Monday, January 29, 2007

A Canticle for Leibowitz

Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Written in 1959, A Canticle for Leibowitz is meant as a dire warning of man's technological hubris. It has three sections, each set in a different time, but all of them after the "Flame Deluge", a nuclear battle that throws humanity into a centuries-long dark age. But the book is about a monastery, and an order of monks.

The first section, "Fiat Homo" (Let there be Man), is about a monk in the Albertian Order of Leibowitz, some six hundred years after the Flame Deluge. The monks of the Order of Leibowitz are, as they call themselves, "bookleggers and memorizers," tasked with preserving what little remained of humanity's pre-deluge knowledge in the form of books hidden safely away in the abbey, called the Memorabilia.

The next section, "Fiat Lux" (Let there be Light), is the beginning of the renaissance, when knowlege is again beginning to be revered. The monks keep the Memorabilia for this time, but those who return to seek the knowledge are as those who allowed the Deluge to happen in the first place: men too afraid for their own gains to allow themselves to act to stop the inevitable march of Destruction. But the Order is not idle. Although the time has come for knowledge to be restored to the world, the monks themselves don't simply hand it over. They become active participants in the quest for knowledge, as they were for a time before the deluge; scientists as well as monks. And so we pass into the third section of the book...

...called "Fiat Voluntas Tua" (Thy Will Be Done). Humanity has surpassed the technological prowess of its former state, but is it wise enough to keep from (nearly) destroying itself again? This section also explores the question of humanity's responsibility to relieve suffering, and how far to go in such a quest.

I first read A Canticle for Leibowitz in 10th grade, as an assigned book. I have adored it ever since, and so when I was looking for a book to finish off my gift certificates, I picked it up without hesitation.

It is a masterwork of science fiction and of literature, because it forces us to contemplate on not only our actions and their consequences, potentially centuries down the line, but the actions of those who have come before us and shaped the world we live in today. Miller doesn't exaggerate his characters or the setting. It is what it is, following naturally from the events of the Flame Deluge. Throughout the book, although the setting is desolate and the outlook grim, there remains a kernel of hope, as represented by the Order of Leibowitz. Even at the very end, the Order is resolute in its calling, to preserve the knowledge of mankind.

I can relate to this ideal. I don't know whether I have always considered myself to be an "archiver", or whether this book planted the idea in my head, but it has always resonated with me. And the warnings of the book are relevant today, even if the specific threat of the flame deluge is not.

Finally, a couple of passages from the book:

"Ignorance is King. Many would not profit by his abdication. Many enrich themselves by means of his dark monarchy. They are his Court, and in his name they defraud and govern, enrich themselves and perpetuate their power. ... They press the battle upon the world when their interests are threatened, and the violence which follows will last until the structure of society as it now exists is leveled to rubble, and a new society emerges." (From "Fiat Lux", chapter 20)


The closer men came to perfecting for themselves a paradise, the more impatient they seemed to become with it, and with themselves as well. They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew in richness and power and beauty; for then, perhaps, it was easier for them to see that something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow. When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it. But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle's eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn. Well, they were going to destroy it again, were they—this garden Earth, civilized and knowing, to be torn apart again that Man might hope again in wretched darkness. (From "Fiat Voluntas Tua", chapter 26)


EDIT:Ok, so apparently I don't know how to spell knowledge. Also fixed other typos.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Using MySQL with MS Access over the internet

With my recent work in MS Access*, I've learned some new things that I thought I'd share with you. This post has step-by-step instructions for using MS Access to connect to a MySQL database.

First of all, if you want to connect, you'll need to make sure you have the MyODBC driver installed on your machine.

To check to see if it's installed:

  • Go to Start->Control Panel->Administrative Tools->Data Sources(ODBC).

  • Click on the "Drivers" tab, and look to see if there's a MySQL ODBC driver installed. Mine was near the bottom.


To Install it if it's not:

  • Go to http://dev.mysql.com/downloads/connector/odbc/3.51.html and
    download and install the windows driver.


Then, we'll need to set up the connection:

  • Go to Data Sources(ODBC) again.

  • Go to the "User DSN" tab and click "Add...".
  • Choose the MySQL driver.
  • Use a descriptive name for "Data Source Name". If you intend to use the smae MS Access database on multiple computers, you should make sure this name is the same on each.

  • Use the hostname or IP address of the server for "Server", the username for "User" and the appropriate password.

  • Click on the database dropbox, and select the database you're insterested in (it may take a moment).

  • Go to the "Connect options" tab, and enter "set wait_timeout = 28800" in "Initial statement". That sets the timeout to 8 hours, which should be enough time to do your work. :-)

  • Go to the "Advanced" tab.

  • Under "Flags 1" check "Return matching rows"

  • Click OK.


You may also find the information on MySQL's website ( http://www.mysql.com/ ) and http://www.ucl.ac.uk/is/mysql/access/index.html useful.

* I don't condone the use of MS Access (or any other MS program) when you're given an option, but sometimes you don't have one, ie, your client wants to use it.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Book of Carrots

So, I've been playing with WikiWrit, the "Holy Book Anyone Can Edit". And it's much fun. I must admit, however, that I am most pleased with the Book of Carrots (yep, I wrote it...), and so I shall now share it with you.

The Book of Carrots

The day was Saturday, a bit after lunch, when God looked upon his Garden, Eden, and saw that, truly, the weeds had sprung up again, even though he'd weeded it just last week.

And so God took up His Almighty Trowel, and put on His Almighty Gardening Gloves, and went into His Garden to dig up all the weeds and make sure He'd gotten all the roots this time.

And lo, whilst kneeled among the Plants of his garden, God noticed a rather largish root that He was Absolutely Certain He hadn't planted there, and was about to dig it up when He became enthralled with its strange orangish color. And so, He dug it up anyway, but instead of throwing it away in the trash with all the other weeds of the Garden, He took it into the house and washed it.

Admiring its color again, he proceeded to take a bite, and found that it was delicious. And, because it was crunchy, He named it the Carrot, which was mighty convenient since Man (who had been doing some rather unorthodox experiments involving long-term genetic engineering) had also named it Carrot.

And so the Carrot became God's chosen vegetable, and was given a nice plot in the Garden to grow in, and venerated by Man, for God then commanded, "Thou Shalt Eat All thy Vegetables, Especially thy Carrots, or Thou Shalt Surely be made to Sit at the Table Until thou hast."

And God spoke to His prophet, Betty Crocker, and told her the number of ways to cook a Carrot, which is Five, and she gave Him some good recipes for lasagna, which much pleased the Lord.

(Scholar's Note: it is from this tale that we learn to embrace the unexpected, for it may be Entirely Worth It, and why pious children must always finish their vegetables. Addtionally, we learn of a hitherto-unmentioned prophet.)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Top 5 Ways to Make Friends and Influence People (on the web)

5. Pop-up ads

4. (unjustified) DMCA take-down notices sent to their ISP.

3. Death Threats

2. Large, introductory flash animations with no 'skip intro' option

1. Embedded, automatically-playing, no-controls visible audio or video files. (MySpace, I'm looking at you).

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Cribbage-- ("Cribbage Minus Minus")

This Cribbage variant was developed by Steve Mathias and Geoffrey Lehr for use with a five-suited deck, like the Stardeck, that makes it easy to distinguish the fifth suit from the others, although it could be played with other decks.

Play is as normal, except that stars (or whatever the fifth suit is) have negative values during the play of the hand, and when counting fifteens after the hand. "Negative fifteen" (eg Q, 5) still counts as 2 points. Combinations that are identical to another combination except for cards which sum to zero are illegal. (eg, 9 10 4 is worth 2 points, but Q 10 10 5 is not a valid combination). Stars count as normal for pairs, runs, nobs, etc.

Once the count reaches 31 during play, it is reset to zero, even if a player holds a star and could still play.

Night at the Museum (2006)

1492 Pictures, 21 Laps Entertainment
Director: Shawn Levy

Start with a museum, add one unsuspecting but well-meaning loser and the fact that everything in the museum comes to life at night, and hilarity ought to ensue. Unfortunately, this is a Ben Stiller movie, which means we're treated to a series of poorly-executed bits of physical comedy combined with thinly-disguised penis jokes (the cowboy, Jed).

Despite the promising premise, Night at the Museum fails to deliver. Although the development of the premise is alright (once you get past Stiller's attempts at comedy), it seems that about halfway through the script, the writers suddenly realized that they had no plot, and had to tack on one about the previous night guards!

The rest of the movie suffered from inconsistancy. The wax Teddy Roosevelt remembers his making, but no one else does, meanwhile Sacagawea has memories from her historical counterpart? The Egpytian mummy has been restored to full flesh-and-bone, and was apparently aware enough to learn English while in the British Museum, but the replicas of Genghis Khan and the other Huns didn't? (Ok, so they weren't in the British Museum, but come on). Oh, and the Pharoah can also speak Hun, despite being born centuries (millenia?) before the Huns existed (maybe he learned that at the British Museum, too). And Octavius speaks English, too. (At least the kid—of course there's a kid—questions why the mummy can speak English, even if the answer is ridiculous).

Sadly, Robin Williams, while giving a decent performance as Roosevelt, can't save the movie. Nor can Dick van Dyke or Mickey Rooney, although getting to see a crazed van Dyke was fun.

All in all, don't bother with this movie. It should have been much more, much better, much funnier than it was. It doesn't have to be a political commentary or insight into the human condition, but it should at least be funny.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Pinball!

Yesterday, Steve's dad took us up to Lyons to play pinball at one of the few remaining pinball arcades, Lyons Classic Pinball. Their selection is amazing! 36 machines (according to their website, I didn't count), ranging from classic Gottlieb, Bally and Williams machines to modern Stern machines, including a Pirates of the Caribbean one, can be found there. I don't think I've ever seen so many machines in one place, much less ones that are all functional. The arcade even has a pinball league! I don't know how a pinball league works, but it kinda sounds fun.

Of particular note is the "Hercules" machine, the largest production pinball machine in the world, which uses a billiard ball (or maybe a rubber billards-sized ball)! The cabinet is at least 3.5 feet across, maybe larger. Unfortunately, the game isn't very exciting; the size of the ball probably makes it hard to have much tilt, and the flippers were already weak. Also, there was a two-player machine, called "Joust", that pitted the players directly against each other, which was different but fun!

I definitely enjoyed myself, and it's been a while since I played much pinball. I may have to take another trip up there sometime soon, just for fun.