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Jota's Brane
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Below are 20 journal entries, after skipping by the 20 most recent ones recorded in Jota's LiveJournal:

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Wednesday, December 16th, 2009
4:00 pm
Grunk and Cheese
A very short CYOA story featuring Grunk: Grunk and Cheese.
Tuesday, December 1st, 2009
11:04 am
Merry Christmas
A Nautical Noel, by Admiral Jota

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the ship
Not a pirate was workin'; none feared Bosun's whip.
The bottles of grog were all empty and dry,
Along with the brandy, the scotch and the rye.

The Captain and Mate were both snug in their beds,
While everyone else had a hammock instead.
Cook in the galley and I in the nest
Were the last to succumb to an uneasy rest.

When I saw on the waves and across the dark ocean
A vague ghostly shape was quickly approachin',
I grabbed for my spyglass and squinted an eye
To find out which standard this spectre would fly.Collapse )

And as a small Christmas present, I have wallpaper to go with the poem this year: the Jolly Elf, in 1600px × 1200px and 1024px × 768px resolutions.
Friday, November 13th, 2009
10:01 am
Dream Logic
Recently, I had a dream where I met Doctor Who (Tom Baker, I think) and wanted to join him as one of his Companions. He resisted, for reasons that weren't initially clear to me.

However, throughout the course of the dream, I gradually came to realize that I was mentally ill and delusional, because Doctor Who wasn't real. It's all just a work of fiction.

I'm still not quite sure how I feel about that.
Monday, November 9th, 2009
1:57 am
The Only Way To Win
I wonder if anyone ever told Joshua about logic puzzles.
Monday, November 2nd, 2009
9:55 am
Variable Voltage USB
I assume there is a very good reason that it would be impractical to design an extension to the USB standard that allows devices to use the data lines to request power that matches traditional in-home electrical outlets (e.g. 110V or 240V AC). Unfortunately, I do not know enough about USB to know why that is.

Is it just because most things that supply USB power can't easily supply high voltage or AC (since they're already operating off of their own power supplies which don't supply them with that kind of power)? Or is there some reason more intimately tied to how USB works?
Monday, August 31st, 2009
9:37 am
Support Ticket Priority System
This was a random idea that came to me while the topic of support ticket priorities was being discussed on ifMUD. Someone has since asked me to post it, so here it is:

Internally, the support system has five priorities: Low, Medium, High, Urgent and Critical.

All users start out as standard-level users.

When a standard-level user is creating a support ticket, they have access to three priorities: High, Urgent and Critical. Once a ticket has been submitted, the system will silently map the priority indicated by the user into an internal priority. For a standard-level user, it goes High->Low, Urgent->Medium, and Critical->High. It's still three levels of priority, but the internal names reflect how IT will look at them, while the external names reflect how the users see them.

If a standard-level user asks for the ability to report tickets for things which are lower priority than High, Urgent or Critical, because they have issues they'd like to log which they do not consider to be "High" priority, then that user is converted to a second-level user.

When a second-level user is creating a support ticket, they have access to four priorities: Medium, High, Urgent and Critical. Once this ticket has been submitted, it will be translated internally from Medium->Low, High->Medium, Urgent->High, and Critical->Urgent. Thus, because a second-level user has shown that they have an understanding of what lower priority levels are for, the priority levels of their tickets are taken more seriously than those of standard-level users.

If a second-level user asks for the ability to report tickets for things which are "Low" priority, because they do not feel comfortable reporting unimportant things as "Medium" then that user is converted to third-level. Third level users have access to the full range of Low, Medium, High, Urgent and Critical priorities when reporting tickets, and their priorities are not re-mapped internally.

Optionally, the system could also include a zero-level user type, to accommodate users who complain that "Critical" is not a high enough priority level to properly represent the issues they're having. Those users would be given access to "High", "Urgent", "Critical", and "Ultra" priority levels. Internally, those would be converted to "Low", "Low", "Medium" and "Medium" respectively.
Saturday, August 15th, 2009
4:17 pm
Not exactly your typical 80's movie
Here's an idea for a movie plot:

A young architect has a dream of building a new apartment building in a poor neighborhood. He believes that he can bring affordable housing to an area desperately in need of it. He's found some investors who are willing to fund him partway, and he's poured in his own life savings to make up the difference. He's even just signed the papers on the perfect empty lot in the perfect empty neighborhood. Now nothing can stand in his way.

Except for the local gang of kids who play baseball there.

They've claimed this lot for their own, and they're not going to let anyone take it away from them. They'll stop at nothing -- legal or illegal -- to keep that property out of the hands of some evil land developer.

I'm thinking that at the end of the movie, the kids win. They always do in this kind of film. Then the family of the ringleader has to move away: his parents couldn't really afford to stay where they were living after his father took that pay cut recently. They were counting on being able to rent a place in that new housing development that was being planned, but when that fell through, they had no choice but to move on to an even worse part of town. Someplace away from all his friends. Someplace away from that old empty lot that they'd saved.

Since the kids win, it's a happy ending!
Sunday, August 9th, 2009
1:42 pm
Retroactive Subtitles
Another idea: Retroactive subtitles for television, movies and videogames. If you're like me, you don't normally want to leave the English subtitles on while you're watching things in English: it's distracting, and it can ruin the delivery of a line if you read it just before the actor does.

But on the other hand, every once in a while someone on screen will say something that just makes you go "huh?" Sometimes, you can rewind and listen again -- and often as not, still have no idea what they're saying. So you've got to go back again, turn on the subtitles, read the subtitles for that line, turn them back off... and now you've already ruined the flow of whatever you're watching with all the back-and-forth and re-configuring you've had to do just to hear one throw-away line.

Hence, retroactive subtitles: press a button on your remote (or keyboard or what-have-you), and it shows you the subtitles for what people just said in the last half minute or so. Then they vanish a few moments later, once you've had time to check what you missed, without ever interrupting what you were watching.
Monday, August 3rd, 2009
1:25 pm
Should gritty modern urban RPG's have Wandering Mobster tables?
Friday, July 31st, 2009
8:21 am
As featured in the New York Harmoniphilic Orchestra
My brain does strange things. If crude sexual terminology offends you, I would recommend skipping this entry.

So for some unknown reason, the word "glockenspiel" floated through my head today. Not long after, my brain had decided to morph this into "cockenspiel" -- which it immediately informed me would necessarily be a music instrument comprising an array of male members whose lengths were proportionate to the notes in the chromatic scale. Which one presumably would then hit with some sort of padded mallet. I don't know exactly how this would produce a sound, and to be perfectly honest, I really don't want to know. If you have a picture of a real-life version of one of these, please keep it to yourself. I'm scarred enough already just by thinking of it.

But a few moments later, I realized I was wrong: this would not be a form of glockenspiel. Because a glockenspiel is made of metal.

This was, of course, a xylophone.
Thursday, July 23rd, 2009
5:37 pm
Anti-Life Insurance
I'm sure this exists, but I haven't seen it before, and I'm curious what the real name of it is (and why I haven't heard more about it).

It's the reverse of life insurance.

You pay the company a certain amount of money every month/year/whatever. When you retire, the company pays you back each month/year/whatever, some other amount based on what you paid in -- more than what you would have gotten with an ordinary investment, and you keep getting paid for life, regardless of how long you live. On the other hand, if you die early, the company keeps everything you've put in. It's a bit like Social Security, except private, and the company makes its profits off of people who don't live long enough to collect much.

What's this called, and why don't you hear much about it?
Saturday, June 27th, 2009
6:39 pm
You hit it! It hits!--more--

Thursday, May 14th, 2009
7:24 am
History Is Written By The Liberal Arts Majors
It seems odd how, despite the fact that Lord Byron was closely connected with two of the most significant women in the history of geekdom[1], he's still mainly remembered just for writing poetry or somesuch.

([1] He was the father of the Countess Ada of Lovelace, the first computer programmer, and it was while visiting him that Mary Shelley started writing Frankenstein, the first science fiction novel.)
Wednesday, May 13th, 2009
7:52 pm
"Cabinet Special"
I don't cook. I don't really have the knack or the inclination. However, my father did -- he even did it professionally when he was young. And there's one thing that I learned from him: the cabinet special.

This basically means "take whatever stuff is in the cabinet (and any leftovers too if you've got 'em), mix it all up, and then season and cook it until it tastes like it was supposed to go together."

Now, I'm sure that recipe isn't remotely uncommon, but a quick Google search suggests that the name our family happened to use for it is. So now I'm curious: do other people have a standard name that they use for this sort of dish? The kind of thing that's never really planned, and there's hardly any similarity at all between one batch and the next... but you have to call it something, after all.

What's your "cabinet special"?
Wednesday, May 6th, 2009
9:28 am
Would an ethanol-fueled motorcycle be a corn-fed hog?
Sunday, April 5th, 2009
10:40 am
Orange Box Coincidence?
Note: the images below could contain spoilers for the Valve game "Portal".

I suppose this has been pointed out someplace on the Internet, but a brief Googling didn't turn anything up. So I am forced to ask: did anyone else find that these objects from Half Life 2 were mysteriously similar to these objects from Portal?
Thursday, April 2nd, 2009
12:57 pm
I've started playing Half Life 2. And I have developed a theory:

Crates in the Half Life universe are not man-made objects. They are an independent life form -- most likely some kind of fungus -- with its own distinct lifecycle.

They may actually be aliens of some sort. I don't know enough of the backstory to be sure. But they clearly are not being manufactured for the purpose of storing things in. As far as I can tell, whenever you have some out-of-the-way, slightly damp place, crates will just naturally grow. Once in a while, someone will actually harvest one and use it for storing an object or two. But this is relatively rare: for the most part, they're just a mild nuisance that everyone has learned to live with.

I am not sure if this makes Gordon Freeman an exterminator, or if he is simply helping to spread the spores.
Thursday, March 12th, 2009
5:44 pm
The Economy of Ideas
Due to how we treat intellectual property, the value creating a new work -- e.g. a book -- increases as the population increases.

150 years ago, there were perhaps one tenth as many English speakers as there are today. If you write a book that appeals to one percent of the English speaking world, that will give you ten times as many potential readers today as you would have had in the mid-nineteenth century. Which means that even if you only charged half as much (in relative money), you'd still earn five times as much for the same amount of cleverness and creative effort. (And that doesn't even get into modern publishing technology, international markets, or the increase in literacy.)

This seems very weird to me. It's not like an apple, where you can make more money selling apples to a thousand people than by selling them to a hundred people, since in that case you would still need a thousand apples. But you only need to write one novel. The exact same thing is worth more, not because of scarcity (there is no limit to the number of copies that can be made, especially if it can be digitized) or because the product has become any more useful to anyone. But just because there are more people around.
Tuesday, March 10th, 2009
11:14 pm
A mnemonic
Many Very Educated Men Consider Juvenile, Smaller, Unimpressive New Planets Hardly Mentionable Entities

(but I disagree with them)
12:28 am
What is science fiction?
A while ago I was thinking about what it is that makes something feel like part of the SF/F genre. It's obviously not just "it contains made-up science or magic," since a story can do that and still not really be the sort of thing an SF/F fan would necessarily enjoy, especially if the magic/science is just there to support some other genre's story. A mystery in space is not necessarily SF simply by virtue of being in space, except in the most literal (and least interesting) way of looking at it.

So I wrote some stuff up, thinking about posting it here, and then never did. I think this was shortly after I'd read The Time Traveler's Wife, which some people didn't think of as being terribly SF/F-like (although I thought it was). It was also partly inspired by Zarf's essay on game genres.

So, for me personally, what makes something feel like it's part of the SF/F genre?

1. It is either fictional or a narrative.
This rule differentiates SF from non-fiction that simply discusses science (et al.) in a speculative way. I considered leaving this at just "it is fictional" (as works such as Asimov's "The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline" can be SF without being narratives), but it seems as though it could be possible to write a true historical account that effectively fit this style of literature. I can't think of any actual examples, though.

2. It introduces some element(s) which are new or different and then explores their ramifications.
This could be something which is new or different for the readers, or it could be something which is only new or different in the setting of the story. The former is much more common, but the latter isn't unheard of. A good example is the Clacks in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. The notion of high-speed, long-distance communication is commonplace in the real world, but the here the author has looked at how the creation of a network of mechanical semaphore towers would affect his pre-existing fantasy setting.

3. It tries to create a sense of wonder through rational means.
By "rational", I mean that the wondrous-ness is a logical consequence of the elements that have built up to it. It's a "wow, cool" that doesn't just happen because something is cool, but because the author presents all of the pieces, then assembles them into something that's cooler than the sum of its parts.

But that's just me. I'd be curious to hear other people's take on it as well.
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