Solipsism Gradient

Rainer Brockerhoff’s blog

Browsing Posts published in October, 2003

A Hacker Emblem

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The AccordionGuy points at Eric S. Raymond‘s proposal of a Hacker Emblem (Thanks, Joey!). Here it is:

Eric’s also provided a FAQ and a link to his article How To Become a Hacker (recommended reading). Notice: “hacker” not “cracker”.

This is a great idea. Every older programmer probably recognizes this immediately as the “glider” from John Horton Conway‘s Game of Life. This was first published in Scientific American in 1970 and caused great interest in the formerly abstruse field of celullar automata. Hackers immediately became interested in the game, notably Bill Gosper at MIT, who soon published a small newsletter where he and other enthusiasts wrote about new patterns. The glider (and soon after, the “glider gun”) were built by Gosper.

I subscribed to the newsletter and tried to implement the game on the computers I had available; it would be 7 years before I had access to a computer with a graphic display (an Apple II) and printing out hundreds of meters of nearly completely blank paper occasionally peppered with asterisks was frowned upon the administrators of my university mainframe. Still, occasionally I return to the game… LifeLab seems to be a nice implementation for Mac OS X. It’s at version 4.2 at this writing.

XRay 1.0.6 is a bug-fix release for Panther. Please read the release notes for more details; I also commented on some XRay decisions in a previous post.

I had almost forgotten how much peripheral work is involved in releasing new versions of shareware. To ensure that I’d have time to kill some remaining bugs without interruptions, I accompanied my wife to a secluded Fazenda (farm), where she took an English immersion course while I hacked away at the code. No phones, no Internet connection, quiet, excellent food… almost ideal conditions. I took some nice pictures, too… more about that later.

Good Stuff

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I can’t quite recall how I got there, but Clifford Pickover‘s Reality Carnival is worth a visit. I’ve got several of Pickover’s books… highly recommended.

There are too many interesting links from Pickover’s pages to lilst here, but one of my favorites is Acme Klein Bottle (custom manifolds; industrial and post-industrial consulting). Be sure to check out their chinese spouting bowls.

Warning: time will behave strangely while you browse these pages. Be sure to warn your family that you may be unavailable for an indefinite period of time.


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Yesterday we went to a concert by a local group, Uakti (pronounced whak-tchee), at our local concert hall. Some of their albums are available over Amazon.

This particular concert was to launch their new CD, “Clássico” (no listing for that yet). The album was actually recorded in 1999 but only now it’s been made available. Despite their being based in my city of Belo Horizonte for 25 years this was the first time I managed to see them live. It was an extremely interesting experience. Uakti is a quartet: Marco Antônio Guimarães is the musical director and builds most of the instruments; Paulo Sérgio Santos plays strings, wind instruments and percussion; Artur Andrés Ribeiro plays flutes and percussion; Décio Ramos plays wind instruments and percussion.

This reminds me of the joke that alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, who played with the Dave Brubeck Quartet for many years, used to tell… he said that one day he’d write an autobiography called “How Many Of You Are There In The Quartet?”; that being, he claimed, the most frequent question from his fans. (Here are some more Paul Desmond quotes.) Anyway, since Marco Antônio Guimarães hasn’t played on stage with Uakti for over a decade, only three of the quartet members are usually visible.

Marco is very present, though, as composer, arranger, and constructor of the many dozens of unique instruments that the other Uakti members play. Double marimbas made of hardwood and plate glass are used prominently, as well as many weird contraptions made of PVC tubing, ranging in size from tiny compound flutes to groups of thick 2 meter-long pipes. They also use guitars with unconventional strings and tuning which are used as percussion instruments or stroked by cannibalized bicycle wheels, groups of electrical doorbells glued to boards, surgical tubing stretched over wooden resonators, and so forth. They also play conventional-looking drums, tablas and bongos, but they’re carefully finagled to be in tune with the other instruments. Artur (and sometimes Décio) also play flutes in various sizes, including bass and contrabass.

The music itself is very hard to categorize; it’s not New Age, nor is it really “World Music” (whatever that means). Some of the group’s performances show influences from Brazilian regional music, true. Yesterday they played an extended piece prominently using the modes and musical phrases of the Brazilian northeast; on the other hand, it was listed on the program as “Sonata KV331 in A Major” by Mozart. On other pieces, it’s often hard to list any overt influences. They may use percussion instruments to carry the melody and melodic instruments like the glass marimba to set up the rhythm, then switch this around suddenly. The only American group which sometimes sounds vaguely similar to them is Oregon, although I’m hard pressed to point out specific instances.

It’s a mystery to me why they’re comparatively unknown. It’s very difficult to find their albums here in their native city; most of the ones I have I bought in Canada and Europe. Here’s a long interview with Artur Andrés, and here’s a capsule review of the group.

In all, this is one of my favorite music groups. Very highly recommended. I’ll try to post some photos and album covers tomorrow…

Update: Fixed a mispasted link (to the instruments page).

Re: Uakti

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Here are some photos of Uakti, as I promised a couple of days ago.

Here are the four members of the trio: 😉

from the top left, Marco Antônio Guimarães, Paulo Sérgio Santos, Artur Andrés Ribeiro and Décio Ramos.

Here are some of the instruments built by Marco Antônio; this is the “Grande Pan”, which stands about waist-high; the 13 PVC tubes are hit with foam paddles.

This is the double glass marimba, which is played with several types of mallets, sometimes by two players at the same time:

This is the “Trilobyte”, each of the 10 PVC tubes has a calfskin drumhead, played with hands and fingers:

All these instruments do double duty as melody and percussion instruments. Refer to this Amazon page, many of the tracks have downloadable samples.

I was looking through my e-mail over the weekend. I’ve used Eudora since way back when. Now I’m on version 6.0 and the junk mail feature works quite well, there are only a few spam messages every day which slip through its filter… and it’s even rarer to have a legitimate message considered as spam.

Even so, I usually skip through the junk folder every day or so to see if something important slipped through… most of my correspondents know well enough that they shouldn’t send me HTML mail or .doc attachments, but sometimes they forget. This time, I found a message from somebody who shall remain nameless… the text (in Portuguese) said something like:

Hey Ima student at <Clueless University> and my prof told us to write about Massintoch Computer I hear your the great Masintosh guru here. Can you write me the HISTORI and about IMPORTANCE of Macintoch Computer and what does Appel mean anyway? I need 3 pages for tomorrow please this is IMPORTANT.


Well, I’m not famous enough to get more than a few of those every year, but this time it reminded me of a few other, much more famous, recipients of this sort of thing. The canonical page is, of course, the Titanium Cranium Awards page, written by John Walker, the guy who founded AutoDesk and wrote the first version of AutoCAD. Here’s a sample of what John has to put up with:

From clueless @ Thu Oct 26 00:58:50 1995

Subject: PICTURES?

Hi, I need some pictures Science, and you guys have the article but do you have the pictures to go with it! Please write me back today, if not even now to confirm this! This information is needed to me today, so please could write me back today, or RIGHT NOW-right now would help me a lot, if you guys could!


From clueless @ Thu Nov 16 12:38:39 1995

Subject: Cross country dividend – retained earnings comparitive survey

Dear Kevin:

I need data on dividend payments and retained earnings

relative net income for about 100- 500 corporations

listed on each of the major stock markets; London, New

York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Paris, ect.

Do you know if or where this kind of data might be

found on the web?

(John comments:)

I am deeply moved by your need, as well as your unwillingness to do your own research.

and, best of all:

From: clueless @

Subject: Help with regents project

Date: Sun, 11 May 1997 22:26:30 -0400

To whom this may concern:

Hi! My name is Moonflower Clueless. I would like to ask you a few

questions about constellations and their movements. I am doing

constellations for my earth science regents project. I chose to do the

constellation of Orion. I was wondering if you could answer or try to help

me understand constellations a little better, so here are some questions:

1) How do the stars move as the earth rotates and revolves?

2) What are stars and constellations made up of?

3) If the stars are always in the sky, than why can we only see them at night?

4) What does the magnitude of a star mean?

5) Are constellations grouped?

6) Are the constellations all the same age. If not, what are the youngest

and oldest?

7) How do you figure out how to measure the angle of Orion on your own sketches?

Thank you for reading my letter. I hope to see a response soon. I have one more

question? Can you try to get me some pictures and or data of Orion.


Moonflower Clueless

P.S. I would like a response A.S.A.P., please.

(John comments:)

If I do your homework, do I get your diploma?

By a coincidence, over the weekend I also was rereading Janis Ian‘s excellent website, and stumbled upon one of her articles I hadn’t seen before: Silly Questions to Artists. It seems that in-person questions can be even sillier than e-mail… here’s a sample:


Would you have dinner with me after the show so I can invite my school/family/friends to meet you? I don’t have any money, you’ll have to pay.

Would you come home with me after the show so I can introduce you to my family/see what you look like in regular clothes/sleep with you?

Why aren’t you more famous? I would be.

Did you watch our high school football game during the show?

Don’t you remember me? I met you after the show in Phoenix in 1978. I was in the front row.

How much is that fifteen dollar CD? (Usually said standing in front of the price sign.)

Can you lend me some money to buy your stuff, I’ll send you a check next month.

Could you send me a cassette of your last show so I can see if I want to go to one?

These are on my list of pages to reread when I need a laugh… icon_lol.gif

Great news from Nick Taliesin Barrett: “The Condition” has been diagnosed. It seems to be a variant of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, considered “the world’s most common functional gastrointestinal disorder”.

Let’s hope that the treatment will be successful. One of the interesting things about many disorders with a strong psychosomatic component (some would argue that nearly all disorders have such a component) is that both positive and negative factors have positive feedback. In other words, while stress will make the disorder much worse, thereby triggering a runaway cycle of more stress/more problems, appropriate therapy can be equally self-reinforcing.

Here’s the link I sent to Nick a week or so ago. My attention was triggered by the sentence:

Serotonin (5-HT) is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter and signaling molecule. Ninety-five percent of all serotonin is localized in the GI tract where it plays a key role in the motor, sensory and secretory functions of the gut. For some time, scientists have suspected that alterations in serotonin may contribute to abnormal conditions in the GI tract.

So that’s why we say “gut feeling”… icon_wink.gif

Dancing to the Music

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I’ve been busy writing up an article about Panther, to be released around October 25… after the NDA expires, of course. 😉

Meanwhile, today has been a busy day for Apple, with lots of new releases around the iTunes Music Store, now with Windows support, updates for the iPod, and lots of marketing brouhaha. I’ve downloaded all the new stuff already and everything seems to work very well. This should give Apple’s music store a good boost, nearly at the last possible minute.

There are two new iPod peripherals. The microphone has a small speaker but unfortunately no audio input; so, no built-in ripping yet. As it seems to use the iPod’s normal audio plug (plus the remote-control interface), there’s some hope of this coming out in the future. Possibly Apple is shying away from the possibility of letting the iPod rip audio directly – no telling what the RIAA would say about this, even if it wouldn’t have CD quality.

The media reader is more interesting; it reads 6 different types of media cards used in digital cameras and downloads the contents to the iPod. This means that taking an iPod along with the camera now allows one to capture a huge amount of high-quality pictures… tens of thousands, depending on resolution. It’s rather expensive, though, at US$99.

The iPod peripheral I’d like to see isn’t out yet; I want an in-dash amplifier with a built-in iPod dock. No radio necessary. Just let me slide the iPod in. Track forward/back, volume, and start/stop buttons. That’s it. I wonder whether my dislike of in-car radios are shared by enough Americans to make somebody put such a thing on the market. US$99 should be the right price point…

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