A Little Something I've Been Working On...

I recently made an announcement. Here are some screenshots...

The source repo is on github. You should totally play this game.


When the news media go into absurd conniptions over some completely mundane thing, I generally don't pay much attention. That's what the news media do. There's nothing interesting to see there.

But generally don't expect Randall Munroe to be so easily excited and confused. I am referring, of course, to the placement of MH 370 in the upper-right corner of the graph, marking it as both highly weird and also very difficult to explain. I don't think it's the least bit of either.

I'm not going to spend any further time on the question of its weirdness, because that's so inherently subjective as to not be worth arguing about.

But I have a really hard time understanding why someone as creative and intelligent as the author of xkcd can find this difficult to explain. It's much easier to explain than most of the other stuff on the chart. It's so easy to come up with highly plausible explanations for this, I'm going to offer up three of them:

  1. human malice
  2. physical failure (of the aircraft)
  3. human idiocy

I could go on at length, but I think I should probably just stop here. All three of these explanations are so inherently plausible, it is difficult to even rank them in terms of likelihood. All three of them are so likely, their probability is mainly limited by the fact that they're competing with each other (although, it's easily possible that more than one of them occurred). They're all things that you can easily see happen all the time in everyday life, and they're all things that could very easily lead to the loss of an airplane in the middle of the ocean and are known to have done so on other occasions.

I don't get it. What's hard to explain here?


Ok, so I acquire an older-model computer (Pentium4, 2GB of RAM), and of course it comes with Windows XP installed. What's one of the first things I try to do with it?

What would a normal person try to do with it? Maybe watch some YouTube videos, or check Yahoo Mail, something like that? Facebook?

I tried to do this:

I my defense, I already have a computer, which in the first place is several years newer (multi-core, 8GB of RAM about to be increased to 16 next time I'm willing to reboot it) and, additionally, runs a much better operating system. So if I wanted to do just regular stuff on the computer, I could do it on my main system. I got this other, older system, and my thinking is, while it still has the default Windows install on it, is there anything I want to try doing in Windows? And in that context, this is the answer I came up with: Didn't somebody on IRC say that building NetHack4 on Windows is broken right now? Maybe I should try that.

Why Profile Icons Matter

At some point during the 2.x dev cycle, the Gnome people removed an important feature from gnome-terminal, on the grounds that it might allow a user to make some of the icons in their UI look inconsistent the desktop-wide "icon theme," which is somehow more important than making it possible to distinguish between different things.

For a while, I simply downloaded the old version of gnome-terminal that still had the feature and compiled that myself, hoping maybe the whole stupid "icon theme" thing would blow over and someone would see sense. This did not occur, and when I upgraded to wheezy at work it became More Trouble Than It's Worth to try to compile the old gnome-terminal, so I switched to Konsole, which still has profile icons. I'm happy with this solution, because gnome-terminal was one of the last remaining vestiges of Gnome that I was still using, and frankly I'd just as soon move away from all of Gnome. Since sometime around version 1.0, Gnome has been systematically removing features and options and configurability at a rate that would make Apple blush. So good riddance.

But people who are not big terminal-window users keep asking me why on earth I would ever need profile icons. I want to have a post I can point to that answers this question. So I took a screenshot of my home desktop (which is spread across two monitors) and snipped out the two taskbars (one from each window) to show off here. I want to stress that this is not a contrived example. Somebody on IRC asked the question, and I took a screenshot, and then I wrote up this post. Here's my main taskbar:

The three icons at the left are Run, Screenshot, and a colorblind thingy. (Clarification: I'm not colorblind. The colorblind thingy is to show me what websites that I create might look like to people who are colorblind, so I can try to avoid making them unreadable. Not sure how effective it is.) After that there's a small blank space, then the task list, which contains the following, from left to right: Totem (a media player), dclock (the really generic-looking icon; this clock is positioned on the main monitor but often gets covered up by windows), Seamonkey (my main web browser), OpenOffice.org Writer, Opera (another web browser), Emacs, a gnome-terminal window (this computer hasn't upgraded to wheezy yet) that I use to tail logfiles, a gnome-terminal window that I use to play a game called Brogue, a gnome-terminal window that I use mostly for playing NetHack (another game) on NAO, a gnome-terminal window that I use for generic shell-related purposes, but in an auxilliary fashion (not my main shell profile), a gnome-terminal window that is remotely connected via ssh to a web server, a gnome-terminal window that I use for mostly NetHack-related purposes, but which is different from the other one (it's not for playing on NAO), another Seamonkey window, Chromium (another web browser), a gnome-terminal window that I mostly use for NetHack4, a text editor, a gnome-terminal window that is connected via ssh to the computer upstairs in the living room, a gnome-terminal window that is connected via ssh to the router, and a gnome-terminal window with a root (administrative) shell.

Here's the one from the second monitor:

The tasks on the tasklist here are a gnome-terminal window that I use to run a Perl script I wrote that reminds me when I'm supposed to be going somewhere or doing something, two more instances of dclock (these are positioned on the secondary monitor where they're less likely to get covered up by other windows), a gnome-terminal window that I use for interacting with MySQL (a relational database), two volume control applets (probably because I forgot I already had one opened and opened another; these things happen), and finally the gnome-terminal window that I use exclusively to run irssi (an IRC client).

It's important that I be able to tell different terminal windows apart on the task list. For example, if I'm looking for the web server window, I do NOT want to fiddle around with opening up six different game windows and three windows that are shelled into other systems besides the web server plus various other utility windows before finally finding the right window. This is what window icons are for. If anything, the difference between some of the terminal windows (particularly the ones used to ssh into other computers) is more important than the difference between e.g. a web browser and a word processor. Being able to quickly find the window I want is important, because otherwise hunting for the right one would cause me to waste a lot of time, and I'd get a lot less useful work done. Without profile icons, a lot of what I do would take 3-5 times as long as it should, sometimes more, because hunting for a lost window has a tendency to break a train of thought at unfortunate times.

For those who were not keeping count, the total number of gnome-terminal profiles visible on my desktop at this moment is thirteen. This is typical for me at any given time. About half of these windows are usually open, and the other half just happen to be open at the moment. Actually, my single most-frequently-used profile, my generic shell profile, isn't shown, because I don't happen to have any of those open right now. (I open them whenever I need one for something. Sometimes I have 2 or 3 of them open, but right now none. If I get more than about 4 generic shell windows open, I change the profiles on a couple of them to make it easier to keep straight which is which.)

Altogether, I have some 40 different terminal profiles, most of which are not in use at any given time, but they all get used sometimes. Every single one has its own icon. Most of them really NEED to have their own icons; a few (like the different NetHack windows) could probably do without. My situation at work is similar, in principle, though of course the details are different. At work, I don't have game windows; but I have way more shelled-into-another-computer windows, plus multiple distinct logfile windows, multiple distinct database windows, etc. If anything, the total number of terminal windows at work is often larger.

This is why profile icons matter, and this is why I don't really have any use for recent versions of gnome-terminal. This is why I am switching to Konsole.

Christmas: The Best Explanation I Know

The best explanation of Christmas that I think I have ever encountered is found (perhaps ironically —or perhaps obviously), in a book written mainly for Jewish audiences. It's a bit long, so I will attempt to summarize; but because my ability to express it as well as the book does is in doubt, I'll include a number of footnotes, which are references to particular sections of the book.

Without Christmas, humanity's hopes are pinned, as any practicing Jew knows very well, to an inherently flawed system1, wherein we (humans) are represented only by sinful men2 who can offer nothing but the blood of animals, which can never take away their sins or ours3. It is ultimately a depressing, futile system, one that makes us acutely aware of how flawed we are but can never actually solve the problem.

Here is the main point, then: it is only because God the Son was made one of us4 that we now, through the miracle of Christmas, have a perfect human representative, one of us who has offered a perfect sacrifice that completely takes away all our sin5, a man who can go to God as our representative and ask for anything for us6, and God will not say no to him.

As Christians we tend to focus on Easter, but while the resurrection is important, it is only really important in the context of Christmas. For God to conquer sin and death is all well and good, but by itself it is unremarkable, since God was sinless and immortal in the first place anyhow. For man to conquer sin and death, that is the real miracle, and it is only possible because God became a man. This is what we celebrate at Christmas.

So now instead of the worthless, flawed, futile system represented by Mount Sinai7, where the law was given that could only reveal our wickedness and so condemn us, we now have God's perfect system, the heavenly Jerusalem8, wherein our Great High Priest has made it possible for God to live among us and be our God and make us his people9. He will take away our wickedness and make us perfect10.

That is Christmas, according to the book of Hebrews.


A Tale of One Town and Three Governements... Or Is That Four? Five? Several.

This is a story about one town that is claimed by several governments. Exactly how many governments claim it is a matter of some debate -- the number could be as low as three (some people would even say two) or as high as four, depending on precisely how you count. (There are more than four, if you include historical claims, but that's true in a lot of places, so we'll only count current claims, and we'll say 3-4.)

The town itself is not very large. If it were in Ohio, it would be called a village, because it is not large enough to qualify as a city under Ohio's rules. (Of course, it's nowhere near Ohio.)

If you looked up the town on a political map that reflects the actual de facto situation, it would be in the country that I'm going to label as Blue. (I'm assigning these colors arbitrarily, as is traditional for political maps. I'm not going to try to pick them all from the respective national flags or anything.) However, it's very close to a three-way border. Just across the line in one direction is Green, and just across the line in another direction is Orange. Got that? Three-way border, Blue, Green, Orange, and the town is just barely in the Blue zone on our objective map.

Green, you may be surprised to learn, is not one of the governments involved in the dispute. They don't claim the town, and as far as I know they never have. It just happens to be close to their border.

Orange does claim the town. We'll come back to them presently.

Pink also claims the town. It's hundreds and hundreds of miles from any territory that they actually control, but they claim the town because they claim to be the successor state of White, which used to have a sort of mother/daughter or lord/vassal relationship with Red. Confused? Okay, we'll come back to Pink. In fact, we'll come back to the present day. Let's talk about the history of the situation.

The border question was originally raised between Yellow and Red. Yellow, a colonial power, had control of Blue at the time, and the town was near the border -- the poorly defined unclear fuzzy border -- between them and Red. So Yellow commissioned a study to iron out the details of exactly where the border with Red was. Yellow wanted everything to be precise and clear.

Now, the town was, and is, to this day, rather important to Red, for religious reasons. (There's an important building there, where somebody or another was born.) It's easily more important to Red than to everyone else involved combined. However, when working out the border treaty, Red was apparently not extremely careful with the implications and failed to realize, until after signing the thing, that the town is on the wrong side of the border. Oops.

Yellow, for its part, never really exerted effective control over the town. They did exert effective control over the (also disputed) surrounding area, but they mostly left the town alone. It had a trading post, but other than that it wasn't really critical, so as long as they were free to trade there (which Red didn't seem to have a problem with), it wasn't a big deal. Yellow never collected taxes from the town, and Red continued to do so, so in practice the town was de facto still part of Red's territory -- but on paper the treaty said it belonged to Yellow. Perhaps you can see how this might lead to a dispute later.

Now, a few years after Yellow and Red signed their treaty, White came along and forced Yellow and Brown to agree not to conduct negotiations directly with Red without involving White. (Too many colors? Don't worry about Brown. It doesn't come up in the story again.) The thing is, White at this point was a declining empire. The White government was overthrown not very much later. Other governments arose in the remnants of its territory. Pink was one of them.

Eventually, Blue gained independence from Yellow. So now the town was theoretically in Blue territory, but in practice still controlled by Red.

Orange, meanwhile, had gained de facto control over most of the old White territory. Looking to expand, Orange decided that since White used to have a bit of a protectorate relationship with Red, they should now have it. So Orange made plans to invade Red. The fact that they were doing so became known to Blue. Not wanting to lose any of the territory that Yellow had negotiated for with Red, Blue got out the treaty documents and moved its troops to wherever the treaty said the borders were. This is why the town is now in Blue territory -- the treaty that Yellow made has the town on the Yellow side, which is now the Blue side. Orange doesn't recognize the treaty, because it was never signed by White.

Pink also doesn't recognize the treaty, for the same reason Orange doesn't: it was never signed by White. So Pink also claims all of the territory that was formerly Red, including the small part that Blue now controls, where the town is. (Pink and Orange both claim to be the only really legitimate government for all of the territory White ever held, and they define held so loosely that it pretty much includes anything White ever looked at twice. This is nonsense, but they're both extremely serious about it. They both have extensive territorial disputes, with each other as well as with pretty much every other country in the region.)

So Blue, Orange, and Pink all claim the town. Just to clarify, Blue doesn't claim all of the red territory. They only claim the part Yellow negotiated for.

The Red government sort of kind of still exist in exile. They have de facto sovereignty over exactly zero square inches of territory, but they claim the territory that used to be Red. Until relatively recently, that included the small now-Blue region where the town is. They would still dearly love to claim that, because as noted the town has religious significance for them. But Red has now given up their claim to the town, because they are unwilling to deny the validity of the treaty they had with Yellow. You see, their evil invading enemy Orange claims that the treaty is invalid because it was not signed by White, and Red had no right, so Orange says, to give away territory without consulting with White. Red doesn't want any part of that, because White's supposed authority in Red affairs is the basis of Orange's claim to all of the Red territory. Red still wants Orange out of its former territory (which Red still claims) and out of its affairs entirely, and so although letting Blue have the piece with the town in it burns and chafes, it's better than admitting that Orange can have everything.

Yellow, of course, no longer claims the area, because they have acknowledge Blue independence. Blue and Yellow are actually allies now.

Green still doesn't claim the town because they never did. They're just nearby.

So the town is formally claimed by Blue, Orange, and Pink; and it is highly desired by Red. Orange and Pink have copious additional territorial disputes, with one another and with others. Actually, if you look up territorial dispute in the dictionary, you (figuratively, metaphorically, proverbially) see a picture of Orange and Pink.

Do you recognize these countries? The whole story can be found on Wikipedia, albeit not necessarily all in any one article. (I'll post the answers in a comment eventually, unless someone beats me to it.)

Wooden Dish

My dad won this object in some kind of game or contest at a family reunion. It was made by my mom's oldest brother, who used to be a professional carpenter before he retired. He makes things out of wood as a hobby now and gives them away. This is typical of his work.

I had to wait for a sunny day to take good photos. (I initially tried taking them indoors, but that didn't work out so well. Some of the woods he used have rather low albedo, and although my camera is significantly better in low lighting than the average consumer digicam, it does have limits.)

Peach Cake

I had previously mentioned, when I posted my cherry cake recipe, that I was working on a peach variant. Today I had the opportunity to fine tune it, and I believe I finally got it right. It's a bit more bland than the cherry, but you'd expect that: peach is not such a smack-you-in-the-face flavor as cherry, nor would you really want it to be, I think. In my opinion, the peach has just the right amount of flavor for peach.

Note that, for this to be any good, you must use proper canned peaches. Do not go to the grocery store and buy flavorless crunchy picked-green canned peaches. Nothing good can come from that.

So, without further ado, the recipe for peach cake:

1 quart of home-canned peaches (in light syrup, ideally).
1.5 cups of (granulated white) table sugar
3 eggs
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup milk
2.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ginger
2 tsp. vanilla flavoring or extract
Glaze Ingredients:
all the juice/syrup from the peaches
about 1/2 cup of the blended peaches
1/3 cup sugar
1 TBSP cornstarch
1/4 tsp. almond extract (optional, or vanilla)

Open the peaches and pour off the juice into a saucepan, allowing them to drain well. (Not only do you want the juice for the glaze, you also don't want too much liquid in the cake.) Place the peaches themselves in the blender and puree them, the divide the results: use about 2 and 7/8 cups of the peach puree for the cake and the remaining half cup in the glaze. (The amount that goes in the cake is the critical measurement; if the glaze gets shorted a little or gets a bit extra, that's okay.)

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Combine the larger portion of the peach puree with the sugar and eggs and beat until foamy, then beat in the oil and milk. Stir the dry ingredients together and then add them to the peach mixture. Beat until smooth and pour into a bundt pan. Bake at 350F for about 50 minutes (depending on your oven). When it's almost done, start the glaze (below). Let the finished cake cool in its pan for 5-10 minutes, then invert it onto a plate. Spoon glaze over the top while they are both still hot. If you get the top of the cake coated and a decent amount dripping down the sides and there is still glaze left, it can be spooned over individual slices while it lasts.

Glaze Instructions:

To make the glaze, combine the peach juice, the remaining half cup of peach puree, the 1/3 cup of sugar, the cornstarch in the saucepan. Stir and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it thickens up. When you are just about ready to spoon the glaze over the cake, stir in the almond extract.

NAO game 115, Turn 100856

Another NetHack screenshot, this time in color:

You are blinded by the flash! ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- | 0| 0 * * ) |* | *| | | - - ----- | ----- ------------------------------| | -- --- | ----- | | | |*| | | | | | --------------| | | % < | | | | | --- --- --- | | | -- | CaB | | --- ----------*| | | | | | | |^ | --@--------|--| | | | | | | | | ----- --- --- | |-- | @ c i@S | |-- | | | | ----- |---| | | |) | | | | : & :@E@H| | | | | | | | | | ------- | --| --- | -- c$qxc&@Q$| -|-| --- | ----|%----| | | | | | |*| |0Y | t |$HDcdf@@@| | | | | | | | | | | --------- | | -----%| |HH c d $| | | | ----- - - | --- --| | | | | | | | | | | C u d$||--%-- | | | ** | | | | | | | | - |-- | | | | | --- | Quacf O| |[ [| | ----- | | ------- | | | | |[ | | | | | | )| -----| | | | | | | | | | | --- --| | |%| | | | | H |> - | ^ | | --- | | |)----- | | --- | | | | | | | | -------- ---- | | | | | * |*| | --- | | - --- | --------------------------------- ----- - | | ------- | | | > % H | ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Jonadab the Heroine St:18/** Dx:22 Co:18 In:22 Wi:22 Ch:18 Lawful S:1675355 Dlvl:39 $:0 HP:236(241) Pw:71(71) AC:-40 Xp:22/25786222 T:100856 Blind

At this point in the game I am on my way to wake the Wizard. This room full of hostile monsters is just one of the things that's supposed to slow you down on the way, but it's a pretty weak defense against any character who has made it this far.

Yes, you see five pets. There's even a sixth: my original pet, Griff, found a polytrap somewhere when I wasn't paying attention and became a quivering blob, and I chose to leave him that way, because it keeps him from attacking things and getting killed. Quivering blobs, of course, do not show up on telepathy, which is why you don't see him. If all goes well, this will be the first time I ascend with my original starting pet. The other pets were domestics (cats, mostly) that I picked up in Gehennom using tripe and transformed into various more powerful things using polytraps on purpose. I originally collected them mainly so I could get the robe from the Valley priest, and then I kept them around for now just because I can. There used to be a Jabberwock, but something happened to it (possibly a purple worm; I've seen several).