Monday, December 31, 2007

Horrible puns I truly love

I put this first horrible pun up on the comments page of I, Splotchy's blog, but it's too good (or too awful, take your pick) not to share with all my readers as well.

Egrets? I've had a few. But then again, too few to mention.

Had enough? Oh no, my friend, not enough by half.

It's now been ten years since both Sonny Bono and Michael Kennedy died in skiing accidents only a few weeks apart. I was a regular on alt.obituaries back then, but it was another regular who penned this deathless quip.

"This is bad news, because I've heard these kinds of deaths usually happen in groups of trees."

Okay, I'll let you up now. I think you've had enough.

Now playing: Kirsty MacColl - La Forêt De Mimosas
via FoxyTunes

Kylie Minogue, O.B.E.

Queen Elizabeth handed out her honours to her subjects this year, and gave the Order of the British Empire to Australian pop songstress Kylie Minogue.

American readers my age will now think: Kylie Minogue, Australia's answer to Tiffany and Debbie Gibson? The Loco-Motion Kylie Minogue?

Lemme 'splain.

Kylie was an actress on a soap opera called Neighbours before she was a pop princess. Neighbours was kind of like an Aussie Eastenders, a working class soap opera, where Kylie played a nice down-to-earth girl who was happy being a mechanic. (For those of you who will now mock the Aussies, remember that this is no harder to believe than a girl who looks like Jennifer Beals becoming a welder.)

When it was decided to give Kylie a shot as a pop singer, they decided to maintain her wholesome image and have her sing the 1960's dance tune The Loco-Motion, which music trivia fans will know was one of the first hits written by legendary songwriter Carole King, and sung by Little Eva, who worked for Carole King as a babysitter before getting her chance at pop immortality. Unlike Tiffany and Debbie Gibson, who were of high school age when they had their masses of high school fans, the youthful looking Kylie in the picture above on the kids show was 20 when The Loco-Motion became an international hit.

While Kylie's career did not blossom stateside, she remained a pop diva in Australia and Europe. She updated her image and went with a sexier persona and has now recorded a total of ten albums. In 2005, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent treatment including chemotherapy. She has returned to performing since and released a line of swimwear, which she models in the picture above. For her work in publicizing the risks of cancer and the benefits of early detection, the Queen gave her the honour this year.

Also, for a 39 year old cancer survivor, Kylie is smokin' hawt, as our dear dguzman might say.

Just to make this an official Lotsa 'Splainin' 2 Do post, I will also mention that though in real life, Kylie Minogue is teeny tiny*, she did My People And Our Agenda a solid by making a video showing us what a fifteen foot tall Kylie Minogue would look like.

Good on ya, Kylie!

*How teeny tiny? It takes sixteen Kylie Minogues to make a dozen.

Now playing: Various Artists - Gold
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Cute overload lolz interlude: The bun-bun with the sticky out tongue

Padre Mickey was the first to introduce me to the bun-bun with the sticky out tongue, but now it is scientists who have proven that this is actually the cutest t'ing evah to come out of the animal kingdom. Yes, rooms full of guys and gals wearing lab coats have been found talking in funny cartoon voices saying things like "Oh, look at da li'l bun-bun. Iz so cuuuuuuuute!"

Throw in a hedgehog and a misspelled caption and... comedy gold.


Now playing: The Mills Brothers - You Always Hurt The One You Love
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Stories where people throw money at me. Literally. Part 2

I have almost never had to work on my birthday. Since it falls between Christmas and New Year's Day, I've never had to teach on my birthday, and a lot of the the companies I've worked at also decided that the last week of the year was time off.

But one year during my stay at Atari, I remember that I worked on my birthday. I did it voluntarily because I had a bug in my code.

I did not do this work because I was incredibly diligent. I did it because my brain wouldn't let me do otherwise. When I had a bug in my code, I would have these recurring dreams that looked something like the screens of numbers and symbols racing by made famous in The Matrix, but long before that film was ever made. This was my subconscious trying to be helpful.

Yo! Subconscious! STFU! This isn't helping.

When I worked at Atari, I wrote in assembly language, specifically 6502, the name of a chip designed by guys who quit Motorola en masse and made a fast little chip they sold dirt cheap to compete against their old employers and Intel. They sold theirs for $25 each when the bigger companies were selling similar products for $179. This combination of fast and cheap made the 6502 possibly the most important piece of computer technology of the late 1970's. It was the guts inside the Apple II, the Commodore 64, the Atari 2600 and Atari's home computers, the 800 and 400.

Besides these real applications, it is also the brains inside the fictional robots in The Terminator and Bender in Futurama. A fine programmable tool, but clearly it makes robots anti-social. Future robot designers take note.

Well, I solved my bug as a birthday present to myself, and among the skeleton crew at Atari that day was Rick Mauer, who actually was there because he was so conscientious. Among other games, Rick designed the Atari 2600 version of Space Invaders. The original coin-op version is by the Japanese company Namco. What Rick was famous/notorious for among other programmers was making games with numerous variations. You want to play Space Invaders without shields? That's an available option. Are the early levels too slow? Rick's version would let you skip ahead to tougher levels. This meant that Rick reserved a byte in RAM for variations, and each bit in that byte was a switch that told his program how the game would be played. Nowadays, it's no skin off a programmer's nose to set up variations, but back then, we had a total of 128 bytes of RAM, and some programmers thought using a precious byte the way Rick did was wasteful. (I do not number myself among these people.) The computer you are sitting in front of has millions of bytes of RAM. Things were very different back in the day.

Conscientious or not, when the late afternoon rolled up and I asked Rick if he wanted to play backgammon, he welcomed the break. While he was not a participant in the original Scumbag-athon, Rick was certainly an Original Scumbag. Though he had a more glorious career than I did in the videogame field, I can say with no false bravado that I was a better backgammon player than Rick. We played a dollar a point, and winning a game is worth one point unless the doubling cube is involved or the game ends up as a gammon (double win) or backgammon (triple win). That day, I was whipping on Rick pretty hard. After a couple of hours, I was up $29, and Rick, not happy but resigned to the situation, decided to call it a session and pay what he owed.

"Jeez, but you're lucky!" Rick half snarled and half sighed.

"Well, it is my birthday." I said.

Rick fished a ten and a twenty out of his wallet and threw them at me. "Please! Keep the change! Happy fucking birthday!"

After I stopped laughing, I invited Rick out for a meal, my treat. But he said no. He really was conscientious, and he still had work to do.

Yay, Flags of Many Lands™! Serbia is the last large European country to visit the blog. Now the only countries I don't have are Albania and some postage stamps the size of Andorra or smaller.

Now playing: Elvis Costello With Burt Bacharach - Tears At The Birthday Party
via FoxyTunes

Friday, December 28, 2007

Stories where people throw money at me. Literally. Part 1

For the first time in my Atari tales, I'm going to change a name to protect the innocent. Or whatever. There was a programmer who I didn't care for very much, and I wasn't alone in my opinion of him. I actually hunted the internets and found a picture of him and some information about his life since Atari, but I'll leave that be. We will know him as Mr. Enthusiasm.

Mr. Enthusiasm was always adding interjections into conversations. "Hear, hear!" was one of his favorites. He could also go off on long monologues that really didn't add much more information than "Hear, hear!" The presence of Mr. Enthusiasm at a meeting could add anything from five minutes to a half hour to the length of a meeting.

So it was meeting day. I was sitting at the long table next to Dave Johnson, and like sane people with work to do, we faced this next 45 to 90 minutes of our lives with a mixture of boredom and dread.

The meeting started and Mr. Enthusiasm was in fine form. There was a "Hear, hear!" or "Good idea!" every half minute or so.

Dave turned to me and whispered, "Matt, we are taking up a collection. We'd like you to push Mr. Enthusiasm in front of a train."

I whispered back. "Dave, I'd do it for five bucks."

We smiled wryly to one another, perhaps chuckling slightly.

The meeting continued and Mr. Enthusiasm quieted down some. At the fifty minute mark, it looked like the meeting might only last an hour. But then Mr. Enthusiasm got his second wind. Not just interjections, but he took the floor. He started talking non-stop and we could see no end in sight.

I was bored and just looking around, but Dave was staring. Staring straight at me. When I finally turned back to look at him, he took his wallet out of his jeans, still staring at me with malicious intent regarding the fate of Mr. Enthusiasm, took out a $20 bill and threw it at me.

"Do it four times!" Dave snarled at me in his best stage whisper.

We started laughing. Uncontrollably. Cackling like hyenas right in the middle of the meeting.

I slid involuntarily out of my chair. I was pawing at the ground trying to pick up the $20. I had so little control of my body, it was a blessing from above that I wasn't incontinent right there in that room full of colleagues.

When Dave and I were nearly back to normal, our boss Steve Wright, who I liked about as much as I liked Mr. Enthusiasm, quite fairly asked us what was so funny and could we share the joke with the room. This started Dave and me laughing again, though not quite as uncontrollably.

"Nope. I can say with confidence that we won't be sharing this joke with the rest of the room."

Though now, gentle readers, I have shared the joke with you.

And with that, we present today's Random 10, leading off with Lust for Life in tribute to Mr. Enthusiasm, but also with Mystery Train, in honor of the train I was supposed to push him in front of.

Lust For Life Iggy Pop
Black Sails In The Sunset Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Old Man On The Farm Randy Newman
Baby Love The Supremes
Stupid Girl Garbage
Senses Working Overtime XTC
Mystery Train The Band
Bad Girl Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
Lazy River The Mills Brothers
Gold Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová

Tomorrow: Farewell to Atari stories. (For now.)

Now playing: Iggy Pop - Lust For Life
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Culture of Atari... told in T-shirt slogans.

Searching the 'Net for an old Atari t-shirt worn by the programmers, I found a picture of several shirts, with these two side by side. Both tell important stories, so I will make this post a two part story.

Coin-Op The REAL Atari. Atari is one of those Silicon Valley companies that fits the archetype of a multi-million dollar corporation started by a couple engineers in a garage. The story was repeated many times in the 1970s, but the original "guys in a garage" stories started before World War II with Dave Hewlett and Bill Packard. With Atari, people remember the name of the founder Nolan Bushnell, but he had help. His co-founder was Ted Dabney and the first employee was Al Alcorn, the inventor of Pong. Bushnell invented a cool game called Computer Space that pre-dated Pong, but the game was a little ahead of its time and didn't become a giant hit. Later, a variation on the Computer Space theme would become the classic vector graphics game Asteroids.

By the time I worked for Atari starting in 1980, Bushnell and his partners had sold out to Time-Warner, and the engineers were split into two groups working in the same building, the coin-op division downstairs, and upstairs the people working on the home products, the Atari 2600 game programmers and people writing applications for the first Atari home computer systems, the "high end" Atari 800 and the cheaper Atari 400.

The split was more than just who would sit with whom at lunch in the cafeteria. Coin-op, besides being the original group, had a royalty plan. They would get extra checks based on how many units of the games sold. It didn't turn them into millionaires - that day would come for some of the game programmers - but they did tend to drive nicer cars than the guys who worked upstairs.

I don't want people to have the impression that coin-op guys were stuck up. There were some very nice guys who worked downstairs, including Ed Rotberg, designer of Battlezone, and Owen Rubin, who worked on a lot of the vector graphics games. Owen set up the home consumer vs. coin-op racquetball challenge, which was to say me, the best racquetball player upstairs, vs. Dave Theurer, the designer of the great game Missile Command, and the best racquetballer downstairs. I remember that it was tough setting up the match, because Dave played at a private club where it was hard to get visitors in the door. I played at a club where anybody who could pony up the $3.50 an hour to play was welcome.

I remember Dave, who drove a Porsche, whined about the price.

I also remember I school'd him.


Just Another High Strung Prima Donna From Atari. The real tension at Atari was not programmer vs. programmer, but instead worker vs. management, where the engineers quite rightly saw themselves as the money makers and the suits were just along for the ride. The TV sitcom 30 Rock has Alec Baldwin playing a guy from General Electric's microwave division put in charge of running TV programming. The real life example of this sort of management was Time-Warner bringing in Ray Kassar, a CEO with experience in textiles, to run their new high-tech branch, Atari. He knew nothing about the product, the process or the industry. Who needs that when running a business?

Besides sitting on a mountain of ignorance, Kassar ran his mouth a lot. In an interview in the San Jose Mercury News, he called the programmers "high strung Prima Donnas" and boasted of his experience working with creative types, since he managed the people who came up with the designs on bedsheets at Burlington.

The article went up on the bulletin board and was being defaced on an hourly basis. I personally underlined his pride in saying he was "very good" at Asteroids, having achieved a high score of 21,000. (For gamers, that was a truly pathetic outing.)

Very good? I wrote in pen.

He's the best you've ever seen. Came the sarcastic reply.

Merely putting a clipping on a bulletin board wasn't enough for us, of course. The programmers fired back in our best "we hate management but like our paychecks" way. The blue "High Strung Prima Donna" t-shirt was designed and everybody bought at least one and wore them to work on a regular basis. To Kassar's credit, there was no action taken against this act of rebellion, but then again, it really was everybody who bought these things and wore them. (Mine went the way of all t-shirts at least two decades ago.)

Not only was he a pompous jerk, he was a corrupt pompous jerk. Atari grew like crazy under his management, but it would have grown like this if a monkey ran the place. (No offense to Monkerstein or Zaius intended here.) To prove my claim, note that Kassar was also the CEO when the bubble burst at Atari. Days before Time Warner would report that their cash cow Atari would actually lose money one quarter because of several stupid business decisions, Kassar sold a boatload of stock. He was forced to resign and the SEC investigated. He gave the money back without claiming he was guilty. The SEC cleared him.

Kind of like the story of our corrupt current president. Except Bush didn't give the money back.

Now playing: They Might Be Giants - Particle Man
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Wednesday Math, Vol. 8: powers of two

A single switch has two positions, on and off. If there are two switches mounted on a wall, they have four possible combinations.

on on
on off
off on
off off

Computers are made up of millions, even billions, of tiny switches, known originally as binary digits, at one time shortened to binits, but that name was eventually lost and the more popular term bits became the standard word used to describe the little switches. The word bitstring became standard usage to describe a set of bits clumped together, though every spell checker I use tells me bitstring isn't really a word. There are four possible bitstrings of length two, which we can create by substituting 1 for on and 0 for off in the patterns above.


Every time you add a bit to the string, the number of patterns doubles. This makes the powers of two very important to computer programmers. The number of bits clumped together as the standard size in a particular design of computer is called the architecture of the machine, as in terms like 4-bit architecture or 8-bit architecture. There was no standard size in the early era, kind of like the early days of railroading. But eventually, putting eight bits together and calling that a byte became the standard smallest useful clump of bits, and larger bitstrings tended to be multiples of eight bits, like 16-bit architecture, 24-bit architecture, 32-bit architecture, etc.

As we can see in the table, 2 to the 8th power is 256, so there are 256 different patterns of 0's and 1's that can be represented in the 8 bits that make up a byte. This make a byte a good size for storing a pattern for every possible thing you can type on a keyboard. There are 26 lowercase letters, 26 uppercase, 10 digits and a few dozen different types of punctuation and special symbols. The standard way to line up each of these with a different bit pattern is called ASCII. It's pronounced ask-ee and it was adopted as the standard way back in the computer Stone Age, which is to say the 1960's. There 95 standard ASCII characters, so there is a lot of extra space in the ASCII table, and a lot of special characters you can't type on a standard keyboard have their own ASCII code, just like standard letters, numbers and punctuation symbols do.

Those familiar with the metric system know that prefixes on the words meter, liter and gram deal with different powers of 10, kilo means 1,000, mega means 1,000,000, giga means 1,000,000,000, etc. It just so happens that 2 to the 10th power is 1,024, very nearly 1,000. In common computer parlance, a kilobyte, usually shortened to K, is 1,024 bytes, not 1,000 bytes. Likewise, a meg is 2 to the 20th, slightly more than a million, and a gig is 2 to the 30th, larger than a true billion.

Now playing: David Bowie - Thru' These Architects Eyes
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

My first Christmas bonus, part 3

So the Scumbags get into Tahoe that Friday evening and find two rooms in a seedy motel near the casinos at Stateline, preparing to spend most of a weekend gambling. The seedy motel was Rob Fulop's choice, but none of us protested. This was before serious money would be thrown at game programmers, and we weren't about to be extravagant with accommodations we didn't expect to spend a lot of time visiting.

We went to Harrah's and split up, going to our respective games. Bob Polaro hit the blackjack tables and Rob, Dave Johnson and I went to the poker room. 1980 was before the game of hold 'em had completely taken over the poker universe, so there were several tables playing other games, notably stud and lowball. Rob signed up for the $10-$20 hold 'em game, I put my name on the list for the $1-$2 hold 'em game, but it was full and the waiting list was long, so I joined Dave Johnson at the open seven card stud game.

I ran through about $40, two $20 buy-ins, in about 90 minutes, chasing a little too much and watching some quality hands cracked by better hands. Dave was doing well, so I stood up and went to see how the other Scumbags were faring.

The $10-$20 table was on the other side of the poker room, and the best view of it was to go outside that area and stand at the rail, the waist high wooden barrier where passersby could gawk at the poker games, the place where the tourists could take a look at folks who were probably professional gamblers. Rob was sitting thoughtfully behind a truly impressive stack of chips. He looked up and saw me, and gave a thumbs up-thumbs down gesture asking how I was doing. I let him know that I was in the minus, and with hand gestures asked him if the stack in front of him was two buy-ins worth of chips. No, it was just one buy. The stack, nearly $1,000, was almost all profit!

Whether or not all the other players in the $10-$20 were pros or not, many certainly looked the part. I watched for a few hands and Rob decided to play a hand finally when he was in the big blind. He bet after the flop, and several players also bet, including an older man who at the very least affected the look and speech of a Texas pro, emulating the cowboy hat and denim look popularized by famed gamblers like Doyle Brunson, Johnny Moss and Amarillo Slim Preston, who is pictured above. On fourth street, Rob checked and the Texan bet. Rob called. Fifth street came and Rob checks once more to the Texan, who bets. Rob check raises and the Texan bets back at him.

Rob asks the question no one ever wants to hear at the table. "How much do you have left?" The Texan is on a short stack and if there are only two players left, many poker rooms allow two players to put in as many bets as they both agree to. The Texan puts in his last chips and Rob calls. Rob has three of a kind, with a Jack on the flop hitting his pocket pair. The Texan made two pair on fourth street. The Texan could re-buy, but instead he stands up, tugs on his cowboy hat, adjusts his silver belt buckle, looks over at the baby face of Young Rob Fulop and loudly proclaims, "Well, Ah guess school... is OUT!"

The Scumbags get back together to have a bite at one of the many reasonably priced buffets. I ask Rob if he was really that much better than the table. "No, they are better than I am, but they were playing me like I was a tourist. My profit was largely a matter of being underestimated." I told him I thought the Texan's exit line was a classic. Rob said that the real Amarillo Slim originated perhaps the greatest exit line after losing at a poker table.

Slim had lost several thousand one wintry Nevada evening, and got up to leave. "Where you goin', Slim?" a fellow player asks.

"No one knows where the hobo goes when it snows." was Slim's only reply.

"Well, everybody else is on their way to meeting their goals." I said. "But I haven't so much as said hello to a Keno girl yet."

"That reminds me." said Dave. "I feel like playing Keno." Dave then proceeded to take a dollar out of his wallet and dropped it on the ground. "The odds about the same." We all laughed and the message was clear. I might chat up a Keno girl, but actually playing Keno would not be considered cool by the other Scumbags.

We saw some shows, did some more gambling, slept and showered in our seedy motel rooms, only to put our only clothes back on that weekend. I was down about $200 on Saturday, but made a rush at hold 'em and stud to get back to about $10 down for the trip. Everyone else ended up on the plus side of the gambling ledger.

On the trip back, I took a turn driving from Dave. Just outside Sacramento, we were on the freeway, driving in the fast lane, when we came up on an old tall pickup truck in the fast lane driving side by side with a Porsche in the next lane over. There was no room to pass, so I moved over a lane to get behind the Porsche.

"I don't think the guy in the truck knows the Porsche is there." I said, and no sooner than I said it, the truck signaled for a lane change right into the Porsche. The Porsche driver slammed on his brakes and went into a skid, spinning 180 degrees, facing the oncoming traffic, most notably the first in line of oncoming traffic.

Me and the Intercontinental Ballistic Mustang.

"Hold on!" I said, over some really heartfelt screaming from the other Scumbags. I downshifted, applied the brakes and slid over into the open lane to the right of the Porsche. If he had spun 190 degrees instead of 180, our rear panels would have clipped each other.

The screaming died down. "We should go back to make sure everybody's okay!" said Dave.

"We're not going back." I said. "Is everybody in this car okay? Rob?"

"Sure." said Young Rob. "I hear all the screaming, opened my eyes and thought, 'Okay, I'm dead.'"

"Not just yet." I said. "You've got a bonus check and all that Texan's money to spend."

And so ended the last of the many happy highlights of the first Scumbag-athon.

Merry Christmas to y'all!

And a joyous yuletide to my most recent addition to the Flags of Many Lands™, Ghana! This visitor was sent to me by Google after typing in "I am a professional dominatrix in Nigeria." There was a month's worth of Lotsa 'Splainin' posts where "am", "Nigeria" and "professional dominatrix" showed up, but not in the same sentence. I don't expect much repeat business from this particular happy wanderer of the World Wide Web.

Now playing: The Ramones - When I Was Young
via FoxyTunes

Monday, December 24, 2007

Opening prezzies on Krimble Eve

Every family has different rules. The kids used to get to open one present on Christmas Eve. However, I decided to give my loyal readers presents early, one from each of the major pillars of successful blogging, pretty girls, babies and lolz cats.

This is Aishwarya Rai. She won the Miss World contest a few years back, and Bollywood bills her as The Most Beautiful Woman In The World. Loyal readers will know that my heart has already been pledged to The Greatest Collarbone The Baby Jesus Ever Invented, but I am not blind. That is a very lovely smile and those eyes do appear to be more violet than blue.

One does not live on Indira Varma alone, though I am working on it. Also, Ms. Varma is taller than Ms. Rai, which scores extra points in the Matty Boy system.

Still. Sigh.

Next is a picture of my grand nephew Emerson, who I have unfairly portrayed as the head of a syndicate of baby gangstas. He is actually a friendly, happy child who flirts shamelessly. Merry Christmas, Emerson!

And since I have given you two nice prezzies, obviously the third gift is a gag gift, a bad lolz. If the Three Kings had understood this obvious premise of gift giving, the Holy Family would have had to write thank you notes for gold, frankincense and a dribble chalice.

Or is myrrh a gag gift already? I will have to consult my coterie of Biblical scholars.

Anyways, Merry Krimbles 2 youse and yurse!

Now playing: Darren Lee, Rick Edinger & Telly Leung - Pretty Lady
via FoxyTunes

My first Christmas bonus, part 2

So we are sitting at the deli situated in the building behind our workplace at Atari when Rob Fulop makes the suggestion: Tahoe Road Trip! Rob, who had done this before in earlier days, stipulates the rules.

1. No one is allowed to go home to get a change of clothes.

2. Stopping at a convenience store on the way, we are allowed to get:
a) a toothbrush
b) toothpaste
c) dental floss
d) breath mints

Agreeing to these rules, Bob Polaro, Dave Johnson, Rob Fulop and I embark on the trip that in later days would be known as Scumbag-athon I. (Scumbag was the semi-affectionate nickname Carla Meninsky gave to all the gamblers at Atari, more of whom you will meet in later chapters.)

Let me introduce the cast of characters. (You already kind of know Matty Boy, so I'll skip him.)

Bob Polaro and Dave Johnson were roommates. For a while, I lived in the same apartment complex as they did. Bob had been in the video game business for several years before I started, and working first at Commodore, where he was personally fired by legendary bastard person Jack Tramiel before starting a long and happy career at Atari, managing to naviagate the many ups and downs the company endured over the years, until nearly on its last legs, Atari was bought by legendary bastard person Jack Tramiel, who fired Bob personally for the second time in his career. Bob was an excellent athlete, loved to hang out at the beach in Santa Cruz and kept himself in great shape, which is somewhat against the nerd stereotype.

Dave Johnson had a great sardonic sense of humor and a pointed sense of justice. He is one of the few people I have ever met whose sense of humor is drier than mine. After leaving the video game business, Dave landed on his feet as a progressive blogger at Seeing the Forest. He is also published on The Huffington Post and is associated with George Lakoff's Commonweal Institute. His pointed sense of justice back then made him a very aggressive driver when he saw people driving badly, which gave his car the nickname The Intercontinental Ballistic Mustang. (He was never in any accidents, to the best of my knowledge.)

Which brings us to our ringleader, Rob Fulop. Rob got his degree at Cal, and during summer and Christmas breaks would go to Nevada and play poker. He was a very good gambler, much better at poker than I ever was or will be and also more experienced at backgammon, a game I was playing a lot back then. Back in the day, there was even a hand named after him in Texas Hold 'Em. 10-9 suited was called a Young Rob.

So we were piled into the Intercontinental Ballistic Mustang, heading towards Tahoe, Dave at the wheel, me riding shotgun. Rob was giving us poker lessons. Lesson number one: Look at your hand. Fold your hand. Rob had us practice this for several minutes without a deck of cards. Look, fold. Look, fold. What's a good hand, Rob? Not important right now. Learn how to fold.

Set yourself a goal, Rob told us. His goal would be to win money in the $10/$20 limit hold 'em game.

"I want to win at seven card stud." Dave decided.

"I'm going to make money at blackjack." Bob declared.

I paused for a moment. "I'm going to meet a long legged Keno girl, and we're gonna get married."

Only one of the Scumbags would not meet his stated goals that weekend.

Christmas Day, Part 3: There and back.

Now playing: Lew Lewis & Reformer - Win Or Lose
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, December 23, 2007

My first Christmas bonus, part 1

One of my two jobs now is with a private school who run their business more like I remember my days working in industry. There are both good and bad aspects to this, but definitely one of the good aspects is that I got a Christmas bonus. This got me to thinking about my very first Christmas bonus at the second company I worked for after college. That company was Atari, long, long ago when the most popular home video game system was the Atari 2600, also known as the Video Game System or VCS.

My first boss was Dennis Koble. He had been a video game designer and programmer before he was bumped up to management, and a very good one. Inside of a year of my being hired at Atari, he left to join a new company called Imagic, where he went back to game design and made Atlantis, one of the most popular games Imagic ever produced.

So it was November of 1980, and I had been hired in mid October. Dennis came into my office for a chat. He looked serious and I worried that I might be in trouble. "Matt, we're really happy you are here. In December, Atari gives out the yearly bonuses. I want to tell you not to expect a check. It's not an insult or anything. It's just been decided you haven't been here long enough, okay? They will probably give you a gift certificate for a ham or a turkey."

I had to smile. The job I had before Atari was at a chip manufacturing company that closed down during Christmas week, so the last week of the year was forced vacation and if you didn't have any vacation time stored up, it amounted to an unpaid week off. At least Atari paid you for the week of almost no work between Christmas and New Year. A gift certificate for a ham would be great. We shook hands and Dennis left my office, thanking me for being so understanding.

Fast forward a few weeks to December 19th, the Friday before Christmas, was the day the bonus checks would be handed out. They were delivered to us by the secretary, and I was handed an envelope with a window with a slip of paper showing with my name and address on it. Kind of a funny way to wrap a gift certificate, I thought.

That would have been true, but it was a perfectly normal way to wrap a bonus check. $500! Five hundred U.S. dollars of completely free money! It's wasn't the biggest check I'd ever seen in my life, not by a long shot, but it was the best feeling one. The other programmers, all of whom had been there at least a year, were getting much bigger checks, $1,500 to around $5,000, but no one was actually happier than I was. I went to Dennis and showed it to him and thanked him. "They must have changed their minds." he said. I have always assumed Dennis went to bat for me, though he never said as much. Thanks again, Dennis.

I was on the moon! I believe my eyes must have actually twinkled, because Carla Meninsky, one of the few female game programmers, asked me directly "What color are your eyes?" (Hazel or greenish grey, but when I'm happy they look a little more blue.) Nearly everyone was in a perky mood, as young folks should be when they are presented with free money.

"I've got an idea." said Rob Fulop.

Tomorrow, Part 2: The original Scumbag-athon begins.

New to Flags of many Lands™!
Sudan! Hopefully from the peaceful part of the country.

Now playing: The Chieftains - I Saw Three Ships A Sailing
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Not playing the same game

According to book sales figures, Ann Coulter's latest book is lagging far behind in sales compared to her previous works. (I prettied up the cover a little before publishing it here.) It has currently sold less than 100,000 copies, while her most recent previous book, Evil Stupid Dumb Dumb Democrats, (or something like that), sold over 200,000 copies in the same amount of time.

While it's pleasant news that her act is losing favor, the point I want to make here is that conservative book sales are playing a different game from other book sales. If you go to some conservative website, there will always be an ad for "Get xxxx's new book free for joining!" You don't see similar ads on progressive sights. These books are obviously being bought in bulk by organizations as loss leaders to lure suckers in. Nothing illegal about it, unlike when Speaker Jim Wright's book was being bought by the trainload by lobbyists with a love for literature. But just as no one will now say that every one of Barry Bonds' home runs should count the same as every one of Hank Aaron's, likewise every Bill O'Reilly tome that leaves the publisher's warehouse shouldn't count the same as every book that Al Gore or Paul Krugman or other progressive writers can sell.

Now playing: Garbage - Stupid Girl
via FoxyTunes

Friday, December 21, 2007

You iz what you eated.

Many are the lolz concerned with food. Let's look at a few here.

Real cats are carnivores. Housecats that live on cat food often become finicky.

Lolz cats will eat anything, kind of like cartoon goats.

Lolz cats have a special fondness for cookies and cheeseburgers.

And lying.

Lolz cats are very talented creatures.

As well as extremely spiteful.

And with that, let's take a listen to this week's Random 10.

Three Little Birds Bob Marley and the Wailers
All Grown Up Elvis Costello
Enchanted The Platters
Who’s That Girl? Eurythmics
It Didn’t Turn Out That Way Mose Allison
Ta Mo Cleamhnas Deanta (My Match Is Made) Van Morrison & The Chieftains
Have You Ever Seen The Rain? The Ramones
Bernadette The Four Tops
Once Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová
In Germany Before The War Randy Newman

As you may already know, Bob Marley rose up one morning,
Smiled with the rising sun,
Three little birds, sat on his doorstep,
Singing sweet songs, melodies pure and true...

Then Bob Marley's lolz kitteh eated them.

The end.

Now playing: Bob Marley & The Wailers - Three Little Birds
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, December 20, 2007

No news here.

It's just a fire in a government office. An electrical fire that started in an electrical closet. These sorts of things happen all the time. If there were something suspicious, you can bet arson investigators would be all over it and the press would run with the story.

No important documents were lost. Just things of sentimental value. If anything important to an ongoing investigation were lost, you can be sure Vice President Cheney would be the first to keep the public informed.

Dana Perino isn't exactly sure what a "server" is, but she'll look it up, then ask somebody if the electrical closet where the fire started had any "servers" in it, if that actually is a real word, which at the moment Ms. Perino can neither confirm or deny.

You certainly have a lot of questions. Could we have your name and Social Security number? You know, so we can get back to you with the answers to these questions?

You're asking these questions online? Then it's okay. We already have all the information we need.

You know. To get back to you.

A hearty Flags of Many Lands™ welcome to Jamaica, where there are never any suspicious fires.

Now playing: R.L. Burnside - It's Bad You Know
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Talking politics with my brother. (With pictures.)

My brother: I can't believe that all the Republicans running for president are in favor of the war.

Me: There's Ron Paul.

My brother: Ron Paul's insane.

Me: Name a sane Republican running for president.

My brother: Hillary Clinton.

Now playing: Elvis Costello - Sulky Girl
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday Math, Vol. 7: Leonardo of Pisa

The subject of today's math chat is Leonardo of Pisa, born in Pisa sometime around 1170 A.D. who died sometime around 1250. After his death, people started to refer to him as Fibonacci, short for "Son of Bonacci", his dad's nickname, which either means kind-hearted or simple. During his life and in his own writings, he was usually referred to as Leonardo Pisano.

His greatest work is the book Liber Abaci, and the longest lasting effect of that is his championing of the number system we use today, which some people call Arabic numerals and some people call Hindu-Arabic numerals, over the Roman numeral system which was in widespread use in Europe when Leonardo was alive. Arab traders brought the numbers 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and the place holder system to Europe, but they first saw the system on trips to India where it was invented. Leonardo knew this, and called it modus Indorum, the Indian method . He learned this on a trip to North Africa in his youth, where the educated classes were already getting rid of Roman numerals, which look pretty but are difficult to use for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

The place where the name Fibonacci still lives is the Fibonacci numbers, taken from a problem he posed in Liber Abaci which he actually learned from the ancient Indian text. He posed the problem as way that rabbits breed, which is completely hypothetical. It turns out, oddly enough, to be completely applicable to the way cells divide, and so Fibonacci numbers turn up in many ways in nature. This is long before anyone on any continent has ever guessed about the nature of cells in living organisms.

The simplest way to explain the Fibonacci number is to say the first two numbers on the list are 0 and 1, and the next Fibonacci number is always the sum of the last two on the list.

0 + 1 = 1
1 + 1 = 2
1 + 2 = 3 (don't worry, it starts getting good soon)
2 + 3 = 5
3 + 5 = 8...

So the list of Fibonacci numbers goes 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, ... and continues on forever. There are lots of interesting patterns in this sequence, and the numbers show up as answers to lots of odd questions from any number of fields in math.

One is in biology.

The way it works with cell growth is that when cells split, one of the new cells is completely ready to split again at the next time interval, while the other cell needs that time to grow to be ready to split in the time interval after next. Here's a short sequence of intervals to show the pattern and why it's a Fibonacci sequence. Here's what will happen when the time interval for splitting comes.

One ready cell becomes two cells: one ready, one not ready
One not ready cell becomes a ready cell.

Start with a ready single cell. Assume that no cell dies.

Interval #1: 2 cells, 1 ready, 1 not ready
Interval #2: 3 cells, 2 ready, 1 not ready
Interval #3: 5 cells, 3 ready, 2 not ready
Interval #4: 8 cells, 5 ready, 3 not ready

One of the places this shows up in nature is counting spiral patterns on objects like pine cones, pineapples, artichokes, etc. The spirals in one direction are always "wrapped tighter" than they are in the other direction. In this picture, the counterclockwise spirals are marked with gold lines, except the "start" which is blue. In that direction there are eight spirals. In the clockwise direction the spirals are marked in cyan, with the "start" in purple. Here there are 13 spirals, the next biggest Fibonacci number after 8. On a pineapple, if you cut far enough away the stem, there might be a lot more spirals in both directions as you count all the way around a cut made perpendicular to the height of the pineapple, but both the counterclockwise and clockwise counts of spirals will be adjacent Fibonacci pairs, like 21 and 34, or 34 and 55, etc.

There are many examples in math where someone poses a problem because it's "fun" or "looks pretty" when there isn't really an underlying scientific need to know the answer, and centuries or decades later, it turns out to be the answer to a real-life application. Some folks get mystical about this. On my wander around the 'net researching this, one blog went into a reverie saying the Fibonacci numbers in nature are a proof of intelligent design. When the subject is taught without an example of cell growth, this kind of magical thinking is easy to understand, but often there is a scientific explanation to the beautiful patterns we see. I do not profess to know the ultimate nature of the universe and its origin, but the proofs of God's existence because of the existence of pretty things always sets off my more skeptical nature.

Here endeth the lesson, but keep your notes. The Fibonacci numbers will show up next week.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

It's food, it's fuel...

It doesn't much matter which, it's going through the friggin' roof!

I've been keeping track of some commodities and currency prices, most notably gold, silver and crude oil, along with the euro, the pound and the Canadian dollar. Knowing that there is some controversy now about how corn should be used, either as a food source or as an alternative energy source, I was interested in finding out about the prices of corn futures. As the chart shows, there was a price spike in 2004 which showed an readjustment in 2005, but there was a much bigger price increase in 2006 that hasn't come back down yet, effectively doubling the price of the commodity compared to the standard prices of the rest of the chart.

A former student showed me an article from earlier this year linking farm policy with obesity, how U.S. taxes and subsidies are making it easier and more profitable to produce the crops that are used in processed foods, which are on average much higher in sugar and fat. Corn is a large part of that, given how much sweetener in the U.S. is made from corn syrup.

If there is a bright side to some rising prices, it might make Americans consider their lifestyles just out of economic necessity. I use the word "might" in that sentence, because as I mentioned in my review of American Theocracy, Americans currently have a negative savings rate. A lot of people have no idea what "economic necessity" means.

I wonder what Marvin Gaye would say in such a situation?

Now playing: Marvin Gaye - Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)
via FoxyTunes

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Special Advent Prezzie for Padre Mickey

Since Padre Mickey put a special post upon his blog for me, it's only fair I do the same for him, since he's been telling the story of the casting sessions for the all action figure Christmas Pageant he is planning for this year.

Love ya, Padre! Happy Advent, you keep-to-the-church-calendar kind o' guy!

Now playing: The Chieftains - The Wexford Carol
via FoxyTunes

Special Flags of Many Lands™ update!

Instead of a small representation of this most recent Flag of Many Lands™, instead we show this large version of the flag of the island nation of Dominica, 'cos how many flags do you know that have cartoon parrots as their coat of arms?

Not many, I can tell you right now.

This one is for our regular commenter and birding enthusiast, dguzman.

The cartoon is of the national bird, the Sisserou Parrot, which is still probably on dguzman's wish list of Birds to See, since it lives way the hell and gone in the Caribbean and is endangered to boot.

This picture is put here for dguzman in particular, in the spirit of interblogger friendship.

The original name of the island in the language of the original natives is Wai'tu kubuli, which means "Tall is her body". I'm not making this up. Sure, I could be making it, but I saw it on Wikipedia and copied it here myself.

Of course it's on Wikipedia, so somebody else could have made it up, but I don't play that.

Honest to Lenny.

This picture is put here for me and My People in particular, in the spirit of "It's my blog and I can put up what I want."

Now playing: The Beatles - And Your Bird Can Sing
via FoxyTunes

Once again, David Hilbert

A recent visitor to my humble blog got here with a Google search of the words "David Hilbert Jew". As I stated in my first post about the great man, Hilbert wasn't Jewish, but he was instrumental in the career of Emmy Noether, whose greatest employment obstacle was not her religion or ethnicity, but her gender. Hilbert was first and foremost about the math. He knew talent when he saw it, and that was the important thing.

When David Hilbert started in high school, he was an indifferent student. His parents, believing he was talented despite less than stellar grades, decided to switch him to a school that put more emphasis on math and physics, and his grades turned around. As a teacher, I have hope that there was some teacher at the new school that helped turn David the slacker into David the future genius, but the story is that at the new school, Hilbert met and befriended a young man named Hermann Minkowski. Minkowski was one of those brilliant and driven students who burned through his early academic career. Two years younger than Hilbert, he graduated before Hilbert and was taking university courses while still enrolled in high school. The two became fast friends, which was not seen as a positive in the Hilbert household. Otto Hilbert made his feelings clear to his young and brilliant son that it wouldn't do for David to be consorting with Jews like Minkowski. David did not submit to his father's wishes. He and Minkowski would remain close friends and important colleagues for the rest of their lives.

Many people who hold bigoted views rarely have to give reasons for them, as these views are held by nearly everyone they know. Expressing the exact reason for hating the different among us becomes as unnecessary as expressing the reason for loving chocolate ice cream. Everybody does, so why would anyone even ask?

As personal prejudice became public policy under the Nazis, Hitler wanted a more "scientific anti-Semitism" to become the accepted national position. No one was going to buy that Jews were stupid and incompetent; there were just too many examples of talented Jews around to make that idea fly. Instead, the differences between "German science" and "Jewish science" were highlighted in both Nazi propaganda and scientific journals. The official line was that German science highlighted the practical, while Jewish science was theoretical with little if any practical use.

Sadly for the Nazis, even this distinction wasn't true. Geometry, no matter how abstract it gets, is always not too far away from a physical application, and after David Hilbert, the top German geometer was his student, the Jewish genius Richard Courant, whose two volume calculus text is still the best source for information on that vital topic.

More to the point, when the Nazis spoke of "Jewish science", their public enemy number one was Albert Einstein. Not unlike some current commentators, Hitler made lists of enemies of the culture. His top three villains were Einstein, the novelist Thomas Mann and the composer Kurt Weill. Relativity was considered the pinnacle of theoretical scientific nonsense, and the great scientific controversy of the 20th Century, whether relativity or the competing idea of quantum mechanics is true, became in the mind of the public a cultural battle between the Jew Einstein and the true German scientist Werner Heisenberg.

The thing is, this argument glossed over a very obvious fact. Einstein won the 1921 Nobel Prize for his work on the photoelectric effect. The photoelectric effect is the thing that makes batteries work. Next time you need to switch out the batteries in your TV remote, do what I do and thank Albert Einstein. "Thanks, Albert!" I always say. "Nice fuckin' thinkin', buddy."

Back to Hilbert and Minkowski, when I say that they remained friends for their rest of their lives, the evidence is clear, because Minkowski died at the age of 44 of a burst appendix, and David Hilbert wrote his obituary. The next paragraph is taken from that document.

Since my student time Minkowski was the best and most reliable friend who stuck to me with all the fidelity and deepness of his character. Our science that had brought us together and that was at our hearts appeared to us like a flourishing garden. We loved to detect concealed trails and discovered many prospects which seemed to us beautiful. When one of us showed it to the other and when we admired it jointly our enjoyment was complete. He was a present from heaven to me, as it happens to come only rarely and I can be thankful that I was able to treasure it for such a long time. Suddenly, death has taken him away from our side. But what death can not take is his noble image in our hearts and the awareness that his spirit is acting in us.

None of us have the ability to will ourselves to be David Hilbert, the great genius. Besides hard work, it takes a special spark that only a tiny minority of mankind possess. But we all have the choice in our hearts whether we will be more like David Hilbert or like his father Otto. We need to decide if we will keep our hearts open to kindred spirits regardless of what society might say about the acceptability of another human being.

Now playing: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & Eddie Vedder - The Long Road
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Perfectly sucky no more!

Congratulations to the 2007 Miami Dolphins, who won a game in overtime this afternoon to the Baltimore Ravens.

It might be fairer to say "boo" to the Ravens, who could have won the game with a 44 yard field goal that went wide earlier in the overtime period. The Ravens' win-loss record is nowhere near as bad as Miami's, but over the past few weeks they have had some losses that appear to have taken the wind out of their sails, if the wind can be said to have ever been in their sails this year.

Still, it's the Dolphins' day today! You no longer perfectly suck, Miami Dolphins!

As of today, you just suck.

(Side note: the Patriots beat the Jets to go to 14-0, so one possible perfect season still exists, and it's the good one!)

Yay, Flags of Many Lands™!
Yay, Moldova!

Now playing: James Brown - Get On The Good Foot
via FoxyTunes

My eight month review

This bar chart represents visits to my blog for the last 15 days of November and the first 15 days of December. Notice any difference?

November: High 80, median 61, low 49, average 62.8
December: High 154, median 120, low 100, average 124.3

Effectively, everything doubled. What was I doing right?

It wasn't so much me as Google. Google decided on December 1 that Lotsa 'Splainin' 2 Do was a good place to send folks when they searched the interwebs for images. I think it might be that I often use the phrase "Here is a picture of _________." as a sentence construction. I'm honestly both glad and astonished at the difference.

What are folks coming here looking for, you might ask?

Some of the things aren't surprising, because I have lots of pictures of these things. Gigantic child brides, giant women, lolz cats, Christopher Guest, Elizabeth Kucinich, Jeri Thompson, etc.

I've decided to represent things I have a lot of pictures of with a photo of Indira Varma and her wonderful collarbone.


I'm a little more surprised by how many folks come around to see pictures of stuff I've only published once. Lots of folks, for instance, come here to gaze upon the shiny teeth and prominent bosom of Alyssa Milano. Not such a surprise, but I just have the one photo.

Folks also come looking for this picture of the brothers who both play quarterback in the pros, Eli and Peyton Manning. A little more surprising to me, and again, I only have the one picture.

But for me, the most surprising one time photo that has become a regular traffic magnet is this little guy, the tuatara from New Zealand. He looks like a lizard, but scientists have decided because of some unusual physical attributes that the tuatara deserves his own order, while snakes and lizards, obviously physically different, are lumped together in a single order.

Them wacky scientists!

Whatever reason brings y'all here Lotsa 'Splainin' 2 Do, we bid you welcome. Come and set a spell, why don'tcha?

Now playing: Little Village - Do You Want My Job
via FoxyTunes