07 March 2008

On the subject of hoarding

I just scanned through POSSESSED, a short film comprised of interviews (et cetera) with four hoarders conducted on film.

It was difficult just to watch even a few minutes of it, not because it made me heartsick, but because I couldn’t drive the thought, “been there, done that” out of my consciousness. I came home to comparable sights for the final five years of my mother’s life.

The feeling of emotional fatigue was exacerbated by the fact that my best friend in town is developing the same form of mental illness. In this latter case, a brief reminder that he ought to clean out his car is met with defensiveness at best, words of one syllable at worst. And when I asked him why he lets things get to that point, he said, “it just makes me more comfortable to keep that stuff around.”

The ultimate hell is that there is no truly effective treatment for OCD (the underlying illness) — only coping strategies. Argh.

For those who might wonder: what about me?

We-ell… I'm not quite appositely obsessive-compulsive (i.e., to the point of throwing things out gratuitously, as is one commenter on the Metafilter thread where I found the film) but if I can't eat it, drink it, or smoke it, chances are that I will agonize over whether or not I should buy it.

Though I'm ashamed to admit it, I will throw recyclables away rather than let them pile up, if I can’t get my sorry, non-vehicular ass to the recycling station. Even when it comes to blessedly compact data, I only claim a spindle of eighty DVD’s and half a terabyte of disk space, itself only (roughly) half-full. The thought that I will eventually need a bigger apartment for the sake of my stuff is, to put it bluntly, appalling.

Make of all that what you will.

Two worldviews for the price of one?

It seems that the likelihood of habitable extraterrestrial planets just took a big leap.

But before you Sci-Fi Nerds Throw a Party…

To get there on any terms, we would need a spacecraft physically capable of surviving intact through the entire acceleration regimen of the trip and withstanding the rigors of the journey¹, while still being able at the end of the trip to operate its sensor suite and send a minimum of a few megabytes of data at a level of power sufficient to supply clear reception at the end of a 4.3 light year trip. Finally, the first such ship must be able to make the outgoing trip in less than fifty years, which is the longest travel time we could obtain without running the risk that a subsequent spacecraft capable of overtaking it could be designed and built. To attempt any such journey before those basic conditions would be met would be a colossal waste of resources.

To sum up the numbers

The conditions laid out above result in the following specifications:

  • One to two tons of payload
  • Sensor suite, data storage, and EM transmitter components capable of operating intermittently during fifty years of exposure to wide variations in temperature and exposure to high-energy particles
  • Both of the above joined to a propulsion system capable of maintaining an average speed of 93 million kph during those same fifty years, and decelerating to a capture velocity at the end of the journey

Such a system is possible in theory, though probably not practicable unless the infrastructure to build it can be developed in orbit. Meanwhile, three additional conditions must be met:

  1. The engineering of such a system must be made possible through advancements in propulsion and materials tech;
  2. The target planet(s) must be known to fulfill basic conditions of habitability such as atmosphere, surface gravity, surface temperature regime, and ambient radiation levels in advance (otherwise, we’re better off confining exploration to our own solar system); and
  3. Perhaps hand in hand with the research done to meet the second condition, the spacecraft design must be flown and refined several times before the full mission is attempted.

Such a program would offer a second piece of good news to follow on discovery of habitability: the technologies developed to fulfill the first mission could in turn be adapted to the needs of colonizing any habitable planet found.

Something tells me that as a species we’ll be lucky to accomplish all of these tasks within our lifetimes, and almost as lucky if we don't manage to louse our own planet beyond a state of easy habitability in the meantime.

When you’re a Web nrrd, this passes for news

Capture: SXSW humor.

06 March 2008

Angry thoughts about IE7 and IE8

So much has been written about how IE7 b0rked the user experience for a lot of users... and everytime I see that comment, I get pissy.


Reasons I get mad about IE7’s twitchiness

  1. If so many folks hadn't used IE6 as their dev platform and ignored everything else, these problems never would have developed.
  2. If the rest had used proper filter rules, their sites would’ve been easier to fix.
  3. If people would take the time to stay current with their skills and learn new ones, the breakage would’ve made more sense at the time (and thus caused less uproar).
  4. Did Microsoft's senior management honestly believe that the rest of the world would stand by idly while it let the Internet Explorer property go to seed? Pshaw! (Insert saltier words of one syllable here. Yes, I'm still all manner of pissed off about that.)

By my way of thinking the furore over IE7's “breakage” is from people who treat their jobs like sinecures.

…And the horse they rode in on!

My own experience

Perhaps I’m being a hardass; goodness knows that I’ve got a reputation for it. My bottom line, however, is that when IE7 came out, I probably spent 10-15 minutes per site getting things into shape. IE7 supports standards far better than its predecessor, and I was developing to standards, so I had few problems. Most of those were caused by vestigial hasLayout issues, though more recently I see that the fuzzy selector problem hasn't yet gone the way of the dodo.

If I could do it, why was it so hard for so many other people?

The answers I get to that question speak more than adequately to my anger.

05 March 2008

Gun rights, abortion, and frustration with Congress?

Science fiction novelist and freelance writer extraordinaire John Scalzi links to a WaPo article about the political culture in the county where he lives.

The reporter summarizes interviewees’ points of contention as resting on gun rights, abortion, and frustration with Congress (thus the title for my own post). As can be expected, the article does a fantastic job of confirming my own biases, namely those that lead me to the conclusion that many of these people are at best ill-informed as a consequence of slurping from the Fox News trough… and at worst, outright hypocrites.

Blow by blow

  • Gun rights

    I’m going on this one anecdotally, since a call to the NRA Institute for Legislative Action rang off the hook.

    I’ve yet to hear of any concerted effort in the mainstream of the Left to promote a British-style ban on guns; the effort seems to focus on assault rife and concealed carry rights. Those, folks, are issues about personal power, and I bet that’s what’s got the mudflap demographic so riled up — the fundamental “pry it from my cold dead hands” issue and the ease with which ownership restrictions can be considered the top of a slippery slope. Meanwhile, the manner in which the Bush clique wants to leverage existing registration requirements into find-’em-anywhere-anytime domestic surveillance systems is an even greater threat to folks’ civil liberties.

  • Abortion

    This is the issue that really steams me, and not without cause¹. Stories of prosperity-gospel churchogers² and lifelong Catholics taking their knocked-up daughters in for abortions are legion in my experience; I can count two that involve close relatives². Meanwhile, the whole issue has always reeked to me of hypocrisy³: the same people who are egged on by Rush Limbaugh into pasting the Nanny State follow up by insisting that the government ought to legislate morality. The fuck?! So much for intellectual honesty.

  • Frustration with Congress

    The gamesmanship of parliamentary procedure has led both the D’s and the R’s to tiptoe around each other. Between that and the fact that too many of those bozos are beholden to moneyed interests and the demands of looking good for the media, you have a big domed building filled with 535 milquetoast characters. Meanwhile, those of us who want real change wait for someone to put the Internet to its best use.


¹ After I was born and until my parents’ divorce, abortion became Mom’s back-up method of birth control. The why-and-wherefore of this fact gets long in the telling, so I’ll save that litany for a time when I can do it without coming across like a total horse’s ass.

² The omission of “Christian” from the designation I give these people is deliberate, if something of an overgeneralization — many of these people do come across to me as sincere Christians, but plenty more do not.

³ Judging by sources, I seem to recall the Savior as saying “…and why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

Another memorial to EGG

One E. Gary Gygax, the principal contributor to the early form of the Dungeons & Dragons games, passed on yesterday.

Like a lot of tech-oriented types I had tons of exposure¹ to his game as a teenager — by the time I was thirteen I had a complete set of First Edition rulebooks² — so I cannot understate the game’s influence (and by extension, the influence of Gygax) on the formation of my worldview.

Lessons learned from D&D: a list

  • There are lots of different ways to believe, and most of them are silly. Better to deal with it sooner than later.

    Seriously. Get your hands on a copy of Deities and Demigods and thumb through it, keeping in mind that it was sourced to a faretheewell.

  • If you want people to do something, you need to give them the tools and the incentives requisite to the task.

    “Running a game” is just an obscure synonym for “herding cats.”

  • Work smarter, not harder.

    …Because it doesn’t make sense to spend more time designing a locale than you’ll spend playing in it.

  • The ability to walk in someone else’s shoes is valuable beyond price.

    On Saturday afternoons that talent for ideation makes the difference between an okay game and a great one. In life it makes the difference between using mirrors and avoiding them.

  • It took a long time for us to get to where we are, and in the meantime we thought up plenty of imaginative ways to betray, abuse and kill one another.

    Digging into the game expanded my interest in history, by way of finding out why. What I learned was humbling.

  • Computers. So. Very. Rawk.

    When I was into playing, I went through unbelievable amounts of paper and mechanical pencil lead, to say nothing of the calories I burned toting around rulebooks. If I woke up tomorrow and decided to become a gamer again, it'd all be going on the laptop in a New York Minute.

…And those are just the ones that come immediately to mind.


¹The last time I played was in May 1998, for better or worse.

²Before I moved to Lawrence I retrieved them from their closet and gave them to a colleague with lots of active gamer friends. He in turn gave them to his little brother, who at last report gets steady use from them. Total win.