The Hess Report

Friday, September 30, 2005


Today's dream interpretation clinic:

Dream: You're running around trying desperately to get ready to do your morning things (shower, brush teeth, get dressed), but are stymied at every turn.

Meaning: You've slept through your alarm and are probably late for work. Wake up and move it. Dumbass.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Anything To Support The Hegemon! 

I used to feel bad about buying coffee at Starbucks. All the fruity leftist marketing. The hippies and hipsters hanging out, reading Mother Jones and tapping their toes to the craptacular soul-searching progressive musician of the day playing softly on the in-house audio system. Dudes behind me in line who are all ready with their "Venti Soy Chai No Foam" order. If it were me running a coffee place, I'd have things like that on the menu just to fool losers into ordering them. If you ordered anything more complex than "Coffee", "Decaf" or, well, that's it, actually... anyway, if you ordered anything more complex than that, a big boxing glove on a spring would fly out of the front of the counter and pump you a good one in the gut. Ordering a "Venti Soy Chai No Foam" would cause a foot-tall robotic ninja to pop up from behind the counter and totally wipe the floor with you. And just before it jumped back behind the counter, it would turn around and say (in a nice mini-robot voice) "Venti Soy Chai No Foam MY ASS!" Now that would be coffee shop worth hanging out in.

So, I always felt bad about supporting that whole limousine liberal culture by purchasing coffee from Starbucks. But not anymore. As I was leaving their shop today, I noticed a sticker on their door: "This premises protected by DIEBOLD Systems, Inc." Diebold systems! I thought I was in the belly of the progressive beast, but I was really amongst the tools of the Hegemon! In case you aren't aware, a small portion of the population of our country believes that Diebold Systems, who makes crappy computer-based voting machines, is a wholly owned subsidiary of President Bush and his eeeeevil Republican pals, and that they used their computer voting machines to throw the elections to the Republicans the last couple of times. They really believe that. In fact, it's a good test to see if someone you know is crazy or not. Say something to them like "My sister just got a job in R&D for Diebold." If they start getting jittery and looking around for hidden cameras, then you can be safely assured that they are complete nutters, and probably think Jeff Probst is full of wisdom and insight, too.

Don't get me wrong: I think that Diebold makes really shitty voting machines. Unfortunately, we don't have any way of knowing exactly how shitty they are. In order to assure the highest level of transparency in the process, as well as security, the software running any kind of computer-based voting service should be open source. That way anyone with enough skill can examine the underlying computer code for trickery, or stupidity. So yes, on a technical level their machines suck, but when has suckitude been a disqualifier for government procurement? Right. Never. And when has your relative level of sucking determined whether or not you were in a politician's pocket. Right again. We all know plenty of people who suck rather hard and aren't on anyones political tool list.

But knowing all this, I can now drink my Starbucks with pride. Depending on how I'm dressed, the hipsters might see me with my Starbucks and think I'm one of them. But it won't bother me anymore. I'll just smile, and know that I'm secretly supporting the perpetual fradulent re-election of Republican candidates across the country, with the help of my new comrades at Starbucks. And when the barrista asks me if I want room for cream, I'll wink and say "No friend, but leave a little room for irony."

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Five Weeks Is Up 

Maddie's cast came off today. I can't wait to see her. Of course, she was a model prisoner at the doctors', as is always the case. She's the brave kid with cancer who is always smiling and telling a joke, even when everyone else is depressed. Not me. Adversity makes me simply determined to conquer it, and I kind of focus on that to the exclusion of all else, including my demeanor. And if you've ever been around me when I'm not paying attention to my demeanor, well, it isn't pretty. Actually, it's not even close to pretty. It's more like ten-dollar-hooker-who-hasn't-brushed-her-teeth-in-seven-weeks nasty.

In light of that, I'm going to try to avoid getting long-term illnesses and such. As I've said in the past, when I'm ninety and contract whatever degenerative brain disease is still around that they haven't licked, I'm taking up freehand mountain climbing. Or maybe I'll just start drinking. A lot. I'm nicer when I've been drinking. Ask any of my friends. Or my family. Well, the kids couldn't attest to that specifically, not yet, but if you asked them they could probably come up with "Yeah, Daddy's nicer when he smells funny." (I'm trying to decide if I should let mortified!Joy add an editorial note that I'm only joking, or if I should just own up to it straight away.)

Anyway, the point is (can't you tell?) that Maddie's cast is off. She called me right after the doctors' office and sounded a bit upset. I asked her what was wrong.

"It feels weird," she said.

"I know. You're just not used to having air on your skin."

"No," she said. "It feels like there's too much gravity on my arm."

Cha-ching! That kid really knows how to push her old man's buttons. Too much gravity on her arm. I'll have to figure out some way to slip her fifty bucks just for saying that.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Left Hand of Darkness 

Oh cold steel towers arcing overhead
From which the bodies fall like dread snowflakes,
Cast of the pain of man's tears and child's dread,
Unforgiving of the meanest mistakes.
Thou, the monument of sorrows.
Thou, the torturer of dreams.
Thou, the Monkey Bars.

- unknown 19th century poet

Right, so four weeks ago, Maddie took part in the age-old ritual of trying to impress one's friends by zipping across the monkey bars, getting sweaty hands, falling to the ground and breaking one's wrist. Both bones. Cast up to her shoulder.

In the old days of the Hess Report, I would have talked about how brave she was, etc., and how she chatted up the radiologist, and how she wriggled her hand around to show the doc that it couldn't be that bad because she could still do this and DON'T DO THAT! Geez, girl, your wrist is broken. Do you want to mess it up even worse?

It hasn't slowed her down in the slightest, and she's really only had a couple of bouts of the normal self-pity problems you'd expect from a seven year old girl with a long-arm cast at the start of the school year.

The cast comes off in a week and a day, and I'm thinking about taking a half-day from work just to see her face the first time she can extend her arm again. I might even shed a tear.

The only good thing to come out of this is that it's given us all a good metric for measuring her personal discomfort level. Before this, every scrape, twinge or ache she experienced was characterized by "It hurts really bad. It's the worst ever." Well, now we have a fairly objective basis for comparison.

"Owwww! Aaaargh!"

"How badly does it hurt?"

"Really bad. I can't stand it."

"Is it as bad as when you broke your wrist?"

"Well, no. But OW! Eh, it's kind of going away now."

"Go play."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Everlasting Project Queue 

About a year and a half ago, I posted a little list of ongoing projects that were monopolizing my time. I've put some of them to rest, new ones have been added, and other things have popped their heads up only to be immediately put down. Here's last year's list, and how it's gone:

1. Completion of my animated short Audition. Status: untouched. Still waiting for Blender's character animation tool rewrite, which is now in progress, and will probably be finished in November.

2. Coding work on the Blender Open Source project. Status: done. I contributed a couple of bug fixes, spent a lot of time writing detailed proposals for features and workflows, and even wrote code for a new small feature in the program, which will be a part of the next official release. I'm still looking for ways to contribute, but the existence of this very list kind of preclude taking on anything too time consuming.

3. Creation of an Open Source Python-based AI system for crowd motion. Status: done. Well, not completely done, but a good way along. It's called BlenderPeople and is at version 0.7 right now, awaiting the same character animation updates as point 1. Latest samples (click the image for an animation, DivX required):

The Blue team just wants to boogie, but Red wants to party down on the sacred ground, too. 5 MB.

Nice swarming motion animation, featuring around 200 Actors. Fun music included. 1 MB.

Development has its own web page and its own blog.

4. Move the Hess Report to my own servers. Status: done. Since last year, I've set up, which is where you read the Hess Report.

5. Brew more wine and beer. Status: meh. I only brewed one batch of beer during the entire year. That is unacceptable. Must do better. I've chosen to abandon brewing wine, though. It was a good thing to get me started on home brewing, but with the extreme cheapness of good-tasting wine available (Pennsylvania's stoopid monopoly notwithstanding), it doesn't make sense to spend the time and money to make my own sub-par wine. The beer, on the other hand, is good enough that it's made most commercial beers I've had recently kind of taste like poo.

6. Screenplay about Shatner groupies at a ranch retreat... Status: I was really just kidding about this when I mentioned it last year. Still, it is a good idea, and would be cool to do.

So that's last year's list. Overall, I've done pretty well. Several new things have been added to the list, and are at various stages of completion. Here's what I'll be continuing to work on this year, in order of supposed priority:

1. My personal digital publishing venture. It's some software I wrote that chews up your blog, then typesets it into a nice library-style book, then lets you preview and purchase high-quality hardbound editions of that book, probably for around $20-$25 a piece. You can use it on your own blog, or someone else's to give as a gift, or whatever. It's still in the Beta stage, and you can only preview the books. I'm still chasing down suppliers for the bookbinding supplies. But it seems that my unique combination of experience with blogs, programming, typesetting and high-end digital printing might combine to make me some $. We'll see.

2. The Audition short animation, which has its home page here. Yep. I can still see the finished product in my head, so it's still a viable project. Things that will cause this to happen this year, as opposed to last year: Blender's character animation rewrite will be done, allowing the project to be done to the level that I have in mind; we have in our position excellent audio recording equipment that we did not have last year, which is necessary for the level of quality I want to have from the vocals.

3. BlenderPeople. Still working on it, and still waiting for the Blender character animation retool. I want this thing to be useful, not just some hacker's play toy.

4. Cataloona Zoo. One of the things I neglected to write about was musical!Joy's venture into children's music. She and I wrote several original (really really good) songs, targeted at the 4-8 year old bracket, where kids graduate from Raffi and Barney, but aren't yet dumb enough to want hear Top Forty. Parents have a real opportunity at that stage to give their kids some great stuff to listen to, and there is actually a decent amount of good music out there. But, she felt that we had something to contribute, so, well, just hit the web site. Anyway, we had some music up for a little bit, but we were unhappy with the final sound, so we pulled it. Both of our voices were only half-recovered from week-long laryngitis when we did the songs, we were unbelievably exhausted when we engineered it, and it just didn't sound right. Since then, poor!Joy's been fighting with voice problems, and we've not had the time to re-record. But it's on the list, and I'm giving it a priority somewhere above "wishful fantasy".

Wishful Fantasy Projects

I know there will be no time for these, but I have to list them anyway.

Fantasy Project #1: A Sara and Kate kid's novel. I've told the girls at least a dozen "Sara and Kate" stories, about two sisters who are always stuck in the house with their sunlight allergic agoraphobic parents. One year, their uncle sends them a new night-light style lamp, which when used, transports them to a magical forest land, where of course, they have many adventures. Maddie and Lucy have always loved the stories, and each one would be just about right for a separate chapter of a book. I already know the stories, and I can sorta write a little bit, so I've wanted to plunk them down. Time...

Fantasy Project #2: The War Between the Vowels and the Consonants, by Pricilla Turner. I've mentioned before that it's a great kids book, and it would make an even better short animation for someone who's looking to debut their crowd motion and battle generation software.

Fantasy Project #3: Integrate Renderman support into Blender. I don't have the time or the chops, but I'd love to do it.

Well, that's what's been keeping me busy this past year, in addition to the many house projects big and small, hanging out with the kids, spending time with darling!Joy, and handling everything else that life flings at you. So, if you don't see a Hess Report for a week, you'll know why.


Click the thumbnail below for a cool picture I took last night. Actually, if you're using a good browser (read: not Internet Explorer), I recommend that you open the picture in a new tab (middle-click on the thumbnail):

If you can't see what's cool about it, click here. If you opened the first image in a new tab, do the same to this one, then alternate between tabs. If you're using IE, well, then, you lose.

See it? Ha!

The picture is taken through my dining room window. Some poor bird flew smack into the center of the pane and left a perfect Loony Tunes imprint. Of course, this meant that I had to climb up on the roof to clean the window, but that gave me a chance to fix the small leak that dribbled water onto the porch for days after it rained.

When Maddie saw it, she said "What is that?"

I shrugged and said "I guess they built this house with Angel-proof glass."

And she went in her room and cried.

I'm just keeeeding! Oh, and just so no one accuses me of being like Time magazine, I'll just disclose up front that I added the little "X" for an eye in the second picture. It wasn't really that way on the window.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Harkywoman's Inaugural Post 

Okay, here it is - my inagural post. Roland has been after me for awhile to add to his blog and I haven't felt led to do so until now. The reason? He's wrong!!! Since that is something that happens so rarely, I have to take advantage of it while I can.

While his story about Lucy and her bedtime antics is spot-on and quite funny (especially the part of her pulling this bedtime excuse out of 'you know where'), he's wrong about one thing: Pearl is NOT a squid. She is, in fact, a flapjack octopus. Since Roland always requires proof - here's a rather lengthy, but accurate link:

[lengthy link shortened to this - ed.]

If you scroll down just a bit on the page, you'll see pictures of all the Nemo characters, their names, and their type of animal/sea creature.

So there it is. Sorry Rol, but I just couldn't let something as important as whether or not a Disney character is a squid or octopus go unchecked. Especially if it's keeping Lucy up at night.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A Good Excuse 

When the girls get out of their beds at night, they usually have a plausible excuse:

- I'm thirsty.
- I'm hungry.
- I'm scared.
- I'm worried about going to the doctor tomorrow.

Or, less plausibly but still getting a marginally passing grade for effort:

- I can't find "insert-stuffed-animal-name-here".
- I had a bad dream (when they had obviously not yet gone to sleep).
- Dingoes ate my baby! Okay, if they actually said that, and with an Australian accent, I'd let them stay up an extra half hour and eat ice cream the whole time.
- I can't sleep.

Lucy had already been put to bed tonight, and we were having a typical drama-filled (read "tears") discussion about life with Maddie. After several minutes, Lucy appeared in the kitchen. She had a big grin on her face. I gave her the look that said "And what is it tonight?"

She obviously hadn't prepared anything and had to wing it.

"Guys," she said, heaving a big sigh, "was Pearl a jellyfish or an octopus?"

Pearl is the baby squidapus character from Finding Nemo, which hasn't even been mentioned around our house for weeks. Where'd she pull that one out of? Her penchant for bathroom humor suggests a location. Her decision to forego even even the slightest shade of a decent pretense took me aback with its sheer audacity.

I kind of laughed. "Pearl's a squid," I said.

"A squid!" She hadn't thought of that.

"Go to bed."

She trotted off happily, apparently satisfied.

When I poked my head into their bedroom later to tell Maddie good night, I expected Lucy to be long asleep. Instead, she sat right up in her bed and said "You can go out now. I'm ready to sleep."

It's a good thing for her that she's unreasonably cute.