Carl Banks' Blog

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Why did the movie The Matrix suck so bad?

I just got done watching a very good, highly entertaining movie, V for Vendetta, on FX. It was created by the Wachowski brothers, who made another movie I thought was excellent, Bound, but are most well-known for the Matrix Trilogy.

V for Vendetta and Bound were such good movies, it makes me wonder, why did The Matrix suck so bad?

I know exactly why I didn't like The Matrix; I just wonder why the Wachowski brothers did it. In V for Vendetta they took existing idea—totalitarianism, vigilanteism, revolution, and vengeance—and made a movie about them, but without the pretension of being the first ones to ever present those ideas. It's not as if no one has ever sat down and thought about whether vigilanteism is ever justified, and the movie didn't make itself out to be the first to ever ponder these ideas.

The Matrix, however, did. The Wachowski brothers presented this idea that the world we live in is just an illusion, as if they were the first people to ever ponder that idea. Well, no they weren't: the Greek philosopher Plato wrote about this idea only around 2500 years ago in his Allegory of the Cave. And, to make matters worse, the movie fails miserably to convince me that the world could be an illusion. I'm apparently expected to believe that if you get shot in the Matrix, your body will be riddled with bullet wounds in the real world, and nonsense like that. The movie tries to be like, "This could really happen," but the silly inconsistencies, stupid plot devices, and bad thermodynamics destroy that. It tries to be plausible, but it just isn't.

Cinematographically it's not even close to being as well done as V for Vendetta or Bound. All it really has going for it is special effects (which are not as technologically advanced as they appear) and little in-jokes (oooh Neo is an anagram of One, that is so cool).

In short, it sucked.

I just wonder how the Wachowski brothers did so poorly with it, when they did so well on other movies.

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MRI of my Brain

Yes, this image is really an MRI scan of my brain.

The story behind this image begins in 2005, when I began to experience minor but irritating dizzy spells. After some otolaryngologists were unable to diagnose the problem (I had no hearing loss so it didn't appear to be Ménière's Disease), I was recommended to a neural specialist who ran an MRI on me as a precautionary measure. They were looking for multiple sclerosis. Fortunately my brain scan was normal, and as a side effect I got this cool image that shows my brain in all its glory.

By the way, I still don't know what caused my dizzy spells, but after I went through some physical therapy the spells became much less severe and frequent but I still get them once in awhile. I think it's safest for me to assume I have a minor case of Ménière's Disease so I try to avoid getting water in my ears.

Tags: MRI, brain, menieres_disease
Last Edited: 17 August 2008, 4:00 PM
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Why I think the cost of manned space flight is justified

There is a lot of controversy over whether the money we spend on manned space flight is worth it, with many opponents of it claiming that that money would be better spent on social programs or other things.

Those in favor of funding space flight most often tout the scientific benefits of the space program as its justification. Problem is, it's a weak argument. From a short-sighted economic standpoint, the science potential doesn't justify the cost of human space flight, by any reasonable definition (especially since a very big chunk of that science can be accomplished remotely via robots). Some would even say unmanned space flight doesn't justify the cost.

Of course, one can always argue that this is more than an economic issue (which is valid but lost on a lot of people), or that the science will ultimately pay dividends long term, even if we don't live to see it. But it would be missing out on a much better argument:

The most immediate and tangible benefit of the space program is not science, but engineering.

There's an old riddle that goes something like this: What's the difference between science and engineering? Science costs money, engineering makes money.

Well, in the space program that isn't true.

Unlike science, engineering is very much goal oriented. Generally, that goal is to make money. And, in the process of engineering so that we can make money, we learn a lot about how to make things better (i.e., safer, more efficient, more reliable, etc.).

But the thing is, when you're trying to make money, there's only so much risk you're willing to take, and therefore, there are only so many goals you're willing to aim for. But, when you decide to put humans into space at a cost, you create engineering goals that never could have been created simply from people seeking to make a profit. And, in striving to meet those goals, we learn things we wouldn't learn otherwise.

To me, the engineering benefits justify the money we spend on space flight. I think we should spend more.

I'm not just talking about the Tempurpedic mattress, either. Thanks to the space program, airplane and cars are safer and more fuel efficient. Computers are faster. Many products are cheaper.

And what about all those homeless people we should be feeding instead? The engineering advances we make to achieve space flight could make it more feasible to feed those homeless people. (Not saying it has or will, but could.)

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My new conlang (constructed language): Bowtudgelean

As many of my friends and family are aware, I am currently writing a video game, The Ditty of Carmeana, an action-adventure title set in the fictional Kingdom of Bowtudgel. Also as many people know, I am very interested in linguistics. Therefore, I decided this was the perfect opportunity to create a new language for my fictional kingdom. The (in progress) result is Bowtudgelean.

Here's a summary of some of the aspects of the languages.

Nouns and Adjectives

Nouns in Bowtudgelean are inflected for number and state. Number is familiar to English speakers: a noun can be singular or plural. State—also called definiteness—is the distinction between something specific (usually signaled in English by the definite article "the") and something not. State is not an aspect of grammar in Indo-European languages (the family that includes English, French, Latin, Russian, Greek, and many others), but it is in Semitic languages such as Arabic. Bowtudgelean is like Arabic in this respect: adjectives agree with nouns in state. However, Bowtudgelean takes state to the extreme: it has ten different states.

Briefly, here the states and their usages:

  • 1st person: Is or includes the speaker or writer.
  • 2nd person: Is or includes the listener or reader.
  • Nominal: A name.
  • Referred: Something just referred to.
  • Indicated: Something indicated by a limiting adjective, prepositonal phrase, or relative clause.
  • Local: Something near the speaker.
  • Remote: Something away from the speaker.
  • Past: Something that occured in the past.
  • Future: Something that will occur in the future.
  • Indefinite: Nothing in particular.

Here's an example of the declension of the adjective gæðu ("whole").

State Singular Plural
1st Person gæðunupi  
2nd Person gæðuken  
Nominal gæðuzdek  
Referred gæðun gæðuni
Indicated gæðut gæðuti
Local gæðutaj gæðutajev
Remote gæðubel gæðubelev
Past gæðulabo gæðulabov
Future gæðumex gæðumexev
Indefinite gæðuha gæðuhay

An interesting effect of this aspect of grammar is that there are technically no personal pronouns. The word that is used to translate English "I" () is actually the 1st Person singular state of the demonstrative pronoun.

Besides number and state, I'm leaning towards adding a gender distinction to nouns as well.


There is one notable disctinction nouns are not inflected for: case. Bowtudgelean neither uses cases nor word order to determine a noun or pronoun's role in the sentence. Instead, Bowtudgelean prefixes a noun or pronoun with a particle, called a marker, to determine the role. What makes these markers different from case endings is that they are part of the verb, not part of the noun.

Any given action involves a certain set of participants. In Indo-European languages, the participants fill fixed grammatical slots, regardless of the verb. One of those slots is called the subject, another called the direct object, a third is called the indirect object. In Bowtudgelean, there is no such framework to fit participants into. A participant for a particular verb exists only for that verb; a different verb has a different set of participants. The participants a verb has make sense for it; for some verbs it makes sense to have different participants than the subject-object system would supply English. A few verbs have as many as five participants, and some verbs (for example, ŋejreð "it is raining") have none at all.

Let's consider an example: æð, which can be translated as "come" or "go". Whereas come and go are intransitive in English, in Bowtudgelean æð has three different participants. There is the person going, which is marked by the particle ho. There is the place being moved away from, indictated by the marker tamæ. And there is the place being moved to, indicated by nuð. Here is an example sentence:

Ho voŋ æðga tamæ ðæln nuð patexpejen.
"He went from the house to the store."

(Key: voŋ = "he,she,it,him,her", -ga = past tense. Also, notice the referred state ending -n on the nouns.)

In Bowtudgelean, the set of markers used for a given verb (the signature) are not predictable and must be learned, though sometimes they do follow patterns. The most notable is the za-epu- signature used mostly by verbs of manipulation, where a person (marked by za) physically manipulates an object (marked by epu). But in general there are a lot of irregularities in these patterns.

One little side note is that there are a few verbs that have no stem at all; only markers. Naturally, the verbs that mean "to be" are among them (there are two variants: i-linum- and i-nui-). Another is ak-gwa-has-, which means "to say" (ak marks the speaker, gwa the listener, and has the words being spoken).


Unfortunately, there are only two sounds that exist in Bowtudgelean but not in English, and they're very rare. (They are the velar fricatives: the sounds of German ch in ach, or of the letter gamma in Greek.) I didn't plan for it; I wanted to have at least one common foreign sound. I had written a word generator to generate random words, and tuned it until it got words that looked like I wanted. Unfortunately, the velar fricatives hardly ever come up.

However, there are plenty of consonant clusters that are not found in English, so it's not all bad.

Here's a quick, and approximate, pronounciation guide. The alphabet is phonemic: meaning that letters correspond exactly to sounds (thanks, King Hengou II!)

Letter Pronounciation
a like the a in father
æ like the a in cat
e like the a in lame
i like the i in machine
o like the o in home
u like the u in dilute
x like the sh in shape
j like the s in measure
ð like the th in those
þ like the th in thin
ŋ like the ng in sing
c like the ch in German ach or Greek gamma
g like the g in go (always hard)

The letters b, d, p, t, k, l, w, f, v, s, z, y, w, m, n, h are all pronounced as in English.

Babel Text

One of the rites of passage when inventing a conlang is to translate the story of the Tower of Babel. Here's mine, presented (for now) without further comment.

Ðeŋa za ŋome gæðuzdek epu kalðira mogaþa, buzolka-za epu taþihay mogaþay.

Pema lagærigara ar dora xke koyra, æðga ho surka nuð ŋezbey komu jdot Xinaræt, te ruhi surka nomarga lir voŋ.

Ak surka gwa surka hazg: "Umijnotram ar sæz mogi hoxtæhay, te jguxki-ak epu surka mæsæ pomoha." Za surka lelþoŋa tor hoxtæhay mogi zilæmuha, te tor danurjbyosa mogi ritbazuha.

Þilabo hazg: "Æðmi-ho, ajderam ar sæz mogi axa dæŋu sæz, te mogi newgasiha iðæ jbyæt xpavoŋ komu enra, te þid u sæz guŋærdo. Jraŋ lojozapen epu sæz jalkapu zdomæ.

Ho Jbago æðga nuð moðbel natox ar voŋ ala lux axt te newgasit peŋat ajde-mogi ar stizen.

Þilabo ak Jbago hazg: "Mip þyaþ, pema i surka linum dora ðeyxera osuhæha ðenolka-za epu kalðira mogaþa, za surka þkæðne deþaga epu modlabo, ŋab kowæwtæ ŋætunzæ tojpen þalpe za surka deþa mod peŋa ŋab surka fkersteb þalpe deþa-epu za surka.

"Sajbiðæn æðram ho sæz nuð mika te komu voŋ æhalnæram za sæz epu kalðirt xpasurka, punebe xpodusonpen ruhi kowæwtæ lir mod peŋa has ak æwtæpiz."

Amusa za Jbago lojozaga epu surka æðolka-ho tamæ voŋ nuð zbalkap zdomæ, te lakipæ ajdega ar surka mogi axen.

Ŋab modlabo zæneyoŋa þalpe simoke ar voŋ lux Babel, kaj komu voŋ za Jbago æhalnæga epu ðenjda xpa ŋome osuhæzdek. Igusen tejdæn ædkolka-tamæ nuð zbalkap zdomæ, za voŋ lojoza epu surka.

Final Note

Bowtudgelean is the Anglicized name of the language. Bæwtujdelix is the language's own name for itself.

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Why time travel is impossible

If one were to extrude the space-time continuum along a fifth dimension, and define existence as the limit at infinity along this dimension, then any time travel would be unstable and would never persist until infinity. Whatever effect a future event had on the past would alter time to prevent the future even from ever taking place (this is along the extruded dimension so that is "possible" to alter time).

Even if the effect is only to displace a few electrons, it will change circumstances ever so slightly. As you proceed along the extruded dimension till infinity, circumstantial changes accumulate until at some point the effect of those changes changes future circumstances enough that the time travel doesn't occur. At that point the discontinuity in space-time collapses.

This thought experiment demonstrates how there could be instabilities in existence. Even if you discount the fifth dimension, the fact remains that the time travel would have to have exactly the effect on the past that produces the circumstances that led to the time travel taking place. If even a small circumstance differs from that that time travel cannot exist. It would be like balancing a perfect ball on the tip of a perfectly sharp needle in a perfect gravitational field, and having it still be there at the end of time. If the ball is 1/googol off center, it'll eventually topple.

So it is possible, though exceedingly unlikely, that time travel could occur. The possibility of a free will in the time loop is almost certain to be enough of a disturbance to prevent the time loop from ever happening.

While I'm on the subject, let me share a pet peeve about portrayal of time travel in movies. For the most part I can't stand time travel in movies. With time travel there's an inherent lack of drama (if at first you don't succeed, you can just go back in time to prevent your own failure). Also, the logical effects of time travel don't lend themselves to escalation or payoff. Moviemakers deal with these difficulties with artificial time travel rules. This allows dramatic tension and explains the effects of time travel, but such rules invariably cause logical inconsistencies.

Logical inconsistencies are not a deal breaker in and of themselves; there's something called suspension of disbelief that moviemakers can expect to a degree from the audience. But when the movie tries to explain these articifial rules, it only creates more and more inconsistencies. The more it tries to exlpain the rules, the more inconsistent it gets, until the story is nothing but a confusing mess, and that pisses me off.

Therefore, here are my rules for creating a time travel movie that doesn't suck:

  1. Keep dramatic devices to a minimum.
  2. Whenever a plot device is used to create dramatic tension, just use it. Don't explain it; don't talk about; and don't address its logial flaws. Just state the rule and be done with it.
  3. Don't explain, talk about, or even acknowledge any issues with time travel that aren't necessary to create drama.

Here are some movies that handled time travel well.

  • Back to the Future

    Back to the Future's plot device was that Marty changed history, and if he didn't change it back he'd disappear within the week. Lots of logical loose ends here. Why didn't Marty disappear the instant he bumped into his dad? Why does it take week? Why does Marty go back to the "new" future? What happened to the Marty from the new future? Does Marty have memories of things that happened to the new Marty? If he doesn't, maybe he slowly acquires them over a week? Does he also lose memories of the old future over the week? Etc. Etc. Etc.

    The movie handles all these questions and logical loose ends perfectly: by ignoring them.

  • The Terminator

    Another delightfully straightforward plot. The movie created dramatic tension by ignoring the fact that Kyle's presense meant that Sarah Connor must have survived (otherwise who would have given him the picture so that he would volunteer to go back?). It also ignored the issue of what the robots expected to happen if the Terminator should succeed. Does history instantly change the moment they send it back, and if it doesn't change it must have meant they failed?

    These questions simply weren't addressed, and it was the better for it.

  • Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

    There was a pretty bad plot device ("the clock in San Dimas is always running": Bill and Ted weren't able for some reason to travel back in time to do their history report). That was actually too much tension; later in the movie they got around this rule by planning to go back in time after their report to hide things they'd need.

    But that's it: it was kept to a minimum. Bill and Ted never wondered why they had to deliver their report at a certain time according to their own watches (assuming Ted had managed to remember to wind it), or anything else like that.

    Furthermore, no attention was paid to the effect on history. Drama over whether Napoleon got back to France wasn't necessary; there was already enough of a story with their history report. So the movie wisely disregarded it altogether.

And now for some movies that didn't do it well.

  • Back to the Future 2 and 3

    These movies addressed (at some point) all those artificial rules the first movie ignored. And the result was, well, Back to the Future 2 and 3.

  • Terminator 2 and 3

    These movies addressed (at some point) all those artificial rules the first movie ignored.

    T2 was all right since it was a well done movie in many other ways. It must still be given credit for not raising the issue of where the technology came from. But things got out of hand enough to annoy me.

    T3 it got way out of hand, and it was a big reason why it sucked so bad, but I suspect it would have sucked even without all that time travel loonieness.

Alex Rider wrote: Thanks! Your'e opinion really heped me on my Time Travel essay!

Minor Python (Programming Language) Complaints

Python is my favorite programming language.

Like all programming languages, it has things I don't like. The thing about Python is, it has a lot fewer things I don't like than other languages. A lot. Even the things I don't like are relatively minor in the end.

So of course I made a page listing what I don't like.

  • Boolean Handling

    The Python treatment of booleans is, by far, my biggest gripe with Python. (Which, you know, is a pretty good thing to have as a biggest gripe.)

    I think booleans should be completely disjoint from all other types, as they are in Java. If-conditions should have to evaluate to a boolean, or else it should throw an exception. The and-, or-, and not-operators should accept only boolean operands and return only boolean results. (Though I would accept arrays of booleans for the and-, or-, and not-operators; but not for if-conditions.)

    I don't deny that it's convenient to use an "or" that returns the first "true" value, or that it's sometimes a marginal improvement in clarity.

    I just think this idiom is too error prone, and very often too misleading, to justify its convenience. There's ordinary carelessness, of course, where someone writes a function like this:

    def op(datum=None):
        result = datum or default

    while not stopping to consider that the empty string would be a legal value for datum in this case. But there's a more insidious danger that can't be chalked up to carelessness: when the acceptable values for datum change after the function is written. This leads to subtle breakage.

    As far as the user is concerned, this function's correct behavior is to "use the default when the argument is not specified", but as-is the function is not robust to future changes or uses. The function is a poor, non-robust implementation of the desired behavior.

    To me this feels like a ticking bomb, a bug waiting to hatch from it's egg.

    More generally: I find that the boundary between what Python considers to be true and false rarely corresponds exactly to what I'm trying to do in cases like the above. Usually the true/false test only works for certain set of expected values that I have in my mind. When the acceptable values are generalized, when you want to expand this function's role, does the true/false test still work? I find it rarely does.

  • True Values

    Ok, so Python doesn't have disjoint booleans. Fine.

    But I don't agree the values Python considers true and false. In particular, I disagree with the notion of empty lists being false.

    This is because (unlike for numbers or strings) it's not self-evident what false should be. Python lists, tuples, sets, and dicts consider empty containers false and all other containers true. However, for other related types this doesn't hold. Notably, all built-in python iterator types always return true, even if they will yield no more values. This can lead to subtle code breakage in situations like this:

    def func(iterable):
        if not iterable:
        for item in iterable():

    Now, this piece of code was written with that the user would pass an list or tuple in. However, if some wily user decides to pass, say, a generator in, the result is that is runs the initialization and finalization even if the generator will yield no values. This is wasteful at best and possibly buggy at worst.

    Another example of container-like types that don't treat emptiness as false are Numpy arrays. They wisely don't even go there, raising an exception if someone tries to get their truth value. For numerical programming it makes sense to apply boolean operations element-by-element.

    The point of all this is that the one-size-fits-all idea that empty is the one true value for false doesn't work. For various container and container-like objects, it makes sense for false to be something else, or for there to be no notion of false at all.

    That's why I think Python should do away with the notion of emptiness being false, and require an explicit test for emptiness where it's desired.

  • Pathname manipulation

    This is a common gripe from Pythonistas. The built-in way to manipulate paths in Python is with the os.path module. One would type os.path.join(dirname,basename) to splice a pathname together from a directory and filename, for instance.

    Many Pythonistas don't like typing all that out for a simple operation. I don't either, but that's not my biggest issue with os.path. My issue is that it isn't that powerful.

    One of the greatest things about Python is that it almost never lacks a quick and easy way to do something that ought to be quick and easy. (In fact, Python often makes things that ought to be hard as hell quick and easy.) The glaring exception to this is os.path

    Somehow there are many useful things that os.path doesn't do. A big one would be something like os.path.splitall: completely splitting a filename into a list of path components. Another is relativizing a pathname; os.path can make a relative path absolute but not vice versa.

    The annoying thing is it's right at that point where it's annoying but not quite annoying enough to move me. I don't do pathname manipulations enough that I ever feel like working out my own solution to this problem once and for all. And I don't really like the third-party solutions, so I'm kind of stuck with this annoyance. Maybe I'll sit down and do it one day.

  • Distutils

    Distutils is one of those things that almost crucially useful at certain times, but makes me shake my head in astonishment about how much better it could have been.

    It was pretty much designed with poor anticipation of user needs. If you need to do something that isn't exactly what the authors envisioned, it can make life supremely difficult. It's not versatile at all.

    Among things is doesn't easily do is to let the user specify custom build flags (I have to edit to do that, and sometimes is so convoluted in its attempt to be intelligent that I can hardly find the place). I come across this issue a lot since I have Python installed in an unusual location.

  • Setuptools

    On a related note, there is setuptools, which is becoming the de facto super-distutils, and while it fixes some of distutils's issues, it's add its own, and it's probably even less versatile when it comes to its own issues and alternative needs of users than distutils was.

    Besides that, setuptools also routinely and mind-bogglying-ly rudely downloads and installs packages on the user's behalf without asking. This makes me want to literally makes me want to punch Phillip Eby (the author) through the monitor. Yes, I realize I can shut the behavior off, but it's annoying.

    One thing about setuptools is that is seems needlessly complicated for what it's trying to do. In particular, it sets up some sort of homebrew metadata scheme (entry hooks are part of this), and many packages can't be imported without going through package resources. The inability to simply import modules is, in my opinion, a terrible design decision. Modules that do this make things difficult when distributing binary pagakges.

    Conversely, authors who distribute packages that depend on these entry hooks have likewise made a bad design decision. It might make sense for enterpise-deployed libraries (where you can depend on users to follow arcane corporate procedures), but not for you average third-party library downloaded off the Internet. PyOpenGL was a notable offender here, and I abandoned it mostly on account of this.

  • Lack of a set-and-test

    People coming to Python from Perl often criticize if for not supporting the following pattern:

    if (/someregexp/) {
    } elsif (/someotherregexp/) {
    } elsif (/someotherregexpagain/) {
    } else {

    The idiom is useful for many applications, especially text processing (though it should be refactored when scaling to larger rules). Python, however, doesn't support this without workarounds. (The issue with Python is that you can't execute code between if- and elif-conditions, and a regexp search would need to do that.)

    That Python doesn't support this isn't such a big deal; it's fairly common but is still a rather specialized use, and the workarounds aren't too bad. It's still a bit annoying.

So that's it. (Well, that's all I could think of right now.) All in all, if these are my biggest gripes, it's a pretty good thing. They are really very minor issues compared to other languages.

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New Web Host!

If you can see this (and it's sufficiently close to February 2008), then this file is being served on my new web host, Dreamhost.

Dreamhost is now hosting all three of my domains:,, and

My old host, Total Choice Hosting, was a very nice service, and I would highly recommend them to anyone looking to do a basic homepage or small business site. It's great if your site is mostly static pages with maybe a few CGI scripts thrown it, which is what my site was. They were very responsive to issues that would come up. The price was very reasonable.

However, I pretty much outgrew it. It had a few major limitations that eventually cramped my style too much. They did not allow shell access; this was a biggie. Sometimes shell access is indispensible. (I often worked around this by writing CGI shell scripts that I could invoke, but it was terribly inconvenient.) Another limitation was a ban on hosting multiple domains; multiple domains meant multiple accounts. This wasn't an issue when I had only one domain. When I got my second domain it was. I actually had two different accounts with Total Choice Hosting for about a year.

Finally a need arose that Total Choice Hosting couldn't help me with: namely the need to host a Subversion repository. (It's not open source, so I couldn't use Sourceforge or Google Code.) I figured it was time to move on.

What I needed was a fewer limitations, and certain bells and whistles. After reading a bunch of reviews on the Web I came across Dreamhost. Many of the reviews I read for Dreamhost were by web developers who'd moved on from it. They basically said it workable but suboptimal for their highly advanced. Some of them even continued to used Dreamhost for serving static content. I don't need highly advanced stuff, though, so that sounded pretty good to me.

For the price, Dreamhost has a ton of disk space and a ton of bandwidth. (When I saw Dreamhost's claim that they offer 500 GB of storage, I kept looking for an asterisk. The only catch I could discern was that they slam if you go over the limit.) Dreamhost will host an unlimited number of domains for a single account. They allow shell access. They host Subversion repositories. Also, most the tricks I that I used with TotalChoiceHosting (using mod_rewrite, for example), were also supported by Dreamhost.

The downside, that their customer service has a reputation for being not so good, is not really a big deal to me. I think I filed maybe two tickets in 5+ years with Total Choice Hosting. It might be a problem if there were a lot of downtime, but I would guess most people's problems are their own fault. (That's never happened to me, of course.)

Tags: dreamhost, mod_rewrite, subversion, totalchoicehosting, web_host
Last Edited: 10 February 2008, 9:34 PM
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Pandas are stupid

Ok, what is the big deal with pandas?

I mean, really. Whenever you go to a zoo that has pandas, people will line up for miles just to get a glimpse of these idiotic evolutionary flukes. What is the big deal? All they do is sit around eating leaves all day. They're probably the most boring mammal on earth aside from koalas.

When I go to the zoo, I want to see animals do something interesting, which most animals manage to do at least slightly. Foraging for ants? Interesting. Pacing around their enclosure looking mean and intimidating? Interesting. Having scaly skin? Interesting. Sniffing things? Not world-shattering, but it's something. Laying around eating leaves? Mind-numbingly boring.

So what is the big freaking deal about pandas? Why do people stand in line for half an hour to see a couple animals do nothing?

While I'm at it, I have a few things to say about the stupid names pandas have. You see, pandas are the property of the People's [sic] Republic [sic] of China, and one condition China reserves when lending them is the right to name any babies they pop out. For example, this little leaf-eater was named Zhen Zhen, which evidently is Chinese for "Precious", and it's a stupid and unnecessary name, even if you disregard the obvious problems it'll cause with Gollum.

Therefore, on behalf of The United States of America, I am declaring jus soli rights to name the panda babies. Henceforth, this panda's real name is Democracy. Officially she'll still be known as Zhen Zhen, of course, in same way that officially Taiwan is a province of China.

Democracy's older brother (who was born in 2003 and is officially called Mei Sheng) is now called Freedom. And Freedom's older sister (1999, Hua Mei) is now called Inalienable Rights.

Tags: boring, china, democracy, panda, zoo
Last Edited: 27 November 2007, 8:42 PM
it's obvious. wrote: panda's are popular because they are exclusive. why are socialites treated like celebrities? it's because they have immense wealth. although not deservedly earned, without it they would be overlooked. Money is the exclusivity factor for humans while endangerment is the exclusivity factor for animals. if there were only 200 rats left on the planet, people would not view them as vermin (in fact, few people would ever encounter one) and all of a sudden saving the rat population is a huge deal. Conversely, dogs can be rather useful pets but their numbers make them indispensable, on a universal level. btw, the current captcha I see below is interesting:
ob wrote: i should add, although many wealthy people do not stand out from the crowd, the very fact they are wealthy makes them exclusive. i would argue being exclusive and anonymous is a trait rather unique to humans.

Major works of literature I've read

Here is a pretty complete list of literature (excluding short stories and poems) that I've read. I tend to go for quality over quantity.

My favorites:

  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
  • The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
  • The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
  • Beowulf

I very much liked these:

  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • Don Quixote (part 1) by Cervantes
  • Gulliver's Travels by Johnathan Swift
  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  • The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
  • Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis
  • The Horse and his Boy by C. S. Lewis
  • Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
  • The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
  • Lady Windemere's Fan by Oscar Wilde
  • Divine Commedy by Dante

I liked these:

  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  • A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stephenson
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  • Focault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
  • Life, the Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams
  • So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams
  • Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemmingway
  • Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis
  • The Magicians Nephew by C. S. Lewis
  • The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll
  • Don Quixote de La Mancha, Part One, by Miguel de Cervantes
  • 20,000 Leagues under the Sea by Jules Verne (audio)
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
  • Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
  • Picasso at the Lapin Agile by Steve Martin
  • The Iliad by Homer

These I didn't like too much:

  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
  • The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis
  • Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee
  • Our Town by Thorton Wilder
  • Oedipus Rex by Sophocles

I completely disliked these:

  • A Separate Peace by Anthony Trolloge
  • My Antonia by Willa Cather
  • Antigone by Sophocles

These are the books I've found too boring to finish (so far):

  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (in fairness, it was fine until it should have been over)

Then there is Shakespeare. I find it too hard to pin down exactly how much I liked most of the plays; it changes all the time. Each one I've read twice was better the second time. The ones I liked, roughly in order:

  • Macbeth
  • The Taming of the Shrew
  • King Lear
  • Romeo and Juliet
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • Hamlet
  • Julius Caesar
  • As You Like It
  • I Henry IV
  • Richard III
  • Measure for Measure
  • The Tempest
  • Othello, the Moor of Venice

And the ones I didn't like:

  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • Coriolanus

And the ones I found too boring to finish:

  • Love's Labour's Lost
Tags: favorites, literature, shakespeare
Last Edited: 21 June 2007, 12:34 AM
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An open letter to the Kansas Department of Transportation

Dear Sir or Madam:

I was recently very disappointed to see that your state does not make your official road map available at the rest stops, unlike every other state I've ever driven through. I make it a point to collect road maps from every state I drive through, and was unable to procure a road map from Kansas.

Now, I realize that, with Kansas being a state where the only industry is agriculture, and agriculture being a low profit margin business, your state is trying to avoid unnecessary overhead of supplying maps at the rest stops. This is understandable, especially considering the fact that almost no one ever wants to visit your state, and thus would have no use for a road map of Kansas. In fact, when the shortest path between places people actually want to visit happens unfortunately to fall through the state of Kansas, travellers almost never venture out of sight of the interstate, and no one needs an official road map just to navigate interstates.

So, on the surface, not making road maps available in the rest stops seems like a wise decision. However, I advise you to consider the following benefits of supplying roadmaps at your rest stops.

Kansas is a large state, in the sense that it covers a large quantity of square miles and in no other sense whatsoever. Should a traveller make an unfortunate wrong turn, he or she could get lost and end up miles away from familar roads, and thus be forced to spend unnecessary time in Kansas. Having roadmaps available in rest stop would give such unfortunates a chance to correct their position before any significant psychological damage occurs.

Furthermore, Kansas is one of the Fifty States, and thus the legal equal to every other state (at least on paper). So, unlikely as it might seem to you, there are actually people who want items associated with the state of Kansas (only to complete the collection, of course, and not on account of any merit of Kansas itself).

Finally, it's likely that very few would ever bother to take a roadmap; after all, besides collectors and people prone to getting lost, who would really want one? And while people prone to getting lost are likely to take a map, they're almost certain to return it at the final rest stop, unopened and in mint condition (since there is no reason to actually look at the map unless unfortunate wrong turn occurred). Other than that, you can rest assured no one would take any maps of Kansas. Even thieves wouldn't take them, since thieves prefer to take things that have some value. Therefore, supplying maps to rest stops is pretty much just a one time cost, with a tiny upkeep.

In light of these considerations, I would suggest that there is, in fact, some slight demand for Kansas roadmaps, but not enough to bankrupt the state (which is admittedly a rather small number of maps). Therefore, it should be no problem to provide this common service to the people who would use it.

Thank you.

Carl Banks

Tags: kansas, open_letter, roadmap
Last Edited: 19 June 2007, 7:32 PM
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