Saturday, March 29, 2008

Another Dan Lewis original

And another song changes from relentlessly dreary to somewhat bouncy.

I've had most of the words for this song for a couple of years. I played it once for friends and it didn't have a real chorus. The word "stranger" was used repeatedly, which was pointed out to me.

So I realized through the process of this recording that if you want to repeat a word a lot, it has to be in the chorus. Of interest, every verse still has a rhyme or near rhyme for "stranger". So you can kind of guess how it went.

In music as in writing, if your audience says something is wrong, they're right. However, the audience does not always know how to fix it. I don't remember where I picked up that little proverb, but it is so true.

I discovered the guitar solo sound by poking around on the pedal. It reminds me a little of Mark Knopfler's signature sound (of course, he has real guitars and real guitar pedals; if I had to guess, I'd say he was playing on a hollowbody, for one thing). You narrowly missed hearing a guitar sound that was like a car going past you: neeeerrrowm. Repeatedly. I thought it sounded violinish.

The song's not autobiographical. It's the story of one complete relationship, like the seven ages of man (but there are only four verses, I spared you). I enjoy writing songs where you say the same thing over and over again, but its meaning keeps changing. I find a similar delight in The Simpsons' postmodern humor. And here is the Jargon File on hacker humor, which really explains it all:

hacker humor

A distinctive style of shared intellectual humor found among hackers, having the following marked characteristics:

1. Fascination with form-vs.-content jokes, paradoxes, and humor having to do with confusion of metalevels (see meta). One way to make a hacker laugh: hold a red index card in front of him/her with “GREEN” written on it, or vice-versa (note, however, that this is funny only the first time).

2. Elaborate deadpan parodies of large intellectual constructs, such as specifications (see write-only memory), standards documents, language descriptions (see INTERCAL), and even entire scientific theories (see quantum bogodynamics, computron).

3. Jokes that involve screwily precise reasoning from bizarre, ludicrous, or just grossly counter-intuitive premises.

4. Fascination with puns and wordplay.

5. A fondness for apparently mindless humor with subversive currents of intelligence in it — for example, old Warner Brothers and Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons, the Marx brothers, the early B-52s, and Monty Python's Flying Circus. Humor that combines this trait with elements of high camp and slapstick is especially favored.

6. References to the symbol-object antinomies and associated ideas in Zen Buddhism and (less often) Taoism. See has the X nature, Discordianism, zen, ha ha only serious, koan.

See also filk, retrocomputing, and the Portrait of J. Random Hacker in Appendix B. If you have an itchy feeling that all six of these traits are really aspects of one thing that is incredibly difficult to talk about exactly, you are (a) correct and (b) responding like a hacker. These traits are also recognizable (though in a less marked form) throughout science-fiction fandom.

Oh, and it's called "Stranger For Your Love", obviously.

I just realized that the original hook, the reason for the song's existence, a cool sounding bass line, has vanished from the version I've got now... maybe if I had more friends to play music with? I wouldn't create these problems?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

More editors

So Emacs 22 got installed at work. I had a heady sense of power, during which I actually got real work done.

As it turned out, there are several chapters in Learning Gnu Emacs that are not important to me at this time, like the major mode for HTML, or Lisp programming (which I already know how to do). So I'm almost done with it. What I really have left to learn are the programming modes and the Emacs object model.

Dean tried to start a rainstorm on my parade. Hi Dean! I still remember getting up early for your C++ class. Good times. I think he's right. The best programmers don't care that much whether they work in vi or emacs. They probably spend the vast majority of their time thinking.

I heard a quote once that SQL was one of the only languages where you do more thinking than typing. I think it's true for me, but in every language I work in, not just SQL. I figure things out for a long time, then type as fast as possible (unless it's the night before something is due; then I just type). Sometimes I worry that I am not getting done all that I could be, if I were frenetic and focused enough to bang out enormous applications overnight.

I don't know if my emacs phase is just a novelty. I have enjoyed not leaving the environment to get all my work done. I don't really feel like I'm context switching to just go to the shell buffer. I feel a little like this was the way it's meant to be.

Lisp as an extension language is good in my book too. I still think Scheme and Common Lisp are probably the most amazing languages I have ever tried to understand, so I guess I am doing all this learning for a variety of mutually self-supporting reasons.

I know enough vi to get around in a pinch, so I don't feel qualified to boo and hiss at vi users. We have some great programmers using vi at my job, too.

But let's also say I am doing an experiment with this tool. I have a crush, we're on our first date. But do we really have a future together? Stay tuned.

New topic, I've been listening to Chris Thile's new band's new album. They are called the Punch Brothers and it is called Punch. (They did another excellent album called How To Grow a Woman From The Ground while Thile was still in Nickel Creek.) It is a chamber-classical-bluegrass album about love, Thile's divorce, and religion. The main music is a forty-minute bluegrass piece called The Blind Leaving The Blind. In four movements. They're all, individually and together, virtuoso players. I can barely wrap my head around it. If you are remotely interested from this description, plunk your dollars on the table (or the computer). They have a Myspace site if you want to hear something awesome first. Or Google videos.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Emacs, Unix, geeking out all over the place

This isn't very exciting to almost anyone, but after months of vacillating, I've finally taken the plunge into using GNU Emacs at work and at home.

My PC has been relegated to the dustbin of history, only turning on for music recording now (and that's only because I can't get the guitar pedal control program working). For me lately, Unix has been it at work and it at home.

What is GNU Emacs, you ask? Well, for you non-programmers out there, you might think of it, at first blush, as a very very very sophisticated version of Notepad. It is first a text editor. On the other hand, there is a joke about GNU Emacs: it's a nice operating system, not such a great text editor. This refers to the fact that Emacs is extensively programmable, and as such has become, over the years, a command shell (windows users, open cmd.exe), a software development tool, a program interpreter, a games platform, and pretty much anything you can think of and program. It even edits text.

Why is it so cool? Well, in the Unix world, there are basically two text editors: vi and emacs. They are fruitful, and multiply, and so there are vim and gvim and xemacs and so on. There are other options, like Nirvana Edit and Nano/Pico and such, but vi and emacs dominate the text editor landscape.

A lot of programmers I really respect use Emacs. One in particular, Steve Yegge, got me thinking when I read stuff like the following. Incidentally, if you're a computer programmer, you could do worse than read his two blogs. He has a somewhat unique perspective as an employee of first Amazon, then Google, not to mention the creator and maintainer of Wyvern, which can be described as a cross between Nethack and MUDs. In other words, whether you agree with all he says or not, he's brilliant. So listen:

Emacs is the world's best text editor. It's not just the best for editing program source; it's the best for any kind of text-editing. Mastering Emacs will make you more effective at writing and editing email, documentation drafts, blogs, HTML pages, XML files, and virtually everything else that requires any typing.


The original brilliant guys and gals here only allowed two languages in Amazon's hallowed source repository: C and Lisp.

Go figure.

They all used Emacs, of course. Hell, Eric Benson was one of the authors of XEmacs. All of the greatest engineers in the world use Emacs. The world-changer types. Not the great gal in the cube next to you. Not Fred, the amazing guy down the hall. I'm talking about the greatest software developers of our profession, the ones who changed the face of the industry. The James Goslings, the Donald Knuths, the Paul Grahams, the Jamie Zawinskis, the Eric Bensons. Real engineers use Emacs. You have to be way smart to use it well, and it makes you incredibly powerful if you can master it.


In the meantime, Emacs isn't going anywhere, and Emacs-Lisp isn't going anywhere, not for several decades at least, so it will benefit you to learn them deeply. It will never be obsolete knowledge. You might as well start learning it now, and reap the benefits now.

and finally, the quote that always gets me:

Old algorithms don't suck, unless perhaps you count Bubble Sort. Generally, the more tried-and-true an algorithm or data structure is (DFS, BFS, quicksort, binary search, hashing, etc.), the more confidence you have in it. Ideas are fundamental and timeless, but technologies are always replaced.

Lisp straddles the line between a fundamental idea and a technology — which is another reason it took me so long to settle on it. And in many ways I'm still unhappy with it. But I believe it's the best thing out there, and will continue to be so for (at least) my lifetime. (My bet on Emacs fifteen years ago is still paying off.)

I realized that I was standing at the cusp of a unique opportunity in my career: I could make a great bet, hardly risky at this point given three decades of history on this one. The bet would improve my productivity and understanding for years to come. So why not?

Something just got to me in the last couple of days. I decided to get out Learning Gnu Emacs, read the first few chapters, then just decided that it was time. I knew enough to be dangerous, and I'd look up things in the book when I found I wanted to do them. I got myself running at work, my shell in one window and my text in the split screen, and I really didn't look back.

I was practically getting shivers. It was exciting, to see things just working, to get my fingers used to messing around. There is a reason why you just start up Emacs and don't leave the environment for the rest of the day.

I asked our sysadmin to get Emacs 22, which came out more recently than what we had (Emacs 19 from 1997!), and then tried to build it from source myself. That was a little ambitious for Day One, it turned out. But Day Two should get it going smoothly.

This is one of those programmer rites of passage, like customizing your prompt and terminal. I'm sort of getting it at the same time that I really want to get Unix. On those lines, I also got Classic Shell Scripting so I can pursue another decades-old programming tradition.

I even got Linus Torvalds' biography from the library.

The only regret I have is that I'm putting learning operating systems and compilers on the shelf for a little while to get all this done. But I figure that learning the Unix Way first will be worth it. (For the Unix Way, see also Eric S Raymond's stuff: The Art of Unix Programming, How To Become A Hacker, The Unix and Internet Fundamentals HOWTO, and of course, The Cathedral and the Bazaar.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Poor man's guitar setup

So I didn't have much to do tonight, and I decided to take out the strings I bought a few weeks ago, change them out, and (gulp) raise the bridge without professional help.

I changed the strings and took more than hour to shim up my bridge, which it turns out has been too low, causing all kinds of fret buzz and unplayable notes.

The bridge is the piece of the guitar next to the start of the strings, near the bottom. It is a little wall the strings climb over on their trip up the neck. The point of the bridge is to keep the strings from being at the surface of the guitar, where they have no room to vibrate and jangle against the wood surface as they are played.

On the other hand, unless you are doing slide/dobro kinds of things, you don't want the action (the height of the strings above the neck) to be too high. A high action makes it difficult to press down a string on to the neck at a given fret, to produce the note you want, because you have to push harder. It makes it especially difficult to bend strings, which involves pressing down to play a note, then pulling the string sideways to slightly and smoothly increase the pitch. It is fun to do and turns your guitar from a discrete instrument into a continuous instrument, opening up some interesting possibilities.

They, where they equals the leading internet resources on setting up your guitar, want you to put in thin pieces of wood veneers, about 1/32 of an inch each, to adjust the bridge up just right, to get a nice low action without getting all that fret buzz.

I don't have wood veneers, but I was hoping to get some from underneath as I was casting around for an appropriate material, I lit upon the perfect poor man's wood veneer.

I want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Are you listening?


I have a bunch of crappy club cards in my wallet, for toy stores and Autozone and a bunch more. By carefully scissoring the long edge of the toy store card, then cutting to fit in the precise length of my bridge (insert an hour of experimenting and annoyance here), I've got it just about perfect.

The only problem was, my worst offending string, the high E, still had an annoying dead region starting about the 11th fret and extending for five steps or so. This is what we in the music business call a major buzzkill. So I turned to the trusty internet again, where I found a suggestion to stick a little material in between the bridge and the offending string, shimming it up still further.

And of course you know what happened next; I just happen
ed to have a debit card from Utah to cut up, and two pieces of it stacked end to end, jammed in between wire and plastic bridge now mar the appearance of my beloved guitar.

But they raised the string up so it plays perfectly (and so it's a little higher than the others, making me feel like I have an intelligent, custom setup), so it's worth looking a little silly.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Poking around

I've been poking around with the Mac, installing MySQL (a database management system) so I can get the Netflix data into the database. I also spent a good half hour figuring out you can use nice/renice to reprioritize processes, and use prepare/execute to speed up MySQL insertions, which is making the Perl script go a bit more smoothly on the 10 million insert statements I need to do to get the data into a table.

I also plugged my pedal into the Mac. I was a bit surprised to find that it was plug-and-play, zero configuration in Garage Band. I have been doing stuff in Audacity, but it's apparently the week to experiment.

If the "Music By Dan" player in the left column is not showing five songs by me, you can also go look at a static Google page with them here. An earlier commenter gave me the impression she couldn't see them.

On Vince's encouragement, I picked up some more Glenn Gould CDs from the library, along with Simon and Garfunkel's albums. Incidentally, their entire concert in Central Park is here. I also got Stephen Colbert's I Am America (And So Can You).

On the way home, I was listening to Kathy's Song and it got me thinking, here:

And so you see I have come to doubt
All that I once held as true
I stand alone without beliefs
The only truth I know is you

I don't think that I have beliefs exactly. Instead I have one big belief, or one big world of belief that I inhabit. The individual things that make up my world, it turns out, are all connected. They are supposed to hang together, and for the most part they do. They are not gas particles randomly colliding in Brownian fashion. Really they are more like a crystal, albeit with impurities.

I will try to get around to explaining this when I have a few more minutes. But what I want to say about it for now is that pursuing destructive proofs by contradiction (gotchas) of a crystalline belief is like pointing out impurities in a crystal. My wife's engagement ring has a diamond with such an impurity, but that doesn't make the diamond worthless, or make it structurally unsound. As a believing person I am not personally attached to x, y, or z flawed example belief. If you want to destroy a diamond, you have to use another diamond.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Adventures in media

I got my hands on a recording of Glenn Gould doing The Goldberg Variations. I love Bach's music, but I have not (yet) been trained to appreciate the theoretical delights of baroque music. I may get around to it. About the middle of the CD (track 16), there was one that was fast and surprising and crazy. It blew my mind. Normally I listen to albums all the way through, but that one earned a previous track.

I don't normally listen to rap, but I make a few exceptions, and now one of them is the Jurassic 5. I listened to the album FeedBack today. It was very entertaining. If I've interpreted the music and the liner notes correctly, it's a mostly Muslim hip-hop group that spends a good deal of time being upbeat and simultaneously deconstructing gangsta. They keep the swearing to a minimum for the most part, and they have an amazing sound and mind-expanding lyrics.

Unfortunately, they are breaking up (or already have). I first heard of them when another one of those crazy rap-salsa-activist bands that I love (Ozomatli) had Chali2na and Cut Chemist as guests on their self-titled album, way back in my undergraduate days. Once again, I am the last person to the party.

I cackled and howled at a movie tonight for the first time in a while. It was Mr. Bean's Holiday. Go see (rent) this movie immediately. Unlike the voyage to America ten years ago, which was a heart-warming family comedy, this was classic Mr. Bean in France, and it was dazzling. The plot makes as much sense as a Seinfeld episode. Mr. Bean wins a vacation in Cannes, and takes the long way around. I don't think I had a single dull moment. And if you know anything about France, it's that much more perfect. And I should mention that Willem Dafoe has a perfect, hilarious part as a self-important emo director with a film premiering at Cannes.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Out of sorts

I just wanted to thank everyone for their kind words and love. Sarah and I have appreciated you all.

I have been hard at work learning Bayesian networks and inference, in pursuit of the Netflix Prize. Tonight, I'm getting all the rating data in that database. I think I am writing my stuff in Perl. I am also considering getting it onto the PC so I can use Matlab, but that would take a new hard drive.

But other than that, I've been Daylight Savings Out Of Sorts. I slept pretty crappily last night.

I hope to get a little deeper into the saga of Alex as time goes on. Sarah and I have found a lot of misconceptions about autism out there. The most obvious is that Alex doesn't seem to be neurotic like Rainman or other celebrated cases. Instead, his diagnosis of autism comes down to a checklist in the DSM, and a few boxes like "not enough language for communication", "not enough pretend play", "does not attend to unfamiliar adult". There is a broad spectrum of disorder, from truly incommunicable sensibilities back up to where Alex is. I figure that telling Alex's story and our story can break a few stereotypes.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

My son has autism

Now that I have your attention, let me bring you up to speed.

Around Alex's second birthday, October 2006, Sarah and I decided to explore preschool for Alex. He had a number of symptoms, like speech delay, flapping hands, spinning stuff, repetitive behavior, low social interaction and communication. We got into an early childhood class where Alex got speech therapy and occupational therapy a couple of times per month, and preschool with other kids with similar issues two times per week.

I was finishing up my CS degree at the time and working on my thesis. If I thought about it at all, I basically believed that Alex was just behind, and time the great healer would catch him up.

Alex has always been smart, if a bit uncommunicative at times. He also clearly loves people and has the most fun interacting with us. These boded well to me, so I put the issues on the back burner.

As time went on, we saw Alex respond to his classroom and enjoy school. Sarah read more about autism, including some books. She read the fascinating Born On A Blue Day, the autobiography of an autistic savant. You can watch an hour-long video about this particular guy here. She also read Jenny McCarthy's book about her autistic son, got hooked up with an autistic parents' group, read another book... you get the idea.

We moved last July, and priority 1 was to get Alex into services. We found a nice team in our town who helped get him into preschool. His class is about 80% "norms" and 20% "others": the autistic and fragile-X and antisocial and non-talking children. For Alex, this is really valuable, to be with lots of kids, many of whom are active and talking on schedule. Also, there are a raft of specialized teachers doing speech therapy and special ed and occupational therapy along with the regular ones. Thank God, the school was right around the corner from our house so Sarah could walk him in the mornings while I was at work.

We also put him in an enormous queue for evaluation and diagnosis at a children's hospital. Depending on the results, we could get greater access to services, or perhaps find out that Alex was catching up quickly enough that no extra intervention was required. It took several months to get him in.

This morning, we finally took Alex in to meet with several doctors. They tested his abilities in various ways, exhausting the entire family with questionnaires and performances, and finally gave us the bad news. Alex is officially diagnosed with autism. Among other things, he now qualifies for specialized care, more subsidized therapies from the state, a Medicaid disability waiver, insurance claims, and so on. Sarah and I can have the opportunity to be trained to help Alex at home.

They also gave us the good news, which is that Alex seems to have normal cognitive abilities. He can speak phrases and understand a lot of things. He can do some things quickly, and, the doctors suspect, would have passed more tests if some fundamental issues with paying attention and following directions had been resolved before today.

What this means to me is that there is a well-developed child who wants to connect to the world around him. I almost said "trapped in a X's body", "struggling to get out", but these don't quite catch my meaning.

What I mean is, it is worth fighting to save my son, to give him a high-functioning, healthy life. It is crucial to do it now, it is worth my blood, sweat, and tears.

Normally, I like to be philosophical about things. It implies that you can take a step back, and that if you have a strong opinion, it's because you've considered a thing from many angles, seen it from the inside and the outside, understood the person or idea you disagree with at its strongest. I also think it means your attitude is intellectual, controlled, and cold. This is a strong attitude if you are looking for the truth.

I find it hard to be philosophical in this situation. The doctors failed to talk around the fact that they thought this was crushing bad news. Like that Simpsons episode where Homer runs into the statue and has his jaw wired shut. They give Marge a brochure on Homer's behalf: "So Your Life Is Ruined".

To me, this fatalism is so... fatal. Maybe I'm stupid, but I don't feel like I can responsibly wish reality away, or curl up into a little ball. I am resigned to the name they gave my son. But in the fight for your son's future, there's just no room for detachment.

Your support, your friendship, your prayers, your love. Any or all of the above will be precious to us, going forward.

P.S. I held this one for a little while so we could tell our families first. All this happened on Wednesday.

Monday, March 03, 2008

new mac, old mac

When Sarah got her dad's Mac, I was bequeathed with her old Mac, a G4 iMac. I have enjoyed putting it to good use. One thing I've had to do is start backing up her files off the computer so I can use the hard drive space for the Netflix prize contest.

This got me thinking about backups. I am using the poor man's backup, the DVD, but I would like to be able to easily back up my PC and Mac, preventing the destruction of about ten years' worth of personal data. A lot of it is crap like shareware I installed, but a good chunk of it is stuff that is creative, or personal history, or both.

I think I need to look into off-site backups for this data. If anyone has a reliable option, please let me know.

Meanwhile, I am rereading my machine learning texts, trying to get back to where I was a year or so ago, in the thick of graduate school, just coming off a data mining course.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Lawrence of Arabia

I was a little under the weather today, so I devoted four hours or so to David Lean's epic, Lawrence of Arabia. It was on TCM, so thankfully proceeded without commercials.

I hadn't seen it for about ten years, since Mr. Lien put it on in history class in high school. I was curious about which parts I remembered and which I didn't.

One thing that really stuck out to me this time was Lawrence's tightrope walk between a sense of purpose and mission for the Arab people and messianic delusions of grandeur. He had the same lessons over and over again about power and mercy, and continued to swing the pendulum back and forth. He resigns his commission, then is flattered into returning to war. He is depressed and shaken by killing, then slaughtering the infidel with fervor. For all his hardness and sense of destiny, he ends the movie a very broken person.

I think that a thing I tend to do when I'm watching movies is to appropriate the identity of the main character. I like good guys and bad guys like anyone else, but it goes deeper than that. I tend to see the action from their point of view. Thus, my high school view of the movie saw Lawrence as a somewhat one-dimensional hero figure, doing what it takes to carry the banner of civilization. This time around, I felt the irony and had much more mixed feelings about Lawrence.

Does Lawrence go native, or is he a colonialist in tribal clothing? I definitely think he lost the plot along the way. His final great act was the slaughter of defenseless people. His friend, Sherif Ali, throws the words Lawrence said the first time they met, about the barbarity of the Arab people, back in his face.

So has Lawrence finally been mastered by the desert he loved, assimilating, or is he finally showing his true foreignness? Certainly Lawrence's psychotic response can't be separated from his torture at the hands of the Turks. The epilogue with Prince Faisal and General Allenby suggests that he was being manipulated into his crusade, along with the sidewise remarks about what happened to Lawrence when he met the English general.

The score is epic and the theme is classic, but one thing I noticed was that the levels went from soft to loud pretty quickly. A modern movie might take more care to balance things toward the middle. Also, that theme is used over and over again, inevitably.

The cast is incredible. I was not aware that Obi-Wan Kenobi was in this movie, or Mr. "Round up the usual suspects" Claude Rains. Jose Ferrer, Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif, and on and on. And of course, Peter O'Toole was awesome. One striking absence is any significant female role.

Finally, during the intermission, the word "entr'acte", which is French for "intermission", was spelled "entre'e acte". This is probably the stupidest misspelling of French I have ever seen.

When you have a good solid block of time, hie thee to the video store and check it out. Incidentally, our nearby video store is closing. I advise that you go see a real live video store before they all become Blockbuster, and then they all disappear.

A tale of two cities

Yesterday, the family went to the city park, a large area with the Denver Nature & Science Museum, a planetarium, the Denver Zoo, and a couple of tiny lakes. It was balmy and breezy, mid-70s. We took pictures and enjoyed the geese after wandering through some incredibly busy parking lots looking for a spot.

Today, we have a couple of inches of snow and more on the way.

Sarah will put up pictures sooner or later.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Same Mistakes

Another song is up, in the Music by Dan sidebar to the left. If someone cannot access these songs, please let me know. I have been hosting them on a account, which I would not expect to cause any problems.

I seem to be able to do about one recording per night, but of course my nights are not always free.

This song is by Jon Brion, an amazing musician. He does a lot of film scores nowadays, including I Heart Huckabees and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is how I first heard his name. He also produced Fiona Apple's "Extraordinary Machine" album, along with Kanye West's "No Registration". On top of that, he has a standing gig at Largo, acoustic club par excellence.

It's my third crack at the song (and there were about fifteen takes on the bridge vocal). Be glad the first ones are not on the internet. I don't know why I love this song so much. I think I like how it sneaks up on you. I like how the chorus is always the same but is constantly changing interpretation. I like the power of memory, the remorse, the chance to start again, the conflicting emotions.

The main guitar effect is distortion, but pretty clean unless I play just loud enough to break into fuzzy. I saved the settings for further study. The clean sound is just a little chorus. Not much to it really. I was a little surprised that I could play it high as a little lead and low as a little bass. This guitar effects pedal is so cool.

Overall, I think this song sounds a little fuller and better than the other ones. Also, it's louder. I need to consider going back to balance volume levels for all the songs in the player. Or just make enough songs that the old ones kind of fall off the bottom ("retire").

I am getting up to speed on the Netflix prize. The idea is to improve on the Netflix movie recommendation engine. You're basically given ratings for 17000+ movies by about half a million Netflix users, then told to predict their ratings for other movies. First prize is ONE MILLION DOLLARS. Yearly prizes of $50000 for the current leader.

There are many other people kicking around ideas. I think I will do it as a hobby at first, then slowly become obsessed with it. It is machine learning and data mining, and I have been trained to hack my way through such jungles.

I am two-thirds of the way up Mt. Baroque Cycle. The Confusion was, once again, well worth all 800 hardback pages. It is made for people like me (hackers who like history, science, romance, and tales of derring-do). Not for kids, but it is for you. The last volume is The System of the World. I'm starting it tonight.