24 February 2004


Well, I got my answer. Kerry issued a statement saying he would vote against the President's proposed amendment. He cites a states'-rights argument in order to sort of dodge the bullet:

While I believe marriage is between a man and a woman, for 200 years, this has been a state issue. I oppose this election year effort to amend the Constitution in an area that each state can adequately address, and I will vote against such an amendment if it comes to the Senate floor.

He continues:

I believe the best way to protect gays and lesbians is through civil unions. I believe the issue of marriage should be left to the states, and that the President of the United States should be addressing the central challenges where he has failed - jobs, health care, and our leadership in the world rather than once again seeking to drive a wedge by toying with the United States Constitution for political purposes.

His argument (continued elsewhere) is that gay civil unions should be given all the protection and benefits of marriage except the right to use the word "married" to refer to their relationship. As far as government is concerned, his position is completely in favor of gay marriage, but he keeps stressing this point that they should be called civil-unions and not marriage. I think it's interesting to see how powerful that single word is in our culture.

Defense of Marriage

GWB just threw down the glove with his public support of a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The real question is whether Kerry will pick it up or not. So far he's waffled on the issue, backing gay civil-unions but not gay marriage, which I consider a non-answer. I hope that the increased media heat will force him to make stand one way or the other, but something tells me he'll try to escape with his so-called "compromise" position.

I think W made a strong move here (speaking totally from the perspective of him getting elected and with no regard whatsoever to my own feelings on the topic itself); he throws a bone to his hard core constituents, alienates only those people who already hate him and forces his opponent to take a stance on an inflammatory issue. If Kerry opposes the amendment he'll offend a lot of middle-of-the-road Americans who are creeped out by the idea of same-sex marriage, but if he supports it, he'll be vilified by the liberals. I'm curious to see how he handles it.


Kudos to President Bush for making the full text of all his speeches available online. I tried to find the text of his speech to the Republican Governor's Association, but all the news sites I perused had only articles about the speech and the occasional IN DEPTH: Video snippet.

I'm trying to find as many primary sources as possible to inform my voting decision this fall. It's bad enough to try to get a feel for a candidate when you listen to campaign speeches, let alone reading some reporter's interpretation of the candidate's speechwriter's take on what the candidate should say. Plus, it's hard to untangle all the conflicting claims that each side makes.

William Safire (who is far more Libertarian than I) made an interesting point in his most recent Times editorial. I note it not so much for the message on the issue, but for the insight into how politicians spin information, especially numbers:

Whenever the unemployment rate drops, gloomy-Gus politicians insist "it's because people have given up hope and stopped looking for jobs." But back when unemployment was going up, did you ever hear "it's because people are hopeful and more are out looking for jobs"? Never.

23 February 2004



This site lets you make a map of all the states you've visited. I think mine is complete, but I can't remember if we went through NE on the way back from Colorado. Funny how my pattern basically highlights the entire Mason-Dixon line. Damn Yankees.

Lost In Translation

I went to LSC tonight and saw this film for the second time. It's worth seeing twice because there's plenty left to learn about it after seeing it once. Some films are close relatives of the theatre and some are a completely different creature. This movie manages to be at both ends of that spectrum at the same time.

In terms of being very different from theatre, the movie uses a ton of different shots. Coppola cuts from one 30 second shot to another with reckless abandon. Fortunately this doesn't end up looking choppy or disjointed: the story is told in small pieces which fit together very well. Another cinema-only thing about this movie is the number of really wide (and really wonderful) shots of Tokyo; she has a lot of slow sweeps of the city as well as bouncy closeups of the two main characters running through the streets.

So why do I think that this movie could be successfully done on stage? Well part of it is the fact that there are only two critical characters. There are important small characters, of course, like the photographer and video director which provide the two best comedic scenes in the film. The story, however, is really told by just the two main characters. Furthermore, a ton of locations are reused (most notably the hotel bar) which means that one could rewrite it to use only a handful of the places in the film.

What really makes the film so good is the way Coppola manages to use the cinematography and sound to accentuate Murray and Johannson's performances. The two actors tell the story while the director tells the story using the opportunities afforded by her medium and the combination presents a contemplative and compelling piece.


Ordered dinner from Speedy Wong's tonight. My fortune:

You are the mast of every situation

18 February 2004

Office Humor

Overheard at the office:

"My subconscious is the upturned rake on the lawn of my conscious."

17 February 2004

Mensa Sux

The puzzle for today in the Mensa Puzzle-a-Day calendar in my office:

Find the number that best completes the sequence below:

1 4 16 ? 256

Give me a freakin' break.

The Winter King

Winter King

I finished reading this for the 4th time this morning and the story still keeps me up late at night, turning pages. I've read probably 25 books by Bernard Cornwell, mostly from the Sharpe Series, and the Warlord Trilogy (of which The Winter King is the first installment) is far and away his best work.

Cornwell's style is one of assiduous historical accuracy, and the Sharpe books are worth reading just for their portrait of life in the early 19th century. The difference in his Arthur books is that there is so little written record of the time (~500 AD). Cornwell dilligently researches these books as usual, but in the end there are much wider gaps which need to be filled by the storyteller. This forces him to put his story first and history second.

Happily, the author agrees with me.

Shitty Scoring Algorithm

MRhe posted a link to this site which gives you a survey on a bunch of current political topics and then generates a compatibility score for each candidate in the Democratic primary and President Bush.

This is a neat idea, but their scoring algorithm is seriously screwed up. I was listed as 100% compatible with Dennis Kucinich, but there were several issues which he "Strongly Opposes" which I listed as "Strongly Favoring". If we are on opposite ends of the spectrum on even one issue, how can we be 100% compatible? Furthermore, the survey lets you weight different categories of questions depending on how important they are. I ranked "Security/International Policy" as most imporant and one of the questions where Kucinich and I disagree is on the war in Iraq. How can you not test your software for basic stuff like this? Also problematic (maybe a Safari issue?) is the "Compare Candidates" page which has all sorts of screwups in the DB queries used to get the data. The categories are all wrong and some of them have headings of "bad request". Bah.

John Kerry wasn't far behind at 93% compatible and the President is way the fuck down there at 27%. Interesting, since I'm strongly considering voting for him (although I'm heading toward Kerry every day).

16 February 2004


Spent Friday afternoon to Sunday evening with some Whitehead people at Killington VT. The skiing itself was fabulous; it had been years since I'd had a chance to ski with some people who were of approximately equal ability. We skied all day Saturday and Sunday; it was cool to have some good ski buddies for part of the time, and fun to do a few more challenging runs by myself on Sunday morning.

On Friday and Saturday evenings we hung out in our "family room" at the motel we were staying at. The place had clearly been decorated in 1972 and never updated in the past 30 years. The walls were papered with dark, velveteen-textured fleurs-de-lis. The lights were all translucent orange glass affairs hanging from chains such that even with them all on the room had a dim, sleazy feel. With enough gin and champagne (or "champers" as the British blokes call it) we were still able to have a good time.

I also pinpointed why I love skiing so much: the entire experience is immersive. While you're skiing, you're just thinking about skiing. There's no time to worry about work or women or where your life is going. While you're actually on the slopes you're completely focused on where to make your next turn or how much to edge on the ice. Then, while riding the lift or standing in line you're chatting about the next run or looking at the snow. It's a great way to spend the whole day outdoors without any distractions.

13 February 2004

Looking Back, Looking Forward

In September of 2002 I wrote a letter to the editors of The Tech. My point was that it's important to keep in mind all the good things that continue to happen at MIT while we bemoan the things we think the next generation will have to do without. Amrys and Rodin have both been talking about the disgusting lump of brick and steel that replaced the magical incubator; more specifically, they have been complaining about how the attitude projected by MIT about the new building conflicts so much with the virtues of Bldg 20, which many might say epitomizes the things which make MIT special.

Building 20 holds a dear place in my heart. The moment I decided to come to MIT was when I came to visit as a high school senior and we stopped behind Building 20 on our campus tour to watch some students do time trials of a go-kart. When I arrived on campus as a frosh, it was always the "ugly go-kart building" to me. It was scheduled for demolition during my freshman year and I regret not joining johnston, jrandall and mmunsey on their trips to scavenge cruft and kick in door frames. I won't argue that the Rad-Lab electricals throwing up this POS while soldiers were bunking in East Campus doesn't have an element of romance.

But let's not be too curmudgeonly. I've talked to a couple of people from CSAIL who are psyched to be moving into a brand new building and something tells me that in 5 years time people will have long forgotten the aesthetic rules about what kind of desk you're supposed to have. Hell, my office window looks out on Building 32 and I've watched them construct it over the last couple of years. I agree that every month that went by made the building look less finished and that the final product looks like a bombed out apartment building from the 70's. But I also have faith that in 50 years time Building 32 will have its share of broken electronic equipment and hundreds of Engineers telling stories about their time there.

I'll happily raise my glass to Building 20 and times gone by, but let's also drink to the opening of a new chapter of the corner of Main & Vassar.

12 February 2004


While perusing my referrer logs I discovered that I'm in the top ten hits for thnikkaman on google, yahoo and a couple of smaller search engines. I guess there's not that much quality Thnikkaman content on the interwang.

Also, I'm the #1 hit for 120kpbs mars rover spirit 120 from google.fi — funny how shit like that happens.

09 February 2004

Blame Canada

What in the hell are the Canadians thinking? The Blue Jays had a perfectly fine old-skool logo (left) which they replaced with a goony cartoon (center) which they've now replaced with a metallic, zooming-through-space style logo (right). For some reason tons of franchises are going with this "futuristic" look nowadays. If the Red Sox ever pull this shit, I'm walking out on them.



"Irredentism" is a neat word used by William Safire in his Times editorial today. It is the advocation of the recovery of territory which is historically part of one's nation but is currently under foreign rule. Safire is the world champion of one of my favorite pastimes: using exactly the right word for what you mean.


Is it just me or has Strong Bad Email become extremely random? It's like the last few seasons of the Simpsons, where they ran out of clever ideas and just wrote episodes about any completely random thing and hoped that reputation would prevent people from noticing that they no longer had plot or made any sense.

Company of Angels III: Wrapup

This show has sparked so many different thoughts about theatre that I'm hoping to put some sort of coherent thesis together out of all of it instead of just riffing in my blog. If anybody is interested in seeing it, let me know.

The only thing I wanted to post after seeing the show a second time on Saturday is how impressed I am with every performance. So if anybody in the show is reading this (Hello, Max), bravo!

06 February 2004

Company of Angels II: Acting

I have observed two distinct acting styles both in myself and in my peers. I like to think of them as rational or systematic acting and emotional or impulsive acting. I don't necessarily think one is better than the other, and in fact I believe that the best performances are a combination of these two ideas. Different performers do their best work at different levels of mixing the parts together.

In my own work I find it helpful to begin from the analytical standpoint and try to think about what your character has experienced and try to consciously look for places in the show where you can associate with an image or action from your own life. During rehearsal different actions, movements and observations inform these analyses. You find certain 'bits' which you can reuse to add texture to your performance. The final key is something which I've always found in either one breakthrough rehearsal or the first time doing the show in front of an audience. You get into the zone and suddenly you aren't trying to associate with your character in order to play him: you are simply letting the character live on stage in your person.

In my own case, these moments when I'm saying something on stage not because it is written in the script, but because the character must say it are the times when I'm really proud of what I've done. So what does all this have to do with "The Company of Angels", which I wasn't even in?

During the entire performance I was hoping that Max would take a deep breath and let himself go. He did it as Shylock a couple of years ago and the result was stunning. He finally did it in the second to last scene, which is just a minute long and features only him and Masha (who was incredibly mature in this role). That single minute was absolutely honest and real. In that moment, those two students born forty years after D-Day were Survivors.

Ginny shone (as usual) in her role as Duna. The unbelievable thing is that as talented as she is, I don't think she's really found her stride yet. I might be wrong about this (and if you're reading Ginny, feel free to correct me) but I think her combination of preparation and technical skill puts her baseline performance well above the upper bounds of most of us. She finds the heart of the scene, figures out how she's going to nail it and then just does. Every night. In this show her character is famous for one particular part she played before the war. The other members of the company encourage her to do it again: the first time she refuses. As she starts singing the second time you can see her forget how much has changed in the last ten years. She simply wants to sing; she wants it so badly that the moment when fear pulls her back again is heartbreaking. Here's the thing, though: I'm not sure Ginny completely let go of herself at that moment, and I'm not sure she's ever done it in a show I've seen. The sky's the limit for her.

Company of Angels I: Theatricality

Saw "The Company of Angels" last night. There are comments related to specific aspects of the performance, so consider yourself warned if you'd prefer to see it with a blank slate.

First of all, the MIT design and build staffs did an outstanding job, as always. The stage picture was consistently beautiful. There's a series of three quick scenes in which Esther appears onstage in her costume from "The Lottery Ticket" and then goes off and returns with the whole cast for the boarding of the truck. As they cram into the hidden compartment (created beautifully as is only possible in theatre with just a little background sound and a trapezoid of light on a dark stage) everyone is dressed in drab greys and browns but you see the briefest flash of Esther's bright red dress under her overcoat. It perfectly reminds us of how her youth slightly separates her experience from the other members of the company. Then she runs back on stage only moments later for the next scene, wearing a new purple frock symbolic of the improving fortunes of the company.

Another example comes after a throwaway line about using a former Gestapo meeting hall for rehearsal space. One of the actors tosses a bundle of red cloth on the ground as they're setting up and nobody pays any particular attention to it. Only after a few moments does the audience notice the bundle has a white splotch in the middle and that there are some black lines there and — oh shit. If you parade the flag across the stage it looks flashy and cheap.

These are small examples of why I love the theatre and why this piece is so marvellously theatrical. The play is full of moments (like realizing what the flag is above) where you're laughing at some joke on the stage and suddenly you're gripped by something shocking and terrible. The playwright (and my personal hero, Alan Brody) tells a very simple story about people falling in love, going back to work, finding a way to start creating art again. The story works completely on its own, but the play is staged in a background of the horrible experience they all shared. The director (and another hero of mine, Michael Ouellette) found one wonderful piece of stagecraft by setting the imaginary audience upstage during the faux curtain calls for the play-within-the-play except for the ends of the acts and the Hatikvah. Only at these moments does the real audience (us) become a part of the audience of Holocaust survivors as the performers face us, downstage center, and sing. The result is breathtaking.

This brings me to another observation I made, which is how perfect the music was woven into the script. It's hard to get that feeling when just reading it (or even rehearsing it, I imagine) but the whole show is punctuated by music. A song takes words and underlines the emotion with the music and the beat. This play takes its most crucial moments and puts them in italics with songs. Finally, it all works so well because every single actor has a strong voice. I'm not one to do music critique, but they sang their hearts out and it showed.

I'm reserving another entry for my comments on the actors and acting.

05 February 2004

Elodia Funderbunk

This website is awesome. It uses the 1990 US Census to generate random personal names out of the database of first and last names. The Census evidently also provides frequency data, because you can set an "obscurity factor" from 1 to 99 to select whether you want names like Howard Radcliffe or Modesto Kuykendoll. The best part? The generated names are links to one of those nationwide whitepage searches so you can see if there's a real person with the fake name you created.

04 February 2004

Pucker Factor

I received this today from my friend Chris. He's just arrived in Baghdad and I hope you'll forgive him for his truly atrocious spelling:

Sallam Alekum,

hope all is well back in the states. tell teresa i will be looking for her, any idea where she is going to be based out of.. I am with 1/5 cav if that is any help I ahve some great pictures to send you guys from the apst few weeks when i get a chance. I have spent my first few days on the streets of the big city. It is defiantly an educational experience. I will not lie, boith during the drive up here and on my first patrol, what we like to refer to as the "pucker factor" was pretty high. I have soon learned that this is not Balck Hawk down. fortunatly the majority of the people on my area support us and want our help. The avg Iraqi is a very kind and considerate person who understands what we are trying to do to help them out. That said they are by far the WORST motorists in the world. There simply are no traffic laws here so traffic is a total mess as you might imagine in a city of several million people all of who have vehicles that they pay roughly a penny a gllon to fuel. I had the opportunity to do a few searches of houses and businesses of\ver the last couple of days, to include a rooftop to rooftop chase, a car chase and foot pursuit that resembled a bad "Cops" episode, and some random gunfire and mortar rounds aimed in my general direction. All in all its been a busy time. The strange part was that even when we go ina nd search houses of these families, while we are going through every piece of their belongings they bring us coffeee and food and thank us. it is definatly NOT what i expected. This place has a LOT of potential and with the exception of the obvious reasons for me wanting to be home (ie Jen, my family, Budweiser) I am glad to be here and feel I am making a difference. in the last few days I have seized numerous weapons, mortar pieces, ammunition and drugs and the neighbors of these people are expressing great gratitudde for making their neighborhood safer. I am kinda looking at our role as a really well armed SWAT/US MARRSHAL type team. I can't wait to come home of course but I am more sure now then ever that I can do this for a year and make it into a positive life experience. THe children here are remarkable, incredibly helpful fo rfinding "bad men" and also always swarming to give a thumbs up and shake our hands..I must reply to a bunch of emails so I must be going as I only have limited time

I will tlak to you soon and no fear i am keeping my head down and my weapon up.

bluesteel strikes swiftly!


03 February 2004

Double Gut Buster

I have a tendency to correct people when they make dumb mistakes. It's a very annoying tendency that at least one ex-girlfriend really hates. Anyway, I'm trying to be better about it and there is one place where it pays big to keep my mouth shut: at the poker table.

I was playing 5-10 yesterday evening after dinner and I picked up 89 suited in the big blind. Somebody raised and there had already been a couple of limpers, so I called the $5. We took the flop 5 handed and it came down QJ5, which left me with an inside straight draw. It got checked to the raiser who bet, which meant there was $55 in the pot and $5 to me. Now, the pot was laying me 11:1 right there, which is enough to draw to the 10 on the next card alone. Add in the fact that there were two cards to come (granted I'd probably have to pay a big bet to see the river) and that there were 3 more people who might call the flop and I threw in the red chip.

Two more people called and the turn card was a 6. So now I'm holding 89 and the board is QJ56 with no flush possible. This means I've got what's known as a "double gut buster" straight draw. Either a 7 or a 10 will give me a straight, so in essence I've got an open ender made up of two inside draws. This gives me 8 outs to win with 46 cards in the deck, or a little better than 5:1 against. Again it gets checked to the raiser and he bets $10, which means the $80 pot is laying me 8:1 odds to call, which makes calling the obvious choice. It happened to end up getting checkraised by one of the other dudes, but there was nothing I could do about that.

River card is a 7, giving me the nuts. Early guy bets, preflop raiser calls and I raise wtih only the raiser calling. I scoop the pot (which was nearly $200) and heave a sigh. I check the hand history to see what the other guy had. Turns out he had pocket queens and flopped a set. Tough break for him.

So this joker, VeryTnA, says "Are you really that bad?" and then, "Chase for an inside sucker str8."

I just reply, "I guess you answered your own question."

He says, "nh [nice hand] I need the action. Keep playing"

I said nothing and just kept playing. A couple hours later I nailed him again by catching a Q on the river to beat his A-high bluff (I had been calling with KQ of spades on the two spade flop). He's still pissed about the straight and says, "What would you do without the river?"

I said nothing and checked out of the game a few minutes later, significantly to the good. My point in all this is that he got all heated and started making calls at me without even really thinking about it. First of all, why ever encourage someone who is playing like a dunce to be better? His comment drove me to rethink my way through the hand to see if I made a mistake. After deciding I had played it fine I made it a point to have my A-Game polished and ready to go for future concepts against this jackass. Second, and more important, if he had been paying attention he would've realized the pot odds justified both calls (big size relative to the bet on the flop, and picking up the extra outs on the turn) — he got me to tighten up when I was already playing a strong game!

As my Dad says (quoting somebody else), the only two things you should ever say at a poker table are "Raise" and "Seat open."


Terms used for that thing on Janet's breast:

  • "a sunburst-shaped nipple brooch" — New York Times

  • "a metal solar nipple medallion" — The Drudge Report

  • "a sun-shaped nipple shield" — MSNBC

  • "some odd-looking, sun-shaped device" — The Oregon Daily Emerald

  • "a star-shaped nipple ring" — The Sun (UK)

  • "a silver nipple ornament" — hollywood.com

02 February 2004

Jenna Bush Saves on Ink Cartridges

This has got to be one of the weirdest attempts to advertise shitty web products in history. This site has a bio page on first-daughter Jenna Bush, which starts off with standard crap about her childhood and then tries to sneak in a few remarks on Jenna's web habits:

The president's daughter grew up in Texas and went to a public school until the sixth grade when the family moved to Austin when her father was elected governor. She attended St. Andrews Episcopal School until ninth grade when she transferred to Austin's public high school where the slogan is “Everybody is somebody at Austin High.”

Jenna is described as "bubbly" and “a blue-jeans-and-T-shirt kind of gal." It has been rumored that she likes win Free Cash at JackPot.com. She has also been described as the "Wild" one of the two. Jenna is said to like saving money on her inkjet cartridges at 00inkjets.com as well as getting paid to take online surveys at GoZing.com.


I feel like I should write about the 2nd Patriots Championship in 3 years, but it's hard to do. This was the first season I watched every game and so I feel spoiled since they won the Superbowl during my virgin season as a True Fan. I doubt football will ever have quite the same appeal for me as baseball, which makes me a total sports masochist, since I choose to prefer the team with perhaps the most agonizing fan experience in all of pro sports, instead of the team Who Can Do No Wrong.

Like nearly every game this season (c.f. Miami, Denver, Indianapolis (Part I), Tennessee (Parts I & II), Houston) the Pats couldn't just slam the door shut by halftime and then let us all relax and discuss Janet's breast for the second half. No, we needed yet another Vinatieri field goal to win it in the final seconds of the game.

I guess I summed up my feelings most accurately when I came to the office this morning and my Aussie coworker said, "You must be happy today." and I replied, "I'm not as happy now as I was depressed when the Red Sox blew Game 7 against the Yankees."