By now, I’m sure most of you are aware of the new Star Trek movie coming out this weekend. (If not and you consider yourself a “Trekker”—note the distinction from “Trekkie”—you should officially have your Vulcan ears bobbed.) Needless to say, the marketing engine is in full force, with movie tie-ins showing up in every parsec of the galaxy. (Note to Burger King: Captain Kirk bobbleheads? Seriously?)
I was rather amused to find the following ad in a magazine recently, so amused in fact that I just absolutely had to share my thoughts on it. I’m pretty sure that copyrights extend to advertising just as they do to other media, so it’s probably technically infringement for me to post this. However, we’ll just throw in a link to Kellogg’s official site and say it’s a product endorsement in hopes that it makes things kosher. (Lord knows I’ve eaten enough of their cereal over the years for that to count).
There are a number of things that stand out concerning this ad. Perhaps the most obvious is Tony the Tiger’s three-fingered Vulcan salute. For those out there who don’t know their tribbles from their tricorders, the Vulcan salute is generally performed by most humanoids in the Trek universe by separating the middle and ring fingers, keeping the index and middle fingers together as well as the ring and pinky fingers together, with the thumb sticking out on its own. Having one too few fingers tends to present… problems, and I’ve always wondered how cartoon characters, many of whom tend to be finger deficient, might cope. When Fooker gave Ki the salute, I fudged; Fooker mysteriously grew an extra finger between panels one and two and subsequently lost it between panels two and three. (I’m not sure why the cast of GPF have only three fingers per hand; I just drew them that way and stuck with the convention. But I’m not above making fun of myself about it.) Tony the Tiger’s three-fingered salute just looks… wrong, and for some reason I just can’t seem to let that go.
Another thing that I find funny is what the ad promotes: In “specially marked packages” of their cereals, Kellogg’s is inserting “beam up badges”—essentially, little plastic gizmos in the shape of various Trek insignia that light up (and probably make a sound) when you press on them. You can call yourself a true Trek nerd if you take exception with this, to which all the non-nerds should reasonably respond, “Why?” Well, firstly, for those willing to receive entirely too much information, they’re not called “beam up badges”; they’re communicators. Secondly, communicators weren’t built into Starfleet insignia until the era of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the film is set just before the time of the original 1960s series. In Kirk and Spock’s (amok) time, communicators bore much more resemblance to subspace cell phones (which, in true Trek circular fashion, is doubtless the inspiration of many flip-style mobiles in use today).
But the real thing that sets off my old Trek nerd radar is this. Take a look at the image below and see if you can find the error. If you can’t, hand in your phaser and communicator go back to Sector 001; you’re not fit to enter Sto-Vo-Kor.
I will now be hiding under my desk for the rest of the week. It’s obvious I shouldn’t be allowed in public again until I am forced to watch 24 hours straight of American Idol or whatever else passes for “acceptable” entertainment for the washed masses these days.
This week an couple errors were reported in the custom CMS application I built at work a couple years ago. I haven’t touched this code in at least a year, so it took me bit to swap some mental virtual memory and recall how everything worked. I’m not sure if these “bugs” were something new that had manifested themselves after a recent platform upgrade or design flaws that had been there since the beginning only to be recently noticed. None of that really matters for the sake of this post, however. Suffice it to say there were two problems, one of which was likely to be entirely my fault but relatively easy to fix with a little bit of C# hacking.
Sys.WebForms.PageRequestManagerServerErrorException: An unknown error occurred while processing the request on the server. The status code returned from the server was: 500
After much searching, I finally happened upon this site. It seems Ted Jardine hit the same problem I did. He had narrowed it down to something to do with the .NET session, which he wasn’t really using but I was using extensively. What I found most interesting was his solution:
So, based on one of the comments in one of the above posts, even though I’m not touching session on one of the problem pages, I tried a hack in one of the problem page’s Page_Load:
Session[“FixAJAXSysBug”] = true;
And lo and behold, we’re good to go!
I followed the various links he provided—as well as Googling for “FixAJAXSysBug” itself—and found lots more anecdotal evidence to support its usefulness. I applied this “fix” to the common header of the application to make sure it took affect everywhere and, so far, all reports seem to indicate its success.
Needless to say, I was instantly reminded of this GPF strip from the crossover with Help Desk. I can’t remember now if that joke was my idea or Chris Wright’s. It doesn’t matter now, really… it audacity is as brilliant now as it was eight years ago. The idea of setting a simple Boolean flag to “turn off bugs” is something I will always find hilarious.
Now if only all Microsoft bugs were so easy to fix….
It’s not uncommon for me to occasionally receive… interesting mail in the GPF snail-mailbox. Most of what I receive tends to be business credit card offers. (GPF currently has no form of debt, and personally I’d like to keep it that way.) During the December holidays, I usually receive a handful of Christmas cards from fans. And on rare occasions, I receive pamphlets and flies for various technical conferences, such as the one you see below, which arrived this past weekend:
What makes this one noteworthy is who it’s addressed to:
As soon as I read the address label, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. This is the first instance that I can remember where one of my characters actually received physical mail. I hate to break it to them, but I doubt Nick will be able to make it. He’s also not the president of GPF Software; Dwayne might have a thing or two to say about that.
Every so often, my wife receives one of those women’s magazines. Sometimes it’s a gift subscription from someone, sometimes it’s a free complimentary issue fishing for a subscription. On extremely rare occasions, it’s because it has a cover article she’s interested in. Rarest of all we may actually have a paid subscription; we get a parenting magazine or two that have actually proven useful over time. Either way, these magazines somehow arrive at our home, where they invariably find their way into the official reading room. You know, that one room with the special white ceramic chair where you’re stuck for a good portion of time with nothing else to do.
I could expound at length about what it’s like being a man reading one of these magazines. That topic, though, might be so exhaustive it would merit a treatment much more long-form than a simple blog post. However, I would like to share one interesting little anecdote that isn’t necessarily related to differing genders and likely to be much more entertaining to my particular audience.
One morning this past weekend, I was flipping through one of these periodicals during my morning constitutional. (I won’t mention which magazine this was to avoid both accidentally endorsing it and exposing my mild copyright infringement in quoting it.) I wasn’t looking for anything in particular but happened upon the inevitable parental question and answer page. While I had mild interest in the article about the son taking out a credit card in his mother’s name so he could gamble online, a different question quickly caught my attention. Here’s a paraphrase of the query (both to minimize said copyright infringement and because I don’t have the magazine in front of me now anyway):
While we encourage our fourteen-year-old son to be himself, we were dismayed to find him pursuing some unusual activities recently, such as building a four-foot-tall replica of the Star Wars Death Star made out of LEGOs in our living room. How can we encourage him to engage in activities where he won’t be made fun of by his friends?
Now, if you’re like me, the instant you read the phrase “four-foot-tall replica of the Star Wars Death Star made out of LEGOs”, you mentally broke out in a rousing chorus of John Williams’ Imperial March (Darth Vader’s theme) or maybe started Googling to see how many Lego bricks it would take to build a spheroid with a four-foot diameter. (I’m guesstimating 193,059.*) After this initial lapse in attention, though, I began to see the real problem with this question. If you read between the lines, what this troubled parent was really asking is, “Help! My son is turning into a geek! Can he be saved?”
As you might guess, this irked me somewhat, as if this misguided parent thought geekiness were some leprous social disease. To the magazine’s credit, they caught the undercurrent of the question and replied appropriately. “Who’s really anxious here, you or your son?” they replied. The editors gave the advice that the parent should check their attitude at the door and let their son be who he wants to be. The only place of real concern here is if he isn’t making any friends, and in this case they suggested taking him somewhere where he might find people with similar interests, like (Gasp!) a Star Wars convention.
I have some additional unsolicited advice I could offer. Perhaps the first nugget of wisdom is the matter of his “friends”. If his “friends” are making fun of him for building Star Wars LEGO sculptures, they aren’t his friends. I’ve had many non-geek friends over the years who read my hand-drawn comics on lined notebook paper or who tolerated my extra credit speech on how Star Trek warp engines worked. They took these little elements of my personality in stride and counted them as part of who I was. If any of them “made fun” of me for these traits, it was as playful banter between friends who were mature enough to laugh at themselves. None of those individuals who made fun of my geekier activities were ever my true friends, except the few who eventually matured to the point that they accepted others for who they were and apologized for their past insensitivity. The point here is that if his “friends” are hazing him for being a Star Wars fan, those kids aren’t his friends. Either this boy’s parents need to be more observant or the lad needs to invest in better company.
What I really see as an issue, though, is the parent’s misunderstanding of their own child. How is he going to learn to make friends who respect him if his own parents can’t? Perhaps my own childhood isn’t a good example as my parents were a bit geekier than most, but I’m certain my parents would be just as proud of me whether I was a computer programmer, cartoonist, professional athlete, or plumber. As long as what I did was legal and moral, I did the best at it as I possibly could, and I was happy doing it, I’m sure they would approve. Sure, the likelihood that he’ll take up building LEGO sculptures as a profession is slim (yet still possible in this day and age), but I don’t build Star Trek model kits, play piano, or play with model trains for living either. Geeky hobbies may lead him toward other interests; maybe his interest in building LEGO sculptures could lead him to be a digital artist, modeling 3D characters in the next big Hollywood movie? Don’t squash his dreams just because you think they’re nerdy. Geek is the new cool; after all, without geeks all this crazy Internet junk would have never happened.
What is really needed here is communication. This parent must come to understand their son, and that only comes through sharing and talking. We have no idea from the submitted letter whether or not the boy communicates well with his parents. It’s a safe bet that, since he’s a teenager, sharing all his feelings accurately with his parents isn’t necessarily his strongest trait, but we can’t assume that to be true. But as with any relationship, communication is key. Only together can they come to a consensus on what geeky habits are acceptable or not. Building four-foot tall Death Stars is OK, but only in the garage, not the living room. Cosplaying as Darth Maul is fine at conventions, but dressing up as Princess Leia in a metal bikini isn’t healthy for a fourteen-year-old boy.
Dear parent, if by some miracle you’ve found this site and are reading this, please talk with your son. It’s your best way of learning to understand him. If you need help, let me offer this one little bit of advice, just to break the ice: Dip into his LEGO stores and find all the blue, green, brown, and white LEGO bricks you can find. Look at his Death Star sculpture and find the circular “dent” in one side. Scatter the bricks you’ve collected on the floor in front of this feature of the sphere. Be elaborate if you can; place a few bricks on furniture, door and window frames, etc. ideally evenly spread out in a cone radiating out from the “dent”. For extra credit, tie some bricks to fishing line and suspect them in midair at varying heights within the cone. Now be prepared for your son to freak out a little when he comes home and finds out you’ve been messing with his bricks. Try to calm him down and assure him you haven’t affected the original sculpture in any way. (You haven’t, right?) Eventually he’ll look to you completely flabbergasted and utter something to the effect of, “Mom, what is this?” Reply simply and plainly: “Alderaan.” (“All-dur-on.”) It may take a minute for this to sink in, but when it does, he’ll laugh his head off. Once he’s able to breathe again, use this as an opportunity to open a dialog. You may even get him to help you clean up the bricks you scattered once you’re done.
* Based on an average 8-stud LEGO brick size of 9.6 mm x 32 mm x 16 mm or 4.9152 cm3, taken from here. Please excuse rounding and metric-to-Imperial conversion errors; this was a quick and dirty calculation.
So I was listening to this week’s edition of TWiT, during which Leo Laporte and the usual band of miscreants psychoanalyze Microsoft‘s new ad campaign featuring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld. I had not seen the ad yet myself—apparently it debuted during an NFL opening game, and considering that I don’t watch professional sports and the overwhelming majority of my television watching now consists of shows containing magic backpacks and talking monkeys that wear red boots, it hadn’t come to my attention yet—so the discussion naturally raised my morbid curiosity. So I dug around a little on YouTube and found this. I must admit, it’s as surreal as I was led to believe. I won’t attempt to try and mine this thing for hidden meaning like Ryan Block did; the only comment I think I can really make about it is that it tells me absolutely nothing about Microsoft, Windows, or any other product they may have in the pipeline, and after watching it I am no more inclined to pick Microsoft options over the competition than I was before. I thought that was the point of advertising….
But that’s not the weirdest part. Last night, I dreamed about Bill Gates. Maybe it was exhaustion, maybe it was a prescription-drug fueled haze (I’m currently in the middle of my quarterly bout with bronchitis), but it was not something I was particularly expecting. There’s nothing really interesting to say about the dream, though. In what little I remember, Mr. Gates was there, tying his shoes. He wasn’t necessarily trying on new ones, nor was there any indication that the shoes were noticeably old. They were shiny, brown leather dress shoes, so they could have been either new or well maintained. Mr. Seinfeld was nowhere in sight. The setting was unclear; I can’t say that it was a shoe store, a men’s locker room, or any other recognizable setting. I know only that I was seated on a wooden bench which I believe was painted a dark green and that Bill Gates stood next to me, lifted one leg, and set the foot on the bench, then proceeded to tie his shoe laces. Then he left without saying a word and the dream moved on to wherever it went after that. I remember nothing else about the dream, and to my knowledge Mr. Gates appeared nowhere else within it.
I have no desire to do any research on what kind of Fruedian analysis can be drawn from watching a billionare-CEO-turned-philanthropist from one of the world’s largest and most reviled software companies tying his shoes next to me. I’d be afraid of what I’d find. So I’ll just say it was the prescription cough syrup working its magic and go back to talking to the pink elephant and the green roast beef sandwich on either side of me. It’s a conversation about world politics and an economy built entirely around edible golf balls will solve the world’s energy crisis. It’s very enlightening. Maybe, somehow, some way, we’ll figure out exactly what makes Windows “delicious” while we’re at it. Drug-enduced hysteria is about the only way I can think of in my current semi-lucid state to make an operating system taste delicious. It makes me begin to wonder, though… what would other OSes taste like? Would Mac OS be crunchy? Would Linux be spicy? Would my Treo’s PalmOS be light in calories? I certainly hope so… I am trying to lose weight….
I received an interesting e-mail yesterday from a representative of the National Botanic Garden of Belgium. She said she would be attending the sixth International Congress on the Systematics & Ecology of Myxomycetes in the Ukraine in October and that she was giving a “lecture on the different ways that Myxomycetes (Slime Molds) inspire people to make works of art”. Her search of the Web turned up GPF and a certain lovable blob of goo, so she asked permission to reproduce a couple of comics and inquired my thoughts on Fred’s genesis.
First of all, I had no idea there actually was an international congress devoted to the ecology of slime molds, let alone that there had been five previous ones. It’s both fascinating and ludicrous all at once. It’s one of those things you would think would be such a minutia that nobody would bother devoting their lives or entire symposia to. Then again, science is all about increasing human knowledge and at some point you have to specialize to learn all there is possible. (Personally, I’m a poly-science geek; I dabble in a little bit of everything and am master of none.) The second part of this that fascinates me is the thought that there may well be many more people using slime molds in or inspiring their art. I can explain myself away as a weird, isolated nutcase with an odd sense of humor, but to think there are other nutcases with equally odd senses of humor out there is a little bit frightening. Then again, I know how many of you out there read the comic, so maybe there are more nutcases out there than previously thought. 😉
I’ve asked the author of the e-mail to keep me in the loop on how her presentation goes. There’s a tiny part of me that almost wishes I would be invited to the seventh ICSEM as a guest of (dis)honor. I don’t know whether I’d be lauded for promoting awareness of slime mold research or demonized for the liberties I’ve taken with slime mold science. Either way, I’ll bet it will be one wild mold-lovin’ party….
The following is a specification proposal for a new pseudo-random character generator (PRCG), tentatively called the “Tiny Tots PRCG”. This specification is to be considered open and royalty free; everyone is free to implement and extend this specification, although attribution is appreciated. It usefulness, however, may be limited and may only be of interest to cryptographic and mathematical academics or really bored parents.
Caveats, Limitations, and Additional Notes: