Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Star Wars and the Vocabulary of a Three Year Old Boy

"Mister Yoda"

"Darth Small"

"Andy Skywalker"


... And, no. He hasn't seen the movie. And he won't see the movie until he can handle it. He sees all the other marketing crap and tries to make sense of it.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Mark Helprin

I saw Mark Helprin at a book signing at the Tattered Cover bookstore in Cherry Creek last Thursday. I've read two of his books, Winter's Tale and A Soldier of the Great War. A few of his books are considered literary masterpieces. I felt like I was sitting in the same room with Charles Dickens or Herman Melville; it was truly awesome.

He filled the evening by telling roughly twenty or so stories. He could have gone another hour and nobody in the audience would have flinched. His stories generally involved language in some way (which isn't surprising if you've read his stories and understand how incredible his mastery of language is). He said he speaks seven different languages and spoke at least four to us. He alluded to The Odyssey, Dante's Inferno, Don Quixote, and other stories like he had memorized them. He joked around a lot. It was kind of like I imagine being in a room with George Burns - I'd be nervous to be alone with him because he's so sharp it's almost scary.

He grew up on 1,000 acres of forest next to the Hudson River in New York; in his words, "1,000 acres of birds." His father worked directly for Samuel Goldwyn in the film business. Mr. Helprin said his parents didn't drive him to play groups or really socialize him so he grew up walking around the forest thinking. He said that being around other people made him really uncomfortable, so he would tell stories as a sort of mask.

When he was 17 years old, he went to France with a female classmate. He was going to meet her in a city and decided to try and impress her by arriving on a motorcycle "James Dean" style. So even though he'd never ridden a motorcycle before, he rented one and drove to the city. Just before he got there, he flipped the bike going about 40 miles per hour and it landed on him critically injuring him. He had internal injuries and a head injury that almost killed him. He was attended to on a U.S. Navy ship on its way to Barcelona. In Barcelona, he ended up in a seedy hotel, bandaged up with little medication. He said he thought he was going to die there.

One night around three in the morning, he instantly awoke and all of his pain was gone. Not only that, but he had realized that his head pain was gone and that he'd been dealing with it literally his whole life. There was a nightstand next to his bed with a pen and pad of paper. He wrote down a description of an ancient cathedral that was converted from a Muslim mosque into a Roman-Catholic church. He said he woke in the morning, read what he had written, and couldn't believe the writing that he'd done; that it was something his professors or professional writers would write and not something that could be conjured up by a 17 year old boy. He said from that day on he was a writer. He said, "blame it all on a brain injury!" Incredible.

Mr. Helprin is truly a Great man. His views on our world are interesting to say the least. Though I find his opinions hard to swallow, I seek them out as diverse information points. Check out the following links if you're interested: WSJ opinion and the National Review.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

What's Your Special Skill?

A Special Skill is something quite ordinary, odd, and typically frustrating in life that you find you're extraordinary at performing in an alarmingly consistent fashion. Examples of Special Skills might be, "able to drive my kneecap into the leg of a table when sitting down at wedding receptions" or "able to choose the line containing the longest wait at the supermarket checkout".

Interestingly, my Special Skill has evolved over time. It used to be that I couldn't fold maps back up to their original state once I had unfolded them. But over the past year, it's turned into this weird pattern of watching consecutive or near-consecutive movies with the same actor (or character) in them. I seem to do it quite unconsciously - in fact, I conscientiously try to prevent the situation so that I can really appreciate different characters that actors play.

Most recently, I watched Morgan Freeman in Batman Begins and then again in Million Dollar Baby. But here are some other recent examples:
  1. A strange coincidence of Mount Rushmore being featured in North by Northwest then again in Team America World Police!
  2. Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda then again in Ocean's Twelve.
  3. Jude Law in I Heart Huckabees then again in Closer.
  4. Daryl Hannah in Kill Bill Vol. 2 then again in Silver City.
  5. Sean Penn in The Weight of Water then again in 21 Grams.
I caught the situation again tonight when I managed my Netflix queue and noticed my next two movies were The Machinist with Christian Bale and Kinsey with Liam Neeson. Again, the movie I saw last Saturday... Batman Begins.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Personal Reflection on London Bombings

This post does not address the bombings per se and I have nothing else to add that the blogging community hasn't already. That said, my family's prayers go out to the loved ones of people who lost their lives.

The bombings marked a significant moment in my life. I was working from home that day and I saw the news first on Yahoo and followed it throughout the day. The significance of this was that it didn't even occur to me to turn on the television for news coverage. This was quite an alarming but amazing revelation for me (the next day, on my way to work listening to public radio).

I go to work on the Internet every day and it has now replaced television as my news source of choice.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Aftermath of the Knife

Our son's umbilical hernia operation went well. The surgeon was done in about 20 minutes. The craziest thing about it is that our son went from having an "outie" belly button to now having an "innie". It looks totally different - the doctor did an amazing job. Check it out.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Blind Search

One thing I've been thinking about recently is that it's still very hard to find information about something on the Internet if you don't know anything at all about it in the first place. Google is awesome. But I think we're a far cry away from the Mr. Wizard kiosk that David (Haley Joel Osment) seeks answers from in the movie Artificial Intelligence: AI.

This problem dawned on me when we bought a house and inherited a large garden with all types of plants and flowers that you typically see in Colorado. The garden lines the entire front of the house so we like to put some work into keeping it looking nice. But with some of the plants, we don't know if they're a weed or not. I found out that it's very hard to search for a plant that you only really have a physical example of. I'm sure brilliant minds are thinking about this problem and even starting down the path of accepting a photo as search criteria (an awesome notion when applying it to plants or glassware, but downright frightening when applied to people and faces).

Anyway, our garden provided another challenge of this sort when I met a current resident.

You could say that I'm pretty uneasy around snakes, especially snakes that I meet when I'm gardening (the introduction typically involves squealing like a little girl and running). So in the short amount of time that I give myself, I needed to gather as much information about the slitherer so that I could identify it on the web.

Fortunately there's a great resource for doing just this: The Colorado Herpetological Society, Key to the Snakes of Colorado. With this key, I was able to easily identify our friend as a Coluber constrictor or Racer.

I also took note of the key because it's a great example of a wizard user interface. It's an extremely effective UI and it couldn't have been done more simply: an HTML table and some anchors.

So if you're ever in Colorado and you meet one of our native slithering residents, take a moment to notice its tail and scale pattern and appreciate how one web site solved a pretty hard problem in an elegant way.