Monday, December 29, 2008



(To be continued....)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Tree Dies in Berkeley

The day before xmas, I went to Andronico's to stock up on provisions to last me through that long, cold day where everything is closed.

On my way out, I stopped by a presentation of marked-down xmas greenery. I was half-thinking of buying a poinsettia to plant outside. In the right conditions, they can grow into a big, lovely bush which brings a nice bit of winter color. There is one in a yard down my street.

A store manager caught me lost in contemplation. Mistakenly, he must have thought I was trying to decide whether to buy one of what must be the ugliest little xmas trees I've ever seen. In fact, my thoughts had already wandered elsewhere, as they are wont to do, and I remained present in body only.

Perhaps fearing that the $2 price tag was beyond my reach, he absolutely insisted that he give me one. There ensued a very confused minute or two as he tried, by shouting across the store, to get an un-comprehending bag-boy to put one of these hideous things into my un-willing hands. I accepted so as not to prolong the scene, but I swear it just just like "the gift of the magi". (OK, actually not.)

I thanked him as best I could, in memory of all the nice things Andronico's has come to represent for me, and took the damn thing home.

Now I have a sad little pine tree on my hands and I don't know quite what to do with it. I believe that in Berkeley one can be jailed for cutting, harming, or allowing by way of inaction, harm to befall a tree.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tedious, Cruddy Meme

Here, for no particular reason, except my hidden agenda, is my contribution to the
bookshelf meme
, slightly modified.

Book That's Been On My Shelf The Longest.
"Baptist Hymnal", edited by Walter Hines Sims. Contains such hits as "How Tedious and Tasteless the Hours" and "There is a Fountain Filled With Blood".

Most likely my father picked this up when the church was changing to a new hymnal. One with less tedious and bloody hymns, no doubt.

I used to play Xmas songs from it. Now it is mostly gathering dust.

Book That Reminds me of Something Specific in my Life.
I can't remember anything specific in my life.

A Book I Acquired in an Interesting Way.
The Ring, by Richard Chopping.

In a coffee shop in the Haight, I once came across an old, yellowing book that caught my eye. No doubt because of the cover.

It remained there for weeks, so I took it home. I doubt I ever would have found it otherwise, but I quite enjoyed it. Beware: it "is a novel that deals frankly and unsparingly with the homosexual world of London. It is not for the squeamish or for those unwilling to face the facts about the desperate underground activities of the gay world." One of those unfortunate facts is that if you like a bit of rough trade, you are going to get a bit of roughing up. It was published in the 1960's, part of the gay paperback explosion, so I'll leave you to guess how it ends.

Chopping lived with the same guyfor 70 years, so I guess the book wasn't terribly autobiographical. The fact that it remains on my bookshelf means I liked it and intend to read it again some day.

He is much better known as the cover artist for the original James Bond books, but he didn't draw the cover for this one.

After reading this anonymous review, posted by none other than Paul Di-Fillipo, I feel I simply must read his other novel "The Fly"!

Book That's Been with me to the Most Places.
Has to be my LAROUSSE Concise French-English dictionary. One never knows when that might be necessary.

The most recent addition to your shelves.
I don't add books to my shelves often. I tend to get them from the library so they will go away after I'm done with them. But for unknown reasons, I did buy What the Nose Knows, which wasn't bad, but which also led me to the much more interesting library books The Secret of Scent and The Emperor of Scent. Both tell exactly the same story, but from different points of view. I highly recommend both, though "Secret" would be tough if you don't like chemistry. "Emperor" gives a very depressing look at the petty in-fighting that really does go on in the research world.

The book whose loss would traumatize you the most.
My collection of sheet music. I know, because I once lost my collection of piano sheet music, and I was very traumatized. I had lots of hard-to-find modern pieces. I still haven't been able to replace many of them.

A bonus book that you want to talk about but doesn’t fit into the other questions.

Cruddy illustration

I love, love, love Cruddy! Dark, dark, dark, and over the top, but such great well-observed descriptions of mostly despicable people.

Extra questions.

Book you most want made into a movie.
Easy: The Magus. So I can stop reading it and still find out how it turns out! Seriously, it is a great story, but it is a little slow.

Half-read forever. Finnegans Wake. O.K. quarter-read forever. I used to enjoy challenging myself with tough works. But I'm older and wiser now.

Most read book.

A tie.

Ulysses. Read it three times in my first years in college. Didn't understand a lot of it, but really liked it.

The Little Prince. Read it twice by choice, and then again as part of a French class in high school.

Possible Tie-breaker: Some friends were recently discussing how "The Little Prince" isn't really a book for kids, and used the story of the rose and the thorns as an example. Since I don't remember that part at all, I guess I need to re-read it. And nowadays I could actually understand it easily in French.

Most books by the same author.
Don Webb.

Seven so far. He is one of those exceptions; someone whose books I will actually buy and actually keep. It isn't that he is so great, though I like his work a lot. It is that his books aren't easy to find, and aren't sufficiently appreciated. I don't want to just throw away my first editions of what, someday should be, in any rational world, collectors items.

Everyone should at least read A Spell for the Fulfillment of Desire

Guilty pleasure.I don't feel the least bit guilty about reading them, but I am careful in whose company I'll mention comic books in the same discussion as real books.

There are quite a few I like, but I'll just mention Hate, the Simpsons, Stuck Rubber Baby, and The Desert Peach.

Some writers tell stories better with pictures attached. Deal with it.

Hidden Agenda. It is true. I do have a hidden agenda here, which is to introduce my Goodreads profile. You can subscribe to this feed if you want to keep up with all the exciting reading action going on in my world.

Computers scare me

Computers do the darndest things!

I write programs for a living, but I still don't understand why they do what they do sometimes.

There is a program I wrote last year that is being used in various labs across the world. A few months back, a small number of users started reporting an odd problem. When the program starts, it is supposed to read three sets of reference data which the users will then compare to their own data. The three reference data sets come from the same single archive file. But for these few people, the program only reads two of the data sets, and gives no indication of why it isn't reading the third.

That is odd, but there could be many possible causes. Sadly, we could not reproduce the problem on any of our own machines, so we couldn't help much.

Finally, this week, I found a copy of the program on my machine that did this bad thing. Great! Now I had something to test with. I could try varying things and see what effect it had on the program. Before doing that, I copied the directory containing the program to a new directory so I could leave the first copy untouched while modifying only the copy.

Much to my surprise, the copy of the program behaves flawlessly! All I did was copy it. Now I have one copy that is broken and one that works. But they are identical copies! My boss suggested the files might have different "permissions" set on them before and after the copy, so I've investigate that, and there seem to be no differences. Anyway, the three pieces of data that are supposed to be loaded at start-up all come from a single file, so any permissions problem should affect that whole file and not just part of it.

I'm completely stumped. And scared. If you program a robot to obey Asimov's 3 laws, what will happen when it makes a copy of those laws? Will only 2 of them continue to apply?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Giving Thanks

I'm buying a house!

No, not that one!

Due to the current market slump, my mother can no longer afford to make the payments on her current house. She isn't broke, but would have to cash-out some undervalued stocks to keep making payments. So I'll be paying them instead for a while. Who knows how long. In return, I'll get a partial ownership and should get some money back when they eventually sell.

I never thought I'd need to do this, didn't know I'd ever be able to, and wasn't sure I would. But life is surprising. I now need to, can, and will.

Despite the grim news I see whenever I accidentally run across a news broadcast, I have lots to be thankful for. I still have a job in tough times. It pays well, is fairly secure, and I get to work on things that I enjoy. I get to live in a cool area, with lots of live music, and get to travel frequently.

I got to see some close friends that I don't see nearly often enough. P came down from the frozen North for a few days. I got to see Li-7 during her tour through with the dots. P's other half should be here soon, though he hasn't sent the details yet.

I got to spend a long weekend up in Mendocino with friends for the holiday. We rented the house pictured above. A considerable amount was consumed.

The weather was unseasonably warm and dry, so we could enjoy some hikes, and we got to see the American porcini in its natural habitat.

I wonder what I'll be thankful for next year....