Sunday, August 30, 2009

There is Such a Thing as a Tesseract

In college, I learned that a tesseract is the four-dimensional analogue to the three-dimensional cube, in the same sense that the cube is the three-dimensional analogue of the two-dimensional square. This stuck in my mind quite clearly, because it wasn't the first time I had seen the unusual word before. Tesseract in my mind will forever be associated with the idea of a wrinkle in time, and the novel by the same name. A spate of cleaning in my parents attic gave me the opportunity to revisit Madeleine L'Engle's classic children's story and remind myself why it made such an impression on me.

On the surface, A Wrinkle in Time is a science fantasy story that contains other worlds, aliens, a great galactic threat, psychics, and my first encounter with one of the biggest cliches of pulp sci-fi (which I will not spoil here, in case you haven't read it). But the book also has real religious content, including several Biblical quotes. All of this is part of the reason the book remains just as impactful for me today as it did over two decades ago when I last read it. I think the thing that really stands out to me is the sheer amount of imagination on display. I'm not sure I've ever read a book that contains the combination of highly memorable characters and expansive world-building in such a small amount of space while sustaining an actual story.

This is one book that comes out of the attic and goes on the bookshelf, there to stay until it is read again. It's also a reminder (in case you missed the whole Harry Potter thing) that just because something is called a children's story, doesn't mean that it isn't good for adult readers.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Real Life Zombie Study

After heavy amounts of overtime yesterday, I feel like a zombie myself, so it seems the perfect time to link to the story of scientists analyzing a zombie outbreak.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Couple of Quick Notes

ArsTechnica's guide to facebook privacy is a nice resource in case you don't want everyone seeing everything, and a reminder of where to find some of the settings you want to turn off.

The fair use doctrine says it's legal for a person to make a backup copy of their own DVDs, but it's illegal to make and sell a tool that allows people to make backup copies of their own DVDs. Whowah?

On the Impact of Tools

"We've got the tools, and we've got the talent."
--Winston Zeddemore, Ghostbusters

In prepping for a trip this weekend, I pulled out my car's spare tire and made sure it was inflated correctly using a portable air compressor.

Earlier this week a colleague needed to sort a particular file, but it was too large to load properly in Excel or OpenOffice Calc. I was able to sort it with a text editor call VIM.

In drawing class we learned how softer graphite pencils can be used to create darker tones than hard graphite pencils. And we used them in concert to take advantage of the properties of both.

With some input from a friend, I took my hand-me-down guitar to a repair shop over the weekend and learned that it basically wasn't worth the money to repair. But playing a new guitar for the first time was astonishingly easier because the strings were at the proper height my old one never achieved.

All creative endeavors have one thing in common: if you are going to create something, you are going to use tools to help you do it. Indeed, tool use is a primary hallmark of our species, and we take it to some astounding ends. Cars, rockets, cell phones, computers, and software all help us achieve our everyday goals. Even the relatively simple tools we take for granted, like pencils, pens, scissors, paper, and pocketknives have a long developmental evolution. The right tools, at the right place, in the right hands, at the right time, can change the world.

So this week I was remind not to be afraid of investing time and money in good tools, at least basic ones, for the jobs and hobbies that are necessary or important to me. The long term improvement in the results will be well worth it.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Little Bit of Star Trek

August has arrived in force at last, and a sultry summer Sunday begins a new week. The past one was incredibly busy for me, with work devouring more than its normally allotted time. So in spite of it sitting in my player day after day, it took me until tonight to finish off the last episode of Star Trek season one.

The original has always been my favorite of the Star Trek series, and the first season is packed fairly solid with good episodes. And yes, I'd seen them all before, though not quite like this. This time around, I'm watching them in quality beyond what the makers of the show could have dreamed at the time: 1080p. The remastered, reworked, re-special-effected episodes are almost shockingly good looking. Listening to the commentaries and watching the new special effects, it's obvious that this was a labor of love by people who wanted to pass on a show that affected them deeply to a new audience. The care taken to preserve the sixties style in the new effects, even the quirks, shows a great reverence to the show and a deep respect for the fans.

Given how familiar the show is to me, and its age, I was expecting to be able to revel in the aspects that should inevitably seem campy to my supposedly more sophisticated eyes. I was expecting to see the relatively primitive make-up and effects of the time for the stage dressing they were. William Shatner's performance as Captain James Kirk has become such a part of the shared culture of sci-fi that we are more familiar with the exaggerated parodies than the original. And the other characters have become equally iconic. To my surprise and, frankly, delight I find the show holds up tremendously well for me. It's nice to watch the performances again for what they were. Shatner, Nimoy, Kelly, and all the rest took the writers' words and gave them a reality that still resonates. And for a brief moment, I can give in to the story and be just as captivated now as I was as a kid.

But I am older now, and inevitably I see things differently. Instead of focusing on cool ships, energy beams, strange aliens, and exotic worlds, I now see the things that Star Trek showed that were truly rare. Duty, honor, trust, respect, friendship, and ever fleeting love: these are the voyages of the starship Enterprise.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Quote of the Moment

"You have the power to create worlds. Why would you just make one that already exists?"
--Sean Sands, in an essay on art style in video games.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Brief Retrospective

Well, July is past and gone. It's less than a month until football season. As we enter the hot, sticky run toward Labor Day, what have I learned so far this summer?

Recently, I read evidence the stock market is even more broken that I thought.

There are way too many people without jobs this summer. I really hope that turns around.

Apple owns the $1000+ computer market segment. Of course, that might be because the average sale prices for a Mac laptop or desktop are more than double those in the PC market. In a mostly unrelated note, heaven help me, I actually want the iPhone to come to Verizon.

Top Gear remains the height of awesome, even though I'm not a car guy. And in his off time, one of the presenters is building a house out of Lego brand building bricks.

Limeaid: rum; Lemonaid: gin; Gatorade: you're doing it wrong.

To properly appreciate The Daily Show and Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me, you need to keep up with the current news. Also vice versa.

Programming in my free time would require larger blocks of free time than I currently have.

I still prefer computer gaming to consoles. But even four years after my back surgery, I can't take sitting in a chair for 12+ hours a day. Maybe I need a better chair. On the subject of computer gaming, World of Warcraft isn't much of a single player game, but it gets better when you can group up with someone you know. It lives and dies by the Diablo loot drop style, which happens too slowly when you are on your own in the game. Great artwork job though. Also, Team Fortress 2 remains shockingly fun.

Waterfalls are pretty. Even small ones.

And while learning things is great, it's also good to keep a question or two handy going forward. Things like: will Chuck keep its fun quotient up in the third season? Should I get my old hand-me-down guitar repaired, or just get a new one that's in better shape? Are electric guitars easier on the poor typing hands than acoustics, and how does that play into the previous question's answer?

Personally, I'm ready to begin the run toward autumn. But I also don't want to forget the lessons and fun of the past couple of months. After all, it's been a pretty good summer so far.