Month: July 2008

  • Zener Cards

    Hey, remember these? Zener cards, for testing ESP. Wow, these look cool. How come we don’t see these designs more often? Maybe these would be a good needlepoint pattern; I could make coasters.

    Sorry! This isn’t your lucky day! *BZZZT*

  • Bayonne Harbor

    Tikaro Interactive work took me to Port Jersey yesterday. Port Jersey, where the corrugated steel containers are stacked in enormous rusty ziggurats halfway to the sky. Port Jersey, East Coast home of the beloved boxcar alligator. Port Jersey, where brand-new Mercedes cars with tinted windows and empty license-plate frames roll off the ship in an orderly line.

    Bayonne Harbor
    Just a lane away, separated by a ten foot wire fence, beat-up SUVs with no license plates are rolling the other direction, onto another ship. There’s nothing orderly about THAT line: Kenyan guys in knee-length T-shirts shout angrily at Eastern European guys with tracksuits and buzz cuts, both gesticulating wildly while clutching cellphones. It’s not really what you imagine when you think of a busy wharf — for one thing, it’s 99% asphalt and wire, and only 1% crumbling brick buildings (and 0% tarry barrels.) But it’s exotic in its own way, that’s for sure.

    I’ll attempt to break down the reality of Port Jersey and how it differs from my boyhood expectations, based mostly on Hornblower books and pirate fiction:

    td.pirate {vertical-align: top;
    border-bottom: 1px solid #CCC;

    Imaginary Pirate Wharf Port Jersey
    Watch caps, muscular forearms, and tattoos Knee-length T-shirts, enormous potbellies, and shaved heads
    Tarry barrels, guarded by wizened men with crooked daggers Blue igloo coolers, guarded by eleven-year-old kids in folding chairs and hoodie sweatshirts
    Stacks of iron chests swaddled up in tarry netting Sky-high pyramids of corrugated steel containers
    Reek of salt water, mud and fish Reek of salt water, mud and diesel exhaust
    Grog bars on every corner Aluminum lunch vans every 500 yards
    Cobblestones and brick Asphalt and wire fence
    Stern-looking English marines with truncheons Stern-looking entrance-booth guards with blue jackets, walkie-talkies, and clipboards
    Dray horses Twelve-foot forklifts
    Cutlasses Cellphones
    Terrifying scowls Terrifying scowls

    I was delighted to find, though, that a lot of the language is still the same from that day to this, and so in the course of work I’m having to look up lots of nautical terms like “drayage” and “lading”, and calculating how much pirate insurance costs. And to determine inspection percentage rates, which is the number of sacks of flour in a hundred we have to cut open with bayonets, to see if the caliph has tried to hide sand inside instead. OKAY THERE ARE NO BAYONETS, but all in all it’s a pretty fun analogue.

    UPDATE: Ooh, here’s a really nice panorama taken from the spot I visited. Can you see the cruise ship in the background?

  • I’m very pleased to report that Tikaro Interactive Programmer Will Ronco competed at the Iron Man Lake Placid yesterday, and came in fifth. FIFTH! This was after Will and his coach had decided to try for a top-thirty finish in this race.

    Will was so happy after crossing the finish line, that they put his face up on the 2008 race results page. He’s also mentioned above the fold in the main coverage. Here he is having his Victory Thrash:

    The agony of victory...?

    IRON MANThis means that Will is now qualified for the world championship in Hawaii this October. I’m thrilled and proud, but not surprised. Will is a hell of a hard worker, and has a tremendously cheerful, upbeat, and determined attitude. You can see some less ecstatically-happy finish pictures on Will’s Blog.

    Congratulations, Will!

    On a purely selfish note, may I recommend hiring a triathelete as a programmer? Will works in three “chunks” during the day, breaking for a morning and an afternoon workout. It’s actually amazingly productive, since he always seems to have fresh brain when he’s sitting at the keyboard, and it gives me some “stripes” of time during the day when I’m at the keyboard and he’s not. That’s surprisingly useful when you’re trying to write documentation for what should be done next, to know that the other person isn’t forging ahead doing stuff RIGHT NOW that might be contravening the instructions you’re writing. Plus, between my early-morning EDT start time, and his late-aftertoon MST finish time, we cover a fair amount of the clock between us. It works out great.

  • Tikaro Blog Logo

    When Kenn Munk and I were working on the logo for Tikaro Interactive, we had to reluctantly put aside a bunch of concepts that were totally awesome, like a lightning bolt… ON FIRE! And a demon hand clutching a banner that said "TIKARO", and other stuff that would look GREAT carved in ballpoint pen on the cover of a denim-bound three-ring notebook.

    Some other ones that I really liked were coming across as too steampunk (and therefore too dated) for an interactive shop. But I missed those designs. When were were all done with the company logo, I asked Kenn to go ahead and make one that was totally and unapologetically "Unhinged Victorian inventor" that I could use on my blog. This is the result.

    I really like how Kenn cut the gear so that it looks like a laurel wreath and also like wings.

    This logo makes me want to get INCREDIBLY muscular, then get the top-hat-and-gear tattooed all the way across my chest. And fight shirtless in the streets, then dance, of course.

  • Dear West Chester friends and neighbors:

    Do you remember the period of your life, starting at about age nine and lasting until about age now, when you were cynically skeptical of all the magic in the world, but secretly really wanted to believe in it? Watch any group of cub scouts walking through a haunted house, their words dripping with scorn: “THAT’S not a real spider web.” “THAT’S not a real mummy!”

    I think the heat in this scorn comes from disappointment. These kids’ critical faculties have developed to the point where they can start to see behind the scenes, and they realize that most of the wonderful things they thought were real are, in fact, fabrications. And that’s a painful, painful process. Every one of those cub scouts is secretly wishing that they’ll turn out to be wrong, and that the haunted house will turn out to be real. In other words, they’re mourning the loss of magic in the world.

    Imagine, for instance, that a sealed letter arrives at your house on a dark and stormy night, detailing a legal battle that has been tied up in the courts for almost THREE HUNDRED YEARS, concerning William Penn’s land grant, his embezzling steward Philip Ford, and William’s lackwit, gadabout son William Junior, who after getting expelled from the new Commonwealth for drunken brawling, moved to England and started a scheme with Lord Fairfax to recover treasure sent to the bottom of the caribbean by his grandfather, Admiral Sir William Penn. Imagine that the Quakers in Barbados have found this treasure. Imagine learning that YOUR VERY OWN great-great grandparents secretly smuggled some of this Quaker treasure up here to Chester County, and that it’s interred somewhere around the county seat.

    Okay, are you imagining that? Well, how would you feel if, after an amazing adventure involving piecing fragments of documentation out of the back of family portraits, you found the spot mentioned in the treasure map you’ve carefully pieced together, only to find that the ground had BEEN RECENTLY DISTURBED, and something had OBVIOUSLY BEEN PLANTED THERE? I’ll tell you how you’d feel. You’d feel like Santa Claus had kicked you right in the solar plexus. You’d feel like the Easter Bunny had pulled off his fuzzy head, revealing a sweaty dude chomping on a cigar. And the guy with the cigar IS LAUGHING AT YOU.

    That is why I wish to embark on the West Chester Buried Pirate Treasure Project. Here’s Phase I:

    • Assemble a sizable amount of plausible pirate treasure, to include items like: silver-plated candlesticks, pearl necklaces, tiaras, costume jewelry, doubloons, and handfuls of glittering rubies and emeralds. All treasure will be plausible to a suspicious kid (no plastic, all “made in china” marks carefully filed off.”)
    • Find or construct a suitable round-top treasure chest, divide the treasure into packets, sew the treasure into oilcloth sacks and seal the seams with tar, and lock them in the chest using multiple locks (necessitating multiple keys).
    • Locate a suitable location (I have a great one in mind), and
    • BURY THE TREASURE six feet deep. We’re talking four adults, four shovels, four hours. The real deal.

    The final step in the plan? WAIT AT LEAST A YEAR. It is of the absolute, utter, most crucial importance that when our various children manage to unravel the Mystery of Penn’s Treasure, and when they at last arrive at the spot referenced in the map, that the spot where we all begin to dig is pristine earth covered in vegetation.

    Kids cannot imagine waiting a year to do anything. If it’s covered with grass, man, it’s been there since the Pleistocene.

    So what do you think? Who would like to volunteer their ancestors to become a retroactive part of the Secret Guild of Penn’s Treasure-Keepers? It doesn’t matter if your family hasn’t been living in Chester County for 300 years, there are plenty of plausible-enough ways to get your ancestors involved: “As it turns out, great-great-great grandma was an investor in the first East India expedition that Sir Admiral William Penn founded, and so she naturally gained a share of the prize money, which was then stolen…” “Well, as you know, great-great-great-great uncle Ezra was a cabin boy in Lord Fairfax’s flagship…” “Hey, did you know that every generation of our family up to Grandpa were savage Caribbean pirates?”

    We can hammer out the details of the backstory later (by the way, William Penn’s ties to privateers and, sunken treasure? Quakers’ ties to the Caribbean? Embezzlement of dizzying sums? ALL TRUE.) For right now, we just have to get that treasure into the ground and start the grass growing over it. I’m thinking that each family involved could commission a Pirate Portrait of their ancestor, and we’ll seal a key into the frame of each portrait. Will the kids get suspicious that the Pirate Portrait may be done in a style not exactly common in the early 1700s? Maybe. But when I bring down a GENUINE* Buried Pirate Treasure expert from the Museum of Natural History in NYC to be present at the digging up of the treasure? NOSKEPTICISM WILL BE ABLE TO WITHSTAND US. It’s okay if the kids aren’t 100% convinced, but we are going to blow their little MINDS, man.

    So: Who’s with me? Who’s in? Leave your message in the comments! I’m thinking we can fit ten families’ worth of treasure into a fair-sized chest. That’s ten oilskin packets, each sewn shut and sealed with tar. We’ll have to do this under conditions of UTMOST SECRECY. Don’t discuss this at the dinner table in front of little ears! In fact, I will delete this post after we’ve gotten everyone signed up. For kids savvy enough to find this post in the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, I’m sorry you had to find out finally and unequivocally that the treasure was planted. Bear in mind that we’re doing it because it’s important to always be unsure if maybe there really IS a cave with a pirate ship in it right under your feet.

    UPDATE: McGlinch sent this picture of a stack of Pirate Golf Trophies in his mom’s basement. Excellent, this is EXACTLY what I’m talking about. Imagine these holding up a pile of rubies and emeralds and what-have you:

  • Kate, Lydia, and I drove up to Maine this weekend for my uncle Bob’s memorial service. Uncle Bob Baldwin was the oldest of my banjo-playing uncles. He died of a brain tumor this past year, and I miss him very much. His shape note group was there, and let me tell you, if you’re in an old Maine church with plaster walls among the trees, and this group of gray-haired, grim-faced*, suspender-wearing Mainers stands up, and they open their books and there’s just enough time to think “boy, this is probably going to be emotional” and WHAM they open their mouths and this haunting, ethereal, beautiful harmony just fills the space and I’m crying like a baby.

    I’m writing in the flip tone of a blogger, here, but that shape-note singing is just SO UNBELIEVABLY METAPHORICAL and powerful. That crack on the O.C. about “This American Life” — “Is that that show by those hipster know-it-alls who talk about how fascinating ordinary people are?” is funny because it’s true, of course, but the reality is that there is no such thing as ordinary people, not really, and when you have a group of completely normal-looking grandparent-type people stand up and weave that kind of ethereal, powerful music that at the same time is grounded in community… well, damn, I can’t believe I didn’t bring a handkerchief.

    I was very glad indeed to see my cousins, and Lydia got to visit her grandma, and Kate got to ride the Icthyopter in Belfast:


  • IPhone iPhone iPhone, iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone. iPhone iPhone iPhone? iPhone! iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone — iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone.

    iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPhone iPHOOOOOOONNNNNNE!

    iPhone? iPhone!


    UPDATE, from the Short Hills Mall on my way to meet my client: ouch. And I didn’t realize it got worse: double ouch. I need some kind of picture of Veblen giving me a wedgie or something. Here, lemme just make one:

    iPhone 3G line at the Short Hills Mall this morning