:: about ::
:: current weblog entry ::
:: funtongue.org home page ::
:: louisville weblogs ::
:: join / leave notification list ::
:: send aim message ::
:: email ::
:: Wednesday, July 31, 2002 ::
It's time for the infamous Month in Review because I never seem to have the time to write while it's happening. If months didn't have endings, forcing myself to pause and reflect would be nigh to impossible. And even at that, this post was backdated a couple days just to make it look like it was written in July... but at least I'm honest about it.
July 27, last Saturday: Someone from my MBA class was married in Pewee Valley. Yes, indeed... Kentucky - has many bizarrely named burbs, including
Kayaking on the Kentucky River. Our put-in point was Lockport, but don't ask me where it is or how we got there - I have no freakin' clue. This is somewhat embarrassing, because I'm used to being able to point out a location on a map. On the other hand, driving to Lockport was like putting on a blindfold, spinning around in circles, and trying to hit a piñata - it seems daunting at first, but keep swinging that stick around and the candy eventually falls to the floor. Recognition of several landmarks we had seen earlier in the day helped us find our way back to I-71. Yes, it seemed as if we had driven on every road in Henry, Clay, and Owen counties.
Every river or lake we kayak gives us a unique memory to take home. I'm going to remember the Kentucky River for the large schools of minnows swimming just beneath the surface of the water. We could spot the schools from afar as they rippled the water, looking like wakes from small, slow-moving boats. Drifting near a school, we'd stop paddling to watch the dark patches of water approach, mesmerized by the silvery glints of swarming fish. The slightest movement or sound startled the entire school as the fish simultaneously dove into deeper water, making a splashing sound like droplets of water thrown up into the air from a cup raining back down onto the river's surface. A friend at work told me fishermen look for such schools because they attract larger fish, so they're probably very common, although I had never seen anything like it before.
Louisville Blog Party. It took the better part of a week to write about this most amazing thing - a group of strangers from a wide range of backgrounds coming together to celebrate their love of weblogging. I didn't know how everyone would get along, but everyone turned out to be completely cool. I had a sneaking suspicion webloggers were the coolest people on earth - now I know.
And yours truly turned 27 years old earlier in July. Ho hum.:: Bryan Travis :: 07/31/2002 @ 23:50 :: [link] ::
:: Friday, July 26, 2002 ::
:: Thursday, July 25, 2002 ::
I checked the latest news about asteroid 2002 NT7 I mentioned earlier while reading the news tonight and found a list of upcoming near earth approaches by 37 objects over the next century. Several of them sync up with the earth's orbit, posing regular impact threats over a period of years. All told, these 37 objects represent 493 potential impacts through 2102. Looking far into the future, an asteroid with a well known orbit, 1950 DA, has a 1 in 300 chance of impacting on March 16, 2880.
Great, that's all I need - something else to worry about. I really, really should quit reading about asteroid impacts. Expanding my sphere of worry from the confines of earth to include the infinite reaches of space will drive me nutzoid.:: Bryan Travis :: 07/25/2002 @ 22:33 :: [link] ::
:: Wednesday, July 24, 2002 ::
The post before last reminds me of something else I used to do when I was younger after I saw the Disney movie TRON. The plot in a nutshell: A game programmer hacks into a computer system seeking to prove his games were stolen by his former employer, ENCOM, bastion of all that is evil in corporate America. Problem is, the bastion has implemented the MCP, or Master Control Program, to carry out its nefarious deeds. Our protagonist wrote a program called TRON to oust the MCP and is attempting to bypass its security when the MCP detects him and "borrows" a teleportation program and its accompanying technology from a nearby physics lab to convert the programmer into energy. He is beamed into a surreal landscape inside the computer where programs look like people who wrote them and the MCP forces them into death matches playing games our protagonist friend wrote (a la Roman gladiators), unless they surrender to the MCP. Of course, the programmer escapes the gladiator arena, meets up with his TRON program, TRON falls in love with a another program who looks like the protagonist's girlfriend, all the programs realize the programmer is a godlike User, the programmer goes head-to-head with the MCP, wins, and the glowing energy lines inside the computer landscape turn from the red of Communism to the blue of Democracy. Woo hoo.
It's embarrassing to admit that as a young kid I'd imagine such an electronic antfarm going on inside my Commodore 64. Well, I didn't really believe it was real - at some point kids grasp the difference between reality and fantasy, but that doesn't make them stark realists. Indulging one's imagination is pleasurable. Read a fiction novel or watch television - even as adults we never outgrow dreaming. Despite being keenly aware little people weren't moving around inside my Commodore, you can imagine my disappointment after opening the C-64 to reveal its guts. No, I didn't expect to find a TRON-like landscape in there, but was hoping for a booming metropolis of chips, silicon and circuitry capable of rendering such a virtual world - even imagination has its limits. Instead of Manhattan I found something analogous to my hometown, population 800... kilohertz, that is... clockspeed... less than 1 MHz. One chip surrounded by a few integrated circuits on a motherboard with massively wide, ugly circuitry not at all like the hair-thin pathways found on today's PC motherboards.
Another problem I had with the Commodore was loading more than one program into RAM at one time. Multitasking, the C-64 ain't. If TRON's mainframe was a virtual city for programs to multitask around in, then the C-64 was a virtual cardboard box with a child's crayon drawings of a city skyline on the inside walls and a plaque issued by the fire marshall: Capacity of this room shall not exceed 1 person(s). Hell, even the 1541's disk drive data bus was nothing more than a 9600 bps serial connection, and the earliest C-64s didn't even have a disk drive - they used cassette tapes to store data.
At various times from the late 1800s to the 1970s, some rather ingenious people have transformed the technology of data storage and retrieval time and again. First the phonograph recorded sound by capturing sound energy and preserving the shape of the waveform using a needle to etch a groove in wax or vinyl in anticipation of another needle which would later trace the shape of the groove and reproduce the waveform by vibrating as the groove spun by.
Someone else discovered sound could be converted to electrical pulses, powering an electromagnet which reoriented the poles of thousands or millions of tiny ferric oxide magnets coating a strip of plastic. The sound could be reproduced by pulling those tiny magnets past a wire coil, generating a weak electric current that could be amplified and played through a loudspeaker. The reel-to-reel, 8-track and cassette tape were three competing incarnations of this technology. Expanding on a theme and widening the width of the plastic strip, Beta and the VCR duked it out for supremacy.
Sometime in the 60s or 70s someone took another brilliant invention, the teletype, or TTY, and recorded its chatter on a cassette tape and played the tape later to another TTY and retrieved the data. Thus was born the cassette tape drive, that infamous relic of early personal computing.
I was old enough to be alive during such exciting times and actually used one of these things. Egads! Several of them, actually. Before the Commodore 64 my family had an Atari 800, another of those early PCs that entirely resided within a keyboard unit that connected to a TV like a game console does today. A certain sense of irony descends upon me as I type this post on my laptop, which is also a PC entirely residing in the same piece of hardware as the keyboard. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
One of my favorite games for the Atari 800 was States and Capitals, and it came on a 5 minute cassette tape. It was a professional production, the only cassette software we owned with a soundtrack that played on the cassette drive's loudspeaker while the program loaded. A catchy tune and a man with a friendly voice introduced the game, giving updates on how much longer the game needed to load. I don't remember much of what he said except at the end when he trailed off, saying, "I'll see you in Bismarck. Hey, where's Bismarck?!"
I thought the accompanying soundtrack idea was a great way to pass the time while waiting for other programs to load, things like BASIC programs I had written myself or seen published in the Family Computing and ENTER magazines. Some of the programs were long or had row after row of numeric DATA statements - for an 8 year-old who had to hunt-and-peck because he didn't yet know how to type, transcribing a program could take an hour. Eight year-old boys don't have long attention spans, so many a promising BASIC program was abandoned when an obscure typo couldn't be located; thus, saving everything I did manage to run successfully was a necessity.
It was easy setting one of your software cassettes to music, but getting the methodology right was critical. My first attempt was unsuccessful and resulted in the loss of a program that drew a colorful Christmas Tree on the screen and played O Tannenbaum, complete with flashing lights and presents from Santa. That one had a lot of DATA statements, and losing it made me sore. On the Atari 800, music and graphics required DATA statements; music needed them for encoding pitch and duration of the notes, graphics used them to specify color and screen location. DATA statements were used sort of like arrays, except only one value was read into a variable at a time. As I recall, a DATA line looked something like this:
1000 DATA 164, 10, 216, 84, 6, 128, 240, 35, 90, 10, 28, 106, 232, 148
A program with 30 of these boogers was almost never typed correctly on the first pass.
The secret behind combining music and software on your cassette tapes was recording the music before saving a program. The record/erase head on a regular cassette player wiped out both audio and data, but the record/erase head on a cassette drive was more discriminating, wiping only the data track while leaving the audio track intact. Now that I had achieved cassette drive enlightenment, I mixed some tunes on a tape and resaved my BASIC programs on it, including the resurrected Christmas Tree.
Loading programs was never the same boring ordeal again... until we purchased a Commodore 64 with its speakerless floppy drive. I tried in vain those first few months to make an audio recording on a 5.25" floppy diskette. Despite all the praise for the floppy drive's speed and capacity improvements over the cassette, as far as I was concerned, it was clearly an inferior technology if it couldn't play music.:: Bryan Travis :: 07/24/2002 @ 23:14 :: [link] ::
Quick-like! You have less than 17 years to sell your earthly possessions, give away the proceeds and dedicate yourself to a life of civil service and philanthropy in hopes of maybe discovering the true joys of altruism, if you can ever get your selfish brain to forget the reason you had started in the first place, that is.
True, I am laughing in the face of yet another earth-colliding meteor announcement, amazed that odds of less than one in a million generate this much excitement and alarm. It will happen eventually - and more than once. If that rock should only be a few hundred meters across, it will be on the scale of Tunguska and won't wipe out all life on earth, but odds are something like it will happen within the next century... something about the size of another meteor that came within 75,000 miles of earth last month, not spotted until three days later, would fit the bill nicely.
The threat is always present - that's the scary part. This knee-jerk hysteria is so typically human - that's the funny part. It's rarely effective and empowers the naysayers who numb the public - that's the depressing part.
Solar-electric aircraft broadcast stations flying in the stratosphere supplanting geostationary satellites. Now that's cool... and clean.
And for a bonus, you can read the inaugural Superman comic book from 1938.:: Bryan Travis :: 07/24/2002 @ 13:47 :: [link] ::
:: Sunday, July 21, 2002 ::
Sometimes my posts reek of esotericism, as if that were a bad thing. Perhaps in other countries, maybe so if John Ashcroft had his way, but not here, not now.
There are reasons this weblog is written, most of them related to tickling my own fancy in some fashion or another... and being an outlet for esoteric thoughts is but the first feather to glance the sole of my foot. You'd be amazed how well it works when written instead of spoken.
For example, suppose I'm sitting at a table with four other people and say something esoteric or downright bizarre, such as, "When I was a kid, I'd pretend ink pens and pencils were spaceships - I could play with them for hours, waging war and going on exploration missions." Mano a mano with my table-dwelling audience, that seems an entirely inappropriate thing to say, and I'm liable to get some strange looks. For an encore, I could pull a couple pens from my pant pocket and demonstrate a brief encounter between two rival ships, complete with Bobby McFerrin-esque sound effects. One of the ships, represented by the less favored pen, would succumb to the victor after several failed evasive maneuvers to avoid its opponent. Normally, I would explain, a battle would last at least 10 or 15 minutes, but this poor guy (holding up the defeated ink pen) was caught off guard, unable to raise shields before the other ship fired its first damning blow. Looking at the defeated pen in my hand, I'd say, I'm sorry, but such is life, little guy. The no-win scenario does exist - I see it all the time. Such a performance would remove all doubt from the minds of my tablemates that I was in serious need of immediate psychiatric treatment and electroshock therapy. In a fit of heightened concern, they might rip the power cord from a nearby lamp, hold me down, pinch my nose shut and shove the leads in my mouth when I gasped for air.
Not surprisingly, I shy away from such ruminations in social situations, zoning out as I keep the thoughts to myself.
On the other hand, if I write about the interstellar battles waged between writing utensils in my weblog, the reaction is appreciably different - it's acceptable, even cool, to write about that kind of stuff. There are four reasons for this: First, most people won't even bother reading it. Unlike the table group, web surfers are not a captive audience. Most people are nonviolent unless trapped or threatened, so a web surfer will go about their merry business while the tablers are forced to defend themselves. Second, the whole physical presence thing makes it impossible for a web surfer to simultaneously grab my throat with one hand while reaching for the lamp cord with the other without first going through the trouble of hunting down my elusive ass - it's simply not worth it. Three, web surfers visit individually, rarely in proximal packs. Four, when someone launches their computer's web browser, they expect to uncover freaky shi'ite, so it doesn't surprise them, and at any rate, I become decidely vanilla when compared to the best the Internet has to offer. Or is that hard apple cider?
And may I just say something, please? I agree... Ellen Feiss should switch. What a... bummer. Although I am thinking of buying one just to see what it's like. After all, if I plan to continue bashing the Mac as I've done for the past 6 or 8 years (and just did), it would behoove me to know for certain I won't fall in love with it, especially now that OS X is here. I'm still dubious about a one-button mouse, though... going from three buttons to one feels like a massive step in the wrong direction.
The web is like a box of chocolates.:: Bryan Travis :: 07/21/2002 @ 19:02 :: [link] ::
:: Saturday, July 13, 2002 ::
I was shocked to hear about the Microtel Lindows PCs Wal-Mart is selling for as low as $299. Free advertising for mega-retail chains isn't something I'm wont to do, but there's no use denying a good thing when you see it.
And another thing, I'm one of those oddities you rarely hear about - a Linux user who has gone back. Now don't get me wrong - Linux is great and I recognize it has a large niche in the server room and Unix workstation farms. I still run Linux at home, but it's not my primary OS today like it was for a span of 2.5 years beginning in 1997. The Windows 95/98/98SE/ME operating systems were unstable disasters because the heart of DOS still beat at their core, but Windows NT/2000/XP did away with DOS, confining it to a virtual machine. I could invoke the Excuse-o-Matic and blame it on my employer, arguing that because I support various Microsoft operating systems at work, I should use them at home, but no, I'll admit my belief that NT, 2000 and XP are great on the desktop PC. When it comes to usability, Microsoft has done well... but I'm certainly not married to the company and what it stands for. If you can emulate Windows with the stability of Linux underneath while saving a few bucks on licensing at the same time, so much the better.:: Bryan Travis :: 07/13/2002 @ 13:11 :: [link] ::
:: Sunday, July 07, 2002 ::
Lately I've been taking more than the usual amount of interest in other people, which is not to imply I expressed much interest in the first place, primarily for two reasons: first, it's difficult to find other souls with whom I identify and "connect" with; second, and this is something I'm continually working on, I'm too easily frustrated by others because I'm either Type A in this regard, too stubborn, or both. At least it's something I want to change and can admit; I was so bullish for the longest time that I thought refusing to change myself for the purpose of accomodating others was a virtue. Nowadays I no longer see in black and white, and understand the wisdom of achieving balance; that is, accomodating others enough to let them in and knowing the joy of communion without accomodating to the point of surrendering and losing one's identity and sense of purpose or will. In the past, I'd have called it Zen, but the seeking of healthy balance is represented by the Yin and the Yang, and that's Taoism. So okay, call it Tao.
In a previous time, I had more external interests, but some force self-centered me when I wasn't paying much attention... one day it hit me as I realized, wow, I'm so inwardly focused it's like living in a universe of one. Graduating from university, getting a job and moving into the real world marked the beginning. Change was driven by not having as much energy or time to devote, nor the will to do so, as well as working in a large corporation where abstract thinkers are few and far between. Well, whatever. I'm no historian... and history sometimes appears to be the art of justifying past mistakes by making excuses for them more than anything else.
I'm driven by this interest in others, driven to understand their plight, what their life is like, their perspective and opinions... I want to understand them. Yes, this is a most shocking development, as it appears this is exhibiting signs of genuine concern, not just for immediate friends and family, but even for those I don't know well. I cannot explain.
Well, maybe I can. It can be like reading a David Sedaris story, as recently listening to someone hilariously describe how "five minutes is plenty of time" for her to have sex comes to mind, and how after that it becomes a raw and irritating sensation. On the flipside, when a friend buys a "fixer-upper" house and spends the summer renovating it from gutters to subfloor, helping out with the project moves her along toward her goal of selling it for a worthwhile profit and gives me valuable experience when the time comes to do my own home improvement.
By listening to their stories and asking questions to understand and relate as much as possible, living vicariously through others' experiences can be enlightening and thought-provoking, as recent conversations have been with soon-to-be first-time fathers and someone from another country who just graduated from high school and is pondering what to do with her life, weighing the benefits of going to university now or waiting a while to figure out her goals in life.
People are always up to something - it's amazing what's going on out there. Watching and experiencing it is entertaining, some of life's spice. It beats television, that's for sure.:: Bryan Travis :: 07/07/2002 @ 19:46 :: [link] ::
Celebrate your freedom this Independence Day holiday composing some musical poetry for your enjoyment. As someone lacking the skills to think in the low-level domain of stringing together individual notes into chords and melodies, eye and ear candy such as these Shockwave and Flash apps (which are basically simplified synthesizers that are to the real thing as a $24.95 Fisher Price electric guitar for ages 2 and up is to a $4,000 Gibson Les Paul Custom Electric) each afford about 15-20 minutes of amusement eking out techno music tracks that would surely be all the rave at local dance clubs if I ever bothered to record them. R-i-i-i-ght.
But wait... this gives me an idea that promises to be promising, and as far as I know, no one has tried it before. Using readily available PC-based instruments such as Pianographique and PCTheremin, compose and record a piece of music, convert it to MP3 format, name the song title anything, but set the performer to any popular performing artist currently on the Billboard Hot 100, and share it out on KaZaA. In this way, the song appears on the search results of people looking for Eminem, Nelly, Ashanti and Vanessa Carlton, so they'll download it, but since it's not named after an actual track, it might go unnoticed and unplayed long enough for their KaZaA client to share it out to other users, spreading the song like a virus. That would be cool, oh, yes it would... except the evil, insidious RIAA would likely approve since it would further their nefarious goals by tarnishing the accuracy and utility of music file sharing networks. Must... not... assist... the... RIAA.
Before ending this post, I'd like to praise the weblogging experience for a benefit not readily apparent to non-webloggers: it's darned educational. When writing this post, for example, I talked about a Gibson Les Paul Custom electric guitar. Dudes, before today, I knew next to nothing about guitars, except most have 6 strings and Fender is a popular brand of electric. Now I know Fender is famous for twangier, single coil pickup Stratocasters and Gibson is known for their richer sounding double coil humbucker Les Pauls, and we haven't even started on the differences between solid-body and hollow-body acoustic-electrics.
Sometimes what you learn is even useful and worth knowing. There are three musical instruments I'd like to learn to play in no particular order: acoustic guitar, the piano, and either violin or cello. Who knows, it's possible one of these days, I might breakdown and pursue learning to play one, or even all in sequential order. As for acoustics, it's all about the construction - you can't go wrong with a Martin or Taylor solid-top spruce dreadnought, but a cutaway kills the tone everytime.
And with a broadband Internet connection you, too, can fool others into thinking you know what the hell you're talking about. It's like "Steal My Sunshine" by Len in the Go movie soundtrack a few years ago: "I know it's up for me / If you steal my broadband." Yeah, that about sums it up.:: Bryan Travis :: 07/07/2002 @ 16:51 :: [link] ::
:: Wednesday, July 03, 2002 ::
Reflecting on the Nicaragua trip, planning how to break it down into posts, I'm snacking on a bowl of cherries. It's the perfect metaphor for life. Kroger had Bing cherries on sale this weekend for cheap (although cherries are never that cheap), so I bought a 2.5 pound bag. Now, that's a big bowl, kids. I have to eat at least a fistful a day if I want to finish them before they spoil, but that's okay, because cherries are cool. I'd sneak into the kitchen when I was a kid and snack on the omnipresent jar of Maraschino cherries in the refrigerator. Fresh Bing cherries taste nothing like Maraschino cherries, but that's okay, because cherries are cool, and I like 'em, despite not being able to send the pits through the disposal.
A brief itinerary, our trip in a nutshell, as it were:
And there you have it, something to work from when writing future posts.:: Bryan Travis :: 07/03/2002 @ 00:48 :: [link] ::
:: Tuesday, July 02, 2002 ::
My MBA class returned to Louisville Saturday night after spending two weeks in Nicaragua. We made a solemn pact before leaving: what happens in Nicaragua, stays in Nicaragua. So there are plenty of gut-busting stories I'm bound by honor to never tell. It probably doesn't matter, anyway. Since you weren't on the trip, your brow would furrow in confusion as I told my stories piecemeal through bellowing laughter. You wouldn't enjoy my narrative because every joke is an inside one, every story is hollow without the benefit of the experience. Nicaragua cannot be told.
For example, without breaching the solemn pact, I could tell you about the man we called Mr. Snax, a less-than-charismatic manager at a food processing plant distributing snack foods under the "Mr. Snak" brandname.
Two MBA students were assigned to the food processing company, only to discover the manager they were supposed to work for had gone on vacation and wouldn't be in the office. As incredulous as it sounds to go on vacation and completely forget the two consultants you've solicited for two weeks of work, the same thing happened at several other companies, as well.
After reporting to work the first day without a manager, the students and their Spanish-English translator were reassigned to Mr. Snax. When introduced, his first words were not, "Hi, I'm Hector. Pleased to meet you," but rather "You don't need to interpret for me - I can speak English!" followed by "So what can you do for me? [brief pause] Okay, who talks first?" They explained the project to Mr. Snax, who said he needed to show them confidential information and banned the Nicaraguan interpreter from returning because he didn't want the information leaked to Nicaraguan competitors.
I daresay your laughter isn't as hardy as mine.
A group of us became acutely aware of the issue standing at the base of the 100 meter San Ramon waterfall on Mt. Maderas on Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua. Someone said, "There's no way we can describe this to people back home." Someone else said the same of our absent classmates who hadn't made the four hour hike.
So I freely admit I cannot convey what it's like in a tropical, third world country, the second poorest in the Western Hemisphere, but damned if I won't at least try. In the next several posts, I'll describe it as best I can, from the natural beauty and wonder to the cruelest poverty I've ever seen. This is a good time to say a word of warning: I'm going to come down hard when describing the living conditions in Nicaragua, to the extreme of possibly criticizing and insulting mercilessly the very people who hosted our trip and made the experience possible. I'm still deciding how harsh and honest to make it, but in any event, something must be said - there was so much that absolutely infuriated me.
Stay tuned.:: Bryan Travis :: 07/02/2002 @ 00:12 :: [link] ::