Wednesday, August 29, 2007

It's so nice to have you back where you belong

An article by Newsweek correspondent Matthew Philips says that the Chinese government has banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission.

Borrowing from the Karl Rove/Alberto Gonzales playbook where they had hoped to replace key federal prosecutors with loyal "Bushies," China has moved to "institutionalize management of reincarnation." Although this sounds patently silly, it's really a ploy to allow Chinese authorities to choose the next Dalai Lama.

The current Dalai Lama, who now lives in India, says that he refuses to be reborn in Tibet as long as it's under Chinese control. And the Chinese, for their part, no doubt have placed the Dalai Lama's soul on their No Transmigration List.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Cashing in on computer nostalgia

A couple of weeks ago, I stuck my toe into the pool of eBay sellers. Thus far, I've managed to clear out some of the duplicate mini-sheets in my collection of Ukrainian stamps. Having achieved that beginner's level of comfort, I'm now looking to part with some old computer memorabilia that I thought I could live without.

Results have been hit or miss so far, as I'm struggling to find the pulse (if there is one) of that niche market. Last week, I found a well-paying buyer for the first two issues of OS/2 Magazine. They went for $10.50 each. At the same time, however, nobody at all was interested in buying either Volume 0, Number 0 of OS/2 Professional Magazine, or the (I thought) very cool "The Borg is Here" cover of Issue 3. Go figure.

Last night, I decided to post my old IBM System/360 Reference Data “Green Card,” from circa 1970. A little noodling on Google told me that this old nerdy badge of honor has achieved somewhat iconic status. And my card is in pretty good condition, if I do say so myself.
I have some hope that another item might also do well. It's an old 1977 Creative Computing Catalogue. I'm guessing that the real selling point of this item is some illustration work by underground cartoonist, Robert Crumb. The picture that I show in the eBay posting is not touched up. However, a little PhotoShop work was able to render a pretty sharp image (right).
Only time (as in six days) will tell if my hunch is correct about the desirability of that catalog. To date, my track record is pretty spotty, as I'm sitting on several boxes off AOL disks, which I doubt that anyone now wants. :-(

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Old Map linked to actual cave


Many a day in the late 70s and early 80s I had read the words above, which told me that I was once again above ground somewhere outside of Colossal Cave. I needed to pick up a lamp, and I would once again be ready to explore.
It wasn't until last night that I learned that Colossal Cave had a real-worldTM counterpart as Mammoth Cave, Kentucky.
The Digital Humanities Quarterly Summer 2007 article, "Somewhere Nearby is Colossal Cave: Examining Will Crowther's Original “Adventure” in Code and in Kentucky," by Dennis G. Jertz of Seton Hill University sheds new light on an old legend.
Colossal Cave Adventure was a text-based computer game that I surreptitiously played on an old mainframe VAX account that I had when I first started work at West Virginia University in 1979. I had to be stealthy because computing resources and storage space was deemed too precious a commodity for such a thing as a non-productive text adventure game. Sysadmins had banned the game and diligently searched out and deleted the executable binary. Fortunately for me, they only looked the the title "ADVENT." I renamed my module to something else.
Lord, it was a mighty feeling of accomplishment when I finally completed the adventure! But I didn't do it alone. I had confederates whom I had met in the first computer science class that I took, courtesy of a tuition waiver granted to full-time employees of WVU. Together, we had mapped the legendary labyrinth section of the cave, which alternately consisted of a maze of twisty passages, all alike and a twisty maze of passages, all alike. Those expressions have remained with me all of these years. If I see a glimmer of recognition in the eyes of my listener, then I know that they, too, are an initiate.
According to the article, Colossal Cave Adventure was created by Will Crowther. Newly discovered evidence indicates that Crowther wrote the game during the 1975-76 academic year and probably abandoned it in early 1976.
Crowther's original source code, which had been presumed lost for decades, was recovered in 2005 from a backup of Don Woods's student account at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab (SAIL). The recovered files, dated March 1977, and bearing the in-game message “WELCOME TO ADVENTURE!!”, confirm that Crowther's original was in fact a game, with puzzles (such as a sequence that involves interactions between a rusty rod, an empty birdcage, a bird, and a snake), subtle humor (such as the surprising way that the bird helps the player get past the snake), and fantasy (including a magical crystal bridge, magic words, and combat with axe-wielding dwarves. Yet Crowther's adventures in Colossal Cave began earlier, via the Cave Research Foundation (CRF).
Crowther and his wife, Pat, were spelunkers. According to this article, it was Pat who distinguished herself in the caving community by physically squeezing through a tiny hole that connected two sprawling networks of cavers that were once thought to be separate. Crowther himself worked as a cartographer, and he participated in a survey of "Bedquilt," an area of the Flint Mammoth Cave System / Colossal Cave region.
When I read this article and saw the pictures, I dug through my collection of memorabilia and came upon my old New Adventure Map, which was given to me by a now-retired German Professor who I befriended in my first CS class. Tattered, wrinkled and stained (the map, not the professor), an image of the map appears below:

Thank you, Don Huffman, wherever you are.

Monday, August 6, 2007


On August 4th, two days after the tragic interstate bridge collapse in Minneapolis, President Bush was on hand to take a 10-minute tour of the wreckage. He brought prayers from the American people. I came to the realization that a new form of tourism has been born.

Borrowing from Ecotourism, let me tell you about Disatourism:

Disastourism: "Responsible travel to disaster areas that does little to improve the welfare of local people."

Principles of disastourism:

  • photo opportunity that capitalizes on media coverage

  • take nothing (but pictures), leave nothing (but prayers)

  • build disaster awareness

  • raise sensitivity to affected regions

  • provide positive experiences for party loyalists

Friday, August 3, 2007

Our roller coaster ride is nearly at an end

Some scientists from the University of Kansas in Lawrence think that they may have figured out the reason behind the cyclical pattern of mass extinctions. At least for the last 500 million years, the number of species on Earth has regularly dropped approximately every 62 million years.

Physicists Adrian Melott and Mikhail Medvedev say that our solar system circles our galaxy, the Milky Way, in a roller coaster fashion. Every 62 million years, it reaches its highest point relative to the galactic plane, where it is closest to a source of deadly cosmic rays.

No longer being blocked by cosmic debris, powerful radiation particles called muons are more likely to strike the Earth and cause damage to DNA.

According to Melott, the zenith of the Sun's oscillations match almost exactly with the times of the dips in the fossil record. The last time that this was thought to have happened was 55 million years ago -- that gives us less than seven million years to get our affairs in order.

The roller coaster ride we took is nearly at an end.
I bought my ticket with my tears,
that's all I'm gonna spend.

And I think it's gonna be all right.
Yeah, the worst is over now,
The morning sun is shining like a Red Rubber Ball.
Red Rubber Ball by Simon and Garfunkel

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

White pawn better watch his ass

Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal article, Don Putin, by Garry Kasparov, says that if you really want to understand Vladimir Putin's Russia, you should immerse yourself in The Godfather series by Mario Puzo.

First, the background: Kasparov is a former world chess champion, a contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal, and chairman of the United Civil Front of Russia, a pro-democracy opposition organization.

That aside, however, Kasparov draws a very realistic analogy between Putin's government and the mafia:
the strict hierarchy, the extortion, the intimidation, the code of secrecy and, above all, the mandate to keep the revenue flowing.
Those who have run afoul of Putin have found themselves in Siberian prisons or, more commonly, dead.

To date, Kasparov has only been beaten on the head with a chess board. Given the fates of those who have gone before him, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that Kasparov might awake on morning to find the knight to a chess set lodged in some orifice -- or worse.