obligatory obscure reference

self-deprecating yet still self-promotional witty comment


Short stories limited to four lines, 80 columns, and SVR0 commands

Filed under: Random and Pleasing — jet @ 20:37

A million years ago, when 4-line sigs were the rule in the 80-column world, I decided to write short stories using only SVR0 commands.

Most of them are on 3B1 floppies I need to read and transfer to the 21st century via serial line, but here’s one I found on a USENET archive:

Grep sed “awk! man cut grep, edit banner false! get help!” Man disable
grep, split banner, join prof admin. Grep mount eqn, find path. Grep
echo spell. False cat kill admin, man. Grep find banner, make true


_Metrophage_ by Richard Kadrey, a review, no spoilers, ~long.

Filed under: Reviews — jet @ 21:38

[Historical note: I posted this to USENET in 1988. I was 21, working my way through college, and more-than-happy that I had access to USENET, something like a world-wide BBS. If there was something like Facebook or Twitter in 1988, it would have been USENET. My USENET feed (we downloaded USENET posts over modem before reading them) came from a nearby consulting firm who was hooked up to the backbone of what was then the Internet. I could post something to USENET in Houston and within 24-48 hours people in California or New York would be able to read the post. I was still getting my journalism degree and posting stuff like this to USENET sans editor, so there might be > 1 typos. And yes, I’m posting this with full USENET headers just because I want to show off that I ran a USENET host from an AT&T 3b1 in my home in 1988. :-]

— cut here —
Xref: utzoo alt.cyberpunk:257 rec.arts.sf-lovers:10844
Path: utzoo!mnetor!uunet!nuchat!flatline!erict
From: erict@flatline.UUCP (eric townsend)
Newsgroups: alt.cyberpunk,rec.arts.sf-lovers
Subject: _Metrophage_ by Richard Kadrey, a review, no spoilers, ~long.
Message-ID: <359@flatline.UUCP>
Date: 3 Feb 88 05:29:49 GMT
Organization: flatline in Houston(Montrose, really), Tx.
Lines: 97
Keywords: metrophage, kadrey, review, cyberpunk

Okedoke, I knocked _Metrophage_ off in a day and a half between classes,
so this should be pretty compleat as it’s fresh on my mind.

First off, some comments about Richard Kadrey. I heard/saw him speak
and read at Armadillocon 87 in Austin, Tx. At the time, I was very
impressed. Kadrey’s a former resident of Houston, now living somewhere in
Ca. He looks and acts like people I hang out with: surfer/neo-punk haircut,
earrings, hardcore/thrash/punk/tough clothes, but reads William S. Burroughs
and radiates an intense intrest in tech/pol/philo/everything.

So anyway, I listen to him on a panel that headlined the likes of Bruce
Sterling and Lew (“The Whiner”) Shiner.
“So he gets on neat panels at cons,” I thought, “but who the hell is
this guy that looks like he should be skating with me in downtown Houston
about 3 am?”
Well, I gave in and went to his reading. Wow. The feeling I got was a
combination of those I had when I first read _Naked_Lunch_ and
_Neuromancer_. “This guy’s tough,” I remember thinking, “then again, these
are just some short descriptive stories that rag on pols…”
After he finished reading, he or Shiner The Whiner mentioned Kadrey’s
forthcoming book, _Metrophage_.

Fast forward to the other day when I found a copy of _Metrophage_ in
the bookstore. I sped-read to finish _Infernal_Devices_ so I could
start _Metro_.

Wow. Edited by Terry Carr. Intro by Rudy Rucker. He still
keeps good company. He also includes thanks to Brian Eno, Robert Fripp,
Throbbing Gristle and Tangerine Dream “who supplied the soundtrack.”
Then an opening quote from a song by Tom Waits. Ok, so he knows a lot
of esoteric buzz-word bandnames..
(There’s a good bio of Kadrey by Rucker that goes into Kadre’s artistic
background, including his interests in surrealism and dadism.)

Ok, Ok, I’ll get on with the book review…

_Metrophage_, even though it borrows from the soon-to-be-overused
theme of central-character-is-a-smuggler-‘1 percenter’-run-afoul-of
huge-organizations, is surprisingly fresh and interesting. Kadrey
writes with a style that reflects a knowledge of street life, drugs,
W.S. Burroughs-genre-literature and a keen sense of political/social

There are some great lines and allusions in this book — from little
things to show off his intellegence/esoteric-ness (a band named
‘Taking Tiger Mountain’) to some good anarchist theory.

Our ‘hero’ is “…Johnny Qabbala, drug dealer, ex-Committee for Public
Health bounty hunter, and self confessed loser…”. How can you not
like him? Johnny’s well thought out and quite believable even though he’s
from an almost overused stereotype. He has faults, skills, and that
real sense of no-direction that I think everybody must experience at
times. His only desire seems to be to live again with his two
girlfrieds Sumimasen and Ice and to not do very much other than exist.
Well, we all know what happens to down-on-their luck drug dealers in
the near-cyberpunk-future who just want to be left alone, right?

Now the hard part. How do I review the book w/o giving away anything?

_Metrophage_ is about power and politics seen from the view of someone
that has a great dislike for anything remotely resembling any sort
of political goings on. Johnny seems almost uncapable of understanding
politics on any other level than ‘it sucks’. Ice, on the other hand, is
getting involved in nation-(world?)-wide revolution, while Sumi just exists…
It’s a book about politics, love, people and being insignifigant.

It’s also a showcase for Kadrey’s ability to write. From hearing
him speak and reading _Metrophage_ I get the feeling that Kadrey understands
surrealism on a level far above that of mere mortals. He can write
what others can only hope to see put on canvas by their own shaky,
skillless hands. I have the feeling that Kadrey could write about
high school basketball and make it almost this interesting.

Buy and read this book. In my opinion, it’s easily in the top
%2 of experimental science fiction, enjoying the company
of Gibson and Jeter. This is fiction that someone *not* into
science fiction could still enjoy — a quality that very little
science fiction has, or ever will have.

I have this eery feeling that somewhere out there, Richard Kadrey will
soon read this and either laugh at me or send me some sort of instant-death

(In case Kadrey’s out there… Remember Austin, Tx? The black-leather
jacketed skater sitting in the front row at your reading and your panel
upset because you picked on Houston? My friends and I heckled
Sterling and Shiner whenever they stopped talking long enough to make it
possible… I didn’t think you would remember… harf.)

“Occult symbols include … the ‘peace’ symbol and the Jewish ‘Star of David'”
— From the Back In Control Handbook
“$20,000 a year is a small price to not have to talk to our kids”
— Jello Biafra, commenting on the “Back in Control” program
Girls play with toys. Real women skate. — Powell Peralta ad
J. Eric Townsend ->uunet!nuchat!flatline!erict smail:511Parker#2,Hstn,Tx,77007


Facebook, contests, and privacy, oh my!

Filed under: Random and Pleasing — jet @ 22:25

Moogfest is a conference/concert where analog synth loving people like me can go to talks, build synths, and attend concerts by new, obscure, and legendary musicians who use Moog products. It’s a long, drawn-out conference worth a sentence too long by half!

Today I got email from moogfest about a contest for an iPad modified by TOKiMONSTA. Sure, a contest for a free iPad customized by an artist, who wouldn’t buy one of those tickets? (Honestly, I’d rather win a few hours in the studio with her teaching me her magic analog skills.)

So I go to enter the contest and learn I have to use a Facebook account to enter the contest. Ok, uh, sure? Wait. Who is this user “Recess” running the contest? Before entering the company I get an accept/decline that informs me:

Recess will receive the following info: your public profile, friend list, email address, News Feed, relationships, relationship interests, birthday, chat status, notes, work history, status updates, checkins, education history, events, groups, hometown, interests, current city, photos, religious and political views, videos, website, personal description and likes and your friends’ relationships, relationship interests, birthdays, chat statuses, notes, work histories, status updates, checkins, education histories, events, groups, hometowns, interests, current cities, photos, religious and political views, videos, websites, personal descriptions and likes.

Yeah, so, uh, NO. Imagine someone asking you to buy a raffle ticket for a $500 prize, but only selling you the ticket after you give them all that information.


Vacation project: put the little drill press on a big stand.

Filed under: Metalworking — jet @ 11:48

Well, “little” in that it weighs 500 pounds and not 1200 pounds like my CNC rig. A little sketching, some layout in Rhino5, then some welding. It’s not finished — it needs side panels and painting — but I’ll deal with that in the Spring after the snow has thawed.

The scale doesn’t show in the photo, but the base is about 32″ off the floor and the top of the drill press is over 6′ high. I’ll be bolting this frame to the floor before any serious use, I’m enough of a safety nerd to not want a 500 drill press toppling over in my shop.

Grizzly drill press stand


Disabling Finger / Touch Input on Windows 8, Lenovo X220 Tablet

Filed under: Random and Pleasing — jet @ 19:17

After upgrading to Windows 8 I discovered I could no longer disable touch input and keep pen/stylus input. The control panel option in many early versions of Windows 8 is missing in the release version, so there’s no obvious way to disable hand/touch input but keep the stylus input.

If you use the screen for drawing with a stylus, having your hand “help” you is not a feature, it’s a “I’m ready to sell this junk” annoyance.

Every guide I’ve found online contained instructions that didn’t work or instructions that would also remove the trackpad input.

A little hammering with brute force and I think I have a solution. I’m not sure how portable it is to systems other than Lenovo X220 Tablets running Windows 8, but it can’t hurt to try it and find out.

  1. Go into Settings, Control Panel, Device Manager
  2. In Device Manager, open the Human Interface Devices folder
  3. Look for “USB Input Device”. There are only two on my laptop, at the end of the list.
  4. Using the stylus, open one USB Input Device
  5. Open the Driver tab
  6. Click the “Disable” button, and answer the “are you sure?” questions
  7. Test touch the screen with your finger to see if you can move the device window. If you can’t move the window with your finger, next try with the stylus and then with the keyboard controls.
  8. If you disabled the correct one, close all the menus and move on. If you didn’t disable finger touch, re-enable the device, close the window, and try this with the other USB Input Device.


Public Notice: William Backfisch is using my business phone #

Filed under: Pittsburgh,Rants — jet @ 11:39

For several years now, I’ve been receiving calls from debt collectors and lease agencies on my business line for William Backfisch who lives in greater Pittsburgh. When I started searching online for “Backfisch” instead of “Backfish” I discovered that 412.243.0938 is a number being associated with his name on a variety of web sites.

That’s not his number, it’s been my office line for seven years. So please, really, stop calling me and ignoring the message on the answering machine and asking for William Backfisch.


When you learn a language too late

Filed under: Hacking,Random and Pleasing — jet @ 14:28

When I was a kid, I liked writing BASIC on the TRS-80 at school so much that we eventually got a C64 in the house. After that I took CS classes in colleges for fun (that is, “a minor”) and instead of going into the writing business as planned I went into the computer biz.

Twenty years in consumer electronics and a Master in Design later, I still like learning languages and new ways of thinking about computing. Last month I read the Erlang book out of curiosity and last year I started playing with machine learning using Mallet.

Through all manner of trickery I managed to avoid Python. Fixed column formatting like COBOL and Fortran? A mixture of English and symbols for logic? Typeless unless it’s not? An object-oriented scripting language that doesn’t have a two pass compiler so there’s no way to do forward references? Screw you, buddy, I’ll stick to PERL!

Then along comes Rhino 5.0 (an excellent package even in alpha) and their decision to replace Visual Basic (hack, spit) with Python so your scripts will run on both OSX and Windows installations.

Crap. I have to learn Python.

I made the mistake of starting with the Rhino tutorial, which is more of a tutorial on Rhino than a tutorial on Python. I asked my “pythoneer” friends what to read and pointed out some of my goals and favorite ways to learn. I also I had a few planes to ride, so I tried the electronic version of “Learn Python the Hard Way“. It’s an excellent book for someone who has never written a program but can be a bit of a tedious read if you’re fluent in C++ or Java and try to do all the exercises. (I did none of them. :-)

So by “too late”, I mean long after everyone else has learned it, and long after they’ve worked through all the dev problems related to moving a language up to 3.x over the space of 20 years. I’m making notes as I learn and asking some of the obligatory “why is this so stupid?” questions that come from people who either expect better or are just used to the ANSI problems in C++. (Trigraphs. Fucking trigraphs.)

I’ve written a few scripts in the past week and it feels very much like when I learned Lisp after learning C, “Interesting language, but what would I do with it?” Looking at tasks I’ll do in Rhino I think Python makes a lot of sense as the scripting language.

One place where I think it leads other languages is the class-based operations on lists and hashtables of objects. In the 3D world, your model is often nothing more than a list of (probably complex) objects, being able to write scripts that process these lists is a basic requirement.

One of my next 3D projects is to generate a model using code, and instead of OpenSCAD I can just rack a Python script and have it generate the model for me. Rather than send you the model, I can just send you the script and you can tweak it as needed then generate your model. If I decide it needs to be %5 larger to account for shrinkage, just tweak a variable in the script and run it again.

I guess reading about Erlang really was just for fun, I don’t think I’ll use it to write any model generators or filters any time soon.


fixing the blog

Filed under: Random and Pleasing — jet @ 15:28

Something got trashed in my WordPress configs, so I’m re-installing it from scratch. No malware/hackers/whatever, a simple case of my web editing software deciding to delete any file it didn’t think I actually needed.


MendelMax Update

Filed under: digifab,Mendel — jet @ 12:07

The build is almost finished, all I need to do is build the extruder and get host software running on my Mac or Wintel box.

Instead of doing the build (like I planned) I’m spending a lot of time sitting after knee surgery. I do a lot of my hacking/tinkering either standing or sitting on the floor, neither of which has been much of an option for the past few weeks. Deep knee bends (aka “catcher bends”) caused my knee to make a bad noise, the doctor agreed it was bad and to stop making that noise until surgery. Surgery probably fixed it, but now I have ~3 weeks of sitting and taking it easy on my knee.

I’m posting photos to flickr as I make progress.


“intro to el wire” class, this Saturday, 14 July

Filed under: Random and Pleasing — jet @ 09:16

We’ll cover:

— How EL-wire works
— How to solder the wire and assemble controllers
— Using EL-wire in clothing, signage and other projects
— Safety and design considerations

Each student will receive a starter kit with 2 meters of wire, an EL-wire controller, batteries and additional components. Additional lengths of EL-wire in a variety of colors will be available for purchase at the class.

More details, pictures, and video are on Hack Pittsburgh’s web site.

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