Monday, July 31, 2000


Ben, Mickey, George and I went camping last weekend at Cunningham Falls State Park. It was a lot of fun. We went hiking, played D&D, drank beer, and ate a bunch of unhealthy food.

It was interesting watching all of the families with kids at the campground. Apparently a lot of parents see it as a good idea to bring their kids' bikes and let their kids ride around the camp site loop. Around and around and around. There was one girl who rode her pink bike around the loop, wore her pink helmet, and would ding her bell every time she got to the top of the loop. Another boy had some seriously squeaky brakes. So for a while it was, "Ding ding. (Pause.) Squeaksqueaksqueaksqueaksqueak. (Pause.) Ding ding." Repeat.

I never went camping with my folks growing up, so I don't really have a set of expectations for what it's like to be a kid camping. But somehow I'd hope that it would be more exciting than riding a bike around and around in circles. I mean, c'mon, that's what I did at home.

Sunday, July 30, 2000

Douglas Coupland's Miss Wyoming, p. 247

"She tried joining Mensa but was turned off by the bunch of balding men who wanted to discuss nudism, and women who refused to stop punning or laughing at their own spoonerisms."

Wednesday, July 26, 2000

The Incomprehensible X-Men

I saw the X-Men movie on Monday. Wolverine kicks ass. 'Nuff said.

The movie inspired me to want to start reading comics again. And where better to start than with the X-Men comic book? But which one? I remember enough from my comic book reading days to know that Marvel produces a number of different versions of its most popular titles. So where could I see some of the complex battle of wills I had fun with in the movie? I eventually found a web site giving a guide to the X-Titles. Well, it was clear I'd need to be careful to pick the right title to avoid things such as a time-traveling X-Man from the future -- I was looking for basic, vanilla X-Men.

Further searching turned up the X-Axis, where some Scottish guy publishes weekly reviews of the various issues. Pretty entertaining, even for someone who doesn't read them. But it just confirmed one thing. There are no basic, vanilla X-Men anymore! It's all alternative universe this and space alien that. It's all fiendishly complicated to maintain continuity for some 45-year old guy who lives with his parents and will have a complete fit if something doesn't fit with one little piece of his 20-year collection of X-Men comics. ("But Aquaman, you cannot marry a woman without gills, you're from two different worlds.") I don't know, maybe I'm deluding myself into thinking there's somewhere I can go to get interesting superhero comic books without having to become an obsessive reader to understand what the h-e-double-hockeysticks is going on. But it apparently doesn't involve the X-Men.

Tennis Ball Madness

My friend Dave was in town last weekend. Dave is a big baseball fan. When we're at conferences together, we try to take in a game. We went to Fenway at the Fermat conference in '95, we caught the Ottawa Lynx at CNTA '96, and we tried to catch a minor league game in Winnipeg in '99, but it was rained out. So when he came for a visit, it was natural we'd go see a Bowie Baysox. It was a pretty cool game. The Baysox ended up winning in the bottom of the 10th. Cool.

And there were even fireworks after the game. In some ways, they were even better than the fireworks on the Mall on the 4th. They were closer, so we could hear them being fired, and there was a greater variety.

But that wasn't the best part. The best part was...Tennis Ball Madness! For $1, you could buy a tennis ball and throw it on the field after the game. The object was ostensibly to get the balls into some hula hoops which would win various prizes...a dozen bagels, $10 off a lube job... But really, the cool thing was we got to chuck stuff on the field and not get arrested.

Tuesday, July 18, 2000

Harry Potter and the Goblin of Fire

With 734 pages, it's filled with a story of magic, a fictional world, and so many other things that will make you never want to put this book down. READ HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLIN OF FIRE TODAY!

This review at says it all about J. K. Rowling's new Harry Potter book. Er...what do you mean it's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Oh, yeah, that book.

Anyhoo, I just stayed up late last night to finish it. It was an enjoyable read, although I feel that the ending was a little muddled, but I think I could say that of most of her books.

One thing I've noticed as a recurring theme through the books is people being wrongly accused of things they didn't do. There are lots of examples from earlier books -- Hagrid, Buckbeak, Harry, Snape, etc. -- so I won't spoil anything about this book by giving examples here. I don't even think this book does so more than the others -- it's just something I noticed more this time.

Maybe that's because it's something I've been thinking about myself recently. I'm a very judgemental person. I tend to try to form opinions rather quickly. A silly example follows.

After the TV show Friends came out, Martin called me up and asked me what I thought about it. I started going off on a rant about how it was clearly a slickly packaged attempt to market a certain image of Generation X. Martin said, "You know, with anyone else, I would have just asked, 'How about that great new show, Friends?'"

You know, I was right about the show. But it's also pretty funny (most of the time), a fact I had overlooked in my initial recoil to the way the show was "targeted". It's since become one of my favorite shows. So I do give things (and people) second chances. But I sort of wonder how much I may have overlooked due to unfavorable first impressions. So I'm trying to do better. So if somebody seems like a jerk at first, maybe I give them a chance to prove me wrong. Or prove that they really are a jerk. Which would have me hanging around with jerks more often. Hmm, is it worth it?

Monday, July 10, 2000


When I was a kid, I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realized that the Lord, in his wisdom, didn't work that way. So I just stole one and asked him to forgive me.

The other day a woman came up to me and said, "Didn't I see you on television?"
I said, "I don't know. You can't see out the other way."

I went to see Emo Philips a couple of weeks ago. We sat at a table right near the stage. I was sitting in a chair up against the stage, so close I rested my elbow on stage. So I got to be in one of these:

  • "What's your name?"
  • "Jon."
  • "What do you do?"
  • "I'm a mathematician."

Emo then told a joke about Stephen Hawking. What I should have said is, "Dude, he's a physicist." Unfortunately, all I could think of to say was, "He's a physicist." At least I was clever enough to realize that wasn't funny enough to say. But while everyone else is sitting there enjoying the joke, I was just sitting there thinking, "I can't believe he's telling a physicist joke. I'm a mathematician." I mean, really.

Sunday, July 09, 2000

You Say You Want a Revolution

I went to see The Patriot with George last weekend.

You know that old cliche, "If you only see one movie this year..."? Well, for George it isn't a cliche. He sees one movie a year. Last year it was The Phantom Menace, a few years ago it was Braveheart, and a couple of years before that it was Multiplicity (he had to kill time while getting his truck fixed, and that was what was playing). Anyway, since George does Revolutionary War re-enactment, and since he really enjoyed Braveheart, this seemed like an appropriate choice.

We had settled in for the (long series of) trailers, when one came on for the movie Pearl Harbor. It opened with some kids playing ball, then all of a sudden Japanese planes started streaking across the sky. Scenes from the attack on Pearl Harbor ran while FDR's "Date Which Will LIve in Infamy" speech played. At the end, "Memorial Day 2001" flashed onto the screen. George turned to me and said, "I was afraid I was going to get screwed up."

Back to this year's movie. I found it somewhat enjoyable, although towards the end, it got to be too much, "You Klingon bastard, you killed my son." And this Salon article raises some disturbing questions about certain of the movie's historical inaccuracies. And really, I would have so much preferred a historically accurate movie. George pointed out that the exploding shells in the movie were also anachronistic.

But, still, it was nice going into the 4th to be reminded that Independence Day is not just about fireworks. It honors a sacrifices made in the birth of this nation, too. And I'm sure "Pearl Harbor" will be a good reminder of other sacrifices.

Sunday, July 02, 2000

The Big Schtick

When I was in high school, some friends of mine and I started writing a chain story. We would pass it around Mr. Snyder's AP Modern European History class, and each of us would write a paragraph or so before passing it along.

Some time during college, somebody typed it up. I recently pulled it off disk, where it had been compressed with the ZOO archiver and formatted in WordPerfect 4.2. I eventually uncompressed it, converted it to HTML, and fixed some typos.

Ladies and gentleman, I present The Big Schtick. Warning: it is long and weird.

I have recently tried to get some of the same authors to work on a web-based chain story. So far, it's off to a slow start (I blame Paul), but I hope it will pick up.

Saturday, July 01, 2000

We All Want to Change the World

I was driving to work yesterday listening to a Beatles album when "Revolution" came on. This ranks right up there with "The One I Love" in the misunderstood songs of all time.

A few years back, when Nike decided to use the song in an add campaign, much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued. I remember in particular an op-ed in the Washington Post bemoaning how a song the author associated with protesting the status quo had turned into a tool of commercialism.

Hint: just because a song has a word in (or as) its title, doesn't mean it's a song in favor of that word. The Beatles could be "conservative," after a fashion. Ever listen to "Taxman"? More to the point, ever listen to these lyrics?

You say you'll change the constitution
Well you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it's the institution
Well you know
You better free your mind instead

I remember being in high school and writing a paper on Brave New World and A Clockwork Orange. I needed to incorporate literary criticism into my paper, so I went to the library and found some big honkin' books full of criticism. Wow -- this was exciting. And there was criticism of everything -- even Beatles songs.

One in particular that stuck out was a screed on "Revolution" writted for some socialist worker's magazine. This guy got it -- mostly. He railed against the Beatles as tools of capitalist oppression. Out there, yes, but at least he had a clue (about music). Of course, like a good Red, he wasn't above distorting things to make a point. He took the lyrics

You ask me for a contribution
Well you know
We're doing what we can
But when you want money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell you is brother you have to wait

and blasted the Beatles for equating "contribution" with "money". In fact, I think that's explicitly not true. They equate "contribution" with "doing what we can." The person they're talking to, by contrast, just wants "money for people with minds that hate." Ah, well.

Anyway, I think this illustrates one of the great lessons of life.

Pay attention!