Saturday, September 23, 2006

Unstructured Weird Al-ity

Weird Al Yankovich's new album, Straight Outta Lynwood, is going to be in stores this Tuesday.

If you're impatient, you can already download it from Yahoo!Music, although you might want to get the actual CD/DVD since it has 6 videos, including animations by Bill Plymton and John "Ren and Stimpy" Kricfalusi.

In the meanwhile you can enjoy his new video, White and Nerdy.

That is all.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Kinetic Art

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Evil Empires

It is said that revolutions against tyranny invariably reproduce the tyranny they seek to overthrow. It is obvious that Google is striving to topple the Evil Empire of Microsoft. Many have rallied to them because of their "Don't be evil" mission-statement. Their recent entry into the censor-licious Chinese market has put some strain on that claim, and Bill Gate's recent charity work (in the form of the Bill and Melinda Gate's Foundation) has led others to question whether Microsoft is genuinely evil... or more like an innocent man-child rapacious appetites aren't really his fault at all.

That said, I'm a willing minion for the Google empire, if only because my overlords have much cooler toys than those other overlords.

The latest bit of candy that's being dangled before my bedazzled eyes are two online utilities that I've been wanting for years... an online spreadsheet and an online word processor.

Google Spreadsheet is a fully functional spreadsheet that has a look and feel that should be familiar to anyone who's every used Excel. It had a feature set that should satisfy everyone short of the most advanced power users, and you can easily share your work with others, if you so choose.

Writely was originally a third party online word processor. Google has recently bought them (much like they bought Blogger), but haven't quite folded them into the main Google label (again, like Blogger). Again, the product is a fully functional Word processor with a look and feel that should be intuitive to anyone that's used Word or any of the other major word processors out there (which would be... um, Word), and, again, you can easily share documents for mutual editing.

The single strongest feature of either product is that you can save and open Microsoft documents (as well as PDFs and other common filetypes), meaning that if you use Writely, for instance, you aren't isolating yourself from any collegues or businesses that prefer Word documents. Given that much of the Microsoft dominance of the market has been the fact that it's already dominant, this goes a long way towards providing a viable alternative.

Before I get flooded with dozens of irate letters from Linux users, I am aware that the open-source market has also had viable alternatives for Office products that allow for the same sort of cross-communication; however, in the majority of those cases, you have to install a new operating system on your machine (as well as new software) in order to use them... an act that's beyond that skill-set or comfort level of the ordinary user. Clicking on a link and being able to compose a letter than your boss will be able to read, on the other hand, is piece of cake. The fact that you don't have to install Office on your home laptop in order to do work is also a tremendous benefit -- so long as you have web access (and who doesn't, these days?). Likewise... and let's be honest here... the Google name, itself, gives people confidence. The average person has never heard of Red Hat, but everyone has heard of Google.

Will this finally break the MS stranglehold on these markets? Who can say. I know that Microsoft is taking a very serious look at them while Google is coyly saying that these utilities are merely ment to supplement the existing products and that, anyway, online collaboration is wholly different market (and that they have some Floridian swampland to sell to anyone who believes that). Meanwhile, Microsoft's lawyers are sharpening their canines. Time will, of course, tell.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Once upon a time the State of the Union address was just that... a report of the state of the Union by the President to congress. Since the television age, however, it's become a way for the president to get some free air time and, as a consequence, every president in recent history has used it as a political soapbox to push the party agenda rather than being an actual and objective report on how the country is doing.

I really can't fault G.W. for using it the same way as his predecesors have, although I am getting rather tired of 9/11 being trotted out and put in the spot-light every time there's an election year. I'm also astonished that 9/11 is still being used as a justification for the war in Iraq given that the administration has openly stated that there was no connection between the attacks of 9/11 and the former regime of Iraq... but not half as astonished as I am by the fact that a significant fraction of the public believes that such a connection did exist, all evidence to the contrary.

Be that as it may, here's a rather interesting video montage of the last SotU with everything but the hot-button words and phrases edited out. Of course this comes with the usual caveat that it is important to read the whole speech in context (and I do recommend reading it rather than listening to it -- it leaches it of alot of the unnecessary emotional overtones that can be conveyed by voice and expression). Never the less, it's absolutely fascinating to see how many times he hits those specific words and phrases.

Draw your own conclusions.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Polkas? Yeah, we got 'em!

What kind of madman would post two polka videos to his blog is the span of a single week?

Well, buddy... you're looking at him.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Unstructured Braaaaaaaaaains

When it comes to the undead, most people seem to prefer vampires to zombies. I can understand why. Vampires are sexy, they have that whole goth chic think going, and, really, which would you rather be? Never the less, I find that zombies are more fun.

Although you can certainly have more interesting conversations with a vampire, a zombie is never going to get all pretentious on you or bore you with long winded monologues on the "pain and agony of my eternal curse", nor will a zombie ever try to make you feel oh-so-subtly inferior to it. Let's face it, most vampires act like they're in an exclusive club and that, in all likelihood, you aren't going to be cool enough to get past the velvet rope. Zombies, on the other hand, are pure proletariat and will be perfectly willing to let you join their community. Zombies are all about inclusiveness and diversity.

Today's little bit of fun is the Zombie Simulator, aka The Incredible Zombie Machine v1.0b which, as the name might suggest, simulates a zombie outbreak in an urban area. The sim has a number of configurable parameters including number of normal humans and soldiers, soldier efficiency, whether or not zombies can break down walls, and so forth. It also lets you start dropping bombs when things threaten to get out of hand.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Leva's polka

Today we have a kick-ass Finnish polka. Just because.

(If you need a bit more visual, um, stimulation, here's a bit of eye-candy to go along with it.)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Unstructured Coolness

The one thing about Creationists that I can understand is the tendency to be overwhelmed by the complexity and beauty of the natural world. There is an understandable temptation to throw our arms up in the air and declare that it simply can't be the result of unthinking processes.

The problem, of course, is that it doesn't do to answer one mystery by positing yet another, even larger mystery. This is particularly the case when we attempt to account for something of finite complexity and comprehensibility with something that is supposedly infinitely complex and incomprehensible.

Be that as it may, the inner workings of a cell is one of those things that tugs at our intuition and which strains us to suspend disbelief. I think that it is no coincidence that the proponents of Intelligent Design love to harp of the workings of cellular biology so very much.

Today's link is to a video that shows those workings with some truely vibrant animation. It should be stressed that a few liberties were taken in order to be able to actually show anything at all (real cells are very crowded places that don't lend themselves to visualization) but that the essential scientific accuracy of the images are intact.

By the by, that funny little walking thing, towing a vesicle, is a kinesin and they really do walk much like they are portrayed as doing.

Sit back and be amazed.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Steve Irwin, Dead at 44

I'll spare everyone the dumb "crikey!" jokes. Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin has died due to injuries inflicted by a sting ray while filming an episode for his daughter's TV show.

Although most people will remember Irwin for his over-the-top persona and his daredevil reputation, I think his real legacy is as a conservationist and environmentalist who has helped to save countless endangered animals.

Requiem in Pace, mate.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Falling to Eternity

There was no preamble to the miracle, unless you count the thunderstorm that had marked the horizon, earlier. It was a beautiful storm full of thick, crooked, violet fingers. Perhaps it was a prelude, which would be right. If the sequence were reversed, it could only have been an anti-climax.

It was near to nine o'clock and I was outside. On a normal night I would have been inside, reading or watching television. I'm not sure what brought me out there. There was no sense of anticipation or foreboding, and none of my neighbors were out there with me. I just wanted to be alone under the sky. To have the feel of an early October sky on my face.

It was a moonless night and the stars seemed brighter than usual. It was as though every light in town has been dimmed or extinguished. It was like the stars that one can only ever see out in the country. I could see them very clearly, indeed, when they started to move.

I didn't jump or flinch or curse or, to best of my memory, say or do anything at all. I just watched.

The constellations were instantly distorted out of all recognition as parallax briefly revealed their true depths. All the familiar stars disappeared over the horizon in a matter of seconds as new stars streamed into and out of view in a continuous sequence that seemed, to me, to resemble a swarm of fireflies caught in a wind.

Some part of me wondered if the sun, too, had become unmoored from the sky. Was the entire solar system being carried across the universe, or was this a journey solitary to the Earth? Did even the moon accompany us? I looked for the planets but I couldn't discern any still, bright points in that flowing panorama. Perhaps they were below the horizon. Perhaps they were light years away. Perhaps I was simply too distracted and amazed to find them.

Suddenly the stars disappeared from the east and coalesced to the west. To my vast wonder I could see the entire galaxy, huge and edge on. Dust clouds riddled the vast central bar and the core was gigantic and so luminous I could see distinct shadows on the ground. Globular clusters hovered around the core like angels waiting in attendance to God Himself. I had seen many pictures of galaxies and have been to my share of planetarium presentations, but nothing could compare to the sight of our galaxy taking up a third of the sky. Some part of me wondered if it could possibly be this bright at this distance but, in the face of the impossible, one doesn't worry too much about the details.

By and by the Milky Way itself receded into the distance as other galaxies crawled, walked, and then sprinted across the heaven's vault. Most were tiny blobs: spiral, elliptical and occasionally irregular. Others would briefly loom over the entire sky, turning it blue with their brightness. Some we plunged straight through. And still we traveled, and still we accelerated.

I wondered about the physics of it. I didn't see an evidence of Doppler shift or Relativistic foreshortening. The atmosphere didn't glow with Cherenkov radiation. I wasn't being baked by hard gamma radiation or a superluminal flux of cosmic particles. I didn't feel the least tug of acceleration. Perhaps we were exempt from the rules. That seemed to make the most sense.

I wondered how many people confined themselves to watching this marvel on TV. I wondered when it would end. I wondered if it would end. I wondered if this was, in fact, the End that we've been imagining since the beginning of days. If so, I could think of worse eschatons.

Faster and further. Deeper and farther. Falling to eternity.

By and by I fell asleep, out on the grass, under that transcendent sky. I wouldn't have thought it possible but, even in the face of miracles, the mind becomes overwhelmed and the body demands its rest. By the time I had woken up, we had arrived.

Now we are here, and happy.

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