Sunday, December 18, 2005


I put Inkscape on my Linux box at work to play with it some time ago, but on account of that machine being particularly slow, I haven't gotten much use of it. Today I installed it on my Windows box and am shamed for my lack of interest. I went through a couple of the program's tutorials (basics and calligraphy) only to find that I'd been missing out on quite a bit.

I'm not very familiar with Illustrator, after which this program ostensibly takes, but I do have extensive experience with Macromedia Fireworks and some with Adobe Photoshop. While I will probably still use Fireworks for web graphics development because of its slice exporting features, Inkscape supports a stunning array of features that should have been with us from the beginning. For one, you can manipulate paths as sets, merging them with union and intersections, allowing you to carve and build shapes. This is a feature I've long hoped to see. If Illustrator has these features, I never found them, and in Inkscape, they figure prominently in the interface, where they belong.

But this is a trifle compared to what I discovered with the calligraphy tools. Inkscape parameterizes your mouse gestures with "mass", "drag", "thinning", "angle" and "fixation". These permit even the least steady mouse hand to make stunningly smooth gestures. Mass and drag add inertia and friction to your stylus, making it steady; thinning decreases your pressure when you move quickly; and fixation determines how freely the angle of the stylus will follow the direction of your stroke. Fixation is particularly interesting because it makes light the difference between eastern and western calligraphy. Also, you can change the angle and width of your stylus with arrow keys, even while you draw.

Here's a graphic I made in the small time I spent playing with it.

Gaerdin, as drawn in the Sindarin Mode

Thursday, December 8, 2005

Swil, Senior Project Complete

As of last Wednesday, I managed to integrate all of Swil's components. While the Swil interpreter is not ready to create web pages and PDFs, it can now interpret Swil programs.

I finished my Senior Project Paper today. I would require myself to work on it for another week before turning it in, but that's not an option since the quarter ends tomorrow. However, there is some valuable content about Swil's features in the last sections, some entertaining philosophical discussion (previously seen in my proposal for the project) in the middle, and some mostly pedantic discussion about how I wrote it in the beginning.

Thursday, December 1, 2005

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Elvish List

I've started an Elvish mailing list at Google Groups,

"A forum for J.R.R. Tolkien's Elvish languages, specifically questions, answers, corrections, and discussion, especially when prompted by beginners or passing enthusiasts. This list discusses Elvish languages with the humble pretense of authority in service of your curiosity."

Monday, November 7, 2005

Not Middle Earth

Ryan Paul (SegPhault, Gaerdin) and I have discussed a departure from the theme of our so far seven year development track for the M.U.D. game notionally called "Magic of Middle Earth". Stubbing the program with Final Fantasy sprites and music was going to be transitional, supposedly resulting in a Middle Earth themed game. This had to be temporary because of intellectual property issues that would prevent us from ever capitalizing from the project, and possibly get us sued. Unfortunately, a Middle Earth based game has the same problem.

So, we've decided to break away from the enormous body of thematic content that Middle Earth would offer in favor of developing our own conworld for the project, with its own themes, graphics and music.

From there, I'm in favor of developing the game in the Steam-punk (albeit Victorian Science Fiction) genre. Notable others in this genre are Aeronef and Warhammer. I would prefer to meet them half way with a largely fantasy, mediaeval world highlighted with sparse acts of technological wizardry like zeplins. Deep down, my only desire is to have a zeplin or airship.


Saturday, October 22, 2005

Thursday, October 20, 2005


Most computer programs employ English for keywords and names. However, I'm sure that langlubbers and programmers agree, English is poorly suited for the task. For example, adjunct phrases in English titles are "specific to general", like "Input Stream" and "Output Stream" rather than "general to specific". Programmers prefer to group names by their equivalence classes (for example "Stream"), which lexical sorting would do if only our titles were "general to specific", like "Stream Input" and "Stream Output". Programmers also prefer to have exhaustive and "orthogonal" equivalence classes, which in English, usually require creative application of disparate terms like "push", "pop", "shift" and..."unshift". Programs also abhor ambiguity, with which English is replete. Hackers also love brevity, which often leads to additional ambiguity.

I propose "Codish", a standardized mutilation of English for the purpose of making computer programs more consistent. The Codish vocabulary should meet needs in most languages, providing unambiguous and exhaustive terms for particular contexts. Codish would be targeted at language designers and library writers. Here's my violent attempt to start a discussion about such a language. I posed this topic to the Constructed Languages Mailing List.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Blue vs Red

For symmetry, I've made a Black Mage stub graphic for the blue team in the M.U.D. project.

The last image is the PNG. I parodied a graphic off Eight Bit Theatre The original image probably belongs to Square-Enix.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Red vs Blue

Shawn Tice and I developed a random maze generator for the M.U.D. project. The purpose of our design was to generate a closed world of arbitrary size, where all rooms are accessible from any other.

We restricted the world's shape to square with sides that measure as powers of two. That way, we could recursively generate the world with the following rules:

  1. for all rooms larger than a unit room (1x1)
    1. the room posesses four rooms, one in each quadrant
    2. the room posesses four exits that are either passable or walled
    3. any exit that is passable may be divided in half, closed in by a wall on either side
    4. between each quadrant is a partition
    5. at most, one partition is a wall
    6. all other partitions are passable, guaranteeing that all quadrants are accessible by at least one path.
  2. for all rooms
    1. all surrounding partitions are walls if they do not lead to a room

Here's how one maze turned out:

The numbers represent the width of each room in the following diagram. Each successive maze is a more detailed version of the previous.

For the purpose of testing, we'll probably populate this maze with two warring clans, Red versus Blue. I doctored an image off of Eight Bit Theatre with Macromedia Fireworks for the purpose. For kicks, I made the layers functional.

The first image is the PNG. The original image probably belongs to Square-Enix.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Blizzard Resume

I've been crafting my resume for Blizzard Entertainment. The original is complete, and I have a miniaturized, touched-up, digital copy, with my sister's help with the scanning process. The original was inked by hand on a 19 inch wide sheet of watercolor paper. The enscription around the rim is in Christopher Tolkien's mode for English after his father's Elvish Tengwar.

Monday, October 3, 2005


The rescue helicopter landed like a fatted, New York pigeon. That is: with intent. While the intentions of a pigeon are generally unclear, there are few possibilities, most of which are sinister. The helicopter lacked the refreshing red hue of a rescue chopper. Indeed, it was decidedly black. From a gaping mini-van door, grown up Boy Scouts dressed as firemen did not pour. These Boy Scouts seemed to have joined the military.

Curiosity got the best of me for a few seconds. But, when most of my left arm got warm, wet, and red, strikingly like most of Leo's liver, the worst of me got into the driver seat. At the very darkest depths of most humans, there lies a threatening jungle cat, ready to dispense swift justice and make dinner in one sinuous motion. Sadly, the parts of a human that get more sun are pathetically under-motivated for the task. That's me all the way through: a hairless primate, ready to sell my family for a pack of smokes if a jungle cat tries to steal my lunch money.

So I did the most sensible thing I could think of. I wet myself. It occurred to me that if I were going to continue in this occupation, I probably should invest in an article of Kevlar, an automatic rifle, some ammunition, and a colostomy bag. Before I had a chance to assess my surroundings and select suitably defensible cover, I had the muzzle of an AR-15, bearing more attachments than I surmise are legal in Arizona, pressed assertively against my personal space. Behind the muzzle was a character in black fatigues who looked like he might be the Patrol Leader. I only had a dollar and thirty five cents.

About then, I realized the Leo might need his liver back. I was in a giving mood. He had been good company, even knew the lyrics to "Smoke on the Water". I couldn't ask for more from an anonymous transient who needed a ride from Nogales to Wherever for reasons incommunicable. After we drove for a half hour, he was polite in telling me that Tucson was the other way. He even recommended a short cut back. When the dirt road led us bumpily deep into the dry plains of nowhere, he offered me a drink from my own cooler. When I tipped the truck into a ditch, he was kind enough to join me in a tirade of obscenities. Leo was a trooper.

This was good for him, since no one was offering him a pillow or a pint of O positive. The scoutmaster was more interested in making sure that I was patently aware that I was on the wrong side of a potentially dangerous firearm. On my knees? Okay. Face down in the dirt? Always ready to serve. My brain was elsewhere, reviewing the long series of mistakes that led me to this situation, tracing my way back to conception.

I heard the Do-good Patrol zealously rumbling around in what was my company's truck. Not that the company no longer owned it. Although the truck's nose was buried in dry soil and might never run again, I'm sure that UPS still wanted it. I was more concerned with the employment status of something else that had its nose buried in dry soil. The problem quickly resolved itself; my militant companion kicked me up onto my side. The view didn't improve much. Most of Leo was still there, but his soul may have been seeking higher ground. The assistant patrol leader had found Leo's duffel bag and was pawing through its contents in the shade of a small rock. Leo was apparently a proprietor of used cell phones.

The patrol leader scoured Leo's inventory. When he had found the model he was looking for, he hesitated. I never understood why some people cared so much about the color. He found a phone that suited him better and pried off its battery cover. After gingerly extracting its memory card, he made a few pointed suggestions to his crew about what they should be doing. Noticeably missing from his instructions were anything about pulling the truck out of the ditch or offering anybody a ride to the hospital.

The rest of the affair proceeded like Poe's "Cask of Amontillado" backwards. One brick at a time lifted from the invisible wall around me and just standing up felt much like retracing my steps out of ancient catacombs. The patrol filed back into its black helicopter and departed as it came, lifting off like a pigeon having fulfilled its sinister intent. I found my bravery then, huddled behind me. Now, in the wake of its personal failure, my horrible ego was fully prepared to make vain threats and carefully consider the long list of things it could have done. The uncaged beast hollered for better than ten minutes and promptly fell asleep, leaving me with its still unsolved problem.

There wasn't a single working phone in Leo's pile of misbegotten treasure.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Slashdot Debut

Break out the root beer and lembas! My Firefox Extension article got slashdotted.

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Developing Firefox Extensions with GNU/Linux

I've made my second contribution to //, a lengthy piece on how I develop extensions for Firefox.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Command Line Wizardry

By the way, I made my first contribution to // two weeks ago with the "Tools, Tricks and Tips" section of Ryan Paul's lately acquired linux.ars column.


For the record, the name Cixar doesn't, in itself, mean anything. Rather, the name is an attempt to draw multiple parallels.

It starts with my moniker, Cowbert. Actually, it starts with my lack of a monicker. My sister, Kathy, has always had a "theme" for each phase she's passed through, albeit pandas, kiwis, or elephants. I, on the other hand, until the age of seventeen, was as stolid as a cow. Kathy meant to break this mould. She gave me a plush cow she earned for selling recipe books as my 18th birthday present. At the time, I read Dilbert quite heavily, and was planning to make a parody. Scott Adams claims in The Dilbert Future that his idea of originality is reading Garfield and changing all the jokes so they fit Dogbert. So, I made a Cowbert comic wherein I bore a striking resemblance to a particular, cube-headed, plush cow. To clinch it, was still available. So, these long years later, I am Baron Cowbert von Moo.

At the time, Ryan Paul and I were throwing together ideas for a new MUD, we were attributing IdealMUD, since we weren't ready to rule out any particular set of features for practical purposes yet. Quickly, the term "Cix" filled the analogous role for a collection of "Cowix" operating system ideas. Ryan Witt posited that "Cix" inherently "Cix OS", especially in a British accent. Cix has since evolved into a pile of ideas, not so much for an operating system, but for an internally consistent platform. Of course, it isn't internally consistent, but we plan to build Gnomebots to sort it all out.

Some of those ideas included "graphical command line" names for applications. Taking a page from Latin, the names were inflected. Each application had a three letter root representing the type of data it operated on. This base corresponded to the file extension. Then each application had a suffix of "or" for "edit-ors", "er" for "view-ers", and "ing" for daemons, a.k.a, services. For example; *.tex text files edited with texor, viewed with texer; *.pix picture files edited with pixor, viewed with pixer; tabular data edited with tabor and served with tabing. Of course there was in internal implication that Texar, Tabar, Datar, Vexar, and Pixar would be fantastic names for teams, companies, or loosely governed alliances of hackers devoted to the development of these tools. Then Ryan Witt bought for our eventual Internet home, sealing the name around us like soo many soggy carpets.

So, summarily, Cixar is a loosely governed alliance of Cix developers.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Urban Dictionary for Firefox Toolbar

I took some time for the last couple days and implemented a Firefox extension for It looks up words you select and displays their definitions (if extant) in a (normally hidden) toolbar.

Monday, August 22, 2005


Pronunciation: 'jE(&)l
Function: noun
Etymology: zeal and jealous, Middle English jelous, from Old French, from (assumed) Vulgar Latin zelosus, from Late Latin zelus zeal, from Greek zElos
1 a : intolerance of rivalry or unfaithfulness b : a disposition to suspect rivalry or unfaithfulness
2 : hostility toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage
3 : vigilance in guarding a possession
- jeal*ous adjective
- jeal*ous*ly adverb
- jeal*ous*ness noun
- jeal*ot noun

Pronunciation: 'je-l&t
Function: noun
Etymology: zealot and jealous, Late Latin zelotes, from Greek zElOtEs, from zElos
: a hostile fanatic acting on jealousy
see jeal

Definitions parodied off Merriam Webster

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Swilly the Pig

Ryan Paul and I have been working on Swil graphics.

  1. The original SWL logo
  2. Ryan Paul's excellent shaded version.
  3. A vector rendition.
  4. A simplified graphic.

I created [1] for SWL 2. I sketched the image on a 3x5 note card and scanned it. Dan Restuccio and I processed the image in Adobe Illustrator and produced a vectorized version and filled the cells with solid colors. This appears in the SWL 2 documentation.

Ryan Paul has been studying how to use Inkscape, a powerful graphics editor for Linux, to produce high-quality, cell-shaded images. His first attempt was on his personal, lambda-penguin logo. Ryan produced [2] with this technique, applying cell shading techniques to the cells of [1]. Ryan chose to use an obnoxious yellow for the tie to fabulous effect, IMHO.

Ryan and I collected comments on the new logo. A friend of his, used the theme to produce their first Inkscape image. Although his choice of color for the pig would "cause glaucoma at twenty paces", he did get a few things right that I didn't in my sketch. For one, he made the coffee cup look like a coffee cup. Mine turned out more like a gravy saucer. He also chose white for the cup and put spots on the tie, which Ryan Paul and I thoroughly approved of. The spots, in my imagination, are bubbles from the swill. Ryan Witt thought it would look better with glasses and a pocket protector, to go with his tie-clip. My coworker, Meshaal, suggested that it wasn't abstract or simplified enough to scale to icon size or be representative as a logo. Also, Trevor Bortins suggested that, since I pointed out that the swill cup is a Java parody, I should somehow work the "steam" motif in, since that's the most prominent feature of their mark.

I recreated the logo with vectors to produce [3]. In this version, I integrated the white cup, the glasses, the yellow tie, and spots. I think I might attempt to render "steam" in the tie next time.

Rendition [4] is for Meshaal. The pig is ridiculously iconified into a largely circular composition, between the pig and the cup. This rendition doesn't have the wide support of [3], but it has its adorable merits.

I also made icons.

SWL used a snout icon extracted from the first logo. I generalized the notion of the snout abstraction, since, so all of our icons bear the theme. [1] is the decided Swil 3 icon. [2] is the Moosh icon, already in use for the Moosh Firefox extension, /moosh. [4] is Ryan Paul's idea for the Moot icon. The yin yang motif conveys the sense of disperate people interacting to produce a cohesive whole. [5] and [6] were my original attempts to convey a "meeting" of cow snouts and a diff of a cow snout. We're running with the yin yang, but I'm still trying to find an idea for the icon that is less tenuous than these.

Friday, August 5, 2005

Overloads and Genericity

I disagree with Professor Bates' general assertion on the ACM Queue that overload is bad based on the specific weaknesses of C++. Bates cites the nightmarish growth of complexity of a C++ program because of a combination of arbitrary complexities. C++ uses a complex scheme of scope resolution and type casting, with multiple ways to invoke type conversions. Because C++ provides so many avenues for these features, there are arbitrary distinctions to determine where one begins and another ends. In a simpler language, as most functional and some procedural languages are, overloading is not a problem because there is only one scope resolution rule and a unified system for defining type conversions. In fact, that these complexities scale exponentially is considered an advantage; being able to understand how your code scales when it interacts with new code is empowering.

Bates argues that "[overloading] adds no significant programming capabilities at all." This overlooks the concept of genericity. Genericity is a concept implemented in static languages like C++ through the use of templates and in dynamic languages like Python inherently. Genericity posits that there are classes that are unrelated in terms of inheritance that subscribe to the same notional behaviors as defined by some set of algebraic identities. So, for all objects that subscribe to the same notion of "addition", a "sum" operator would behave the same way. Or, for all objects that subscribe the notions of symbolic logic, negating any of those objects once gives you an opposite, and negating again renders an equivalent object to the initial. This is a significant programming capability. This permits the implementation of libraries that behave on any object that subscribes to these generic notions.

I do agree that overloading can get out of hand, especially in the hands of programmers that are simply trying to be brief and have no respect for preserving algebraic identities so that their classes can behave predictably. Perhaps future languages simply need a way of explicating these generic relationships. I would be tempted to argue that one can emulate the exact same behaviors with object oriented programing and explicating these relationships with with interfaces, but I doubt this is practical in the long run. Frankly, some people are willing to give up the effort of explicating their intentions on the expectation that other users have taken the same math classes.

Sunday, July 31, 2005


I have posted Moosh, the Moo Graphical Shell, as a reincarnation of the MAGE client for Magic of Middle Earth. Moosh is a Firefox extension that adds the sh: protocol to Firefox, which permits you to log into M.M.E with a URL, sh:// Try it out.

Moosh, at the moment, is merely a graphical shell platform on which we intend to build a local graphical shell with a Moo/Swil idealized syntax. Ryan Paul has also suggested that we might use this platform for a non-interactive telnet client, for logging into MUDs or any telnet service with line-buffering.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Reading Update

I'm now reading "The Redemption of Althalus", by David and Leigh Eddings. The first two parts make it worth reading. I'm a bit more than half way finished and it looks like the body of the text is going to be entirely pedantic dialogue comparable to the filler for Robert Jordan's interminable series. I miss the furtive character from the beginning of the book, greatly.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Program Closures Cix Rant

I posted a rant on the topic of closures and how they apply to programs for Cix. Read on, /moot/CixRant18.

I also posted a request for comments on desirable names for the Cix file layout. Read on, /moot/CixRfc2.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Kathleen Kowal Portfolio

I've been working on my sister's portfolio. It's nigh finished and looking good. Take a peek!

Reading Update

Still working on the Kalevala. I finished re-reading "A Wizard of Earthsea", by Ursula LeGuin, last week. I need to read some more sci-fi.

Would You Like Fries With That?

Oh, how it irks me. I know it shouldn't. I know I should have more reserve, take it easy, or pretend that I don't have enough "cultural relativism" or respect for the continued evolution of language. But, let's face it, the language is in the hands of huddled masses of blind, uneducated, morons yearning to fill their faces with quickly prepared poison.

Allow me to explain.

If you listen very carefully while bird-watching in this urban jungle of ours, you will inevitibly hear someone, for the lack of imagination or rote memory for the laundry list of perfectly acceptable alternatives, say,

"May I help who's next?"

Oh, for the love all that is holy! I don't even know which grammatically incorrect rendition of that to use. Could they possibly be thinking, "May I help whose next?". I'm tempted to go buy a nasty power drill so I can excavate their brain for what the devil they are thinking. And they're everywhere. EVERYWHERE.

Excuse me miss, perhaps you meant "Who's next?". Did that seem too impolite? Did you think that tacking on some words from the prefix of, "May I help the next person in line?", would help? Would that have been too verbose? Perhaps you were looking for, "May I help you?". Or, "NEEEEEXT!".

So, if you're going to contribute to the evolution of the language, please do something reasonable. For example, I believe Ryan Witt has started a campaign to apply the concept of encapsulation to quotes, whereby punctuation apropriate to the quote would be written inside the quotes, and punctuation apropriate to the sentence containing it would be outside the quote. Good call, man.

Anyhow, I'm sure there's something better to do right now.

File System Quotas for Cix Rant

Come one, come all. Read my rant on file system quotas.

Will Google Return My Call - Part 2

I got a response from Google regarding my internship application.

That is, I got a a box with some nifty Google swag and a nice little note that didn't quite exactly not have NO written on it in big friendly letters. Well, it's a nice hat anyway.

As I wear this cap around campus, I wonder if it serves as a warning beacon to all who know what it portends.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Far Off

We all know I'm a little bit "out there", but where exactly I am, not many people visit, and fewer reside.

So, go to deep left field, then just walk away from home base until you find yourself somewhere completely different. Yell, "I seek Ainalda, the blue wizard who authors the codicies!" A flying saucer might not pick you up. Otherwise, they'll drop you off on a continent occupied by the elves and the angles. Go to a restaurant on an island in the large harbor between the mountains. An ancient mariner will notice you and offer you a bunk and a job at an oarport. Debark on an island with a single mountain, and a white tower on its southern exposure. You won't find me there, but I hear it's really nice.

Thursday, June 16, 2005


On another note, I didn't finish Swil on time. I'll be working on it over the summer.

My attempt (blind stab) to build the syntax evaluation and apply, especially in the absence of a complete parser, revealed some conceptual problems, including a syntax collision, and ultimately didn't work in many cases.

As for the syntax collision, anonymous functions in Swil will require an additional character. My original concept for the syntax, (parameters): routine, doesn't pan out because it collides with assignment to various kinds of sequences, and even to parenthesized single element evaluations. So, with an added dot, .(parameters): arguments will have to suffice.

As for making the evaluation system work, I'm considering the implications of merging the context and syntax structures, and making sure that application (apply) never directly calls a named function. Rather, apply will look up a context corresponding to the operator, then apply it against the operand.

Another issue I ran into was that function calls cannot inherently be generators. Normal function calls lend a user to believe that the function values evaluate expediently. I may introduce an iterate built-in for iterative evaluation of a function call. I may do something else, but my priority will be to make instantaneous evaluation work first.

I also look forward to implementing types, casting, function overload, pattern matching, and grammar matching eventually.

I hope to have minimal functionality ready for the function programming competition soon.

Batman Begins

I saw Batman Begins this evening. I was impressed. My co-worker Meshaal's friend Brian didn't like some of the quaint dialog, but I managed to completely fail to notice it until the film was complete. Batman Begins conveyed a simple but strong morality play, a first in the series as far as I recall, accented by an apt score by Hans Zimmer.

Of course, I must note that the last two movies I saw were in the Downtown Cinema and the Fremont in San Luis, both of which had appalling sound. The Regal in Arroyo Grande's stadium seating and comparatively rich, 3d sound made this a better movie-going experience than Star Wars.

Monday, May 9, 2005

Kingdom of Heaven

Today, Tom and I abandoned our academics for a while and saw Kingdom of Heaven. As I prefer experiencing movies with a bare slate in mind, I won't bother you with details, but I will say that the film has bolstered my idealism. While I heard quivers from possible military science anachronisms from my friend, I believe that any exaggeration on mediaeval warfare only made the film more pertinent to our times: where bombs and automatic rifles replace trebuchet and archery. More moving, however, than any feat of arms I found the spirit of engineering in this movie: "What is a man if he does not see the world and improve it." Kingdom of Heaven is a story about idealism. When you see this movie, remember your oaths, wake your conscience, and rise a Knight.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Darth Vader's Blog

Mood: Jolly. Sometimes many brain hours on a problem pay off. Swil's delimiter precedence scanner works now and everything's just falling into place.

Yeah, and if you haven't read /. recently, make sure that you read Darth Vader's Blog. I highly recommend getting an RSS feed for it.

Saturday, April 2, 2005


I set up a project page for a game that Russel Palmiter wants to colaborate on. It's at /ctrl.

I was able to get the Wiki, Subversion repository, and Swl template set up with the same look and feel pretty quickly. For consistency of look and feel (and admitedly laziness) I reused the framework for the main Cixar page. Apache2 configuration was a breeze, since svn and MoinMoin (the Wiki) configurations can occupy single files in /etc/apache2/conf.d.

SegPhault's working on getting mail working. It may not work at all, but I would like to host Mailman lists off the server for these projects. We're using DSL with a dynamic IP address, so reverse DNS lookup may be the problem, even though we have a dot com. I dunno. :-)

At any rate, I'm going to spend some time on my sister's web template this evening (/~rainiel).

Monday, March 21, 2005


In the last two days, I've been madly Javascripting. My quest culminates with a // browsable map of beleriand.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Of the Origin of Nerds

On the list of interesting facts that haven't come to light yet, "nerd" is a Greek word meaning "enlightened" (or so I've been told by a Greek person who used to role-play on my MUD), and a "geek" originally was a carnival entertainer who would bite the heads off of chickens.

Literally, "nerd" and "geek" are insulting labels. If there's any confusion about their distinction and meaning it is because of a common psycho-sociological pattern whereby people who have been victimized gather under the label they've all been cast beneath and develop a group pride, even arrogance, and definitely elitism. "self proclaimed nerds" tend to shun geeks as they were shunned, and "self proclaimed geeks" tend to shun their nerd brethren.

Frankly, the social barriers are illusory. All that makes a "nerd" or a "geek" is shyness in youth. Young and shy males in at least in American social avenues tend to fall behind in the break-neck, competitive environment they're hurled into as children. Young and shy girls tend to support each other earlier on, I think. If nerds are less interested in sports, there is little correlation to physical attributes, but rather that they weren't accepted in sport venues when they were young because _they were shy_. This presents the familiar, analogous dichotomy of "nerds" vs. "jocks". Alternatively, kids that are just plain smart when they're young might shun or be shunned by their cohorts, leading to the same disparity.

Of course, this leads to a lot of walking around, playing in the sand box, watching Star Trek, and pondering beneath trees. So, the people who are rejected ultimately find time for diverse interests and imagination games rather than sports and "ring around the rosy". Perhaps this is where our "dreamers" come from.

As far as names go, people tend to pick the label they ascribe to based on what sounds right. "Computer geek" and "band geek" are common idioms. If you haven't heard either of them, you might chose "nerd". I did. I've never heard of a proudly self proclaimed "dweeb" or "dork". For me, "dweeb" conjures images from "The Farside Gallery".

My personal experience is a combination of circumstances. In school, I wasn't very interested in sports. I was shy, but ambitious. I was nonconformist. From watching TNG, I had adopted a daunting vocabulary and appreciation for higher ethics than "take from others when they take form you", which led to being less assertive. So, I took to imagination games and drawing. Later, in the void of social activity, I started playing with computers. I took an interest in phonetics and alphabets which blossomed later on when I started learning languages like German and Quenya. Again, in the wake of social activity I ended up in band and Boy Scouts where the ethical waters seemed safer. Then I became a self-proclaimed "nerd" at about 14 years old. So, now I'm studying Computer Science with a bunch of other "nerds" and "computer geeks". I suspect that many of my fellows had similar experiences and age gave us all an opportunity to accrete here.

In summary, "nerd", "geek", "dweeb", "dork", and "jock" are all names of mutually exclusive social groups stemming from fierce competition, a social expectation of assertiveness and success in common sport games, intolerance, and a social pattern of victim dignification/anti-defamation. Petty distinctions among these victim groups depend on the definitions assigned within them.

Originally posted for the conlang list.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

What is the Airspeed of an Unladen Swallow?

Ryan Witt sent me a lovely link that resolves the long lingering question, "What is the airspeed of an unladen swallow?. Not only does What is the Airspeed of an Unladen Swallow answer the question, it does so with style. See // for more stylish answers to burning questions.

Saturday, March 5, 2005

Finished Farthest Shore

I finished my third read of "The Farthest Shore", by Ursula LeGuin. I very much enjoy LeGuin's writing style, particularly the meter.

"Farthest Shore" is about the cycle of life and death, and how greed can mar its course. At first, LeGuin paints a picture where art is lost. No one cares any longer for their crafts, and even magic seems to no longer work. In actuallity, society had listened to the greed in their hearts, ceased their high arts in pursuit of self interest, albeit by consuming a poisonous intoxicant.

The idea applies well to problems that society faces today. Many of us have arrested our creativity and drive to others. For example, we relinquish our spirit to network television and have given up on the seemingly insoluble problems in favor of relaxed indifference. We are no longer alive.

Of course, in literary intrest, the author anthropormorphises the problem, giving Ged and Lebannen, the protagonists, an opportunity to strike and destroy the voice that whispers in everyone's ear, lying to them that death can be forstalled by denying life.

While this end is appropriate to the book, I don't believe that the solution applies to us. The voices in our hearts that drive us to sloth, indifference, and ease, that answer our problems with false solutions, are indeed in our hearts and through us communicated to everyone around us, bringing down the drive of civilization. This is all the more hurtful since our civilization's future depends on our attention; the problems we face are real and our entire legacy could end within decades without perseverence. For us, I think the message is to do one simple thing: live.

Additions to my reading list:

  • "Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring", J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Black Widowers, Isaac Asimov (began it last year; never got anywhere)

It's worth noting that I finished rereading "The Hobbit" last month, which I think is the third time over all. Aside from a renewed vision of Middle Earth, I took from it one notice. When speaking of the relationship between the Elves and Dwarves, Tolkien alludes to Thingol and the Nauglamir. It also reminded me that I would like to have conversant birds to the aid of those who can hear and speak in MAGE. I also remembered that I have to talk to my roommate, Matt, about building a falconry skill tree and subgame.

Thursday, March 3, 2005

Reading List

I'm reading:

  • "The Farthest Shore", by Ursula LeGuin,
  • "The Lay of Leithian", from "The Silmarillion", by J.R.R. Tolkien,
  • "The Evolution of Usefull Things", by Henry Petroski, and
  • The Kalevala, by Finland

Will Google Return My Call

I sent my resume to google last week. I've been polling my four mail inboxes with vigor.

My lab partner, Mike Andrion, and I have been meeting every evening since Tuesday to get a handle on our Minix kernel hack assignment. It will, in the end be a magic eight ball device driver.

$ cd /dev
$ mknod 8ball c 15 0
   # character device, major number 15,
   #  minor number unimportant
$ echo Are we done yet? > /dev/8ball
$ cat /dev/8ball
Outlook uncertain.

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Heaven and Hell

Jean Tam sent me this gem from cyberspace yesterday: I would like to find the MIT answer to the question "Is Hell endothermic or exothermic". Seems like they should all be collated in a common place.

Ryan Witt added a turret, wall, tower, and moat to the Cixtle yesterday. If there is any other omen to a successful open source project suite, its when someone expands on a small idea. Thank you, Ryan.

Ryan Paul posted his survey of XML editors to News Forge. I'm very pleased that OSNews thought it credible, usefull and pertinent to cross link the article. I look forward to a long, literate relationship growing from these seeds we see today.