Had an interesting talk about the notion of absolutes over on 12Stone today, to wit: Is there such a thing as an absolute?

So: Is there such a thing as an absolute?

Without defining a specific thing as being “absolute”, we are dealing with abstract mental models. So in my opinion something which is absolute must exists wholly unto itself and have neither external influences or external dependencies. Therefore an absolute must be a closed system. Assuming the ultimate truth of the laws of Thermodynamics, the universe could be said to be a closed system. At least, from the inside it is a closed system. From the outside…well. Things get a little more complicated than your standard Venn diagram.

The set containing the numbers {1,2,3,4,5} is a closed set. From within it is exactly and only those five numbers, and the existence of the number 6 does not alter the existence of the first five. Neither does the existence of the numbers 1,2,3,4, and 5 influence in any way the number 6. Using mental models any number (heh) of absolutes can be discovered.

When trying to apply the notion of ‘absolute’ to ‘real’ things the argument immediately breaks down. Buddhist tradition has it that no single thing truly exists, because there are no things which exists completely unto themselves. A coffee cup is a combination of the materials of which it is constructed, the time involved in creating it, and the human-imposed concept of ‘cupness’. Take away any one of those things and it is no longer a coffee cup. That which we call ‘coffee cup’ is an identifiable point in a process which started at the beginning of the universe and which will (might?) stop at the end.

So where does that leave the Absolute? An absolute can be identified when the sum total of it is observable. That knocks everything out of the running except the Universe, and that must be taken on faith because, stuck in the warp and woof of it as we are, it is impossible to see it from an outside perspective. And let us not get into the religious ideas of the Absolute.

An absolute is a thing which must exist free of context.

So this whole long discussion ended up fragmenting, as online discussions often will. I have a lot to contemplate. One of the participants posted a link to a fascinating Socratic dialogue regarding free will, called Is God A Taoist? , which I enjoyed immensely.

The Elimination Dance

If you require a certain pen to write.
If you have been intimidated by a raccoon.
If you ever made an aesthetic modification to your car which earned you a ticket.
If you have a “thing” for women in sweat pants.
If you count your time surfing the ‘net as “reading”.
If, after watching the movie PI, you spend unusual amounts of time staring at leaves/smoke/the sun.
If you weep for the future.
If you feel the guilt of ancestry.
If you have ever claimed to be “A descendant of…”
If, in a fit of youthful ignorance, you once made a “fuzzy navel” out of peach Schnapps and orange Tang.
If you drank more than one.
If you have ever given/received bleeding rug-burns during sex.
If you kill the fish you don’t keep.
If you feel superior at inappropriate times.
If you really think food can be decadent.
If you have ever looked up at a tall building, caught a reflection of the clear sky in a window, and momentarily thought that the building had not finished rendering.
If you have seen a sundog.
If you have ridden a cow.
If you have ever laughed yourself awake.
If you have ever changed religions for less than a day.
If it left you feeling unfulfilled.
If you know the taste of a spear.
If you think it is too loud right now.
If you still don’t think you will ever need to know “that”.
If you have been hospitalized by a paper cut.
If you think the word “organic” is often misused.
If you think silence is awkward.
If you once considered returning to school because of something you saw in a movie.
If you think the motions are running through you.
If you have ever bullied someone with your knowledge of their religion.
If you have ever, out of fear of others reading it, censored yourself in your private journal/diary, and then gone back a few days later and filled in the missing parts, only to have someone confront you about what you have written and accuse you, among other things, of being “wishy-washy”.

(with a nod to Michael Ondaatje )

PHP, XML, DOM, and Other Such Acronyms

For one of the projects at work I dove into the DOMXML capabilities of PHP. DOMXML is a close-to-w3c-standards way of manipulating XML in PHP. Or it is now that Modwest has updated their version of PHP to 4.2.1. It went like this: I sent an email on Monday saying “Any plans to upgrade etc. etc. ?” And they said “Yup. In the next couple of weeks.” and then they said “Done” and I said:

$fName = $root ->get_elements_by_tagname("name");

…and it was good.

So: My next project is to redo the admin section of es.o to reflect the new powers at my disposal, and maybe post a short tutorial on using DOMXML, because documentation for the thing is practically non-existent.

In other news, yesterday I picked up a library card at the newly-reopened downtown branch of the Grand Rapids Public Library.

Let the masses rejoice; reading is cheap again. My current borrow is In Search of the Perfect Language by Umberto Eco.

Music!!! Again

In the interest of promoting both music and Music, I have a few things to share with you.

First, there is an excellent Intellectual Property Weblog over at Berkeley, which is much more interesting than the name implies. As you can imagine, many of the articles involve the baby-eating fascists RIAA.

Second, I just received my first package from CD Baby . If you have not heard of them, they are an online music distributor, unaffiliated with the apocalyptic scumbags RIAA. They stock only independent artists, or the work of more “known” artists (eg. Thomas Dolby) who want to do personal projects. Over the past week I have spend many many hours browsing through their catalog, and I now have two wondrous new CDs.

The first I cannot easily categorize. A little blues, a little rock, a little jazz, and maybe a little tiny bit of surf-punk. The artist is the late, great Tom Pomposello, the album is [Once Were] The Pastures of Plenty . I have not yet removed it from the CD player.

The second is a fusion-celtic-rock band called the Rogues. If you are familiar with the Drovers (Chicago) or Fonnmhor (West Michigan), then these people will not fail to impress. Actually, they are probably closer in sound to Wolfstone. The album is called The Rogues 5.0 , and it Kicketh Much Ass.

Also while browsing around I found that three local bands have their amazing stuff for sale at CD Baby: Fonnmhor , Blue Nebula , and Potato Moon – who have two albums available, Stancil Martin Weber Brown and Midnight Water .

So with that as a starting point, you will never again have to pay another dime to the asshats at the RIAA .

Report From the Field

FROM: Special Agents J and V
TO: COW-INT-SEC Headquarters
RE: Infiltration of Bovistan Underground Resistance Movement (BURM)

The following is the field report of our attempt to infiltrate the Bovistan Underground, beginning with Insertion, April 19, 2003.

We arrived in Springport, Michigan at 5:30 pm on April 19. Per regulations we immediately checked in with the permanent staff (codenames “M” and “D”). After brief updates we prepared our equipment and headed to the local population center of the Bovistan Diaspora.

Agent V initiated contact and was quickly accepted into this close-knit society. Because of my lack of subtlety with the language there were a few touchy moments at my introduction, but with V attesting to my character all rough spots were quickly smoothed and I made my entrance into this simple, industrious society.


Bovistan appeared to be an idyllic community, bordering on the utopian. The government, though Aparthied, appears to float between Communism and Socialism. In return for their labour, the citizens are provided with free health care, free child care, ample leisure time, and practically zero interference from the government. In fact, it seems the only structure of any kind which the government places on the Bovistan citizens is a tightly controlled border. Even this was not as bad as it sounds, for there was one tourist from a neighboring community freely intermingling with the citizens.

Upon closer examination we realized that there was a strong separatist element within the community, with plans of a possibly violent secession within days. V, being the more capable of us, met with a member of the resistance and set up a meeting with the leaders of the movement


According to the sources close to V, Bovistan is divided into two camps: the collaborators and the resistance. The collaborators are content to take handouts from the Aparthied government, enduring exteme forms of eugenics, and eventually succumbing to population control of the most draconian sort (c.f. ” Logan’s Run “). Any travel outside the boundaries of Bovistan is met with harsh punishment, which includes permanent house arrest and occasional internal exile. Repeat offenders are often executed. In return for obeying government directives, the population is provided with food, limited shelter, and some – tightly controlled – reproductive rights.

We felt that in the interests of international security we should meet with the leaders of the resistance, so, after much reassurance and a hefty bribe (see attached expense report), V’s contact gave us the location of a safe-house.


That night we traveled to what appeared to be an isolated house but which was, in fact, the headquarters of the separatist movement.


Security was extremely tight, as was to be expected. The Bovies were beyond paranoid, and made a show of torture implements which had been captured from members of the Aparthied government. There were no opportunities to slip away and gather “unofficial” information.


When they felt we were suitably cowed they gave us an impressively detail-free summary of their plan, to wit, a mass charge at the borders of Bovistan, using the massed population as its own shield. The slower, less agile bovvies would be captured or killed, while the more resourceful ones would escape to set up a government-in-exile, from which they planned to launch raids and terrorist attacks against the Aparthied government until equality was reached.

At this point collaborationist infiltrators revealed themselves and extreme hostilities broke out. Though injured, I escaped the safe-house and was captured by collaborators and taken to the goverment headquarters, where I was treated and released.


I regret to inform the council that Special Agent V was eaten by a counterrevolutionary.

Given that there are over 96 million members of the Bovistan Diaspora within the United States alone, I recommend we immediately begin arms production and consider a possible nuclear first-strike. Enough of our economy depends on the status quo that we cannot allow members of a foreign nation to gain any sort of global power which could disrupt our way of life.

People (I Tell Ya!)

There is this guy who has stopped into the kung fu class a couple of times to observe. The first time, he just stood by the door and every time someone from the class wandered near, he would ask questions like “How does this style compare to Tiger Crane?” or “Have you ever taken karate?” This time he stood by the door and asked questions like “Have you ever heard of Leopard Style?” and “That roll you did looked like an aikido roll.” He also wanted to know if he would lose 130 pounds if he joined the class.

My answers to these questions were, in order, the following: Don’t know. Yes. No. Ah. Maybe.

Regarding the aikido question, for which he seemed genuinely interested in an answer, I told him something I picked up from the Bruce Lee interview in the Gold edition of Enter the Dragon:

As long as people have two arms and two legs, there will only be a certain number of movements which are applicable to the martial arts. Of course there will be similarities. there are very few useful ways to do a dive roll. All of the less-than-useful ways have been weeded out by attrition. There are not certain styles which are better than other styles. Whether or not it works depends on the instructor and the student. Why did you come to this class if you want to know about Tiger, Leopard, Hamster, etc.?

So I don’t know if the answers he received yesterday helped him, but he sat quietly and watched most of the class. Time will tell.

Today, down at the river, Scott and I watched a guy with a three-pronged grappling hook (like ninjas use to climb walls) dredge a section of the river just below the dam. Naturally, this caused some speculation:

“Is he hunting for a body?” “Do you think he lost his fishing pole?” “Do you think he meant to get his grapple caught under the rocks over in that deep part?” “Maybe he’s trying to snag a fish…”

The reality was much more prosaic: He was clearing the area of old cast-off fish lines and boat ropes.

Today’s reason why Internet Explorer 5 Should Be Covered in Honey and Staked Out Over an Anthill is the following:

Say you are building a fully CSS-bases website. No tables anywhere. Say the navigation requires that you have elements (anchor tags) FLOATed right. No problem so far. Now you put images inside those anchors for to create a nifty rollover effect. Looks good everywhere. Works perfectly everywhere.

??? Waitaminnit….

IE5.0 on the PC. Having an image inside a FLOATed anchor causes the image to block the mouseover event on the anchor. In other words, when the anchor is moused over, the image swaps just like it should, but the anchor is no longer an anchor. The CSS border picks up the presence of the mouse. The border (1 pixel) can be clicked on, but the area covered by the image cannot. And using document.getElementById(“nav”). getElementsByTagName(“a”)[0]. onmouseover = function() {} doesn’t work because… because… because IE5 is stupid and outdated and people who refuse to upgrade DESERVE to see broken things.

For the record, I am calling this one the “Floated Anchor/Image Mouseover Bug”.

IT WORKS!!!!!!!!

I….have COMMENTS!!!!!

And nothing to say.

More later.


As I was saying, es.o now has commenting enabled for the individual blog posts. If you click on the title of a post (i.e. “IT WORKS!!!!!!!!![x]”), that will take you to the individual post page, where you may comment on my comments to your heart’s content.

I built the commenting feature using a combination of XML, XSLT, and PHP using the DOMXML capabilities, for which there is little if any documentation, so I pretty much had to make it up as I went along.

Right now I only allow plain text to be added in comments, although URLs will automagically be turned into links…provided they start with “http://” or “www.”. Perhaps once the migraine clears up I will add some simple markup options, a la VBScript – [i] for italics, [b] for bold, and the like.

So there you have it. Right now my brain is full to bursting, so I am going to turn on the television, which will turn my intellect into oatmeal, which will leak out of my ears, thus relieving the headache.

Yer Big Fat Yaps

I am finalizing the comments functionality for this thing. Sometime in the next day or two the Likes Of You will be able to post comments in response to the pearls of wisdom I drop before you on a semi-regular basis.

And in case you were wondering, I still hate Internet Explorer 5. But right now my hate is divided, for the semen-speckled, kneepad-wearing crack-monkey that is the RIAA has brought itself to my attention, and I have for you a new link:

This is an analysis of a lawsuit the RIAA brought against a Princeton student, to the tune of many hundreds of billions of dollars; enough money, in fact, to buy every human being on the planet 3 or 4 music CDs. In this analysis the author brings to light many of the tactics the RIAA uses to enforce its views, including perjury, slander, outright lying, intimidation, hiding of evidence, eating babies, misdirection, and a simple failure to acknowledge that it has no hard evidence that file sharing has cost the music industry a single dime. If you have the time, this paper is very well worth the read.

So soon, my flock. Soon, you will have the ability to voice your awe at the genius that is eccesignum.org. Be patient, as I am patient.

Addendum, With Puppy

Mike , whose mojo Knows No Bounds, had this information about the tire swing:

The tire swing is a Mark di Suvero creation from the late 70s. He’s a well-known and important artist in the American modern/contemporary art scene, and has recently contributed a second major work to the Grand Rapids community at the Frederik Meijer Gardens. Mark works out of NYC in a very cool studio near Long Island City in Queens, but keeps a home in California as well.

“Motu,” the title of the installation that you played upon, is of Latin origin. It’s derived from the city’s motto “Motu Viget”, which roughly translates to “Strength Through Activity.”

Yesterday Virginia took me to the home of one of the families for whom she is a nanny. While there she showed me a box-full of two-week old shih-tzu puppies, for which she acted as a sort of midwife, even saving one of the puppies from suffocating.


I looked up the shih-tzu in an old book I inherited, where it had the following information:

The shih-tzu – or “shitzoo”, in some parts of the Midwest (c.f. “kazoo”) – is a small dog, originally bred as a guard dog in China. Its agressive personality and fierce loyalty make it much harder to hate than most small dogs, and it has, in fact, been removed from the canonical List of Yappy Dogs (Smythe, 1886).

When attached via velcro to a broom-handle the shih-tzu makes an excellent dust-mop, and such is its personality that it views such behaviour as a sort of fun rough-house. They may also be used by hand to clean window sills and doorframes. Care must be taken when shaking the dust from the shih-tzu coat (Stewart, 1999), and we recommend that the dog actually be brushed instead.

Shih-tzu puppies – unlike the offspring of other small dogs – are born (Freud, 1886), rather than found secreted under rocks. From a quite young age they develop an instinctual hatred of Microsoft Internet Explorer 5, and will often cry when in the presence of a computer on which it is deployed. This hatred manifests itself later in life when the adult shih-tzu, which is often employed in web design and development, will go out of its way to write Javascript which causes IE5 to crash.

The shih-tzu is impervious to all known vectors of physical harm, although employing this trait in military or commercial ventures has yet to succeed (as exemplified in the Carnivorous Bomb Shelter Disaster of March, 1959).

The adult shih-tzu is best sustained with a steady diet of socks and the ankle-bones of small children.

Who the hell writes this stuff?

In other news I just finished cooking up a huge pot of borscht, enough bright red soup to last me the week. In the process I burned my left thumb something fierce, and every few seconds I must stop typing in order to immerse it in icewater.