26 December 2007


I'm down in Saint Louis for Xmas right now. On the way down I met this girl, Martha, and thought it was so totally random but then I remembered that's basically how I met Leila (s/bus/airplane/). Have I really been meeting random people everywhere all this time and only just now, now that I've got a system in place for this sort of thing, am I remembering them? I can't tell if my memory is getting better or if I'm getting better at not relying on it. If there were a way to test it....

Since Friday's shenanigans at the office I've been getting back into poker, even to the point that I'm currently designing a kind of poker server that multiple clients will be able to connect to at once. Here's the twist: I want to attract other programmers to write plug-ins for it so that I can see what the bot programming community is up to with poker. Historically, bots have not been very good at this sort of thing. They're not good at reading humans on such little information—meanwhile humans can read other humans very well because, well, we're all humans. That's a big advantage, particularly when a human can read someone's face. There are microscopic movements someone's face makes when making decisions regarding money. Certainly a computer could be trained to pick up on these, too, but I think that would be pretty weird literally building a poker robot rather than just a wee online bot.

I think this is my new hobby, though, until I can get an apartment with a garage so I can go back to building stuff. I want to write simple bots and monitors if for no other purpose than to keep my AI skills sharp. In this case, I think my favoured approach is going to be a neural network with an input set for each player which will carry a normalized signal from that player's current bet. For those not in the know, a back-propagation neural network is basically a computer simulation (and an inaccurate one, but authenticity is easily trumped by effectiveness) of a connected network of brain cells. Each layer is triggered by the inputs of the previous layer, multiplied by weights. Back-propagation is where, upon a result, the weights are adjusted layer by layer so that the result next time will be closer to the desired one.

Since humans could intentionally play crazy during the first few hands to un-train the net for later, it seems like a pretty bad idea to back-propagate mid-game, but perhaps that would be safe as long as the human players can be trusted not to exploit it too much. Also, the more established the neural network's paths, the harder it would be for a human to exploit its mid-game learning, yet to a certain extent it would be able to adapt its gameplay to each player's style. I've learned in the past that artificial neural networks are best kept small, though. My best one ever was actually not a neural network at all but a single perceptron (one "neuron" of a neural net) with a couple hundred inputs and meta-inputs. I did this mostly as an expedient, since back-propagation is way harder to program than perceptron learning, but it ended up being rock-solid. I'm not even really sure if, at the time, back-propagation was an option since this was for a class.

Oddly enough, a single perceptron with a sigmoid function to introduce nonlinearity into the threshold computation might suffice. At any rate, I am much more experienced using perceptrons than I am neural networks, and I know a lot more tricks with them. The beauty of the way I'm programming this is that I can try both and have them battle against me and against each other! The notes are in my private wiki now . . . I suppose I should get going and start writing the monitor. Wish me luck, space cadets, and I'll see y'all at the tables.

19 December 2007

A question about climbing Everest

So . . . you're climbing Mt Everest. It's -4°F and really windy. You're climbing. . . . What happens if you have to pee?

13 December 2007


Okay. It's finally happened. I have found the cutest picture in the whole internet. BEHOLD!

10 December 2007

On the Subject of Hot Librarians

Hot librarians the world over: we salute you.

max thom stahl
9:44 I'd say being a librarian and hot is pretty much a 99% guarantee that I will be all up onz.

9:44 and they help you navigate their dewey decimal system in the stacks...

max thom stahl
9:44 yeah dude.
9:44 and I act like it confuses me, 'cause it does.
9:44 She takes my hand....
9:44 And we dance.

9:44 heh

max thom stahl
9:44 On into the night.

9:44 Gabriel Ananda is playing on the loudspeaker...

max thom stahl
9:45 Awakening in the periodicals section, naked, in each others' arms.

9:45 muahaha...

max thom stahl
9:45 That's how it'll happen when I finally meet my hot librarian.

Life in the Haunted Basement

So, shortly after I rolled up at work today, a technician from AT&T arrived to install our new T1 line. This, of course, entailed me venturing into the Haunted Basement. Let me back up a bit; you need some background for this.

Fave Media, Inc.'s offices are located at 2350 N Clark St. Come in sometime; we have a storefront where you can hang out. Anyways, we share the building with a goth/industrial club called Neo. Pretty neat, right? From my server room, I exit a back door to a stairwell shared by Neo and Fave, then out an outside door (that doesn't have a working lock...) into the dumpster area. There are some slippery looking stairs there leading down to an iron gate. Opening the padlock to this gate, you have to violently jerk the bolt to unlock the gate, then there's a little door there with a bare light bulp over it. It is at this point that you should start to feel concerned. There is a peephole and mail slot in the door. Why? Nobody knows!

Open the door and step inside, fumbling about for the light switch. Don't look too disappointed, the light switch only turns on one bare bulb about two metres in front of you, and does not at all illuminate the rest of the hallway. A wall is conspicuously missing to your left, and you can see the rusty skeleton of a fixed-gear bicycle that's gotta be about as old as you are. There's other stuff there but seriously, you just don't want to know.

Down the hall a jog is the doorway into the room where the T1 line is. The T1 line is a pristine box set into the wall among a veritable rat's nest of wiring. There are high voltage signs on some of these little rat's nests, but no bare wires visible as far as I've seen. All around you are dust-covered relics from all the other businesses that have occupied this building—including but not limited to a giant pile of mannequin pieces and some pretty respectable-looking stereo equipment. At this point, if you're not creeped out, you're just not human.

Added to the craziness, a pipe had decided to burst or loosen or something and was pouring down water just next to the basement entrance. I'm still not sure what it was, but I got some of it on me so I'd rather not think about that. Best part? I get to go down there tomorrow, too!

Seriously AT&T needs to hurry on up and finalize that installation.

06 December 2007

There Must Be A Way....

This trip to Santa Cruz has been so disastrous, so calamitous, so unfortunately terrible, that I'm not sure I will recover from it any time soon.

Rather than waste the $200 I'd spent months ago on my ticket out to San Francisco, I made the decision to go out there and just leave a couple of days early, because I have very little trouble working remotely from anywhere in the world. I just need my laptop and a reliable internet connection and I'm good to go. My first day or two in Santa Cruz this was absolutely the case. I was able to get plenty of things done at first, getting some nice graphical changes pushed up to the server and such.

Then... my laptop died catastrophically. At this point, being as I've been using these computerboxen for quite some time, I knew pretty much immediately what was wrong but lacked the tools and the space to safely fix it (fixing it required opening up my laptop). At this point, I tried to make do with Brian's computer but ultimately gave up on that. I tried to change my flight back to Chicago but found that I could not without spending an absurd amount of money (about $300) to do it. So... I decided that I would come back at my regularly scheduled time and somehow find a way to deal with the consequences. How I will do that remains to be seen....

This trip to Santa Cruz really was quite different from the previous ones. Whereas previously Santa Cruz had been my place to relax and be with the people I love, this time it was more where I went to feel trapped, brooding, anxious, and depressed. I did manage to see almost everyone I wanted to (almost), and I saw the Red Elvises perform live, which was great. I also played a fair amount of pool—enough to almost completely recover my old skills at the game.

In short, I just feel like my visit to Santa Cruz increased my feelings of alienation, maybe not even necessarily because of anyone in particular but because of me. I just wasn't feeling it, and the fact that I had so much work I couldn't do just made me so anxious I had a hard time enjoying myself. My life just really does seem lately like it's not at all what I wanted. I'm in a holding pattern until I have enough money or enough prospects to move on.

29 November 2007

Somebody Gotta Save My Soul

I'll be in Santa Cruz from this Saturday 'til probably Wednesday or Thursday. I had to switch around my flight plans so as to be back in the office in time for a T1 line installation. The more I think about it the more I just really need to get back there for this trip, and then eventually for good. Not necessarily Santa Cruz proper, but northern California for sure.

The winter is coming in, and it's depressing the hell out of me. I'm okay admitting that; it's depressing being here in Chicago during the winter. I've never really been susceptible to seasonal affective disorder but I was feelin' it last winter and I'm starting to feel it even earlier this winter just by thinking about it too much.

Being here, I feel really lonely sometimes. I'm in this huge city, and I do have friends now, but it's hard to shake that feeling because 90% of the people that I know and that I love are back on the west coast. I mean, I talk more frequently to people there than I do here, and that's just weird. It's a postmodern kind of weird, because I don't know that I could've even imagined that'd ever be the case even five years ago. Ten years ago this level of connectivity (and disconnectivity, I guess) was inconceivable. Getting to know people and letting them get to know you is already a pretty difficult process, but the events of the past year have left me so guarded, so jaded, I don't know if I'm still capable of letting people get that close to me.

Isolation's always been my thing, though. For that matter, being really confident and not being super-emo has always been my thing, too. So what gives? Honestly, I really just don't know. I've been looking at myself a lot lately and thinking... was I always like this? Was all this neurosis and fragility always there, lurking just underneath the surface? Case in point, this blog has rapidly devolved from a blog about my thoughts on the web and technology into a discussion of bullshit like this. Meh. It's alright I guess.

On the one hand I feel like my condition would seriously improve if I had myself a steady-ish girl. Thing is, I don't know if there's anyone out there who can tolerate me the way I've been feeling lately. I feel like a wreck even if I don't always act like one, and that's kind of impaired my ability to relate to other people regularly. It's one of those spiraling down kinds of feelings where what you really need to do is hit the reset button on your whole way of dealing with social situations. You just have to forget all the times you've gotten burned or accidentally burned someone else or anything like that, and that's really hard to do, especially for me. Every relationship is in part affected by all the relationships before it, just like any experience is.

Maybe this trip really will fix it all for me. Maybe moving back will. I just know I've gotta try something. The fact of the matter is that, when I look back on it, my experience here in Chicago has been a collection of the good and the bad, and the bad is starting to catch up to the good in a huge way. Maybe it's time to cash in my chips and jet. 

19 October 2007

Typopolis Coming Into Its Own

Well that special date has almost arrived, people! Typopolis is live and crazy and nearly bug-free (nearly). Tom Gillis, Timmi Oyen, and I have been working tirelessly these past months to make it happen and our hard work is nearly ready to pay off. There's a launch party tomorrow night and then one week hence. Those in Chicago wishing to be invited are free to plead with me but the guest lists are already pretty much nailed down.

For those who haven't heard, Typopolis is a new social networking website where users can share their book interests and also have in-depth conversations with other users about books, about reading, about life. It picks up where other social networks have left off by offering the tools for users to not just review books, but to discuss specific passages and collectively analyze these for academic reasons or just for fun. You can establish online book groups or fly solo, and you can even meet people in your area who like the same books as you.

As we approach the launch party season for us, I'm excited to say that the site is live and ready to upgrade from "alpha" to "beta" release. Very exciting! We've been working on this thing for nearly a year on a shoestring budget, and it's up there for everyone to see.

So! If you want to be invited, email me and I'll pass you one of my many invitation codes. 

11 October 2007

The Twitter Monster Cometh

Yeah yeah yeah. I was one of those twitter haters initially. I was. It seemed like a solution lacking a problem when I first looked at it.

Now that there are more people on it, and more people are leveraging it to do interesting things, I've changed my tune quite drastically the past couple of weeks. So much so, in fact, that I have now started twittering as well, at twitter.com/villainous. Yes. I am Villainous. Sorry Brandon :-P.

If you've got Twitter, add me to your watchlist so you can see updates on all the kinds of villainy I'm up to these days. There will be updates about my various projects up there and possibly some random little thoughts. Should be a great time. Or if you don't care, that's awesome too. It's Twitter, after all.

Stay tuned, space cadets.

08 October 2007

Playing the Radio At Work Counts as "Public Performance"

I heard tell that in Scotland at least playing your radio at work is now grounds for getting sued. When did this happen? When did we, as a society, decide that our courts had so much time on their hands that they could try completely nonsensical bullshit like this? Oh yeah and the motion for dismissal was denied. Seriously, people. Seriously. This is happening?

The music industries woes are really just the aftershocks of a revolution that's already come. The forces they're reeling from have already permanently changed the face of the world that they're living in. They just haven't gotten that memo yet.

Dear RIAA, CRIA, PRS, et al:

I'm sorry your business model is outdated and no longer relevant in the world that we live in today, but you had decades to see it coming (MPEG Layer 3 audio became an ISO standard in 1991, but was invented in the 1980s; for those who are really crazy about these things, the research that led to its inception was completed in 1979). Napster may have been a threat to your business but it was a sign that the tide was turning and that you needed to change your approach. Instead you tightened your grip as more and more sand escaped your fingers.

Now the opportunity to innovate has passed. That call has already been answered by the pirates, and they've won only because you've refused to change how you do things. Why should I pay for a CD when I get less for my trouble, and the free alternative is not only more readily available but also superiour?

I feel the worst for the artists, because they're taking it in the shorts for this. I'm not saying that they're starving because despite all their complaining they're clearly well taken care of (Britney could use a new stylist and life counsellor though... that girl's seen better times). I am merely saying that it's not their fault either that the music industry's business model is trapped in the eighties (actually... let's be honest here: the 1930s).

I will not pay for music twice. I will not repurchase it just to have it in another medium or another format. I will not pay extra to be able to play my music whenever and wherever I please. Because it's mine. I paid for it and it's mine, and if we're talking about information—be it analogue or digital—there are no limits, no chains you can place on it, that will prevent me from exercising my right of fair use. I will enable others to do so, too.

Listen. It's not that "information wants to be free" or any other such anarchist bullshit. It's simply a matter of free market economics. The RIAA and friends have failed at their purpose: to regulate the distribution of musical recordings. Musicians deserve to be compensated for their work if I'm enjoying it, and I gladly pay for the music that I listen to because I enjoy it. But in this Age of Information everywhere I look I'm seeing fewer and fewer walls, fewer and fewer traps in my way, fewer and fewer limits on what can be done—except in the music industry. I'm saying that's crap and if their new business model is to only profit from suing people, then their days of extortion are numbered.

If this is incoherent babbling then forgive me, space cadets, as I'm tired. I sleep now.

07 October 2007

Weird Dreams, the New Chemical Brothers Album, and Craziness

I've been having the weirdest dreams lately, which is odd for me because I usually don't remember my dreams. Anyways they've been wild recently.... A sample, if you will....

A few nights ago, I dreamt that I was in my sister's apartment, and she'd filled her kitchen sink with saltwater. There were these weird scallops swimming around in her sink. They were like ordinary scallops but with these red gelatinous growths on their sides. Really weird. Anyway one of them swam up through the water into the air towards me and I reached out towards it. It opened and this tiny red squid, maybe five inches long, emerged from its shell towards me. I reached out one of my fingers and its tentacles wrapped around it. I felt it bite me and I thought that was rather rude of it, then I woke up.

Another dream. I dreamt last night that I was on the beach with a bunch of my friends in Santa Cruz, and one of them placed a tiny white crab on my shoulder. It made me nervous but I didn't shake it off until I got back to my apartment, in Chicago, somehow. The crab extended its claws and I got antsy and threw it off my shoulder, where it clinked against my counter then my floor just like a quarter that's landed on its side. It landed on my kitchen floor and remained perfectly motionless for a while. As I stood there, though, the crab became more and more agitated, more and more angry. As it became more and more angry, more and more things began to unfold out of its carapace. First claws, then a bigger carapace, then eventually wings then a second set of wings. It charged at me a couple of times, then when it grew wings it flew right at me and I dodged it right as I woke up.

I dunno what's up with me lately. I keep drawing mollusks and crustaceans in my little notebooks. Squids and crabs and lobsters and bees abound in my notebooks. It's really weird. I have no idea what's going on with me. Doodling in my notebooks constantly I guess gives me some insight as to what's going on in there, but it's still so hard to interpret. Earlier tonight, at the bar, I randomly took out a piece of paper and drew a squid on it; I don't know why. Mebbe something crazy's going on up in my subconscious. Who knows. Still. It's very weird.

In unrelated news, I am thoroughly loving the new Chemical Brothers album, We Are the Night. The title track especially is just unbelievably amazing. So are "Burst Generator" and "Do It Again". I don't even have words to describe how well put together this album is. Even the duller moments of the album serve as the perfect time to recuperate between melt-your-face amazing tracks. I don't know how they can still be producing this kind of quality work after all these years, but they are. It warms my heart to know it.

Ok. I've just been out "for the duration" at Estelle's, so I should probably get some sleep. Later, space cadets.

22 September 2007

Thoughts on the Future and the Continuation of Our Species

Ok. Let me preface this by saying that I've been reading Ray Kurzweil's new book and it's kind of getting me thinking too much about these things. That being said, let the insanity begin!

I've been thinking about what will happen over the next thirty years of my life. There will be a point at which machine intelligence and human intelligence merge, I believe, and become the same thing with one helping the other. That's the next step in an unstoppable exponential climb towards the Universe's ultimate destiny.

For one, what if we become, essentially, immortal? What if we can live as long as we care to? There won't really be a reason to keep perpetuating the species at that point, biologically speaking, but there will still be a reason to keep making newer and better machines. The process of evolution will have totally shifted from being a biological process to being a technological process. At this point, the only way to die would be to have your consciousness erased from the Universe somehow, and I'm not even entirely sure how that would work or if your consciousness proper would have made the jump into the information age with you. This fits nicely in with the idea that the current asymptotic progression of technology is a continuation of earlier biological processes (things like DNA, going from single-celled to multi-celled organisms, and fish evolving jawbones can be thought of as paradigm shifts the same way that the transistor and quantum computer can).

So, reproduction will no longer be the driving force of evolution. It will become a human-driven process completely, and we will control it with our own ingenuity. That's pretty awesome, but it reminds me of something that Louis Armstrong once said when the Pope asked him if he and his wife had children. He supposedly said, "No but we're sho' havin' a lot of fun tryin'." I think it's gotta be the lewdest joke that a Pope has ever laughed at. Anyways think about that a second to get what I'm talking about.

The other thing that I think about a lot lately is what's going to happen to the people who get left behind. The Singularity and the next age, and in fact this current information age, are first world phenomena still. The third world is just now getting online, beginning with China and moving along through Asia, South America, and now Africa. I have a feeling that the XO laptop and the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) campaign will coincide neatly with all of these world events. The very notion of absolutely minimizing the price of a laptop is interesting in and of itself, but that it's happening right here, right now, is very special. I have a feeling that very few human beings younger than I am right now will be truly and completely left in the dust, except perhaps by choice (theirs or someone else's). This is all so inevitable, like a rising tide that is bringing us all up with it.

Keep looking forward, space cadets; I'll see y'all later.

20 September 2007

What Does Your Brain Look Like

Tess and I agree to swap minds for a day sometime whenever that's possible. I don't think she knows what she's getting into. This place is like the Thunderdome, 'cept two men enter and then no one leaves for like a week.

max thom stahl
1:30 hahahaha
1:30 what is your mind like.
1:31 If it were a house or a building, what would it be like inside?

1:31 organized and pretty
1:31 everything matches
1:31 and lots of chandeliers

max thom stahl
1:31 oh hehehe
1:32 Mine would be like a jungle with a bunch of ziplines between trees, and hookers, and blackjack, and chalkboards everywhere with all kinds of math notation written in bad handwriting all over them.
1:32 And lots of chandeliers.

08 September 2007

Things I Miss When Programming in PHP

Ok. This isn't meant to be an entry just about trash-talking PHP. It's more of an entry discussing what are the things that are missing from PHP with regards to database-driven web site development. I do like PHP and of all the languages I've used "in the wild" so to speak PHP is the one I've got the most experience with. Still, I've got a few bones to pick with it so there may be a little trash-talking involved here.

Lack of Functional-ness
My programming background is pretty heavy with cryptography and artificial intelligence, so I feel like I really shine when I'm programming in functional languages like Ocaml, Haskell, Lisp and to a limited extent Scheme. I've even been known to bust out with some Prolog where appropriate. I think it's completely unreasonable to expect a language like PHP to have things like functional currying or functional pattern-matching, but I don't think it's unreasonable to expect some amount of functional programming magic to be possible.

For one, recursion is a no-no in PHP because there is no tail recursion. This may change in the future, but it's a pain to do recursion in PHP anyway and you're better off with a while loop and a stack (which is what tail-recursion turns into on the machine code side anyway). That's a bit of a pain because there are certain processes which are intuitively recursive processes, and these should be workable that way without penalty. Though I have made recursive functions in PHP and used them in quasi-production environments, that's outside the best practices for the language and I would never do it if I knew the system running my code was short on memory. Also, even without ordinary memory limitations, PHP's runtime can be configured to limit stack and heap space artificially, so recursion can still be a bad thing on systems that have plenty of memory.

Another beautiful functional programming trick is mappings. I love mappings. I mentioned list comprehensions just earlier (without calling them that), but if I had to choose one or the other I'd choose mappings. In python, ocaml, haskell, lisp, scheme, ruby, and a few more languages, there is a syntax for "Take each item in this list, apply this function to it, and return me a list of the results". It sounds less useful than it really is, but this is an amazing tool that you can use for all kinds of magic. Right up there with mappings are functional folds, where you can say "Take the items of this list and put this operator or function between all the elements, tacking on this constant to the end; return the result of that whatever it is." For example if you folded the "+" operator with 0 as the constant, you'd get the sum of a list. This is also handy for taking a list of words and appending them all together into one big string. In Haskell and Ocaml you can fold on the left or on the right but watch out, 'cause the right-hand fold is not tail-recursive.

Cons Über Alles
Another problem is the Array construct in PHP, which doesn't actually behave like an array at all but instead works like a hash table. The problem here is that sometimes I have an array that I wish to access like a hash (random-access), but oftentimes I want something that behaves like a List. Lists in functional languages get turned into single or double linked lists in memory, which is just peachy. In Haskell (and, I believe with some magic, Ocaml), you can even have the tail links to these lists pointing to thunks of code that generate the remainder of the list on-demand. That's not necessary for PHP, but it would be really nice to be able to have some kind of data structure native to the language that behaves like a list (or, for all you functional space cadets, a cons). This falls into the same category as recursion, because lists (at least single linked lists) are inherently recursive structures. I miss them.

We <3>
There's no built-in support for regular expressions. Now, I know what you're thinking: there isn't any built-in support for them in Ocaml or Haskell or Lisp either. They're library functions in those languages. But you know what? In Ocaml I don't have to type a mouthful like "preg_replace()" when all I want to do is the same thing the s/// operator in perl does. I know that perl's syntax is confusing as hell to people who are unfamiliar with it (and also to some who are quite familiar with it) but why shouldn't common things like that be a symbol rather than a long-ass function name? While we're on the subject, why are all the functions in PHP so long? Seems there's gotta be an easier way to handle them all.

Get Out of the C++ Mentality
One of the really powerful features of Ruby that scared the bejesus out of me at first but I grew to love is the fact that you can, anywhere you want, add or remove functions or members from classes. This is really scary but really powerful. A lot of the cooler features of Ruby on Rails would be completely impossible without this. For instance you would not be able to have something like acts_as_authenticated or acts_as_taggable, which are functions that shove code from plugins into your existing classes. In PHP you have to have separate classes or subclasses to do this kind of work and it's kind of a pain. Why not just have code blocks hanging around that you can swap in and out of where you need them when you need them? This is, of course, because PHP is a C++ derivative and Ruby is a Smalltalk derivative. Both have their advantages, but this is one of those pure object-oriented things that should've crossed over.

Lemme see... what else. If I had any choice about it, I'd program web sites in Python or Ruby, but Python doesn't integrate very well that way, being that it doesn't have the inline HTML magic that PHP and Ruby both have. I'm still a little uneasy about the syntax of Ruby, too, even though it looks like it should be something very familiar to me (it looks like Ocaml sometimes). Meh. We'll see.

Ok. Back to work for me. Later, space cadets.

02 September 2007

The Sky, the Stars, and Everyday Life in the Age of Information

I just realized the other night that I and many others like me are, on a day to day basis, living out the wild acid-trip fantasies of futurists everywhere years ago. What prompted this was a week spending most of my free time (what little of it I've had) browsing Google Earth.

Seriously think about this for a second. I have an application on my computer (and, in a limited fashion, on my phone too) that allows me to look at aerial and satellite imagery from anywhere on the globe. I can overlay it with any set of metadata that I want, can see points on the Earth that other users have found interesting or that have historical significance, too. In my case, I was browsing the globe for the sites of atmospheric nuclear tests, because you can see their craters in satellite imagery (disappointingly enough the site of the 57 megaton Tsar Bomba blast is poorly imaged because, I imagine, no one can fly a plane there safely). In a certain bizarre way, detached both in time and in space, I was gazing at the sites of some of the world's worst mishaps. Chernobyl looks great from the air. Mayak, just northwest of Chelyabinsk, looks desolate and forgotten, a major nuclear catastrophe swept under the rug of the world (you've never heard of it, have you). Three Mile Island looks amazing. The giant crater in Bikini Atoll at the site of the Castle Bravo event is clearly visible, and you can view it without getting the lethal dose of radiation you'd receive at the surface after a couple of hours.

Information is not only free now, but it's everywhere, instantly accessible at every moment in our lives. We're surrounded by outlets for all manner of information all the time. And here fifty years ago people thought that Television was revolutionary! Think of it for a minute, though. Have you ever been having a conversation with someone, and in the back of your mind there's a topic that's related but you can't remember any details about it? Now you can just look it up, anywhere, any time. Amazing.

I can now browse the skies as if they were an open book I was reading. I can zoom into places I find interesting, look up whatever Messier objects I find nearby, find imagery in whichever spectrum I require. That feeling I used to get as a kid looking at the Universe's unbelievably infinite majesty isn't really dampened now, looking at imagery instead of the real world around me. I'm still painfully aware that we orbit Sol, one tiny little yellow star in the backwaters of a spiral arm in a giant galaxy. Our galaxy is one of an uncountable multitude, on an unstoppable collision course with the Andromeda galaxy. It's so impossible to think of how huge they are, too. Don't ever try; you'll hurt yourself. Just sit back in wonder, zoom in, and realize that that smudge you were looking at is actually billions of stars, and that thing you thought was a star is really a galaxy, containing even more stars.

It's hard to think of it this way, but we are furry little creatures on a tiny blue rock in a Universe that is so enormous we cannot even begin to conceive of it, even though it is finite. As I write this it expands, though, and space stretches even further. Our lives are so short; all of Human existence is less than the blinking of an eye to the Universe, but to us we feel so significant. The Universe's existence and our own are so deeply entangled that it's only too tempting to think that the Universe is the way it is so that we can observe it, and we can exist within it only because it is exactly as it is. The tiniest deviation at any time in the past 13 or 14 billion years would have produced an entirely different experience, or no experience at all. To me it's no wonder at all that people believe in God. It takes an even greater leap—not in faith, but in perception—to see that we're here because everything was exactly right for us to be here, and if it weren't then we wouldn't be around to ask those kinds of questions. That thought alone is enough to bring tears to my eyes some nights when I can't sleep for thinking about these things.

I remember as a kid reading 2001: A Space Odyssey and wishing so badly that I could be a Star Child, a being of pure energy so immortal that I could scoff at space and time themselves and explore the Universe at my whim. Maybe that'll be possible some day. For now, I'll just have to content myself with having imagery from the world's most powerful telescopes in space and on the surface being instantly available to me all the time. *sigh*

Later, space cadets.

17 August 2007

My Paranoid Fantasies

I get really paranoid when I'm by myself in my apartment, thinking about things. I've taken a couple of naps today because I didn't sleep so well last night; did a fair amount of thinking.

My dear friend Alex, who is currently residing in Bulgaria with the Peace Corps, sent me the disturbing news that Putin has returned Russia's air defense bombers to the skies, just like the Cold War all over again. In true Max Thom Stahl form, I'm watching Wargames right now to celebrate this little daydream of mine.

Since the US has gotten stuck in the quicksand desert that is Iraq, people have been coming out of the woodwork everywhere just to do whatever it was they wanted to do if the US would ever drop its guard. Afghanistan's poppy fields are churning out more heroin than ever before, North Korea's gone off the crazy-charts, and now this from Russia. I had a bit of a scary thought earlier....

While the US is out there trying to make money for big Oil and for the Halliburtons of the world, playing in their 169,234 square mile sandbox, the grownups are finally coming out to play. Everybody sees that we're occupied and can't really muster the resources to deploy anywhere else right now, so they're just doing whatever they want, wherever they want. There's nothing to stop them now.

I don't believe the line that Iraq was enough of a danger to the US that we had to invade them, at all. I just don't. There simply was not enough evidence to support the idea and then once we invaded most of the "evidence" turned out to be what leading insiders would call "bullshit". The anthrax factories thing was an embellishment at best, but a complete fabrication at worst (I lean towards complete fabrication), and ruined Colin Powell with that shameful presentation of his at the UN. Nobody was buying it, but we invaded anyway for some reason. And now, this war is a clear and present danger to the US and to the whole world, because the balance is gone. In the good old days, ten years ago, the US was the most powerful nation in the world but the whole world could, together, keep us in check. Now our president has tried to grab more power than this nation is entitled to, it's backfired, and every rogue state out there knows we've got our pants down.

This sucks, people. 

10 August 2007

Max's Magical Fung Wah Adventure

After a much needed mini-vacation in central Mass., I decided that my preferred way to get to NYC for this business trip was the illustrious (and infamous) Fung Wah bus. I have ridden the Fung Wah once before, and it was an interesting journey. This time wasn't nearly as shady (I didn't have to buy my ticket from a guy in the back of a bakery in Chinatown) but had almost all the required elements. In particular, there's the fact that my "ticket" was a hand-written card that I'd signed:
Amazing, right? So I got on the bus and actually, it wasn't that bad. I even made a friend along the way. Now, being in Brooklyn with all the rain and negative feelings I have about this place, it's really hard not to think that I'd really like to be back where I just was, or Chicago, or somewhere completely different. I just don't know. I bought a nice army surplus jacket, and that'll help with the rain and cold... but that's really just removing the cause but not the symptom. Think what I really need to do is just go for a while.

*sigh* I'm gonna go back to maintaining. See you later, space cadets.

02 August 2007

More iPhone Awesomeness

Got myself an iPhone. Oh yes. That's right. iPhone. Feelin' pretty good about this decision.

This does not mean everybody needs to start sending me emails like crazy 'cause they know I'll get them in a timely manner. I will do my best but it's an iPhone, ok?, not a crackberry. That being said, I'm just gonna try to get the usefulness out of having a smart phone that I need without doing all the asshole things that smart phone owners do. And, before anyone asks, no AT&T's network doesn't reach into the tunnels. When I'm on the train, that's Max time. Ok? Got it? Awesome.

That being said, I really dig this thing. This is me coming from the world of regular, boring phones whose only data capability is SMS/MMS messaging. I just upgraded from a not-fully-enabled Razr to an iPhone and that's a pretty nice step. The web browsing is absurdly smooth and fast on my wifi, and email functionality is pretty easy to use. The whole thing is just so nice, I'm never going to be able to go back.

In other news, I got my power adapter for my Macbook Pro, so now I'm able to work normally on my projects. So, all around, things are looking up for me and for getting things done in a timely manner. Feelin' good about all of this.

Later, space cadets. It's time for me to go watch youtube videos on my iPhone.

Why is it so f*cking hot out?!?

I feel like I've left entries like this before.... Oh well.

Weather Underground says it's 90.3°F outside. I dunno if I believe that. Seems like it's much hotter here. Nothing inspires crazy workaholic behaviour like excessive hot or cold weather though, I guess. I'm at my drafting table now, in my undies, sweating still.

Wish me luck as I try to persevere, space cadets. Over and out.

28 July 2007

The Whole World's Against Me

Ok. So. Here's the deal.

Last night my macbookpro's power cable finally expired in a cloud of smoke. It had been just barely hanging on for a couple of weeks and it finally died on me, melting itself in the process. I went to the Apple store today to try to get a new one, but Emily loaned me her power cable for a couple of hours so I could hang out at a coffee shop while she took her dog to an acupuncture appointment. The café had no internet access, or it was at least very intermittent, so I couldn't get any work done really there. Then, we went to the Apple store, and they wouldn't replace it for free, so I had to pay for one. But then they didn't have any in stock anyway, so I went home. Then I looked online at Apple's website and saw they take 3-4 weeks to ship. I needed this thing yesterday so I nixed that. Looking around three or four other retailers yielded ship times of between 1 and 4 weeks if they even carried the power adapter. So, I went to eBay. I got a used power adapter for about the same price (with shipping) as a new one, and it's likely to have the same problems as my old one.

So, I've been using my powerbook g4, but it's lacking all the software I need to get anything done and the operating system is so old I can't even install the software I need (Adium, for one, requires at least Mac OS 10.3.9). So I resolved to download linux for it. Gentoo installation was far too much of a pain (before anyone accuses me of not being hardcore enough, I did try, and I run Gentoo on two other systems). Ubuntu is available for powerpc systems, but not the newest version. I looked through all my CDs and couldn't find a copy of Ubuntu Edgy Eft for powerpc. So I have to download one. It's been going for four hours and it's still not downloaded.

Without a system loaded with the right software to work, I can't do my freelance illustrations for Liz, can't do any work on beyondscreens*, can't do any work on Typopolis, can't do anything. It's really, really, really shitty over here. *sigh*

I swear... the whole fucking world's against me these days.... Pray for my sanity, space cadets.

No Splinters, But a Generation of Pansies

Good evening, space cadets. This is a little bit off-topic from the usual fare, but just roll with it.

As I was walking through my neighbourhood earlier today, I noticed for probably the hundredth time the "Wood free neighbourhood" sign in that "Luddite's Unite!" guy's window, and it got me thinking again. The photo depicts a sign outside a playground saying it is "wood free", and honestly this makes me really sad. Let me back up a bit here.

Years and years and years ago, when I first moved to Georgia, I went to Barnett Shoals Elementary School (go barnett bears yay!). Barnett Shoals—and in fact all of the other public elementary schools in Athens-Clarke County, GA—had an amazing playscape. That's right. A playscape, not a playground. Let me explain. Nowadays when you go to a playground, you go to a rectangular space, filled with rubber strips scrapped from old tires, with a plastic, splinter-free, multicoloured structure on it with no surface higher than safe falling distance for kids. All of this so they don't get hurt, right? But these playscapes are booooring and laaaaaame. The one at Barnett Shoals was beautifully architected and made out of wood, old and weather-worn and full of splinters! I loved it. There were so many little places to jump around and hide and squirm around, and so much space to just run around. The playscape was taken down and replaced by a boring, run-of-the-mill plastic and steel affair. I was so sad.

One of my frequent soapboxes is the systematic dumbing-down of the American child, as many of you will know. These new-style playscapes are just one more part of that. Rather than an amorphous, angle-ridden, rickety wooden structure kids can use their imaginations with, they're given linear play structures with specific paths through them for the kids to follow. Run up the ladder, scamper across the bridge, traverse the improbably-low monkey bars, slide down the slide. Over and over and over again. I realize that my adult mind gets bored with a lot of things that used to be utterly enchanting to me as a child. But does that mean we shouldn't ever build anything or do anything or say anything that will challenge kids? Oh and about the splinters: a little splinter never hurt nobody and kids just need to be tough.

Alright. I'm done ranting about this right now. Later, space cadets.

02 July 2007

iPhone Awesomeness

I do not yet have an iPhone because I was in transit when they came out and I don't really have the money right now anyway. I have, however, been immortalized on Thom's iPhone. It is the hardcorest address book entry ever!
I don't know if you can tell by looking at the little tiny picture of me on there, but I'm throwin' up the horns \m/.

24 June 2007

I, for one, welcome our new Ruby on Rails overlords

Ok. So. It finally happened. I am learning how to use Ruby on Rails, and I'm really enjoying it too. Craziness.

Now... I just need to get Brandon to learn Haskell. Then we'll be straight rockin' it!

07 June 2007

Leaving VSA

I put in my letter of resignation at VSA earlier today, and tomorrow is my last day. It's crazy and I'm just filled with this combination of excitement, anxiety, and sadness.

I'm sad because I really do love all the people at VSA, and I think it's a great company. I do feel pretty privileged to have spent a year and a half there, and I'm not just saying that. It's weird; I don't think most people have heard of VSA, but there are circles that I run into before where passing off one of my black business cards to someone actually turned a head or two. At this stage, though, I'd achieved what I wanted to there. I worked at VSA full time for a year because I wanted to try out the whole corporate thing, meet people and make connections, gain some much-needed experience with web work, and settle into my post-collegiate life a little. By now I think I've done those things and some more. I'm sad, though, that I have to leave all the people there, because I've grown pretty attached to them.

At the same time, though, I have this steadily growing sense of incredible excitement. I can hardly contain it, because over the past year I have come up with so many ideas, so many concepts, so many possible interesting things to do. I want to have time to implement at least a few of them. This is my goal now: I want to make the Web a more magical place. I want to create small moderately useful sites—or even perfectly useless ones—that people will either use on a daily basis and will really benefit people, or that will merely amuse people. So I have my projects with other people, Typopolis and beyondscreens*, that will hopefully be incredibly useful even if it's only for a small portion of the population. Then I have my own concepts which vary from the useful to the "interesting" to the outright postmodern. This is where things like Vi.llaino.us, Chatterböxen and some others that I'm keeping to myself come in. These will begin trickling out over the next few months and I hope that everyone will like them....

Another thing is that this blog is getting itself updated on a regular basis. That's vital. The whole thing is supposed to be about working on the fringes of the web . . . I've just been waiting until now to reach the edge. Now that I'm here, I'll be transmitting more missives from there to you, my extremely small and questionably loyal audience.

I just want to create things that people think are really cool, even if that doesn't make me much more money than the bare minimum I need to live off. If I can do that, and if enough people like what I'm doing, then I'm set. If I can't, then I guess Corporate America is always waiting for me, and there will be people out there who have a use for my unique talents. (Speaking of which, if there's anyone who has a need for a modestly skilled graphic designer or a highly elite computer scientist, call me!) On the one hand, I can't help but feel like VSA was a deviation from this path that I'd set for myself, but on the other hand how could I possibly have predicted all of this? I don't think I could have ended up in the position I'm in now without having worked at VSA; I think I'll think of it in the future as my own little crash course in Web 1.0, so that I'd be ready for Web 2.0.

At this point, though, I'm like Fuck it, let's kick out Web 3.0.

Later, space cadets.

24 May 2007

Back in Santa Cruz Again

If anyone's been paying attention, you'll know I'm in Santa Cruz, CA, again right now. Got myself tickets for a week-long trip out here for only $50 each way (thank you, Southwest Airlines!), so I figured why the hell not?

It's so strange being back here. I missed everybody so much but now that I'm here it's so hard to arrange to see everyone I want to without making it way too structured for me. I hate making plans more than a few hours in advance, and when you don't live somewhere that's just kind of way too much for your friends to deal with. Just kind of sucks, because I love these people and I want to see them all, but I can't really do that unless I'm just sorta here often enough that they can fit seeing me into their routine.

All this brings up a lot of thoughts that I've been having for the past couple of months that I've not really committed to paper just because I haven't wanted to, but now's a pretty good time to do it. I feel sort of trapped in my life right now, and I want out. Some background first....

In the beginning, when I started college at the urging of my entire family, I wanted to study art and computer science/engineering. That really didn't pan out 'cause my computer science classes took up so much of my time I didn't even really have time for general education classes much less another major. I'd always been really good at art, though, as a kid and I wanted to get some actual training and maybe be able to go after design/programming jobs post-college. I'm kind of jumping ahead of myself here though. The truth is that my art interest faded to a distant yearning while I was in computer science because I simply did not have the time to pursue it. I only started making time for my art after my dad passed away.

When dad died, I was pretty well devastated even though I'd known for a few months that it wasn't going to be long. No amount of preparation can really ease you into losing a loved one. Anyways once he died I had to think of a course of action for coping with it. I gravitated to my oldest passion: photography. I got myself into the kresge darkroom co-op, bought a pentax k-1000 and a bunch of film, and just hit it. So I got back into things. Moving to Chicago I started drawing again because I was tired of not drawing. I kept having al these ideas and no time and no resources and no space to do them in. It's so frustrating!

So that brings us up to date. I'm kind of on the brink over here. I'm going to turn 24 this summer and it makes me think . . . I need to be doing or have done something amazing by the time this time of year rolls around again. At 25 I want to be able to point to something that's mine, that I created or helped create, that people use and love and is a part of their lives. I want to revolutionize something—I said that a couple of years ago, I remember, when Jessi and I were talking about the future. (I miss her optimism in those days sometimes.) I dunno if I feel like I'm still on-schedule or not. Chicago just seems like such a huge setback sometimes, like I somehow abandoned what I really wanted to and needed to do by not taking a programming job of some sort (my brain feels like it's starving) and by not having enough time for my artwork. I just feel like working and living in Chicago I've made so many compromises. I'm not working on my own schedule, I'm not even sleeping on my own schedule.

I don't even know why I'm writing all this right now, and on this blog, too. This is supposed to be my blog for writing about my hardcore web developer lifestyle, but somehow I don't really feel like I'm living that right now. I have fewer and fewer little bits of awesomeness to share on here, and that makes me sad. Being back in Santa Cruz makes me realize that in Chicago I'm just so far removed from my support system, my friends, so many of the people I love. Keep realizing there are more than I thought when I left, too, and that's been saddening me a little too.

I'm gonna go get myself together. See you later, space cadets.

08 May 2007

128 bits of FURY

Ok so I don't know who's been paying attention, but there was an incredible hullaballoo a while back when the MPAA attempted to squelch the release of an AACS key that someone discovered.

Anyone familiar with this blog (or, indeed, with information theory or cryptography) will know already my stance on digital rights management of any kind. I'm not a huge fan. Trying to hold back the publishing of a number though . . . come on!

So I found a service where you can generate your own, and then use it to encrypt a copyrighted haiku. Once that's been done, because of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, that number is now an illegal circumvention tool (just like the aforementioned number for AACS!). So, my number is 7D BC 54 0B 36 C5 AF 0D 6E 97 0E EE 4F 49 CE 58. Don't anybody use it!

More info on Freedom to Tinker.

29 April 2007

The Olympiad of Misguided Geeks, or, One More Reason I'm Going Straight to Hell

Most hilarious programming competition ever, The Olympiad of Misguided Geeks. The whole point is to produce the most interesting "WTF" program.

For those of you just joining us, a "WTF" is a program or information technology system (this includes security policies) that has one of the following qualities:
  • Totally unreadable or otherwise unmaintainable code. This is sometimes called the "job security" programming paradigm.
  • Attrocious over-engineering that implies a novice understanding or unwillingness to use readily available library functions.
  • Lack of documentation or, just as bad, excessive documentation. Also, horrible user interface.
  • Convolution, metasolutions, failed attempts at cleverness.
  • Security by obscurity or use of the Ostrich Algorithm.
I don't know how Thom and I are going to do it, but we, two college-educated professionals, have to create a working program so amateur that we're both going straight to hell for it. I can't give any details here, but so far our program leaks memory like a sieve, overly complicates operations so simple as adding two numbers, and throws a segmentation fault every once in a while just for good measure. Oh yeah and so far it doesn't work. We'll have to fix that.

More updates later, space cadets.

23 April 2007

Feisty Fawn

I've started using Ubuntu 7.04 on my macbook pro, and I've gotta say that the setup is worlds different from 6.10 (Edgy Eft). I was initially put off of Feisty because I couldn't boot from the liveCD. I got an issue with the VESA video drivers, but installing the ATI drivers for Xorg fixed that. The following commands
sudo apt-get install xorg-driver-fglrx
sudo aticonfig --initial
fixed that right up. It's a little weird, but just roll with it.

Once the ATI driver problem is fixed, the installation goes swimmingly. I was a little troubled that it auto-installed grub over my previous installation of lilo (I miss lilo), but I was pleasantly surprised that the auto-installation of grub works better than lilo. And all this without my intervention. Seeing as my macbook pro is hardly typical linux hardware, I'm pretty pleasantly surprised over here.

Unlike with my vanilla installation of Edgy, sound (ALSA) is fully operational, as are the drivers for my ATI graphics card and synaptics touchpad. Feelin' pretty excited over here.

12 April 2007

Thought of the Day

All these questions. Even the answers overwhelm me.

all of physics is overwhelming. I don't even know the stuff we DO know.

The Universe is such a fucked up but beautiful place. . . . There's so many times that I'm just really glad to be here and thank God for having me. Like I'm on His talk show or something.

26 March 2007

Throwin' Thom Off His Game

max thom stahl
10:46 hi

10:55 hi
10:55 wait, hi? that's not how max greets me.

max thom stahl
10:55 hahahahaha
10:55 I know.
10:55 It's how max throws you off his game.

10:56 yeah, and that's how max makes me lose the fucking game, god damn you.

24 March 2007

Crazy Dreams

oh god I had the most bizarre dream last night!

I was some kind of rogue secret agent of some sort, or maybe a mercenary of some sort. Something. I was walking through the city at night, and I think people were chasing after me or something, because I had all these weird capsules in a special briefcase on me and some weird equipment. It started to rain and right afterwards thousands of mushrooms started to come up, then they got larger and there were two kinds. Once the mushrooms had grown to a certain size, I sat down among a group of them and I opened my case and took out a syringe and one of the capsules, which was just a cylinder with clear tubes suspended in a fluid, and the whole thing was wrapped in a porous material that I guess was impermeable to the substance in the cylinder. Anyways I went through this process where I'd take one of the large flat mushrooms growing out of the ground vertically (they reminded me of . . . I can't remember the species name but I remember this whole thing so vividly I could look them up; they looked like sea fans but in mushroom form). I'd take one of those and I'd place it on top of one of the large toadstool-style mushrooms and I'd inject some of the liquid in the tiny tubes inside the cylinder into both of them, but through the same hole. Some kind of weird biochemical process would happen and then these little spores would come out, and turn into these little creatures that were like banana slugs but much thicker and they could move much faster. I had control over them and I'd send them behind me to slow down whoever it was that was chasing me. It was kinda crazy, 'cause I controlled them using voice commands and a playstation 2 controller.

Eventually I got to this bridge and I had like a billion of those things trailing behind me, following me 'cause I guess they'd dispatched with whoever was after me, and there was another agent on the other side of the bridge. We had this weird showdown situation going on, and I don't really know what was up with it because I woke up around this point in the dream.

Just lately I've started dreaming again, which is a pretty good feeling for me because I stopped for a long long time. I just kinda wish my dreams could be less bizarre from time to time....

17 March 2007

My new best friend

I was at Costco earlier today, and you know how when you're at Costco, somehow prices don't mean anything and all you tend to think about is how discounted everything is. You don't pay any attention to the $300 worth of toilet paper and sausage in your cart at all.

Well, I got something more than toilet paper this time. I got a Roomba and it's the cutest thing ever!!! I'm gonna decorate it with googly eyes and fur! Great times.

Next post will be less dorky, I promise. Until then, space cadets.

16 March 2007

In Hot Pursuit of the Edge

Human interface design is one of those things I hardly get to write about, but it's been on my mind of late. It's come to my attention, particularly of late, that there's something definitely wrong with how people are forced to interact with the Web.

Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the markup language that drives the web for the most part, was originally invented by Tim Berners-Lee ([1], [2]) in the early 90s as a method of disseminating documents that had cross-references in them among his colleagues. Since then it's been published as a standard and constantly developed and paired with other technologies like XML and CSS, as well as dynamic scripting languages like JavaScript. It is still, however, primarily a language for marking up text for easy display on the web, just as languages like LaTeX are used to mark up documents for printing ([3]).

I would say that for most of the content of the Internet, this is just fine. People can access most sites kind of like they would interact with a book or a magazine. Clicking on links is a shortcut to page-turning, and content is presented like print is. But why should the other percentage, which is growing larger day by day particularly when we hear all this talk of AJAX and Web 2.0 awesomeness, still have to behave like that? In just the same way that users form expectations of how applications behave (mac users like to see "Preferences" under the "Edit" or Apple menus; PC users like to see them hiding under "Tools") depending on their experience, the same goes for Internet users. Users really like to see their websites broken into sections, and these sections broken into sections possibly, and they like to see navigation options between them displayed at the top of the page. Users have grown to like multicolumn layouts, and they've grown to dislike framesets ([4], [5]). That's all well and good.

My question, right now, is this: why do we have to always put nav links at top, have little cross-links in the body, and have a page layout that expands vertically, with only one column of text? Why can't I have, say, a picture gallery that's 600 pixels tall and 1300 pixels wide, scrolling from left to right? For me, that would be more intuitive. You're then interacting with a web page like you "interact" with the walls of an art gallery. Your mouse's position can tell the application where you want to go and what you want to look like, perhaps with a smaller version of it down below, scaled to view, so that the user can skip around via thumbnail links. If you're looking at a chart with relational data or a network topology displayed on it, why shouldn't you be able to click and drag the elements around to get a better view of them? Why can't you zoom in for more detail directly there on the page without having to go to another page that displays details?

You can. The only thing holding everyone back is that nobody's done any of this before. If your new system is intuitive and beautiful, if it's captivating and keeps people interested, then why not try it? The problem with interface design on the Web today is that nobody's trying anything, and it's really starting to bug me. This is not at all to say that nobody anywhere is trying anything at all to push the envelope. I'm just saying that I don't think anyone's trying anything that's truly unique to the Web, any kinds of interaction you can't find elsewhere in a better form.

I want to take the web and do something with it that nobody's thought of doing before, presented in a way that no one has ever seen but that they'll understand immediately. It should beckon users further into the interface without having some kind of annoying guide (Clippy, anyone? [6]). It should encourage users to play around and see what kinds of features they can discover on their own. A good interface should also prioritize so that features users want should never be more than two clicks away. It needs to retain the consistence of other user interfaces while at the same time increasing, overall, the variety of interactions possible.

That's all I've got for now. Give me a couple of weeks and then I'll show how I put all this into practice. Later, space cadets.

24 February 2007

I Got Somethin' that Makes Me Wanna Shout


11.21 No you won't.

11.21 I will!

11.21 no, you do not have r00t

11.22 I got w00t though, and that's what matters.

20 February 2007

A Life Without Functional Programming

man where the fuck would I be without lambda expressions?
Riddle me THAT, Nick!
I'd be lost and drunk in a gutter somewhere covered in filth, that's where.

that and swimming in bitches

13 February 2007

AR Season, Day 3: Snowed Out

Well, space cadets, it's that time of year once again. Time, that is, for online annual reports. Pretty much everyone on our client list at VSA has to put out an annual report every year around tax season, and pretty much every one of them wants to have a richly interactive online version up. That's where I and my esteemed colleagues come in.

So everything's been going fine. Great, actually. Most of the financial section for this annual report I'm working on presently were finished last night around 7 or so. We only had a handful of pages (about 13) to finish and that whole section would be done. Just when things are going great is when you know that something terrible is right around the corner, though, and just as I was saving my work on one of the pages, the power winked out. So, we developers and designers and project managers and information architects and whowhat sat around for a couple of hours telling bad pirate jokes and doodling things on the whiteboards. At some point in there, the IT folks notified us that the server room had to shut down because it was getting too hot in there.

So, we all started to pack up to go home, 'cause word on the street was that the power would still be out until at least 5.30 or so. Everyone's all packed up to go home, and suddenly, just as I was turning around to leave, the power comes back on. After a brief debate about whether it would be prudent to stick around now that the power's back on, everyone goes home anyway. So that's why I'm home so early on day 3 of AR season. *sigh*

Alright. Time to do some snowed-in relaxation. Later, space cadets.

18 January 2007

Hillary, Barack, Iraq, and 2008's Prospects

Those of you who've known me or have been reading my writing for a while will already know quite well my opinion of Hillary Clinton as a senator and as a presidential candidate. Now that Barack Obama has, essentially, thrown himself into the fray, I think some further discussion needs to happen.

First and foremost, this country seriously lags behind not in minority rights, but in minority status. Whereas minorities in this country have less and less every decade that holds them back, the fact of the matter is that the distribution of income and status in this country is neither uniform across race nor across genders. This is definitely the right time for more women and more people of all colours to get into politics. While I think it's fantastic that an increasing number of women are getting into politics (kudos and propers go out to Nancy Pelosi, our first female speaker of the house), I think there's cause for some caution in the 2008 elections coming up. Just as it would be wrong to vote for someone in a presidential election only because they were a man, it is equally wrong to vote for a woman only based on her gender. I feel like, with things the way they are and with Hillary Clinton running, there's a good probability she will get swept up by the gender vote.

This is a problem for me, because while I do think that Mrs. Clinton is very intelligent and certainly qualified for the Presidency, I disagree with so many of her policy decisions, stated opinions, and political allies that I could not bring myself to vote for her in '08. I think there are a tremendous amount of others in this country that, while perhaps not for the same reasons, do feel the same way. I disapprove of her record on the Iraq war, for one. Only just now is she saying that troops need to be redeployed away from Baghdad, and she voted in 2002 to approve the war to begin with. She has also ardently opposed any set timeline for troop removal. As if that weren't enough, she is buddies with Joe Lieberman and Tipper Gore, and supports their calls for censorship of video games—policies that I cannot abide.

It is definitely my opinion that, barring a serious coup from Obama or Edwards, Hillary will get the Democratic nomination, possibly by a wide margin. I don't think that she would perform well in a national election, though, and that's really the problem here.

Let's talk about Obama for a minute. Let's make this clear right off the bat: I like Obama. His continued, consistent opposition to the war in Iraq, work on improving Pell Grants (even though that bill got pigeonholed), and his immigration reform notions (which I found to be slightly more sensible than many alternatives) have all been pretty good. As a junior senator, though, the big question on everybody's minds is, is he experienced enough to be president? That I'm not so sure about. Even though I do think he'd have a pretty good chance of being elected, I'm not 100% sure yet whether or not he'd make a good president at this point. He's a junior senator here in Illinois, and he's only been in that national office for less than two years now. He did also serve in the Illinois state senate, but is that really enough? I believe it's possible, but I can't really know for sure.

We've still got a ways until it all throws down. For right now, let's focus on not letting this decaying republic fall apart. Until then, space cadets!

16 January 2007

Restoring Power to UCSC's Campus

Excerpt from a conversation I just had with Thom amid the power disruptions today at UCSC's campus.

Tom Gerdes (work)
11.50 it's dark. I'm tired of it being dark.
11.57 damn it max
11.57 make it less dark in here

max stahl
11.58 *starts a fire*

Tom Gerdes (work)
11.58 wooo... you rock. (power's back on)
11.59 that was actually kinda magical.

05 January 2007

On Safari

I wrote a long while ago about standards compliance and how the ACID2.0 test really is a valid thing to strive for, but today's experiences with Safari, which is ACID2.0 compliant, have shown me the other side of this argument. Standards, when you're talking about the world wide web, are by this point a constantly fluctuating near-consensus. This consensus, like any, is derived from the collective feelings of a lot of different users, web developers, and application developers. Since these can't agree (I'm looking at you, Microsoft) or can't keep up (that's right, Mozilla Foundation), what you get to develop for is a "standard" that is really just a mean value of everything everyone is doing right now. Browser vendors can't break existing, non-compliant sites by being too strict and web developers can't either. So things slowly, slowly, crawl.

Here's a conversation I had just earlier with Brandon while fighting with a web site that looked flawless in Firefox 1.5 and in IE6/7, but looked unbearably ugly in Safari. (Some editing was performed to clean up language and protect the innocent.)

Max: I cannot stress this enough. Real people with real lives shouldn't use Safari. It's shit.
Brandon: eh?
Max: Standards-compliant my aching ass.
Brandon: hahaha
Max: No I'm serious here.
Max: I do very little testing in Safari because every fix for Safari breaks everything else because nothing else complies to the standards like Safari does.
Max: So all the tricks I have to use to get things to work in IE totally break in Safari.
Brandon: ok, well that's IEs fault :P
Max: doesn't matter.
Max: You can't just sit back on your ass and be all like "Well, *we* comply with the standards" because it's not that simple anymore.
Brandon: yeah
Max: Like . . . Safari almost flawlessly conforms to CSS 2.0 and the XHTML 1.0 and 1.5 standards. Rockin'. That's great news. It still renders every non-compliant page out there worse than Henri Matisse without his glasses on.

The lesson to be learned here is that standards-compliance isn't everything, and until everyone in the whole world can bite the bullet and conform to just one standard, the internet's going to continue to be a frustrating place. I will say, however, that Brandon's right: this isn't all Safari's fault. It's IE's fault, maybe moreso than any other culprit out there. IE is always just far enough off the mark to make it really challenging to make richly styled pages work in both IE and Firefox. My point with Safari is that Firefox manages to be off the standard in similar enough fashion to IE that you can develop for both much easier than you could develop for Safari and IE simultaneously. That's the problem I've had today.

Until later, space cadets, I hope you're having more fun than I am.