Archive for October, 2009

Quote for the Week . . . and a Spammer’s Joke

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

From an article in The Wilson Quarterly, online here, comes this observation by Tyler Cowen:

“The measure of cultural literacy today is not whether you can ‘read’ all the symbols in a Rubens painting but whether you can operate an iPhone or other web-related technologies.”

. . .

In recent days this blog has received a spate of comments from spammers fronting for online “pharmacies” (if you know what I mean). Each message begins by recounting a joke (to lower your defenses?). I thought one of the jokes was good enough to repeat here.  It’s in the child-pleasing Q&A format and goes like this:

“What happens to illegally parked frogs?”

“They get toad away.”


Was the name “Misanthrope Lane” taken?

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

Driving through rural Maryland this afternoon, I saw a sign announcing two country roads, left and right, up ahead.


Sure enough, a hundred yards further along I came upon a turn-off.

.Goah Way - Maryland 10-11-09

So warned, I stuck to the main road.

Bubblewrap – the iPhone app

Saturday, October 10th, 2009



“Bubblewrap” is the name of an addictive game available as a free app down-loadable to the Apple iPhone. Video of how the 45-second game is played is available here.

I’m a fan.

During each game session a variety of sounds are heard.  There’s a “pop” as each bubble is tapped; a sucking sound when a deflated bubble decides to pump itself back up with air; a “crash” sound when you pop a rare bubble whose destruction is worth two points (“2X”) (there are no labels so you never know when this will happen); a bigger explosion when an even rarer “5X” bubble meets its demise; a “ticking” reminiscent of the theme of the “60 Minutes” TV program that starts when five seconds of play are left in the game; and a raucous clown-horn blurt that signals the game is ended. All in all a cool sonic landscape.  It keeps you coming back for more.

Also satisfying are the inadvertent rhythms that sometimes arise, especially when 2X and 5X bubbles explode in quick succession. Hearing a dah-dah-dah-DUH sequence toward the end of play is always welcome — it means your score just grew by 11 points and you may be fated to achieve a new high.  The goal, of course, is to get an ever-higher score.  (Isn’t that life-like?)

Speaking of life-like, playing Bubblewrap, like playing at a casino craps table or pulling a one-armed bandit, provides an opportunity to reflect on the fact that human psychology wants very much for non-living objects to be more like us. Especially is this so if we’re spending time interacting with a device in the hope of receiving something positive in return. (Are you listening, direction-giving lady navigator in my Prius?) If man is the measure of all things, wouldn’t it be nice if things really were more like us?  I suspect this desire is innate, part of our DNA.  If so, it suggests all human societies, however primitive, however temporarily misguided, will strive toward a Renaissance.  And that’s a good thing, no?

[Aside: Waxing philosophical made me think of wax paper.  Wax paper used to be a staple item in every home kitchen but now has disappeared. What happened? Is the answer as simple as two words, Saran Wrap?  A name whose final word leads me back to the subject at hand . . . .]

A useful technique when playing Bubblewrap is to use a three-finger (index, middle, ring) approach, dancing the finger pads across the field of bubbles.  After an initial sweep across the screen to pop all standing bubbles (which takes just a few seconds) you enter the re-inflation period when, one-by-one, each crumpled bubble does its Lazarus act.  During this major phase of play I find it best to enter into an intuitive mode, a Zen-like state, floating over the bubble field, in tune with Wayne Gretzky’s advice to skate to where the puck (or the refurbished bubbles) will be.

Though not of “world leadership” rank, I’ve done pretty well so far, if I do say so myself.  But have I hit a wall? —

.Bubblewrap high scores as of 10-10-2009


Introducing . . . Us?

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Launched in the early 1970’s, the Pioneer 10 and 11 interplanetary probes are now traveling through interstellar space. Attached to each spacecraft is a durable gold anodized aluminum plaque designed by astronomer Carl Sagan.  The plaques contain information designed to explain the origin and creators of the vehicles.  Explain to whom, you ask?  To alien civilizations out there somewhere. The markings that are sure to be most intriguing to them are line drawings depicting a pair of humans:

.pioneer_plaque 2


I thought of that plaque recently when I started to come across earth-bound vehicles, usually minivans, sporting decals that show humans in stick-figure fashion.  Here’s an example:

.Pictograph 1 Three Children


Just as with Pioneer 10 and 11, these markings are intended to convey a basic message: “Behold the animating forces behind this vehicle.” But — fearful thought — what if these decals survive for millennia, long after we’re gone? Won’t these drawings confuse the hell out of alien archaeologists who come to study the earth? Will they think they’ve come upon a planet once dominated by creatures lacking fingers, toes, and noses? Where most inhabitants were fond of decorated discs, and a few others wore belts of tree mushroom fungi?

As for the here and now, you can find a lively discussion over at the Mother Proof blog, where blogger Emily Hansen’s post (“Banish Stick Figure Decals!”) inspired an 18-month-long trail of comments, pro and con.  Anti-decal sentiment is strong.  This fad may fade.

Aliens will be grateful.

Tree Mushroom Fungi

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

A couple of years ago, in a short review of a slim book of poetry, Eric McHenry made this observation:

“American poetry — according to one of the many competing caricatures — is dominated by English professors and the minor epiphanies they have while walking their dogs.”

Walking my dog this evening I came across a “growth” attached to the base of a 70-year-old oak tree. Its peach color made my golden retriever look dull in comparison (sorry, Jesse) and its hue intensified as blue evening descended. An example of the power of complementary colors, this was a minor epiphany to my non-professorial American eyes.

Tree Fungus 1


Tree Fungus 3.

.  Tree Fungus 4