Recently in Sundry Ruminations Category

On the GMail Release


GMail is finally out of beta. News is like getting a wedding invitation from that sibling who has been shacked-up for 10 years...

Thomas Jay Peckish II on Scientific Revolutions


One of Thomas J. Kuhn's most trenchant observations was that the bond between Parent and Brainchild, for most, remains unshakable even in death.
--Thomas Jay Peckish II

Thomas Jay Peckish II on 21st Century Epistimology


Page Rank has become, almost w/o anyone noticing, the very cornerstone of 21st Century Epistemology.
--Thomas Jay Peckish II

Thomas Jay Peckish II on 21st Century Media


Putting a talk on the web is like donating your body to science. You know it might be dissected in various unspeakable ways, by who knows whom, and that you won't be around to have very much to say about it...
--Thomas Jay Peckish II

Thomas Jay Peckish II on Fear of Failure


Q: What happens to people who are afraid to fail?
A: They fail.
--Thomas Jay Peckish II

Thomas Jay Peckish II on Professionalism


Do you really want the guy performing your triple bypass reading Surgery for Dummies before he gloves up?
--Thomas Jay Peckish II

Thomas Jay Peckish II on Diffidence


It’s better to be obnoxious than to be diffident...
--Thomas Jay Peckish II

Thomas Jay Peckish II on Hacker Demographics


You don't see a lot of former high school quarterbacks throwing exceptions for a living...
--Thomas Jay Peckish II

Thomas Jay Peckish II on Where Experts Come From


People like to think of experts as being the guys who are always right. Nothing could be further from the truth. Experts are people who are not afraid to be wrong. A lot. That's how they get to be experts.
--Thomas Jay Peckish II

Thomas Jay Peckish II on Teleonomy


Design the human body? You couldn’t do it. It is intricate beyond your wildest imaginings. The genome is smarter than you are! Way smarter.
--Thomas Jay Peckish II

A Tip of the Hat


A tip of the hat to fellow townsman Ken Schreiner for his kind words for Catfish in the Memepool over at Schreiner Video.

Ken evidently numbers his Georges relative to specific dynasties, rather than relative to the founding of the republic…



Given my penchant for pasting images into my posts, you'd think you'd be staring at one of those awful pictures from twenty years ago today right now, wouldn't you?. But plenty of people are posting those today, and I can still barely stand to look at them, twenty years later. Like the second plane hitting the South Tower, it's still too wrenching to watch.

January Twenty-Eighth is one of those dates etched in my mind, like 12/7/41, 11/22/63, 11/9/89, and 9/11/01, not just this year, but every year. I was a Kennedy-era kid who used to get up at 4:00 in the morning to watch Mercury launches. NASA TV is one of my favorite cable channels. I don't need to see the pictures. Apollo 1, Columbia, it's a busy season, alas.

As I was waking up this morning, I was recalling that scene, right after "go at throttle up" and trying to place what it was that it was reminding me of. I imagined myself looking up the stem of a giant poppy plant, with the poppy bulb at its top where the big external fuel tank explosion billow was. Here's a picture of a poppy bulb from the top.

I still breath a little sigh of relief during every live launch I've watched since when those SRBs peel off. "Get the hell off you SOBs!", I'll think to myself, chuckling in relieved amusement at my own puerile pun.

I was home on my old couch that day, working (according to my notes) on my Masters Thesis, of all things. In fact, the scene seen from inside my picture tube was probably not all that much unlike the one shown here. I was sitting with the TV off when my sister called up and said "the space shuttle just blew up!"…

But my purpose at the moment is not to merely to add to the chorus of somber reminiscence…

…except to perhaps add that whatever differences I might have had with The Gipper and his Gang, Peggy Noonan's tasteful plundering of the first and last lines of High Flight remains the high water mark for post-Kennedy administration presidential eloquence to this very day.

…in fact, my original purpose was to use this post as a introduction to some ruminations on the limits of reuse, but I think I'll try to put those together separately, and just finish this one here instead…

From a memepool epidemiological standpoint, I wonder how many posts today will contain the phrases "etched in my memory", "major malfunction" or "surly bonds of earth"… …I suppose when you are president, any use is fair use, attributed or not…

Ugly Stereotypes


Here's yet another scientific finding that will reinforce some ugly stereotypes about software professionals. The authors exhibited commendable restraint in avoiding a rather obvious, but puerile, opening for humor having to do with baseball equipment…

Tom Lehrer on Originality


It has long been my largely unrealized intention that an examination of the changing nature of originality in the twenty-first century, in an age of sampling and search engines, on a planet of seven billion souls, be an underlying, recurring, unifying theme of Catfish in the Memepool. My recent AJAX post is a case in point.

Paul Saylor

So, it is in this spirit that I'm going to indulge myself in a bit of personal nostalgia. Our peripatetic (but by no means itinerant) IBEAM Project Principal Investigator, Paul Saylor, made a scheduled stop at the Siebel Center as part of his winter tour last week, and was able, after an impromptu meeting, to offer me a ride home.

Paul is afflicted, thankfully, to a lesser degree than yours truly, with a weakness for the occasional dram (or is it a snifter?) of purple prose, and is, at times, well, a fellow big-word-using guy. It should suffice to say we are co-enablers when we get together.

It so happens that Paul had a CD by satirist and mathematician Tom Lehrer in the player in his rented van at the time. It engendered a veritably Proustian onslaught of rapturous recollections.

Tom Lehrer

Graeme Cree has described Lehrer rather well: "If you've never heard him, he's very similar to Mark Russell, except that he's funny."

As it happens, my dad was a big fan of Lehrer's records when I was growing up. I think he got them through a record club. We used to sit around the living room and listen them on our Motorola console stereo with him back during the reigns of John V and Lyndon I. I was just in elementary school in those days, and most (but not quite all) of the sociopolitical allusions were doubtless lost on me at the time. Nonetheless, my siblings and I somehow found them infectiously hysterical anyway, and I still remember them vividly (well, better than I have any right to be able to expect to be able to, anyway).

Still, I'd completely forgotten that Lehrer had written one tune in which he actually incorporated the names of all 102 of the known elements in the periodic table at the time, but there it was, and the conversation somehow turned to Lobachevsky. Lobachevsky, as Paul knew better than I, was the "father" of the hyperbolic strain of Non-Eulcidan geometry. The conversation quickly turned to intellectual paternity in general, even as the CD player turned to Lehrer's commentary on it.

It seems certain that I hand not heard this tune in forty years, long before I became a ivory tower hired-hand. But, suffice to say it sounded more relevant today than ever. Rather than comment any further on it myself, I urge the reader, should he or she be so inclined, to pursue the following primary sources: The lyrics are here. An MP3 can be found here.

In a similar vein, Lehrer's scathingly brilliant Werner Von Braun can be taken as trenchant, if not still timely, commentary on the compromises that are sometimes necessary to fund one's research.

Once the rockets go up...

Original thought is like original sin: both happened before you were born to people you could not have possibly met.
Fran Lebowitz

I don't have ideas. Ideas have me.
Thomas Jay Peckish II

And then I write
By morning, night,
And afternoon,
And pretty soon
My name in Dnepropetrovsk is cursed,
When he finds out I published first!
--Tom Lehrer, Lobachevsky

A footnote: Among the things I've always hoped to feature in Catfish in the Memepool were amusing tales of the sheer futility of the pursuit of original thought, especially in light of the fact that search engines have rendered it trivial to disabuse one's self of such notions. Its great sport. This is not to say that such occurrences are not original in the sense that they were independently conceived, just that such conceptions are more often than not unique. It's as if the memepool itself is ripe with certain notions, and we are merely channeling it. Channel Catfish…

Today's example: Here's a three-year old occurrence of the term meme-slinger I'd secretly, vainly hoped I might have minted in that AJAX post last week. Hackneyed though it may be, it still fit its subject to a tee…

--BF, just another Memepool Medium…

Before Coffee


Evidently, you may often be in worse shape during the first few minutes after waking up than you might have been when you retired the previous evening.

An amusing item from CNN this morning: "For a short period, at least, the effects of sleep inertia may be as bad as or worse than being legally drunk," said researcher Kenneth Wright of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Evidently, parts of the cortex do not rouse as quickly as other parts of the brain, hence a potentially (quite literally) groggy degree of impairment. This explains, in part, why I've managed over the years to make every conceivable mistake one can think of getting the coffee maker started... ...from forgetting the coffee, the water, the filter, the grinder, right through to the "on" switch ...before those higher cortical functions had woken up and kicked in...

What's next, holding the sandman accountable to dram shop laws?

In a truly just universe, dogs would live as long as people do...
--Thomas Jay Peckish II

OOPSLA 1989 in New Orleans


Doctor Dobb’s Journal stalwart Michael Swaine has some recollections of his last time in New Orleans that resonate with mine...

Indeed, Swaine’s post triggered a number of memories. One was a tale I related during our OOPSLA XX retrospective, but forgot to post here of an epic OOPSLA IV paper airplane contest at the New Orleans Hyatt. The Hyatt chain used to like to distinguish its hotels with daring feats of architectural legerdemain in their central atria, and the building in New Orleans provided the ideal setting for this contest. This contest was ultimately won with a breathtaking twenty-nine story corkscrew spiral into a ground-floor fountain by a entry crafted by Bjorn Freeman-Benson. An audacious display of atrial flutter. Memories of this site came back to me during the Katrina coverage.

In the spirit of free association, that Freeman-Benson recollection also triggered another Proustian recollection of good food, Bjorn's Bacchanalian gout-fest at OOPSLA '98.

Ironically, I became aware of Swaine's piece through an utterly unwarranted pot shot taken by some unctuous coprophagic who evidently treats the internet as his personal scratching post. This sort of puerile ad hominem invective is the kind of thing that give 'blogging, and yes, even sarcasm itself, a bad name. A side effect of totally disposable email addresses and weblog accounts is that they offer malcontents like this one anonymous access to single-use sniper’s nests…

John Vlissides


John succumbed to brain cancer on Thanksgiving Day, 24 November 2005. He was only forty-four. I will miss him a lot. Many of us will. We are holding something of a dry, virtual Irish Wake for John on Ward’s Wiki. I've posted some of this material over there, too. As of 12/9/05, that WikiWake page had been seen by in excess of 16,000 visitors.

The Gang-of-Four celebrated the tenth anniversary of the publication of 'Design Patterns' last year at OOPSLA 2004. Three of them, John (sporting the propeller), Erich (wielding the knife) and Ralph are shown here preparing to eat their words. John was the OOPSLA 2004 Conference Chair, and had made the trip to Vancouver at the price, we later learned, of having had to forego chemotherapy for a week. John is shown still in costume for his role as "Jimmy the Freshman" in "Dating Design Patterns", a skit that I had warned him might seriously undermine the dignity of the entire conference. John replied "What dignity?". For good or ill, this lesson has stuck with me. John had self-effacing sense of humor to go with his genuinely contagious intellect, a rare combination indeed...

One of my favorite memories of John is, of course, of the time we put him on trial for crimes against computer science. I’d wondered whether anyone would go along with this pretext, but John thought it was a wonderful idea for an OOPSLA panel. A clip of John’s plea in this case can be found here.

Another is from Vancouver Aquarium Event at OOPSLA 2004 when John, the Conference Chair, took time out from servicing the usual throng of dignitaries waiting to kiss his ring to chat with a couple of our new students. One of them, Spiros Xanthos, is from Greece, and was amazed and delighted that John took several minutes to chat with him about his ancestors and background in fluent Greek. Spiros will never forget it. I won’t either.

Photos ©2004 by Munawar Hafiz, Spiros Xanthos, and Brian Foote

The Co-optation of Collective Nouns


We were discussing how it sometimes seems that Computer Scientists have co-opted every reasonably abstract collective noun in (at least) the English language for uses as a technical term. The conversation turned to whether there were any left to exploit in the name of enlarging our arcane argots. Munawar Hafiz picks up the play-by-play here...

Thomas Jay Peckish II on Scholarly Discourse


Look, this is the twenty-first century. I think by now everyone knows exactly what it is that they are expected to do if they can't take a joke.
--Thomas Jay Peckish II

Peckish's Laws of Memetics


A Good Idea doesn’t care who has it.
--Peckish’s First Law of Memetics

A Good Idea doesn’t care who has it first.
--First Corollary to the First Law

Some people, on the other hand, do care about both, passionately.
--Third Law

Most people don’t care where it came from, so long as they are spared the effort of having the idea themselves.
--Second Law

Ideas want as many people as possible to have them, or at least harbor or play host to them. Other people’s ideas want other people to have them instead of your ideas.
--Blood in the Memepool / Memepool Predation

Happy 196th Birthday Charles Darwin


A program is more like a steam engine that a building. More like the immune system than an outhouse, or a skyscraper. A system is more like a city than a doghouse, or, for than matter, an ocean liner.

Organs have multiple functions for the same reasons towns due. It’s literally natural for them to do so.

Only planned towns have a single function. Company towns are dreary places to live. Do I live in one?

What is the analog to sexual selection in our area: feature-itis perhaps?

A Trophy Case for Memes

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Bookcase: a trophy case for memes.
--Thomas Jay Peckish II

Thomas Jay Peckish II on Deadlines

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Deadlines, unfortunately, are effective catalysts for converting potential energy into kinetic energy, albeit inefficiently.
--Thomas Jay Peckish II

My Favorite Movies


Nobody asked, but I gather this is something of a weblogging right-of-passage. In any case, I knew I'd started this list somewhere, and figured this is as good a place as any to keep it

  1. Dr. Strangelove
  2. The King of Comedy
  3. The Naked Gun
  4. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  5. The Fountainhead
  6. Duck Soup
  7. The Godfather II
  8. The Meaning of Life
  9. The Seven Samurai
  10. Groundhog Day

A few honorable mentions, in no particular order:

  • Carrie
  • Goodfellas
  • The Maltese Falcon
  • As Good as it Gets
  • Citizen Kane
  • The Birds
  • The Godfather
  • You Can't Take It with You
  • Adventures in Babysitting
  • National Lampoon's Vacation
  • The Missouri Breaks
  • Annie Hall
  • Donnie Darko
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • Brazil
  • Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
  • Patton
  • Bad Santa
  • The Producers
  • U-571
  • Contact
  • 8 1/2
  • Apollo 13
  • Dead Ringers
  • Drugstore Cowboy
  • Gettysburg
  • The Right Stuff
  • Naked Lunch
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  • The Bridge on the River Kwai
  • Amadeus
  • Dead Man
  • Blazing Saddles
  • The Color of Money
  • Galaxy Quest
  • The Silence of the Lambs
  • The Jerk

I'll undoutedly think of more. Ranking these is reminiscent of any peer reviewed process / process involving grading or ranking : broadly accurate, but fickle at the margins...

Transparent Aluminum

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This year's OOPSLA "Big Event" was held at the Vancouver Aquarium. I was here in 1998, when much of the facility was under renovation. At the reception, I had the opportunity, for the first time to go downstairs and gaze into the Beluga whale tank. These animals are a simple gorgeous sight to behold. I found myself laying on my back and gazing up into the water. I was a ineffably sublime experence.

Still, I found myself, somewhat to my horror, uttering the phrase "Transparent Aluminum", in an oblique reference to a plot element drawn from the fourth Star Trek movie. I'm not sure what was more frightening, that I dredged this up in the first place, or that every single person in the room knew exactly what I was talking about...

Hey, this place has the coolest screen savers I've ever seen.
--Thomas Jay Peckish II, at the Vancouver Aquarium

Photographs (C) 2004 by Munawar Hafiz and Spiros Xanthos

A Hail of Bullets


If you needed any additional evidence that Microsoft is taking security more seriously at OOPSLA this year, you need look no further than the two Korean destroyers docked next to the conference center.

Rumor has it that should any of the sizable Microsoft contingent come under hostile fire, these vessels could be used to quicky evacutate said contingent to Seattle.

Powerpoint is one of the most leathal weapons ever devised. You can be cut down in a hail of bullets before you ever know what hit you. Your slides can be siezed, and turned around so as to fire on your own troops.
--Thomas Jay Peckish II

Powerpoint is one of the most effect anti-meme agents in our arsenal.
--Thomas Jay Peckish II

I didn't know Microsoft had a Navy.
--Donald Bradley Roberts

O-O Canada


Guess Who? We've asked about 30 people the question: "Who is the Prime Minister of Canada?" For fairness, we've been excluding Canadian nationals from our sample. So far, one Dutchman, a New Zealander, and two Yanks have come up the the correct answer. (I'll withhold it for now, I may ask you later), but if you are reading this, you no doubt have the technical means to quickly find the answer yourself. Does Google spell death for trivia questions?

For the very first time, the majority of OOPSLA's attendees have come from outside the United States (51% to 49%). I would be tempting, but glib, to hypothesize that this is a consequence of what we Yanks call outsourcing. Hell, we’re even holding the conference itself “abroad”.

Don Roberts came up with the following quips on his way through Canadian Customs:
Customs Official: Are you bringing in the products of any endangered species?
DBR: I've got 3 gigabytes of Smalltalk code.

Customs Official: What is the purpose of your vistit to Canada?
DBR: To get a flu shot.
DBR: To seek political asylum.
DBR: To obtain inexpensive pharmaceutical drugs.

As to the last point, I’ve noticed that several of the younger guys around here were packing tissue paper, cut-rate editions of some of the same trade books we pay full price for in The States. I found myself reminded of the global economics of the pharmaceutical industry, where full retail drug prices in The States underwrite research, as well as cut rate prices elsewhere.

I was reminded of this haunting little ditty by one of my very favorite Canadians, Neil Young, as I contemplated this all:

Global manufacturing,
hands across the sea
The hotel filled with dealers,
everything was free
Before the competition,
ahead of all the rest
The product was presented,
it clearly was the best
The power link was ruptured,
the hotel shook and rolled
The old Trans Am
just bounced around
and took another road
--Neil Percival Young, Trans Am

The Death of Deletion

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OOPSLA XIX Memewatch (Installment #1)

The internet never forgets. The prospect of a parrot who siits on you shoulder should cause us to seriously think about refactoring the Fourth Amendment.

Like others here, I've been tinkering with Google's Desktop indexing tool. It's powerful, even wonderful, but rubs your nose in just how hard it is becoming to make things go away.

This is a lesson that ought to have been made clear to me a few OOPSLA's ago when I was party to accidentally exposing the URL's a series of purportedly anonymous reviews to the all-seeing eyes of the Google bots. Once anything leaks out of the bottle, its next to impossible to get it back in.

Still, I've been realizing I use my harddrives as if they were worm drives. An embarassment of storage riches is but one prong in the advance of this age of abundance...

Sure I could just Google it, but I like to listen to the way Grandpa tells it...
--Thomas Jay Peckish II

"Hundredth" Birthdays

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Notorious Gang-of-Four book author Ralph Johnson turned 100 today, were "100" reckoned in Radix 7.

It occured to me that "hundredth" birthdays, whatever the base, do an interesting job of dividing life into epochs: 4 (base 2), 9 (base 3), 16 (base 4), 25 (base 5), 36 (base 6), 64 (base 8), 81 (base 9), and, hence all the way up to that coveted Willard Scott show appearance... ...and maybe even 121...

A sort of Passages for New Math veterans...

Brian's Grandma on the Hazzards of Collaboration


He stirred the pot once and then acted as if he'd cooked the whole stew...
--Brian's Grey-haired Irish Grandma Mulligian

Big Dumb Boosters

| - Russia to build new spacecraft - Feb. 17, 2004

Start with something that works. And is cheap. This is so clearly the answer to the ISS dilemma that only a quaint, sentimental attachment to American jobs and the industrial base could cloud the call... Export tech jobs? Not America...

Prions Store State?


Prion proteins may store memories: Study hints at vital job for two-faced proteins.

Hmm, I meant to follow up on this one, but don't recall how...



U.S. News: Colin Pillinger, space scientist: Gambling big on life on Mars (12/29/03)

Who is to say that Earth hasn't contaminated Mars with its own meteor ejecta?

This article contends just this...

The Holocene Extinction

We are in the midst of the greatest mass extinction since the demise of the dinosaurs, and The Kill-Off describes whom (yes whom) is to blame, and why this culling differs qualitatively from those that have preceded it...

Fancy Continental Ideas


I'm as distrustful of and unreceptive to fancy continental scientific ideas, such as Pasteur's germ theory, as the next American. Thus, you can imagine my chagrin when, after being surrounded by people with a nasty respiratory ailment for most of the last week, I woke up with a seemingly identical ailment today myself.

Louis Pasteur I must reluctanlty concede that this Frenchman may have been on to something with these pathogenic contagion notions of his. I suppose, all and all, that this is a less unsettling explanation that divine retribution. In any case, I find myself with no voice. Except this one.

Heaven help us were ideas subject to this manner of contagion...

Boil Order


Champaign-Urbana was placed under a boil order yesterday after a power failure, followed by the failure of a backup generator allowed water pressure to fall below 20 pounds per square inch.

For some reason, I woke up thinking about outsourcing. Hmm, decrepit infrastructure, low-wage workworce, maybe we are downscale enough now to get back into the game...

Welcome to Tralfamadore


One of my sources for material for this weblog will be a collection of research diaries I've been keeping on paper since the mid-'80s, and electronically since 1993. As a result, entries might appear from time that will predate not only MovableType, but even the Web itself. This weblog may, in a sense, seem "unstuck in time" like Vonnegut's protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, in Slaughterhouse Five.

In general, I will reserve the right to revise correct, and extend such remarks (as they say of Congressional Record Entries), but will refrain from shameless, wanton revisionism in those (exceedingly) rare cases where an issue regarding intellectual paternity might concievably arise.

Bird is the Word


After sitting on my hands for over a year as to whether to switch on Catfish in the Memepool , I've decided to mark this Thanksgiving by remanding this turkey to its fate. I pledge that I will strive to ensure that it is never too dry or too filling, and sincerely hope will not put you too sleep. No desiccated desultory soporifics for me. No sir.

--BF, slipping into that familiar biannual tryptophan coma...

A Meme Mausoleum


I’m haunted by ghosts of stillborn brainchildren.

I need to exorcise them and bury them, and what better place to bury them than in a weblog. A weblog is like a graveyard for memes. A meme mausoleum. They at least deserve a decent, dignified burial. Every now and then, someone close to comes to visit and maybe leaves a few flowers. But most of the time they lie forgotten. May they rest in peace.

Happy Halloween...

--BF, in a pensive, slightly lugubrious frame of mind...

Anaheim's Etymology


I'm in Anaheim for OOPSLA 2003. Forgive my pidgin Deutsch, but I've found myself thinking about the lingusitic hybrid that names my destination. It's a peculiar locution. The suffix "-heim" in German mean "home", and is usually, I think, associated with something bigger than a "-dorf" (village, I think), but smaller than a "-stadt". Then again, size is relative, I suppose. The Ana is the same Santa Ana (Saint Anne) that gave the winds that are whipping those incredible brush fires down there their names. The marriage of the German -suffix with the Mex-American saints seems oddly charming. Only in Die Vereinigen Staaten...

Some of the long-in-the-tooth hotels sport what was supposed to pass for a Bavarian theme three or four decades ago. Like the name itself, this motif contrasts a little uncomfortably with the omnipresent palm trees. And like all of the Post War construction in Southern California, much of it hasn't aged all that well...

Roll On Columbia


I've back-dated this post to Sat., 1 Feb. 2003, now that I've removed my (somewhat obscure) tribute to Space Shutle Columbia and its crew from my homepage. It was/is an MP3 of Woody Guthrie's oddly pertinent Roll On Columbia.
--BF, who should probably post his recollections of that fateful morning as well...

by Woody Guthrie
(tune: Good Night Irene)

Roll on, Columbia, roll on
Roll on, Columbia, roll on
Your power is turning our darkness to dawn
So roll on, Columbia, roll on

Green Douglas firs where the waters cut through
Down her wild mountains and canyons she flew
Canadian Northwest to the oceans so blue
Roll on Columbia, roll on

Other great rivers add power to you
Yakima, Snake, and the Klickitat, too
Sandy Willamette and Hood River too
So roll on, Columbia, roll on

Tom Jefferson's vision would not let him rest
An empire he saw in the Pacific Northwest
Sent Lewis and Clark and they did the rest
So roll on, Columbia, roll on

It's there on your banks that we fought many a fight
Sheridan's boys in the blockhouse that night
They saw us in death but never in flight
So roll on Columbia, roll on

At Bonneville now there are ships in the locks
The waters have risen and cleared all the rocks
Shiploads of plenty will steam past the docks
So roll on, Columbia, roll on

And on up the river is Grand Coulee Dam
The mightiest thing ever built by a man
To run the great factories and water the land
So roll on, Columbia, roll on

These mighty men labored by day and by night
Matching their strength 'gainst the river's wild flight
Through rapids and falls, they won the hard fight
So roll on, Columbia, roll on

Christmas Eve Inagural


This was my inaugural MoveableType entry, back on Chistmas Eve of 2002. I've retained the candid, mirror-image webcam picture that may or may not have been taken while I was working on bring MovableType online that day.

Hybrid Vigor Revisited


The below is an impromptu rant. Post-bubble stray thoughts, a elegaic lamentation on the demise of America's unique, imperiled, indigenous hacker culture, in search of polish…

The Vision Thing: Hybrid Vigor Revisited

Programmers are concerned about the cultivation of software. What do we have in common with Farm Aid? It’s that for us, cultivating software is a way of life. I remember asking, only half in jest, why not save the programmers as well as the farmers. It was not a promising time to be in the bit cultivation business. The specter of Japanese software factories and fifth-generation job killers loomed. Ugly stereotypes had driven us from the breeding pool. And yet, there is a beauty in what we do, and in where we do it, and in, well, that way of life. Consumers don’t always see it when they sit down at their dinner tables, but its there, the caring. It’s there for us too, sometimes.

There are sweatshops as smelly as Carolina Hog Factory Farms. There are truck patches, and vanity vineyards, and vast corporate expanses the size of several counties. There is Hooterville, and the Provinces, and the Dacha Plot and the family farm of yore.

And then there is the product. Organic carrots, genetically modified soybeans, dairy cattle, corn by the bushel… Herbs, spices, fodder, and staples, and treats. These places we live are like that too.

Then there is the community. A dying way of life. A way of life is always dying, as others are being born. The cloud of dust metamorphosizes.

Some are vessels of conservatism. Some are buzz junkies. Some are novelty vampires. Some are producers. Some are selectors, consumers, cullers, rewarders, nurturers, customers, supporters…

The noble rustic as a metaphor: it’s entrenched. Just look back at Toefler.

The epic tale of Lewis and Clark: we really do make their arduous journey in hours. I’ve flown from St. Louis to Seattle. The progress we’ve made since the industrial revolution is astonishing indeed. It continues. Unabated. Indeed, it is accelerating.

The web, the thicket, the mélange, the beast, the Leviathan, is becoming more dense, more nuanced, more intricate. It sprouts fruit never seen right before our eyes, and begs us to taste them, and to name them, and to describe them. This is what we do.

The figs and the wasps: programmers and languages and their code. Only RPG programmers can allow RPG programs to change. The symbiosis is beautiful. The figs get sperm that can fly. The wasps get an abundant chow line, tailored just for them. Life is good.

Hillside: the National Geographic of Code. The Architectural Digest of Bits. Look at What We Have Done!

The Power of Patterns: We’re a bundle of four billion year old information. Did atoms learn? Are they themselves a record of the stability of the unlikely? A nice idea. You may not get there very often, but once you get there, you can stay there.

--BF, Back Down on the Farm

Thomas Jay Peckish II on Teleonomy


Your dog's DNA doesn't know its making a dog...
--Thomas Jay Peckish II, on Teleonomy

Peter Hatch on Marketing


If you spend 15 million dollars a month on marketing, you can sell dead dogs.
--Peter Hatch

Thomas Jay Peckish on the Tragedy of the Commons


Millions await he or she whom can make the mediocre feel u>special...
--Thomas Jay Peckish II

The Wright Stuff


Mechanization best serves mediocrity.
--Frank Lloyd Wright

Less is only more where more is no good.
--Frank Lloyd Wright

An architect's most useful tools are an eraser at the drafting board, and a wrecking bar at the site
--Frank Lloyd Wright

A doctor can bury his mistakes, but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.
--Frank Lloyd Wright

Space. The continual becoming: invisible fountain from which all rhythms flow and to which they must pass. Beyond time or infinity.
--Frank Lloyd Wright

I have been black and blue in some spot, somewhere, almost all my life from too intimate contacts with my own furniture." (1931)
--Frank Lloyd Wright

"Move the chair" -- Wright's response to a client who phoned him to complain of rain leaking through the roof of the house onto the dining table.
--Frank Lloyd Wright

I never design a building before I've seen the site and met the people who will be using it.
--Frank Lloyd Wright

Early in life, I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose honest arrogance and have seen no occasion to change.
--Frank Lloyd Wright

Today's Hygienic Reverie


You can't build a pyramid (as in Giza, Pharaohs, etc.) using a late-bound methodology. You'd get a haphazard heap of rubble. Some tasks require planning. Some tasks are plannable. Which is the superset of the other?

The Big Abacus

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How can we worry about changing the world when 70% of us are building the big abacus that the man uses to count his money.
--Thomas Jay Peckish II. observing that business applications constitute most of the software market, and that rising to Christopher Alexander's challenge to change the world is not an easy thing to do...

Mass-Producted Individuality


You know, the meme pool manipulates individuals. Are we it’s servants just as the phenotype is the survival machine of the gene? What I want to get at is the myth of individual originality… I’m increasingly becoming a believer in collective intelligence. Keeping an oar in the idea river is essentially to maintaining a healthy intellect.

Is this notion sour grapes on the part of the mediocre? Perhaps so… The idea of getting recognition for ideas like these drips with irony, which make them an amusing furrow to plow…

The Phantom Tollbooths


When will the tollbooths on the infobahn appear? My brother-in-law thinks it’s television, and that that’s how it will develop. I still think we need some pay-per-view channels, or some of us will have no means of “trading bits for pieces”… Fifty quatleus on the Earthling. What do you give away? Something cheap, one would think…

However, everything in the realm of bits is essentially expensive to develop, and very cheap to “produce” and disseminate. The marginal cost of additional copies is low, like seats on an airplane, or in a movie theatre, or viewers of a television broadcast…

Will netcasting channels be artificially made to be a precious resource? Certainly there are people who’d benefit from this.

There is some merit in the broadcasting analogy here… The movie studios and television networks have been in the business of charging for information for a long time…

We really will need verifiable identities on the net soon. People do know this… Dertzusos recognized on C-SPAN that anonymity is optional, if that’s the way we want it…

Listening to a really great guitar player play acoustic is like watching Michael Jordan play baseball...
--Thomas Jay Peckish II, on the merits of the electric guitar...

The Languid Pace of Nineteenth Century Correspondence


One of the things that attracted me to the idea of using a weblog for technical discourse, as compared with a news group or mailing list, is that the pressure to concoct an immediate, near-realtime contribution to a discussion is nowhere near as acute. Oh, sure the expectation that a reply would be warranted is still there, but somehow it feels more manageable. Correspondence can take on the same less hurried, more languid pace of correspondence among pre-electronic men-and-women-of-letters, if you will. "Sir Percival, I received your missive of 24 September 1854 with alacrity and delight, and hastened to my inkwell to craft a worthy retort…". Or some Merchant Ivory sort of response like that.

I'm afraid that despite having over twenty years of USENET and Internet history under my belt, I have remained, for the most part, something of an electronic wallflower. A lurker. A spectator. Pity that. Perhaps.

There is something comforting about not pushing one's opinions on people. The fact that they must be sought out, pulled, makes one feel less inhibited about make them (quasi-?, semi-?) public. In terms of pure exhibitionism, posting to a newsgroup feels a bit like nailing one's theses to the door of the castle church sometimes. 'Blogging feels more like sitting at home on the couch with the shades up and the curtains open, secure in the knowledge that no one is watching anyway…

Weblogs are little like scrapbooks too. As much so as diaries…

Of course, the one problem with a languid pace of correspondence is that it is easy to put off one's reply. Paul Graham will write a nice piece on procrastination about one hundred and fifty-one years from now…

Procrastination is what has made me everything that I ain't…
--Sir Thomas Jay Peckish the Elder

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries in the Sundry Ruminations category.

Politics and Religion is the previous category.

Trite and True is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


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