Hi everybody. Well, the New Year’s party is only a few hours away, and vacation is winding down. Going into this time off I had grand, bloggy plans, nearly all of which went completely ignored and unfulfilled. Among my intended projects:

  • Fixing my full-text RSS thingamajig. I ended up not touching a line of code. I’ll get to it eventually.
  • Building an extension cord that could toggle itself on and off based on input from my Arduino (the original plan was to have some Christmas lights blink a yule-appropriate message in Morse Code). I put some time into this one, but although I managed not to electrocute myself or blow any circuit breakers (to my astonishment/disappointment), I appear not to understand how transistors work very well. The relay assembly seems to work pretty well, and the Morse Code program blinks the Arduino’s pin 13 LED reliably, but the transistor doesn’t seem to do anything despite the input to its base. Anyone who’s even slightly competent at electronics is hereby begged to have a quick look at the following diagram. I know I’m missing a protection diode across the relay coil, but I kind of doubt that’s the source of the problem. Maybe, though! I’m just piecing this stuff together from the internet and this book, and consequently I’m probably making some obvious mistakes.

    circuit diagram

    UPDATE: Thanks to anachrocomputer, who figured out the problem for me in the comments on the photo. I’d accidentally made an emitter follower (aka common collector) circuit, which resulted in the transistor only allowing through as much voltage as was applied to its base — in this case, the Arduino’s ~5 volts. The result was that the relay (which requires 12V) wouldn’t fire. Whoops!
  • My Javascript-powered automatic illustration doohickey: untouched!
  • My Tetris project: well, finished before leaving work, actually. But the demonstration video: unproduced!
  • And I’m pretty sure I’ve forgotten about a couple of other things I meant to do. Oh well. They probably weren’t that great, anyway.

I did accomplish one or two small things, but mostly I just sat around, played with the Wii and worked to liberate Aether from the dreaded Ing (and hanging out with internet weirdos, of course). It’s been a pretty unproductive break. But after a year without a real vacation, I think that’s exactly what I needed.

oh apple. not you, too…

From the iTunes Music Store:

screen grab from the itunes music store reading 'gift this music'

I suppose that this verbal use of “gift” isn’t technically incorrect — that’s what the internet tells me, anyway. But it still seems really, really ugly to me. I’ve given up on the rest of the American-speaking world, but I expect more from my turtleneck-wearing yuppie compatriots in Cupertino. They really ought to task some more people with editing. So to speak.

Other things! The Wii: pretty great, although potentially bad for my joints. Emily: currently stuck in Philadelphia. Myself: off to make half-hearted efforts at physical fitness. More on all of these later.


Sommer is the best person ever. I was hoping to sit on the news, taking my time to calmly and objectively evaluate how this triumph affects Sommer’s place in history. I hate to be forced to make a decision prematurely, but right now I’d say she’s coming in somewhere between the saints who died of puncture wounds and the ones whose deaths were related to being cooked and/or eaten. But it’s hard to say — wherever she ends up, thanks, Sommer!
Now, the question: what games to get? I’m leaning toward Rayman & Zelda, for the sake of mini-games and single player obsession, respectively. But I could be talked out of it if anyone has a particularly strong case to make on behalf of Excite Truck (or anything else).

christmas eve in the drunk tank

Christmas Eve at the Red Room: hugely disappointing.

non-depressing redroom scene

Does this look like a crushingly depressing Christmas Eve tableau? The sort of sight that Charles Bukowski might have seen before erupting in volcanic torrents of vomited eggnog? I submit to you that it is not. And that’s a problem.

I suppose I had a good enough time hanging out with Matt and Spencer. But to be honest, we were all looking forward to a repeat of last year: a bar with few people, plenty of despair and “Fairytale Of New York” on a nonstop loop.

But instead there were no Pogues albums on the jukebox, there were lots of people, and I ended up having a pretty good time. Rats.

the brink of despair

I’m not sure what else I can do. I’ve been to the suburbs Sunday after Sunday — but there have been no Wiis. The last two days I’ve gotten up early and taken the Metro to Pentagon City before work, visiting the Best Buy within minutes of its opening — no Wiis. My agents friends have generously scoured Texas, Arizona and London on my behalf, like Nintendo Nazgul — no Wiis.

Tomorrow everyone will be off work, and it’ll be too late. I may make the trek to Best Buy one more time, but I expect there’ll be throngs waiting with me. My advantage will be gone, and my cause lost.

I suppose there’s always the week after Christmas. But in the meantime I’m left seething at the thought of those who have successfully gotten their hands on the console. Have they proven their devotion? Did they deserve it more than me!? No, goddammit! I guess this is how conservatives feel about affirmative action.

getting presents is sort of like wealth redistribution, I guess

replica rolexes on indymedia

It’s a fascinating thesis. But what’s the Marxist take on replica Rolexes as Christmas gifts?

I really, really don’t understand why Indymedia exists. If they has some sort of editorial staff that cultivated, screened and ran leftist essays and reporting, that’d be one thing. But they seem to just take random crap from anybody and throw it up on the site — I recall one recent post from Indymedia DC accusing Google of having nothing to do with the internet (they’re actually a narcotics cartel, see…) and another that consisted solely of a rambling apology to the author’s AA sponsor. Hilariously, Wikipedia cites the DC chapter as one of the more regimented within the organization. I keep my RSS subscription because the local media doesn’t bother to provide notice of upcoming protests, which, given warning, are frequently an avoidable inconvenience. But other than that, DC Indymedia seems hilariously useless.

I’m left to conclude that the only other function they serve is to lower the barriers that prevent dopes from publishing things on the internet. Which, if you haven’t noticed, aren’t particularly high to begin with. I can’t believe that governments bother to seize these guys’ servers.

irrelevant revelations

A meme! Awesome. I never get these. Here we go, five things that I think most people don’t know about me (but that I don’t mind telling them):

  1. I can juggle. I learned how during summer camp and eventually got pretty decent at it — for about a week I could do passing with clubs, if given a sufficiently patient partner. I’ve also juggled torches in a proof-of-concept sort of way (we weren’t allowed to actually light them). But I’m self-aware enough to realize that juggling is not only a useless and highly dorky skill, but also one that it’s impolite and annoying to force on an unsuspecting world. So I try to keep it under wraps. For a while I would use juggling as a rough sobriety test, but eventually I got too good at doing it while under the influence. Now I only ever really break it out when I need a flashy way to accidentally damage fruit. But I do credit it with rescuing me from being a completely uncoordinated disaster at all sports; now I’m a mere embarrassment. Thanks, juggling!
  2. I didn’t grow up with cable TV. This isn’t much of a secret, but people tend to forget it in conversation. All of your gak-colored Nickelodeon memories are lost on me. Hey Dude, You Can’t Do That On Television, Ren & Stimpy — these mean almost nothing in my mind. When they come up I’ll smile and nod, then try to steer the conversation toward Family Double Dare, Transformers and other over-the-air shows that are enjoying an irritating ironic renaissance.
  3. I’m not very good at math. People assume that I’m a math whiz because I’m interested in science, I program computers and I know what a THAC0 is. I suppose I’m decent at certain simple kinds of math, if only because I get occasional practice at them — I’ll sometimes have to bust out some algebra to complete an algorithm I’m writing, and whenever I get in the mood to write something graphically flashy I’ll enjoy doing the geometry that comes with it. But I’ve never been very good at calculus, and although I’ve encountered some slightly more advanced math during college, I’ve always forgotten it as quickly as possible. My eyes inevitably glaze over when I get to the formulae in the various pop science books that I otherwise enjoy reading. Personally, I blame all of this on my high school calculus teacher, who didn’t manage to convey what the “dx” in all those equations was supposed to mean until about a week before the AP test. Looking back, I’m pretty sure she was busy having a lesbian awakening over the course of that year, so I guess I can understand her failure to impart these important concepts. Still, it was an underwhelming period of instruction, particularly when compared to my geometry class. That dude had a lazy eye — it was impossible to tell whether he was looking at you, which, as a teaching method, I can’t recommend highly enough. It really kept me on my toes.
  4. I used to be kinda chubby. Not ridiculously so, but at my peak I was about 35 or 40 pounds heavier than I am now. I was a bulky enough kid that I was half-heartedly recruited by my high school’s football coach to be on our atrociously bad and understaffed team (I had enough sense to say no, thankfully). My sophomore year of college I decided I’d had enough soda and Taco Bell to show my junkfood-eschewing parents who was boss, and got my act together.
  5. I’m not an atheist. I was raised in a protestant family and went to church and Sunday School every week. I hated it. I wouldn’t say I believe in God — I figure I’ll have some time to work it out when I’m on my deathbed — but I do know that I find people like PZ Me/yers and Richard Dawkins to be insulting, insufferable, and highly deserving of having their lunch money extracted from them by force. I don’t know precisely what I believe, but I definitely don’t believe in condescending arrogance. Not in other people, anyway.

Alright, there it is. This meme seems to have spread strangely quickly — it’s made it to Dave Winer’s blog, and Cyrus has already been tagged, too. Could it be that bloggers like talking about themselves? Hmm.

I’m tempted to try to slow the spread of the contagion by just naming one or two people… Aw, to hell with it. I’ll tag Jeff, Caralyn, Genevieve and Emily, who should all feel free to ignore this if they’re not in the mood for it.

listing badly

This time has come to complain about Pitchfork’s year end list. Allow me to join the terrifying din. Like Ryan, I’ve never heard of The Knife. In fact, there’s a ton of stuff on the list that I haven’t listened to. I suppose I probably should, although the rankings of the stuff I recognize do not inspire confidence (nor does the seeming overrepresentation of hiphop, electronica and hard rock — three genres that I only enjoy in intermittent doses, and almost never when recommended by Pitchfork).

We don’t have the perspective to make a final judgment, but right now it seems like 2006 was kind of a thin year when compared to the last three. They say that the best music is produced when Republicans are in charge, so maybe the shifting national mood resulted in fewer great albums. Personally, I prefer to blame Canada: they’ve been propping up our indie rock economy for years, but this year were suddenly and strangely absent. I guess this is what it’s going to be like when China stops floating the national debt. Here’s hoping that our Northern neighbors have got something big planned for 2007.

Anyway, even putting aside all of my ignorance, ambivalence and vague hostility toward the p-fork list, there are a few things that I was surprised not to see show up there. Here are some albums that I thought ought to have been present, and which Amazon assures me were released in 2006:


but hasn’t Time just indemnified all of us?

I was wondering when this was going to happen: Perez Hilton is getting sued by the photographers whose photos he’s been using. I’m a as sympathetic an audience as Mr. Hilton could possibly hope for: I’m generally pretty hostile toward copyright litigation and I consider demeaning celebrities to be the lord’s work. But even so, this seems extremely clear-cut to me: Perez is fucked; and if he genuinely thinks what he’s been doing counts as fair use, then he’s an idiot, too.
I’m no lawyer, but Perez’s inclusion of a photo in one of his posts doesn’t strike me as a transformative act, and it seems entirely plausible to me that he’s undercutting X17’s ability to sell their work. I’m not allowed to steal content from The Onion, append my own witticisms and claim protection as satire. The fact that Perez is doing something funny with these photos does not automatically mean it falls under the fair use doctrine — besides, fair use is weak ground to stand on these days even when it’s actually applicable.
So yeah: he’s fucked.

do me a favor

And help me test out a project I’m working on. The number of excerpt-only RSS feeds in my reader has finally hit the point where it began gnawing away at me. So I’ve taken a stab at writing a utility to automatically turn partial RSS feeds into full-text ones. If you’ve got any partial-text feeds that have been bugging you, I’d appreciate your giving it a try. If you run into problems, leave them in comments.

Be forewarned: it’s far from perfect. There are some sites that it can’t figure out — perhaps unsurprisingly, Wizznutzz is one of them. In other cases it’ll include duplicate titles, or unnecessary dates, or irrelevant parts of the site design. And sometimes it reports that full-text retrieval has failed when in fact it was just a very short entry. Oh! It also won’t be able to tell when an item has been updated.

But ignore all of that. I’m interested to know the cases (like Wizznutzz) where it fails completely. Functionality first, then beauty. Well, actually, functionality then optimization then maybe beauty — a general-purpose solution isn’t likely to ever make every feed look lovely. More important is the fact that it’s dog-slow when it’s not serving cached content. If I leave it running on this server all hell will eventually break loose. So consider this just for testing — I’ll get it to a stable point sometime soon, then move it to a more permanent residence.