Friday, April 28, 2000

Boy in the Bubble Update

CNN, among others, is running an article about the apparent cure of "severe combined immunodeficiency disease" by gene therapy. This totally knocks my socks off. Basically, these scientists found a bug in the DNA program of these kids -- and fixed it! (Unless they didn't really, in which case, never mind.) This is the same disease that the "Boy in the Bubble" had, so instead of living that sort of life, they're apparently as healthy and normal as you or I. Well, in reference to my previous "Boy in the Bubble" article, score one for the 20th century and progress.

The Kid with the Calculator

I never got picked on much in high school. This fact has always surprised me a bit, given that I seemed to fit the profile for bullying...bright, not very athletic, not a lot of friends...

I remember one kid in our high school who did get picked on a great deal. He was significantly more awkward than me, and he did a number of things that brought unfavorable attention on himself.
One of these was that he always walked around clutching a calculator. He was teased mercilessly over his calculator. Now, they say that people who are comfortable with who themselves turn out to be the most popular, so maybe it was a healthy behavior for him to be proud of his calculator. On the other hand, he never really seemed very comfortable. And I, who didn't wear my love of math on my sleeve (see, I even wince a little bit typing the phrase "love of math") certainly got hassled a lot less.

But the thing that really got to me was this: it just wasn't a very good calculator. I knew my calculators...the entire TI series, or if you were a real connoisseur, an HP (my coveted HP 28-C was soon obsoleted by the HP 28-S). It just seems to me as if he had proudly driven his new K-Car into the parking lot and spent half an hour polishing it. Dude, if you're going to be an obsessive, do it right. Study up on the subject. I would have felt so much more sorry for him if he actually had a decent calculator.

Tuesday, April 25, 2000

We're Not in College Anymore...

Slate has a diary entry from a 30-year old who teaches college. He looks at the students he teaches and realizes he's not one of them any more. I thought it was fairly poignant, and it did a good job of capturing the type of transformation some of us go through in our twenties. I can't relate to everything, but it was interesting reading.

Monday, April 24, 2000

More D&D!

I've updated my weblog for Ben's Campaign. This time, we fought a boar, and...uh, while the boar didn't win, neither did I.

The Cult of Harry Potter

While in Grand Rapids this weekend, Melissa lent me Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the second book in the series. It's hard to say much that hasn't been said by others about this book (witness the 1304 customer reviews at Amazon). I decided I wasn't going to miss out on this cultural phenomenon just because I wasn't a kid and didn't have any. So I started reading the series, and I was very glad. Rowling takes many of the best elements of fantasy fiction and adapts them for a younger audience without dumbing them down. Very, very enjoyable.

One of the things that struck me about the 2nd book was the consistent disparagement of hero worship. Of course there was the insufferable Gilderoy Lockhart, who was derided and punished for the crime of being too full of himself and holding himself out for others' undeserving admiration. But there was also a lot of mention of Harry Potter dealing with his fame, as he acquired his first two groupies. And their groupie-ness didn't seem to bring them much luck, I think I can say without giving too much away. Someone once said that all good literature is subversive, and it's nice to see the Harry Potter books tweak the pop cultural worship of idols. It's nice to think that kids will be reading this and get the idea that just because someone is famous, they don't deserve blind devotion. At the same time, the books stress the earned respect Harry Potter has for Dumbledore and others, so it's not exactly anarchist. (I didn't see any of the World Bank protestors with these books under their arms.) Anyway, I liked it, but not quite as much as the first book. Looking forward to getting my hands on the 3rd. 4 stars.

Sunday, April 23, 2000

Keep The Faith

I just got back from spending the weekend in Grand Rapids. Last night, we went to see Keeping The Faith, the Edward Norton-Ben Stiller-Jenna Elfman love triangle movie. You know the joke, "A priest, a rabbi, and...uh, Jenna Elfman...walk into a bar." OK, so every reviewer makes a similar joke; they even make one in the movie.

Anyway, it was a cute romantic comedy that got serious towards the middle of the second half. It really buzzed along and never made me check my watch. It touched on issues of faith without getting too ponderous, and it portrayed the priest and the rabbi as real human beings while still taking organized religion seriously. Not what you always get out of Hollywood. Jenna Elfman shows she can play someone other than Dharma. Her husband, Bodhi, has a bit part as "Casanova." Did you know his father, along with uncle Danny Elfman, founded Oingo Boingo? Also making appearances are Anne Bancroft as Ben's mom, Man on the Moon director Milos Forman as a priest, and even Brian George -- Babu! -- as a bartender. As they say, a star-studded cast.

Thursday, April 20, 2000

How helpful am I?

I have collected some of my reviews and posted them to on my member page. Unfortunately, a couple of people have found my movie reviews unhelpful. :-(

If you find any of my reviews helpful (and who doesn't?), feel free to go there and let know. Your karma will thank you.

Wednesday, April 19, 2000

Ask and ye shall...

Slashdot posted a link to a FNwire story called Interview with the Search Engine. It involves an "interview" with "Jeeves" of Ask Jeeves. It really, really cracked me up.

Tuesday, April 18, 2000

Martin on Linux

Martin has written an article called Installing Linux, Part 1. Anyone interested in, well, installing Linux should check it out. Hey, this weblog is called "The Android's Dungeon," so I'm obligated to have geeky links. You can also check out more by Martin. Extra geek points for the Magic: The Gathering article.

Sadly, Themestream is no more, so those links no longer work.

Heart of Glass

I went to happy hour at Haydee's last Wednesday night. Haydee's is in Mt. Pleasant, which while not the worst part of DC, isn't exactly the toniest, either. Since I had to park on a side street, I decided to be smart and use The Club to protect my car. I originally got this club for the minivan, and it's never really fit well on the Honda's airbag-enhanced steering wheel. But after a bit of fussing, I managed to jam it in there, and it looked like the steering wheel could not be turned.

When I got back to my car a couple of hours later, I had a little trouble getting The Club off. When I finished, I looked up at the windshield and noticed a huge crack where The Club had been pressed against the windshield. I'm not sure whether it had happened while I was gone, or while I was having trouble getting The Club off. I felt like a complete yutz for causing a couple hundred bucks worth of damage to the windshield while just trying to protect the car from being stolen.

Anyway, I found out that my insurance covers it with $100 deductible. Furthermore, I found a place that would come to work and replace the glass in the parking lot. Unfortunately, they ended up canceling because of the weather, but I was able to go in and get it replaced in about an hour. And they had some special where I only had to pay $50 for the deductible. So now I don't have to drive around any more being constantly reminded of my own incompetence by the crack. There's just the bright blue tape on the windshield that I get to take off tomorrow.

Sunday, April 16, 2000

Very Limited

I just returned from Blacksburg, Virginia where I attended the SERMON conference at Virginia Tech. I got in Friday afternoon, enjoyed a colloquium talk by my advisor, and set out to find my hotel, the Ramada Limited.

Finding it was not easy. It was very foggy, but I was able to find the sign. I drove around and around the sign, but couldn't find the hotel. I eventually asked someone who explained that the hotel was across the road...the road having been built after the hotel, and the sign.

I checked in. When I got to the room, I noticed that the bed had not been made, and the trash cans were filled with fast food refuse. I called the front desk and said, "I don't think housekeeping has been to my room. The bed hasn't been made, and the trash hasn't been emptied." They replied, "Are there any other problems with the room?" Somewhat nonplussed, I asked, "Like what?" "Well, is the bathroom clean?" "I don't know; would you like me to check?" They did, so I put down the phone and checked. "There's a washcloth in the shower; it doesn't look like the towels have been changed." "OK,;come down to the front desk, and we'll give you a different room." Whew. I guess they figured dirty sheets and full trash cans were one thing, but they prided themselves on offering clean towels.

Saturday, April 08, 2000

20th Century go to sleep...

I was listening to "The Boy in the Bubble" last night from Paul Simon's Graceland. (Click on the preceding link to go to and listen to a clip. Click here to read the lyrics.) To me, the song is a beautiful distillation of the essential contradiction of the 20th century (whew, am I getting pretentious?) -- how so much progress could be accompanied by so much brutality?

As the century draws to a close (I refuse to get into arguments about when it really ends), I'm often jolted by its characterization as the most violent century in the history of humanity. Of course, that's true, but is that how we define the 20th century? Is it the century of Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin and Franco? Is it defined by the Katyn Forest, Hiroshima, Armenian genocide, Kosovo, and above all the Holocaust? Or is it the century of FDR, Churchill, Thurgood Marshall, Albert Einstein and Mandela? Is this the time of the rise of democracy, the defeat of polio and smallpox, suffrage, the birth of numerous art forms (cinema, jazz, rock, the weblog...) and the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem? "The bomb in the baby carriage" or "lasers in the jungle"?

Maybe I'm an optimist, but I think we come out of the 20th century better than the way we entered it. For example, look at Paul Simon's Graceland album. When it came out, his use of South African artists drew attention because of the issue of apartheid. Today, apartheid is...well, a memory. The situation that replaced it -- the crime and uncertainty -- is not ideal, but it is hard to argue that good has not been done. I think history will judge the 20th century as one where humanity took important steps in fundamental rights, revolutionized our technology, and started to use that technology in ways that underscored those rights.

But don't cry, baby, don't cry.

Thursday, April 06, 2000

Back in the USSR

Going through my old e-mail last night was an interesting experience. One that particularly struck me was an e-mail from Moscow I received in 1991. It really made me feel the passage of time. First of all, it was from the Soviet Union. Maybe you heard about that one in school, kiddies. Secondly, I loved the "non-commercial nets like Internet" part.

I remember that the request for information was disconcerting enough that I reported it to our security officer at work, who I think just filed it away. Anyway, these days when every speck of land on the globe seems to be wired makes it hard to believe that my co-workers thought that this was a fake, because "the Soviet Union isn't on the Internet."

An Innocent Abroad

I was going through some old files tonight, and I came across a series of letters I sent to my friend Melissa during my first real trip overseas -- to visit my parents in England in December 1993. The letters were purposefully more of a trip journal than personal communications. I cleaned it up, converted it HTML, added a few links and
put it on my web site. It's kind of funny to look back at the 21-year-old kid who wrote that stuff. I'd sure love to have an entire month in the UK again, though...

Sunday, April 02, 2000

Poor Old Johnnie Ray...

Poor old Johnny Ray
Sounded sad upon the radio
He moved a million hearts in mono
Our mothers cried and sang along and who'd blame them

I was watching the Come On Eileen video the other day and started to get a little choked up. (Now don't laugh.) It's not '80s nostalgia that got to me, it's '50s nostalgia, in a sense. The video showed footage of girls going crazy for the singer Johnnie Ray. Until that point, I thought "Johnny Ray" was a made-up name, but he's very real. And I had never heard of him. His song "Cry" spent 11 weeks at Number 1, but now...poof, he's gone, likely unremembered by many under 50. As far as I can tell, he was either very, very early rock-n-roll, or just pre-rock, and his popularity never survived into the late '50s. The one notable thing about him is that he wore a hearing aid (although that's apparently not the motivation for "moved a million hearts in mono"). As with everything else on the Internet, there's a web site devoted to him -- So listen to Dexy's Midnight Runners sing "Come On Eileen" or the Save Ferris version, and remember poor old Johnnie Ray...