An Extra Day

Seems like we went and got ourselves a whole ‘nother day, which happened this year to land on a beautiful, lazy Sunday. In that spirit this is Trouble:


Trouble lives at Argos Books in Eastown. She is in the running for the coveted title of BEST_CAT_EVAR. That is all.

The Rules

I have an unwritten (and unfortunately generally unenforced) rule in all of the classes I teach: don’t be late. For every minute you are late, you owe me a push-up. Five minutes late equals 5 pushups. Half an hour late, 30 pushups. An easy one-to-one relationship.

But lately I have been thinking that this is not quite right. Somehow it makes me out to be the bad guy. Well, that and the fact that 30 pushups for being half an hour late is not nearly enough pushups. It isn’t MY fault that YOU are late. So I have come up with a plan which will pit my students against one another and thus leave them too disorganized for any sort of uprising:

The first student who is late to class will immediately start doing pushups. He/she will continue to do pushups until another student walks into class. Then student 2 will take over for student one, doing pushups. When another student (3) walks in, 3 will take over for two, who will then join the rest of the class.

The last late student will do pushups for the rest of the class period. Good ones. All the way down, touch the chest, all the way up. No fewer than 30 in any one minute.


My place of employment is located in the Wolverine Brassworks building which, once upon a time, was a brassworks. Next to it is a foundry. They share an adjoining wall.

The foundry was still in operation when we moved our offices into the brassworks building three years ago. Sometime since then, it closed down. I imagine it had been in operation for some decades. And, being a foundry, I imagine most of it ha dnot had a thorough cleaning in that time.

This morning, a crew began demolishing the old foundry to make way for one half of a two-building, 20-story-tall hotel.

There were two pieces of machinery slowly crushing the building, looking much like dinosaurs foraging in a blue stone swamp. The smaller of the two machines had a thing like an enormous pair of bolt-cutters which it was using to tear apart the interior walls of the building.


The larger of the two had an attachment like the claws of an eagle or owl, and it was using this appendage to grab huge chunks of building and pile them for (supposedly) some other machine to load into a dump truck.


They started when we were in our Monday morning meeting. The first thing we saw was a sudden scattering of bricks, then a dinosaur-like head with a mouth-full of bricks looking for a place to spit them out.

Over the course of the day I began to notice a funny taste in the air, like standing on a road which has too much road-salt. And things around the office began to feel decidedly gritty. Given that the destruction caused huge plumes of black soot to cover the area, I can only assume that I have in me right now an assortment of chemicals which would make Union Carbide file for mining rights to my lungs.

And so it goes.

Building a Better Timeline

I’m a programmer. And I like working in Flash. The timeline is an integral part of Flash, and I hate it. I don’t like touching anything in the development environment, ever.

So I wrote one in Actionscript. It was surprisingly simple.

 // this goes in an external actionscript file
 var frameCounter = 0;
 // position in the timeline
 var loopSize = 200;
 // length of the timeline
 this.onEnterFrame = function() {
 switch(frameCounter) {
 case 1: // something which happens on frame 1
 case 9: // something which happens on frame 9
 case 42: // something which happens on frame 42
 frameCounter = (frameCounter+1) % loopSize;

…and that is all there is to it. The only frames I have to worry about are the ones in which something actually happens. No filler necessary. No more digging through dozens of layers spread across hundreds of frames for a mis-typed variable.

And I did it myyyyyyyy wayyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!

Notes on Artificial Life

To model artificial evolution chromosome for chromosome is impossible. We would have to have an operating system create random strings of digits and try to run them all, and then build upon the successes; e.g. those strings which will perform some function within that hardware.

Instead it is more useful to begin the modeling at a level of sophistication where the beings’ interaction with the environment is obvious – when the being is mobile. Mobility is perhaps the fundamental interaction with the environment; the key word there being “interaction”. Awareness of the environment is tricky, as it assumes a certain level of self-awareness: “I am not that within which I exist.” Interaction and awareness are not quite the same thing.

Interaction begins when there is more than one autonomous being with an environment: There is a thing here which is demonstrably not “I”.

Therefore, in modeling interaction, there seems at the moment to be three levels: awareness, recognition, and reaction.

Awareness: there is a thing here which is not-me
Recognition: that thing is of type “X”
Reaction: X is friend/foe/food

…and perhaps there is some resonance between recognition and reaction.

This begs the question: is existence a pre-requisite for awareness? Is the chain:

Existence – awareness – recognition – reaction?

The answer seems to be “yes”, for (in the realm of AI/ALife) a thing must exist before it can be made aware of any other thing. And it must be aware of a thing for it to recognize that thing. And it must recognize a thing before it can react to that thing.

And here we must make a distinction reflex action and re-action. The action of X is its existence/proximity, and it is to that which I am re-acting.

In modeling an entity we can approximate Awareness with a simple distance calculation: You are this close to me, therefore I am aware of you.

Recognition requires a more refined set of senses, say, sight/smell/hearing. This can be another distance calculation, or combine distance with (say) sight in a particular direction.

Using this as a beginning allows us to add a great many modifiers onto the base behavior:

  • fight/flight
  • arbitrary reaction to different Xs
  • different senses
  • – some senses broadcast (sight) – active
  • – some senses receive (smell) – reactive
  • reflex (pre-recognition) actions at different levels

This brings up another question: Does a thing actively broadcast its existence or do other things become passively aware of its existence?

Could be some of both; call it “signalling”.
Active: noise, colors
Passive: smell, body heat

…all of which allows different senses to react to different stimuli at different levels. It also suggests a slight change to the structure of awareness:

Exist — ?
Awareness — Reflex
Recognition — Reaction

This is a good starting point; the rest is just code.


The following is the short list of search strings which have brought visitors to my site so far this month:

flash experiments
ecce signum
project gutenberg xml
amazing flash experiment
gutenberg xml
memoirs of a madman etext
tom sawyer gutenberg
william t. vollmann interview 2004
build a flash top-down game
carp through the ice
cellular automata in flash
cellular automoton
diary of a madman gogol etext
duplicate dynamically createemptymovieclip
flash experiments.
flash fractal
flash programming experiment
gutenberg project xml
isometric tracking flash
load dynamic jpegs before movie starts how

I suppose that by posting the search strings which bring people to my site on my site, I will set up an infinitely recursive loop which will suck the entire internet into Google.

Woo Hoo! Three day weekend!


Got to Kendall but the internet was broken, so my students got the evening off.

No, that isn’t entirely true. The internet was fine, but the IT monkeys up in Big Rapids let a virus through their fish-net of a firewall, and somehow that took down our connection here in Grand Rapids. Nothing the local IT folk could do about it.

And this after I spent hours (hours!) putting together an assignment which would have transformed all fourteen of my students into web developers the likes of which the world has seldom seen!

As the Russians say, i tak cebya .

So in order to maintain some semblance of a productive evening I downloaded and installed noeGNUd , which is nothing less than an isometric/3d interface for NetHack!!!

Yes, I know… NetHack can only truly be appreciated in the original Klingon ASCII. Yarbles to that, says I! Great Bolshy Yarblockoes! Someone went through the trouble to do this fantastic thing and make it available to the public, absolutely for free! And even put together a Windows port , which works fantastically!

And so, to bed.

Red Molly

“Oh,” says Red Molly to James, “That’s a fine motorbike.
A girl could feel special on any such like”
Says James to Red Molly, “My hat’s off to you
It’s a Vincent Black Lightning, 1952.
And I’ve seen you at the corners and cafes it seems
Red hair and black leather, my favourite colour scheme.”
And he pulled her on behind and down to Boxhill they did ride

“Oh,” says James to Red Molly, “Here’s a ring for your right hand
But I’ll tell you in earnest I’m a dangerous man.
For I’ve fought with the law since I was seventeen,
I robbed many a man to get my Vincent machine.
Now I’m 21 years, I might make 22
And I don’t mind dying, but for the love of you.
And if fate should break my stride
Then I’ll give you my Vincent to ride.”

“Come down, come down, Red Molly,” called Sergeant McRae
“For they’ve taken young James Adie for armed robbery.
Shotgun blast hit his chest, left nothing inside.
Oh come down, Red Molly to his dying bedside.”
When she came to the hospital, there wasn’t much left
He was running out of road, he was running out of breath
But he smiled to see her cry
He said, “I’ll give you my Vincent to ride.”

Says James, “In my opinion, there’s nothing in this world
Beats a ’52 Vincent and a red headed girl.
Now Nortons and Indians and Greeves won’t do,
Ah, they don’t have a soul like a Vincent 52.”
Oh he reached for her hand and he slipped her the keys
Said, “I’ve got no further use for these.
I see angels on Ariels in leather and chrome,
Swooping down from heaven to carry me home.”
And he gave her one last kiss and died
And he gave her his Vincent to ride.

Richard Thompson
1952 Vincent Black Lightning

The End of The Beginning

I just finished volume I of Rising Up and Rising Down, and I am now about 50 pages into volume II, which is the first volume of Justifications, i.e. when it is permissible to use violence.

The first section is “Defense of Honor”. In it Vollmann divides the idea of honor into two cross-referenced groups of two: Inner honor – the way a person holds his actions in relation to his conscience; outer honor – the way a person is perceived; individual honor – or honor as a person, and collective honor – honor as part of a greater whole or group.

I am not far beyond these definitions, but already Vollmann has quite an impressive list of players: Joan of Arc, Napoleon, the Afghans, rape victims, the families of rape victims, Yukio Mishima, the Samurai, Japanese twentysomethings, Martin Luther King, the Light brigade, King Xerxes and the Spartans at Thermopylae… the list goes on. In each case, he examines the violence committed and then compares the act to the justification given for the act and asks “Was this truly justified, or merely apologized for?”

Needless to say, this is an uncomfortable book to dig through. Vollmann writes beautifully, but the topic is, ultimately, so very ugly.