October 31, 2003

Strategic Hamlet

U.S. forces seal off Saddam's birthplace, suspected base of assaults on coalition forces

KATARINA KRATOVAC, Associated Press Writer
Friday, October 31, 2003
©2003 Associated Press

Facing an increasing tide of attacks, American soldiers Friday cordoned off the village where Saddam Hussein was born, suspecting this dusty farming community of being a secret base for funding and planning assaults against coalition forces.

"There are ties leading to this village, to the funding and planning of attacks against U.S. soldiers," said Lt. Col. Steve Russell, a battalion commander with the 4th Infantry Division, which is based in nearby Tikrit.

The operation began before dawn with hundreds of U.S. troops and Iraqi police. They erected a fence of barbed wire, stretched over wooden poles, and laid spirals of razor wire around the village, a cluster of mud-and-brick homes set in orchards of pears and pomegranates about six miles south of Tikrit.

Checkpoints were set up at all roads leading into the village of about 3,500 residents, many of them Saddam's clansmen and distant relatives.

It appeared the operation was not aimed at catching Saddam but at identifying those who live here and making sure that outsiders are quickly spotted. All adults were required to register for identity cards that U.S. officials said would allow them "controlled access" in and out of the village.

(Thanks to The Whiskey Bar for the story tip)

Posted by abostick at 03:54 PM | Comments (1)

Sometimes, Information Does Want to Be Free

In June of 2002, a report was prepared on the racial and gender diversity of the attorney work force of the U.S. Department of Justice. The DoJ kept this report under wraps, despite repeated Freedom of Information Act requests, until last week, when a PDF was posted to the Justice Department's Web site. Approximately half of the contents of the document were blacked out – "redacted" – making it one of the most heavily redacted government documents in recent memory."

In one of the most stunning examples of computer cluelessness in government since Ollie North forgot about the automatic backups of his Iran/Contra emails on the night of his famous shredding party, it transpires that the PDF so posted was in so-called "Image+Text" format; and the while the image was blacked out, the redacted text remained. And one doesn't have to be a l33t h4x0r d00d to get at that text.

You can find the unredacted version at The Memory Hole. Newsday featured a story on the contents of the full report.

The unredacted version confirms that Justice officials rejected some key conclusions by the consultants they hired, writes Newsday's Tom Brune.

Via Calpundit)

Posted by abostick at 01:33 PM | Comments (0)

October 30, 2003

Dreams 10/1-10/7/2003


As a treat, I've bought myself a fancy cigar, and I'm smoking it in my room. It's fairly large, and the nicotine starts to get to me as I reach the end. I wish that I had a container in which to keep the remainder for later. I put the cigar out and throw it away.

Then I realize that I do have a tube to store a cigar in, but it has a cigar in it already. I go find it, and discover that there are two: one which is unopened, and one which has a cigar butt saved in it. I open up the second, and observe that I had very carefully placed a scrap of tobacco leaf over the end, sealing it, to keep it fresh. (The cigar was white, and the tobacco scrap was a translucent pale sheet.)

I think about smoking the butt, but I am still feeling slightly nauseous from the first cigar.


Debbie and I are in New Zealand, walking in the countryside. In the course of some unremembered dream hugger-mugger, we find an interesting rock formation that serves as natural shelter: It is a kind of table, a flat rock supported around its edges by other rocks. We climb under it and stay there for a little while.

Later we're walking along the edge of a small valley, its floor flat, covered with grass, its walls steep cliffs. I think that this place and the table-rock are just the sorts of things that Peter Jackson would want to know about for exterior settings for shooting THE LORD OF THE RINGS. A dialogue in my mind takes place between Jackson and I, Jackson explaining that yes, although shooting is over, he does want to know about such places.

Then we are captured by a monstrous creature: tall, grey-skinned, with long arms which it flails around in circles. I recognize it as a troll. The troll takes us to its camp, where there are a few other trolls, and many other smaller creatures, also manlike but short and squat. These are "mice".

We are afraid that the trolls wish to kill and eat us; but they have other plans. They want us to run an errand, to carry a message for them. The message is to be delivered to an address in New York City, in upper Manhattan. The location is at the intersection of 94th Street and Ocean Avenue. We use Yahoo! Maps to locate the precise address, and discover that on Ocean Avenue in that part of town there is a wide median strip where there are buildings, and the place we are to go, a bar, is on that median strip.

There is a stack of papers beside us. I look at it, and on the top there is an issue of The Nation with a full-color cover: a night-time street scene in black and blue, with a lurid neon sign. The sales copy on the cover promises an expose of strippers and scandal.

One of the mice sees me looking at the magazine and asks me if I want to take a copy. I tell him, "Thanks, but no."


I have gotten involved in a magical, metaphysical, world-saving venture with two other people, a man and a woman, who are a married couple and also physics professors at Caltech, as well as being sorcerors. In the outward, worldly expression of our venture, they are the founders of a start-up company in Pasadena, and I am an employee.

The offices of this start-up are located quite close to the Caltech campus, right near what is labeled in my dream the Quantum Gate, one of the entrances to campus.

I find I need directions to get around, so I look at a map of campus in a university guide. Here is the Quantum Gate, here are the Physics Department buildings, here is the campus's Main Gate, and here (not shown on the map, but I know where they are) are the offices of our venture.

I walk along the arcade along the outside of the wall around the campus that faces the harbor. I think about my relationship with my two partners. They are equal partners in the magical venture, but to the outside world they are my superiors in the start-up.

I decide that what I need to do is re-enter the graduate program in the Physics Department and finish my PhD, so that I can be my partners' peer. I consider the relative advantages of working with one of them as my advisor (understanding of my magical duties relative to the degree program requirements) versus someone else (having one of my partners as an advisor would at least temporarily accentuate the difference in rank between us).


Fragment #1: I've been playing no-limit hold'em against some tough opponents. One of them is a player who never loses big pots. But I've just doubled through him, and not by getting lucky, either.

Fragment #2: A best-seller list for software. The page shows the packages' weekly sales figures and ranks, as well as their desktop icons.


(1) The dream is about some sort of SF convention, a Worldcon. Sometimes it seems like I'm involved in getting ready for it, sometimes helping tear it down, and sometimes while it's going on. There is a bunch of fanhistorical memorabilia, lots of it relating to the history of LASFS. (Is the convention being held in Los Angeles?)

(2) The convention dream segues into a dream recapitulation of the original Star Trek series episode about Zephraim Cochrane and his disembodied alien lover. We need the alien's assistance to repair our damaged shuttlecraft (whose cargo bay is loaded with fanhistorical memorabilia). Can we get it, while hiding from it our intention to escape with Cochrane?

(3) Late in the day I'm walking along 40th Street from the MacArthur BART station to the Oaks Club. Ahead of me, moving slowly, are two women, black, pushing large baby carriages. I catch up with them, and walk with them for a little while. I urge them to move faster, saying that the sun will go down soon, and when it does the street won't be safe.

Posted by abostick at 11:21 AM | Comments (2)

Hey You Kids! Put Those Books Down and Get Back to Your GameBoys, Right Now!

'Hogwarts headaches' plague young readers of Harry Potter

Rob Stein, Washington Post
Thursday, October 30, 2003
Aside from Lord Voldemort, the Forbidden Forest and the Dementors, young fans of the wildly popular Harry Potter books apparently have one more thing to worry about: "Hogwarts headaches."

Howard Bennett, a pediatrician in Washington, D.C., was alerted to the peril when three patients, ages 8 to 10, came to him in June complaining they had been suffering from a headache for the past two or three days.

"In each case, the headache was dull, and the pain fluctuated throughout the day," Bennett wrote in a letter published in today's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. ...

"On further questioning, it was determined that each child had spent many hours reading J.K. Rowling's latest book in the Harry Potter series," Bennett wrote in the letter, which journal editors titled "Hogwarts Headaches – Misery for Muggles." ...

"The presumed diagnosis for each child was a tension headache brought on by the effort required to plow through an 870-page book. The obvious cure for this malady – that is, taking a break from reading – was rejected by two of the patients, who preferred acetaminophen instead," Bennett wrote.

(Via SF Gate)

Posted by abostick at 08:41 AM | Comments (0)

Donald Luskin Is a Horse's Ass

He is threatening to sue Atrios. Why? Because Atrios called Luskin, whose chief claim to notoriety seems to be his relentless desire to smear Paul Krugman a "stalker."

Mind you, Luskin described himself as a stalker last May in a column in the National Review Online entitled "We Stalked. He Balked."

Luskin is pretty obviously attempting to silence a critic by use of barratry. He should be think twice about throwing stones, as his dwelling place seems to be made in large part of vitrified silicon dioxide.

In case you're wondering, I am aware of the risk I'm taking with this post's headline. I'm expecting a letter of protest from the American Quarter Horse Association any day now.

Posted by abostick at 12:16 AM | Comments (0)

October 29, 2003

The Fire This Time

Mike Davis's book The Ecology of Fear contains a splendid chapter about the cycle of fire in the sprawl of greater Los Angeles's mountainside and canyon suburbs. Now, while the latest installment of Southern California's history of October infernos unfolds, Davis writes what could be a coda to that chapter:

Just before Halloween, the pressure differential between the Colorado Plateau and Southern California begins to generate the infamous Santa Ana winds. A spark in their path becomes a blowtorch.

Exactly a decade ago, between Oct. 26 and Nov. 7, firestorms fanned by Santa Anas destroyed more than a thousand homes in Pasadena, Malibu, and Laguna Beach. In the last century, nearly half the great Southern California fires have occurred in October.

This time climate, ecology, and stupid urbanization have conspired to create the ingredients for one of the most perfect firestorms in history. Experts have seen it coming for months.

First of all, there is an extraordinary supply of perfectly cured, tinder-dry fuel. The weather year, 2001-02, was the driest in the history of Southern California. Here in San Diego we had only 3 inches of rain. (The average is about 11 inches). Then last winter it rained just hard enough to sprout dense thickets of new underbrush (a.k.a. fire starter), all of which have now been desiccated for months.

Meanwhile in the local mountains, an epic drought, which may be an expression of global warming, opened the way to a bark beetle infestation which has already killed or is killing 90% of Southern California's pine forests. Last month, scientists grimly told members of Congress at a special hearing at Lake Arrowhead that "it is too late to save the San Bernardino National Forest." Arrowhead and other famous mountain resorts, they predicted, would soon "look like any treeless suburb of Los Angeles."

Already the papers are screaming "arson!" "In San Bernardino, witnesses told authorities that they had seen two men start the Old Fire on Saturday," writes Jim Herron Zamora in the San Francisco Chronicle. Eight of the other nine fires are assumed to be arson until it can be proved otherwise.

But the fact of the matter is that tinder-dry chapparal plus Santa Ana winds equals fire. In The Ecology of Fear, Davis quotes brushfire expert Richard Minnich as saying, "Fuel, not ignitions, causes fire. You can send an arsonist to Death Valley and he'll never be arrested." And in the essay linked here, Davis adds, [M]any fire scientists dismiss "ignition" – whether natural, accidental, or deliberate – as a relatively trivial factor in their equations. They study wildfire as an inevitable result of the accumulation of fuel mass. Given fuel, "fire happens."

This amazing satellite photograph shows the extent of the Southern California wildfires. It also shows the effect of California's developer-happy land management policies. The California fires are thick and vigorous, finding plenty of fuel that has accumulated over decades. South of the Mexican border, though, it is another story. The Santa Ana winds are fanning fires there, too, but on a scale that is an order of magnitude smaller. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that Southern California did this to itself.

(Mike Davis article via Bill Humphries)

Posted by abostick at 05:46 PM | Comments (0)

October 28, 2003

SF Chronicle Poker Feature Underscores Vice

Yesterday's Chronicle contained a feature article on the rapid growth of poker, both in Bay Area cardrooms and on the Internet, fueled by television programming such as the World Poker Tour and ESPN's WSOP coverage. The article profiles local player Tony Esfandiari.

On his way to work, slim, slick-haired and goateed Antonio Esfandiari, a young San Franciscan wearing sweats and sandals, carries a large red ice chest stuffed with a bounty – poached wild salmon, stuffed chicken, pasta, spicy tuna rolls, French bread, pears and raspberries, an energy bar and carrot juice.

"I'm going to work a lot today," he explains, as if blowing $50 at Whole Foods is an everyday thing to do.

With that, he steps into a small booth, asks for his safety deposit box, casually removes six chips worth $1,000 each, and moves toward his workstation:

the high-stakes Texas Hold'em game at Lucky Chances in Colma. Here, on Wednesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to whenever, the minimum buy-in is a cool grand, and should you feel good about drawing Big Slick, you can bet everything you've got. So what's $50 to avoid a casino steak?

Esfandiari, often, at 24, the youngest player in the room, has decided to be a professional poker player. He is careful to say, however, that he does not consider himself a gambler, describing games that require less skill as "the dark side," inhabited by "the sick f–." Esfandiari says he simply senses opportunity – to make money off a Vegas lifestyle many young men covet.

A companion article profiles former world champion and Palo Alto resident Phil Hellmuth, Jr.

Journalist Demian Bulwa's coverage is not starry-eyed wonder at the glamorous life of a poker pro. While his article is pretty much factually correct, the language he uses is loaded with value judgments – and it is clear that poker is not one of his values.

Bay area cardrooms are "seducing new players." Bulwa hints that poker might have been a factor in Ben Affleck's breakup with Jennifer Lopez. Poker tournaments "bring a bit of heroin to a lottery-loving world." Poker is "an addictive game." He even quotes a New Jersey anti-gambling activist who says "They don't build casinos so you can take the money home, and they don't put up these Internet sites so you can go on and win the money."

Reading this article, you might think that poker is the new crack, with the vast profits taken from helpess addicts going not to Colombian coca barons but to maintainers of Costa Rican server farms.

I'm no polyanna about the social and psychological consequences of compulsive gambling. These problems are real, and people get badly hurt – both gamblers and their families.

Bulwa's article, though, reads as if he went into it with an attitude, like he intended to do a hatchet job. It is about as appropriate to emphasize the risks of gambling in a feature on poker's growth as it would be to emphasize the dangers of alcoholism in a feature on the growing popularity of microbreweries.

In the long run, poker players with more skills are going to win money from those with less skills. Luck is a factor, and a big one in the short term – and a good thing, too, because unless the weaker players get lucky now and then, they have no incentive to keep playing. With more and more people coming to the game of poker, more and more of them are going to lose money. And some of them will develop into problem gamblers. It's the nature of the game. Poker is a living illustration of Gore Vidal's dictum, "It's not enough to succeed; others must fail."

But just as there will be losers, there will also be winners. So far, over the six years that I've been playing cardroom poker, I've been one of the winners.

Posted by abostick at 10:05 AM | Comments (2)

October 27, 2003


As the sun headed for the horizon this evening, it shone through a gap in the Venetian blinds covering the western window of our living room, effectively a pinhole. The light shining through that pinhole reached the door in the hall, about five yards away.

I looked at the round spot of light; then I grabbed a blank sheet of paper and held it perpendicular to the sunlight.

Circumstance had created a pinhole camera image of the sun. And there on its face were three sunspots, two of them being rather substantial.

Later, I found that Avedon Carol had linked to this report on solar flares.

Posted by abostick at 06:14 PM | Comments (0)

October 26, 2003


There's a Santa Ana wind blowing, and it's hot – just the time for a cool drink of lemonade. There were enough ripe on the tree in our back yard that I could make some.

This is my own recipe, that I put together after researching how to make lemonade on the Web. Some people might think it's too tart; but I find it just right. (The fix for tartness is to make it with more sugar.)


Juice from 6 lemons (about 1 cup)
6 cups water

Grated peel from one lemon
4 Tbsb (1/4 cup) sugar
1 cup water

Dissolve the sugar in the single cup of water in a small saucepan. Add the grated lemon peel. Put the saucepan on high heat and allow it to come to a boil. Boil for two minutes. Remove from heat.

Squeeze the juice from the six lemons. Pour it through a strainer into a pitcher. Add the 6 cups water to the pitcher and stir briefly.

Pour the lemon peel syrup through the strainer into the pitcher. Discard the contents of the strainer.

Stir the pitcher thoroughly. The lemonade can now be served immediately over ice, or refrigerated to be served chilled later.

Makes approximately 2 quarts.

Posted by abostick at 08:22 PM | Comments (0)

September 2003 Dreams


Fragments: (1) riding an elevator up in a skyscraping luxury apartment building; (2) going downstairs in the same building, fleeing, trying to avoid detection; (3) climbing those same stairs up from the basement or lower floors. In this third part there were dead bodies suspended inn alcoves, nude bodies of murdered women. The stairs were concrete, and littered with concrete rubble. Death was a presence through many of last night's dreams: my own death, the deaths of people I loved. There was also a sense that there were things that were more important than death to worry about.


I'm working in a laboratory, at a desk doing theoretical work. I become suddenly aware that the consequence of my calculations is that the particle accelerator being build in the lab can be used to create wormholes. This is Really Important, and it seems certain that I'll receive recognition for this – possibly even a Nobel.

I walk around the large, circular room, looking over the components of the cyclotron under construction. I can hardly wait for it to be finished for my prediction to be borne out.


I'm wearing my reading glasses, trying to read. When I look up, my view of the room around me is distorted. I slide the glasses down my nose to peer over the top of the frames. The room is still distorted. It seems as if wearing the glasses has permanently altered my vision.


(1) Cthulhu Doom: Playing a "live action" game of Doom, where the level is filled with monsters and dangers that need to be traversed in a particular order. Here are soldiers to be shot, there are tentacled cthulhoids that must be zapped with the plasma gun.

By mistake i enter a room that I should have waited, clearing other parts of the level, before entering. There are lots of cthulhoids here.

I pump many zaps of the BFG-9000 into the room, and hope to survive the counterattack.

(2) Walking on my knees on a circular or oval track, like that around a football field. I'm lagging behind the others, and they are gradually coming around the track and catching up with me again.

(3) Eldritch horror invoked by the seaside. Tentacles in the waves beneath the water.


(1) We are driving in a car in Alaska. I am a passenger. We pass by housing developments. The road slopes upward, into the foothills. The car passes a crossroads and a sign says that we are entering a wilderness area. we keep going. The pavement ends, and the road gets much steeper. There is no room to turn around.

Our car is not made for this, but we can't turn back.

We come to the crest of the road, which widens a little. Can we turn around? Maybe. ... but if we go off the road we might fall off the cliff.

(Later) Driving past more housing developments.

(2) Some kind of confrontation in the swamps. I get the jump on my opponent, and get my hands on his throat, squeezing, strangling him. His face turns purple.

His thrashing subsides, and I still hold on, fearing a trick. Eventually his body goes limp. I release him, now sure that he is dead.

(3) I'm a passenger in a small commercial jet plane. A few seats behind me, a woman (with long, wavy brown hair) is dying.

Out the window to my left, the sun is setting into a cloudbank. The colors are vivid reds, purples, and oranges; it's beautiful. The sun disappears.

The woman has died. I anticipate a great deal of difficulty – bureaucratic officialdom – when the plane lands.

We arrive at the airport. I make my way forward to the cockpit and get out of the plane through a small hatch in the ceiling. Once outside in the open air, I start to cough.


I'm taking a public transit train to get somewhere by some specific time. Where I'm going is at 14th Street. The train goes underground and pulls into the station. I stay on it. At the next station, 12th Street, I get out.

Wandering around the station I come across an underground river, teeming with trout. There's half an hour before I have to be at my appointment. I decide to take some time to go fishing. I take out a rod and reel, and cast into the river.

Immediately there's resistance on the line, and I start playing it, letting it out, reeling it in.

I observe that it isn't a fish at all that I've hooked, but instead my cat Rocky. Now I have a problem: How do I get the hook out of his mouth? It's barbed, and I don't want to hurt him any more than I already have.


I sit at a bar and order an ice cream dish. I ask how much it costs. The bartender tells me "One dollar." "Really?" I ask. "No. I'm just kidding." The actual price is more plausible.

I pay, and put the change loose in my pocket. I worry to myself about walking around carrying so much cash.

Posted by abostick at 09:36 AM | Comments (0)

October 25, 2003

SF Mayor Violates Godwin's Law

San Francisco's Mayor Willie Brown, a colorful political hondler well-known for his hardball tactics, is squealing like a stuck pig in the aftermath of Supervisor Chris Daly's aborted stint as acting mayor:

San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown likened Supervisor Chris Daly to a stalker and suicide bomber Friday – and tossed in off-hand references to Osama bin Laden and Hitler as well – for using his powers as acting mayor to make two appointments to the city's Public Utilities Commission while Brown was in Tibet.

"When you conspire and calculate what you intend to do several days before you're designated as the acting mayor, you really are venal, you really are violative of all the protocols,'' Brown said after cutting short a trade and promotion trip to China.

Brown is a sore loser. While he was on a political junket in Chinese-occupied Tibet, Daly short-circuited the Brown machine's patronage process, by installing two environmentalists on the city's PUC instead of the ward heelers Brown had lined up for the jobs. It turns out that, by the city's charter, the acting mayor has the full legal power of San Francisco's elected mayor. Daly's appointees are legal members of the PUC, and can only be removed for cause ... or if the city Board of Supervisors overturns the appointments by a 2/3 vote. Daly says Brown just doesn't have the votes to do it.

Fellow supervisor Aaron Peskin describe Daly's action as "a page out of the book of young Assemblyman Willie Brown." San Francisco resident's are laughing at Brown's discomfiture:

"I thought it was hilarious," said [Roger] White, a 38-year-old BART employee who lives in the Castro. "I think it was a cool thing to do, and Brown opened himself up for it. It was hysterical and I can't wait to see what happens next. "
Posted by abostick at 02:03 PM | Comments (0)

I Hate It When That Happens

Because one doesn't get very far as a poker player without getting some experience in handling substantial sums of cash, I had to laugh when I read this:

Biker rains cash on Hwy. 4 – by mistake

Charlie Goodyear, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, October 25, 2003
That whooshing sound Steve Dass heard Thursday as he roared down Highway 4 wasn't just air flowing over his Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle at high speed.

What was supposed to have been a routine trip will likely stand as the most expensive ride of Dass' life. Over the din of the bike's engine, 72 $100 bills – earmarked to help pay for furniture for his mother – shot out of the pocket of his unzipped biker jacket and into traffic, causing a free-for- all that left Dass practically penniless....

I feel for the guy, really. But I can't help but think that he could have been just a little more careful. (Two words, Steve: "belt pouch.")

(via SF Gate)

Posted by abostick at 08:55 AM | Comments (0)

October 24, 2003

August 2003 Dreams


(1) I'm walking through a casino, and I see Benny Behnen, the casino owner's son [so the casino must have been the Horseshoe in Las Vegas, but it seemed pretty generic in the dream]. I say, "Hey, how ya doin'!" and Benny nods in return. I muse to myself about the conceit of having a nodding acquaintance with casino owners.

(2) I'm supposed to meet people for lunch, so I sit down at a Japanese restaurant counter in a food court. The food is a little expensive, but I'm hungry. I order a shrimp combination plate.

Debbie and Liz Lynn join me, Deb sitting on my right and Liz on my left. Across the walkway at the left end of the counter, someone we know has sat down at another restaurant counter, and begins to talk loudly to a companion about some kind of spiritual experience she has just had. Liz covers her face in her hands in exasperation; she's completely fed up with this sort of thing.

(3) For the group picnic in the park, Debbie and I have spread our bedspread on the lawn right next to where David and Cathy (Deb's brother and sister-in-law) have spread theirs. I'm wandering around, seeing things. An unfamiliar woman approaches me and apologizes for encroaching on the family space. I tell her not to worry, it was nothing. Then I come back to our bedspreads and discover that the woman's pickup truck had backed up onto Deb's and my bedspread. The truck moves off again.

Continuing to wander around, I observe on the grassy ground that there are caterpilars – larval monarch butterflies – crossing the lawn. I also see candies scattered about on the ground. This immediately reminds me of the silly physicist who published a paper arguing on thermodynamic grounds that solar sails can't work [this really happened in waking life]. I think for a moment on what kind of analysis is needed to show the clueless git what he did wrong.

It's time to go, and everyone is packing up. Cathy Tuttle folds up their bedspread. I help out. Here is a stack of neatly folded T-shirts. They look like they could be mine, but they could be David's or Cathy's as well. Whose are they? I guess that they are mine. Then we fold up the bedspreads as well.


(1) I'm driving in a small car through woods, the road narrowed and choked by banks of leaves. I come out of the woodsby a river. I look for a grocery store, walk across the shallows of the river into a grotto with tiled walls. Water runs across the tiled floor.

(2) Debbie and I are walking in a meadow at the bottom of a narrow mountain valley. Petroleum oil seeps out of cracks in the cliffside and flows down, the flow growing from slight trickles into more and more flow, and eventually becoming a solid sheet of oil flowing down the cliff.

It is beginning to rain. The ground begins to get wet. But parts of the ground are remaining dry – I notice that the dry spots make patterns, like crop circles. The patterns comprise a sort of evil writing that evokes Lovecraftian horror.

(3) A recapitulation of the delivery of fanzines to Richard Bergeron, except that it is I doing it rather than Gary Farber and Patrick Hayden. I get past the doorman and into Bergeron's apartment. He isn't there. The apartment is furnished like a Victorian men's club – dark atmosphere, teak and mahogany furniture, overstuffed chairs, oriental rugs, etc. I light a cigarette, and tip its ash into an ashtray. I find Bergeron's cigar humidor.

A woman is in the room! She sees me. She offers me a cigarete, but it's a Marlboro, too strong for me.


(1) I'm talking with Delia Sherman. She is very drunk. Smiling at me, she leans over, collapses into my arms. I gently lower her to the floor.

She needs to be gotten to her hotel room. Where is Ellen Kushner? Here are some safety monitors to help. they take Delia and carry her to her room. One of them thanks me.

It must have been some party in the SFWA suite. Here's another woman passed out on the floor. She has blond shoulder-length hair, and she's built chunkily. I don't know her.

(2) While traveling through the woods in the snow, the young king's party meets an accident. The king is rescued by a bandit. The two travel through the woods to the king's castle. The bandit disappears into the woods.

The king now has a problem: The bandit knows him as he really is, and likes him. As king, nobody sees the real man who is king, and he's lonely. He wants to find the bandit again.

I, the dreaming self, think that this would make a good premise for a book, while I look at stumps and logs sticking out of the snow.

Posted by abostick at 03:38 PM | Comments (0)

October 23, 2003

How I Bake Sourdough Bread

The recipe I use routinely for baking bread is the recipe for "San Francisco Sourdough" recipe from pp. 190-191 of Joe Ortiz's The Village Baker: Classic Regional Breads from Europe and America.

The key difference between baking with natural leavening, i.e. sourdough starter, and commercial manufactured yeast is that the starter must be grown and risen ("refreshed") multiple times before it is formed into loaves for its final rising.

When you make bread with commercial yeast, you can add as much yeast as you need to ferment starches in the dough and produce the gas that inflates the crumb. With natural leavening, the yeasts in the starter must be allowed to grow and multiply until there are enough of them to do the same job.

The recipe I use takes three refreshments, taking something like a day and a half from the time I put the first ingredients together to the time I take the baked bread out of the oven.

On the morning before the day I plan to bake, I begin my first refreshment:

1/2 cup (approximately) of sourdough starter
1/2 cup very warm water
1 cup flour
[Refer to my comments below on ingredients.]

Place the starter in a small mixing bowl, and add the warm water. With a fork, mash the starter around in the water until it softens and begins to dissolve, and continue mixing and beating it (like a batter) until the consistency of the liquid is smooth.

Add flour to the liquid a little at a time, and blend it in. Eventually the liquid will become a paste, and then a dough. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, scraping out the drier bits of dough and remnants of flour. Knead the dough mixture until it is smooth.

Place the resulting ball of dough in a bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and leave in a warm, draft-free place to rise. (I use my gas oven, kept warm by its pilot light.)

Allow this dough to rise for six hours or more. The ideal time to move to the next stage is just after the dough has risen to its full extent and starts to fall back. Letting it wait longer is not detrimental, though.

At the end of this process, scrape the resulting risen dough (it's called a "sponge") onto a floured surface. Divide it into two equal pieces (I use a pastry knife, a broad square of sheet-metal with a wooden handle on one side, for this; it is easy enough to make do with a butter knife). The sponge can be gooey and sticky, making it difficult to handle. It can be tamed by sprinkling it with liberal quantities of flour. Set aside one of the two pieces: it is your starter for the next time you bake.

The other piece of sponge goes into the next step, the second refreshment:

The sponge from the previous refreshment
3/4 cup cool water
1 3/4 cup flour
[Refer to my comments below on ingredients.]

Place the sponge in a bowl, and pour the water over it. Mash the starter around in the water with a fork, as before, until it softens and dissolves, and continue beating the mixture until it becomes a liquid of smooth consistency.

Gradually add the flour to the mixture, blending it with the fork. As the mixture thickens, you may wish to switch over to stirring with a wooden spoon. (I use not a spoon, but a bamboo paddle intended for serving rice. It does double-duty as a mixing spoon and as a dough scraper quite admirably.) When the mixture has transformed from liquid into dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, scraping the remnants out of the bowl, and knead it for a couple of minutes, until its consistency is smooth.

(Notice that this procedure is almost identical to that of the first refreshment, except with more flour and water added.)

Place the ball of dough in a bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and place in a warm, draft-free place to rise.

Again, the ideal time to move to the next step is just after the sponge has risen to its full extent and begun to diminish. Letting it go for longer, though, does not cause problems (except the top dries and hardens if you let it go for too long). Personally, I leave it to rise overnight.

Then, on the following morning, I begin the final refreshment:

All of the sponge from the previous stage
2 1/4 cups of lukewarm water
5 cups flour
1 Tbsp salt
[Refer to my comments below on ingredients.]

Mix the sponge and the water together thoroughly, until the resulting liquid has a smooth consistency. (At home, I do this with my Kitchenaid mixer, using its paddle attachment. If you don't have a mixer, or if you insist that the bread you make be completely handmade, this can be done instead with a fork and a wooden spoon, as before.) Gradually add the flour and mix it in. (With my mixer, I switch from the paddle to the dough hook after adding the second cup of flour).

When all of the flour is blended in, leave the dough in its mixing bowl to sit for fifteen minutes or so. This lets a process known as "autolysis" take place. The water in the dough soaks into the gluten of the wheat flour, and the fibers of gluten protein loosen and relax. This makes for a slacker dough, much easier to knead than if the pause is omitted.

Knead the dough until it has a smooth consistency, without lumps (a minute or two in a mixer, or perhaps three to five minutes by hand). Now flatten and stretch the dough, until it is something like a foot square and something like a half to three quarters of an inch thick.

Sprinkle this square of dough evenly with half of the salt (1/2 Tbsp). Fold the dough over onto itself, so that you have a thin layer of salt between two layers of dough. Flatten this rectangle of dough out, and fold it again. Repeat again, for a total of eight times. You theoretically have a lump of dough with 32 salty layers in it, at this point. Take the dough, and knead it in the conventional manner for a minute or two.

Do the same thing again: stretch the dough into a flat square, sprinkle it with the remaining salt, and fold and stretch, again for a total of eight folds. Again, knead the resulting dough in the conventional manner for a minute or two.

The purpose of this peculiar procedure, which you won't find outlined in any cookbook that I know of, is because salt should be the last thing you add to a bread dough. Many bread recipes have you add the salt to the water, before the flour. This is a mistake. Subjecting the yeast to the salty water will kill a substantial fraction; the surviving yeast will rise rather less vigorously.

Now that you've worked the salt into it, put the dough into a large mixing bowl, covered with a damp cloth, and let it rise in a warm, draft-free place until it has doubled in bulk. This takes something like two or three hours.

Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead it a couple of times. This is called "knocking it down" or "giving it a turn." Return it to the mixing bowl, cover it with the damp cloth, and allow to rise for a while more, forty-five minutes to an hour.

Now it's time to make the loaves. I usually divide this much dough into thirds, and put one portion into a loaf pan for sandwich bread. The other two portions I form into freeform batards. These batards I lay in a couche, a heavily floured flaxen cloth. Let the loaves rise for one more hour.

Preheat the oven to 450ΊF. I bake my bread on a baking stone in my oven, and this demands substantial preheating time. When the oven is ready, move the freeform loaves onto a sheet of parchment paper, leaving plenty of room between them for expansion. I take a spray bottle filled with water and mist the loaves, both the freeform and the one in the loaf pan. Then I slash the loaves with a very sharp knife: several diagonal slashes on the batards, and one slash lenghtwise along the top of the pan loaf. Using a peel, I slide the batards onto the baking stone in the oven, and then I place the loaf pan on a wire rack above it.

After a minute, I open the oven and thoroughly spray the loaves with the spray bottle. I do this again at two minutes, four minutes, and ten minutes. I check occasionally to see how done the loaves look. When the crust is thoroughly golden-brown, I take out the batards. This is usually after about twenty-five minutes of baking. I leave the sandwich loaf in for about ten minutes more, until its upper crust is a rich, darker brown (but not burnt).

Allow the loaves to cool on a wire rack.

There is nothing quite like freshly baked bread, still warm from the oven. The very first time I baked bread, twenty years ago, I had no notion of what I was doing, beyond the instructions in the cookbook, and the results were adequately edible ... and the people at the potluck for which I baked it were enthusiastic about it. Even mediocre bread tastes like ambrosia just after it comes out of the oven.

A Note on Ingredients

Flour: I use flour specially prepared for bread-baking. By preference I use King Arthur Bread Flour, but this is sporadically unavailable at my grocer. When I can't get it, I use Gold Medal "Better For Bread" flour. Bread flour is made from a harder wheat with a higher gluten content than all-purpose flour. It also contains traces of barley flour and ascorbic acid, both of which encourage yeast growth and activity.

Water: The microorganisms in sourdough starter are yeast and lactobacilli living in symbiosis. (It's the activity of the lactobacilli that create the sour flavor.) The chlorine in tap water, being intended to sterilize it, can kill the lactobacilli. To prevent this, I use filtered water. As an alternative, you can let tap water sit in an open container for a day so the chlorine can outgas.

Salt: I use sea salt for my baking. You don't have to go overboard with fancy flakes or pyramid-shaped crystals. In fact, it's better to have fine-ground salt so that it dissolves and works into the dough more quickly. If you have a choice between coarse-flaked sea salt and Morton's iodized salt, go for the Morton's. My grocer carries Salina Antica, a reasonably priced Italian import that is finely ground.

Starter: With flour, water, and a little bit of patience, you can conjure a working starter out of the air in your kitchen. That's what I did. My starter has been going for about two years now. You can find instructions on how to do so on pp 31-32 of The Village Baker. The trick is to make a walnut-sized ball of dough with 1/4 cup flour and 2 tbsp filtered water, and leave it in a dish on a shelf or windowsill for a few days. If the exterior is dry and wrinkled, but the interior is sweet-smelling and bubbly, you have succeeded. Peel away the dry rind and mix the remainder with a half-cup of flour and quarter-cup of filtered water, knead it, and let it rise for a day. Refresh it again, with a cup of flour and a half-cup of water, and you're in business. Half of this is your ongoing starter, and the other half can be used to start a batch of bread.

You can also get starter from a friend (I have been known to share mine with people who ask nicely). You can order starters from an online retail outlet, Sourdoughs International, which offers sourdough starter cultures from around the world, including "Original San Francisco" as well as Yukon, France, Russia, Egypt, and other countries.

Posted by abostick at 04:50 PM | Comments (0)

Quizkids' WRGPT Info Pages Up and Running

If you want to keep up with the fast poker action in the 13th World Rec.Gambling Poker Tournament (see below), point your browser to the Quizkids WRGPT13 Info Pages. See who is still in the running, who has busted out, and who busted them.

For example, here is the bustout hand of former Tournament of Champions winner Spencer Sun, the first player to be eliminated. Very shortly later, our own true Patti Beadles was sent to the rail when her ace and king of clubs ran into an unbeatable power hand: Kh7h. Guess you weren't expecting your table to be moving that fast, were you, Patti?

Meanwhile, as of this writing Debbie and I are both part of a 157-way-tie for 327th place, both of us having folded everything we've been dealt so far. Deb's brother, David Notkin, is in 44th place with a stack of $17,025. 1,110 players remain, out of a starting field of 1,150.

Posted by abostick at 03:21 PM | Comments (1)

October 22, 2003

July 2003 Dreams


(1) I'm riding on a bus heading south on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. I look across the aisle – that's Ian McKellen sitting across from me! I look away, not wanting to stare.

More people get on the bus; it's crowded. McKellen moves to make room for someone ... and sits down again, next to me. He's looking at the receipt for something he's purchased – it's from the Other Change of Hobbit bookstore. I decide to start a conversation, but choose not to play the "my girlfirend used to be one of the owners" card. I say, "I should think that you'd be sick unto death of that hobbit stuff by now." He glares at me. "I will never get sick of 'that hobbit stuff'!" he says to me.

The scene shifts. We are now in a crowded restaurant/night club that has a floor show. The entertainment is awful.

It's clear to me that McKellen would like to pick me up. I don't want to go along with it, because I feel that, being thoroughly straight, I would be unable to
perform. But I think there's nothing I can say that won't encourage him.

(2) I'm walking past a home with a yard and no fence. A dog, a brown pit bull, runs up to me and starts barking fiercely. He goes no further than the edge of the yard, though. I observe that the dog seems to be well-trained, and I keep walking.

The dog suddenly lunges past the edge of the lawn, towards me. "Bad dog!" I yell, and hit it with my fists. There's an old stick nearby; I pick it up and start beating the dog with it. "Bad dog!" Whack! "Bad dog!" Whack! "Bad dog!" Whack! ...


Last night's dreams included a string of dreams taking place at a major science fiction convention – a worldcon, I thought. I had said something forceful and dramatic in some context – perhaps a fanzine, perhaps my weblog, perhaps on a panel – and was feeling defensive about it, ashamed that I may have hurt people's feelings.

But my remarks had attracted the attention of a group of flashy young turks – cyberpunk-types – and they were flattering me, treating me like one of them, one of the "in" crowd.

There was a bunch of dream hugger-mugger. Some of it developed into finding out that a number of the young-turk women writers were attracted to me. Lots of flirting, with an undertone of anxiety on my part (I didn't deserve it, my writing – or whatever – was troublesome, et cetera). At one point I observed that the flirtaceous kisses with new women were more exciting than kisses from old familiar lovers, but the excitement was somehow illusory.

[I woke up at least halfway, and turned over to see Debbie's sleeping face – which seemed younger and smoother to me than it usually does. I felt strongly that the lasting love I have for her was a better deal than the fun flirts I had been dreaming about. Back to sleep and moreof the same dreams....]

Here are Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman. Ellen tells me in this helpful, just-between-friends way that she really likes my long beard, but it would look lots better if I had it trimmed.

Posted by abostick at 11:21 AM | Comments (0)

October 21, 2003

Poker 2.0

Our own true Paul Phillips is the subject of the lead graf of Business 2.0's article on the "computer jocks and math whizzes" who comprise the new breed of poker players:

Don't rush, Paul Phillips tells himself. Even when you're burning up under the television lights, $1.5 million in poker chips is at stake, and you're facing one of the most feared players in the world – an old Texas road gambler named T.J. Cloutier, who has just opened the betting with $60,000.

Unfortunately, the first three grafs are all you get, unless you happen to be a Business 2.0 subscriber – and who wants to pay money to read fatuous New Economy cheerleading? Your other alternative is to go to a newsstand and buy a copy of the November 2003 issue. (That's so twentieth-century. But then, so is fatuous New Economy cheerleading....)

Posted by abostick at 12:15 AM | Comments (1)

October 20, 2003

June 2003 Dreams

June 7 2003

The aliens have landed, at least one shipful. Are they hostile? I encounter an alien on the stern of a boat moored on a pier – I'm climbing a ladder, it is inside the cabin. It reaches out and touches my hand with its tentacle. It speaks, apparently naming itself (the name sounds Viking or Norwegian). I touch my chest and say my own name.

We're afraid the aliens are hostile invaders, but they seem to be interested in trade goods. We trade various things for alien artifacts. Their spacecraft, when we examine it, is actually shoddy and flimsy. They came to Earth in *that*? Our fear of them diminishes, and we give them a cheerful goodbye when they depart.

Afterwards, one of us says, "They came here on a shoestring. Now that they know they can trade with us, though, they'll come back on a big budget. Will we be ready for them? The danger isn't over."

We talk about my encounter on the back of the boat. I describe it in detail once again.

* * *

I'm playing with a child who turns out to be the son of one of the original cast of the BRADY BUNCH TV show. I babble a lot about the show. ("How come Alice was the only one shown doing a lick of work?") We take the kid to Comic Relief to buy comic books and graphic novels about the encounter with the aliens. One set of graphic novels has different versions for different intended ages: one for little children, one for teenagers and one for adults. I stack them all up as we pull them, and the stack falls over.

I go looking for Rory Root to ask if there's any more that we've overlooked. I see someone bent over that might be him, but when he stands up, he turns out to be someone else.

(Some time early in June)

It's a dream-recreation of John Carpenter's film THE THING [which I haven't seen] and/or the John W. Campbell story "Who Goes There?" [which, of course, I have read]. I'm on an expedition to the Antarctic, and someone in the group has been replaced by an alien mimic. We've just discovered this, and we are gathering together to get ready to do the blood test (hot needle thrust into drawn blood – the alien mimic blood will recoil from the needle) and there is increasing fear that the alien mimic will attack with deadly force before the test reveals it. Some of the sled dogs are behaving hostilely – have they been replaced by the alien mimic also?

June 18, 2003

(1) Yet another SF convention. I've been up all night and the sun is coming up. Surprise! I'm naked, and I need to get clothes. (I'm locked out of my room. I make my way down to a party room that had been going strong. It's occupied now, though: Doug Faunt is sleeping in the bed. But someone else is making breakfast there, too. I get a towel to wrap around myself. Later, I find some clothes to wear until I can get back into my room to get my own clothes.

(2) SF people are talking about a book being put together for Tor.
It's supposed to be outreach to black readership, and it is an original anthology of fantasy stories about an African-American family: each individual author's story covers one particular time period and one generation – some set in the antebellum South, one around the Civil War and Emancipation, on in Reconstruction, one in the Jim Crow era, and so forth. One of the contributing authors is Kevin Murphy, and Patrick Nielsen Hayden is the anthology's editor. I look over some of the story proposals and observe that they seem to set the members of the family apart from the mass of slaves and descendants of slaves in their values and virtues: They seem to me to be "whiter" in character than other black people in the stories. I remark on the racism of this, to the resentment of the people with who are showing me the book and its contents. How could I call their wonderful bridge-building, cultural-gap-spanning book "racist"?

(3) The dream segues into a scene in a Tidewater plantation in Colonial times, and I am the owner of the plantation. One of my slaves, a boy, has been disrespectful, and he must be punished. He is too young and frail to be whipped, though, so I order that his mother be whipped in his place. This has the "advantage" of strengthening family feeling in the boy, as well as the immediate goal of punishment. The lashes of the whip cut into the skin and flesh of the mother's back. Are five lashes enough? Ten? Much more than that and she might not survive. I awaken feeling revulsion, disgusted with myself that I could order such a thing
to be done.

(some time between June 19 and June 21)

I am wandering around a dark and clammy basement of an old and large building. Something is terribly wrong, and I am searching for the source of the danger. I m frightened.

I hear a noise and turn. There, trying to creep silently into the same basement, is a boy, ten or eleven years old, disheveled dark hair, glasses, etc.

I am furious. "Mister Potter!" I say indignantly. "Following your nose is all well and good; but I suggest that you follow it straight back to the Gryffindor common room. Now, Mister Potter!"

Posted by abostick at 03:35 PM | Comments (0)

Dream Catcher-Upper

I haven't posted dream-diary entries since last June, due to a number of causes.

First of all my dream diary had gotten disorganized right around then. I would record dreams in a handwritten journal I've been keeping (my main dream diary is a text file on a computer). I would write hasty notes, reminders about dream content, and not get back to flesh them out. I would simply try to remember dreams, without writing them down.

At the same time, and very likely by no coincidence, my the content of my recalled dreams took a darker turn. They were more violent. I began to notice more explicit sexual content, some of which involved people in my waking life. I came to feel rather uncomfortable about the idea of publishing on the Web what amount to sexual fantasies about friends and acquaintances.

The violent tendency climaxed in July, with some seriously heavy stuff coming out in one dream that I remembered clearly, leaving me shaken, but which I didn't have the nerve to write down even as a sketch until the end of September.

I also felt uncomfortable about editing, about censoring, deliberately omitting details of the dreams from the accounts I might post to As I Please, or leaving the dreams out altogether. I felt like this would be dishonest, somehow. This discomfort fed back into the disorganization of my diary-keeping.

At length, I set out to bring my dream diary back into order, to get my recorded dreams into one place, with intact chronology. And after I did so, I could even bring myself to include the nightmare from July.

I was rewarded for this by almost two weeks of daily dream recollections, all included in the dream diary.

And now it's time to bring my dreams back into this blog. I'm not going to include everything – no one needs to know precisely which famous fantasy writer I've been soul-kissing in my sleep. But I will be posting dream-diary excerpts here from time to time, intending to get more-or-less current.

Posted by abostick at 03:16 PM | Comments (1)

October 17, 2003

Dewey Defeats Truman in Eleventh Inning

Those wacky editorial writers at the New York Post! They apparently put the editorial page for today's edition to bed while last night's Yankees-Red Sox game was still going ... and while the Red Sox had the lead. And they didn't pull the editorial after the Yankees came from behind:

A Curse of Their Own?

Looks like the Curse of the Bambino boomeranged this year.

Despite holding a 3-2 lead in games over the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees couldn't get the job done at home; their season ended last night in the seventh game of the American League Championship Series....

In related news, in the aftermath of the Chicago Cubs' loss of the National League pennant to the Florida Marlins, RJ covered a unique press conference:

God To Cub Fans - "Knock it off"

LINCOLNSHIRE, ILLINOIS-- The Eternal Creator, God, made a rare public appearance today and told the press and bewailing Cub fans to "knock it off."

Taking the form of a talking goat "because that's all you idiots are paying attention to" the Almighty spoke to reporters milling around outside the house of Steve Bartman.

"Look, knock it off with hounding this guy," the Lord of Hosts bleated testily. "He went after a foul ball at a ball game; who wouldn't? Heck, some of you have made prayers to me for far more venal things," He said, staring pointedly at a red-faced camera crew from "Celebrity Justice." ...

(New York Post editorial via Atrios and The Smoking Gun)

Posted by abostick at 03:04 PM | Comments (0)

October 16, 2003

From the "Not Clear on the Concept" Department

From the Philadelphia Inquirer

Bush orders officials to stop the leaks

He warned of action if anonymous sources were quoted, a senior aide said. Visiting senators also heard a stern line.
By Joseph L. Galloway and James Kuhnhenn
Inquirer Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Concerned about the appearance of disarray and feuding within his administration as well as growing resistance to his policies in Iraq, President Bush – living up to his recent declaration that he is in charge – told his top officials to "stop the leaks" to the media, or else.

News of Bush's order leaked almost immediately.

Bush told his senior aides Tuesday that he "didn't want to see any stories" quoting unnamed administration officials in the media anymore, and that if he did, there would be consequences, said a senior administration official who asked that his name not be used.

(via Atrios)

Posted by abostick at 09:08 AM | Comments (0)

October 14, 2003

They All Look Alike to Me

Zed Lopez and his partner, Jennifer (whose last name, if I've ever heard it, has never registered with me), came to Debbie's and my monthly salon. As they were preparing to leave, Zed asked for the return of the bound galley of Charlie Stross's novel Singularity Sky that Zed had loaned to us.

Like a shot I leaped up and went to where I was sure I had remembered seeing it last, beside the bed. I picked up the bound galley and returned, thrusting it into Zed's hands.

There was just one problem: the galley in question was that of The Cassini Division, by Ken MacLeod.

It was a natural mistake. After all, if you've read one left-wing Scots writer of cutting-edge science fiction, you've read them all, right?

Posted by abostick at 08:36 AM | Comments (2)

WRGPT13 Has Begun!

The first hand has been dealt out to 1,141 players in the Thirteenth World Rec.Gambling Poker Tournament (see below).

Posted by abostick at 07:59 AM | Comments (0)

October 08, 2003

Get Those Trademark Applications Ready

Sony has just announced the release of the PSX – a combination hard disk drive and DVD recorder:

The two PSX models of DESR-5000 and DESR-7000 are equipped with maximum capacity HDD respectively to accommodate various features in serving as a digital home electronics product as well as a game device for enjoying PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games.

In otherwords the PSX serves both as a console game player and a DVD recorder/player for a home entertainment system.

That's nifty-keen, of course, but what I'm noticing about this is the device's name, PSX.

My own nifty-keen new computer runs an operating system called OS X (where the X is to be read as a Roman numeral ten rather than as the letter 'x'). The ambiguity between Roman numerals and letters, is often overlooked.

Clearly, if you want your high-tech electronic or computer product to be seen as part of the cutting edge of the 21st century, you should name it something like the QS-X or RSX. Get your application into the Patent and Trademark Office quickly. You don't want to have to settle for ZSX.

(via Charlie Stross)

Posted by abostick at 01:48 PM | Comments (2)

October 06, 2003

A Bright Room Called Day

Debbie and I went to the theater in San Francisco last Friday night, seeing a production by the La Luna Theater Collective of Tony Kushner's play A Bright Room Called Day.

The play is being performed Friday and Saturday nights through November 8, with an additional performance on Monday, October 27, at the EXIT on Taylor (one of three venues of the EXIT Theater), 277 Taylor St., San Francisco. Tickets cost $20; call 415-721-9682 for reservations.

We had read the play some years back in a book- and play-reading group to which we belong, but the details had faded from our memories, and we came to it essentially fresh.

The play concerns the reactions of a small group of artists and intellectuals, connected to each other largely through the German filmmaking industry, to the advent of Hitler and the Nazis, in 1933. By interleaving the short scenes with a "present-day" (1990) pair of characters, Kushner draws parallels between the plight of the characters of the past and our own lives today. These parallels are more apt in America under the rule of the Shrub than they ever were when his father was president.

The production was well-cast, with the performers inhabiting and delivering their roles excellently. My largest criticism is about the writing and structure of the play itself: the many brief scenes seemed fragmented to me, with the fragmentation getting in the way of what ought to be a long, slow, steady buildup of the drama and tension.

Marking the scene breaks are captions, presented by slide projector, giving the date and outlining events of the day. A slide saying something like "February 20, 1933 - Later that night" resonates unfortunately with the film Start the Revolution Without Me with the constant narrated repetition of the date: "Still 1789...."

Kushner is wordy and long-winded – the production is more than two hours long – but his writing is nonetheless powerful and authentic.

One speech particularly moved me, spoken by Husz, an exiled Hungarian cinematographer:

Shut up. Listen.
There is something calling, Paulinka.
If you still retain a shred of decency
you can hear it – it's a dim terrible
voice that's calling – a bass howl, like
a cow in a slaughterhouse, but
far, far off...
It is calling us to action, calling us
to stand against the calamity,
to spare nothing, not our blood,
nor our happiness, nor our lives
in the struggle to stop the dreadful day
that's burning now
in oil flames on the horizon.

What makes the voice pathetic
is that it doesn't know
what kind of people it's reaching.
No one hears it, except us.
This Age wanted heroes.
It got us instead:
carefully constructed, but
Subtle, but
to take up
the burden of the times.
It happens.
A whole generation of washouts.
History says stand up,
and we totter and collapse,
weeping, moved, but not

The best of us, lacking.
The most decent,
not decent enough.
The kindest,
too cruel,
the most loving
too full of hate,
the wisest,
too stupid,
the fittest
to take up
the burden of the times.

The Enemy
has a voice like seven thunders.
What chance did that dim voice ever have?
Marvel that anyone heard it
instead of wondering why nobody did anything,
marvel that we heard it,
we who have no right to hear it–
And it would be a mercy not to.
But mercy ... is a thing ... no one remembers its face anymore.

The best would be
that time would stop
right now,
in this middling moment of awfulness,
before the very worst arrives.
We'd all be spared more than telling.
That would be best.
Posted by abostick at 10:08 AM | Comments (2)

October 03, 2003

Adding Spice to Life

I've been distracted for the past week, among other reasons, because I got myself a new computer: an Apple PowerBook G4 with a twelve-inch display. Say hello to cinnamon.spicejar.org.

The computer on my desktop, cayenne.spicejar.org, was an old AMD 486-clone running Windows 95. It's 24 megabytes of RAM seemed like a lot when we bought it. As time passed, it seemed more and more clunky , slow, and tempermental.

But there was a large obstacle to getting a new machine: Windows XP. From the time it was released, I was dubious about wanting to own a machine connected to the Internet through our DSL line that ran XP. My doubt solidified into certainty as it became clear that a new security flaw was discovered and announced every week, if not every day.

We had already bought one Intel box and scraped XP off its hard drive, installing FreeBSD in its place. That's spicejar.spicejar.org, the server that provides NAT service for our home network and has enough oomph left over to be a full-service Internet host. I had given some thought to doing the same again for my desktop.

But while that would give me plenty of functionality, it wouldn't give me terribly much compatibility with the outside professional world, which inflexibly demands Microsoft office software, no matter how terribly designed and implemented.

But Macintosh computers now come with a real operating system: OS X, which is really NextStep, a UNIX derivative by way of BSD, in a clever plastic disguise. (I know, strictly speaking, that you aren't supposed to refer to BSD as UNIX, or else the clams from Utah will come after you. Fuck them.) And, Macintosh is well-supported in terms of software compatible with the world of customers and clients.

So when I couldn't take it anymore, my decision was simple: switch to Macintosh. The further decision to get a notebook rather than a desktop machine was motivated by some future plans of mine: I may be away from home for reasonably long periods of time in the not-too-distant future, so I want to be able to take my "office" with me.

I got the new machine, cinnamon, last Friday. Since then I've been transitioning from the old cayenne to the new cinnamon – updating the network, backing up and transferring files, configuring software and the like. And playing with iTunes a lot. Yesterday, I made the big transition, taking cayenne off my desk and setting cinnamon up in its place. Today was my first day of trying to get back to normal, or at least the new normal.

Posted by abostick at 03:49 PM | Comments (1)

Recent Entries
Strategic Hamlet
Sometimes, Information Does Want to Be Free
Dreams 10/1-10/7/2003
Hey You Kids! Put Those Books Down and Get Back to Your GameBoys, Right Now!
Donald Luskin Is a Horse's Ass
The Fire This Time
SF Chronicle Poker Feature Underscores Vice
September 2003 Dreams
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