Oct 29

Children of a Lesser Good

Regular readers of this blog are probably pretty clued in about my better-known software projects – gpsd, fetchmail, giflib, libpng, INTERCAL, ncurses, Battle for Wesnoth, Emacs VC and GUD modes, and the like. If those are the best, what about the rest? Here’s a tour of some of the lesser-known stuff I’ve written or had my fingers in. Warning: obscurity, trivia, and obsolescence lie ahead!

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Oct 23

Tetris, Torture, and the Gorilla-Arm Problem

Every time computing technology changes, we learn something new about the affordances of being human. I got my most recent lesson when I discovered DroidTris, a clone of the popular falling-blocks game for Android. As it turns out, a touchscreen version of Tetris works really, really well – and in doing so, it sheds new light on one of the classic ergonomic blunders of computing history.

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Oct 22

Krythar: a world that almost was

One of the experiences that made me swear off proprietary software was doing some designing of a fantasy-world map with a proprietary program I have long forgotten; this would have been in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Of course the program became obsolescent and nothing else could read the map….I recently stumbled across a copy of the text I wrote to accompany the map, mod-dated 1994 but probably a few years older. There’s a continent of Krythar in the Neverwinter Nights universe, but this long predates it.

Explore with me now the world of Krythar. Because the “accompanying map” no longer exists, it will never be.

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Oct 17

Retired, Extremely Dangerous

It’s not giving much away to tell you that the title of the new action comedy “RED”, stands for “Retired – Extremely Dangerous”. My wife uttered the most succinct possible praise of this movie when she said, as we were leaving the theater, “This was the movie The Expendables should have been.”

Indeed it was. This fun flick about theoretically-superannuated Spec-Ops assassins forced back into the game is light where The Expendables was leaden, moving where The Expendables was preachy, and funny where The Expendables was plain stupid. Who knew Bruce Willis could do comedy from inside his action-star persona? OK, to be fair, a certain amount of wry deadpan humor has always been part of the man’s shtick, but in this movie he gracefully crosses over into spoofing all his previous tough-guy characters, with genuinely hilarious results.

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Oct 05

Kill the Buddha

There’s a Zen maxim that commands this: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him”

There are several closely related interpretations of this maxim in Buddhist tradition. The most obvious one is that worship of the Buddha interferes with comprehending what he actually said – that religious fetishization is the enemy of enlightenment.

While I completely agree with this interpretation, I’m writing to argue for a more subtle and epistemological one. I interpret Zen Buddhism as a set of practices for not tripping over your own mind – avoiding our tendency to bin experiences into categories so swiftly and completely that we stop actually paying attention to them, not becoming imprisoned by fixed beliefs, not mistaking maps for territories, always remaining attentive to what actually is. Perhaps the most elegant expression of this interpretation is this koan setting forth the problem: “The mind is like a dog. His master points at the moon, but he barks at the hand.”

In this sense, Zen is discipline that assists instrumental rationalism by teaching important forms of self-monitoring and mental hygiene – in effect very similar to General Semantics.

In this interpretation of Zen, “killing the Buddha” can be taken to stand for a very specific practice or mental habit. Here’s how it works:

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Oct 03

Indistinguishable from malice

I believe it was the historian Robert Conquest who said that every organization eventually behaves as though it is run by a secret cabal of its enemies. I have seldom seen any more convincing evidence of this than the “No Pressure” video released by the anti-global-warming activist campaign 10:10.

Watch it. Go ahead, I’ll wait. You might have to Google for “no pressure video”, as there seems to have been a concerted attempt by 10:10 and its allies to scrub this thing off the public Internet when they realized what a colossal blunder it was. It’s not pleasant viewing – children being blown up and rivulets of gore spattering in all directions – but you have to actually see it to grasp how callous, awful, and anti-humane it actually is.

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