Message Of The Day

Fri, 18 Nov 2005

05:19 [zork(~)] cat PlusGood.txt

Testin' and reSTin'

Today just gets better and better. Not only did I hear that my old apartment management agency has agreed to part withy my security deposit (!) but I just found out that tomorrow they'll be showing my favourite holiday film, The Ref.

Mon, 14 Nov 2005

02:03 [zork(~)] cat DoneAndDusted.txt

Don't worry. Be happy.

[Back again to finish up after a net hiccup]

I don't recall "mumbling" but Woohoo for reST! I will soon stop polluting the airwaves with HTML. Thanks, Nick, for reducing the LRV content on Laziness to a managable level. I assume that there is a sooper seekrit LRV-only RSS consolidator hidden somewhere (underground). I also need to treat you guys to cre^pes and/or tea and/or Guinness and/or just a good time at some point in the near future.

I just re-read the previous note I posted here and am amused by how much I had wound myself up before my trip back to IL. As it turned out (as it always does) all those worries were groundless. While things didn't go perfectly to plan (e.g. they cancelled my early morning flight from SFO and merged us with the next) it all worked out just fine. I made it in time on Friday to meet the gang in the bar, both to welcome me back and also to say goodbye to one of my ex-associates who had just finished his last day at the old place and was about to follow in my footsteps (or wheel ruts) over to here (now dubbed "The Promised Land"). The IL apartment agency decided not to make a fuss over my leaving (but whether or not I'll see my deposit again is another matter...) and they were fine about my staying in my old place for a few days. I found that they had completely redecorated the apartment in my absence. As well as fixing some long-standing problems they had upped the level of finish so that it looked a good deal better than when I first moved in. It was a little bizarre sleeping on an air mattress under a camping blanket and my coat but that helped give me complete closure on leaving the place. It definitely isn't mine any more. Closing the electricity, gas, phone and bank account went off okay and I had time for Saturday dinner with a friend/ex-colleague and her family followed by Sunday brunch with another friend/ex-colleague and his family unit (they'll also be leaving for The Promised Land early in 2006). On the Monday I snuck back into Ye Olde Salte Mine to meet with my co-authors to work on our current opus. I dodged all in my old department while I was there. IL decided to treat me to the full range of weather - warm and sunny when I first arrived, cool grey and overcast on the Sunday and raining on the Monday. It was good to see the autumnal colours, although the trees outside the window of my new office are changing so I am getting a hint of seasons.

Work at the new place is going very well and I am being eased into my new post. After experiencing first-hand how badly new management can affect a group of people I have no intention of barging in and throwing my weight around. Just to emphasise that point I had two calls from people back in the old department telling me about the latest shenanigans there. Both people were very depressed and one will probably leave. Part of this was triggered by the departure of another of our colleagues. He handed in his notice which apparently infuriated the manager who blew up, called HR and had him escorted from the premises with no opportunity to work notice. The rest of the department were then threatened with the same treatment. People in other departments are horrified about what is going on. The amazing thing is that the new manager has all of the company's senior management completely fooled and is heaping the blame on us who have left. I'm worried about what will happen to all of my friends. On the positive side I have even more confidence in my new company as they are losing a significant rival as they cripple themselves with all of this self-destructive behaviour.

Thu, 27 Oct 2005

05:00 [zork(~)] cat ZarroBloogs.txt

Ha Ha Laziness

I've been enjoying Nick's experiment in bringing together a critical mass of blogs on a single subject. Since one feed cross-references another a single update from one feed generates enough traffic to push everything else out of the Laziness view. The downside is that I can no longer use Laziness to catch up on the latest versions of the toons that it used to receive. I haven't managed to catch Spamusement on the Laziness page in weeks. The sad thing is that one picture of a city rail station sign is cute, poignant, art, whatever but several dozen per day is just sad. The cross-linking emphasises the lack of original material. Hopefully the same exercise can be repeated with a more specialised interest group.

Life is pretty good at the moment, so good that I am getting suspicious. My new colleagues are great but I can't get used to having really competent management above me. I keep expecting them to drop the mask and start acting solely to promote themselves. Similarly I can't get used to how competent the drivers are here. I am not saying they are perfect but they do odd things like stopping at red lights and using their turn signals. The crazy thing is that people also anticipate what others are doing and will make space and slow down or whatever. Back in Lake County Illinois people are so self-centred that the idea of cooperative behaviour just doesn't cross their mind. I realise that they absolutely do not typify mid-westerners but I loathe them all and condemn them to a lifetime of having to deal with each other. The bad thing is that I have to go back there this weekend to close up my old apartment. Naturally the rental agency is trying to screw me out of my deposit. I'll definitely be shaking the dust from my feet when I finally leave. Good riddance! Mercifully the new manager at my old job is apparently acting more and more crazy so people are leaving in all directions. Two more friends will be joining me in the Bay Area (at other companies) before the end of the year. It also turns out that the insane manager has a long history of acting the way they do. They were managed out of three jobs in rapid succession (the explanation of "I had to move to follow my spouse" is complete crap. I knew my previous company was on the way down hill but this is more than a coup de grace. This is dancing on the grave.

This weekend had me on an intensive tour of the peninsula and city with the aim of finding places to rent and/or (ahem) buy. My guide chosen by the relocation agency was great fun and showed me some of the hidden gems both down here in San Mateo county and in some of the neighbourhoods in the city. While I had previously travelled all over I still had plenty to learn. I wasn't aware of towns like Redwood Shores (wouldn't want to live there, but good to know that it exists) and was amazed at how the Mission Bay area has changed over the years. I haven't decided on my final plan but I don't have to move from my temporary housing for another couple of months so I don't have to rush. I definitely need to move nearer the city, or at least within BART distance. I haven't tried Caltrain yet.

The only negative thing that has happened to the area since I left is the increase in traffic. Since I don't have to face a horrible daily commute (I am currently 5 minutes from work) this doesn't affect me too much. One Sunday I made my obligatory pilgrimage to Point Reyes and CA1 was still eminently drivable and the beach (Limantour) still large enough to swallow the visiting humanity.

No, moving back here was definitely not a mistake.

Mon, 03 Oct 2005

05:15 [zork(~)] cat Fostah.txt

Beaujolais! le Nutella Nouveau est arrive!

Made it! After about 2350 miles I arrived in Fostah City this afternoon. I have stories of the journey to relate (being woken by armed police at 1:00am in Nebraska was one of the highlights) but being in a rather splendid apartment overlooking the marina suggests that it was all worth it. Free internet access is also a big plus. Tomorrow is the first day at the new job so I need to do some reading. Later droogies!

Wed, 21 Sep 2005

05:30 [zork(~)] cat StatusReport.txt

Beaujolais to frotz!

I guess I have a lot of catching up to do. I'll leave the movies, books and music for a quieter occasion. My last day at my current job will be this Friday. I thought I'd get the chance to laze around and drive slowly in a westerly direction for a week or so but an appointment here has popped up sooner than expected and I can't leave until next Wednesday afternoon at the earliest. (parenthetical GAR - I forgot to bring my favourite .vimrc from zork and the default is annoying) The truck arrives to pick up my stuff early Thursday morning. I've been packing tonight but have to get up very early tomorrow for a special study at work. I can't sleep because of stress and I can't pack sensibly because of fatigue. The plan tomorrow is just to pile all the stuff I can't do without (for three months) in one room and then box up the stupid crap. The moving folk are supposed to pck the rest of the stuff so I'll leave the domestic things for them. I need to burn the backup discs for my main computer tomorrow.

I am looking forward to an almost empty apartment on Thursday evening. Expect the update then. Just to taunt me the library has the special edition of 12 Monkeys and I don't have time to watch it.

Hmmm... the Zork motd web page doesn't update as quickly as it used to. This could be a problem as I tend to save rough versions of these entries and then check them in the browser. Time to start being less lazy (speaking of which, I didn't see the frotz entries in laziness).

Tue, 20 Sep 2005

05:27 [zork(~)] cat Transferred.txt

Testing, testing!

Is this thing on?

Mon, 01 Aug 2005

08:00 [zork(~)] cat Lullaby.txt

At this rate we'll never reach the future

I'm in some kind of Nowhere Land at the moment, waiting for the countdown to start. This is something like 4.5 years ago but with more restrictions. The only way to survive looking forward to it is to pretend it isn't actually going to happen.

On a similar front I'm a step nearer to stability over here. I had the official medical and received two arms full of immunisations I didn't really need. This is somewhat ironic as I also had to go for a chest X-ray because of the policy of not believing that some immunisations actually work. Thanks to the medical it is reassuring, if not surprising, to find I have a clean bill of health.

The conference in NH was good and it was nice to see some familiar faces and talk some darned good science. On the way back I had half a day in Boston to kill and enjoyed hiding from the gross weather in the Museum of Fine Art. My original plan was for a trip on a DUKW, as that had been recommended by several people, but they were sold out for days. I had seen those vehicles doing the tours in Seattle and I understand that they are already in Chicago and now heading for San Francisco.

While at the Prudential Center arcade looking for the DUKW tickets I headed to Barnes & Noble for something to read and ended up with Palahniuk's Invisble Monsters. As ever he had me hooked in very short order. Here's a fragment;
Don't expect this to be the kind of story that goes: and then, and then, and then.
What happens here will have more of that fashion magazine kind of feel, a Vogue or a Glamour magazine chaos with page numbers on every second or fifth or third page. Perfume cards falling out, and full-page naked women coming out of nowhere to sell you make up.
Don't look for a contents page, buried magazine-style twenty pages back from the front. Don't expect to find anything right off. There isn't a real pattern to anything either. Stories will start and then, three pages later:
Jump to page whatever.
Then, jump back.
I have decided that this is a perefectly adequate description of how real life works. Why did I have to go so long before seeing it laid out so clearly.

Actually, I have only just started reading Palahniuk as I concentrated on Salmon of Doubt beforehand. That, as I have mentioned elsewhere, was excellent, especially because I didn't expect it to be.

I have been back to the library after a long gap. Since I don't anticipate such a well equipped outfit in my next port of call my current rule is "if you see something that interests you, however vaguely, borrow it immediately" as I have previously been in circumstances where I have put off checking something out only to have to wait for weeks for it to reappear. This is a circuitous explanation for my currently listening to film soundtracks The Civil War (Ken Burns' banjo and fiddle collection) and Black Hawk Down. I borrowed the latter because of several pieces that made me curious. The general mood is a mixture between Midnght Express, Hawkwind and Nine Inch Nails but Danez Prigent and Lisa Gerrard's Gortoz A Ran - J'Attends sounds like Clannad. It wouldn't surprise me to hear some of these tracks being used as backing music on This American Life or on one of Joe Frank's programmes. Speaking of Joe Frank, while heading home late from Ron and Sue's after the July 4th BBQ, I came across Ken Nordine's Word Jazz which has a little of the Somewhere Out There kind of feel.

For my viewing pleasure I borrowed 《不散》 which was bizarrely fascinating. If someone had told me that Tsai Ming-Liang would have been able to come up with a fillum with even less dialogue than The River or What Time is it There (or more rain than Rebels of the Neon God) I wouldn't have believed them. Wow! He also uses the familiar faces in yet different roles. While looking at the new materials section in the library I also picked up a disc of Seinfeld's HBO performance. I have to say that I don't understand what people see in his stand-up material. Maybe the American psyche isn't happy without someone being condescending to them. Maybe a big gap emerged, about 1776, and this is the way to fill the void.

Speaking of voids, thanks to the change in management work seems to be just one grey vacuum at the moment. The light at the end of the tunnel has definitely been extinguished. I have appropriated Crackmonkey's singularly apt description of "Slow train wreck. No brakes. and now everyone uses it. I was delighted to see Nice Pete's quote today. I must remember that next time departmental management decides to comment on my work.

Sun, 03 Jul 2005

21:55 [zork(~)] cat zombies.txt

You've got red on you

I have one more trip to make this summer (unless I am unlucky, in which case I'll get to Maui). This time next week I should, once again, be in the wilds of Noo Hampshah. I will not be unhappy to bid the airlines a farewell after that one is over. The "box lunch available for purchase" is bad enough but it seems that they now only show the crappiest of films. Maybe they're afraid of some passenger sitting there for a few hours pirating the latest blockbuster from the screen in the seatback using the camera built into his cellphone. I demand good fillums so I can feel self-satisfied when I ignore them and read my book instead. The flights I have been on have actually been relatively short-haul which means the screens are in the ceiling which are harder to ignore (but even harder to watch). Thankfully 50% of the time the aircraft film system has been out of order. This left me with The Pacifier (Vin Diesel remakes Kindergarten Cop), Hitch and Robots. The last one was actually the most disappointing as Ice Age is perhaps my favourite animated film, ever. They should have made this one as a homage to Apocalypse Now with Brando playing Bigweld. Everything else follows naturally.

Since I hadn't been to the library for a few weeks they had a few new offerings. I snapped up Shaun of the Dead without a second thought. Damn. More, please. This reminds me of when I was a student and a group of us decided to write the ultimate horror thriller war film and we ended up with Necropolis Now!. Maybe I should resurrect that project. The TV/preview accompanying each in-flight movie featured the U.S. version of The Office. OhDearOhDear.

While I was in the library I picked up GEB again. Further along the shelf was Mathematical People (a series of interviews). I've enjoyed reading the chapters about the names I recognise (Conway, Erdös, Gardner, Kemeny, Knuth, and Mandelbrot). I also found that TeX stands for "Tau Epsilon Chi" (maybe I should RTFM more often). My favourite quote was from someone about whom I was previously unaware. Persi Diaconis said "I can't relate to mathematics abstractly. I need a real problem to think about it, but given a real problem I'll learn anything it takes to get a solution." I can relate to that completely. Another great quote is " cast about and find the tool to work with, and very often some mathematician will have created the perfect tool just because it is beautiful. Nothing pleases me more than being able to take something and apply it to solve a problem." AMEN! Look at the parallels in problem solving in science in general. This is just so apt. These days the "beautiful tool" would be patented and there would be no straightforward way to attack the problem. ...and people wonder why the pace of innovation is slowing down...

I see that Zork will soon be on the move. Hopefully the same will be true of me.

Wed, 22 Jun 2005

03:34 [zork(~)] cat cluckcluck.txt

I am a chicken

I am back from my midwest and Pacific coast tour. Cities included Kansas City (MO), San Francisco and Seattle. I'd love to write more about my new job opportunity but sites streaming copies of this have decided to use my real name so it is probably not a good idea. I'll be back when I am safe or when I can find somewhere anonymous or when I am less excited about what is happening in my life. I have no book, music or fillum-related comments at this time.

Au revoir droogies!

Thu, 02 Jun 2005

02:09 [zork(~)] cat InstantGratification.txt


No sooner do I complain about something than some kind soul fixes it. This is not an attitude that should receive positive reinforcement, but wow, that's what I call service!

Tue, 31 May 2005

04:14 [zork(~)] cat philosophy.txt

It's an empty journey to triumph if you don't plant the seeds of catastrophe along the way

I believe that I have previously mentioned that all the philosophy I have ever needed I have learned from cartoons. So, I hope the lack of that one from laziness is only due to lag (my vote is to dump "Fudge Factor"). Anyway, I am persisting with GEB and am generally enjoying it. I don't buy the notion that there's any kind of common premise but taken as a simple discourse it is quite entertaining (if a little condescending). I enjoyed the Game Theory books more. My main evening read is a selection from the library's big P.K.Dick collection as I need to make the most of it while it is available.

I am no longer lying on the bed with my laptop as I post this. Instead the landlord has installed a few wireless reapeaters throughout the building so, while the strength is "poor", I haven't had to drag my desk over to the door to allow my PCI/PCMCIA adaptered card in my desktop to make contact. Hurray!

As a bizarre coincidence I noticed Mr. Neakums' post on 12 Monkeys after just having returned the library's (VHS) copy for the umpteenth time. My other selections had been the Director's version of Jackie Brown (worth tolerating Mr. Tarantino's rambling to see the very funny alternative opening) and the Director's version of In the Mood for Love. I need to borrow the latter again as I didn't make the most of it. I appreciated them including in the booklet the text of Liu Yi-Chang's Intersection / Tête-Bêche which was the inspiration for the fillum.

Life has suddenly become interesting as I have an interview next Friday in Foster City. I don't know how to rate my chances but it would be perfect if I could land it. Current management have done many annoying things but one heartening thing to hear is that I have done a reasonable job as a supervisor so all of my technicians are considered in line for promotion. That would allow me to leave with a clear conscience.

So, provisionally, I am calling FNICNAFS for the 10th, or maybe I could do brunch on the 11th as the return flight isn't until the evening. I'll be south of BART but I can try and do something with SaMTrans or I'll get a taxi or shuttle. Anyone interested?

Sat, 14 May 2005

18:24 [zork(~)] cat LatestGreatest.txt

Blah blah blah...

After hearing so much about it I finally brought home a copy of Gödel Escher Bach from the library. After three nights of tough reading I have finally made my way through the "Twentieth-anniversary Preface". Since I am a complete know-nothing I can blithely offer the opinion that Mr. Hofstadter has a HUGEly high opinion of himself and his work. I hope that this isn't going to be another ZatAoMM literary masturbation-fest. I am persisting. When it gets too annoying I alternate with a book I found nearby on the shelf. John L. Casti's Five Golden Rules is very readable. He covers Game Theory (Minimax), Topology (Fixed-Point), Singularity Theory (Morse), Computation (Halting) and Optimisation (Simplex). My maths knowledge is too poor to apreciate the details but otherwise the material is quite accessible. After digging into the first chapter I headed straight back to the library to pick up some more books on Game Theory and now I tend to see situations in my life in terms of payoff matrices.

My viewing has been varied. I watched Tim Burton's Ed Wood which is worth seeing if only for Martin Landau's amazing portrayal of Bela Lugosi. He's come a very long way since Mission Impossible and Space 1999. This is another film that Bill Murray doesn't screw up. Having seen one bad film I then plumped for Mystery Men as I had been curious what Tom Waits was up to (and Eddie Izzard?!). Mister sanity made a return when I picked 《千禧曼波》. This was a suprise to see as I hadn't particularly liked 《海上花》 and so didn't know what Hou Hsiao-Hsien was capable of (I have also seen another couple of his films). Obviously a big part of the mood of this one came from Shu Qi's performance but the whole setup was quite spooky. Is there really a "Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival"? (I sure hope so) Yikes! It seems that Pauline Chan killed herself the year after the film was released.

A decision was made to put laboratory workers in our departmnent on a hearing monitoring programme. This is probably because all the labs now each have several mass spectrometers and their turbo pumps can really scream. Even though I only make token lab appearances lately I wasn't exempt and so was tested (sit in a soundproof box with headphones and listen for the beeps). I was pleasantly surprised to find that, despite the heavy metal concerts in my youth, my hearing is actually on the good side of normal. A side-effect is that this means that other people are correct - I just don't pay attention.

I'll leave out any detailed descriptions of what has been happening at work. Suffice it to say that departmental management were all off to another site last week and there was much rejoicing. On the big plus side I had another mentorship meeting with Big Science Guy and he is very interested in what I have been up to (he wants to work on my department's management to tell them to back off and let me do my thing - and since he is a VP he can actually do that). I mentioned that I had been dabbling with some transcriptional network modeling using some of the programs I mentioned here and he became very animated and wants me to look into it all in more detail. I have thus been playing with Dizzy which is quite cool. It reminds me of the simulation side of Winnonlin (and the ODE modules have about the same capability) when specifying microconstants but the stochastic modules are fascinating. It is addictive running simulations of systems with only a dozen or so molecules of reactants. I need to understand how to compartmentalise the reactions (or actually how to shuttle species between compartments).

I still haven't finished reassembling my "spare parts" box. The stamped aluminium plate that covers/supports the motherboard connectors doesn't have a hole for the ethernet port. I need to file/saw/gouge something before I can finally put it all together. Too many of my projects seem to trip embarassingly at the finishing line like this. One stimulus for closure might be that the landlord has apparently decided to fit all the units with airconditioning. I arrived home one evening to find a note from the landlord's agent telling me they had scouted my apartment for locations. There was no comment about the gutted computer with miscellaneous parts, manuals and tools spread over the living room floor. I assume that they must have seen much worse.

Random Thoughts
Life needs tab completion for everything (and grep, of course).
Laptop touchpads are the world's stupidest pointing device (especially when in combination with pointing sticks as you have to crab your hand over it to avoid touching it). They must have been invented by those in league with people profiting from RSI work.

Mon, 25 Apr 2005

04:09 [zork(~)] cat hhk.txt

Zork is king!

No, advogato shouldn't have all of the nutella news! My Sun Box is now working nicely thanks to eBay (no URL). I located a keyboard replacement. I was actually considering a Happy Hackimg Keyboard but the price for a new keyboard is exorbitant and anyone who buys one loves them so much they don't want to sell them (bastards!). Since I am a VIm addict I would prefer the Lite 2 beastie with the arrow keys but this comes without the Sun option. I thus have a new old Sun keyboard and have ordered a Slot 1 motherbord to fix the other problem. I'll let you know how things work out.

Sun, 17 Apr 2005

04:55 [zork(~)] cat Eccles.txt

Nothing new under the sun

I started to write a new diary entry and then made the mistake of looking back over my previous scribbles. GAR! It is clear that I have nothing new to say.

Life at work still has its ups and downs. I have been given the chance to be mentored by someone I hold in very high regard but my immediate management is still a constant source of frustration. My associates are wonderful people and I want to do my best for them but they know I am not 100% happy. As of Friday I have been at the same grade for >3 years and no guarantees of change in the near future.

The job possibility on the east coast has upped their offer but their circumstances are less secure and the Nebraska INS office is still moving too slow (currently processing Sep 2002) to give me any reassurance. I have been though another telephone interview for another very nice west coast job but I know there are a lot of people out there competing and so I am not holding my breath. I made myself extra miserable by playing with Google maps and remembering that I used to live here. I then took some virtual trips up to Point Reyes and then down the coast to Pescadero Beach and across the peninsula to I280. I enjoyed getting the road lost in the trees and finding that Google's images include both summer (golden brown fields) and other (green and cloudy) pictures. There's also a few non-seamless junctions where a road runs to the edge of a tile and then leaps wildly to the left or right. But still...

Nothing new on the music front. I've been cycling some old favourites through the CD player on the way to work. No new books and no inclination to look for any. For films I am still relying on my colleague. Zhiwen is a big fan of Feng Xiaogang and started me with 《天下无贼》 which is darned good. I knew I had seen Rene Liu before but had to look back to find that she was the star of The Personals. In my mind I also kept mixing Li Bingbing up with Chiaki Kuriyama, if only because they have the same long fringe (U.S. = bangs). The latest fillum has been 《手提》 (or 《手机》) which is also fairly challenging. In the meantime I enjoyed the inimitable Zhang Yimou's 《十面埋伎》.

What else? My town was under a "boil your water" order for a couple of days because of supposed bacterial contamination. I also picked up the new spectacles which are very comfortable. Cute optician lady thinks she'll be able to fix the older ones (why did I wait so long?).

I have been doing some cool stuff with scripting. Out of habit and comfort I wrote the first attempt in Perl. When I was looking back through some older code I was shocked to find a bunch of cool things I had done in Python a couple of years ago. I had completely forgotten about that. I didn't realise that my memory was so bad. I am using Spotfire and JMP and they are good but their proprietary nature makes me feel dirty.

For reasons I'll keep to myself I spent some time in genuinely quiet meditation today. It started as a "sit and think about this scientific problem" period but then I realised I hadn't done any true quiet sitting in ages. I need a Quaker to come around and force me to be still ("relax dammit!"). Am I so wrapped up in myself lately? Why am I trying to hide? Hmmm... Just read the previous paragraphs and you'll wonder why I am not completely catatonic.

Sat, 09 Apr 2005

04:40 [zork(~)] cat SaveTheChildren.txt

Blizzard on the way

This week I pulled the snow shovel and grit from my car. The city has also swapped the decorative evergreens for hyancinths and has started to repair the plough damage. This can mean only one thing - we are taunting Mother Nature and so must be subject to a pride-defeating snow storm. No, hang on... Apparently a critical number of midwesterners have invested in snow-capable gas guzzling SUVs just as the oil companies have decided to royally screw the entire country. We are saved! The irony gods are satisfied.

One weekend trip I made while house-sitting at Scott's was for my eye test at the place recommended by my colleagues. I was initially put off by the crowd in the barn of a building but later found that they were all one big happy family. Despite my earlier information I did have to undergo the mydriatic treatment. Naturally, as before, the sun decided to shine and thus afterwards left me wandering in traffic until I could drive again (yes, I have seen Gattacca). I also have to say that no two opticians (U.S. = optometrists) have used the same kind of eye exam procedure. At heart these are some strange kind of ritualised psychological torture where deranged people can make you do unnatural things while hinting that it will improve your eyesight - "When do these two line up?" "Which of these is fuzzier?" "Which is best, number 2 or number 2?" "You are wrong! You have failed so I am going to give you these opaque eye covers and everyone will laugh at you!". The most interesting part of the visit was meeting the Spectacles geek. In many ways he reminded me of the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. When examing my old glasses (the noocleer scientist version) he was able to give me their entire history and, in so doing, mock their utilitarian nature. I should be receiving my new specs in a few days. These are probably not as leet as my old ones but they are made of titanium.

Sun, 03 Apr 2005

04:59 [zork(~)] cat badgers.txt

North of the Border

I'm back. I spent last week house- and pet-sitting for Scott and his family who were away on Easter vacation. They live about 35 miles north of work, about 50 miles north of me, so I lived up in Cheese Land for the duration. Apart from Friday evening, when the rain lashed down, the commute wasn't bad at all. Scott had stocked the fridge with beer and has a medium-huge DVD collection (even excluding those owned by his kids) so it was more like a vacation. The downside was being woken at 5:30 am each day by the cats yowling for food and then taking the dog, Gus ("prince of flatulence, king of drool"), out for his morning constitutional. Gus also demanded a regular rubber bone tug-o-war and wrestling match each evening.

I had to attend the local church in Racine for the Easter service. This turned out to be considerably more well-to-do than my local hang-out. Uniformed ushers kept the mob in order and I felt rather underdressed. The choir was well drilled, although probably not quite as good as ours (we have a professional opera singer in our ranks). They performed a nice rendition of Vivaldi's Gloria in D. Thankfully they stuck to the first (Gloria in excelsis Deo) movement as if they'd continued to Et in terra pax I would have started daydreaming about the ending of Runaway Train;

"No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity. But I know none, and therefore am no beast."

The odd thing that was that the choir were supported by a couple of trumpet players so it sounded more like "Cake plays Vivaldi".

Not much else to report here. Zhiwen is still trying to improve my listening comprehension and because I had raved so much about 《苏州河》 she loaned me 《美人依旧》 (a.k.a. *Fei*) which also stars Zhou Xun (also in 《荊軻刺秦王》 and 《十七岁的单车》). I was surprised to find that it had been directed by Ann Hu as the style was so different from 《西洋镜》. I didn't like the current fillum very much as the plot was annoying although it did partly redeem itself at the end.

At Scott's I watched We Were Soldiers (good) and Ferrous Primate (mediocre). I then re-watched Galaxy Quest and Ice Age.

The new manager is gradually approaching the end of the honeymoon period so the mutterings are starting. There have been a few good things happening but basically they are trying to recreate the same structure as in their last position at $HUGEPHARMA so meetings a'plenty and a new policy that means that all communications to the rest of the company have to pass through them. They are also demanding one day a month be entirely devoted to a meeting intended to keep them abreast of all the projects. The first one will be on Tuesday and will actually take two days. We just don't have the time or the number of people to cope. Hopefully compromises will be made. The industry-wide shake-up means that jobs elsewhere are in shorter supply. I have received some replies but things are moving very slowly.

What is keeping me interested at the moment is my attempt to automate the unautomateable. I tested some scripts that managed to generate an intelligent summary of a heap of information that would have otherwise taken weeks to do. I also received praise for using some rather novel algorithms (actually they were more like formalising how I approach the subject when I do it manually). The eventual aim is to provide the functionality through a web page.

J.P. II R.I.P.

Thu, 17 Mar 2005

03:39 [zork(~)] cat painbirds.txt

King of nails

The other fillum that Zhiwen gave me is 《生活秀》, the given anglicised title of which is Life Show. My inner Sparklehorse fan prefers the more literal translation, which would be more like Beautiful Life. This seems especially apt as I see that the lead, Tao Hong, also appeared in another piece called A Beautiful New World. Since tonight's offering is on a couple of VCDs with no subtitles I am reaching for my dictionary every few minutes. The plot is more attractive than 《大宅门》 so even though they are not speaking in beautifully enunciated standard Mandarin I feel obliged to do some translation just so I can understand what is going on. This is how language barriers are breached.

Mon, 14 Mar 2005

03:41 [zork(~)] cat GreeTeaAndCigarettes.txt

And Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water...

The recruiters are messing with my head at the moment. My plan for survival is just to push out the applications but to keep the hope level at a bare minimum. Work has its ups and downs. The new manager is actually trying to improve things but they are running into the intertia built up by the rest of management. As I mentioned before they are trying to placate me with a new job title but whenever they use it I am reminded of Andy Griffith being proud of the title "Permanent Latrine Orderly (PLO)" in No Time for Sergeants. I am tempted to try and acquire a Mc Donalds Happy Hat and inscribe it with my new moniker.

I was listening to a show on NPR and they used Take This Waltz as one of the tunes to support the piece. I was jogged into digging into my collection and listened to I'm Your Man for most of the week and then secured a Leonard Cohen compilation from the library.

My viewing has been quite diverse, Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes (what a cast!) and Elf (James Caan?). Zhiwen has also been bringing me some fillums to improve my listening comprehension. I had loaned her 《苏州河》 and she declared it weird and so has loaned me 《绿茶》. This has a similar theme but a completely different style. Still very intriguing. Although Jiang Wen has been in three other films that I have seen I didn't recognise him at all.

Despite my claim in a previous post I haven't been reading Shakespeare. However, while digging in one of my boxes of books I did come across an anthology of John Donne's work and so have been browsing that. "Rave on thy holy fool" indeed.

"...but he himself was broken long before the sky would open..."

Sun, 06 Mar 2005

08:10 [zork(~)] cat PledgeAllegiance.txt

Orange is the new Lemon

I have to admit that it is a good while since I purchased furniture polish. However I was surprised to find that the local supermarket no longer stocks my favourite in the squeeze bottle. The only choices are aerosols or some kind of pre-soaked rag. Since my polish supply was running critically low I bought what I thought was the nearest alternative and today I put it to good use. What I hadn't anticpated was that the orangeness was something on the overwhelming side. I realise that associating lemon with polish is as arbitrary as linking pine scent with disinfectant but orange polish is too much of a reach. The other weird aspect is that it has oil in it. At first I thought that this was some kind of marketing ploy - the oil attracts more dust so you have to buy more oil etc. but then I realised it was a natural adaptation to the marked dustiness of the region (yes, crackmonkey, even more dusty than the peninsula) as the oil traps the dust on the furniture allowing it to be harvested. For that I am willing to forgive having the room smell like some kind of bizarre Mediterranean cocktail.

Curiosity bade me pay a fresh visit to the Expensive Tripods store across the street from me as, hidden among the Sliks in the window I had spotted what looked like a direct replacement for my old Quantaray that had been injured in my Welcome-to-Illinois car crash and had only survived Nigel's wedding by being strapped together with wire and a bootlace. The Promaster (which is clearly from the same factory as the Quantaray) was actually about $10 below the average web price so I snapped it up before they realised. Just to repay this affront to expensiveness I noticed that they had an old second-hand Pentax ME body on the shelf and when I asked how much they wanted for it the shopkeeper told me $160 (!). At least he had the decency to look sheepish.

I finished Choke in short order. "Weird" isn't the right word, but it's the first word that comes to mind. I have no idea (and probably don't want to know) where Mr. Palahniuk gets his ideas. Very good. Somewhat more like Fight Club than Lullaby. Same kind of rhythm. Ending still not as good as it could be. One aspect I like is that he isn't afraid of having a minor character enter from stage left and mess with the narrator's mind, in this case it was a monologue from Mrs. Tsunimitsu. It reminds me a little of Shakespeare. Maybe I'm actually ready for Shakespeare now. Having had the man's work ruined by being forced down my throat in English Lit classes maybe now's the time to check him out again. Ran is a great film but I should really get to know the actual Lear.

I watched 《一个都不能少》, a recent acquisition by the library. I had thought it was going to be like 《我的父亲母亲》 but it turned out to be a cross between 《凤凰琴》 and 《秋菊打官司》. Zhang Yimou raises it a little above yet another social study by basing it upon a true story and using the actual people instead of actors.

Time for a refreshing glass of fruit juice before bedtime...

Tue, 01 Mar 2005

04:32 [zork(~)] cat AndTheresMore.txt

Sober reflection

So, I was trying to make an objective reappraisal of my previous post and started wondering if my mocking of creative writing courses was somewhat ironic considering some folk might consider online diaries to fall into much the same genre. Then I realised that this was just crazy thinking. The two formats are completely different and only the uninspired would think otherwise. Yeah. Definitely. Uh Huh.

The phone interview seemed to go okay. I always let myself down by not having prepared any canned questions for them and having to improvise wildly on the spot. Sooo... what's the food like in the cafeteria? Is the toilet tissue genuine two-ply? Can I surf the net for pr0n all day?

I managed to capture Palahniuk's Choke from the library but haven't started on it yet. I also grabbed a Zippy collection. Just scanning through it I can see that, a) Bill Griffith really really really really wants a film deal (really), and b) he becomes incensed when anyone else uses the phrase "Are we having fun yet?" (he spends an entire strip pounding on Garfield for doing this). This meta-theme is nearly as good as his general carping. I'm surprised he didn't explode when Coneheads came out.

Mon, 28 Feb 2005

04:53 [zork(~)] cat tinpotpourri.txt

Out with the old...

There's a scene in the film Chinese Box where Reuben Blades (yes, The Reuben Blades) is trying to cheer up Jeremy Irons who is a victim of unrequited love. Mr. Blades points out that all the best songs about relationships are written at the very start ("I love you. I adore you.") and at the very end ("I loathe you. I detest you."). Everything in the middle is too boring to be worthy of mention. For some reason that scene came to mind when I was searching through some very old (electronic) documents and came across something I had written many moons ago. While not a song it falls into the first of Reuben's categories. In the past I would have been embarassed by the content but today, for some reason, I decided that the prose was Murakami-esque (you'll note that in writing that term some semblance of conscience prevented corruption of his name by introducing a prophylactic hyphen). In that light that old writing doesn't seem so bad at all. The powerful lateral thinking used to vault the enormous talent gap was fueled by incautious experimentation with The Brother's gift (>1 year ago) of 12 year old whisky. The beauty of this is that first impressions have the greatest impact so should I encounter my meanderings in the future I may actually be vaguely proud rather than cringeing.

In a parallel demonstration, in a scene in Inspired Sleep one of the characters describes teaching a "creative writing" course. I realise that these animals are very popular on this side of the pond but, to my (albeit limited) knowledge they are rarely encountered in the Old World. I remember discussing the nature of these beasties with someone who had been forced to endure one to complete a degree programme. Their inherently negative spin on the usefulness of these courses was probably what encouraged them to agree vehemently with my cynical view that they were basically vehicles to allow folk to torture Freud and groups of strangers by forcing them to listen to descriptions of their dreams. Now that I have bumped into that aforementioned piece of prose I should recognise that I live in a glass house and should tell my former self to hide the larger of those stones.

Oh yeah, the plot in that book didn't recover. So basically the book is composed of three or four wonderful character studies and some rather clumsy attempts to bump those characters into each other. Apart from the one that struck a strong chord with me the rest seem artificial and have the characters mostly acting out of character. Or maybe that was the point...

I finished enjoying Fitzcarraldo again. I had to return it to the library before I had time to properly listen to the director's commentary version. I'll have to finish this at some point - pre-production took three years(!), they originally wanted Jack Nicholson to play the lead role(!), Mick Jagger shot some scenes in the role of sidekick(!). Wonderfully weird all around. Watching some of the later scenes I decided that my Under The Volcano reference wasn't the best match. I should have picked Murphy's War (can you imagine a film with Kinski and O'Toole in it?!).

Before I watched Fitzcarraldo I watched Prisoner of the Mountains. I can't remember why. I recommend it highly. Susanna Mekhraliyeva reminds me of some juvenile Hollywood star but (thankfully) I can't remember who.

Yesterday I took a wander up the road to Highwood and dropped into the guitar shop and came away with some new strings for both my acoustic guitar and my bass. I changed those in the former (maybe 2 years old by now) and was amazed at how good new strings can make a cheap Yamaha sound in the hands of a ham like me. I have been enjoying myself so much I haven't yet changed those in my bass.

Another change was the battery in my watch. The local shop was a little laid back when it came to the expected functionality. After replacement I asked the technician if it would still be as waterproof as the original. He looked at the description, "It says Water Resistant to 50 m not Waterproof so it'll be okay against splashes." Since I don't envisage my watch ever going to 50 m (at least not when attached to me) I didn't care that much about that particular attribute. When I pointed out that the previous battery had lasted for 5 years and hoped that this one would do the same I was disappointed to hear that "it depends on the watch" and "I can guarantee you at least 12 months". Hmmmm...

Tomorrow I have a telephone interview with an east coast company. I had hoped I would have heard yes/no from the west coast but the recruiter ignored my wish and sent resumes to both firms simultaneously. I'll admit to feeling vulnerable at the moment as the new departmental management person revealed her new plan and organisational chart this week. I went from three to seven direct reports (yay me!) and was given a new, fancy-sounding job title (yay me!) and there was no sign of promotion, and it was made clear that filling the empty positions was more important than listening to existing employees (boo!). These folk just make it so easy for me to leave with a clear conscience. Yet, I don't want to bale for the wrong reasons. Another two months of winter is not a good reason...

Oh yeah, good to see Cat and Girl finally make it to Laziness! Hurrah!

Sat, 26 Feb 2005

23:07 [zork(~)] cat potpourri.txt

Bits and Pieces

(In my neighbourhood) So, that's what he's up to these days.

I booked an appointment for an eye test. When selecting the time I asked if they'd be giving me the mydriatic for the retina exam. The person taking the call assured me that this wasn't necessary now as they had a machine to do it and it's computerised! That sounds so quaint these days - Solid State, Space Age Technology, Computer Controlled. I assume that if it screws up I can ask Microsoft for $5.

PDJ seems to be a mere shadow od what it once almost used to be. I don't care how many disclaimers they added, if they didn't get something out for HST early in the week then they just don't care any more.

I'm still reading Inspired Sleep. My enthusiasm for the book reached a peak during the description of a character and a scene that were so familiar to me it was wonderful. Now the storyline is stallingi, but there's a good few pages to go yet so it might recover. The plot now looks like something from Will Self. This is somewhat better as Self doesn't write about real people that well, only caricatures.

I was ecstatic to find that the library had acquired a copy of Fitzcarraldo, one of my very favourite films. As I have mentioned before, I am a connisseur of obsession and Brian Sweeney Fitgerald is clearly a master of obsession, even when played by Klaus Kinski who looks like Yahoo Serious doing Under The Volcano. In these days of CGI it is important to remember that in making the film they truly physically dragged that darned boat up that hill. This is not an illusion.

Listening to Ian Dury during the commute. It has taken me a long time to appreciate his talent. We miss you man.

Fri, 18 Feb 2005

04:05 [zork(~)] cat HelterSkelter.txt


Life is being particularly odd at the moment. I suspect some cosmic plan has been hatched to shake me up, challenge my preconceptions and stop me from feeling safe. People upon whom I can normally rely are betraying me or otherwise letting me down. Others are stepping in from nowhere to help me out a little. In some ways I am enjoying it as it makes me question what I believe in and what I am doing. I need to make an active choice rather than letting things drift. Two of the positive turns of the wheel had; 1) The Brother and I in comfortable conversation (which is profoundly reassuring) and 2) a word from the recruiter telling me that I shouldn't give up hope about the west coast (although the east coast is apparently now being very persistent). Our new manager is proving not to be the panacea for the department's ills. Politically motivated folk grabbed her attention on day 1 and now have her ear so it looks as if Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose... Since there's more definite talk about me getting some more responsibility things are balanced so that I can stay or leave without too much overhead. It can really be free will in action. Maybe.

Zhiwen listened to my complaints about my poor listening comprehension and promptly brought me discs containing 25 episodes of the apparently famous soap, 《大宅门》, which has no subtitles and the actors generally speak in textbook Mandarin at a measured pace. Unfortunately I keep getting distracted by the plot. It is something like a Chinese versions of Upstairs Downstairs and the characters are the stereotypes from soap operas everywhere, Powerful Woman with Troubled Past, Cinderella-like Girl, Bratty Girl, Henpecked Husband, Quiet but Conscientious Wife... You name it, they're all there. My guess is that there'll soon be the special episode, Who killed 鸡. 儿.?

I've been listening to the sound track from The Thin Red Line and it is completely spookadelic. The outright winner is the Vanuatu God U Tekem Laef Blong Mi which is truly uplifting, something like a Polynesian Hymn to Joy. Some part of me wants to know the lyrics but another part tells me to just listen to the whole thing and enjoy the spirit. Another positive side-effect of this aural addiction is that I have been cured of listening to that famous Icelandic, Ragnar Bjarnason, singing Nirvana. I have also finished reading The Thin Red Line which basically comprises the script of the film but Mr. Jones writes well and made me take my time. The current book is one I spotted on the apartment building's free shelf and I picked it up only because I was intrigued by the cover. I am thus now reading Robert Cohen's Inspired Sleep the style of which amazes me by its resemblance to that of Mr. Palahniuk.

O.K. April Winchell doesn't like direct links to the songs. In that case go to this page and search for Ragnar. There's lots of other bad craziness to be had while you are there.

Wed, 09 Feb 2005

04:01 [zork(~)] cat lent.txt

"...and unto dust you shall return."

I realise that bizarre timing appears to have made this Rooster year a "widow" year. The same bizarreness is also messing with my own perception of time as pancake day seems to be occurring way too early. Living in the mid-west no longer offers the opportunity to associate the start of the lenten season with the beginning of spring (I know there's another couple of months of yucky weather to go) but this year is just conspiring to keep things extra-gloomy (more shriveling than shriving going on). For as long as I can remember I have given up sweets (U.S. = "candy") and biscuits (U.S. = "cookies"). When I was young I had a sweet tooth and this really hurt. After that it didn't bother me so I had to add some other activities. At this point it is just the surrendering of control that hurts. I have been pondering why this should be and am wondering if it is due to the death of illusion. In the past I could tolerate temporary discomfort for expectations of better things. While I am certainly no nihilist and still enjoy striving for something better I am no longer expecting any sudden change. This is a good thing. It harkens back to my previous reminder that this is not a practice run. I can't just sit around and wait for something wonderful to happen (although I can certainly hope for it). The illusion of the guaranteed "and they all lived happily ever after" is just a recipe for complacency. Any passivity should be actively chosen rather than being a lazy default. That's why the wording of the admonition involves "...those who help themselves.".

Sun, 06 Feb 2005

04:29 [zork(~)] cat PotPourri.txt

Bard to remember.

Yesterday I came across that famous Shakespeare fragment;

In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes,
For they in thee a thousand errors note;
But 'tis my heart that loves what they despise.

and now I am racking my brains trying to remember where I read a derivative of that. This was something along the lines of "Your touch tells me how close we are. My eyes tell me of the distance between us." This is too fuzzy to be searched for electronically and is probably from a book too old or obscure to be available in electronic form.

Nan turned 92 yesterday. When I called it was good to hear her in such an upbeat mood. This is probably at least partly due to spring arriving earlier in her locale. She is always happier on sunny days.

A postdoc, ML, from my ex-boss's lab has asked me to write a green card recommendation letter for her. Having collaborated with her on one manuscript I have no difficulty judging her scientific aptitude and output. M has generated an impressive amount of data and I am guessing that some of the impetus for this was being physically separated from her husband and child (when JS was in the same situation she was also a dedicated worker). The other factor contributing to hard work is my somewhat overbearing ex-boss. Anyway, the difficulty I had was in rating her background as I have no idea of the reputation of most remote institutions (and many less remote ones). Thankfully when I surveyed colleagues in my department they agreed that PUMC was a decent place. It took them a while to link the current name with their own memory of the place as the English names seem to change so much. When I previously had to write a recommendation letter for XW it took some exploration to realise that she was actually from Bei Da (one of the few places I have heard a lot about).

As far as my own career hopes and plans are concerned, there's been no word from the west coast. It might be a little early to write this off but this is not a good time to be moving around as uncertainties in the industry mean that a lot of people are competing for what is available. Having said that I received a call from a fairly big company in the NYC area which has decided it particularly wants to interview me. I'll look into it. At my current spot the times they are a changin' as the new managerial level person has arrived with assurances of competent democracy and a rosy future. Alas they weren't able to comment on the hints/promises that the big boss has been making to me for the last six months or so. We'll see. Any votes for the east coast being a decent place to hang out?

I have finished reading both Going Postal and Diary. The latter was good, although not quite up there with Lullaby. The situation and characters were less odd at the beginning, and although he did up the ante as time went on it was more gradual. The ending was better written than Fight Club. I am currently reading The Thin Red Line. It is striking to see James Jones' Dedication in the front (emphasis is his): "This book is cheerfully dedicated to those greatest and most heroic of all human endeavors, WAR and WARFARE: may they never cease to give us the pleasure, excitement and adrenal stimulation that we need, or provide us with the heroes, the presidents and leaders, the monuments and museums which we erect to them in the name of PEACE." Make of that what you will.

In my naiivete I am probably over-interpreting Mandarin film titles. I previously pointed out the possible play on words in The Emperor's Shadow and when trying to expand my vocabulary earlier today I wondered if the Zhang Yimou film title 《活著》could also be a play on the word 或者 as the plot is about "what if" either/or situations. I actually believe that this kind of comparison wouldn't be considered valid. My lazy eyes tend to fasten on to the western letters of the pinyin text and only add the tone marks mentally later, yet from conversations with one of my colleagues it is clear that the tone is too closely bound to the character to be disassociated in such a crude manner. This is probably why tone failure is the worst part of my poor pronunciation.

Wed, 02 Feb 2005

05:01 [zork(~)] cat ItIsFebruary.txt

The ghost is out of the machine

I found the instruction leaflet for my watch and confirmed that the "double tick" behaviour is done deliberately to show the battery is running low. While I had suspected this was the case I was disappointed as I had thought that my timepiece was special.

A package arrived from The Brother with card, book and CD. I have since been enjoying reading Going Postal. Mr. Pratchett has clearly had a lot of fun with the von Lipwig character. Maybe if Kevin Costner had waited and used this as a script instead people wouldn't have laughed at him so much (I guess there's always Waterworld...). The CD was by Goldie Lookin' Chain. From the cover I initially thought that Chris had made a mistake and accidentally given me one of his sons' discs. I gave it a spin on the way to work and was laughing all the way (You Knows It). I don't think a Newport accent has seen so much air time since the (fake) one used by Siadwell from Naked Video.

Some crazy person returned Palahniuk's Diary to the library so I now have that waiting in the wings for after Pratchett. I opened the book at random and my glance landed on the word "zygomatic" which might make crackmonkey smile.

For fillums I finally watched 《英頬》. I kinda liked it but big action doesn't make a film as far as I am concerned. There's no denying the cinematography is excellent, especially the duels in the autumn leaves and at the lake, but Zhang doesn't have a monopoly on that kind of action. As far as the script is concerned, similar themes were portrayed in 《荊軻刺秦王》 and 《秦頌》 and the characters in those were far more interesting. Zhang Manyu was excellent however. I had seen her previously in two very diverse roles in Chinese Box and 《花样年华》 and expect great things from her in the future.

After 《英頬》 I watched The Thin Red Line for the first time. I don't know how I have missed seeing it before. A truly adult war movie is rare and this was just bizarrely addictive. The entire dialogue appeared to be a series of epigrams. The music is also very haunting. I was soon back at the library to pick up the soundtrack. Before watching 《英頬》 I had borrowed the director's cut of Spinal Tap which is a film I initially loathed but now grudgingly acknowledge has its moments. In the supplementary clips two unexpected funnies made me laugh;

(At a record signing session)
Fan: What's the name of the new album?
David: Its called "Smell The Glove". See it has the name on the poster.
Fan: Oh! I thought that was some kind of contest.

(At the zoo)
Nigel: I read somewhere that the larger apes are essentially bread eaters.
David: And yet, as a race, they haven't developed baking skills.

Tonight I followed one of the librarians' recommendations and watched Confidences trop intimes. She had warned me that this wasn't one that she had let her kids watch but that turned out to be because of the adult theme rather than sex and/or violence. It reminded me a little of Truly, Madly, Deeply

If you are bored, try Rock, Paper, Scissors, Tiger Hand, Pen Missile.

Mon, 24 Jan 2005

02:30 [zork(~)] cat Miscellaneous.txt

Old past

I've been sneaking a look at nick's album from his trip to Japan. The snaps of the Tokyo Subway brought back memories of a fun trip I made a couple of years ago, even though I spent most of it on the JR trains. I would never have recognised spicemonkey with the new haircut.

I borrowed the Director's Cut of The Last Emperor from the library as I wanted to see Bertolucci's vision unimpeded. I agree that the rhythm of the film is much better but I don't like the excessive use of colour to depict the emperor's mood. It could have been done more subtlely. I found the scenes of the deserted forbidden city quite moving. Maybe the fillum has stuck in my mind as I almost feel I know the place personally. Reincarnation buffs will be disappointed to know that I am having to work very hard to learn a reasonable number of characters, so unless I was profoundly illiterate in a past life there's not even a vague hint that I have been there before. Besides, the rain-soaked Bradbury Building in Blade Runner is considerably more evocative to me.

I'm glad that, even if nunzilla is quiet at the moment, that sye continues to post thought provoking material.

When I was back in Yoorp for the holidays I was aware that my brother and I are no longer as close as we used to be. We grew up inseperable until I started at secondary school and he didn't join me for a couple of years. We then continued in parallel for another five years. The big break was when I left home for university and although we kept in touch and visited each other there was lot of catching up to do each time. We reunited completely before his first marriage, again after it failed, and again soon after his second marriage. My sister-in-law is very good for him but doesn't like me very much. I think his loyalties have been questioned over the last couple of months and now he has chosen to be a dedicated family man and I am glad for him. But I miss him. I hope that he doesn't get pulled too far away so that we lose contact completely. My sister-in-law has already told me that I am not expected to be there for his big birthday party in June. I think that it is now time for me to be patient but that will be very hard.

Sun, 23 Jan 2005

03:18 [zork(~)] cat Snowman.txt

Walking in the air

The wind is blowing the powdery snow into amazing sculpted patterns. I feel like I am destroying art when I walk through it. But then when I come back later I find that the wind has made my footprints part of the art.

I've been out a few times today, just enjoying walking in the snow. There's been a reasonable amount of traffic on the road, but it seems to be of the "I have an SUV and I can go anywhere kind". So it is almost amusing to find them being over-confident and spinning in circles when trying to turn corners. Maybe the drivers will complain to Mercedes Benz or Porsche or whatever that their toy isn't behaving as expected.

I finished Lullaby in two sittings. Excellent stuff! Similar to Fight Club the material is attention-grabbing from the get-go and then just as you are becoming comfortable with one premise he ups the ante and pushes you out even further. This could never be a film unless at least one of the more sensitive issues is removed or toned down, and yet I'd like to see it as a film as his characters are so big. This one reminds me a little of Stephen Wright's work, especially M31 and some of Meditations. Time to go and find some more Palahniuk.

Combing my hair after the shower this morning I realised that my hairline is slowly on the way back. Slicked back it looks a little like Dan Ackroyd's. Is my forehead really that big?

Yesterday, the bossman asked me to come in at 6:30 am for a "management meeting". I can now see the root cause of the problems with our department. They have these regular weekly BS sessions and then don't communicate any of the ideas to the plebs like me, we're just supposed to pick it up by osmosis. I don't know if this has gone too far to be fixed. I declined the offer of being able to attend future meetings until I actually get promoted so that people don't ignore me when I try and fix things. I do hope this left coast opportunity pans out. I need some hope these days. If it works out I'll thank the recruiter and will no longer automatically dislike people from Texarse.

I've alluded to the pull of the west coast at other times. I've rationalised this in many different ways, including things as vague as picking up the vibes from my Dad, and others of his fellow countrymen, that you have to keep moving west. It is also in the works of authors from Steinbeck to Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion. I was also reminded that the theme is there in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. That book annoyed me when I first read it as I saw it as a thinly veiled ego-trip. Yet among the many threads there's also the physical movement west from the mid-west to the Pacific coast. Not just the Pacific coast but San Francisco in particular. The metaphor for failure in the book is that the father and the son don't make it, just as they did't make it up the mountain. The author was scared of being in an environment where he couldn't dominate his son and so bad-mouthed an entire time-zone to justify himself before running away. The things that drove him away are the things that are calling me back.

Fri, 21 Jan 2005

04:12 [zork(~)] cat ItNeverRains.txt

Life, why do you taunt me so?

Just when things appear to be turning the corner at work I get another call from a recruiter. She has two potential positions, one at a medium-large company in western Connecticut, the other a large company in S.F. Someone up there is laughing at me now. One problem with interviewing at this time of year is that each morning I'll have been digging my car from the snow or waiting a good time for it to climb above the ~0degF temperature. I'm worried that I'm gonna be kinda... vulnerable... Naturally I'll have jinxed my chances by writing about them here but it is good to get that out of the way early.

I should look into how pyBlosxum works as I edited an earlier file containing malformed HTML that screwed up laziness (which seems to be quite sensitive). Unfortunately motd clings to the old version. Okay, cancel that claim. I found that when I touchd the file I accidentally made it younger than the wrong version. All should be okay now.

To stop my descent into only listening to songs from my youth I decided to dig through the library to find tunes I listened to in the last decade. I am currently giving a Fastball compilation a spin. It ain't bad at all, even though I first classified them as a Cake ripoff.

While I was in the library I managed to follow up on my plan to read some more of Chuck Palahniuk's output and grabbed Lullaby.

Thu, 20 Jan 2005

01:19 [zork(~)] cat TheAnswer.txt

Life, the universe and everything


Now, what was the question again?

Wed, 19 Jan 2005

06:00 [zork(~)] cat update.txt

Where am I now...

Through shear clumsiness I managed to damage my leet stealthmonkey specs so now I am back on the 50's noocleer scientist specials. Some people haven't noticed.

Two strange coincidences. I found that the library has a decent Pratchett collection and decided to fill the gap between the point where I was buying the paperbacks when I was home and when The Brother would buy me the hardbacks as presents. The two books missed in that switch were Carpe Jugulum and Jingo. The former was clearly the set-up for The Fifth Elephant and was okay, but not that strong. I found a belly laugh in the last few pages. Coincidence number 1 was that I took home Jingo at the same time I borrowed the DVD of JFK. By the time I had reached the point where Vimes tells of the theory about "the second bowman" I was grinning. What didn't have me grinning was Ike's speech at the start of the film. The one where he warns about the power of military manufacturers at the end of WW2. Even more poignant was JFK's speech where he says that the world doesn't need a unilaterally imposed pax Americana. Coincidence number 2 involved me borrowing the book Fight Club on the same evening that NPR aired a piece describing how single people tend to shop at IKEA. Eerie huh? I was interested to see how the book would measure up to the fillum. Would it be a weak catalyst for a good movie or was the book even better or were they only distantly related? The answer is that the book is used almost verbatim for the script. There's a little rearrangement and a cleaner ending in the film but otherwise there are no real surprises. The two memorable small chunks from the screen version missing from the book are the aforementioned Gandhi/Lincoln conversation and the short monologue about Marla ("If I did have a tumor, I'd name it Marla. Marla... the little scratch on the roof of your mouth that would heal if only you could stop tonguing it, but you can't."). Now I have to read some more of Mr. Palahniuk. My favourite non-film piece is;
"..the [after hours dance] club is too loud to talk, so after a couple of drinks, everyone feels like the center of attention but completely cut off from participating with anyone else.
You're the corpse in an English murder mystery."

Current music is mainly T-Rex, Thin Lizzy and ELO in the car. My habit is to switch on the music when the radio begins to annoy me. This doesn't take much lately. Since Our Beloved Leader has decided that a vote for him was an automatic vote for war life has been quite depressing. This was brought home to me listening to the radio tonight when they were talking to a U.S. serviceman who had been pulled from Iraq to help the tsunami victims. His point of view was that now he could REALLY do some good in the world.

I think I had some more to say but I'll close for now.

Tue, 11 Jan 2005

03:39 [zork(~)] cat Bonzo.txt

Wrestle poodles, and win!

I had forgotten how much I enjoyed listening to the Bonzos. Along with Peter Cook, Viv Stanshall will be sorely missed. While in my car I am listening to the T-Rex compilation during the commute. In this case I had forgotten how prolific Marc Bolan was over a relatively short period of time. Maybe the music when I was growing up didn't suck as much as I remember (Hmmm... Wombles, Rubettes, Bay City Rollers... Yes it DID suck)

I tarred UK television with a fairly broad brush in my last message. Actually it wasn't all bad when I was there. There were some good repeats of classic episodes of Steptoe & Son and Rising Damp, some good documentary overviews of the works of Peter Cook and Eric Morecambe, plus two sitcoms I had missed completely while being over here Black Books (note that the main character has an uncharacteristically cool first name) and Coupling.

Two odd things happened recently. I think the battery in my analog quartz watch is running down. It still keeps good time but now instead of running TICK - TICK - TICK - TICK it runs TICKTICK - - TICKTICK. Which sounds like a heartbeat and is peculiar to see as the second hand pauses for an inordinate amount of time before hurrying to catch up. The second odd thing refers to my dream landscape. In another online diary I noted that this had changed a few months ago from a selection of scenes which, although bearing no direct resemblance to locations in my own life, at least occurred frequently enough for me to become familiar with all of them. The new ones are vaguely related to places I have been in my past but are still disconcertingly different from the old scenes. Last night I ended up with an actual map of my dream city in my hand. I realised that the general area was an aggregate of two locations, each with a different significance in my life. What was most interesting was how the two diverse cities had been combined. This had been achieved by turning one streetplan by 90 degrees using allowing the overlaying of a feature common to the two. I'll now have to pull out maps to see if it works in real life.

On a more somber note, the UK held a nationwide three minute silence in remembrance of victims of the tsunami. This occurred a few days ago, not long after I had taken my seat for the return flight here. I was listening to channel 9 at the time and at Heathrow airport the volume of radio chatter was, not surprisingly, quite high. I wondered if they could actually do anything to acknowledge the event. In the end I was quite moved to hear the ground controller tell all ground traffic at the airport that they were to hold in place with their engines at idle and to refrain from using the radio unless it was an emergency. There was then three minutes of static, mercifully drowning out most of the continuing nattering of many of the passengers around me. That hit me fairly hard. One of the busiest airports in the world was really making a mark of respect for an event that is so huge it is difficult to grasp.

At work today my boss sent a department-wide message describing the efforts being made to replace some of the people who have left over the last few months. Being in an antsy mood I decided to stir the pot by asking publicly for a chance to apply for one of the positions that is two grades more senior than my current state. This was triggered by apparent inactivity by the same boss after a multiplicity of promises made last year. I wanted to achieve two things; 1) to find out exactly why I would be refused the opportunity (maybe I would actually learn how to improve myself) and 2) to show that it is far easier to get hired than it is to get promoted. The boss screwed up my demonstration by replying (privately) that I was actually already under consideration for the position. Two equally unexpected side effects then became manifest. Firstly I found out that one of my technicians knows me far better than I know myself as Zhiwen was quick to guess that I was disappointed by my boss's "capitulation" ("because now you have no one to fight"). Secondly a large proportion of the department either e-mailed me or stopped at my office to tell me that they supported my application and hoped that I succeeded. Bugger! What's the point in me trying to make a pointless, poorly-conceived, suicidal and heroic gesture if people take me too seriously.

"Five years ago I was a four stone apology. Today I am two separate gorillas."

Fri, 07 Jan 2005

04:09 [zork(~)] cat 2005already.txt

The wanderer returns

I'm back from my trip across the pond, just in time for the snow. There was actually a sprinkle on Christmas Day over there but it didn't hang around for very long. My aunt's funeral was okay. My uncle, who has for years been actively alienating himself from relatives and friends, has pissed off more people than ever. I'm worried that he'll now self-destruct. Christmas was quiet. Mum gave me a rather nice Waterman fountain pen. I now have it filled with undiluted carbon black ink and am gradually becoming comfortable with it. I should try it out for calligraphy as that is the only way I'll learn more characters. The wedding in Sligo was fun, as was the reception in Westport. The weather was as grey, wet and miserable as expected but the various aunts, uncles and cousins were as crazy as ever. Since holiday television was truly terrible (even the Beeb seems to reserve the good stuff for the satellite channels) I read a lot of books instead and walked all over the town. I bought some music in the sales - mostly material unlikely to appear in shops over here. Favourites are a Bonzo Dog Band boxed set, an Ian Dury album and a T Rex compilation. Not much else to report. All the best for 2005 y'all.

Sun, 19 Dec 2004

06:49 [zork(~)] cat RollingStones.txt

You can't always get what you want...

The more I think about it the more I feel that the Rolling Stones came up with the wrong lyrics. It should be "You find sometimes that you can't get what you want but you can always get what you need" (yes, I know it wouldn't scan). The main trigger for contemplating this was realising that I am both waaay too impatient and waaay too determined to take care of everything myself. No matter how many times it is proven to me that letting go leads to better things I'll still want to dictate my future. I had this demonstrated to me again when after a couple of weeks of fretting I gave up out of shear despair and was then contacted by a friend whom I had given up hope of hearing from. Now someone up there is laughing at me I am sure.

Anyway, I am heading back to Yoorp tomorrow instead of Wednesday as I need to be there to attend a funeral. The passing was not a surprise, but it was a little earlier than expected. I had seen my aunt at the recent Irish wedding and she seemed in pretty good form at the time. Things happened very quickly after that. Today I interspersed performing pre-trip housework with watching a couple of fillums selected (I thought) at random. They were Beautiful Mind and Pi. I linked the two of them by their mathematics theme but had more or less forgotten (for some reason) the mental illness link. Then I realised that both films made use of a game of Go at key points.

So, happy holidays one and all. Have a Cool Yule and I'll be back in '05.

Sun, 12 Dec 2004

03:56 [zork(~)] cat FightClub.txt

This is NOT a rehearsal!

I had so many things I wanted to communicate. So many pearls of wisdom to impart. But it is not just life that is fleeting. The context for brilliant thinking doesn't last very long, especially on internet time. Ha ha! This slow connection occasionally makes my typos fuse words together likethis. I am becoming the Sheepman! Anyway, The Royal Tenenbaums is a freaking funny fillum. If you were to take Hotel New Hampshire (the film, not the book [yuk!]) and thrash it until you had taken out all the Washington Irving crap and left the core of whoever turned that crap book into a good film you'd be left with something that resembled the Tenenbaums. It really is that good. One of Gene Hackman's best. Even Ben Stiller couldn't ruin it. Even the truly execrable Bill Murray couldn't make a dent in it. It really is that good. After that I saw The Way Home. This is not to be confused with 《 我 的 父 亲 母 亲 》 even though the anglicised versions of the titles would suggest otherwise. Instead this is Firefly Dreams with an annoying boy instead of a bratty girl. With nowhere near as much closure (the boy is still a PITA at the end). The point I am trying to make. The whole non-linear point is that I just watched Fight Club again. I still think that this is more than one film. They could have stopped it at the point that Edward Norton makes the deal with Marla about the support groups. To that point it had been sublimely funny. After that point it would have to be excessive to keep up the momentum (and IT IS!). It would have died without someone as OTT as Tyler Durden. In contrast to most people who have seen the film I see the fighting as a mere motif to keep the excessiveness running. This time the key scene was driving the limo down the road and swinging it over into oncoming traffic to make the point that this is life NOW. That this is not a rehearsal. This scene doesn't even make it into the IMDB quotes. Maybe they just don't get it either. Maybe they're still mourning the death of the IKEA furniture. I still get a big belly laugh out of the "fight Gandhi" "fight Lincoln" scene. The sad thing is that I know I don't live as if today is my last day. I heard that "Work as if you don't need the money. Love as if you've never been hurt. Dance as if nobody's watching." quote again and I don't live up to it - except those few occasions when I really do let go. It is not as if you have to do something particularly excessive. You just have to stop being the one who holds yourself back. Someone else up there really does have amazing plans for you.

Tue, 07 Dec 2004

04:02 [zork(~)] cat TheHomer.txt

The Horror! The Horror!

Although the walls in my apartment are pretty good I am forced to accept that my neighbour either has a new cellphone or a new ringtone. The tune is La Cucaracha. Oh, the humanity!

The crummy weather means that the pickings in the library's audiovisual room are getting quite slim. I'm making myself watch fillums that either I haven't seen in years or I was determined to see when they were released but never got around to it. In the former category I watched Bridge Over The River Kwai for the umpteenth time (but for the first time in about 10 years) and in the latter category Remains of the Day. Tonight's choice was part second category and part impulse, Tarkovsky's The Steamroller and the Violin (how could I resist such a title). As I was watching it I had the impression that if I turned the sound off then Sergei would become Andy Griffith and Sasha would become Opie. Try it and see!

Sat, 04 Dec 2004

17:20 [zork(~)] cat FatManRules.txt

RULE VI: There is no body cavity that cannot be reached with a #14 needle and a good strong arm.

That rule springs to mind at times like this when the cold has moved from being a tickly throat to uncomfortable sinus pressure. It is not particularly painful but it would seem so logical to just dig in there and relieve the source of the discomfort. Maybe they should also bring back trepanning for those suffering from epilepsy, migraine and headaches. Let out those evil spirits.

The house rule that is most appropriate to my daily work is RULE X, or at least the spirit of that rule. The practical application would be something like "If you don't do a P450 assay you will not find an inhibitor." or "If you don't assay the mRNA you will not find an inducer." or "If you don't check recovery you will not find covalent binding." etc. I am a big believer in "Test Early. Test Often." but this doesn't endear me to the project teams. The worst of them want to stay in full ostrich-mode as otherwise they are in danger of having their goals disrupted.

Also, my landlord is insane. He wants to rip out and replace two of my windows on Monday. It'll probably be low 30's during the day and 20's at night. My apartment relies on central (building controlled) heat and I suspect that the thermostat for it is located in someone's armpit. My landlord is insane. I am going to freeze.

Fri, 03 Dec 2004

04:23 [zork(~)] cat meme.txt

Get out of my head dammit!

Tuesday night I watched Firefly Dreams which is a really sweet film but now I can't get the "theme" tune (a fairly simple acoustic guitar piece) out of my mind. I had only just managed to edge out S&G's version of Sound of Silence (listened to several times last week) by playing Helter Skelter at high volume during the commute. Now I need to find something more catchy to displace it. Maybe I should just listen to the Ham[p]ster Dance until my head explodes.

I've been invited to give a talk at a meeting in Seattle in June. Cool!

Just checked my zork email and found a message from someone in academia asking for a program I wrote while I was at UCSF. Alas, they don't know what to do with the code and so need a binary (Windows I assume). This doesn't bode well as I only have things that use the command line.

Oh yeah... So how did I break the chain? What I actually did was to create a phase-locked loop that amplifies the signal (probably by rerouting the phase transponder through the emission array). That linkfest will now get totally out of control. Or maybe not. Whatever.

Mon, 29 Nov 2004

04:01 [zork(~)] cat turkeyless.txt

And I give thanks for good friends

I'm back from a highly enjoyable trip to the right coast. It was everything I hoped it would be. Yang met me at Green and we headed for Dim Sum in Westerly before continuing our catch-up coversation on the beach at Harkness Memorial State Park. Wednesday we drove to New Haven and caught the early train to Grand Central. We/Yang shopped our way up 5th Avenue before visiting the newly opened MOMA. Highly recommended. Having had my eyes opened comparatively recently (by Pedro) to Hopper's Nighthawks I was delighted to see Gas which has the same eerie lighting effect (the online versions do not do this one justice). The museum has a Rubik's cube, some Apple gear, a Vincent Black Shadow motorbike and some other great art. The space is huge, which is just as well as the queue was long (apparently about 25k people/day since opening on the Saturday). We then dumped our stuff at a nearby hotel (next to the Ukrainian mission) and went for food (Brazilian) and scored cheap tickets for a show (Dracula). In the morning we grabbed breakfast at a diner then headed for Broadway. Despite arriving comparatively late we managed to find a good view at the Broadway/7th Ave/44th St junction at the north end of Times Square. The temperature was in the 60's and the rain stayed away. I especially enjoyed listening to the kids standing near us as they became so excited when the various characters came past. There's some coverage here (although the order is wrong). The definite crowd favourite was Spongebob with Pikachu probably being a distant second. After the parade I left Yang to shop some more while I retrieved the luggage and then we caught the train back. Our Thanksgiving feast was Chinese food we'd bought on Tuesday night and a bottle of wine (no turkey, yay!). The next day we lazed and meandered about, eventually joining the Black Friday shopping crowds before catching a fillum. Food was excellent fish and chips at Flanders Fish Market ("Hidely ho, neighbor!"). We watched holiday crap on the television before bed and the next day I had to head back here (booo!).

The oddest thing waiting for me at work was an e-mail from Liping. She had apparently re-read a message she had sent to me over a month ago and decided that she had been a little too harsh at the time and was now apologising(!). I can only assume that some strange person has taken control of Liping's computer account or otherwise the pod people have taken over Illinois while I was away. Give me back the Liping I can argue and fight with! I also ran into my neighbour, Anne, in the car park. She (who is in her 70's) had become worried that my car had not moved for a few days and was considering asking the police to check on me in case I was ill. That is so sweet. I must let her know next time I travel.

Sun, 21 Nov 2004

04:48 [zork(~)] cat laundry.txt

Grade A Grey Day

Yes, today had "grey" written all over it and I know that I am a stronger man for surviving. I made it through the murk by buckling down to some serious housework. Having lost last weekend to a lost weekend I had some catching up to do. I am also disappearing at the crack of dawn on Tuesday as I head east to see Yang. That's basically what is keeping me going at the moment. I haven't seen her in well over a year and am very much looking forward to the trip. Laundry has been performed and tomorrow may even bring ironing. I actually like ironing. There's something that appeals to me about throwing down the shirt of one's existence and eliminating life's creases with the steam power of will and dodging the buttons of capriciousness. Pity I suck at ironing and end up with trousers with creases you could cut potatoes with - into many pieces - simultaneously.

Since the last entry I watched Bad Santa and this may replace The Ref as my favourite Yuletide fillum. As penance for this I borrowed and viewed the DVD version of Ken Burns' Shakers documentary. Until now I have been relying on a fuzzy old videotape I inherited when I arrived in this country and bought Tim and Helen's old VCR as they prepared to leave the country. I do like that documentary. Every time I watch it I feel challenged to do a better job in all that I do. Tonight's pick was Jeong Jae-Eun's Take Care of My Cat, which is somewhere between My So-Called Life and Trainspotting.

The current book on the bedside table is one written by someone who died less than a fortnight ago. As soon as I heard about the event I felt obliged to do this. Many things in life leave me puzzled.

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