Solipsism Gradient

Rainer Brockerhoff’s blog

Browsing Posts published in October, 2003

examine self

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Betsy Devine asks “So, what do you look like, really?“:

I remember my mom, age 80, telling me, “I look in the mirror and I think, who’s that old woman?”

I don’t know what my mom’s “real” image really looked like. I do know the person who lives behind my eyes – she’s still somewhere in between 10 and 13. She’s somebody who lives happily in her body, but expects you mostly care about her ideas and her jokes.

By one of those synchronicities, last Saturday I attended a class reunion. About one-third of my 400 classmates from the ’73 engineering class attended; it seems they’ve been meeting every five years or so, but this was the first time I was invited… apparently they’d never thought to use Google before.

Except for a dozen or so that switched to work with computers, as I did, I’d never seen any of them again after graduation. I remember being the youngest in my class, so I shouldn’t have been surprised meeting a group of, let’s face it, middle-aged or even old men. (Only a handful of the 400 were women, and I think none of them attended.) Although some select few were easily recognizable except for gray hair and some extra wrinkles, looking at the name tags was mandatory. Most of them seemed resigned to that, and a few who sported obvious hairpieces or dye jobs had to endure quite a lot of ribbing. Nearly everybody recognized me immediately, which surprised me a little… I’d always tried to attend as few classes as possible and had very few friends.

Betsy’s post woke some memories about self-image. Here’s my official graduation photo on the left (I was 22, and for some reason took my glasses off for that photo), and my current appearance on the right, 30 years later:

At the class reunion, one of my elementary school colleagues commented that I always had seemed to be in my mid-twenties, even at that time; looking at the left-hand photo, I remember thinking at the time that I looked absurdly young. I grew a beard at 30 and after that I usually thought of myself as being around that age. The right-hand photo looks OK to me… it matches my current age of 34 (hexadecimal). 😉

If you’re wondering about the title of this post, it’s from the classic text-adventure Zork. There were simple verb-noun commands to interact with the environment. “Examine xyz” was the standard command to look more closely at something:

West of House

You are standing in an open field west of a white house. with a boarded front door.

There is a small mailbox here.

>examine mailbox

The small mailbox is closed.

>examine ground

There’s nothing special about the ground.

The authors slipped in a nice joke here:

>examine self

That’s difficult unless your eyes are prehensile.


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More than a touch of Tibet

After seeing The Kid on to her train at the end of our weekend, I needed music to ease the ache of goodbye and switched on the iPod.

This is a digital Tibetan prayer wheel with the prayer/mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” written in Tibetan script:

By the way, I tried writing this here in HTML-escaped Unicode:


(this is ༀམཎིཔདྨེཧཱུྃ༔, if you’re interested), but Safari and other browsers decompose the sub- and superscripts. Internet Explorer for the Mac just renders garbage. This forum software doesn’t currently support UTF-8, which I suppose would work correctly…

Update: UTF-8 doesn’t work either, although it makes the characters show up correctly in Safari’s “View Source” window.

Update 2: Everything works fine now in Safari 5.1. It’s been years since I checked this, of course (August 4th, 2011).

Anyway, the idea is that simply by downloading one of these images to your hard drive, the drive’s spinning will cause the prayer to be repeated and you will gain the appropriate blessings. Indeed, simply by viewing this on your browser it will be stored in the browser cache or virtual memory file and therefore spin several thousand times per minute.

Should a census researcher come to our house today, I would declare myself as a Buddhist – both because it’s true in a certain sense and to skew the results a little. I have read several books about Tibetan buddhism and have visited the Karmê Chöling meditation center in Vermont. I found that although their emphasis on tradition and ritual didn’t work well for me, it’s certainly beneficial for many people. I myself am more inclined towards the less formal Zen and Taoistic aspects of Buddhism.

There’s a very appropriate Zen saying that says, more or less, “in the hands of the wrong person, the right means will work in the wrong way”. In other words, the benefits of a digital prayer wheel will accrue only to those who already are aware of, and aligned with, the traditional Tibetan practices.

Should you be interested in Tibetan Buddhism I can highly recommend Chögyam Trungpa‘s books Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism and Transcending Madness, among others. (The Karmê Chöling center is led by Trungpa’s son, Sakyong Mipham.)

Thanks to Boing Boing and Caio’s 42 for the link.


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The Schockwellenreiter refers to Julian Dibbell‘s excellent text Portrait of the Blogger as a Young Man:

Because even if it’s true the vast majority of blogs would not be missed by more than a handful of people were the earth to open up and swallow them, and even if the best are still no substitute for the sustained attention of literary or journalistic works, it’s also true that sustained attention is not what Web logs are about anyway. At their most interesting they embody something that exceeds attention, and transforms it: They are constructed from and pay implicit tribute to a peculiarly contemporary sort of wonder.

A Web log really, then, is a Wunderkammer. That is to say, the genealogy of Web logs points not to the world of letters but to the early history of museums – to the “cabinet of wonders,” or Wunderkammer, that marked the scientific landscape of Renaissance modernity: a random collection of strange, compelling objects, typically compiled and owned by a learned, well-off gentleman. A set of ostrich feathers, a few rare shells, a South Pacific coral carving, a mummified mermaid – the Wunderkammer mingled fact and legend promiscuously, reflecting European civilization’s dazed and wondering attempts to assimilate the glut of physical data that science and exploration were then unleashing.

Just so, the Web log reflects our own attempts to assimilate the glut of immaterial data loosed upon us by the “discovery” of the networked world. And there are surely lessons for us in the parallel. For just as the cabinet of wonders took centuries to evolve into the more orderly, logically crystalline museum, so it may be a while before the chaos of the Web submits to any very tidy scheme of organization.

My opinion exactly – very much worth reading. Thanks for the link, Jörg!

Rainer Brockerhoff wrote:

The rumor sites say that Panther is heading for release before the end of the month, that the Golden Master release is already being duplicated, and even that work has already begun on 10.3.1

Apple just posted the news on their main page, October 24th is the official release day. There’s a neat counter showing how many days, hours, minutes and seconds are left; it imitates one of those mechanical clocks. Interesting how people feel this compulsion to imitate mechanical gadgets electronically…

Rainer Brockerhoff wrote:

It seems that I finally have achieved some sort of critical mass or energy to start working again on my software on a regular basis…

I noticed that this morning I was done with my news/RSS feed reading in less than an hour, and that I followed up much less links than usual. Apparently my usual news sites and weblogs are concentrating on stuff like California elections, Washington shenanigans, the baseball season and other regional/ethnic issues – it’s all even more opaque than usual. So… do I suddenly live in uninteresting times? icon_wink.gif

(This post will be cross-posted to the XRay support forum)

It seems that I finally have achieved some sort of critical mass or energy to start working again on my software on a regular basis. There were some false starts in the past, but this time actual progress is being made. I’ve already made serious progress in adapting XRay to Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther); nearly half of my bug list is done already.

The rumor sites say that Panther is heading for release before the end of the month, that the Golden Master release is already being duplicated, and even that work has already begun on 10.3.1. As I’m under NDA I can’t comment on that, or on specific features beyond what’s already published on Apple’s site. All I can say it everything works beautifully now, and it’s so fast that I was seriously inconvenienced when I had to go back to 10.2.x (Jaguar) for a few days…

For developers, porting any complex application to Panther may imply some reprogramming. There are many new APIs and resources in Cocoa, but to use these one has to write a Panther-only application. I’m already seriously tempted to axe 10.1.x support – in fact, 10.1.x users should for the near future continue to run XRay 1.0.5, as I no longer have any machine available that is capable of running 10.1.x! To complicate matters, new facilities to build applications that run on several versions – conditionally disabling features if run on older systems – don’t exist in 10.1.x and are somewhat primitive in 10.2.x.

The new GCC 3.3 compiler also brings some changes. Granted that one can keep using 3.1 (or even 2.97), but with a few restrictions. The new compiler generates better code and is more strict about some constructs.

Regarding XRay, I’ve reread all user e-mails I received this year and I’ll try to incorporate most reasonable suggestions. If you have suggestions, now is the time. I expect to release XRay 1.0.6 a week or so after Panther comes out – just to make sure that nothing broke with some last-minute change.

1.0.6 will be strictly a bug-fix and mandatory Panther-support release. Why? XRay was my first Cocoa application and now, going back to the code after nearly a year, I find that some parts were not as well written as they should be. I was concerned with getting stuff working and published, and made several design decisions and implementations which I now know to have been, shall we say, less than optimal. In particular, running 1.0.5 under Panther reveals some serious bugs and crashes which are due to my misunderstanding and faulty workaround of certain Cocoa specifications and limitations.

Progress from Jaguar to Panther means that several bugs seem to have been fixed on Apple’s side, though I don’t have any specifics yet. On the other hand, some hacks that I used to get certain features in Jaguar no longer work, so a few features will be unavoidably lost.

To a certain extent, Panther’s Finder has new capabilities that make some of XRay’s permission changing features redundant. XRay was always intended to be more a viewing tool – as you can tell from the name itself – the changing facility works only for certain attributes anyway. I think that rather than working hard to duplicate stuff built into the Finder, my time will be more profitably spent in writing new plug-ins and viewer facilities.

I have had many requests to build batch processing capabilities into XRay 1.1, and have made a few false starts on that. One deterrent are the aforementioned design decisions. XRay is built around a one-document-window-per-file paradigm and all its consequences regarding saving changes and so forth. The “Change enclosed items” is a limited batch facility for file permissions only, and strained the paradigm somewhat. Building batch processing into XRay would mean a whole new user interface, as well as a new plug-in interface, both designed for efficient changing (rather than viewing) of attributes.

Therefore, I regret to say that batch processing is not viable for implementation into XRay as it exists today. After releasing 1.0.6 and updating some of my other software for Panther I plan to start work on XRay 1.1, which will be a complete rewrite – practically from the ground up. This will be Panther-only and incorporate whatever I learned about writing Cocoa applications in the past two years.

In parallel, however, I’m planning to write a completely new application for batch file processing. Registered XRay users will not be forgotten, I assure. Details will be published as soon as possible…

A spike in my access statistics appeared for Monday (after Technorati delisted my site) – the number of visits increased a little, but byte volume and file count about doubled. Go figure. Back to our normal service…

I see from my link cosmos at Technorati that yesterday this weblog briefly made the Top 50 Interesting Recent Blogs list. It’s off the list again today…

There was no spike in my access statistics, nobody famous linked to my site, I didn’t publish anything controversial – or so I think. So it must have been something quantum. Or perhaps the coconuts? icon_lol.gif

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