Futures and Coke bottles

If someone would’ve explained the futures market to me when I was 18 years old, I’d be a fucking billionaire by now. If I had the money to do it, I mean. I’ve been trying to figure out my money situation lately, especially since my average daily balance in savings in 1996 was 4 cents, and someday I’ll get sick or laid off or will want to buy a new pair of shoes and I’ll be fucked. I’ve been thinking about a mutual fund or something like that, where I can put in a few dollars a week and when I decided to buy a house or whatever, I’ll have the cash.

Anyway, I found out how futures work and it’s all highly skeptical and everything, but sounds incredible. It’s about like betting on the world money market – horseracing but slightly more legitimate. I’d probably do bad, since every prediction I’ve made about the business world has gone under. But it’s the thought that counts.

It’s been one of those days where I am so miserable that I wonder what I’m doing and why I’m not doing something better. Yesterday, I spent the whole day on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and I couldn’t even blame it on anything. Maybe it was diet or this stomach sickness or food or lack thereof or something, but I had complete and literal tunnel vision, and couldn’t do anything as simple as open my car and get something off of the dash without formulating a complete battle plan and executing it at a movement per five minutes, like some kind of lunar probe being controlled from a million miles away. And when I can’t even watch TV, I can’t do things like write, think, etc. So it’s been frustrating and tiring. Sleep hasn’t helped a lot. I think my glasses are going, or I need a new prescription, or I scratched mine up too much.

Shit, I didn’t know USWEST really had their yellow pages online. I thought the commercials were some kind of stupid joke, and when you went to the URL, it would say “Use the yellow pages!” and then have a phone number where you could call to get a paper copy of them (if anyone ever answered the phone).

Okay, so I now have an appointment to get new glasses, which is somewhat of a scary thing. First, I have had glasses since I was in first grade. And not some little token, about-as-distorting-as-plate-glass glasses, but big, thick, coke-bottle glasses. So from a young age, I’ve always thought of having to buy new glasses as something like having to replace the engine in your car – an expensive and time consuming process that 99% of the people out there probably don’t have to deal with. I know a lot of people that get all kinds of Brooks Brothers, Anthony Edwards-looking glasses to correct their 20/29.5 vision, and they love new glasses like they love a new pair of $300 shoes. That isn’t me. First, nobody can fill my prescription right. One time I went to a place in the mall where their ad said “we will fill any prescription in an hour!”. It took them 9 days to grind me a pair of glasses, and when I got them, they were not perfect. So I’ve always had problems with getting new glasses. Plus now, it adds the fun element of dealing with my cryptic and impossible to decipher insurance coverage. I think this will be a fairly cheap thing, but we’ll see. If it does work out, it will be nice to finally have a new pair of glasses…

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99% pristine

My zine is at this crucial stage where 99% of the text is pristine, and I am now just screwing around with graphics and margins and fonts and all of that stuff. It’s easy at this point to rush it to press and throw everything together fast, and then get it back from the printer and find a bunch of stupid mistakes. (or even worse, shove them all in the mail and 2 weeks later get a bunch of letters about your stupid mistakes). It’s also easy to spend another 4 months nit-picking with stuff, looking at issues of Newsweek and Playboy and Details for more layout inspiration, while the articles rot and date themselves. And it’s also easy to completely fuck everything up, and delete one text frame that forces 25,000 words of text to all be imprinted on top of each other on the cover page. So it’s a matter of balance, and I’m still shooting for that Tuesday deadline.

I just had the sudden urge for rolls, potatoes, and turkey gravy. Potatoes and gravy are one of the only guilty pleasures I can enjoy these days. After eating a week’s worth of lunchmeat and salads, I want to sink into a steak or a pizza with a lot of stuff on it, or some Denny’s fare, but I can’t anymore. Potatoes have enough starch and texture for me, though, and it’s amazing how infrequently I eat hot food these days. Enough of my weight watchers stories…

I wish life had a search engine like AltaVista. Whenever I want to find out about some obscure band or spaceship or country or whatever, I enter it into a search engine and see what comes up. Some things, like music, work great for this – even the most obscure garage bands are usually listed somewhere. But sometimes you get a bunch of ads instead of information, which is somewhat annoying. I don’t always trust the info I find on the web – I seldom do. But it makes for good reading.

I can’t stay awake. It’s been a long week, but I’ve been pulling long days, so it’s sort of a twilight zone thing. I can’t believe it’s already Thursday, but it also seems like 7 weeks since the last weekend. I don’t know – time passes fast now, and will continue to speed up for the rest of my life. Now that I have no concept of seasons anymore, it all blends together. A second ago, it was April, and a second from now, it will be October. Kinda pathetic…

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Red Mars, dumb metal

I finished reading Red Mars last night. Things get pretty weird and intense at the end of the book, and I really liked how it went. It made me think a lot more about capitalism and historic themes. Mars was a neutral place like Antartica, and then when big companies found out they could mine the fuck out of it, they broke treaties and lured human slaves to the strip mines with promises of money and good work that never happened. I read somewhere that any colonization happens not because of a lack of natural resources, but because of a lack of freely available natural resources. It took less firepower to steal land from the Indians than the French or British.

I bought Blue Mars and Green Mars, so I can keep going with the trilogy. I also saw Mark Leyner’s new book and Vonnegut’s new book, but I didn’t have the cash to buy them both in hardcover – maybe on payday. I think I’ll be busy reading for a while.

There’s a Jello Biafra interview on The Onion, and it’s amazing how much he repeats himself, sometimes in the same interview. I’d be afraid to interview him again in person and find that 50% of what he said is stuff I’ve already printed in the zine. But he has a lot of good things to say. He’s very anti-punk, in the sense that most punk rock these days is as brain-dead as the disco scene was in the 70s, and that scene was why punk was formed in the first place. Most rap is more punk than punk these days.

It makes me think about heavy metal – there was a long period where I thought heavy metal was a thinking man’s music, because my only exposure to it was reading Iron Maiden liner notes in the basement of my mom’s house. There was no metal scene in Indiana, and everyone else was listening to Warrant or whatever, so I bought my Slayer and MOD and Anthrax albums in the equivalent of a Musicland, and thought that with all of this anti-war stuff, that metal had sort of a moderate-left political position. Then when I started doing the zine, I found that most metalheads were mostly drunken rednecks and far to the left by default, and they listened to anti-war lyrics and thought they were pro-war and the coolest thing in the world. And it’s a strange hypocrisy – there are all these Swedish bands who bitch about the high taxes, but live off of welfare illegally while they tour America.

I’m not a hippy or anything – I guess I’m angry about such non-cerebral people taking a fake political stance and thinking they’re infallible. Most punks who hate corporate america and subscribe to that whole prefab belief are probably more conservative than your average NRA member. And most gun-slinging gangsta rappers are probably more to the left with Clinton – they all have this giant communal posse, and spread the wealth when they become famous. The first thing a rapper does when he gets signed is build a house for his mom. The second thing he does is buys a mercedes or bmw for each of his friends. It’s almost like socialism, redistribution of wealth. It’s rare I agree with rap artists, but if I had more money than I could spend, I wouldn’t just sit on it, either.

Speaking of which, how about that Ted Turner deal? That’s the first thing he’s ever done that I’ve agreed with. He loses a billion but I bet he gains it back on his stock prices. Despite the arguments from the black helicopter crowd, I think it’s a good cause. It’d be nice if the UN had the cash and the balls to figure out some thing and to get some damn money and aid to some of these poverty stricken country. It’s amazing how some countries have life expectancies that are half or even a third of ours. And despite what Sally Struthers’ fat ass tells you in a commercial, a dollar a week or whatever won’t fix those peoples’ problems. That dollar never makes it to the adopt-a-kid, because there’s some fascist puppet regime opening all the mail and eating fat on the proceeds. People gave millions of dollars of food to Ethiopia 10 years ago, and none of it got there. They should’ve starved out the fat cats and gave them a taste of their own medicine. If the US wants to do something worthwhile with their trillion dollar aircraft carriers, they should liberate some of the starving countries in the southern hemisphere – you know, the ones without oil.

Enough of the political bullshit – that Biafra interview got to my head…

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Sick, Mars

I went home sick yesterday, with something stomach-related that felt like the flu or something. I don’t know. I’m here today, and I feel a little better. I spent the afternoon in bed, reading Red Mars and/or taking a nap. It’s a very cool book, and it covers a lot of details about Mars colonization that people wouldn’t think about, like money, religion, different countries competing against each other, and that thing.

Things I’m wondering about include what kind of power outlets they use, if the TVs are PAL or NTSC, if the women take birth control or something else is used during these frequent plot-building extramarital affairs, and so on. It also seems odd that they’ve been there about 20 years (at page 360-some) and they can build about anything. Assembly lines can build complete rover cars and biosphere domes, but there are only 10,000 people on the planet. I guess it’s the robots they have, and maybe it’s just easier to build stuff with less gravity. Who knows.

I’m eating toast for lunch. It was in the fridge all morning, so it’s pretty awful.

Thismorning, I started thinking about what would’ve happened if back in 1989, I would’ve hit myself in the head with a brick, started studying 40 hours a week, and changed to CompSci right away. I don’t know why I torture myself like this, because I’m sure when I turn 40, I’ll be wishing I would’ve had a moment of clarity in 1997 and started saving every damn penny I make.

So I’m thinking about this, and then I start thinking about computers and artificial intelligence. Would a computer know its limits? In a sense, even the most basic computers know their limits – if you divide by 0 or enter a number too big, it will stop and give you an error. Why can’t humans know their limits like this? Is it because our greater ability to think stops us? I mean, even our bodies know our limits. If you drink 20 shots of rum back to back, your body will make you puke. But your mind didn’t make you stop after shot 2 or 12 or whatever. It might just be a bad analogy – with a computer, it is a simple matter of checking a circuit, whereas with a human, it is a more complex and fuzzy process of making value judgements.

I need to read more about AI before I go off on these weird tangents… And I need to go finish my applesauce…

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Space exploration and Commodore 64

I’ve been reading about the Artemis Project, which is this effort to launch people to the moon in the next 10 years or so. (You can read about it here) It’s a pretty cool plan, really, and involves a lot of commercialism and a lot of volunteers. I guess if you are a rocket scientist sitting around doing not much of anything and an opportunity comes to design a giant booster or something comes up, you probably would decide to work on it.

I’ve been on this SciFi bent lately, and I don’t know if it is because of all the Mars stuff, or the Commodore 64 is bringing back repressed memories, or all of the talk of old SciFi zines sounds cool, or what. When I was in high school and took many study halls in order to avoid becoming an overachiever, I read about every book in the library to stay awake. This meant a lot of SciFi – old school stuff like Asimov, and Bradbury, and Clarke. Now, it’s hard to get into some of the junk science-based SciFi, but some of it has enough spirit in it to be readable. I’m reading the book Red Mars now, which talks about settling on mars, and terraforming, and all that, but it’s well done. I think I want to check out the whole trilogy.

I’ve always been into the whole space exploration thing, too. In grade school, I memorized all of the books about the manned space missions. Even in college, I followed all of the shuttle missions on the internet, and kept up with the construction of the Endeavour. It’s a fun bug, but you can’t exactly finish college with a 2.1 GPA and go work for NASA. Oh well..

I’m having a real non-day, and I’m feeling a bit sick. Maybe I’ll skip out for the rest of today.

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On a boat

I spent all afternoon on a boat. It was a work thing, they took the whole team out on a little chartered cruise with some food and beer and stuff. We were out for about 3 hours, and it was pretty decent. The weather’s been pretty shitty all week, so I wasn’t sure if we were going to get rained out or if it would be too cold, but it was decent – the sun was out, and even though it was a little chilly, you could get around without a jacket.

The boat had a cabin with a kitchen and 4 booths that sat 4 each, with lots of wood, and a carpeted “living room”. The main deck went all the way around the boat, so you could go up to the front and hang out there. On top of the cabin was a second deck, and the cabin where they ran the ship (the cockpit?). There was also a third crow’s-nest deck above that. I don’t know how long or big the boat was, but it seemed pretty decent. The people who ran it were from Alaska, but they had a summer base up there and spent winters down in Seattle. They also had two little dogs, chiwawas or something, that sort of sat around the cockpit while we were out.

So when it was time to leave, we just crossed the street and went to the marina, and there was our boat, waiting in lake union. The cruise went all over, first back near the locks by Ballard , and then under I-5 and to lake Washington, and then back. The first part brought us through a lot of the more industrial parts of the water, where there were drydocks, old rusty ships, and lots of fishing boats. Lake union has some houseboats and stuff, too. And there are a lot of freaky business office buildings in Fremont that sit right on the water.

The western part of Lake Washington was cool, because we saw the 520 bridge up close, and also saw some of the rowing crew people practicing. A lot of UW is right on the water, too, and we saw stuff like the staduim up close. Then we crossed to the eastern side of the lake. If you’re on the east side of the lake, just south of 520, the first thing you see is the giant mansion that Bill Gates had built. First reactions, of course, have to do with how he can screw so many and build so big of a house. But when you continue north on the lake, you see that he is just trying to keep up with the Jonses, and I emphasize trying. I never knew there were so many billionairs around here! There were houses with yachts in the back yard, a house with a seaplane in the back yard, a lot of golf course green yards, giant verandas, decks, intricate architecture, marble staircases, long stretches of glass, and about everything else. It was like taking some kind of floating tour of the homes of the rich and famous or something. I liked seeing all of the neat architecture, but it was sort of a wakeup call that I would never become some kind of executive that could afford to spend 100 grand a year on their groundskeeping.

Oh well. It was a cool tour, and I liked seeing the houses and the boats…

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Wander streets aimlessly

It’s one of those days where you wish you could wander the streets aimlessly, with no purpose or goal. It’s cold enough outside to make it prohibitive yet seductive. Not like a hot and sunny summer day, where you biologically feel a need to escape and have fun. It’s more like a day when you wish you were clutching your coat against you, a wind blowing fliers and dead leaves down the street, and you watch the city as it works during the time you’re a part of it and working. You wander into a mall and it’s some geriatric ward, with the worst of the worst at the counters and muzak blaring in at 11. The small stores are empty, too. It’s all about the weather, though. It’s telling you “summer’s over”, like waking up with a hangover the morning after a party, your house filled with stale bags of half-eaten potato chips and mostly empty beer cans. It all sucks, but there’s something about that complete silence that tells you it’s over, but you survived it.

I once read a Bukowski poem where he describes the same feeling, where he sits in an attic drinking a beer and thinking that there’s all of those construction workers building houses or whatever, while he just sits there. My feeling is some of that, but also based on having such a weird student schedule for 6 years. I’d catch a couple classes or a shift of work at IUSB and then drive to Scottsdale Mall to blow my paycheck. The feeling of only me and my tape deck in the car, mixed with a city so busy at commerce, felt almost haunting, like being on the crashed Titanic’s hull, except it’s all alive.

The other strange thing about Michawaka and South Bend and my year their was that driving in downtown South Bend felt like really being in a city. There were buildings taller than 3 stories high, you had to parallel park in places, there were 6 lane streets and one way streets and overpasses and highways. Once I learned how to really drive around that mess of cities, I felt like it was better than being in Bloomington in some odd way. There was more going on in Bloomington, but it’s a small town compared to South Bend – compared to Elkhart, even.

The flipside to this is having the weird student schedule and being awake at 4 or 5 in the morning, and seeing the same city asleep. This happened to me almost every day back in school, and still happens sometimes now. It’s strange, but I think Bloomington had more stuff open late than Seattle. There are clubs and bars open past midnight, but you’re stuck with Denny’s or IHOP otherwise.

I just looked up some population stuff from the census page. My dad lives in Millersburg, which had a 1994 population of about 900. The city, or rather village, where I spent my time from age 1 to the first grade (Edwardsburg, MI), has a population of 1141. My birthplace, Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota, is not listed, although the city of Grand Forks is around 50,000. My old hangout of Elkhart was 43,000. The city of Seattle itself is around 500,000. The greater metro area is about 3 million though. The strangest fact I’ve learned – there is a city named Starbuck, WA – population 170.

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Turing machines

I’ve been thinking about Turing machines a lot, and doing some reading about them. The basic explanation, if I can remember it: there’s a machine that can read this paper tape (probably mylar if it was invented now). The tape looks sort of like a piece of movie film or something, and each square can hold a 1 or a 0. The machine can also move the tape left or right, to read another square. The machine has in internal state, which is basically like one memory location that holds a number. The machine is also constructed to follow a ruleset. The ruleset is a bunch of if-then statements that distate tape movement and the storage of new items on the tape. So, “if the tape says 0 and the current state is 20, change the current state to 27, write a 1 in this position, and move the tape left”

What the hell does all this mean? Turing designed this thing (on paper) in 1936 as the solution to a problem about designing a machine that could solve any mathematical problem without being physically rebuilt or modified. This seems pretty stupid if you’ve got a pentium on your desk, but back then, it was a big deal. And if you’ve ever worked with assembly language, you know the similarities between a Turing machine and a simple (i.e. non-Intel) processor. A Turing machine is sort of like a one-register RISC processor, except it addresses a bunch of paper tape instead of a bus.

Turing killed himself in 1954 because he was a homosexual and the government persecuted him, took away his top secret clearance to work on crypto-stuff for the govt, and forced him to take estrogen injections. At Lindley hall, all of the laserprinters in the basement are named after famous computer scientists. The one named after Turing was always breaking down, more than the others. Coincidence?

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Four different things

It’s amazing that there are things in the Rumored to Exist draft from two months ago that I’ve completely forgotten about. I was just editing down an excerpt for the next zine, and I found about 10 pages of really incredible stuff that I don’t remember writing. So that’s pretty cool.

I have about four different things going on at work and in my mind, and I can’t just focus on one. Over lunch and last night, I was trying to edit some stuff for the zine, today and yesterday I was trying to learn enough javascript to fix something at work, I started thinking thismorning about how I could rewrite my auto-index program for this journal so it would include table support, and on the back burner is this game I’m writing. Lots of things to think about…

I guess the tables thing works now. It really makes the list of journals look small though. And I’m not sure if there’s some weird year-2000-esque bug that will cause the whole thing to fail at the end of the year. It sorts the stuff in alphabetical order, not numeric. So 12/25/71 goes after 9/16/97. And if I start writing next year it will look like this in the list: 9/16/97, 9/16/98, 9/17/97,…

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I no longer advocate Details magazine as a worthwhile publication. At one time I said it was a good read for its price, but all of the good parts have vanished in favor for their idiotic new look. Plus they have these 200 page advertizing layouts that are disguised as genuine articles that pad out most of the articles that are not there anymore. And what’s with this “Details guy” thing? They make it sound like every person who is anybody in my age demographic wears $4000 suits with $400 shoes, works out for 40 hours a week, climbs mountains or visits Europe on the weekend, does the “club scene” every weekend (also) and lives in New York City or in the Valley. It’s total bullshit. If that is my generation, I want to file for emancipation and go join the baby boomers with their mutual funds and quiet vacations to Lake Tahoe. Anything but this.

I saw the first Back to the Future movie last night, and now I want to own a DeLorean. I also want to own a bunch of useless/useful scientific gear. I watched a lot of movies yesterday, many of the same genre, but on accident. I saw Wargames, then some HBO movie about a Soviet sub with a reactor fire, then Independence Day, then I went home and saw Back to the Future. So all but one had some military theme to them, and three mentioned DEFCON.

In about two minutes of searches, I found several comprehensive DeLorean pages. They cost about $20,000 new, but sold for much more, and appreciated way more. I did see one of these at Universal Studios, but it might have been a fake. Oh, you can find a used one that needs some work for $12K-$14K, and a pristine one for around $20K-$30K.

I’ve always been interested in ham radio even though I don’t like CBs or walkie talkies. I can never hear what the people are understanding. My dad had a CB back when fucking everybody had one, and it seemed interesting, but I never got into it – I was only 6. He also had a set of walkie talkies which were fairly cool – the type with six foot antennae. We used to run around the neighborhood with those bastards, playing army or star wars or whatever. But they took about 600 batteries each, so there were only one or two times we had both radios going.

The packet radio thing sounds cool – the idea of having something like the internet but without all of the ball and chain connections to the computer industry sounds pretty cool. But I don’t know what I’d use it for, since I seldom use my modem and computer at home these days. It would also be cool to get some 2 meter antenna radio and talk to people on the Mir and in China and everything, but I guess I can do a lot of that on the computer, and I don’t.

Today’s been a geek day, because I’ve been trying to figure out JavaScript for the first time today. I have always considered it useless, but now I think it might be cool to write some kind of book catalog search or something with it. As long as it isn’t some annoying dialog box that comes up and says “My Site is K00L! Come on in!”.

I plan to blow 50 or 60 bucks at the grocery tonight. I’m hoping for a good evening.

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