Wednesday, November 15

bram, i swear i'm going to send you and those kids in uganda some money.

vim scp://p1k3.com//www/p1k3/archives/2006/11/15

Why didn't I know about this sooner?

Also, geek love to Charles E. Campbell, Jr., for writing netrw.vim and for having the best garishly awful personal homepage background I have seen in a month of Sundays. With a dragon, even. Dr. Campbell, you are the man.

Sunday, November 12

(Posted later, incomplete thought.)

Elizabeth and I are both sitting on the couch in our bedroom, working with text on laptops. My laptop is a Compaq Presario 2500. It is enormous, has three case fans, and weighs almost as much as the 286 Zenith my dad had for work back in the early 90s. Unlike the clunkily appealing Zenith, with its full-sized keyboard and glowing blue monochrome display, it is simply ugly.

Elizabeth is using a borrowed Macintosh, which as a physical object is like a Cooper Mini to the Compaq's late-model Chevy SUV, a Moleskine to its tattered Meade Wide-ruled Spiral Notebook, a Parker 24 to its dried up Bic, a Glenfiddich to its Jack & Coke...

I'll spare you the further standard observations which boil down to how the people creating Apple's products actually design things. If you care at all about this sort of thing, you've heard it before, and if your sensibilities are anything like mine, you might also feel that the technological religion which is Apple is kind of grating at this late date. Feeling morally & socially superior for using a Mac is pretty much like earnestly believing that shopping at Whole Foods makes you a better person.

Which is sort of a problem. There's a whole host of things which are visibly better along some highly noticeable axis. It's not that hard to see the appeal of Whole Foods over your local Super Wal-Mart. But it's dangerous (isn't it?) to conflate this appeal with an all around betterness.

Thursday, November 9

this isn't your little website, this is an encyclopedia.

I pick a fight over on Wikipedia. Sort of.

Wednesday, November 8

I'm not sure I care too deeply, and it sure as hell ain't all that surprising, but I think I just caught the Bill Ritter (as of yesterday, Colorado's governor-elect) campaign (or an earnest supporter) gaming Wikipedia.

Exhibit A, a version of the Bill Ritter article with some text I killed, under Missionary work:

In 1987, Bill was a fifth-year prosecutor working as an assistant district attorney in Denver. His career was on the rise, but he and Jeannie decided to make a major change. They closed up their house and moved to the African nation of Zambia, where they managed a food distribution and nutrition center.

As lay missionaries with the Catholic Church, they trucked 60 tons of food a month from the Zambian capital 400 miles to their depot in Mongu. They then distributed the food deep into the drought-stricken sub-Saharan bush. Bill and Jeannie also added poultry and fishery programs. They taught women the importance of good nutrition and food preparation for their families. And in a country ravaged by AIDS, malaria, leprosy and chronic malnourishment, Bill and Jeannie taught basic health care. Nearly 35 percent of children younger than 5 suffered from chronic malnourishment.

Bill and Jeannie's young son, August, became fast friends with the local children. Their second son, Abe, was born in Africa. The Zambians referred to Bill as Bo Ritta. Bo means Mr., and in Silozi, a form of Bantu, words dont end in consonants so Ritter became Ritta.

In Africa, I learned that leadership is about listening to people, understanding their struggles, and walking with them on the path to a better tomorrow. We were forever inspired by the hope and spirit of the people of Africa, even in the face of such poverty and despair. The Ritters returned to Denver from Zambia in 1990. Three years later, then-Gov. Roy Romer appointed Ritter as Denvers district attorney, citing Ritters service in Africa as an important part of the decision.

Ritter has recently unveiled a new page on his website showcasing his three-year tour in Africa [4].

Exhibit B, the meat of that page on his website showcasing etc.:

In 1987, Bill and Jeannie Ritter packed up their
1-year-old son and left Denver for Zambia, Africa.
For the next three years, they ran a food
distribution and nutrition center as lay
missionaries for the Catholic Church.

It's one of the most inspiring pieces of
Bill's background.

They trucked 60 tons of food a month 400
miles from the capital city to their depot
in Mongu. They then distributed the food
deep into the bush. Bill and Jeannie also
added poultry and fishery programs. They
taught women the importance of good nutrition
and food preparation for their families. And in
a country ravaged not just by drought, but also by AIDS,
malaria, leprosy and chronic malnourishment, Bill and
Jeannie taught basic health care.

Their young son, August, became fast friends with the local
children. Bill and Jeannie's second son, Abe, was born in Africa.

In Africa, Bill says, he learned that leadership is about listening to
people, understanding their struggles, and walking with them on the
path to a better tomorrow.

"We were forever inspired by the hope and spirit of the people of
Africa," Bill says, "even in the face of such poverty and despair."

(Notice the ragged linebreaks on the righthand side of that quote? That's because on the original page, the line-lengths are carefully tweaked to wrap around the edge of a graphic of Africa. Somewhere, Tim Berners-Lee is weeping.)

If you were to guess that the rest of the Bill Ritter article is more or less lifted from the same campaign site, well, a cursory look at the biography page wouldn't do much to dispel your embittered cynicism.

I kept meaning to quit paying any further attention to this, after adding an NPOV tag and a quick line on the talk page about the article sounding like campaign copy, but then Editor19841 deleted said tag with the line No POV here; if there is, cite.

Well, ok.

And then there is this:

I'm really proud of how far this article has come, and consider it to be one of Wikipedia's best. When I started my work on the page, it contained only one sentence, but with some hard work and some research, we as editors have accomplished a lot by working together. I just wanted to thank everybody involved in the creation and forming of this great article for all your work. I think that after a good picture of Ritter is added to this article (hopefully next to "Contents"), I'm thinking of nominating the article to become a feature for Wikipedia. If any of you agree with me, please say so. I'm currently looking at possible pictures from Ritter's campaign site to add to the article, and if anyone has a suggestion... Editor19841 00:19, 11 March 2006 (UTC)

So the question I have is, is this just someone logrolling shilling for a politician they approve of and being fairly bad at covering their bias / lifting the text? A link following text to the page the text was copied & pasted from sort of points that direction. Is it an agent of the campaign organization being really stupid about covering their tracks and/or lazy about reusing the text? I'd buy either explanation, but I sure do get a whiff of techno-folksie bullshit from that we as editors have accomplished a lot by working together paragraph.

Monday, November 6

slap it up!

It's been almost a year now since I and my colleagues on the shipping and receiving dock sat down to formally codify the rules of an exciting new game — dare I say it, a sport — we had devised over the course of many hours, using only the materials and playing surfaces at hand. Since then, we've all gone our separate ways, but I like to think that little burst of autumn creativity will live on in the annals of sporting history.

Here, then, I present a key historical document retrieved from the depths of /home/bbearnes:

Rules of Slapball
First Edition

Issued by the Slapball Rules Committee, November 15, 2005

equipment

The slapball is roughly spherical. It should weigh between 2.4 and 3 ounces, with a diameter of 3 to 4 inches. It is composed of an appropriate combination of plastic shrink wrap, bubble wrap, and packing tape. The ball may be layered, wrapped, and packed to achieve desired characteristics.

A broom or similar object may be necessary for retrieving the slapball.

playing field

Slapball is generally played on a smooth, hard surface. Indoor rooms with walls, exposed joists, pipes, and ductwork are optimal. Streets, athletic courts (indoor or out), and other environments are also acceptable.

rules of play

Optimal play generally requires three or more players, although fewer are acceptable and solo play (freestyle) is encouraged.

  1. Play begins when the slapball is served by bouncing it once off the floor. Any other player may then continue play with a slap.
  2. A slap consists of the use of any body part to keep the ball in play, or alive.
  3. A player is allowed an unlimited number of total slaps, but may only hand slap the ball twice in succession without a reset. A reset consists of slapping the ball with any other body part, or of bouncing it off of any object.
  4. The slapball is considered dead when it has ceased to bounce, with the following exception:
  5. If the slapball lands on an object or surface above the level of the playing floor and rolls, the slapball may be played when it rolls off an edge. Examples would be a tabletop or cardboard box.

Given these simple rules, a surprisingly complex and athletic game emerges. Slapball offers lower barriers to entry than, for example, the superficially similar hacky sack. The game is initially slow paced and forgiving, since most errors can be quickly recovered by one of the players. With experience, however, greater confidence leads to more daring slaps, and the true scope of potential play begins to emerge.

Elements of the playing environment substantially impact the game and expand its possibilities — it is not just a concrete floor, it is a concrete floor littered with pallet jacks and server hardware in boxes destined for Mumbai. Where ceiling features such as ductwork and lighting fixtures once seemed to threaten the untimely end of a game, the experienced slapballer recognizes a rich and varied surface, amenable to countless bounces, rolls, and interesting combinations.

As players incorporate more features of the court and make ever-bolder slaps, greater effort and skill is required to continue play. Keeping the slapball alive often means negotiating an unforgiving arena at high speed, avoiding obstacles, and diving to perform an emergency slap just before the last of the ball's momentum is exhausted.

Playing slapball also turns out to have a unique social dimension, for slapball is basically a cooperative game, in two important senses:

First, although it would be easy to devise a competitive scoring method, the highest level of play seems to be achieved by working towards the shared goal of sustaining the game for as long as possible, in the most interesting fashion. Rhythms of play emerge, with bursts of intense cross-court activity following risky slaps, and improvised solos, extended series of slaps by individual players, become integral to the flow of the game.

Second, at least in its native arena, slapball is fundamentally a transgressive and anti-authoritarian activity, and to-date has always taken place in an environment of surveillance. The true obstacles to the continuation of play were not crates of drive arrays, or piles of freshly delivered FedEx packages — they were irate, chainsmoking Xerox site management and needy Sun employees, and avoiding their wrath was crucial to the continuation of the game.

Saturday, November 4

So Levi wrote last night asking for some help with the citations in his dissertation. He's using LaTeX, with BibTeX (what else?) for the cites. Figuring out why it wasn't working (he was using an outdated style file) was more painful than it should have been, but I learned a few things in the process.

I was going to do a detailed write-up here, but when I began contemplating the level of exposition it would take to make a useful and interesting narrative (even playing fast and loose with the meaning of interesting), I became incredibly discouraged.

Instead, I will just list some things that might be useful if you find yourself trying to do APSR-style cites and LaTeX keeps crapping out on you.

more: harvard