27 Nov 2003


Remember that tomorrow is International Buy Nothing Day. If you have been getting fed up with how consumerist our society has become, join this protest by... not buying anything. That's it! All you have to do is purchase nothing tomorrow (Friday, day after Thanksgiving). Yes, we know that's when the stores put some of the sales. If you don't agree with the premise, fine, but don't you dare tell me "I'd participate except that it's inconvenient".

In any case, happy Thanksgiving!

"I don't feel quite as cute as i used to be, but ah well, we all become hairy old men, even women." --Christopher Baldwin

Posted by blahedo at 11:41am | Comments (1)

26 Nov 2003


After two days of not leaving my apartment in order to finish grading exams, I just turned in grades and sent out a last email to the class. CS141 is DONE. Now back home to watch sweet, nourishing Adult Swim, knit, and get a good night's sleep before driving up to the city tomorrow.

"I may---and don't hold me to this---shout 'Woo'." --Tycho

Posted by blahedo at 9:39pm | Comments (0)

Grading, day 3

Six problems done, two to go. Sort of three, because the last problem was a big two-parter. Looks like I won't get home tonight, meaning that I get to brave the Thanksgiving traffic tomorrow morning. At least I'll be cross-commuting.

I try not to have mandatory reading too often, and I know I had that article on Wal-Mart a few days ago, but this is important too: ``War on Dissent'' is an article in yesterday's Globe and Mail, a major (some would say the major) newspaper in Canada. Other media outlets are reporting on Miami completely from the perspective of the police.

"The X-Files poses a mystery and offers two rival kinds of explanation, the rational theory and the paranormal theory. And, week after week, the rational explanation loses.... Imagine a crime series in which, every week, there is a white suspect and a black suspect. And every week, lo and behold, the black one turns out to have done it. Unpardonable, of course. And my point is that you could not defend it by saying: 'But it's only fiction, only entertainment.'" --Richard Dawkins

Posted by blahedo at 11:53am | Comments (0)

25 Nov 2003


I was just downright inspired for dinner tonight. In one pan, I set a bit of oil to heating, and dumped in a small complement of tater tots (ten or so), and in another I set some butter to melting, and dumped in some of the veggies I've frozen in the last few days. Simple, right? But then, as the taters started to fry, I had an idea and cut a few thin slices of the onion dill bread I bought Sunday, and put them in with the taters. Then, I added some concentrated chicken broth to the veggies, along with some wondra and then, after that started to bubble again, a touch of soymilk.

So I had cream-of-mixed-veggie soup, fried bread, and tater tots. The bread was able to soak up the soup while remaining crunchy. The soup itself had just the faintest of soy flavours enhancing the mix. All in all, an excellent dinner, and boy howdy was it ever fast. I'll have to remember this one.

Other stuff update: two more loads of laundry done (up to 3 of 5); one more problem graded (up to 3 of 8).

"Maybe this summer I'll get some balls and put on a skirt." --Zach Miller

Posted by blahedo at 6:30pm | Comments (2)


I've got two problems graded.

...and one load of laundry done, two in the pipeline, my socks washed, the dishes done, and notesfiles sequenced. Back to work!

"People are out there screwing with your realities every day. You can say that if we just "abide by the law" no one will bother us. But one day you might wake up and find that someone out there wrote a lot of laws you don't want to abide by." --Brian Thurber

Posted by blahedo at 2:05pm | Comments (0)


How can I procrastinate?

Well, discovering Adult Swim was an excellent start. Scott Harris commented that it was good to see animation finally come into its own; he's exactly right. This stuff is great. It's a mix in equal parts of dubbed anime, rerun American animation, and original projects.

On a related note, although I disapprove of SUVs on general principle (except in those exceedingly rare cases where they actually are the right tool for the job), I have to say that I enjoy the Dodge Durango commercials immensely.

"Men don't automatically get homemakers who tend to their kids' every need when their sperm finds fertile women. I don't think that women should get fat paychecks for their children simply because a sperm fertilizes their egg." --Christie Babinski

Posted by blahedo at 12:07am | Comments (1)

24 Nov 2003

Exam's in

Now to hunker down and grade the thing. *sigh*

"Well, yeah. Dilbert is Cathy for self-loathing tech workers." --Casey Westerman

Posted by blahedo at 4:45pm | Comments (0)

23 Nov 2003


Acceptable pre-Thanksgiving outdoor lighting:

  • year-round floodlights
  • white strands of lights on bare deciduous trees in commercial districts

Unacceptable pre-Thanksgiving:

  • icicle lights
  • lights on evergreens
  • lights in the form of a star, a cross, or any message
  • any coloured lights

I know you want to put out your Christmas decorations, but WAIT UNTIL THANKSGIVING, PEOPLE. Sheesh.

"I've recently started using a Mac (where right click is actually Ctrl click) and now I have to put my coffee down to create an object. This is a serious problem, obviously." --Sebastian Hunt

Posted by blahedo at 1:32pm | Comments (5)

22 Nov 2003


There's an awesome yarn shop here in Champaign! Ooh, I should back up. Yesterday, I mentioned on the notesfiles that I was thinking about coming down to Champaign-Urbana for the weekend, if anything was happening; Kim pushed just the right button by offering to make a sushi run. So I drove down last night.

Before I left, I checked on the net to see if there were any yarn shops in Champaign, hoping to make use of the trip to stock up. Sure enough, there was, although it was originally an embroidery shop that added yarn and knitting stuff just a couple of years ago, so I didn't have great hopes. But it's awesome! Just the yarn portion alone is one of the larger yarn shops I've seen. And there were, like, eight people sitting around knitting and chatting while I was there, encouraging me to sit down and knit with them. They're there every Saturday, from open to close! (UPDATE: a link to their site.)

No sleeping in for me when I visit Champaign in the future---I'll get up and head over to the yarn shop for the morning. :)

"DECAF!? Are you trying to kill me??" --Cecilia, Piled Higher and Deeper

Posted by blahedo at 8:33pm | Comments (0)

21 Nov 2003

Quotes from CS141

I never really thought of myself as particularly witty or quotable (for all that I love taking down quotes from other people), but a couple of my students disagreed---they wrote down funny stuff I said all term and one of them presented it to me at the end of the term. I'm glad I was such a bright spot in her day. ;) Read on for the actual quotes.

"When you are looking to someone else for help, that does not necessarily rule out yourself. Wow, that's like a social message or something." -- D. Blaheta

"We're not lazy in this class. Except when we are." -- D. Blaheta

"Fortunately, I didn't say 'Write something that makes sense.'" -- D. Blaheta

"And why are we making this private?" -- D. Blaheta
"Because it has to do with money!" --D. Porter
"Or not..." --D. Blaheta

"And then there were some other examples of... creative instruction following." --D. Blaheta

"You don't have to whisper. I AM trying to elicit a response. Prefer you'd not yell, but right now I'd take anything." --D. Blaheta

"Meef! Foo!" --D. Blaheta

"Constructors are methods. They're just... special." --D. Blaheta

"And that worked! ... less well than I had hoped..." -- D. Blaheta

"Syntactic sugar? Did he just say syntactic sugar? Yes he did!" -- D. Blaheta

"No, I swear, it is a technical term." -- D. Blaheta

"Can I put it in my tea?" -- D. Porter
"Your syntactical tea." -- L. Barrett
"I- I- really don't have a better response than that." -- D. Blaheta

"Some colours of chalk squeal. Others don't. Green is bad!" -- D. Blaheta

"The stick people. That was the start of the badness." -- D. Blaheta

"This is not actually all that interesting. Well... whatever." -- D. Blaheta

"There's sometimes repetition in this class. But only if it's good for you." -- D. Blaheta

"Okay we can name the method god. Now, how does god make different types of people? No, I'm sorry, I have to rename this method." --D. Blaheta

"I started to write this and then I realized how it would turn out. That was pleasing to me." -- D. Blaheta

"Why?" --D. Blaheta
"Because you would." --J. Budds
"That's always a good answer." -- D. Blaheta

"Super is actually even more special than this." --D. Blaheta

"We also have to do something with this variable. But that's just not interesting anymore." -- D. Blaheta

"You forgot your void." -- J. Weinstein

"So once again, we return to the principle of laziness." -- D. Blaheta

"Let's actually do a helpful example." -- D. Blaheta

"It's name's fi- whoops!" -- D. Blaheta

"Okay, now we have a reset button... duhn duh duhn duhn!" -- D. Blaheta

"It could be transparent orange or transparent white. I don't know. I can't tell!" -- D. Blaheta

"You wrote them all as base, not as sides." -- J. Weinstein
"That's because all your base are belong to setColor." -- L. Barrett

"You just like messing with our heads!" --D. Porter
"I really do! It's one of the perks of this job." -- D. Blaheta

"There are rectangles out there that are OrangeGreenBoxes, namely the OrangeGreenBoxes. But there are also rectangles that are not OrangeGreenBoxes." --D. Blaheta

"If it did that, we'd get into an infinite thing." -- D. Blaheta

"Hey calculator, someone pressed a button <scary eyebrow raise> I'm not gonna tell you what it was!" -- D. Blaheta

"I'm going to wait until you're all done writing that, cause I'm not going to have your attention till then." --D. Blaheta

"Yes! Exactly the same! And you know what that means: helper methods! Now you've hit one of my buttons! Right?" -- D. Blaheta

"If I press '123' what will it be?" --D. Blaheta
"Dr. Seuss." --D. Porter
"Right! Haha! Wait, what? I didn't even get that?" -- D. Blaheta

"Coloured chalk is certainly the highlight of my day!" -- D. Blaheta

"I have two reactions to that 'Oh is that all?' and 'Oh is that all?'" -- D. Blaheta

"This is very interesting. Well, sort of interesting." -- D. Blaheta

"Judging by your faces, that is... clear as mud..." -- D. Blaheta

"Yeah I know. I'm so fickle." -- D. Blaheta

"I'm a plus sign!" -- D. Blaheta

"Equals is not just a string thing." -- D. Blaheta

"Yeah, I know, I lead you into all of these traps." -- D. Blaheta

"This is a nonsense class." -- D. Blaheta

"What do you put in u?" -- D. Blaheta

"I hate you ALL." -- D. Blaheta

"If you don't stop saying that, I'm going to turn so red I'll look like a tomato." --L. Barrett
<Holding up a piece of red chalk> "Or an object!!!" --D. Blaheta

<With a sing-song voice> "I'm lazier than you are!" -- D. Blaheta

"You might have a hard time in the forthcoming... stuff." -- D. Blaheta

"Curse you and your mind games!" --D. Porter

"For now we are assuming this doesn't exist 'cause... it's hard." -- D. Blaheta

"Those is the test cases." -- D. Blaheta

"I heart while isFruity true." -- D. Porter

"Clobber, by the way, is a technical term." -- D. Blaheta
"About as technical as 'bang'." -- D. Porter

"Dooby dooby do while loops." -- D. Porter

"It's useful, but I don't have time for it." -- D. Blaheta

"Well, I could just be being mean, but not this time." -- D. Blaheta

"That's complicated, I don't wanna do that." -- D. Blaheta

"If it does equals the obj <obj pronounced phonetically>." -- D. Blaheta

"I really have no motivation to introduce this, but this seems like the best place for it." -- D. Blaheta

"We can talk about this again when we get to the other side of the board." -- D. Blaheta

"If z does not equal q, then something has gone horribly, horribly wrong." -- D. Blaheta

"I was racking my brain to come up with a useful example and I couldn't." -- D. Blaheta

"Get your iterative juices flowing!" -- D. Blaheta

<pointing at board> "That hurts." -- D. Porter
"You'd better believe it!" -- D. Blaheta

"How am I going to write this while loop?" -- D. Blaheta
"Very carefully." --D. Porter
"With chalk" -- J. Budds
"Both good answers, but inadequate." -- D. Blaheta

"Approximately i-ish to the twoth." -- D. Blaheta

"You could have an array of lists. You could have an array of arrays. You could get totally out of control." -- D. Blaheta

"Other languages will just silently do something bizarre." -- D. Blaheta

"I have you guys so well trained." -- D. Blaheta

"So, new... what am I doing?" -- D. Blaheta

"Computer dorks come up with the best terminology!" -- D. Blaheta

"Stuff. That's a technical term. No it's not." -- D. Blaheta

"I'm very offended by that, and I am not going to let you compile." -- D. Blaheta

"Seriously, this is the first time I've done this, so be brutally honest." -- D. Blaheta

Posted by blahedo at 12:25pm | Comments (3)

20 Nov 2003

On the telephone

Just as I was typing that title, I got this thought of those words being sung to "On the road again". I'll have to work on that one.

Anyway, I discovered that once I've overcome my aversion to making phone calls once, it's easier, so I just got a batch of them done. Among other things, I've arranged renter's insurance (finally!) and scheduled a doctor's appointment for right after Thanksgiving. Whew.

"Americans were sold on a short, sharp war with a short, cheap occupation based on a massive threat to US security. They got one of the three, and they may demand that they get the second due to the lack of the third." --Michael Kimmitt

Posted by blahedo at 2:15pm | Comments (2)

19 Nov 2003

Last class

That's it! Done with my first class. Well, except for the grading of the final, which will happen Monday-Wednesday of next week.

Two of my students presented me with a compilation of memorable quotes from the class. It's the coolest thing! I sound so clever (when you only look at the distilled witticism of a whole ten-week term). :) Londyn's going to send me a copy, which I'll post here for your reading enjoyment.

"The only similarity I see between Christ and Neo is that they should have both fired ther scriptwriters." --Theo O'Neal

Posted by blahedo at 4:01pm | Comments (0)

18 Nov 2003

More required reading

Read this article.

I've mentioned before that Wal-Mart is evil. E-V-I-L. What part of that did you not understand? Why do you still shop there? Same goes for Sam's. DO NOT BUY THINGS FROM THESE STORES.

On Matrix Revolutions: "It ceased to be about an epic struggle to free the human mind, and became a movie about how CGI graphics still can't simulate believable inertia when animating bipedal robot weapons platforms." --Paul Hebble

Posted by blahedo at 5:25pm | Comments (2)

16 Nov 2003

Movie, Dance, & D&D

Another weekend in Galesburg. Friday night I went to the screening of Ma vie en rose by Common Ground (only four people showed :P), an excellent show.

Saturday I slept in, for the first time in ages, then I puttered around all afternoon and went to the dance performance at 7. It was a little too modern for my tastes, but reasonably well executed for what it was trying to do. The leader of the dance company, Margi Cole, was without a question the best of them (of course), and fun to watch. Her solos really made the performance. The student piece was good as well, and I actually thought the part that they had choreographed themselves was better than the pre-existing portion of the piece.

Today I went to Mass at St Pat's and then came back and gamed all day. Except for an hour-and-a-half interlude where I went off and taught my ballroom class. A fairly lazy day, overall.

Note what wasn't in there? Grading. Writing my exam. I really need to get to that....

"If I were tied down and tickled until I had to choose...damn. I really don't know." --Michael Kimmitt

Posted by blahedo at 11:04pm | Comments (0)

14 Nov 2003

Good thing I didn't take long

When I was getting my thesis signed up in Boston, I quite accidentally found the closest possible parking spot to Michael's condo. Of course, it wasn't a legal parking spot, because those just aren't available in that area.

I was just reading a random article about Sen. Kerry that mentioned he lived in an area of Beacon Hill called "Louisburg Square"; some further details rung a bell, and I did a little research. It's the ritziest address in Boston, and it's exactly where I parked my car. So I was illegally parked in one of the twenty or so most expensive parking spots in New England, quite possibly the very one owned by the Senator himself. I feel special.

"As a recognized guru of dead horse abuse, I gotta say y'all are beating a big one." --Jonathan Prykop

Posted by blahedo at 12:02am | Comments (0)

13 Nov 2003

Boys don't cry

I just saw Boys Don't Cry. What a difficult movie to watch, especially knowing the ending. Good, though. I recommend it (though not if you're already depressed, and probably not last thing at night...)

"School boards call it No School Board Left Standing; the teachers just call it No Behind Left." --Howard Dean

Posted by blahedo at 9:43pm | Comments (0)

Canned debate

Last week, there was a Rock the Vote forum for the Dems to debate in front of a young audience. About a third of the way down, a fairly inane question was asked by a freshman at Brown: "Macs or PCs?"

The general public rolled its eyes, and the debate went on. But back at Brown, a lot of people started dissing her for making Brown look bad with such an inane question. The Friday editorial that week gave out "diamonds and coal", as it does every week, and this time the "Macs or PCs girl" got coal for her lame question.

Responding to all this, she wrote a guest column in the BDH saying that it wasn't her question---CNN had asked her to ask it, and when she reworked it into a better question involving the use of technology, they still made her use their version; hers was, apparently, not "lighthearted" enough for the 18-31 demographic.

I think we all deep-down knew that there was some amount of scripting in these things, but to be slapped with it like this was something of a shock. And "lighthearted"? What the fuck? We're the ones who are going to have to pay off the government's debt---and that was even true back when we were just worried about social security and medicare, nevermind the current fiscal debacle. That's not very lighthearted, and I really resent CNN deciding that we're not serious enough to actually discuss real issues.

Anyway, this column got a lot of responses, both as website comments and in this editorial and this letter, and no doubt more to come. But even better, the media are picking it up. CNN itself apologised, of course, though it claims it was an isolated incident. We'll see.

"Well, I don't think the leader of North Korea is such a fine fellow either, but I don't think our foreign policy should be based on the petulance of our president." --Howard Dean

Posted by blahedo at 12:55am | Comments (0)

12 Nov 2003

Matrix notes

The West, a theatre downtown, is closing tomorrow night (a new 8-plex just got built on north Henderson), and I wanted to go see something there before it closed; so I went to see Matrix III tonight. The theatre was nice, if a bit old-fashioned (i.e. not stadium); it'd be nice if someone bought the place and kept at least one of the screens as an art house/second-run theatre, but we'll see.

As for the movie. Bleah. I guess I'm glad I saw it, because it closed off the trilogy, but good grief. Where the first two played off classic archetypes, this one dredged up tired clichés. I lost track of just how many lines I predicted in advance. My eyeballs hurt from rolling them so much. Having made excellent use of new(ish) fight scene techniques in the first one, and then outdone themselves in the second, they were placed in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between "less impressive" and "ridiculous" for this one---they clearly chose the latter. Overall, I wouldn't say it sucked, but it was sort of lame, and worth waiting and renting it. The advantage of this plan is that you can watch it with a bunch of friends and MST3K the heck out of it, which would be fun (if easy). I do have to say, though, they did a great job recasting the Oracle and just handling that whole situation in general, and the guy that played Bane got the Agent Smith impersonation down cold.

"Even the Costa Ricans have health insurance for their people, and we should too." --Howard Dean

Posted by blahedo at 9:32pm | Comments (0)

11 Nov 2003


I just got back from Burlington, IA, where I saw Howard Dean speak. I shook his hand! Nothing really new, but the venue was nice and small; there were perhaps 150 people there. The three of us from Knox were sitting on the floor front and centre. A reporter interviewed us after, and Stef said she was from the Boston Globe, so we'll see if I'm gonna be quoted. :)

"Borrow and spend, borrow and spend---this is the credit card presidency!" --Howard Dean

Posted by blahedo at 5:33pm | Comments (2)

More Israel idiocy

Israel is now claiming that the Great Wall of Palestine does not bring hardship to the Palestinians, because "it will have gates so Palestinians can get to and from their homes."

The ghettoes had gates, too.

I mean, seriously, do they not see the parallels? For all that they will "never forget", they seem to have a pretty selective memory.

"The Palestinians will never have a state until the Israelis feel secure, and the Israelis will not feel secure until the Palestinians have a state." --Senator George Mitchell

Posted by blahedo at 12:43pm | Comments (0)

10 Nov 2003

West Wing redeems itself

I finally got around to watching last Wednesday's West Wing. I had been complaining that it wasn't its old self lately, too slow paced and just kind of "enh". Well, the ending to this last episode blew me away. Without spoiling anything, I'll just say that CJ's speech was awesome (she should so get the supporting actress Emmy), and then that bit at the end with Donna---there's a silver lining (both for Josh and for the viewers) that makes this whole Idaho flap worth it, and reminded me of why I started watching the show. As Toby has been fond of pointing out lately, they've gotten off-message; here's their chance!

After I flipped off the video, I saw yet another man-raised-by wolves commercial. First Quizno's, now some SUV company. This one's made a lot better, but still---a disturbing trend.

"Ah, but do spike trains care about you?" --Mijail Serruya

Posted by blahedo at 11:29pm | Comments (0)

8 Nov 2003

That was Nickel Creek!

The other day I noticed that the Apple music store had an album of old Dolly Parton from 1968---her first, as it happens---and I checked it out. Ended up buying it and listening to some of her other stuff; she's really a good singer, you know that?

Anyway, so just now I had the TV on in the background and I noticed that she was singing, so I wandered over. The song sounded kind of familiar---it was a cover of Collective Soul's "Shine". Not that you'd know it wasn't country to start with; they did a great job on it. And as the video goes on, I'm thinking, geez, that fiddler looks an awful lot like the fiddler from Nickel Creek. Maddeningly, she never is in shot for quite long enough for me to confirm this. And then I see that their mandolin player is definitely the one from Nickel Creek. Didn't see the guitarist, though. After the video, the VJ commented on their presence (didn't explain it, just commented). Awesome.

"If you think about it long enough, you'll see that it's obvious." --Saul Gorn

Posted by blahedo at 11:36am | Comments (0)

Most dishonest graphic ever

I was just reading the Register-Mail and happened across what I believe to be the most dishonest statistical graph that I've ever seen. The article was an AP feed on the abortion ban, and the graphic was also from the AP, showing what percentage of abortions occur in various weeks of the pregnancy.

To represent these percentages, it has a black bar at the y-value corresponding to the percent, and the black bar extends horizontally over the weeks it's covering. The problem is, different bars have different widths, so that the first six weeks are taken in aggregate (21.7%), then week 7 has about 17% by itself, week 8 about 19% by itself, week 9 and 10 taken together about 20%, 11 and 12 10%, 13-15 6%, 16-21 just under 5%, and weeks 22 on about 1.5% total. I'm not actually sure which bias it represents, either, since it makes it look like more abortions happen in the first couple of weeks than actually do, but also that more happen in the last trimester than actually do. But in any case, it simply took my breath away how awful this graphic was.

"For the record, I question the logic of [anonymity] merged with "hey, let's tell all our IMSA friends on the notesfiles". The IMSA community's secret-keeping prowess is best likened to the 'Rizzo's pregnant' scene from "Grease"." --Joe Shidle

Posted by blahedo at 11:03am | Comments (0)

7 Nov 2003


The Knox Jazz Ensemble is pretty darn good. They just had their fall concert tonight in Kresge, and it was highly enjoyable. (The highlight for me was when the guy on bari sax stood up, set down his saxophone, walked to the mike and started playing harmonica. I need to ask somebody whether that was unplanned or what, because the conductor actually looked a little surprised.)

Now I really need to clean up my apartment, maybe break down a few more boxes, before my parents arrive tomorrow morning. Ugh. I've totally lost steam on the whole "unpacking" thing, and now I really need to just finish it, but... ugh.

"Maybe not foie gras, but I'd go for a roquefort machine in the basement of my building." --Joe Shidle

Posted by blahedo at 9:53pm | Comments (2)

6 Nov 2003

Goodbye, Earl!

Man, the video for the Dixie Chicks' song Goodbye, Earl is just so great. I feel a little bad liking the song so much, considering it's all about killing a guy (...who was a serious abuser, though, so arguably had it coming). Probably it's appealing to my "total disconnect between song topic and song style" aesthetic, to which I also attribute much of my interest in TMBG.

On the topic of music videos, though, there are maybe five that get vastly more play on VH1 Country than any others; much like any radio station, I suppose. If you count Dixie Chicks songs together, they'd certainly be a sixth. Thing is, there must be about ten or fifteen of their songs in the regular rotation, more than anybody else. And they're all good. I'm still seeing "new" ones (to me) regularly, several months after I started watching country videos. These guys are awesome.

"He was not especially persecuted, Sweden is a tolerant country, and Jansson not a serious symptom, but he determined to make the time-honored gesture of emigrating to a country where 'he could worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience'; his followers, of course, being expected to permit their leader's conscience to do all the dictating, also according to formula." --Earnest Elmo Calkins, They Broke the Prairie (1937)

Posted by blahedo at 11:49pm | Comments (0)

3 Nov 2003

Alumni Hall

Knox's Alumni Hall was built in 1890. At the time, it was three buildings sharing walls---in the middle was the Alumni Building proper, mostly housing a huge auditorium, and on each end a building for the debating societies, Adelphi on the west end and Gnothii on the east. As time passed, the societies' areas passed into general college control, walls were knocked through, and the whole building was used as offices and classrooms. Areas got repurposed, and as other buildings were built and departments moved out, the areas got repurposed again. Walls were put up and knocked down, and in that black period in the mid-20th century when things "modern" were all the rage nearly all of the original building got boarded over---even the big auditorium was subdivided into various rooms.

Eventually, parts of the building fell into disrepair, and were abandoned. By the early 1990s, only one corner of the basement was still in use, with the rest closed off except for yearly tours for the seniors. Finally, security and HR moved out to a new building on Prairie Street, and the building was completely empty. For years, it sat. It couldn't be used without renovation, and in order to renovate it they'd need to bring it up to code, a monster of a task. Some alumni wanted a total restoration to the way it was; but what good is an auditorium that seats 1000 on benches? With a stage having terrible acoustics so that even clear speakers would be hard to hear? Not to mention, a full restoration wouldn't be even remotely accessible for the disabled.

A few years ago, a compromise was struck. The exterior would be fully restored. The interior would get a reconstruction with detailing similar to the original, but with somewhat different layout and space usage. One of the areas (most of the old Gnothii society) would be a Visitor Center, for the college itself and for Galesburg as a whole, housing Knox memorabilia as well as displays of the Lincoln Society and a small Underground Railroad museum. That wing would also house an art gallery and the Lincoln Society itself; together, all these things let us get a big chunk of funding from the city, state, and fed for the restoration.

On the other side of the building will be the alumni affairs office (in Alumni Hall---nice, huh?) and a big meeting/conference room, where the Board will meet (and, likely, the faculty and other large groups). In the basement, the bookstore, the mailroom, and a little coffee bar that opens onto a sunken patio on the quad. These last free up a whole bunch of space in Seymour Union for student organisation offices, something we badly need.

Anyway, the reason all this comes up is that they ran a presentation about it today for faculty and staff, and then they let people wander through Alumni Hall to check it out. We're incredibly lucky: during the Dark Times, the modernisation happened largely by putting walls up in front of the original woodwork, or floors over the old floors, covering up the original structures rather than removing them entirely. I got about forty pictures of various parts of the old building, and you can see practically every decade of its existence in them. Some original things; some classrooms out of the 30s; a fireplace that could only have been constructed in about 1960; and everywhere in between. (No remnants that I could see of the original Computer Center, housed in the Alumni Hall basement from its establishment in the mid-60s until SMC was built in 1974.)

Anyway, it was really cool. And unlike various major projects started while I was at Quincy or at Brown, I'll be here to see this one through.

"The thing about obviousness is that it's rarely shared between two people." --Shriram Krishnamurthi

Posted by blahedo at 11:51pm | Comments (1)

2 Nov 2003

On voting machines

The Register-Mail published an AP article today about voting machines. I wrote the following letter in response (no word yet on whether it'll be published):

As indicated in "Voting machines debated" in Sunday's paper, touchscreen voting machines are not the panacea that many people seem to think, and may not even solve some of the confusion problems we're trying to solve---differing viewing angles may cause people to try to touch one name, but be recorded as touching another. (Ever been to an ATM where you weren't sure which button the "press this button for withdrawal" arrow was pointing to?)

Optical-scan voting systems seem to be the best answer to a number of requirements---legibility, ease of use, lack of confusion, and recountability. As much as we value the convenience that computers provide, these systems are probably a better bet (and a better buy).

If you are interested in computerized systems, however, you should be looking at touchscreen voting aids. These would be machines that provide a computer interface to the process, but in the end, print out a paper ballot that the voter can read---and verify---before submitting it for an official tally. Of the companies currently marketing computerized voting systems, only Avante produces anything meeting these vitally important accountability requirements.

In this sort of system, computer security concerns are minimized, because even if someone cracked into the system to tamper with it, the voter would notice the discrepancy before handing in their ballot. Furthermore, the existence of a paper ballot enables a recount to occur later if the result is in dispute; recounts are simply not possible with most companies' systems, including those from Diebold and ES&S, two major players in the industry.

What if the system has a bug in it? Many of us can't even trust our computers to stay up without rebooting for more than a day or two. It is a scary thought that we might blindly entrust the entire democratic process to machines whose performance can't even be verified. If we at least require our voting machines to leave a paper trail, voting fraud---not a new phenomenon, just in a new guise---can be detected, the offenders prosecuted, and the results corrected.

I would direct interested readers to a much more complete analysis by Dr. Rebecca Mercuri on the problems of electronic voting, along with some proposed solutions, at the following URL: http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/WEBONLY/publicfeature/oct02/evot.html

On The Time Machine (the 2002 movie): "It starts out slightly silly, then gets annoying, followed by predictable, unintentionally humorous, ridiculous and meaningless, followed by long periods of bad. Then it wraps itself up in blatantly lame with spouts of mere badness and disgust and misery." --The Self-Made Critic

Posted by blahedo at 11:03pm | Comments (0)

1 Nov 2003

Farmer in the Sky

I knew that Robert Heinlein had written some YA fiction in his day, and I'd even read some of his novels that I later found out were part of that group. This is the first one that I pegged as such from the start: Farmer in the Sky is an adventure told from the perspective of a boy about 14 years old. Aside from reading like a piece of Boy Scout recruiting propaganda, it was a fun read; Bill, the protagonist, gets to adventure out as a pioneer settling on Ganymede, with all of Heinlein's usual attention to the various scientific details of the thing. Plotwise, a bit formulaic. But still worth reading.

"That sounds like a product of the great game of telephone that much American Protestant theology seems to have become." --Jonathan Prykop

Posted by blahedo at 12:22am | Comments (0)