Sunday, December 30, 2007


I broke the power connector on the subnotebook, so I replaced it with a Lego connector. This preempts my tutorial on how to get it functioning in terms of software, but provides a good basis for disassembling the notebook for repairs. Hopefully it will help out other PCG-C1VR owners out there; documentation on these seems to be slowly becoming unmaintained. PCG-C1VR disassembly.

Friday, December 21, 2007

New Stuff!

Given my currently less than outstanding habit of writing papers in one draft, I'm considering proofing some of my school papers and posting them here. My main concerns about that are that someone will plagiarize my papers for a class, and that the papers themselves are of a very limited scope, and thus not particularly interesting.

However, even if I decide not to start posting papers, I do plan on writing more here again, and retuning to the prior format of poor fiction and news, rather than the current use of just talking about myself.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

My Pretentious Bookcase

My bookcase has become extraordinary pretentious of late. I blame it mostly on taking European Intellectual History, which required most of the classic authors from the Victorian era on. It used to be mostly fiction, and good ole scifi/fantasy fiction at that. Now I have a significant number of history books, and even some intellectuals and notable playwrights. Such are the trials of the history student. I keep selling these things, but they keep appearing. But now I have a mostly full bookcase, which makes me happy. Any book that I have I have read, unless it was for a class (most of those have used stickers on them). Any author I have more than one book of I enjoy and would recommend, more than 3 I think they are super cool, 7 is an addiction and 12 or more indicates they are A. a series author, and B. I really like them. Here is the breakdown, by number of books per author. (for those of you keeping track at home, I've read all of these, and at least one is lent out right now.)

Anne McCaffrey: 18
Simon R. Green: 12
Neal Stephenson: 7
Arthur C. Clark: 3
Robert Ballard: 3
Ayn Rand: 3


Books about the Titanic: 4
Pure Reference: 9
Number of authors that I have only one book of but would like to have more: 5
Total Books: 132

Total Books (digital):75
That I've Read Entirely (digital):18

The adoption of digital media has really cut my costs in the book department, and makes trying random new authors easier. If you can hack sitting and reading off an LCD I recommend it; your eyes will bleed, but you will save a good deal of money. But paper books are much easier to use and read: used bookstores and bargain bins are your friends. My book for this week is*: Bookleggers amd Smuthounds: The Trade in Erotica 1920-1940 by Jay A. Gertzman. 1900's to the 1950's is my favorite period in U.S. history, so this book fits comfortably within that range, and is actually pretty interesting. Also was found in the campus bookstore bargain bin for cheap. If you enjoy history, you might like this book. If not, it will not be high on your list.

*Like Oprah's "Book of the Month" nonsense, except with a better time frame, no following, entourage, or literary analysis. Also, I don't read things I think you'll like/will change your life.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Thats the last of them

Finished a 14 page paper in under twelve hours, including doing all the research. Why would I do such a thing? Monday a 6 page paper was due, Tuesday two 2-3 page papers were due, which left Wednesday to do the 12 pager due Thursday. So, I'm now both tired, frustrated, and happy. The paper ordeal is finally over, but i still have one more 7 page paper and two finals. The week before was no cake walk either, but most of that was my own fault; I was doing research for my own papers.

The 12 page really disappoints me. Even though I went a page or two over, I still didn't address everything I wanted to. In addition being dog tired made it slightly less cohesive than I'd prefer. It just gets to me, that I could write a much more thorough paper if I had more time and pages. Last year this bothered me when I did the same assignment on a different book, and it gets to me more this year because I should have learned from last year. Oh well. Assuming I don't fail hardcore, I'll be in a different class with the same teacher next quarter, odds are the term paper will be the same assignment. Perhaps I will finally do it right, and get a good tight paper that just drills into the subject without being too broad or too specific.

In other news, I plan on being a terrible person over the holiday, and avoid taking a break. I have so many prospective papers that I need to get written, I want to research the current craft movement, traditional building techniques, re-write my economics paper from 150B and post it here, revisit the Egyptian economy with sources this time, write on steampunk. I also want to get back into shape, and whack my technology into some semblance of functionality. If only I could make a career out of investigating random things in the current era and history I'd be set, and I could leave this school thing. If anyone has an opening for a freelance smart guy, let me know.

The picture is of my desk while I was writing the term paper last year. It wasn't so bad this year.
Robert Alverson


Monday, December 3, 2007

Keynes' Pyramids

Did the ancient Egyptians have a problem with overproduction? The Great Depression was a dramatic example of the havoc overproduction can cause in an economy. In that case the increased production from industry plus the collapse of export markets, created a situation where supply out-stripped demand. Many of my colleagues argue that we have to maintain money sinks to remove excess production as needed, so that the economy has a release valve. The military is a key example of this, as the products it needs are both expensive and useless for further production. An investment in the military removes capital from circulation, and itself does not produce anything. Another good resource sink is education. Thought it will result in a higher level of production over time, there is ample opportunity to invest heavily without directly increasing production. The building of gargantuan monuments may have server a similar purpose in ancient Egypt. The reasoning behind this is fairly straightforward. The Egyptians were an advanced civilization, and were clearly producing more than they required for their domestic needs. Much of this was exported. However, would a decrease in the availability of the export markets result in a depression as levels of surplus increased? If it would have then it would make sense for the Egyptians to pursue large projects to keep demand above production. The one flaw here is this was not a free economy. It was an economy dominated by the ruling class. They were in fact perfectly capable of simply hording wealth, and since they could control production either by law or force it is somewhat fanciful to think they would use economic manipulation. As cool as it would be to find Keynesian economics at work in the ancient world, I don't think the pyramids are examples of either deficit spending or production management.

Robert Alverson


*Edited on 12/5/2007 to correct formating errors

Almost Worth It

Given that I will have crippling sleep problems later in life, the thing that makes staying up until dawn worth it is the sunrise. That, and the fact that my fingers start feeling weird and my perception of time distorts radically. We had some really cool clouds the other morning; I snapped this one from my skylight. There are more at my Flickr, but I really liked this one. I really need to go and title my Flickr photos, but given that so many of them are similar, I really can't get enthused about it. Using a date based system would be good, but that data is already there. If anyone has a good naming scheme I'd be glad to hear about it. Until then, the master counter numbers are good enough. Its pretty neat that in the 11 months I've had this camera, I've taken over 1265 photos. Thats more than 100 pictures a month. Digital cameras are an excellent investment, thats roughly 1300 photos for less than $250. Good Times.

The Trick

"The trick is to act like you don't care. The more you care, the more likely you are to over think it."

"But I enjoy caring."

"Heh, thats what you think."

"It is what I think! Its not the end result, its the passion of the chase, the thrill of the unatain..."

"And to do that you have to care, to have a script and a plan?"

"No...But they help.  Why can't I care?"

"Why should you?"

"That doesn't answer my question.  Don't dance around it, why can't I care?"

"Because, once you decide, once you have your plan, you close down everything else.  You forget that there are no straight lines, and that what is normal to you is cold, distant and inhuman to most other people.  Thats why."

Robert Alverson


Friday, November 30, 2007

Facebook, Le Sigh

Once again, Facebook oversteps the bounds of information sharing, causing a backlash from the community.  I am becoming more and more disappointed with Facebook.  The last time they added a feature that published information without consent there was a massive outcry, and the ability to opt out was added.  It amazes me that they crossed the same line again, in an even more impressive way.  Seriously, the idea has terrible mistake written all over it.  Publishing user information without consent, and having that data be from parties outside of Facebook?  Neither of those are good ideas to start with, and the combination makes it worse.  More information can be found in this Business Week article.

Robert Alverson


I Enjoy Russia...

...Because they have awesomely draconian laws about protests.  According to the police, an unsanctioned protest is the gathering of two or more protesters without permission.  Individual protesters may protest without permission.  This is the best quote from the article, "The provocateur told the police, joyfully, when asked what he was doing out there, 'Provoking. It's what we have to do'." Reuters Oddly Enough

Robert Alverson


Awesome, or not Awesome: That is the Question.

I noticed that it was one in the morning with the slow astonishment of a drunk spilling his drink. A puzzled look, a double take at the clock on the microwave, and the bewildering thought of "What have I been doing for the past two hours?" I'd reckon most of it was spent in the astoundingly interesting, but as of yet not-directly-profitable contemplation of the craft phenomenon. That, and making food. But this of course begs the question of what have I been doing since one in the morning. Sadly, I spent it engaged in that most fruitless of exercises, trying to fall asleep. Keep in mind the amount of caffeine it takes to get me going is in the range of 300 mg, roughly 3 coups of coffee. I have had zero caffeine today. Thus, I am led to one of two conclusions: either one of the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal is insomnia, or I'm still going slowly out of my mind.

I'm now drinking some sort of energy drink, but the reasoning behind that is two-fold. First, if I'm going to be awake, might as well make it productive, and second, its the only thing I have to drink up here. On the upside, I tend to write good papers while sleep deprived. Even better, the hallucinations from not sleeping for over 72 hours can help me do my finals! Some days, I have a sneaking suspicion that I'll just go mad some finals week; finally disposing of sleep altogether I'll wander the campus, chanting mnemonics of dates and people in a confused litany chronicling my education. Or perhaps it will just be madcap papers, dictated to the sky and any passer-by who strays too near. "...and as we can clearly see in the works of Kafka and Beckett, particularly in the latter's play "Waiting for Godot", the theme of waiting began to play a major role in cultural discourse after the first World War*..."

In this regard blogging has similar characteristics to the rantings of a madman: if they are not a particularly well-known madman people pay him no heed. On the other hand, if they are a well-known public figure then you have the start of a new social, political or religious movement. The trick, clearly, is to be eccentric rather than crazy. I tire of this line of thought however, and will now turn my mind to European Intellectual History; I should be able to get some reading done and pound out a page or two before the sun rises.

*Actual sentence from the paper that I'm about to write.
Robert Alverson


Thursday, November 29, 2007

The End of the Quarter

I came to the realization today that one fifth of my quarter is spent in a state of metal panic, followed by a almost subliminal sense of anxiety until grades come out 2-3 weeks later.  Thus roughly 5 weeks per quarter I hate life, and this happens three times a school year.  Thus school alone makes my life stressful or otherwise uncomfortable 15 weeks a year, or roughly 29% of the year.   Thats not even counting individual assignments, midterms or quizzes.  Yay, stress...

Robert Alverson


Friday, November 9, 2007


A class that I had in the Physical Sciences Building (adjacent to the hippy protest) has been moved to Stevenson for the remainder of the quarter, due to the ongoing protest.  That's mildly irritating on many levels.

Robert Alverson


To the Hippies

Dear Hippies,

I am glad that you love the environment.  It is sadly neglected, and could use some good advocacy.  However, odds are it shouldn't be from you.  At least on this campus, your main pastimes seem to be smoking pot and pissing fellow students off with your shoddily organized protests.  Most recently, due to the limited foresight of both the police and a cadre of tree-sitters, the main road through campus was blocked.  This resulted in terrible traffic, making people late to classes, which is doubly unfortunate as it is midterm time.  For me at least, the kicker is that you are protesting a building that is getting built in a parking lot, cuts down no old growth trees, and is indefinitely delayed.  Congratulations.  You successfully brought your cause to the attention of your fellow students and the media.  Hopefully, people will not be lured in by the thrill of your asinine "revolutionary actions" which featured juvenile pranks such as pulling fire alarms and scrawling "No LRDP" on every surface you can find.  Thank you for pointing out that you don't like the LRDP, which everyone has known about for years.  Also, while pulling a fire alarm to disrupt a corporate office may be a brilliant piece of work that wastes thousands of dollars in company time, its just not cool on campus.  When you pull an alarm on campus, you are disrupting classes and wasting the tuition and time of the people you are ostensibly trying to help.  Your protests would be impressive, if they were not ineffectual, irritating and constant. 
Reading the LRDP resources page, and noting that cutting three acres of trees in the middle of campus takes immense amounts of paperwork, I think you could affect the process more by forcing reviews of the paper trail.  Look at the Biomed Facility, its tied up in legal issues.  Exploit the legal system, because it costs more and takes longer for the university to hire lawyers and go back through what was already done once, than to send police up to campus to mace protesters.  And trust me, they care about losing money.  Oh, I forgot, you're all about "fucking the system" and screwing "the man", so the practical solutions aren't acceptable. 
In conclusion, I don't care what you do, so long as when its something stupid I don't have to pay the price for it.  And when I do have to pay for it, don't expect me to support you.  You are taking environmentalism as a religion, with the result of making everyone else feel justified in dismissing you as crazy hippies.
Robert Alverson


Friday, October 19, 2007

Mmmmm, lappy.

The Asus EEE PC has now rolled out in Taiwan, where they are literally flying off of the shelves.  Sadly, I cant read any of the reviews, so I'm waiting eagerly for someone in the states to import one and tell me how awesome it is.  According to the internet, they will be released through Newegg on the first of November.  I guess I'm getting myself a Guy Fawkes Day present this year (3-4 day shipping, should get here by the 5th).  On a related note, the fifth falls on a Monday this year.  This has little relevance to me, since I've been not sleeping enough during the week even without the intervention of obscure English holidays.

Robert Alverson



I really enjoy the system of evaluations here at UCSC, and like to think I use it to its fullest potential.  In looking back through my evals, I noted one in particular, " Robert's lab performance was average, and his final exam score was average.  Overall, Robert's performance was average." Oddly enough, thats what I thought about them too (Chem 1C lab).  My evals got better once my classes became more interesting, but there is always a re-occurring theme of not participating enough in sections.  I'm terribly surprised at this, since I'm an extraordinarily outgoing person who loves to be around people all the time and is so talkative.  Yup.  Very surprised.   There is also a consistent theme of writing well, or at the very least well enough for it to be noted in my evals.  It always kinda throws me when teachers don't dismiss my writing, since I feel that its not my strong suit.  Reading is my strong suit, creating connections and ideas are strong suits but not writing.  Writing ranks barely above math in on the list of "things I think I do well."  Perhaps it would be a good time to move it up near "eating massive amounts of pasta" or "conceptualizing abstracts visually."

Robert Alverson


Friday, October 12, 2007


Uclue is a nifty little site where, for a fee, you can get real people to get you answers to your questions. The really nice part is that the questions that have beens answered already are posted publicly, so there is a nice database that you can look through. I'd give this a very high usefulness rating, plus its even better than the wikipedia random page for finding out new things. For example, have you ever wondered how much Chocolate could a young lady buy for Five Shillings in 1925? Or perhaps what liquids other than milk that you can put on your cereal? I never have, but hey, apparently someone did.

On an unrelated note, it's started raining in SC again. Hopefully this winter won't be as dry as the last one, or we are in for some bad times.
Robert Alverson


Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Historical Note

I did a bit of poking around into the Hindenburg, since air disasters are an interest of mine, and because I used the "Oh, the humanity" quote as the title in my previous post and wanted to give it proper attribution.  The quote is attributed to Herbert Morrison, and is actually used somewhat incorrectly, as the full text of the quote is "Oh, the humanity and all the passengers."  Morrison was using the word humanity to refer to the ground crew, rather than all the people involved in the accident.  This puts a slightly different take on using just the "Oh, the humanity", but as this quote has been taken so far out of context by pop culture, I doubt that anyone other than myself cares.

Robert Alverson


Monday, October 8, 2007

Oh, the Humanity!

Through careful research and study I have determined that life has to be the most hilarious joke ever (rivaled only by "Supercollider? I hardly know her...").  How can you not look back at where humanity has come from and laugh.  Look at our previous views and philosophies, those can be downright absurd.  But the overview isn't even the best part.  Looking at your life what parts do you find funny?  What parts really sucked, but are now your best hilarious anecdotes? Life has a way of coming full circle in that manner: the ex-girlfriend that ripped your soul out is a fun way to relate to other guys, the time you missed your 300 miles, and the one time with the thing at the place.  Hilarity ensued, you just didn't realize it at the time.  We need to realize that when our lives are at the most absurd, shit is hitting the fan and nothing makes any sense whatsoever, those are the parts you're going to talk about years later.  The ups you'll look back at fondly, but the downs are the funny stories you will repeat until everyone knows it by heart.  Which isn't to say that the hilariously awesome parts of your life don't make good anecdotes.  Obviously they do, but you already knew that.  But you weren't laughing when you chopped your arm off, and you should have been.  Can you believe what an awesome story that will be?  You could sell that story for money, call it "Cautionary Tales of Forklifts."

Robert Alverson


Thursday, October 4, 2007


I am starting to feel the beginning of the end for my fling with Facebook.  It was fun while it lasted, with the joining silly groups, posting on walls and friend-ing people, but overall the fun and pop just isn't there any more.  The groups are not generally active in any regard other than really inane posts, and don't further the user experience.  Most of the groups I'm in have not had new topics since last year; which is a shame since some of them were quite interesting.  It seems to me that a large part of Facebook is using it as a platform to wave at the world and say, "Look! Here I am!"  This is all well and good as many people enjoy that, and admittedly I do too (Why else would I have a blog?).  However, with the increased popularity, scads of widgets that seem to not serve any purpose, and declining utility of Facebook, I think that now is the time to put my social chips into maintaining and expanding my Google presence rather than my Facebook one.  So for further updates in the life of Robert, as few and far between as those are, stay tuned to this channel.  As a side note, I've managed to carve out a niche in the web for myself: searching "Robert Alverson UCSC" gets me as the first few hits, and "mightysinetheta" is of course all me.  "Robert Alverson" without the "UCSC" gives me roughly the 22nd hit, much improved over the 100th+ last year.
Robert Alverson


Sunday, September 30, 2007

An Exciting Night...

...In more ways than one. Last night I decided to wander up to campus, lured by the prospect of free home-cooked food, and the PBS Saturday Night movies. These come as a pair of older movies, generally classics. The first movie last night was "High Society." Hailing from 1956, it features Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, the beautiful Grace Kelly as well as the musical talents of Louis Armstrong. This musical about the second marriage of a high society woman is strongest in the musical and acting departments, as it uses its star power well. The plot is good, although somewhat predictable. Overall, I feel it was a pretty solid movie.
The second film was "Royal Wedding", a classic from 1951. Overall, its not a great film. It does however have Fred Astaire and Jane Powell, and is well known for the scene where Astaire dances across the walls and ceiling of his hotel room. This remarkable bit of cinematography was achieved by rotating the entire room and keeping the camera in a fixed frame of reference relative to the room. That scene, is by far the most impressive part of the film, followed closely Jane Powell, who was absolutely adorable throughout the movie. Astaire also performed well, essentially playing himself, as the movie is loosely autobiographical.
While I was enjoying a night at the movies, an argument broke out across the street from my house, eventually culminating in the non-fatal shooting of a mother and son. According my house mates the police showed up and cordoned off the street for awhile; they watched the proceedings from the living room while playing Wii bowling. Kimberly is truly living the life of the college grad; I came home at one and sometime after that she appeared in the living room lappying it up in a bathrobe. I can't wait until I can live in a similarly decadent fashion, I haven't gotten to sleep in till noon in over a week. But Kimberly is cool, and pays rent, so she can do whatever she wants. (and she has a diploma, which makes her about 100x cooler than everyone else in the house)
The new job is cool, its nice essentially working by myself after the hell that was the summer.As long as I can get a few more shifts next quarter, it should stay my primary source of income. I think I will need to get computer glasses at some point soon though, I'm spending truly epic amounts of time at computers now, and my eyesight is not quite what it used to be.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Ah, the Blog

I've been neglecting this recently, but shall write more when the fancy strikes me, or I have something worth writing about happening in my personal life.  As things stand right now, I'm doing a lot, but nothing is happening.
Robert Alverson


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Grind

This is the second posting that I've written tonight; the first got way out of hand, and was either the most inspired or the worst writing I have ever seen.  I'll save everyone some trouble and assume the latter.  But I am glad to be retuning to classes and school, getting back into my routine.  It should be nice, and a welcome change from this summer.

Robert Alverson


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Police 1, Robert 0

So the moral of the story is, when dumping trash on campus, A. Don't get caught, and B. If the CSO does see you, don't snag a TV from the E-waste bin on the way out.  The cops will stop you, and make you put the TV back.
Robert Alverson


Monday, August 20, 2007


So, in the "I'm insane" thread of conversation, I'm making my own Camelbak Unbottle. I bought a bladder, slapped together a pouch for it, and am trying to get it to stay reasonably attached in my backpack. Hopefully this will work well, because if the Velcro attachment system fails I'm going to have to come up with something clever fast. Odds are it would simply involve a lot more Velcro, and a bit of swearing. The Instructable.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

I am Awesome

...and totally batshit insane. I've now been broken up with 2 possibly 3 times, only one of which was actually pertinent to a relationship. And the crippling depression that should be setting in right about now isn't. Which is hilariously awesome, and either points to how incredibly well adjusted I am, or the fact that my emotions are in a state of neglect. I'm sure the later is far more true than the former, but I think it might also be tied to the realization that the parts I like best about Kristina are just as accessible to me in friendship as they are in a relationship. I can still tap her crafting talent, argue with her about random issues, use her mind as a springboard for getting new clever ideas (and improve on her new clever ideas), and hang out with her. So yeah. I'm crazy, and awesome, and I am seriously loving every minute of it. This year is going to rock. I can feel it. And no, this isn't sarcasm. I'd dead serious. It will rock, thats my prediction. Anyone up for longboarding? I'll still teach you if you want Dina.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Weekend Adventure

I had forgotten that big cities could be fun; thankfully last weekend proved my assumption to be incorrect. I started the day at 5am, biked down to the 17 and rode it into San Jose. I am, of course, an idiot and decided to ride my bike the eight miles into Sunnyvale on an empty stomach at seven in the morning. Unsurprisingly, there was no traffic the entire way there, which was awesome, so I made excellent time, and appeared on Kristina's doorstep at seven thirty, about thirty minutes before I expected to. I laid in the driveway until Kristina came out and found me, got me breakfast and some aspirin. We began the epic public transit journey at eleven: hopped on Caltrain, got off at Millbrae, got on to Bart, and somehow wound up at the Civic Center stop in SF. The trip is kinda a blur, I was eating and trying to learn how to crochet for most of it. We wandered around the lawn in front of City Hall for a bit, enjoying the sun and looking at the flags. Eventually we wandered down to the craft meet, where we made some delicious cupcakes. Kristina went with a nautical theme, but I felt compelled to revisit the classic Pac-Man motif for mine. Utilization of the yellow jimmies was key in both cupcakes, which required much deft spoon-work to separate them from their numerous brethren in the bowl. Kristina also had a good showing at the earring station, completing the first pair of earrings for the day. Sadly, I neglected to get a picture of them, distracted by the hubbub surrounding the crafting table (many people were looking for chairs, I'm not entirely sure why). Having seen them however, believe me when I say the looked pretty awesome. That might just be my self-indulgence (I picked out the butterflies that matched her shirt) but I think for dangle-ly earrings they looked pretty sharp. After crafting we wandered north, at which point I spotted what we later learned was St Mary's Cathedral. Due to its size, and being on a hill we assumed that it was much closer that it actually was. It was still a not very long walk, but was a good walk, punctuated by several interesting buildings, a few tiny bookstores with eclectic selections, and weird people. When we finally got to the church the first thing that hit us was its size. The thing is Xbox huge is the metaphorical sense, a vertiable behemoth, a marbled monolith. The footprint of the main building is square, with a large cross rising through the horizontal plane, which is the most visible part. The superstructure of the building is reminiscent of a minimal area surface, which makes me happy. Overall, Kristina put it best when she said "This building just says 'I'm right'." As far as imposing religious icons go, this one is pretty high up there for me. This portion of the walk became a brief tour of all the churches in the area (according to Google maps we saw 3/3 churches on our path, and actively wandered on 2/3) as we spotted both St Mark's Lutheran Church as well as the Unitarian Universalist Church. At this point we adjourned to some convent sunny benches to warm up as the day was a tad brisk, and both of us had neglected to bring suitable clothing. We talked, and I told the belfry joke, as told to me by my high school biology teacher. The walk and ride back t Sunnyvale was uneventful, we chatted and were mildly exhausted. When we got back to Sunnyvale we went to Chipotle, and ran into Jen and Aaron. That was a bizarre coincidence.
All in all it was an excellent trip. SF was nice, the weather was good as was the company. 5 out of 5, would buy from again. Trip Pictures

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Yeah, thats right, I am on time.

I have multiply redundant scheduling. I am almost never late because of this, which I think I pretty damn awesome. Almost any given component in any segment of my trip could fail and I can still make it there on time. Bike breaks on the way, good thing I planned it so I could walk there in time too. Bus is late? Good thing I didn't schedule a tight transfer, I can still make it. On almost any given trip the only way I'll be inadvertently late is if I get physically incapacitated. There is no better indicator of not having one's life together than lateness. Its easy to be on time. Just do it.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Wiki as a Meta-cortex

The human mind is a wonderful thing. It performs complex visual analysis, can restructure itself on the fly and and determine solutions to extraordinarily complex problems. It does however have problems with retaining discrete packets of information. There are basic ways to increase ones capacity for remembering arbitrary stings of information, such as mnemonics, but often these require invoking longer strings with stronger associations before being able to recall the specific data needed. (This can be reversed, especially if the information in question is an abstract, as the associated mnemonic can be an abbreviation of the key elements in the abstract.) However, these types of associations work best when they are accessed frequently. For those that are used infrequently it can be much harder to retain a useful memory. Personally, I feel that this is acceptable, at least in that it does not really hinder any day to day interactions. The area where infrequent recall of arbitrary strings is most vital is in the use of computers. Passwords and user names are not necessarily used on a daily basis, especially for things such as online banking. However, it is important to be able to recall these rapidly and accurately, as they control the flow (or lack thereof) of your money, and can impact other portions of our lives as we function more in the digital realm.

Mitigating the impact of the shortcomings of short term memory can likely be implemented in a software setting. Using a user populated personal wiki to manage data outside of one's head is a viable option. The customizable file structure, the ability to embed content and then search it using tags or keywords makes wikis ideally suited to the task of personal data storage. Coupling a reasonably secure wiki with a sandboxed hardware device would allow the user to carry a significant amount of data with them at any given time. In and of itself having readily search able data is useful, if it could be tied to location or visual cues it would also be a prompting system, providing pertinent information without user input.

The main limitation thus far is twofold: commonly available webcams do not have a high enough resolution to accurately identify visual cues and its hard to put enough processing power in a portable to analyze video in real time, especially at high res.

None of this is new. And its not necessarily hard either. It just simply hasn't been done widely yet. I think that it should be.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

in·for·ma·tive (adj.)

Informative is an adjective applied to things that inform us. What it shouldn't be applied to is Asus's promotional materials for the EeePC 701. I'd like to know what operating systems the EeePC supports, what the hard dive capacity is like, perhaps even how much RAM it has. Thank goodness that Asus set me straight on that count. According to their promotional materials, all I need to know is that its apparently easy to use, moderately attractive people enjoy holding it and biking (but not at the same time), and that elderly actors can act amazed at a blank screen. Wonderful.

That aside, the EeePC looks pretty good. According to mildly more informative sites, it will have 512mb RAM, a SSD, a sporty 7" screen, as well as a built-in web cam and Wifi. All for ~$200, releasing sometime in August. While the specs may not be as high as the Foleo or NanoBook, a $200 price point (assuming it stays that low) is excellent. This would be an excellent class/travel/wearable at this price and power.

Monday, July 16, 2007


Ramen is delicious, unless of course you eat it in the manner its creators intended. It is a sandwich sized block of extruded starch noodles, essentially a massive cracker. So, toss out that flavor packet (thats where most of the sodium comes from, so immediately you've improved the nutritional content of the meal), split the block of noodles along the seam and toss your favorite ingredients in, sandwich style. So far peanut butter, hot dogs and cheese all go well on ramen. I think essentially any sandwich could be built on ramen, and anything the goes well with crackers would work too. So, why is this superior to bread, the defacto choice for sandwiches? Well, the short answer is, it isn't. It lacks the nutritional benefits of a good wholewheat, the taste of sourdough or the texture of French bread. But what it does have going for it is price and convenience. I got all my ramen free, thanks to the spring move out. And unlike bread, ramen doesn't mold, preventing the significant losses that bread mold incurred me last year. Don't expect a great culinary experience when using ramen, but its texture can be fun, and it does have its economic benefits. You can also add ramen to a can of soup to add more bulk to it, but don't use the flavor packet, ever. The flavor packet is a tiny dose of salty death, and tastes like crap. But you can do anything you want with the noodles.
Robert Alverson


Friday, July 13, 2007

Summer Projects

Ah, the most joyous part of summer: free time. I had a lot of very clever ideas about what I should do with my free time this summer, most of which were elaborate, micro controller based, or just plain crazy. Admittedly, the best projects are those that involve some level of absurdity and originality; the virgin Mary toaster, the knock based keyless-entry system, and the LED disco dance floor are notable contributions to this field. I am currently gravitating towards some sort of wearable useful device. The other day I very proudly designed a cheap, portable and wearable clock. Of course, about 5 minutes later I realized I had re-invented the LCD wristwatch... I abandoned that plan and stumbled across this gem in my Feed: " Alarming ring." I realized this was both brilliant, and a terribly limited device. I think it would be awesome to implement this as a wristband that can pulse you messages in Morse code. Add a Bluetooth or other wireless link so that it can update on the fly from Google Calender or whatever. I think the main limitation here would be battery life, as a wristband sized package does not leave much space for a high capacity battery, and it would defeat the purpose of the device to have to take it off at night to charge it. Charging via induction using a coil mounted in a home or office desk would likely be best solution in terms of usability.

In a related area, making a PipBoy 2000 would be awesome. If i ever have an entirely free summer and several thousand dollars for a project, I think that it would be totally worth it. I mean, who wouldn't love a 50's futuristic wearable/hand held computer?
Robert Alverson


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

What a Car

They just don't build them like they used to. In one of my psudo-random searches through the Internet I came across this car, made in the epic style of the pre-gas crunch. The intense fenders, the sharp nose, and the acres of hood are awesome. I really like this car; if Christine had be written in the '50s this would have been the car it was modeled on. According to the title of the pictures (I found no other information) this is a 1949 Delayhe 175. Picture credits unknown, 2 more are on my Flickr.

Monday, July 9, 2007


"The behemoth lay in low curves on the ground, silent. The sun glinted off of its slick blue and white carapace, making a ghostly reflection of itself on the close-cropped grass."

Some days, I wish we could return to the style of the 40's and 50's. Sweeping curves, high gloss two tone paint jobs, lots of chrome. Technology was the new thing, and absurd and occasionally useful devices were everywhere. Gas was cheap and the cars were big, decadent symbols of the booming American economy. The future was sunny, populated by friendly robots who would help around the house, atomic powered airplanes that would fly from New York to Paris in an hour, and happy loving families.

I wonder what is so comforting about fantasies like this. Why is steampunk becoming a more mainstream (well, at least closer to it than most tech culture) aesthetic? It is a particularly odd time to revisit the straitlaced and psudo-scientific Victorian culture as we are currently attempting to create an enlightened scientific culture. The DIY crowd has also seen a resurgence, as outlets such as "Make" and "" tell you how to make things you never even knew you wanted to make. Is it simply that our technology has crossed a threshold, where the average person has so little comprehension of what is actually the basis for the tools they use that they need to track back to a time that can be understood? Or is it some other reason? Currently, I have no solid conclusion about the causes of this societal shift, or really any hypotheses for that matter. It is something that I think should be looked into at some point, hopefully by someone more versed in sociology than myself.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Yeah, I am a total bitch

Yes, that is a crappy emo post, and yes I am aware of it, and yes, I'm fine. I need to start writing again, just have been far too busy to get around to it.

Not Dead Yet.

I'm not dead yet. But we'll see how the summer goes.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

School Sucks

I hate having to do projects at the end of the year. Seriously. This shit, it's bananas.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sleep, or a Lack Thereof

So, I realized why I do more focused work late at night. The number of objects that I can easily mentally juggle decreases as time without sleep increases. For example, I'm having to draw the site map for my History 80y project because I can't track that many elements mentally right now. I designed the entire thing, including links, in my head and the site has become less complex since then. The only variable that has changed is how tired I am. Although, it is a case of having been awhile without sleep rather than being actually tired; being physically tired will set in some time later today. Awesome. Thus, my nocturnal nature is more of a boon to my focus than I had thought. Suck on that, Daylight!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Japan: Not for Group Projects

Japan is not for group projects. 2/2 group projects that I've had to do involving that nation have ended in a mad rush to get everything done before the deadline. Seriously. Japan is a black hole for group projects. I don't know what it is, but there is a direct correlation between it and bad group projects. Even taking into account the failure rate for group projects on any subject (high), Japan seems to be a project killer.

In other news, the Dark Blade case is done. Started in 2004 by a member of the Bit-tech forums, the case is a hulking mass of well machined parts, illuminated from within by an eerie green glow. Awesome.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Disregard That...

So, I'm a total tool for not checking this Harry Potter stuff against the internet first. Internet giveth and the internet taketh away... I'm a tool, and this is apparently either a very well hushed up leak, or its really 659 pages of fan fiction. Pro tip, its fan fic. Oh well, at the very least its pretty well written in most parts, and it delivers. Noting that in other places it totally falls apart.

...and Ginny's a minx.

pipe flange fitting one

Heh, the Internet rocks. It appears the last Harry Potter book was leaked ... and is now on the Internet. Muhahahaha. MUHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

New Phrase

So, based on recent experiences, I move that a new phrase be adopted: .... (that's/like/as/is as/futile as/etc...) getting mercury out of a carpet. This can be used to express how time consuming or futile a given task is. For example, if you were to tell me that you wanted to code an operating system in Java, I could respond with "That's like trying to get mercury out of a carpet." This would indicate that such a task is not to be undertaken. Another example would be cooking with a solar oven on a cloudy day. A good response there would be "It would be faster to get mercury out of a carpet." Using this phrase in regards to actually getting mercury out of a carpet is to be avoided, as it will be readily apparent to the person how much their life sucks; you don't have to rub it in.

In other news:

My head cold gets worse, scientists predict that I will either skip all my obligations tomorrow, or get frustrated that my sociology teacher sucks.

Students fail to speak out against Bill Pool's failure to do his job. I decide that my fellow students are both hypocrites and idiots; if your going to bitch about the Regents making decisions for the student body, it makes sense for you to bitch about Bill Pool making decisions for the student body.

Different mural gets "accidentally" painted over by Merrill Maintenance. Yup....

Restoration story line dead, no new content for it after I get whatever hard copy I have left in the notebook online.

Lucas returns to be one of my housemates, says he will bring a blender. Robert Approves.

Monday, May 21, 2007


So, I realized that I'm totally dependant on Google right now. Seriously, if Google went down for a week or two, I'd likely fail this quarter, lose my housing and be really confused most of the time. I use Google services for my RSS feeds, my blog, groups pertaining to my housing, email, writing papers, making spreadsheets, checking the weather, and of course searching. I don't know how I feel about this. Certainly Google is an evil organization that I can get behind, but man, living an infocentric life around one service is a bit worrisome.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Orson Scot Card

I first read "Ender's Game" when I was in high school. It was well written, the characters were excellent and the story was intense. I knew the Card had continued Ender's story across a trilogy after "Ender's Game", but to be honest I really had no desire to read the books. I rather liked where the story had ended, and was content to leave it there. So, I let that stand for about five years, until in a fit of boredom I decided to read "Speaker for the Dead". It was an excellent book, taking place roughly three thousand years after "Ender's Game". Another alien species is introduced, a porcine species, and again conflict arises. The story spans the next two books as well, the time frame accelerating across all thee books. This makes it fairly important to read the books in fairly quick succession, or to remember the key parts of the previous books by the time you get to the last book. Of the three books, "Speaker for the Dead", "Xenocide" and "Children of the Mind", I was the least pleased with "Xenocide". I feel that the writing took a somewhat disappointing turn as a portion of the book addresses the essence of souls within the Ender universe. His conclusion fits in with the science behind the rest of the books, but I found it somewhat excessive. That aside, the books are an excellent read, covering topics from artificial intelligence, family relations and of course alien-human interactions.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Students Have Spoken

The Merrill Moat, a long concrete retaining wall, faces the A and B Dorms in Merrill. Thankfully the college decided long ago to decorate the Moat with student art, letting students paint murals on it. The content is eclectic to say the least, and not all of it is well done, but it's an enjoyable addition to the campus. Every year the current residents of Merrill College vote on the murals, selecting 10 of them to be painted over and replaced with new art. Noting the somewhat dubious quality of some of the art, and the occasionally out-dated themes, this is quite a good system. This year, 10 murals were voted to be removed. Nine of them were painted over by the Merrill Maintenance staff yesterday, clean white paint obliterating the work of years past, a new canvas for some artist. But what of the tenth? It remains, spared the fate that so many had voted for. William Pool, the head of the Maintenance staff for Merrill spared that mural based on his opinion that it is the best mural. Mr. Pool is of course entitled to his opinion; however what he is not entitled to is forcing that opinion of the rest of the college. Yet, that mural still stands, and he has posted an email all over Merrill, explaining his position, and asking students to sign a petition he started in an attempt to save the mural. I would back his position, which seems to be that some of the murals are terrible and should be removed, and that the good ones should be protected, except for the fact that he seems to think that he is an arbiter of what is or isn't good art. If this was his own home, he can preserve what ever art he wanted to within its walls, but this was a decision made by the student body on a public piece of art, and in this instance they are the ones who have been given governance over that art.

I hope that the Merrill administration will uphold the students' decision. It would be unfair to both the students who already voted for the removal, as well as the artists who's murals were already removed, to overturn the decision. If this was a major issue for Mr. Pool then none of the murals should have been painted over, thus giving everyone a chance to view the works in question and vote again and allow for further debate.

I have included the letter that Bill posted; as it was posted publicly, I believe this is fair use. Personally, I am disappointed that Bill took this opportunity to both hold up one piece of art as good, and to dismiss the rest of the paintings as "crap". His position would have been better served by listing the merits of the mural in question, rather than taking jabs at the decision making process, which he should have been aware of, and at "American democracy", which is frankly irrelevant to the discussion.

I hope that any students who feel the need to petition for the preservation of the mural consider their signing carefully; in the context that Mr. Pool has placed this argument, it is an unfortunate coincidence that supporting the mural also supports the usurping of students choice.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Firefox: WTF?

Firefox's memory leaks strike once again. In the image to the right, you can see my page file running at a nice constant 900+ mb.
For the record, I only have 512mb of physical memory, the rest of that was in the virtual PF. Not surprisingly it made my laptop slower than a molasses on a dead pig on ice, so I killed the process, which dropped my PF usage under 300mb. It is absurd that 6 hours of heavy usage and having ~20 tabs open eats that much memory. Arguably, most people don't make the Internet their religion, but seriously, I've had flight simulators that used less RAM than that.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0

I found this number on the bottom of my router today, does anyone know what it is? One guy suggested that i was the IPv6 address, but somehow I think that's incorrect, as this router is sorta old...

On an unrelated note, The Office is pretty awesome. Even the American version, which isn't quite as good as the British one...the humor is just different.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Damn It

Drew this recently when I had some downtime. It was going to be a hilarious short comic where this little robot screws over a guy's life in a series of comically ill timed accidents. I didn't get past this first frame so, weeks later, I'm posting it here for your enjoyment.

As for the title, it was going to be "Your Tax Dollars, Hard at Work." Max suggested it would be better written as "Your Tax Dollars: Hard at Work." Then I thought it might be better as "Your Tax Dollars: At Work." which later became "Damn It, I Don't Care."

Review of Accelerando

"Accelerando" by Charles Stross is a well-written adventure in the post-singularity Solar System. The book spans three generations of the Macx family, in a future that is reminiscent of Stephenson's "Snow Crash." Moving from a near-now with mobile computing and a Mafia-run RIAA the book speeds into outer and virtual space at breakneck speed; the technology and the plot never stagnate. The characters are as over the top as the rest of the book, making it a very fun read.

"Accelerando" is available online and in stores, and there is a free copy on the authors website.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn Install

I have been using Ubuntu on my server for the past two years or so, and wanted to put it on my laptop as well. Historically, the issue with installing Ubuntu on the laptop is I have an ATI video card, causing the installer to break. This problem has been resolved in 7.04 as they are now including the proprietary ATI drivers with the base install. My failing CD drive crashed the installer several times, but eventually it got all installed. Another nice feature in the installer is the ease of dual-booting with windows. I just added two partitions for Linux, and that was it. I think that the Ubuntu team did a really nice job on the latest release, making it much easier to use and far more intuitive than previous releases.

I also took this opportunity to upgrade the server to 7.04. Somewhere in the process I managed to critical fault the computer, crashing it in the middle of the upgrade. Unsurprisingly the hard drive started giving i/o errors, and nothing was working. I stripped the computer down, then added bits back in starting with the RAM. It was stable by the time I got to the hard drive, which posted GRUB, but sadly the primary install was totally fubared. I got lucky and there was an old server install that still functioned somewhat, and after thrashing around in the command line for few minutes Devin and I got it to update to the full 7.04 install. Problem solved, and proof once again that Linux is more idiot-proof than people give it credit for.

In total 3 people in the apartment installed/upgraded 4 copies of Feisty Fawn, all of which worked out of the box. Last time we tried this we had a 100% failure rate plus we had to reformat afterwards, so its a significant improvement.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

VM Wear

She descends the staircase wearing a pink tee-shirt and jeans, a Gothic vision in a corset and black lace, cut into reality by a force of will and flicking lasers. A murmur ripples through the crowd, a frisson surfing from person to person on an electronic wave. She is one of the elite, a member of the technologically gifted who maintain and create the digital world.

With the advent of widespread visual augmentation, the line between the virtual and the real became very blurry indeed. Face recognition software became image manipulation software, and soon public perception replaced the realities of the physical realm, at least for those with computers in their eyes. Entire servers and hundreds of programmers were forever trying to optimize the popularity contest that now dictated millions of people's virtual appearance.

The Gothic avatar had been hers long before people other than net-junkies were wearing digital monocles. Someone on a forum long ago had said that that was what they thought she looked like; amused at how disjoint it was from reality, she decided to use it, and the look had stuck. In her reality, she wore tee-shirts and jeans, but the advantage of a digital life is that corsets aren't uncomfortable when they are virtual.

Radiating Victorian elitism and showing her teeth in a wolfish grin, she smiled happily at the semi transparent crowd, waving coolly at her subjects with all the unrestrained vigor her small frame could muster.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

I now have a Delicious, as I am tired of having my bookmarks stuck in my lappy when I am elsewhere. As Devin said, "I'm on the Internet now!"

Saturday, April 14, 2007


Two rows of little red lights are blinking. Twenty minutes ago they were a soothing steady green. Sitting in front of the lights in a military standard plastic office chair a man fiddles with a key on a long silver chain. It is his key. Behind him another key dangles around the neck of a different man reading a book. He ignores the lights.

The glass eye stared into the inky darkness. The air was thick with the greasy smoke of burning oil wells, the soot and spilled oil dying the sands and trees for miles around. The eye was a marvel of mechanical and electrical engineering, jam packed with all sorts of light enhancing wizardry. The eye perched on a rifle that was every bit advanced as the eye, a cunning device engineered to an extreme degree of precision, with an effective range of over two miles. There were no armies any more, just fleeting associations with various factions. The oil supply just wasn't quite what it used to be. A ragged band of of men with guns scurried across the sand, darting from one building to the cover of the next. They were halfway there a shot rang out, a bullet punching through the calf of one in a crimson spray. Crumpling to the ground he writhed in pain, clutching the wound, his cries begging a teammate to break cover and rescue him. It was an old tactic, and the hunter grinned in anticipation.

Shedding its communications satellite garb the kill sat opened fire any satellite within range. Other wolfs dropped their guise, and soon the night sky was crossed with the trails of rockets, multi-million dollar satellites of all descriptions shredded into so many clouds of chaff; a hidden knife buried deep in the technical backbone of the world.

Two keys turned simultaneously, the soft click as they locked into place echoed by hundreds of other pairs across the world. A fingertip drifted across the button, now devoid of the modest cover it had worn for so many years. So clean, so innocent. The finger stabs into the center of the button, its innocence lost forever. An electric trembling runs from it, and the earth moves in response.

One light burns a solid red.

Buried for so long, waiting unseen in the wings, the rocket embraces its destiny. Ascending on a pillar of fire and smoke it was born into a sky already filled with its brethren.

Its motor spent spent the rocket splits open, the warheads nestled in it separating like the seeds of a radioactive flower falling to earth. Bright streaks puncture the clouds, inhumanely straight lines joining heaven and earth, each line terminating in the brilliant light of a sun. The earth was plunged into an atomic fire, turning the oily desert into a sea of glass, and scorching field and forest into ash. The eye, the building, the wounded man and his comrades are all blinked out of existence. New tactic, old battlefield.

The finger lets go of the button for the last time, covered in blood and shaking with terror. Behind it lies a body resting its head on a book, knife resting in its back. Ahead is the cold weight of a gun, and one final exertion from the finger, a final blast of light and heat, then silence.

Robert Alverson


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

On Intelligence

Ultimately, those who are extremely good at what they do, and at thinking in general, end up with Utopian visions. These designs are often good indicators of the values of the culture that these people lived in. One of these ideals that I found very interesting was the Frank Lloyd Wright designed "Broadacre City".

The basic plan of this city was to massively decentralize the urban area, spreading out individual houses on an acre of land each. In this way it could be considered the ideal version of modern suburbia, spread out far more than the current iteration. The decentralized nature of this scheme was reliant on the cars as the primary form of transportation, and would have been very hard for pedestrians to get around. All of the houses were of Wright's Usonian design. The houses were where the plan truly excelled. Designed in the middle of the Depression, the houses were single story, cost effective and roomy single family dwellings. Compared to most of the other houses of this time, these houses were efficient and utilized local materials, helping to reduce cost and integrate them into the landscape.

I think that other than the massive reliance on the car Wright's idea was fairly sound. An acre would be enough to a small family to support some of its food needs, and the large roofs would provide a good base for solar panels. By making family units more self-sufficient and based locally then many other services can be decentralized. You are already able to purchase many goods online, further expansion of this service would result in less waste and more efficient production of goods. One of the main problems of capitalism is the tendency to overproduce, leading to periodic depressions as supply outstrips demand, and the unit price falls below the production costs. This is again helped by the the move to local and on-demand goods and services: eliminating steps in the supply chain allows suppliers to more accurately gauge demand.

The one assumption that is difficult to make is that the population will either hold constant or decrease. The massive population density of the cities is what make them good for large populations; they keep the population from overrunning the areas they need for food. Obviously, a smaller population would allow for expansion outwards by self-sufficient households. Ideally this would result in small self-sufficient communities served by public transportation, thus bringing the agrarian ideal that America was founded on closer to fruition.

Hypothetically, a movement of this sort would move the population out of urban centers, and since cities typically are hard to reconvert back into fertile ground, much of their area would be abandoned. Industry would likely remain, but with the general move towards automation, fewer people would have to remain in the cites to work, and with the widespread use of public transit these few people could also live outside of the city.

I think it makes some degree of sense, but like most projects of this nature it will likely never be attempted.
Robert Alverson


Tuesday, April 3, 2007

A New Keyboard

My old mouse was on the blink (no left click) so, I decided to try out these newfangled wireless keyboard things.  I am not a very receptive to randomly adding wireless capability to random things.  I feel that it adds complexity, decreases the security of the system, and adds to the RF noise in an area.  For these effects to be mitigated you have to have a pretty damn awesome application, and I felt that keyboards would not gain that much utility from being wireless.  I must admit that I was wrong in this case.  I got a new wireless keyboard and mouse combo from the school bookstore, slapped it into the lappy, and fired it up.  Right out of the box the new mouse had a much better response compared to the old one.  I was using a Cherry brand Point-of-Sale keyboard because of the excellent tactile response and the built in magnetic card reader.  However, all that awesomeness comes at a heavy cost; the thing weighs a ton.  As I kept it under the the desk due to space constraints, having to one had this thing was a bit of a pain.  The wireless keyboard is much lighter, even with the batteries, and I don't have to worry about the cord breaking my USB ports.  The keys are also pretty nice, have a good rebound and aren't mushy.  It comes with the standard Logitech bevy of media hot keys and F key functionality, all of which worked after a little tweaking.  I am inordinately pleased with this setup.  For $50 it was a bit more than what it would cost online, but since I needed a mouse now, I think that it was a good deal.  Money well spent.

Robert Alverson


The Old and the New

Originally uploaded by mightysinetheta.
The previous keyboard is at the top, it has been replaced by the one below it.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Restoration (2)

The susurrus of a rough straw broom slipped over the floor of the the great hall.  Once, thousands of people had streamed onto the city over this floor, now barely a handful of people crossed it, and some days not even the sweeper descended from her lofty perch.  The ticketing counters had been empty for decades, as it was extraordinarily rare for any passenger trains to stop here.  The freights still came, summoned by the new owners of the station, to drop off needed supplies and take away scrap as well as finished products.

The station had been abandoned even before the fall of the cities.  It stood as a testament to the men who had built it in the 1930's, a massive building that had withstood centuries of abandonment, squatters, arson attempts and scores of careless owners.  It had very few of the original windows remaining when it had been re-inhabited a decade or so ago.  The large holes in the roof  had been covered by large sheets of steel crudely patched together, although the craftsmanship clearly increased in the more recent repairs.  The original staircases had been destroyed long ago, elaborately wrought creations of stainless steel and marble now ascended through the lower levels; much simpler wooden staircases and ladders served the upper floors where more durable solutions had not yet been installed.  The top of the building rising off the main concourse had been shorn of several floors, apparently deliberately.  Great stacks of reclaimed materials filled the floors below the new roof in orderly rows.  A vertical axis wind turbine rose above the roof, placed on a pedestal to put it above the forest garden.  A similar arrangement had taken over part of the train yard, trees replacing tracks and topsoil covering a formerly barren area, and solar panels glinting on the awnings over the platforms.  The entire area had been well fenced off, the fencing itself showing a diverse selection of materials, from a massive version of a white picket fence, to cinder blocks, and cement.  The cement portion was decorated with bits of broken tile sketching out a rough mosaic of hamster with a knife taped to it.  One particularly colorful segment of the wall was comprised of totaled cars held together with various pieces of scrap.

A gate in the picket fence opened, and a fellow in a bright yellow coat stepped through, closing and locking the gate behind him.  Dragging an oily large bag and squinting against the sunlight he walked into the tower and began placing salvaged items from the bag into the large array of shelves.

Robert Alverson


Monday, March 26, 2007


The rain never really seemed to stop.  It was omnipresent, clinging to the city, muting what few noises remained.  It trickled down the eves of abandoned buildings, past broken windows and fire marked columns to gurgle along the decaying street.  Many of the buildings had once been beautiful, but as commerce and industry became more and more decentralized, the once grand buildings made as a symbol of corporate wealth were left behind.  The heart of the city decayed, and people fled to the suburbs and beyond.  As the people left, so did the utilities, the police, and the education system, leaving a cityscape as intolerable to human existence as the surface of the moon.

Even so, some remained in the city.  There were those who couldn't leave where they had lived their entire lives, even as the building crumbled and died around them.  Or those who didn't have the means to leave, and so were left behind.  They, along with those who were simply flat out insane, had mostly died out by now, as food was scarce even for those who could grow it, and any non-perishables had been consumed long ago.  The smallest group numerically were people who chose to live in the ruins, but these were by far the most prosperous.
To them, the city was a vast playground, filled with potential.  There were materials readily at hand, and there was plenty of space to create new things, or to repair old ones in.  The boffins roamed the streets, hording and rebuilding devices that were quite often older than they were.

One such fellow had ventured out despite the rain.  Had other people been around, his style would have gotten quite a few stares; but the only looks he garnered were the quizzical glances of the crows.  Seeing him, one would assume that he had held up a tailor, and that the tailor, making the best of it, had given him the most absurd outfit he could conceive.  At the very least one could hope that it hadn't been his idea to go about in a neon orange regency coat.

He moved swiftly through the ruins on long spindly legs, stooping here and there to avoid braining himself on the remains of hanging light fixtures and broken pipes.  His pants, which matched his coat, seemed particularly ill suited to scavenging through the corpse of a skyscraper, but they ended in a pair of hard worn boots.  In a motion that stretched the pants to their limit, the left boot lashed out against a particularly stubborn door.  Unimpressed, the remained mockingly closed.  A second attempt with the right boot yielded much the same result.  a pencil, piece of dead yellow chalk and a much battered notebook appeared suddenly in his hands, produced with the speed born of long repetition.  The chalk flashed across the door, leaving "Locked" scrawled in its wake, and a note was jotted into the book.  The book snapped shut, leaving a soft mildewy smell in the air as it disappeared back into the coat, as he turned from the door and strode farther into the building. 
Robert Alverson


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Reading on Trains

Trains are far superior to cars as far as being able to read on them is concerned. Today I rode Amtrak up to Sacramento from San Jose, about a 3 hour ride. While the train that I take is sadly lacking in wifi, I had the foresight to stock up on ebooks before I left. I read "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" by Philip K. Dick on this trip. Packaged in a convenient PDF this story is a bit short at some 87 pages, but it definitely is a good read. Most people are familiar with the movie version of this book, "Blade Runner", which is also outstanding in its own right. Both of them address issues that arise when you create self-aware systems, however Electric Sheep addresses social consciousness far more than "Blade Runner" with Mercerism and Buster Friendly.
The near worship of animals as a status symbol and a means to create empathy is pretty disturbing when counterpointed with the lack of empathy people in general display in the the novel, as well as the view of androids as unpeople. There is likely a compelling argument to be made about the effect of forced empathy with the Mercer figure and the lack of empathy elsewhere in the book. Is technology a driving factor behind the apathy of our current time, or is there a more deep seated social issue? It also brings up the question of humanity, as emoting is a sign of humanity in the book, however the Penfield can regulate one's emotions.
Humanity was far easier to define in times when having most of your bits in the right places was the important part. But even that broke down quickly, as many cultures have very old myths pertaining to monsters in the shape of men, or witches, and other foul beings lurking in our midst. Was this response evolved as social qualities became more important to survival? If a link between development of that myth and the rise of an organized culture could be made it would be very interesting. If its not as widespread as I think it is, then perhaps it is just a persistent meme in some cultures; in either case it would be interesting to learn more.
Robert Alverson


Saturday, March 24, 2007

UCSC Sunrise

UCSC Sunrise
Originally uploaded by mightysinetheta.
Sunrises rarely photograph well. They are often much more washed out than what we perceive. Thankfully, with the modern miracle of computer based editing, even a washed out sunrise can be returned to it full glory. I took this picture on the tail end of an all nighter, right at the start of Winter Quarter. Being able to see great sunrises without all the pain of waking up early is one of the many reasons behind my love of the night. The night tends to be much quieter and fewer people are around to distract me. Since my sleep schedule is so out of whack I can sleep during the day or the night with equal ease. I will certainly miss my all nighter sunrises when the summer comes and I have to conform to the 8-4:30 work day. Of course, then I operate at a net financial gain, rather than at a significant loss as I do during the school year. I suppose in both cases the end goal is to result in a non-zero trade off, coming out better than than what I had to put in to get there. The idea that human functionality is reducible to simple notions like non-zero equations is nice. I'm currently reading "Nonzero" by Robert Wright, on "the logic of human destiny". Thus far it is quite a pleasing read, and I look forward to completing it.

Hello World

My history professor suggested writing everyday to improve the quality of your writing. As I will be writing a significant number of papers as a history major, I took his advice to heart and started this blog. Given that this is more for my edification than entertaining the internet, I doubt that anyone will find this interesting; at least that is my hope. Ayn Rand learned English and became a successful author in roughly twelve years; hopefully I can simply become a proficient writer in a shorter time span.