Saturday, July 31, 2010

What it looked like then

Here's the blog of a Russian photographer who visits WWII sites and matches up photos of them today with old make interesting composites.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Squig Figure Worth Looking At

You may not enjoy the idea of Warhammer's Squigs as much as I do. But I thought this award-winning figure vignette was worthy of general interest. Of course, I might be biased: I like goblins too.

This is from the site Cool Mini or Not, which showcases a lot of good work.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Read an RPG Book in Public Week

Forgot to mention: it's Read an RPG Book in Public Week. Note that this is celebrated 3 weeks of the year, just to make it easier to do:

  • February 28th - March 6th
  • July 25th - 31st
  • September 26th - October 2nd

The No Twinkie Database! (bad game design)

This page lists video game design problems from a long-running column. I think it's useful to review design problems in any problem domain.

As I post this (on Sunday), I can hear my son playing old video games with my brother-in-law in the living room.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Greg Rucka has novels!

I didn't know Greg Rucka had written regular ordinary novels, not just graphic novels. I've enjoyed Queen and Country and other comics by him. He's got a plain old ordinary novel featuring the characters from Queen and Country; so far I'm enjoying that too; it's called A Gentleman's Game. Any time you bring British agent Tara Chace to the table, I'm in.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Jury decides consent not required for Girls Gone Wild video

The kinds of stories that really get me riled up are these ones where justice really seems to have gone awry. Like this one where a lady who said 'no' multiple times but whose top was pulled down by someone else still found her breasts exposed in a Girls Gone Wild video.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

We put too many people in prison, too readily

This article from The Economist describes how we've progressively warped the justice system by tying judge's hands and forcing long sentences. It's time to roll things back. Read some of the examples in this article and think about how a simpler penal code would benefit society. We're not helping things by ensuring that everyone is in violation of some law or other: we're just putting corrupting power in the hands of police and prosecutors.

Comic Con and the Westboro Baptist Church

Apparently those Westboro bozos decided to picket Comic Con...and sparked a great counter protest. With robots and more.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sledgehammer and Whore

Maybe I'll just spend some time linking to really good blog posts by other people, huh? What are you gonna do about it?

This guy...he's a screenwriter/executive producer I guess. For the Sarah Connor Chronicles. But that ended. But it had 31 episodes, so that's not shabby. Anyway.

Looks like he writes a lot of entertaining stuff. But this post about ... well, about a lot of things, but crystalizes around his account of how he found out his office was being used by someone else to meet prostitutes. When he wasn't there, of course.

Well, I let my wife read it and she laughed and laughed, so what more do you need?

I'd like to point out this fellow's rambling style. It's chock full of good stuff. Much to emulate here.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Vanity googling gets weirder all the time

Today I googled myself and among the oddities (a page that reposted one of my videos from YouTube, complete with the same comments, with different wrappers; a page that reposts shorter versions of my blog entries and links them back here) was this item, a paragraph I submitted to Boy's Life when I was 13, where they paid me $5 for a hobby idea, and which I barely remember Apparently Google is now indexing old Boy's Life magazines.

In this piece, I boldly suggested that boys age 10 or so should collect antiques. I believe this was a hobby of mine for about five minutes back then. I sent it to the Hobby Hows column of Boy's Life and I'm pretty sure my main goal was to get the $5 they paid:

An interesting and rewarding hobby is collecting antique items. You can find inexpensive ones at many garage sales and flea markets.  I bought a chess set for $3 at a garage sale and later found out from some antique dealers that it was worth $75. It is interesting to track down an antique's origin and see how things were made long ago. -- $5 to Aaron DaMommio, Arlington, Tex.

I know I was quite earnest about it at the time, but now the only thing about this paragraph that rings true is the phrase "I bought a chess set for $3 at a garage sale." I didn't stick with "antique" collecting, I'm not at all sure that chess set was an antique, I certainly never realized $75 from it, and now I think that most of the "antiques" you'd find like this are not particularly old.

I'd still recommend that kids do their shopping at garage sales, though. My kids get a lot of their toys that way.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Word count of a list of files; XML wordcounts

I'm really way too proud of the following command line:

cat  file1 file2 | wc -w

which simply reads out two files and pipes the results to the wc command, producing a wordcount of the combination of the two files. Nothing too amazing here, but I didn't know this would work until one day I needed a wordcount of two files and I tried it. I didn't know it would be so simple...I didn't realize you could give cat a list of files and it would spray them to the output stream for wc to pick up.

See, I'm working on a story which I'm trying to keep under 10k words. But every day I'm writing 500 new words. Clearly these goals are in conflict.

So one thing I do is I don't delete anything. I establish a new section called To Be Deleted in the document, and when I revise a paragraph, I throw the old version there. When the day's writing is done, I delete that whole section.

But then I kept generating lots of notes and ideas as I worked on ways to add new material to the document. I wanted to include these notes in my daily wordcount, but I also wanted to know how many words of actual prose I add, so I could keep an eye on whether I was crossing that 10k line. So I put the notes in a separate file.

I've been working on this story in XML, and my XML editor doesn't have a wordcount feature. But that's one of the good things about XML...since it's text, you can go to the command line for alternative solutions. For wordcount, I've been using the Unix program wc through the Cygwin pseudo-Linux command line program.

And since I've added the cygwin\bin folder to my path, I can run cygwin commands in any DOS console. I just keep a console window handy, and I can get a wordcount on the main file or the combination of the files anytime I want.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Floating rock wargame terrain centerpiece

I rather liked this wargame centerpiece. It shows a magic circle gone bad, whose surrounding earth now floats in the sky.

The maker, Richard Dawson, has lots of pictures, including work-in-progress ones, here. It's also mentioned in a forum here.

How supermodels are like toxic assets

This article from 3quarksdaily, "How Supermodels are like Toxic Assets" compares the way one young pretty model rises to the top of the fashion world every year or so -- without having any obvious advantages over all the other young pretty models -- to the way the financial markets can go astray. Basically, it comes down to peer pressure of a sort. Both environments are ones in which people make financial choices based on limited information, and there are no clear rules to guide your people take comfort in mimicking the choices of their peers. If everyone else is choosing one stock, or one model, you can't be faulted for also choosing it/her. Very interesting.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Just say yes

Linux has a "yes" command. I found it today when I was messing with Cygwin, actually. It's an odd little command at first: you feed it a string like this:

yes hello

and it repeats that string until you kill it:


If you don't give it a string, it outputs a series of 'y' characters....


...which provides the hint to its real use: it's for automatically answering the prompts on an interactive script. Go here for some examples.

Cygwin itself is worth mentioning. I don't actually venture out onto the Linux command line itself much, because I'm usually working on a Windows box. Cygwin provides a Linux-like environment on a Windows box.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Advice for girls from The Little Mermaid

Second City interprets Disney's Little Mermaid. Link, youtube. Found via BoingBoing.

New understanding of creativity suggests changes for US schools

When Chinese educators laugh at you and say your schools are racing toward the rigid state-run model of schooling that we left behind, while we're trying to be like you...and you couple that with stats that say the creativity of US kids is declining've got something to work on. This article has interesting solutions to suggest, too.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Smithsonian looks ahead to next 40 years

This set of forward-looking articles from Smithsonian looks good.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Star Wars Everywhere

Improv Everywhere has done a lot of fun things. I like their taxi thing a lot. I like the Hammer pants dance. But this one really wins my heart: a classic Star Wars scene, enacted in a subway car.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A train layout idea, from the top of the Cologne cathedral

When I caught my breath at the top of the Cologne cathedral, all I could think of was what a great idea for a small train layout....a bunch of tracks feeding onto a bridge, practically a small yard.

I love our rice cooker but

I love using a rice cooker but I don't do much but make rice in it. That alone is enough to make me happy. But Roger Ebert went on and on about the different ways you can use one here. This is well worth a read. Take a look at how entertaining Ebert can be on this or any topic.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hot Dr Pepper

I'm a big fan of Dr Pepper. I was aware that the company used to promote heated DP as a winter drink, but never felt the need to try it out. Thank goodness someone else has so I don't have to. Heat the soda, lose the fizz, what's the point?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What Doctor Gottlieb Saw

"What Doctor Gottlieb Saw" by Ian Tregillis is a creepy good story hosted on It has Nazis and near-death experiences. Have a look.

Scenes From A Multiverse

I just learned about this webcomic and I like it. Each episode takes place in a location with a suggestive title.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Chairlift by 'the bendiest part of the Rhine'

One of the sites we visited during our Koblenz trip was a scenic overlook,  Vierseenblick, in the town of Boppar. You reach the overlook by chairlift. I thought that I'd have trouble getting Chloe on the chairlift, because she'd offered some complaints about other things...notably elevators. But nope, the chairlift was no trouble for her.

It was trouble for me. Once I got on it I realized that all I wanted to do was cling tight until it was over. In my spare time I contemplated the tenuous grip that our chair's clamp had on the spindly steel cable.

Chloe, however, wanted to talk, wiggle, and twist around to look at things. Lucky for her, I wasn't willing to relax my grip long enough to smack her, or it might be called Chloesplatblick now.

Pomodoro for a quick family meal

Simple pomodoro sauces are fun. The term 'pomodoro' seems to apply to any sauce made from fresh sauteed tomato, but I like the ones where you merely dice the tomato, leaving it chunky.

This week we grilled some chicken in advance and have it handy for several recipes. So last night I made this deliciousness. It was quick to make and pretty low key. I was happy with how the timing worked out. It was almost a one-dish meal:

Boiled some angel hair
Diced and sauteed a third of an onion, in generous amounts of olive oil
Added some powdered garlic because we were inexplicably out of fresh cloves. This sped the whole dish up quite a bit because peeling and chopping the garlic is usually one of the most time-consuming steps.
Diced a tomato and added that to the onion.
Stirred the tomato as needed. The goal is to get it all lightly cooked.
Added a little Parmesan to the onion/tomato
Had my 13 year old chop some broccoli to bite size pieces and put it in an casserole dish
When the angel hair was ready, removed it with tongs to a bowl and drained, saving most of  the water
Tossed a handful of Parmesan in with the angel hair
Diced and briefly microwaved 1 grilled chicken breast
Combined the onion/tomato mixture in large bowl with the angel hair and tossed
Chopped some fresh basil and added
Added the chicken breast and tossed some more
On feedback from my lovely wife, added more olive oil and salt and tossed some more
Poured the hot pasta water into the dish with the broccoli and let that stand a few minutes to very lightly cook it
 Served pasta with broccoli as side dish.

The result is a light dish that's still mostly pasta. The lightness of the sauce helps sell it to my kids. And so far it's been a spouse-pleaser every time.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Computers added to low-income homes do not magically produce education

Here's a New York Times article suggesting that giving computers to low-income families actually decreases math scores, and does not produce rosy educational outcomes....that we have some idealized hopes in this regard that don't actually happen. What actually seems to happen is that unsupervised kids mostly play games with the computers. A related article about the One Laptop Per Child program also addresses this idea that throwing laptops at children automatically produces good things. Both are worth a look, especially if you're attracted to projects like these (like I am).

Friday, July 09, 2010

Big German Train Museum

The Knopps went way out of their way to indulge my love of trains by taking me to one of Germany's largest train museums. From our Koblenz school trip.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Chloe goes bananas in Germany

During our Koblenz trip, Chloe, for reasons known only to herself, decided to collect bananas. Toy bananas. So we'd go into a toy store -- we did not fail to investigate any toy store we happened across, that goes without saying -- and she'd be asking if they had any fake food.

This started when she found one cloth banana at a store and decided to buy it. Then we learned, on one of our tours, that some German artist decorates museums that he likes by stenciling a banana on the facade. So the pictures you see here are a natural result.

Whitney Cummings' Blog

A comedienne with a fascination for feminine hygiene products. Not to be missed.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Why does AA work?

Interesting piece in Wired about Alcoholics Anonymous, describing it as the best available treatment, but still one that fails for more people than it helps. And we don't yet know why.

Visit to a wildlife park in Koblenz

Our host family took us to visit a small wildlife park. I was not able to get photos of any of the several field mice we saw running around, but we enjoyed that: we never seem to find field mice at home. We saw some deer, wild boar, and lots of birds. This was part of our Koblenz exchange program trip.

Wooden playset at the park

Anke with new pup Kira

Saturday, July 03, 2010

How the drug war has warped our justice system, by way of poppies

Michael Pollan, the excellent author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, has an article Opium Made Easy that explores the realites behind poppies and reveals a bunch of surprising facts:
  • You can buy and plant opium-producing poppies easily...but it's illegal to make opium from them.
  • The only reason we don't have poppy farms in the US today is that the government doesn't want it. The government legistlated against it, forcing US drug companies to get the chemicals they still use for drugs from a specific list of Asian countries. This has fostered the idea that that's the only place the poppies can grow...but it's not true.
  • You might think that ornamental poppies don't contain much opium. Actually, varieties that are sold ornamentally can contain plenty.
  • You can easily make opium tea from homegrown poppies...or poppy seed pods you can buy legally.
  • You're unlikely to be bothered for growing poppies...unless you broadcast the facts I've listed so far, such as a fellow Pollan writes about who promoted home opium production and was raided. The government has gone after that guy in a big way.
  • The whole thing serves as a big example of how the drug war has warped a lot of justice out of our justice system. And I say this a someone who has no interest in drugs themselves.
Go read it; it'll provide plenty of food for thought.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Department of Defense Contractor Security Evaluations

The DoD now has to publish its reasons for denying or granting security clearances. The results make for interesting reading. I wonder what'll happen when someone compares their rejection with someone else's similar acceptance....I'm guessing lawsuit?

Chloe is Chloe Everywhere

Here's Chloe in front of a decorative vehicle clearly used by gnomes. From our Koblenz exchange program trip.

Koblenz trip: the basic explanation

So I'm posting a bunch of photos from my recent trip, a two-week trip with my ten year old daughter Chloe to Koblenz, Germany. The trip is organized by Summit Elementary School in Austin and the Schenkendorf School in Koblenz, and has been going on for 17 years now.

Koblenz is notable, among other things, for being situated at the confluence of the Rhine and the Moselle rivers. It's densely provided with things to see, having hundreds of years of history and the castles to prove it.

The trip is an exchange program, and this year it was Summit's turn to go to Gerrmany, so our group of 37 Austinites went there and lived with host families for the duration. Most of the travellers were groups like mine: a parent and child. A few took two kids and both parents, and these were typically split, living in two different host family homes.

We were lucky enough to be visiting a family we already knew: the Knopp family had visited us last year.

I'm told that the organizers changed the schedule this year to provide more time with the host families. You should know that the organizers plan a trip of some kind every weekday of the tour. So we gather each morning at the school and get on a bus, typically, to go to some new sight. But we were generally done by 3 or 4pm, returning to our host families...who often then had something else planned for us to do. We didn't get a lot of sleep.

Pro tip: this trip is mostly about foot management. You do a ton of walking. The kids hardly seem to notice it, but maybe that's because they're putting less weight on their tootsies.

Chloe stands below a globe hanging in the halls of the Schenkendorf School. I love this thing. I want to make my own.

A German Truck Stop: Nora Roberts topping the bestseller list

I understand that Nora Roberts writes some high-quality romance novels. Apparently Germans agree. Here's a photo of the bestseller list atop a display of novels at a truck stop. Writing as J.D. Robb, Roberts has the #4 spot, and in her own name she has #9.

It was fun to stop at a truck stop during a road trip. This was the only time we did this during our Koblenz exchange program trip. Highway driving and the truck stop seemed very much like at home, except for this notable difference:  one truck stop contained a coffee counter staffed by a barista who made cappuccino and lattes, and we stopped there to drink a cup, not getting it to go. The whole counter looked like it had been excised from a picturesque cafe and dropped whole into the truck stop.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Maslow's Pyramid Updated

My lovely wife first introduced me to Maslow's Pyramid of Needs a few years ago when she started taking education classes. It made a lot of intuitive sense, and the placement of personal fulfillment at the top makes it a satisfying view of the world.

But that's the part that may be too good to be true, according to this article about researchers exploring a rewrite of the classic formula. Interestingly, they put parenting at the top of the heap.

Maslow's Pyramid Gets a Makeover