so that I could accompany the roommates (Erin, Sarah and Walter, anyway) to Julian's apartment. We, and about 20 loose friends-of-friends (-of-friends), congregated, chatted, and consumed brunch. The omelettes were masterfully done, and they even had feta cheese on hand. I enjoyed a few games of "Set" and several of "The Great Dalmuti", making a good show of myself in both. And then we sat down to watch "The Mouse And His Boy." I might have the title slightly wrong; Amazon doesn't recognize it. And with good reason.
Oh, wow, that movie is horrible. It's billed as a children's film, but the first scene is a highly unnerving toy shop scene that puts the "Toy Story" mechanical spider droids to shame. The main villain, voiced by Peter Ustinov, is a rat who dreams of taking over the world -- err, junkyard -- by stealing sweets from helpless squirrel bankers. The main characters, and half of the cast, are wind-up toys who are utterly and completely helpless unless someone twists their keys. There's a frog who lives in a glove and utters prophecies, which naturally come completely, unfailingly and literally true (at least the one he gave while standing out in the middle of the woods, accompanied by a loud thundercrack and -- get this -- a spotlight. I couldn't stop laughing for 30 seconds). There's a scene in which the mice contemplate infinity by staring into a dog food can's label, and subsequently the movie goes into this sequence straight from an LSD trip. And don't get me started on the opera.
I suggested halfway through that the movie (based on the book of the same name, apparently; and thankfully long out of print) was Biblical allegory. I won't go into all of the parallels here; just know that the main character dies and gets resurrected. (The scene where the evil Ustinov rat guy kills the heroes is a classic; as he bashes them in with a rock, the camera is in a "victim-view", and we're treated to repeated shots of a huge black shape blotting out the screen alternating with the leering face of the rat. Then, suddenly and completely inexplicably, the rat gets this look of horror on his face, like he's just realized that they're dead, and runs away. And then, later, when the mice meet back up with the rat in the final confrontation, he doesn't seem surprised at all to see them alive ... but I'm getting way too much into this.)
Anyway. I also, that evening, went to a local store to pick up some shelves and a coatrack for my bedroom. I spent the evening assembling the shelves and loading all of my CDs onto them; my room looks fantastically more organized now. Alas, the coat rack wasn't quite so agreeable. One of the holes was mis-drilled, and I had to exchange it this morning for a hopefully working model. This, I hope, adequately explains my lack of weekend posting (Diablo and furniture assembly). Consider this extra-long weekend wrap-up a make-up gift.
Only a few names remaining to be dropped: The "winners" (we're all winners, in our own way, and I don't mean to imply any lesser value in the people who didn't send me their scores for the Dungeon-Crawl Preparedness Quiz) of the DCPQ mini-contest-quiz-thingy. A handful of people managed to beat my personal score of 70: Keh'tel at 81; Elizabeth at 84; Leo Laberge at 90(!), and Mike Thorpe -- with a little help from his parents' stash of dungeoneering gear -- at 91(!!). Mike asks, "Do I get a lollipop for that?"
Yes, you do, but it's guarded by the goblins on Level 6.
October 3, 2K ... Tomorrowlands.org now presents Tales from the Streets. Ever have one of those days when everything is just ... off? When nothing you do is free of cognitive dissonance? When nothing bad actually happens, but the world is just full of wrong?
On Saturday morning, finding myself with an errand to run, I left our empty house and hit the pavement. Destination: "The Ave." This is the local slang for the shop-heavy stretch of University Avenue on the west side of campus. It's got a double handful of CD stores, bookstores, more restaurants than you can shake a stick at, and a huge building full of gamer heaven known to insiders as "WOTC". None of those were my target; I needed to go to the bank.
Two blocks from the house, I met roommates Erin, Myles and Misty (along with Dave) walking the other way. They'd just returned from breakfast at Dalmuti's, the little restaurant adjoining WOTC. I explained my quest, and walked off with a cheery "See you at home!"
I reached The Ave and crossed the street. It's been my observation that panhandlers almost exclusively loiter on the west side of the street; I can't explain why this is so, and I'm not even sure there's a conscious decision involved. (And, yes, I know this sounds heartless. But remember, I was on my way to the bank. I really hate having to pass by someone begging for money and not have so much as a few quarters to help them out with.) After passing a few storefronts, I heard the generally melodic strummings of one of our local street musicians. The rhythm sounded familiar, and I placed the song after a few bars: Black Sabbath's "Iron Man." ... On solo acoustic guitar.
The bank, alas, was closed. I withdrew $20 from the ATM, but the money order would have to wait until Monday. I headed across the street to a Mailboxes Etc., in search of postage stamps. They indeed sold them: The clerk rung up a book of 20 and asked me for $7.60. (Lest this seem normal, do the math: first-class postage is 33 cents, times 20 is ... $6.60. I concluded that the Post Office is now allowing mark-ups on stamps sold by outside vendors ... it just seemed strange.)
Among the change were two $5 bills -- an old one and a new one -- and two quarters -- a bicentennial quarter and the new state quarter from New Jersey. The new quarter was kind of lame; the new $5 bill is ... what can I say? ... ugly. Not quite as scary as the 20, but the Communist-esque block-print "5" on the back is still gratuitously there, and Lincoln now looms on the front, large enough to bite your finger off if he were to open his mouth. I know it's just culture shock from having lived my whole life with the more subtle and flowery design of the old bills ... but it's a step baxward, it really is.
I tried to console myself by walking into a local Middle Eastern foodery. (I know the term is technically "restaurant." But this is a seedy college-student dive, with nothing more than a serving counter and a few tables as a formality; I stand by my terminology.) I ordered a falafel wrap and sat back while my order was fried on the spot, amusing myself by looking around at the posters.
The first thing that caught my eye was an advertisement for a Ralph Nader rally, out of date by a week. One phrase grabbed my brain and held it hostage, slapping it around a few times for good measure: "Minimum donation $10." Dictionary.com: "Donate, v.: To present as a gift to a fund or cause." Aren't gifts voluntary? How can the entry fee be called a donation if it must be paid to get in? Does Ralph Nader donate hundreds of thousands of dollars every April to the federal government, or does he pay taxes like the rest of us? Sigh. ... Remember, kiddies: No matter who you vote for, you're voting for a politician. Nader's second-best of a sorry lot (I am, of course, biased toward Libertarian candidate Harry Browne), but even a Nader (or Browne) win wouldn't fix the millions of tiny things wrong with our political system. Maybe we should write in Mussolini as a candidate ...
This occupied my mind until I turned around and noticed the tapestry-thing on the back wall.
It wasn't a tapestry, really. It looked like a rug tacked up on the wall; it was definitely fabric, but very thickly woven, and apparently on a backing of some sort. Well-made, subdued colors, very brown and tan and Middle-Eastern-authentic-looking. It was the design, though, that made it stand out. It was a picture of Donald Duck and two of his smiling nephews riding a cartoony camel across the desert, with pillars from old ruins and a duck-faced sphinx in the background.
There are so many things wrong with this that I don't even know where to start. It's wrong on so many levels. Like the most obvious: It's a tapestry-rug-thing of Disney characters. Disney don't do fine art. This is like painting the "Mona Mighty Mouse" and hanging it in the Louvre. And then there's the fact that there were only two ducklings: Was Huey home sick? Did Unca Scrooge take Dewey out exploring the pyramids? Had Louie just fallen off, and was he being viciously trampled by the camel even as his oblivious siblings shouted and pointed at the thriving bazaar just offscreen? From the contented, dopey look on the face of the camel, that last one wouldn't surprise me. The camel was almost as traumatic as the duck-sphinx, which I fully expect to replace the one-eyed pyramid when the new American $1 bill gets rolled out.
On the way home, falafel in hand (what, you thought I was going to eat it there, with Donald watching me?), I caught up with my roommates. Turns out that I first met them right before they dropped by Safeway for a shopping trip.
At least the falafel tasted good.
October 4, 2K ... Clearing a bunch of random stuff out of my head today. ...
... I promised I'd give more details of the company event last Friday: We went bowling. But it wasn't just bowling. It was bowling and pizza! No, seriously: We got not only a full bowling alley to ourselves for 4 hours, but also food, drinks, alcoholic beverages (although I chose not to consume any, and many of our staff couldn't for age reasons), $100 worth of quarters to spend in the video arcade, and several raffle prizes including $1000 cash. I bowled four games, consistently scoring triple digits, hovering around 110 but capping off the set with a 136. My hands are still a little sore. ... While 136 wasn't even a contender for company best, it was respectable, putting me solidly above average; I also tried my hand at foosball (my team finished 2-1 thanks largely to my cunning offense) and air hockey (I won both games I played, and spectators were impressed mainly by the fact that I played both games with different hands). ... And while I was helping the company spend those $100 worth of quarters in the arcade ("House of the Dead" was missing Player #2's gun! AAAARRRGGH!), I almost missed the most exciting moment of the event: I won one of the raffle prizes! I had to be grabbed away from whatever lame light-gun game I was playing at the time and hustled out of the arcade to the lobby to claim my prize: 300 stock options! It wasn't cash, but if Wildtangent IPO's well, I could be quite a bit happier than if I'd won the dead presidents. ...
... Scores keep trickling in for the Dungeon-Crawl
Preparedness Quiz, despite my idiotic misspelling of my own domain name
in the link in Monday's post (now
fixed). Maybe I should register
... I heard an advertisement on the radio this morning: Albertson's (a grocery store chain) is having some sort of stock-up-the-pantry promotion. Among the items they listed on sale was "Maruchan noodles: Twelve for a dollar." You can't fool me, sneaky radio announcer person -- That there's ramen. (Maruchan's a popular brand name for the stuff, for those of you who've been living in a cave for the last century.) Yes, ramen at 12-for-a-buck is a good deal, but what's the point of putting ramen on sale? Every supermarket in the country sells it no worse than eight-for-a-dollar already. Am I supposed to be impressed that I can pick up a meal's worth of noodles-and-salt for 8.3 cents instead of 12.5? At those prices, you already pay more to heat the water and wash the pot than you do for the food. ...
... I feel cheated. "Sobe Power" (this isn't a slogan; beverage company Sobe actually had the temerity to name one of their drinks "Power") contains caffeine. It's glorified fruit juice; I picked it up with "fruit juice" in mind. (And their cute little lizard mascot, but that's irrelevant.) They specifically state on the front of the bottle that the drink contains "proline + creatine + taurine", and make such a big deal on the label blurb about how Sobe drinks are "exotic teas [or] juice blends whose health benefits have been enhanced by the addition of herbs, nutrients and other natural supplements" -- and then they go and add caffeine to the damn thing. Proline and creatine and taurine I can maybe see as nutrients or natural supplements; I don't actually know what proline and taurine are, but I'll take their word for it. But caffeine ain't nothing but a drug. And they know this -- they bury it in the fine-print legally-mandated ingredients list, from which I also learn that the main source of fruit juice in the beverage is "aronia juice concentrate." (What the hell is an "aronia"?) ... As I said, I feel cheated. I drink fruit juices instead of cola for two reasons: They're not carbonated, and they're not caffeinated. I prefer natural sugar highs to upset stomachs. So now I have to decide whether to throw away an entire damn bottle of juice, or just drink it a little bit at a time so I don't O.D. on No-Doz. ...
... What exactly does "proline + creatine + taurine" equal, anyway? If the distributive property holds in the English language, this gives us "(procreatetaur)-ine." This sounds suspiciously like the hormone that makes half-human, half-animal mixtures horny. (Minotaur: half-man, half-bull; centaur: half-man, half-horse ... etc.; Procreate: To have sex.) So ... hmm. Hey! Someone get Burned Fur on the line! I've just figured out this great way to clean all the sex out of furry fandom ... deny them their Sobe Powers!
October 5, 2K ... On occasion, at work, our room is invaded by insects. Our corner office must have a small crack in the wall, or an open air vent to the outside, or something, because I've done my share of swatting invading flying ants crawling around on the inside of our window.
But there was an unusually loud buzzing this morning; no flying ant, this. (They crawl around on the windows and make a nuisance of themselves, but at least they're silent.) I got up to investigate, and stumbled on a pitched David and Goliath struggle taking place in the back corner.
Our windows have Venetian blinds; the ones on my side of the room are pulled up, and have been for weeks. They hang very close to the window. Behind them, a small spider -- no more than half an inch including its longish legs, and slightly on the bulbous side -- had spun its web, caught something, and was struggling for a meal. Pitted against this tiny yet relentless predator? A wasp three times its size.
The thorax of the creature, alone, was the size of the spider's whole body: about 1/4 inch long. Its wings and abdomen stretched out another 5/8 of an inch. The legs and antennae were at least that long; the whole thing was splayed out, occupying an area the size of a quarter on the window. And yet the spider had caught this monster, and was bravely holding it back as the wasp tried ceaselessly to escape by mightily flapping its wings, creating the high-pitched buzz that disturbed my work.
It didn't look at first like the wasp was caught at all; after calling my officemate Logan over for back-up observation, we determined that the spider had wrapped silk around its rear end or stinger or something and layered the silk on thick enough that the wasp couldn't break free. The wasp's whole body could move -- it just looked "anchored" to something behind the Venetian blinds by this thick line coming out of its posterior.
The spider was obviously outmatched; it seemed a wonder that it was able to snare the wasp in the first place. The sole factor that was keeping it from being wasp food was its position behind the Venetian blinds. From the safety of its den, it was waging a kind of guerrilla war: The wasp would turn its back on the spider and start buzzing its wings, trying to escape the webbing and fly away, and the spider would leap out and add more silk to the wasp's restraints. Then the wasp would notice, turn around, and grab for the spider, who would duck behind the Venetian blinds; the wasp would try to follow, but it was too big to fit into the gap without wedging itself in and losing mobility. So it would chase the spider away (almost catching it once or twice), then turn around and attempt to escape again, at which point the spider would return.
Logan and I agreed that we were rooting for the spider, since spiders don't sting or fly around the room. And yet neither one of us wanted to rig the fight (or end it prematurely) by simply killing the wasp. It was a poignant moment. The two fighters circled; we watched, enthralled. Survival of the fittest at its finest. It would have been a shame to deny the thrill of victory to the winner.
The situation didn't change for several minutes, and we returned to our desks. I tried looking up the species of the wasp online. It was visually distinctive enough that I figured I'd have a chance. I'll describe it here, in case any of my readers are any more knowledgeable about entomology than I am: Black body and head, no fur, very small pale yellow highlights. Black eyes with a yellow ring almost encircling them. Antennae black, with about 1/8 inch of yellow about 1/8 inch in from the tip. Two sets of long, slender wings, of different sizes, dull-colored. Bright orange legs. Abdomen thinner than body, with (as I later discovered) what looks like about 1 1/4 inch of pencil lead sticking out of it. This indeed appears to be part of its body, and was what the spider managed to wrap its silk around.
My best guess (especially based on that last part) is that it's an Ichneumon wasp of some sort. Various sources' pictures of these bad boys (here, here, and here ... wait ... no, that's some argument about the nature of God. How'd a page of theology get onto the results of my Alta Vista +"ichneumon wasp" search?) seem to back up the theory.
Well, anyway, to wrap up the story: ... The wasp won. Several minutes later, I looked up, and it was frantically buzzing around the inside of the window. I can't find the spider; it may have been squished, or driven back outside, or stung.
Due to the fact that I don't want wasps inside the room in which I'm trying to program ... I killed the big guy. Now I feel like absolute scum.
October 6, 2K ... A week and a half ago, I wrote a post about Mr. Happy Fascist Guy. Not quite content to leave it at that, I sent him a letter (non-anonymous, but with no personal information or URLs) with some ... hmm ... "helpful suggestions" to improve his philosophy. I've been wanting to write a wrap-up post on the whole issue, but I've been holding off in hopes that he'd send me a reply. Ah, well, no luck ... either he's just smart enough to have caught on, or as busy as I am.
For your entertainment and/or education, I'll reprint the letter here. This disclaimer is too obvious to be necessary, but I'll include it anyway: None of the statements below reflect my actual beliefs. Most of them are blatantly absurd or self-contradictory; the sad part is that, in the little world defined by a fascist belief system, they make just enough sense to sound credible.
So. Read on, o happy minions of the state:
From: Tad 'Baxil' Ramspott To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: A few helpful suggestions I was reading your page http://members.internettrash.com/dcmcnamara/ , about your political/moral philosophy, and was impressed with the obvious quality of your beliefs. However, there are several points that your philosophy fails to address. You may wish to give some thought to adding the following points to your philosophy: * Ban divorce. Matthew 19:6: "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." Divorce is as unforgivable as adultery, although in recognition of the fact that people make mistakes, perhaps it shouldn't carry the death penalty, just jail time. * Ban the Internet. It is the single greatest source of vice in America. And it encourages easy communication among criminals. If the police are about to burst in on a pornographer's house, and he receives an e-mail or instant message from his friend warning him of the approaching lawmen, he can escape to continue his string of crimes. * Don't put homosexuals in mental hospitals. Use them as labor. Putting those limp-wristed fags on chain gangs might shock them out of their sad delusions. * The people to put in mental hospitals are the "feminists" who are destroying this country by presuming themselves equal to men and spreading so-called liberalism around. And I just have to say here: It's so cool to see you quote 1 Tim 2:11-15 on your page!!! I had to point it out to my ex-girlfriend a couple of times when we were discussing whether she was going to marry me. It's good that I did because she shouted at me and broke off the engagement. I was sad for a while but now I'm just glad that I learned who she really was before I made a huge mistake. God was truly watching over me. * Ban private banks. If all banks are owned by the state, then funds generated by criminal activities can be seized without complicated legal wrangling. Use of foreign banks could carry a 10-year jail sentence. * Only fund scientific research through the state. Private research routinely turns up biased results because the funding comes from groups with liberal agendas. If the research is all done under the wing of the government, all results can be carefully controlled. * Ban secession. If you are elected and your glorious changes are applied to American law, the liberals and criminals might try to sway the people to leave so they can return to their old state of vice and indecency. You have to make it clear that such rebellions are quickly put down. I recommend threatening to destroy the capital of any "splinter state" with nuclear bombs. This will demoralize the resistance and your troops will then be able to sweep through the remaining territory and quickly restore order. Please write back. I think these ideas will help you clean up the world even more and I'd like to know what you think. Praise be. P.S. I don't know about the whole Mussolini thing. He had a lot of good ideas like banning labor unions and trying to conquer Europe ... but he made Roman Catholicism the state religion. They worship false idols like "the virgin Mary" and I don't think I can support that no matter how good he might have been for the state. -- Tad Ramspott (@ work) -- (address munged) :) "ALERT: Your mouse has moved. Windows must be restarted for the change to take effect." -AnonymousI especially like the part about how "private research routinely turns up biased results", so "If the research is all done under the wing of the government, all results can be carefully controlled." If only more fascists would realize the wisdom of my words ...
October 7, 2K ... I will allow myself the indulgence of one final thought on the "why" of the T-lands Journal. How do I classify myself? How do I define what I'm doing? What do I hope to accomplish? Let's start with a bit of a revelation I had yesterday morning:
This is not a web journal. This isn't nearly autobiographical enough; I'm tackling issues far too broad and irrelevant for a confessional. I'm posting far too much of everything and nothing.
This is not E/N ("everything/nothing", a popular genre of posting up random links and opinions). This is too unconcerned with its readership. (Yes, I know I've gotten self-conscious about my self-consciousness. But it's true. I don't even know how many readers I have. I might check the web logs one day, but it's not a priority.) And I have far too much original material to justify amusing my theoretical readers by throwing around random links to whatever's caught my eye that day. I can't be E/N; I'm too authentic and creative.
This is not A/C (authentic/creative ... oh, just follow the link). Or, rather, this wouldn't be, if A/C were anything more than a joke at the expense of self-obsessed webmasters. This is too -- dare I say it? -- self-obsessed. Everything I post here is for one purpose: to clear it out of my head.
But this is not a webjournal. This isn't nearly auto--
October 8, 2K ... Sad. Sad, sad, sad. Every once in a while I see something that makes me mourn for the future of humanity; today's example of such fundamental stupidity is ... a banner ad.
Mere words cannot convey the ... uhm ... "beauty" of its design. I'm just going to have to provide a copy of it for you here:
Alas, even this travesty of good taste can't convey the full effect: the original was animated. An animated .BMP ... I don't even want to know what was going through its designers' minds.
This version's a GIF, as I wanted it to be viewable by all browsers (my Netscape at home was refusing to interpret the BMP correctly, so I had to do a quick conversion job and edit the journal entry). Apparently MSIE didn't have a problem with showing it to me, but choked when it tried to save it to disk ... so I can't get it animating.
Which is a shame. The original had text scrolling in from the right that said something along the lines of: "Do you have computer network problems? Call us and trust our professionalism!" ... Sprinkle in a few more question marks instead of letters and you'll get the idea.
And I clicked on the banner ad. I just had to. You'll understand, I think. Especially when you realize what popped up at www.townsendctc.com:
An index of the root directory of their machine.
And worse than that: The contents of the machine are five directories -- /bin, /cgi-local, /etc, /lib32, and /stats. The last of these is password-protected. The others are either locked out or devoid of content. There isn't a single Web page on the site.
I don't know about you, but if I want to trust my network to computer professionals, I'll pick the ones who have a basic grasp of HTML and standard ASCII text. In the meantime, I'll just go home and quietly pray that these individuals haven't yet learned how to vote.
October 9, 2K ... The Baxil Weekly Name-Drop: Now with names in boldface!
I spent Friday night playing Half-Life: Counterstrike. (All of Friday night. Until dawn.) It's a modification to the popular first-person shooter in which you take on the role of a terrorist or counter-terrorist and battle it out team-vs-team on a variety of maps with differing objectives. Sometimes the terrorists need to blow up landmarks; sometimes the CTs need to rescue hostages or escort a VIP to an "escape zone". Despite my utter lack of skillz at the game, I enjoy it loads.
It's an online-only multiplayer game, and I hopped on a local server to smite and be smitten by some people I'd never met. Opponents like Scorpion and 666LordOfDeath worked my ass with often-cheap tactics: Both were fond of sniping at people with the AWP, the game's one-shot kill sniper rifle. Scorpion in particular I recall for his habit of jumping up into trees, where the foliage would hide him from view, but he would have an unobstructed line of sight to many of the map's choke-points. Fortunately, this made him predictable: I racked up a couple of cheap kills by sneaking into a hiding place behind the trees, waiting for him to get into position, then blowing him away from behind with a shotgun. Unfortunately, he still got the better part of the deal, as I had to die 5 or 6 times to figure out where he was shooting me from.
And then there were opponents like Rambo, whose skillz potentially take a back seat to their amorality and ingenuity in installing cheats: Most of the way through one particular map in which Rambo had racked up an impressive 37-4 kill-death ratio, a teammate commented that all of Rambo's kills were head shots. Counterstrike Beta 7.1 now tracks these separately, perhaps because many people whose desire to win exceeds their desire to play are indeed making use of a script which turns every shot into a head-shot (bypassing the opponent's armor and doing more damage). Naturally, I don't need such cheap hacks to prove my worth. ... Naturally, my best K-D ratio on the night was 15-18.
But I'm getting more formidable. I'm learning the weapons, learning the strategies that separate Counterstrike from other games of its ilk (jump a lot; fire in short bursts; stick together with your teammates), and adjusting my strategies to deal with the dynamics of squad-level team games. Most of my FPS experience comes from playing Marathon over a LAN with FConcolor and his younger brother; I'm used to mere 2-on-1's, and dealing with situations where you and three friends are potentially holding a position against 7 charging terrorists requires a bit of adjustment. (Not to mention grenades. In some maps half of my kills came from well-placed grenade throws, and a flash grenade in the face can really ruin a sniper's aim or stop an entire team's otherwise-well-timed charge.) So, if you feel like matching your 3l33t g4M3r 5K1LL5 against mine, dust off your copy of Half-Life, download Counterstrike (http://www.counter-strike.net), drop me an e-mail, give me a server name, and watch for Treeslayer.
I awoke on Saturday barely in time to prepare for a trip over to Dave's house, where our biweekly AD&D session was to take place after a barbeque. I made a quick shopping run, our intrepid band of adventurers faced the terrors of the interstate highway, and we settled in to an evening of good food and tense intrigue. Korray finally got her birthday present ... only about a month late. And our party managed not to get turned into newts by Elminster.
On Sunday, I watched "Brazil" with Jia -- a worthwhile movie, with a clever and poignant ending, but a little bit too trippy and drawn-out for my tastes. I also played with Amber the cat quite a bit, and got a chance to catch up with Cipher. (I haven't been to Terra for several months; shortly before I last visited, some complications of the planet's return were discovered, but they're being addressed. It's good to hear that Terra's adjusting to current events with such resilience and spirit.)
In other news ... more scores for the Dungeon Crawl Preparedness Quiz keep filtering in. The high scores keep creeping up: Van Anderson reports a 99, missing only the snakebite kit. "You'd be amazed how much you need these sorts of things when you grow up in the mountains. I didn't even have to use my access to my family's hardware store to get that score," Van says. I'm impressed: I didn't even know 10-foot poles were made any more. So, adventurers, you know your next challenge: Are there any 100s out there? Proof and/or anecdotal evidence of this lofty score would be appreciated.
Also, Delcanth turned in a score of 57, with an often amusing point-by-point annotated answer sheet. Among the highlights:
That's one use, I suppose. But think of how handy dice can be! In a pinch, four-siders make impromptu caltrops; scattering 20-siders or 12-siders on the floor can be just as devastating as marbles; you can drop them down pits to see how deep they are; they make handy items to cast "Continual Light" spells on ...
Ain't pseudo-science fun?
October 12, 2K ... I had Tom Lehrer's "We Will All Go Together When We Go" stuck in my head this morning. For those of you who have been living in a cave since World War II, it's Lehrer's anthem to the atomic bomb, "celebrating" the fact that nuclear war means no more funerals to attend. Its humor hasn't faded over time ... but its message seems kind of dated today, doesn't it?
Our parents' generation has grown up. (To those who practiced air-raid drills as children, please adjust your set; I'm 23 and speaking from personal experience.) The "Cold War" has been frozen for a decade, and hasn't really been hot within my lifetime. I know it sounds hard to believe, to those of you who were born later than I ... but there was a time, once, when just about every American woke up wondering each morning whether they and the rest of the world were going to suddenly die.
We have nothing on that scale left to fear. What are the bogeymen today? Terrorism? General lack of morality? The premise that the quiet guy next door who once smoked a joint is going to bug out and go on a drug-fueled rampage? No ... nothing quite measures up as the Threat That Will Destroy Us All. And that's a definite social difficulty. Our entire culture this past century has been based on the premise that there's something for all of us to band together and fight, something lurking out there in the darkness. First the Kaiser (1910s), then alcohol (1920s), then poverty (1930s), then fascism (1940s), then communist infiltration (1950s), then communism in general (1960s), then communism in Vietnam (1970s), then communism in Russia (1980s), then drugs (1990s).
Now, we're approaching (or in) the new millennium, and all of the old campfire stories are getting pretty worn. But people still have been raised to fear ... there's just nothing left to fear. So demagoguery runs rampant, and our civilization schisms. I'm reminded of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's immortal quote, "There is nothing to fear but fear itself" ... which might, finally, be true. People being scared of shadows scares me a hell of a lot more than the shadows themselves, these days.
Meanwhile, Lehrer's lyrics reach my ears, straight out of the 1950s:
"You will all go directly to your respective Valhallas. Go directly, do not pass Go, do not collect 200 dollars."
Over forty years later, and the reference remains as immediate as ever. ... Sometimes it's comforting to know that no matter how much the times may change, some things will remain timeless.
October 13, 2K ... I went through my daily rounds on The Hunger Site yesterday afternoon. (I recommend a visit, by the way. THS donates money to the United Nations World Food Program just for clicking on a link. You get some advertising, but it's a good cause, and the advertisers pay whether or not you actually follow their banner ads.) Slightly bored, I cruised through the sites of the sponsors; after deciding that I didn't need another copy of Photoshop or a $40 flower arrangement (and after remembering that we're already Working Assets customers), I finally succumbed to curiosity and clicked through the link to the $1 billion lottery.
No joke. Grab.com is giving away a billion dollars. $1,000,000,000. Except for the usual "We'll pay you only a little at a time over the course of 40 years, and you're still paying all the taxes," there didn't seem to be any catches. ... Except that, of course, you have to win.
It's an old truism that "The lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math." Well, being good at math, I figured I'd crunch the numbers for your entertainment. Let's start with the odds.
We'll start with some small numbers: 7 and 77. 7 is the number of picks you get, and the number you've got to get right, to score that prize. 77 is the range of numbers you have to pick from. Now, if you just needed to get one number right, your odds of winning would be 1 in 77. Since your next choice can't be that same number, your odds of getting the second one right are 1 in 76 -- but since you have to get the first one right, too, multiply the two numbers together. Repeat this process. Seven times.
Fortunately, this doesn't take into account that if you get the seven numbers right, they can be in any order you want. A pick of 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 is the same as a pick of 4-2-5-1-7-6-3. How many ways are there to shuffle around 7 numbers into different orders? 7! (No, I'm not just being enthusiastic here; "7!" is mathematical shorthand for "7 factorial," which means "7 multiplied by all of the numbers less than it".) So the final odds of winning this shell game are (7*6*5*4*3*2*1) / (77*76*75*74*73*72*71) ... or, 1 in 2,404,808,340.
So what's this mean? Well, infant mortality rates in the U.S. hover around .7 percent. You were statistically 16.8 million times more likely to die as an infant than to be born to win this lottery. But cheer up. According to statistics from the CDC, if you're an American, you're only 267,560 times more likely to be killed by a gun than to pick the right 7 numbers. ... No, that number's still too big to be conceivable; let's try again.
How about this: If you set up an automated script to enter you in this lottery once per second, 24 hours a day, every day ... in 38 years you'd have about the same chance of winning as if you bet someone a billion dollars and flipped a coin.
Glad that's been cleared up. Now let's take a look at the odds that Grab.com will actually have to make the payout ... odds which, seeing as how they've got a billion dollars at stake here, I'm certain that they calculated down to the last decimal place.
Now, let's assume that everyone on Earth who is eligible to enter their contest, does so. Let's further assume that all of these entrants pick different sets of numbers, with no repeats. How many entries is this? Well, since the contest is open to all residents 13 or over of the United States (excluding Florida) and Canada (excluding Quebec), and all residents 18 or over of the United Kingdom, we're looking at many millions. A little searching on the Web reveals population information for the three countries. I omitted those under 15, which is a close enough approximation for our purposes; I'm still being generous, because I'm not excluding Florida or Quebec. This gives us a total eligible population of 288 million, at one entry apiece.
And the odds of a payout, if all these people enter? 288,000,000 out of the above-mentioned 2,404,808,340 ... which works out to not quite one in eight.
Think about this. The company will be paying off that $1 billion grand prize -- a tiny chunk at a time, over 40 years, so inflation alone eats up half of the cost to them, and prudent investment of the funds accounts for the other half -- only once for each eight lotteries they run. If every person on the continent enters every single one. Personally, I figure the odds of that are one of the few things tinier than the odds of winning the contest in the first place.
Meanwhile ... according to the rules, to enter you must register with this company, giving them a whole bunch of personal information. And ... did we mention? ... sign up for a mailing list and verify your e-mail address. So in exchange for this way-less-than-12.5 percent chance of slowly going just slightly broke, the company gains a 100 percent chance of being able to spam every single one of the contest's entrants.
Yep. Spam 'em. Legally. Did you go pitch in your lucky numbers because "what the heck, I doubt I'll win, but it can't hurt?" Well, because you opted in to their mailing list, and you void your entry if you opt out, you're a captive audience to their advertising.
Beware the lottery. Oh, and happy weekend.
October 14, 2K ... Gas prices are still "horrible." I say that because, even considering recent price hikes, we're paying approximately half of what citizens of any other country in the world are paying for their petrol.
I filled up my tank Friday morning with the cheap stuff -- 87 octane is the lowest they go in Washington state -- at $1.71 per gallon. If I'd shelled out $1.89 per gallon instead, I could have gone upper-class and used 92-octane instead.
Meanwhile, the gas station had a sign out on the corner of the lot, advertising the wares inside their little convenience store: "MILK $1.89/gallon".
Oh gosh. Gasoline is as expensive as milk now. Boo hoo. Whine whine.
I realize that many people will argue that this isn't a laughing matter, that expensive gasoline puts an undue hardship on the poor, who spend a greater percentage of their income on it, blah blah, yadda yadda. Yes, poor people pay just as much for gasoline as the rest of us, on less income to boot. ... So?
It's a drop in the bucket -- no pun intended -- compared to insurance and vehicle maintenance. Do you know what the total operating cost of an average car is? On the order of 25 cents per mile. (The government reimburses its drivers at 33, last time I checked, but they overpay for everything.) Of that 25 cents, how much of it is gasoline costs? About 6. Even at today's prices. If people are too poor to afford an extra few cents per gallon, what are they doing owning a car?
Because they need one? Probably. So why are we, as society, punishing our lower classes with draconian zoning laws and poor public transportation alternatives that force them to own a car or starve?
That's the question to ask. Not "Why are gas prices so high?"
October 15, 2K ... Synthesis: The combining of simple parts into a complex whole. Take, for example, God's caffeine preferences and the off-handed remarks about Sobe which started in my recent Day of Random Posting and became The Sobe Study.
This one isn't too hard; I'm surprised I didn't see it earlier. To wit: Many Sobe "fruit juice" beverages contain caffeine. The question has been asked: How does God like to consume caffeine? Isn't it obvious? God drinks Sobe.
This explanation meshes with many things we've always been told about God. For instance, "The Lord works in mysterious ways." Now, what's so mysterious about putting caffeine in coffee? Coffee is crap; nobody would drink it if it didn't contain what amounts to a mild form of speed. Same with chocolate; cocoa beans are bitter as hell. Most chocolate is so doctored with sugar that you can barely taste the chocolate flavor. But fruit juice ... I just can't fathom why fruit juice would contain caffeine. Fruit juice stands on its own merits. It's healthy, full of carbohydrates and vitamins, and sweet. Adding caffeine to the mixture adds nothing to the experience except a headache. Why someone would do so is a mystery to me ... and good proof of God's involvement.
Also, the names of the Sobe beverages containing caffeine are awfully suggestive. "Power." "Wisdom." "Strength." God's got them all, in spades. And no wonder ... he's been drinking the things for more millennia than we can count.
But perhaps the most suggestive fact of all is that someone has to be drinking enough to keep Sobe in business. God knows, I can't finish a full bottle of the stuff at a sitting. My Sobe tolerance appears to be about 6 to 8 ounces; after that, the rest of the bottle starts to taste ... funny. Kind of like the "Gatorade Effect," except a lot more immediate. I wouldn't even have touched the things, except that they looked marginally better than the Fruitopia provided to me by my workplace. Plus that cute little lizard mascot.
So, God, I'm on to you and your Sobe-drinking ways. And knowing this, I've got one request for you ...
Would you come down here and finish off the bottle of Sobe Power that I've still got sitting half-full on my desk?
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