The Emotional Pumpkin


Tuesday, May 31, 2005

And if that didn't make you

paranoid enough, check this out.

I'm not sure how I feel about this

From Wired News:
Scientists are scanning brain activity in the hopes of catching sight of the physical mechanisms that determine whether you prefer Coke over Pepsi.

The nascent research, known as "neuromarketing," could one day lead to new advertising strategies that directly stimulate hard-wired mental reflexes rather than appealing to fuzzy consumer attitudes.
I could see why this has Madison Avenue salivating, but (and here's that slippery slope argument again) what about all the potentially bad uses of this research? What do you think?

The effort to ban

municipal wireless networks in Texas has failed.

They're at it again

From Slashdot:
Google gave journalists a glimpse of its next generation machine translation system at a May 19th Google Factory Tour.


The system has been trained using the United Nations Documents as a corpus. This corpus is some 20 billion words worth of content. It uses existing source and target language translations (done by human translators at the U.N.) to find patterns it then uses to build rules for translating between those languages.
Pretty cool.

In today's NYT:

Former FBI official W. Mark Felt says he was Deep Throat.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

So I've got this song stuck in my head.

It's the new one by Nelly & Tim McGraw. You know the one? Where they sing "over and over again" over and over again? It's driving me CRAZY. Thank you.

Friday, May 20, 2005

While we're on the subject,

I've been thinking lately about the mechanics of inspiration. More specifically, the mechanics of my inspiration, since it is, of course, a highly individualized experience. I'll focus on poetry here, although I think this should apply to prose as well; I tend to write more poetry because, well, I'm better at it than prose, and because poetry is like instant gratification to the writer. It's quickly done and edited, quicker for the reality to match the vision, if that makes any sense.

Anyway, back in the day, I used to think of a topic I was inspired by and write on it—pretty straightforward, sure—but more often than not that came out as rambling, melodramatic drivel (you have noticed my tendency toward melodrama?). Of course sometimes I came up with something I really liked, but my yield was pretty low. And, engineer that I am, I am constantly dissecting and studying the anatomy of my ideas to see if I can more efficiently harness my creativity (is that even possible?).

Looking back over what I've written, I've noticed that the stuff I like best is more or less the stuff that was produced under pressure. Something written with a specific goal or parameters in mind. Let me explain: as an example, let's look at one of the exercises I did in a creative writing class I took in high school. I was to use the following words in a poem: finger, voice, mother, needle, cloud. Moreover, I was to take a proverb and paraphrase it somewhere in the poem. Here's what I came up with:

The Ghost Ship

Black cliffs rise, stern and forbidding,
through the reaching fingers of the mist
Echoes of voices
voices of the disappeared
lost in the clouds of memory
Their mothers sit quietly in the howling wind,
mending with needle and thread the tatters of lost souls
The ghost ship passes by in dead silence,
its passengers screaming soundlessly
The sea is the death of a thousand loves.

Now, call me arrogant, but I was very happy with that result. The same is true of the love poems I mentioned earlier. In fact, the last 5 or 6 poems I've written have been done with that sort of under-pressure writing style, and I've been happy with all of them (and if you'd seen some of my earlier stuff, you'd know that is pretty rare). What I've been doing is this, and it sort of came about naturally. I'd find myself somewhere, maybe driving down the highway late at night, listening to music, and suddenly a word, or a phrase, or a stanza would pop fully-formed into my head, and I'd rush home (or wherever) and write it down. More often than not it'd be a line or a collection of words I thought sounded particularly, for lack of a better word, poetic. But, and this is the most important part, it had no context. It would just be something evocative of an emotion I wanted to capture, or a pleasing combination of sounds. Also more often than not, I had no larger purpose for this phrase.

And so I started amassing this collection of rootless words. Eventually, I compiled a file of them, and occasionally I'll come back and look it over. Then, like scrabble tiles, I'll pick some of them, rearrange them this way and that, maybe add some connective tissue, and presto! I'll have a poem. Here's one like that:

suddenly incomplete

awoken by
the temporary grace
of a breath of your skin
as you passed by on the street

I didn't know you
but you were all that I dream of
in the dreams that
come morning
I can only remember
as impressions of color and emotion

you were not real
in the way that children
are seeds of people
who do not exist, yet
you were the promise of meaning
and the suggestion of joy

you moved too fast
for my mortal eyes to see
leaving only brilliant,
fading afterimages
photo-flashes of vivid life
in a monochrome existence

I was left blinking,
my eyes trying to readjust
to the dimness
of my everyday world

made slack-jawed and slow-witted
by the blinding vision
of unfulfilled possibility
I stood still, there
making small ripples
in the river of people
that flowed around me

I was stunned by
whispers of what-ifs
given a glimpse of the realization
of a wish I didn’t know I had

and all of a sudden
I was unfinished
made somehow less
than I had been
a moment before

I had not missed
what I had not known
what you had just shown me

and I didn’t know which was worse
the loss
or the never-having

and now
when it is all
nothing but a memory
that has not faded
I am still amazed
that something so little

It was built around the phrases "temporary grace" and "children are the seeds of people...". Pretty cool, huh? I find it unbelievable that I could do something that...random, and have the result be something I like. Here's a snippet of an unfinished poem, another one of those collections of rootless words:

light splatters across my room
like a paint spill
an accidental luminosity
a fortuitous geometry
of moon and star and window-pane

That's the beginning of a poem that's been almost-finished for months now. I'm just missing the connective tissue between a couple of the stanzas. Maybe one of these days I'll get another phrase and boom, it'll be done.

What inspires you? More importantly, how does it inspire you? How do the mechanics of your inspiration work? Comment; let me know.

Love poems

So as some of you may know, my sister is getting married in a few weeks. For the ceremony, she and her fiancé wanted to do a couple of readings, and she asked me to help her find one. So we searched around and found some good candidates, but then she thought, knowing that I dabble in writing, that it might be cool to have me try and write something, and we'd keep her final 3rd party provider (Touched by an Angel by Maya Angelou) as an understudy if I wasn't able to come up with something satisfactory; creativity on demand does not always work well, you understand.

Now, I hadn't ever written a love poem before, and hadn't, to be frank, historically been a big fan of the genre; the subject is pretty trite, and I have read very few love poems that I actually like. But where there's a need...Anyway, I came up with a couple of poems that, after some editing, I am pretty happy with, and she ended up picking one of them. For your reading pleasure (?), I've posted them here. First, the runner-up:

Two together: a song of devotion

We came up out of the dark
and found the world free of shadow
found joy where we had not imagined a lack

We exorcized the ghosts of memory
shed the legacy of our past sorrow
and armed ourselves with conviction

Travelers both, we two
now unburdened, now prepared
for the terrain of our lives together

Our ideas of ourselves,
half-formed and shapeless,
only together are made whole
made sharp
made strong

Disbelieving the good fortune
of this chance-met circumstance,
this coincidence of moon and stars,
we come to the truth,
that we are better together than apart.

Though it demands a heavy price
love is the sweetest sacrifice we can make.
This is my pledge:
This is the ink of my love and my loyalty,
tattooed here across my heart,

Credit where it's due: one of the lines in the poem is a paraphrase of a snippet of a poem I saw on TV. I'd like to credit it more fully, but it was a poem written by a fictional character on a TV show, so I guess I have to thank whoever was the poem writer on the "Best Friends" episode of Cold Case:

I came up out of the dark without you
and every day since has been in shadow

Another line, my favorite, is a paraphrase of some song lyrics (really, it's a poem)—from Walking Through the Empty Age by Chris Mosdell:

I dip my hands into this darkness
This is the ink of all our lifetimes
Here in this world of utter silence
Let the stones speak to me

Tattooed here across my skin, "I will live"
Like a rose that grows from the wreckage
Blood red, beautiful
As the storms all around me are now breathless

Beautiful, ain't it? Brings a tear to my eye. No, really. Anyway, moving on. Here is the winner:


It is tempting to consign love
to the banality of daily existence
another of the petty magics of our lifetimes
just, or mere, or only
another meaningless, overused word

But let it come to us
and even the air is sweeter
every instant touched by fate
every breath invested with meaning

Flushed with the happy circumstances of our meetings
the serendipitous confluence of our paths
we dare to believe
that we should be so fortunate
to have found our complements in each other,
that the burgeoning excesses of others
could fill the lack in ourselves
that we could deserve these wondrous gifts
love gives us:
connection where there was a void
hope where there was despair
courage where there was fear
self-sacrifice where there was conceit

Love makes angels of us all,
and only in its arms are we free to fly.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

From E3:

XBox 360 vs. PS3.

I am so downloading this

as soon as I get home: Taboo. According to macosxhints, "Taboo is a plug-in for Safari that warns you if you hit the red close button and you have more than one tab open." It's the little things, man.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Sorry 'bout all those

test posts. I was doing some investigation for someone who was reporting posting problems when using one of my templates.

Test post from Netscape 7.2 for Mac OS X

Please ignore.

Test post from Mozilla 1.7.5 for Mac OS X

Please ignore.

Test post from Firefox 1.0.1 for Mac OS X

Please ignore.

Test post from Safari 2.0 for Mac OS X

Please ignore.

Test post from Netscape 7.2 for Windows

Please ignore.

Test post from Mozilla 1.7.5 for Windows

Please ignore.

Test post from Firefox 1.0.4 for Windows

Please ignore.

Test post from MS IE 6.0 SP2 for Windows

Please ignore.

Looks like one of my wishes came true

Behold: the RPN scientific calculator widget for Dashboard. And it's RPN! How could they have known I was a die hard HP calculator user? This is great!

And speaking of great things, here's the RSS feed for new Dashboard widgets.

This is exciting:

The teaser trailer for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (my favorite of the 5 books thus far) has been posted on Apple's trailers site.

When was the last time you

watched a really good movie where Stuff Blows Up? For me, it was about 5 minutes ago; I just finished watching the super ultra triple platinum THX mastered DTS version of the first Die Hard1. It is arguably—and I know this is a strong statement—the best action movie of all time. Sure, there are some great ones: True Lies, The Rock, Bad Boys (although that's really more of a comedy, even though lots of Stuff Blows Up in it), The Killer, just to name a few2. But this one...this one is the best.

I mean, they just don't make 'em like that anymore. All the so-called action movies that come out these days are CG-heavy, poorly-written, PG-13 mockeries. Come on: PG-13? Please. Everything's PG-13 nowadays. Even Alien vs. Predator was PG-133. Who ever heard of a PG-13 monster movie? If you cut out the blood and guts, where's the fun in it?

I don't know, action movies these days seem to be nothing more than a bunch of fast cars, cheesy one-liners and special effects cobbled together, with all the objectionable bits cut out so that teenyboppers can go see them. They have no teeth. Maybe I'm just getting old, but I really miss the good old days. Sigh.

1 Die Hard, in case you're interested, ranks as number 4 on Men's Journal's list of The 50 Best Guy Movies of All Time, after Dirty Harry, The Godfather part I, and Scarface. I must here take exception to the fact that MJ says
a true guy movie is a movie only a guy can love. A crucial distinction. Pop one into the DVD player and your wife or girlfriend should run screaming from the room.
I am living proof that this is not true. Granted, I am one of the only chicks I know (among 3, I think) who is a sucker for action movies, but one exception is enough to disprove that assertion. Another thing I have to take exception to: The Matrix and Caddyshack (don't get me wrong; they're great) make it into the top 10, but Star Wars doesn't? Where's the justice?

2 You'll note that I am only mentioning strictly action movies. No sci-fi, no comic book movies, no fantasy. Just straight up, cops-and-robbers, cops-and-terrorists, hitmen-and-hitmen action movies.

3 Note that this is why I never saw it.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

On Engadget:

Canadian "scientist" says "God Light" cures cancer. Heh.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Have I

mentioned that I love Billy Collins? Oh. Yes. I have. Here's one of my favorites: Litany.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Doom and gloom!

Evidently some websites can automatically install annoying (but not, apparently, destructive) widgets on your computer if you're running Tiger and have Safari's "Open 'safe' files after downloading" feature enabled. The only way to remove these widgets is to manually delete them from ~/Library/Widgets. FYI. (Thanks to Matt for the link)

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Tiger: first impressions: Dashboard

I have to say it. I am loving this Dashboard thing. I mean, before when I read that it was going to be a feature of Tiger, I thought it was a pretty cool idea, but the reality is so much more. Widgets I have on my Dashboard: the yellow pages, clock, stickies, calendar, address book, dictionary and weather. The weather one is hands down my favorite. I press one key and I have the weather forecast for the next 5 days. I love it!

And the dashboard widget download page at has a bunch more. Some of my favorites: TV Tracker, Battery Status, and the wi-fi hotspot finder (!).

Widgets I'd like to see:
  • A Google maps widget
  • A Zagat widget
  • A calculator widget that can do scientific functions. A calculator that only performs arithmetic functions is useless to me.

And another thing:

I noticed today that in Safari, where I do most of my posting from, if I preview my post and then hide the preview, the options to allow comments and set the time and date of the post below the post content field disappear. Is that intentional? Hmmm. I can't believe that it is.

OK, gotta take a break

from all this Tiger reviewing for a couple of things:
  • First, happy Cinco de Mayo!
  • I am peeved at Blogger and have to gripe. I had intended to start my last post last night, and so had loaded the Create Post page in Blogger, but never came back to write it. So this morning when I sat down at my computer, I just started typing in the post content field and thought nothing of it. Of course, when I went to publish the post, Blogger said that since I had left the session running all night, my login session had expired, and asked me to log in again. I did. But instead of continuing to publish the post, Blogger just displayed the dashboard, and when I went to check my list of posts, the latest one wasn't there. Why doesn't Blogger continue a task it's been asked to do through login? That's just dumb. Luckily I was able to hit the back button on my browser, and the contents of my post were still cached, so I was able to publish the post eventually, but I could just as easily have lost the contents forever. Arrrggghh. This is an obvious functionality gap, and I, for one, am going to write them a nasty letter/bug report about it.

Tiger: first impressions: Spotlight vs. Quicksilver

You've probably already heard me raving about Quicksilver. With the release of Tiger, its continued existence has come into question, since you can search for and launch applications from Spotlight, as well. Does this mean that Quicksilver is totally obsolete and I'm not going to use it anymore? Absolutely not. Although the application launching capability of Spotlight is nice, it's primarily a search tool; it's not as flexible as Quicksilver:

First, Quicksilver is primarily an application launcher; thus, it's automatically configured to launch the application you search for. Basically you type the name of the application you want to launch and hit return, and you're done. In Spotlight, although Applications come up first on the list of search results, you always have to do some cursoring down the list to find the item you want and launch it. For efficiency Quicksilver is the way to go.

Second, Quicksilver goes one step beyond Spotlight; it can perform more tasks once you find something. You can also find applications and folders quickly, but once you do, Quicksilver has an adaptive list of tasks; for example, you can get info on a folder, or search its contents. For an application, you can choose to open a file in the one you searched for, or move it to another folder, or a whole host of other things. Spotlight, in comparison, only finds things and opens them.

In conclusion, although Spotlight has some nice capabilities, it's meant to be a search tool, and that's what I'll use it for. I'm keeping Quicksilver around for my application-launching needs.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Tiger: first impressions: Mail, Address Book and iCal (and, indirectly, Spotlight)

Most faithful readers of this blog will know that I'd had it up to here with Microsoft Entourage months ago. Other than its cool correlation between address book contacts, e-mails and calendar events, it had nothing going for it. Not search, not (surprise) interoperability, and not usability. Especially not usability. This is why, with Tiger's promised Spotlight search capabilities, along with improvements in Mail and Address Book, I had determined to switch away from Entourage once and for all.

The thing I was most concerned about transferring from one program to the other was my contact list. The new version of Address Book has the capability to import contact information from a tab-delimited text file, which is (go figure) the only way Entourage will export its contacts. God forbid Microsoft should write software that will play well with others. Anyway, I figured that once I exported the information, only half the battle was done; getting the fields to match correctly in Address Book would be the real challenge, I thought. It turns out, though, that Address Book is smarter about field-matching than is Outlook 2003 for Windows. With a few corrections here and there, I was able to get my contacts loaded into Address Book with a minimum of fuss. Note, however, that even though I matched up the birthday fields properly during the import process, none of my contacts' birthdays were imported properly into Address Book. I had to put in the birthdays manually, but there were few enough entries that it wasn't a big deal.

Next, of course, is the actual e-mail transfer. I am once again pleased to report that it went off without a hitch. Mail imported my messages from Entourage and kept them in their respective folders, which made my post-import clean-up much easier. Previous versions of Mail have not been as smart or tidy about this. A note on aesthetics: I don't happen to agree with John Siracusa that the new version of Mail "got beaten with the ugly stick," but I'd have to say that with Mail, iCal and Address Book working so closely together thanks to Spotlight, it'd have been nice to see all three programs get the same type of facelift, so that they at least look unified.

On to iCal. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any easy way (that works in Tiger) to import Entourage calendar events and to-dos into iCal. However, iCal 2.0 has the nifty feature of automatically creating a calendar of birthdays from the information stored in Address Book. This is nice, but not fully featured enough--it's enabled by a check-box in the iCal preferences, but is not otherwise configurable; you can't edit the calendar, and there is no capability to set alarms for those events. Also, there is no likewise provision made for anniversaries. I can only hope they have plans to fix this inconvenience.

Finally, after I got all my information migrated over to Mail, Address Book and iCal, I tried a Spotlight search to see how it all worked together. I started Spotlight and searched for the name of one of my contacts. In the blink of an eye, it came back with documents containing that person's name, mail messages from that person (with the latest message on the top of the list, which I like), her card in Address Book, events and to-dos involving her, and even (this is the kicker) files I had sent to her over e-mail. How cool is that? I mean, wow!

And the coolest thing about all this, of course, is that you can save that Spotlight search as what's called a "smart folder", which will constantly update itself with the results of the search. I could come back 6 months from now and look for an e-mail I sent my friend yesterday, and I'd find it in seconds. Isn't that the best?

More to come...

Tiger: first impressions: installation

So I had a minor apoplectic fit last night. High off the almost laughable ease with which I had installed (upgrade, not clean install) Tiger on my slower Mac (a 667 MHz/512 MB RAM G4 TiBook), I did a cursory backup of the data on my faster machine (a dual 1.42 GHz/1.5 GB RAM G4 desktop) and set out to install the new OS. And that's when my troubles began:

The installation kept crapping out on the part where it verifies the destination volume (i.e. the hard drive) and telling me to try again. After about 3 tries and no successes, I got the brilliant idea to run Disk Utility to see if there were any problems with my main hard drive. Note that one of Disk Utility's most unfortunate shortcomings is that it can't verify or repair the disk it's running from; since I had booted off the installation DVD-ROM, I could run verification and repair processes on the main hard drive from the copy of Disk Utility located on the DVD-ROM. It turned out that there was a problem with the disk, but when I tried to repair it, the repair failed. So, now what?

With barely-restrained panic, I did some Googling, and came up with this article, which basically told me to reboot in single user mode and run the fsck utility, which is better at fixing problems, apparently, than the asr utility that Disk Utility uses to fix hard disks. So I did reboot into single user mode, and ran fsck -fy at the command prompt. Sure enough, it found problems, said it repaired them, and that the disk was now fixed. So then I rebooted and tried installation again: same problem. Huh?

OK, back to the drawing board. This article said that I needed to keep running fsck -fy from the single user prompt until it showed that no errors were found. So I did. 5 or 6 tries later, I still kept getting the message that errors were fixed, but not that no errors were found. Then I noticed that I kept seeing the same error whenever I ran fsck: "Overlapped extent allocation (file 2684056d)". So I did a Google search on "overlapped extent allocation", and hit the jackpot (search for "Manually fix Overlapped Extent Allocation Errors without Diskwarrior" on the page).

Apparently, fsck can't fix overlapped extent allocation errors (basically this is when two files seem to be sharing the same memory space); the only way to fix this error (well, the only way to fix this error without buying expensive disk repair software) is to remove the offending file (identified by the number in the error message above). This, as you might imagine, could be troublesome if the file in question is a system file. So, to find out the path of the file, I ran find / -inum 2684056 -print. Note that I changed the -inode attribute in the article to -inum; there is no -inode attribute for the find command. More details can be found by running man find at the command prompt.

Anyway, to my everlasting relief, it turned out that the file was an audio file in my iTunes library; I had actually caused the problem myself earlier that day by backing up my iTunes library (which is on an external firewire hard drive) to the main hard drive on my computer. So, again from the single user mode prompt, I mounted the hard drive (mount -uw /) and removed the troublemaking file. After rebooting, the installation went off without a hitch. Hallelujah!

All told, the installation was actually very smooth. More first impressions to come...

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

It's here:

Ars Technica's official review of Tiger (Mac OS X 10.4, which should be arriving at my door any minute now). Obsessively detailed, comprehensive, and chock-full of such insights as: "The whole Mail application looks like it got beaten with the ugly stick in Tiger,". Check it out!

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Temptation: 2, Me: 0

Well, now I've done it. Not only did I go to Super 7 this weekend and happen to find another signed copy of Fragments that I just had to buy, but I ordered the PSP a couple of days ago. Now I'm just waiting for Wipeout Pure to arrive. In the meantime, I've got Ridge Racer to keep me occupied, and, very soon, Lumines. Aww yeah.