Dan Wheldon’s Good Company

The upcoming Indy 500 has me bummed out all over again about the death last October of Dan Wheldon. While reminiscing and thinking about IRL/Champ Car/CART/”big car” safety advances over the years, I started to wonder how many past winners of the race were killed before they had a chance to defend their win. For a sport which has such a bloody history, the list includes surprisingly few names.

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Why “Tinker Bell” is a great movie.

So, Disney decided to make some new movies focused on Tinker Bell from the Peter Pan universe, and released “Tinker Bell” in 2008.  I checked it out from the library last week and finally saw all the whole thing with my daughters tonight.  Let me give you a very quick plot synopsis:

A young girl trying to find her way in a new place struggles to change herself into what she thinks she wants to be, only to find that she was already what she wanted to be.

Not exciting for me.  The flesh has been painted onto those bones a thousand times, usually with the “new place” being school and “wants to be” being popular.  Whatevs.

But now let me synopsize Tinker Bell:

A young fairy (Tinker Bell) is born on Neverland.  Through a sorting ceremony she is selected to be in the guild of tinkers (makers/fixers) and not one of the “Nature” fairies (who are responsible for things like the changing seasons, caring for animals, etc).  Tink shows extreme talent as a tinker, but a MacGuffin pushes her to make a dedicated attempt to join any other guild.  Many attempts at this fail.  She eventually fails very publicly and catastrophically.  After some soul searching, she realizes she can use her skill as a tinker to make tools that will erase the effects of the catastrophe.

So why is this different to me?

  1. The biggie for me, the thing that even made me pay attention to the movie, is that her skill was “making”.  Not singing or cheerleading.  I know that they were handed the “tinker” role by J. M. Barrie, but they didn’t have to run with it.  The fact that she was a literal tinker wasn’t covered in the 1953 Peter Pan, which is the only real work they had to respect in this movie.  They could easily have ditched the literal tinker aspect of her character and no one would have made a fuss, but they didn’t.  They kept it and made Tink a “maker”, which I think is great.
  2. I absolutely love that the MacGuffin doesn’t involve a boy in any way.  The plot’s not driven by Tink’s desire to get a boyfriend, by someone else’s attempt to steal her boyfriend, etc.  Absolutely none of her sense of self worth in this movie is driven by a relationship she does or doesn’t have with a boy.  It was a very refreshing experience to watch a movie where the female lead was fulfilled by making a device that can paint ladybugs and not by a dude smiling at her.

The movie was by no means perfect – the fact that she was “born” and started working the same day never stopped bothering me for instance – but it was significantly better than any other kids straight-to-DVD movie I’ve watched in a long time.  Maybe it’s not that great, and I’m just being mislead by my incredibly low expectations going in, but I would encourage my girls to watch this movie again, which is not something I expected to say when we got it.

Well, I Can Cross “Hang a Barn Door In My Living Room” Off My Bucket List

I’m still not 100% sure how I came to hang a barn door in my living room.  I think maybe my wife and I were playing chicken with each other.  Neither of us blinked, and now I have a barn door, which I love and had a great time making, hanging in my living room.  Woo!

Day 1: Plans, wood

The basic door plan and shopping list. This list turned out pretty well. I need to return two pieces of hardware and I used one extra 1x4.

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The Unfortunate George Foster

I was listening to the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast tonight titled “Who was the real Dr. Frankenstein?“.  The podcast was ok, was familiar with the popularity of “let’s shock dead things and see what happens” experiments in the early 19th century, and that the discussion of these had most likely sparked the idea of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster in Mary Shelley.

One specific detail really grabbed me.  While there was a fad, the original idea seems to have been largely conceived of by Luigi Galvani and popularized and refined as a road show by his nephew Giovanni Aldini.  I certainly don’t want to give these guys short shrift as they were clearly serious scholars.  Galvini gave his name to the process of galvanizing metals, among other achievements, and Aldini is the direct father of electro-shock therapy and the removed ancestor of the defibrillation process.  But, without quite so much academic detachment, what you basically had was a guy shocking a corpse in front of a live studio audience (don’t forget to tip your waitress!).

On January 18, 1803, George Foster was hung as the convicted murderer of his wife and youngest child.  After he was dead he was cut down and taken to the Royal College of Surgeons, where he was to be the main exhibit for Aldini’s performance that evening.  Aldini applied direct current to the face, causing muscles to clench and Foster’s left eye to open.  The show-stopper, though, was the application of the current to Foster’s rectum, resulting in convulsions in the entire body, including his arms being thrown into the air and his back arching as if he were taking a gasping breath.

Good times, good times.

After all this, the whole reason this really captured my interested was a statement made in the podcast that even if Aldini had “reanimated” Foster.  The exact words in the podcast were something like “police had a plan – if Foster had been reanimated he would have been re-executed”.

This strikes me as kind of a raw deal.  Not that I’m a big fan of murder, but, come on, being killed once should be enough.  I decided to track down this statement in the podcast and see if it had any basis in fact.

The first hit is George Foster’s wikipedia page, always a good place to start research (though a poor place to finish it, of course).  That page states that “[t]he Newgate Calendar reports that even if this had been so, he would have been re-executed since his sentence was to ‘hang until he be dead'”.  Nice.

The Newgate Calendar is two things.  First, it was a monthly summary of executions at Newgate Prison.  Secondly, it was very popular collection of stories of the various crimes committed and punishments received.  As I read it, in 1825 the parents in a family would have this book in the home to “scare straight” the kids.  It also appears to be fairly entertaining reading, in much the same way a horror movie can be entertaining.  But more on that in a minute.

I found two very good sources for the Newgate Calendar’s entry on George Foster.  The easiest to read is at a very interesting site I just found tonight called “The Ex-Classics Website“.  There is a page dedicated to George Foster’s entry.  Since I don’t know the reputation of Ex-Classics, I also found the entry on Google Books.  The Google Books entry corroborates the Ex-Classics page but is harder to read.  It’s worth it though because it provides the original layout – some context was lost in the Ex-Classics page.

Here’s the specific entry I’m curious about, the one regarding re-executing Foster (the line’s in a footnote, including the footnoted body text also for context):

[…] On the first application of the process to the face, the jaws of the deceased criminal began to quiver, and the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and one eye was actually opened. In the subsequent part of the process the right hand was raised and clenched, and the legs and thighs were set in motion. *[…]

* An experiment was made on a convict named Patrick Redmond, who was hanged for a street robbery, on the 24th of February, 1767, in order to bring him to life. It appeared that the sufferer had hung twenty-eight minutes when the mob rescued the body and carried it to an appointed place, where a surgeon was in attendance to try the experiment bronchotomy, which is an incision in the windpipe, and which in less than six hours produced the desired effect. A collection was made for the poor fellow, and interest made to obtain his pardon, for it will be remembered that the law says the condemned shall hang until he be dead; consequently men who, like Redmond, recovered, were liable to be again hanged up until they were dead.

This isn’t really what I was hoping for.  I imagined a court decree and armed guards around the building.  Instead we get this footnote, and here begins my real concern with the historical accuracy.  Because the popular Newgate Calendar essentially justified its existence by editorializing the crimes, this footnote basically reads to me as “Hey you kids, don’t think just because you might get resurrected that you can escape the fate that awaits you should you slip into a life of sin”.  So it appears that I have a contemporary source for the statement, but the source isn’t reliable.

I did have fun looking through this tonight even if the final stop isn’t the most satisfying.  I’ll end this with a great sentence, from George Foster’s entry in the Newgate Calendar

 [T]he cap was pulled over his eyes, when the stage falling from under him, he was launched into eternity.


What Changed in the New Version of Neal Stephenson’s Reamde?

Last night I received an email from Amazon stating that the copy of Neal Stephenson’s Reamde was “missing content” and that there was a new version available.  Specifically:

We’re writing about your past Kindle purchase of Reamde: A Novel by Neal Stephenson. The version you received had Missing Content that have been corrected.

An updated version of Reamde: A Novel (ASIN:B004XVN0WW) is now available. It’s important to note that when we send you the updated version, you will no longer be able to view any highlights, bookmarks, and notes made in your current version and your furthest reading location will be lost.

I didn’t deal with it right away because I knew I had at least one highlight that I wanted to save.

This morning, it occurred to me that, since I’m 14% into the book, if I keep reading from the same spot I might never see the “missing content”.  Since I still had the old version, I decided to make a copy of it and see if I could figure out what changes they were delivering to me.  I saved my current position and the highlight, then responded to Amazon’s email to get the new copy.

While waiting for the new copy, I googled around a bit to see if I could details of what changed elsewhere.  I didn’t turn up those details, but I did find a few sites noting that the book had been pulled from Amazon (it’s back now), as well as lots of complaints about formatting issues.  I hadn’t noticed those issues myself.

After I got the new copy, I ninja’d up a text copy of both the old and new version, then massaged them a bit to make diffing easier.  Specifically I deleted blank lines, and then made each sentence its own line.

As expected, the vast majority of the changes were formatting.  The most common change was the removal of an odd character at the beginning of some words.  The character is 0xC2AD.  It renders as a dash in some tools, and I think it was probably not rendered at all in the Kindle software.

The rest of the punctuation changes were the addition and removal of dashes (“sledge-hammer” became “sledgehammer”), the occasional smart quote fix, and moving some commas around.  I have the original diff, but I’m not sure how interesting it is so I’m not posting it.

Now for the meat – were there any meaningful changes to the text?  There were indeed, though nothing so dramatic as a missing chapter.  Here are all the meaningful changes that I could find:

Two sentences were elided and combined in first version:

- Details of history that Geraldine and herm it was like a dog whistle.”
+ Details of history that Geraldine and her staff wouldn’t necessarily put together into a bigger picture.
+ But his fans—to them it was like a dog whistle.”

This entire sentence was missing from the original.  previous and next sentences provided for context:

  And if there is some other such thing I have not heard of yet—none of that either!”
+ In Russian, Csongor said, “What if we need to go into the world of T’Rain?”
  In English, Ivanov said, “Only exception to rule: Zula can play T’Rain if necessary.

Another example of sentences being combined:

- Probing been preparing for the Wor one month in advance, who’s to say they weren’t preparing for it six months or even twelve in advance?”
+ Probing attacks on what would soon become the Earthtone Coalition’s front lines.
+ Which leads to the question, if certain people had been been preparing for the Wor one month in advance, who’s to say they weren’t preparing for it six months or even twelve in advance?”

I’m not really sure if this is a meaningful change or not, but it’s certainly bigger than punctuation:

- “Yes, but—”to do with each
+ “Yes, but—”

Some missing words from the original:

- She called you at 8:42 and told you this story about REAMDE investigation and said she needed to know who had cast a healing spell on her character.”
+ She called you at 8:42 and told you this story about working with me on the REAMDE investigation and said she needed to know who had cast a healing spell on her character.”

Here’s a change that’s not especially meaningful but I’m including because it’s actually a new typo, which is interesting:

- The thin smile came back. “I believe we have that adequately covered.”
+ The thin smile came back. “I believe we have that adequately covered.”1P

Last one – never would have gotten this far if I hadn’t been doing this, but it looks like they messed up the cover design credit.  Oops!

- Cover design by James Iacobelli
+ Cover design by James Lacobelli

And that is that – nice to have a cleaned up version, but nothing to worry about missing if you’ve already started the book.

(Thanks to Perl, diff, and WinMerge)

It’s The Little Things That Get Me

My website is hosted by Dreamhost, currently on a server named “tucana” (previously on “hi-c”, RIP).  Two weeks ago tucana had a couple of outages.  These were definitely longer than I’m used to, but I more than get what I pay for with Dreamhost – if I were selling services I would be using a coloed server.  For the money I pay, a 24 hour outage every 2-3 years is actually pretty good.

So I wasn’t too terribly put out by the outage – I had local backups from the night before.  I sat back to wait it out.  It came back up with (mostly) all of my files(*) and I was happy.  But they made one small change that I noticed immediately – they changed the “font” of the server name in the motd file.

Here’s the old banner:

 | |_ _  _ __ __ _ _ _  __ _ 
 |  _| || / _/ _` | ' \/ _` |
 Welcome to tucana.dreamhost.com

And here’s the new banner:

   _| |  |  _|  _` |   \   _` | 
 \__|\_,_|\__|\__,_|_| _|\__,_| 
 Welcome to tucana.dreamhost.com

I noted it and then moved on, but my brain can’t let it go.  Every time I log in I notice that the banner is different.  I’m really ready for my brain to stop caring about this…

(*) Everything in my home directory was found and current, but, since they put a new OS on the server, my crontab was missing.  They eventually restored one, but it was several weeks old.  Fortunately at some point I started dumping it into my home directly every night so it would get picked up by my backups – whew!

I Think My Plumber’s A System Administrator…

My house’s water is provided by a well, and I live in a notoriously low-water part of my county. As such, every year since I’ve lived here I’ve had water issues in the fall. I have a “well guy” who is helping me with these issues, diagnosing minor issues, delivering water for the well when there’s no other alternative, etc.

This guy’s great, but I always feel on the back foot around him and I’ve never really known why. He came out today to look into my current issue (actual leak in the line between well and house) and I myself trying to dive deeper into what strikes me as odd about him. Here’s my list:

  1. Rarely rude, but often so overworked that he’s very brusque.
  2. Very obviously cares more about fixing my problem because it offends him that the problem exists, not because it affects me, the customer, in any way.
  3. Often proceeds with fixes without adequately explaining the exact nature of the problem. I often have to drag post mortems out of him later.

So then it hits me – this guy’s a sys admin! He’s sharp, he has an intuitive grasp of troubleshooting in his domain, and he cares more about the systems in his domain than the people affected! How have I never noticed this before?

When did the metaverse die?

NPR published a reader-selected list of the top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy books.  The list is wonderful and great fun can be had finding new stuff to read or debating the relative merits of the books.

I was thrilled to see one of my all-time favorites on the list, Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.  If you haven’t read this book and you care at all about science fiction at all, you’d probably enjoy it.

However, I was taken off-guard by their book description:

“Weaving contemporary imagery with Sumerian myths, Stephenson’s third novel revolves around a mysterious “pseudo-narcotic” Snow Crash that is capable of affecting people both within — and without — the alternate-reality Internet called the “Metaverse.””

The Metaverse of the book is essentially the same virtual reality that everyone was discussing.  I think you used goggles to get to it instead of “jacking in” ala Neuromancer, but same general concept.  I know I’m reading to much into a 40-word blurb, but doesn’t it seem to say that the quest for virtual reality is over because we have the internet?  Bah!

I still hope for compelling, readily available immersive computing environments.  Of course it will be over the Internet, or whatever replaces the Internet as a communications bus, but just as the world wide web isn’t defined as the Internet itself, so too will VR ride on top of and extend the Internet.

Please, please don’t say anything to imply that the Metaverse is already here.  I want my house!

Blog Necromancy…

I’ve been enjoying posting random things on Google+ but have been feeling vaguely guilty about clogging up the tubes.  Decided to start up a blog to post anything I wanted guilt free.  While doing so I remembered an old blogspot blog I had for a while.  Everything before this post was imported from that (since deleted) blog.