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January 10, 2016

Why I should have won Powerball… and why you should be glad you didn’t

There’s a very good reason why I should have won Powerball last night. It has nothing to do with my absolute, desperate need for $250,000,000. (That’s all I need. I’m not greedy.) Nor does it have anything to do with my being worthy of such riches. Also, for hobo fortune teller predicted it when I was but a swaddling.

No, I should have won because of aesthetics. Narrative aesthetics. Allow me to explain.

About ten years I wrote a Young Adult novel about a good-hearted boy who wins $100 million in a lottery. The twist is that he has to keep the win a secret from his parents. You can buy My $100 Million Dollar Secret at LuLu or Amazon, or read it online or download it for free.

But that’s not the point.

Had I won Powerball, imagine the fun newspaper story this would be:

Winner of $800M Lottery
Wrote Novel about a Boy Who Won $100M lottery

Or, in more modern terms:

The Powerball winner wrote a self-published novel … And you’ll never guess what it’s about!
PS: Now we’ll see if he lives up to it!

If God were a clickbaiter, I would have won last night.

Cover image

 


 

This long comment at Reddit from a year ago will tell you exactly what you should do if you win instead of me.

It will also explain why you should hope that you do not win.

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January 9, 2016

Netflix’s hidden categories

The redditor makeinstallposted to PasteBin an HTMLized version of a list of hidden categories at Netflix that was the subject of a reddit thread. I’ve posted it as a Web page with links.

As you’ll see, Netflix has thousands of categories it uses internally. These are like the ones it lets you browse but more specific. This list will take you to a page at Netflix where you can browse among these micro-categories.

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January 7, 2016

B12 helped my memory?

I’m 65 so I forget where I put my car keys and then remember that they’re in the ignition. And that I’m driving.

Well, no, it’s not that bad. But you know that thing where you click on your browser to look something up, you see what’s already loaded, and then it takes a minute to remember what you went there for? That was getting worse, and it was annoying.

I asked my doctor about it. It turns out that my B12 levels were scraping right along the minimum acceptable level — 181pg/ml is the minimum recommended (at least on the test results document I get) and I was at 190, and occasionally a bit lower. So at my doctor’s suggestion I started taking a supplement every day. That was about a year ago. My B12 levels are now 624 (914 is the highest recommended).

I have no external measurement of my short-term memory to go by, but it seems to me to be much better. Not perfect. I still won’t remember your name. But much better.

I ain’t no stinkin’ medical professional, but you can get B12 without a prescription. Best of all, if you take too much, you will pee a cheerful yellow.

By the way, my B12 levels might have been low because I’ve been a vegetarian for 35 years. There’s B12 in eggs and diary, but I probably wasn’t paying enough attention. (See my post about Soylent.)

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January 2, 2016

The future behind us

We’re pretty convinced that the future lies ahead of us. But according to Bernard Knox, the ancient Greeks were not. In Backing into the Future he writes:

“ The future, invisible, is behind us. ” the Greek word opiso, which literally means ‘behind’ or ‘back, refers not to the past but to the future. The early Greek imagination envisaged the past and the present as in front of us–we can see them. The future, invisible, is behind us. Only a few very wise men can see what is behind them. (p. 11)

G.W. Whitrow in Time in History quotes George Steiner in After Babel to make the same point about the ancient Hebrews:

…the future is preponderantly thought to lie before us, while in Hebrew future events are always expressed as coming after us. (p. 14)

Whitrow doesn’t note that Steiner’s quote (which Steiner puts in quotes) comes from Thorlief Borman’s Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek. Borman writes:

…we Indo-Germanic peoples think of time as a line on which we ourselves stand at a point called now; then we have the future lying before us, and the past stretches out behind us. The [ancient] Israelites use the same expressions ‘before’ and ‘after’ but with opposite meanings. qedham means ‘what is before’ (Ps. 139.5) therefore, ‘remote antiquity’, past. ‘ahar means ‘back’, ‘behind’, and of the time ‘after; aharith means ‘hindermost side’, and then ‘end of an age’, future… (p. 149)

This is bewildering, and not just because the Borman’s writing is hard to parse.“we also sometimes switch the direction of future and past.”

He continues on to note that we modern Westerners also sometimes switch the direction of future and past. In particular, when we “appreciate time as the transcendental design of history,” we

think of ourselves as living men who are on a journey from the cradle to the grave and who stand in living association with humanity which is also journeying ceaselessly forward. . Then the generation of the past are our progenitors, at least our forebears, who have existed before us because they have gone on before us, and we follow after then. In that case we call the past foretime. According to this mode of thinking, the future generation are our descendants, at least our successors, who therefore come after us. (p. 149. Emphasis in the original.)

Yes, I find this incredibly difficult to wrap my brain around. I think the trick is the ambiguity of “before us.” The future lies before us, but our forebears were also before us.

Borman tries to encapsulate our contradictory ways of thinking about the future as follows: “the future lies before us but comes after us.” The problem in understanding this is that we hear “before us” as “ahead of us.” The word “before” means “ahead” when it comes to space.

Anyway.


Borman’s explanation of the ancient Hebrew way of thinking is related to Knox’s explanation of the Greek idiom:

From the psychological viewpoint it is absurd to say that we have the future before us and the past behind us, as though the future were visible to us and the past occluded. “…as though the future were visible to us and the past occluded. Quite the reverse is true.”Quite the reverse is true. What our forebears have accomplished lies before us as their completed works; the house we see, the meadows and fields, the cultural and political system are congealed expressions of the deeds of our fathers. The same is true of everything they have done, lived, or suffered; it lies before us as completed facts… The present and the future are, on the contrary still in the process of coming and becoming. (p. 150)

The nature of becoming is different for the Greeks and Hebrews, so the darkness of the future has different meanings. But both result in the future lying behind us.

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December 28, 2015

Hateful Eight review [NO spoilers]

We saw Hateful Eight in 70mm splendor in a packed and enthusiastic theater last night. Totally worth seeing. The three hours went by quickly. But it was less ambitious, and less cinematic, than his recent work. In fact, it is basically a stage play. It’s as if Tarantino was given license to take one of his set pieces — say the phenomenal thirty minute German tavern scene (about the scene) in Inglorious Basterds — and blow it out to three hours, although to be fair it’s actually two or three of those set pieces.

Tavern scene from Basterds

The characters are colorful and well-etched. I loved watching the actors act, as in every Tarantino film. The dialogue is Tarantinesque, although not as memorable as his very best. The violence is explosive and over the top. (“Is it a spoiler to say that there’s violence in a Tarantino film?”Is it a spoiler to say that there’s violence in a Tarantino film?)


But it’s also a genre film in a very unexpected genre for Tarantino. I’d say what genre but I think that really might count as a spoiler. Let me put it like this: it’s as if you’re watching Pulp Fiction and realize that, what the heck?, it’s really a version of Emma. (And that was definitely not a spoiler for either film.) It’s sort of cool that Tarantino did this, but also a bit confining for him. At more than 3 hours and in 70mm Cinerama, this is in some ways a small film.

cinerama logo

While seeing the “Cinerama” banner took me back, oh, fifty years, I can’t say that what he went through — and what he forced theaters to go through — to show it in 70mm was worth it. There are a couple of shots that that had me think “Nice 70mm!” but had I not known that it was in 70mm, I simply would have said, “Nice shot!.” There were a few shots where the color was especially rich and beautiful, but, again, I wouldn’t have attributed that to anything except excellent digital cinematography had I not known any better. On the other hand, I also can’t see any real difference between an ordinary Mac screen and a Retina display. I’m glad Quentin got to do it his way, and I hope it makes him happy.

“Then there’s the question of what it’s about”Then there’s the question of what it’s about. Race and racism? Legal justice and frontier justice? Yes, I think so. But it doesn’t have easy lessons. Tarantino is totally a non-didactic filmmaker, unlike, say, Spielberg. He’s got his values, he’s got his characters, he puts them together, one of them will discourse on an unexpected cultural theory, one person’s brain matter is probably going to end up in someone else’s face, and that’s about it.

Why would we expect there to be more? For two reasons. First, the movie-making is so superbly crafted. We are completely in his thrall. That’s the experience of art. Second, the violence is so extreme that we want it to be justified by significance.


But violence serves the role of humor in Tarantino’s films. I’m not saying it’s funny, although it often is, and last night’s enthusiastic audience burst out in laughter at some of it. Me too. Tarantino uses violence not just to advance the plot, and not, I believe to show us the true effects of violence, for he skimps entirely on the effect violence has on its survivors. Rather, the “violence like a sudden joke snaps the audience out of the comfort that narrative flow provides”violence like a sudden joke snaps the audience out of the comfort that narrative flow provides.


Which is to say that I don’t think Hateful Eight is rigorously about anything, except perhaps the everyday chaos engendered when people who are unalike have to share a space, or, in this case, share a movie — except in this case, the chaos is amplified by people with guns and their own loose-triggered codes of behavior.


TL;DR: Worth seeing because Tarantino.

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December 27, 2015

Embedded endnote extractor

I’ve updated a 2009 utility that lets you embed your end notes in the text you’re typing. The utility, Footnoter, extracts the endnotes, leaves a footnote number, and compiles a list of the endnotes with numbers and links. It now works with Markdown as well as with HTML; I use Markdown for most of what I write these days.

In other words, let’s say you type this in a document you’re creating with Markdown:

I write using Markdown. ((See John Gruber’s Daring Fireball for more.)) Markdown lets you embed formatting codes into plain text that are then rendered into formatted HTML, Word, etc.((The Marked app adds a viewer with export capabilities. It’s on sale for $9.99 right now.)), enabling me to focus purely on what I’m saying. It also lets me keep my fingers on the keyboard.

If you paste this text into Footnoter and tell it you want Markdown output, it will treat the comments between the double parentheses as endnotes. It will remove those comments from the body of the text, leaving the Markdown code for an endnote number, and will compile a list of endnotes with the proper references back to their endnote numbers. That is, it does what you would expect. At least with my limited testing.

For Markdown, that means the above text gets turned into this:

I write using Markdown.[^fn2] Markdown lets you embed formatting codes into plain text that are then rendered into formatted HTML, Word, etc.[^fn3], enabling me to focus purely on what I’m saying. It also lets me keep my fingers on the keyboard.

[^fn2]:See John Gruber’s Daring Fireball for more.
[^fn3]:The Marked app adds a viewer with export capabilities. It’s on sale for $9.99 right now.

Don’t be freaked out. That’s what endnotes look like in Markdown. When you run them through a parser, they’ll have appropriately numbered superscripts. (Footnoter generates arbitrary unique Markdown labels for endnotes; they start with “fn” and then have numbers appended sequentially. Those numbers have nothing to do with the number the parser will assign to the endnote itself. Also, yes, it’s a little bug that Footnoter starts with fn2 instead of fn1. Non-critical. I’m working on it. [Minutes later]: Fixed it. I think.)

The same thing happens if you are writing HTML except the markup that’s generated is more like this:

I write using Markdown.<span class=’fn_in_text’><a name=’fn2′><a href=#fnend2>2</a><</span> Markdown lets you embed formatting codes into plain text that are then rendered into formatted HTML, Word, etc.<span class=’fn_in_text’><a name=’fn3′><a href=#fnend3>3</a></span>, enabling me to focus purely on what I’m saying. It also lets me keep my fingers on the keyboard.

And that gets rendered in a browser as this:

I write using Markdown.2 Markdown lets you embed formatting codes into plain text that are then rendered into formatted HTML, Word, etc.3, enabling me to focus purely on what I’m saying. It also lets me keep my fingers on the keyboard.

There are a number of options, including setting the delimiters for endnotes and, for HTML, which endnote number to begin with. By default it removes the space before an endnote, so you can put a space between the word where the superscript should be and your delimiters, making your text easier to read when you’re working on it.

Also, if you work on a text, run it through Footnoter, work on it some more and add more endnotes, Footnoter should detect that and begin its arbitrary numbering of Markdown endnotes above where you left off. That means you can run it through more than once and it should still work.

Should.

Note: This code is from 2009. I’ve learned some stuff since then, including that jQuery makes life easier. When I added the Markdown option yesterday, I didn’t bother cleaning up the old code. It is particularly hideous. You can gape at its uglinesss at github.

PS: Yes, I really should have named it “Endnoter.”

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December 22, 2015

My Eagle

Aug. 1

What a majestic creature! The wings beating like giant sails!

And not bald. Not even a comb-over, haha. Downy white feathers covering that majestic skull.

The beak does sort of look like a big nose, though.

Aug. 2

Again this morning! I’d say within 15 mins of yesterday’s fly-by. A little higher up and more toward the center of the lake, but still majestic even from further away. I’d probably have to be like a mile away before I mistook it for a pigeon.

Winky barked as it soared past, although Winky barks at anything he finds interesting, and he’s blessed with an all-day curiosity.


Did you know that all clouds look like bones?

Aug. 3

It looked at me! Oh my, let me record the time exactly! It’s now 7:27, so it was probably at 7:24!

Ok, I’ve caught my breath. He flew by just a little past the Jurgenson’s raft, so that’s maybe 50 or 200 feet from me. Flapping those big wings. Looking straight ahead. And then as I leapt up from my chair, he definitely turned his head and looked right at me!

And not a little passing glance. He was studying me, taking my measure, judging my character. And I looked back at him. Resolute but with kindness. I wasn’t going to look away until he did, which took about maybe four seconds, or two to be scientific about it (I just timed four seconds on the ol’ Timex, and they take longer than you’d think). But your life can change in two seconds. How long is the first sight that love can happen in? It can’t be more than a second or two or it would be second sight, or maybe third.

My eagle and I definitely made a connection. Till death do us part! Well, Labor Day.

[More]

December 21, 2015

Pizza Philosophy

Socrates: The Extra Parmesanides

The unexamined pizza is probably still worth eating.

St. Augustine: Deep Dish Confessions

The mind commands the body and is instantly obeyed.

The mind commands itself and meets resistance.

The body commands pizza and it arrives within thirty minutes or it’s free. [“…ut servirem domino deo meo”]

Nietzsche: Thus Spake ‘Za-thruster, the Pizza Delivery Guy

The pizza that does not kill me makes me stronger.

If you gaze into a pizza, the pizza stares back at you. If you’re tripping balls.

Martin Heidegger: Being and Slices

“Dasein’s Being is always Being-toward-Pizza. Pizza stands before us as an ex-static project that discloses that which is Dasein’s ownmost, for no one can eat your pizza for you.”

Bonus for Librarians: Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Pizza Science

  1. Pizzas are for use

  2. For every eater, his pizza

  3. For every pizza, its eater

  4. Our warming oven saves time for the eater

  5. Our pizzas are totally organic

Isaac Asimov: Three Rules of Pizzas

Suggested by Andromeda Yelton (@ThatAndromeda). Thanks!

  1. A pizza may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

  2. A pizza must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

  3. A pizza must do ABSOLUTE NOTHING to protect its own existence as long as such lack of protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

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December 17, 2015

The Library in the Life of the User: An open platform use case

OCLC has posted an excellent report based on a recent conference, looking at how libraries can participate in the life of users, rather than thinking about the user’s life within the library.

I like this a lot. I’ve been talking about it in terms of libraries now being able to participate in the appropriation of culture that traditionally has occurred in private discussions outside the library: The user borrows a book, takes it home, and talks about it with her friends, etc. It is in those conversations that the reader makes the work her own.

Now that many of those conversations occur online, the library has the opportunity to offer services that facilitate these conversations, learn from them, and contribute to the act of cultural appropriation. That’s a big change and a big opportunity. (I’d say it’s huge, but I can’t use that word without hearing it in Trump’s voice, not to mention envisioning the shape of his mouth when he says it. So, nope, that word’s gone.)

One of the points of talking about libraries in the life of the user–Lorcan Dempsey‘s phrase from 1973 (I am a Lorcan fan) [LATER: In the comments below Merrilee Proffitt points out that the report says that while Lorcan popularized the phrase, it was coined by Douglas Zweizig. Sorry!] –is that user lives are much bigger than their lives in libraries. The library’s services therefore should not be confined to the relatively limited range of things that users do in libraries. In fact, users’ lives are so big and varied and unpredictable that libraries on their own can’t possible provide every service or address every opportunity for engaging in their users’ many acts of cultural appropriation.

Therefore, libraries ought to be adopting open platforms, i.e., public-facing APIs that let anyone with an idea build a new service or integrate into their own sites or apps the ideas being generated by networks of library users. Open platforms are ideal where needs and opportunities are unpredictable. Outside of cats trapped in physicists’ boxes, there is no more unpredictable domain than how people are going to make sense of their culture together.

Therefore: Open platforms for libraries!

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December 13, 2015

From boosting the Net to remembering it

My role on the Net is going through a large swing: from explaining why the Internet is different, important, and (overall) good, to reminding us—especially college-age kids—how different and difficult so many things were before the Net existed.

For example, I gave an informal talk at Tufts last week and a few weeks ago at Emerson College. In both of them, and in the discussions afterwards, I did the Old Man thing of talking about how things were in the pre-Net days. For instance, it used to be that you’d read a newspaper article, have questions and want to know more, and there was no place you could go. You got whatever was in that rectangle of information and that’s all. Shocking! Outrageous!

The two roles are not unrelated: explaining what’s different about the Net and why we should overall be grateful and optimistic about the opportunities it has opened up. But what’s surprising to me is summed up by the comment by one of the Emerson students after the event was officially over: He thanked me for saying positive things about the Net since “All we ever hear is how dangerous it is.”

So, there’s still work to do. Hope over fear. Hope over fear.

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