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Fri, 15 Jul 2005

Shah Nameh (Book of Kings)

— SjG @ 12:04 pm

by Firdusi (Abdul Kasim Manur), written circa 1000, translated and abridged by James Atkinson circa 1832, read as an ebook from BlackMask.com.

Before I read this book, I was completely unaware of its existence. While this is not altogether remarkable in and of itself, it should be in this particular case. Not only is it referenced in The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (which, embarrassingly, I thought was “Arabic” rather than Persian before reading this), but the Shah Nameh is really, in many ways, the national book of the Persian people. It’s a history, a collection of legends, and, most importantly, a beautifully written collection of stories.

Atkinson, in translating, abridged the work and transformed it from verse into more concise prose, but retained the poetry for the moments he thought most important. Skilled though he must have been, reading the portions left in verse gives the impression that this translation leaves out a substantial portion of the magic of the work.

And it is a magical collection of stories. We learn of the sad fate of Jemshid, whose hubris destroys his glorious kingdom; of Zohak whose corruption by demon spirits resulted in two serpents growing from his shoulders; and of exploits the mighty Rustem, who singlehandedly conquers the demon country of Mazinderan.

As a history, we learn of the endless warfare between the neighboring kingdoms, between brothers, between fathers and sons. We are witness to many, many battles, to the deaths of thousands, to the destruction of cities, dynasties, farms, and families. We read of the spread of Zoroastrianism (although, strangely, not of Islam, except in Firdusi’s invocation at the end). We get a history of Alexander, who we are told is actually descended from the Persian royal house.

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Wed, 29 Jun 2005

Organizing Digital Photography

— SjG @ 9:20 pm

Well, it’s an impossible problem. My digital cameras all have high-speed “spray-and-pray” modes, which are the only reasonable response to the challenge of taking candid pictures of children. One shoots a buffer full of pictures, and in one of them (if one’s lucky), all of the kids will have their eyes open, there will be no fingers stuck up noses, and, if one’s really lucky, there will be nice expressions on all of the visible faces.

But the downside is the proliferation of pictures. One develops a certain Tommygun mentality, and, hey, disk space is cheap. Composition’s easier in Photoshop than through the viewfinder.

In short, I have a digital picture management problem. Apple’s iPhoto is a good start, but it can’t handle the quantities of images I’m throwing at it. Recently, I’ve been using an evaluation version of iView Multimedia’s iView Pro. It seems good, with lots of options and configurability. I’d rather not spend $200, but if I can learn to use it adequately, it’d be worth it. And I certainly don’t have time to write my own (witness the moribund Samuel’s Last Attempted Gallery [SLAG] web application that’s never made it past the schema design phase).

I’ll report here eventually what I find.


Visions of Hell, Part I

— SjG @ 9:09 pm

OK, if you live badly in this life, you will find yourself in an Airport after you die.

Your flight will be leaving from Terminal One, which, due to a support-staff strike, is knee deep in trash and cigarette ashes (smoking’s allowed here). Your flight has been delayed. The terminal is crowded to overflowing, with people standing, sitting on the floor, doing everything but pitching tents. If your sins were relatively minor in the previous life, you get a seat, albeit a seat sticky with spilled milkshake, chewed gum, and other unidentifiable substances. You share your seat with your luggage, which is inexplicably heavy and bulky.

You wait, while a couple has a screaming fight right next to you. A child plays a portable video game that makes electronic beeps and chirps, just loud enough that you cannot sleep. The closest restroom is half a mile away, and you don’t dare visit it because you’ll lose your spot, and be forced to stand in the surly-looking throng over by the window, who are being tormented by the hot sun streaming in. And anyway, you have strong indications that the toilets in that restroom have clearly backed up.

Every few hours, there is an announcement that your flight has been further delayed. It’s always delayed by “just a few minutes.” Voices in many languages are broadcast over the fuzzy PA, thanking you for your patience during construction, warning you to look out for suspicious packages, announcing other flight delays and cancellations, and advertising the various concession stands. The concession stands are all closed due to the strike.

Every third day, or so, there is a gate-change announcement for your flight. You, and two hundred other lost souls, must pick up your belongings and rush to another terminal. Now, this Airport is a vast Airport, but not very well maintained. There are corridors that go off into dead-ends, there are elevators that trap you between floors for days on end. Your heavy baggage bangs against your legs as you frantically run, trying to find this other terminal. The new terminal is no improvement upon the old terminal — if anything, it’s smaller and more crowded. And, upon your arrival there, the flight delayed announcements resume.

Every third week or so, your flight actually boards. You and your weary, stinking fellow travellers crowd onto a airplane that doesn’t look like it’s been cleaned in years. The seats are very small and close together. Once everyone has completed the herculean struggle to cram their bags under seats and into the overhead, you sit. And wait. The air conditioning is not running on the plane, and the air feels like it’s been breathed and exhaled by a hundred tubercular people before it gets to you. After a few hours, the plane finally rolls back from the terminal, and waits in the queue for the runway. It’s positioned so that the hot sun streams through your window. The windowshade is jammed, and the tab by which you should be able to pull it down has been broken off.
After seven or eight hours, there is an announcement that, due to uncontrollable events, this airplane will not be permitted to fly, and that you will need to report to the replacement flight in Terminal Three. Once in Terminal Three, the standard terminal cycle repeats.

Every third month or so, your flight actually departs. Your seat is next to a morbidly obese individual who overflows into half of your seat. Right before takeoff, this individual ruefully mentions a propensity for motion sickness; this announcement is prophetic, as vomiting commences shortly after takeoff. The narcissist businessman in the seat ahead of you tilts back the seat as far as it will go, which leads you to discover that your seat is jammed and will not recline. His cologne was applied using the “more is better” philosophy, and he smokes through the whole flight while berating his trophy wife, flirting overtly with the stewardess, and taunting his wife with stories of his infidelities. She blubbers in misery throughout the flight. The woman across the aisle prays loudly for the whole flight. You discover that the book you had saved for the flight is misprinted, and after the first chapter, the pages are too blurry to read. The stewardess sadly informs everyone that there will be no food or beverage service on this flight.
Behind you sits the child with the video game, and he is so excited by the game that he unconsciously kicks your seat for the whole flight. His baby sister screams and shrieks from the moment you board the plan until the plane lands twelve hours later, and the captain explains that due to technical difficulties, you have been diverted to another airport. Your flight will continue from Terminal Six.

And this is your eternity.


Fri, 20 May 2005

Treo Sync Followup, part 2

— SjG @ 3:23 pm

Well, I can now state authoritatively that the problem was with Mac OS. I still don’t know what went wrong, or why, since I was originally able to sync a few times before it stopped working.

In any case, I upgraded the notebook to Mac OS 10.4 (“Tiger”), and lo and behold! sync worked with the cable right off the bat. And damn is the USB sync cable faster than bluetooth.

So if you’re having problems synching on a Mac, this might be a starting point for diagnosing the problem.


Astrology Defended

— SjG @ 3:13 pm

As the son of an Astronomer, it would be the height of heresy (not to mention treason) to say something along the lines of “but Astrology is scientifically defensible”.

I have, however, had a theory rattling around in my head for a while on this topic. My theory may be obvious and well known, perhaps even disproven, but I have yet to see any other references to the basic concept. A recent study on the factors determining the onset of menopause, however, shows a similar conclusion, so I felt like it was time to present the idea.

My assumption is that people’s personalities could be shaped by the time of year in which they are born, and that common traits may be found among people born in similar seasons. This is not to say that the boundaries are calendar months, nor linked to planetary or cosmic positions, with the exception of the relative positioning of the earth and sun. My thought is that the availability of vitamins and micronutrients in the diet have traditionally been seasonal, and that neonatal nutrition may have a subtle but real effect upon brain development. Obviously, there are a lot of caveats to this theory: primarily, it assumes that personality is (at least partially) a result of physical brain structure.

In any case, next time you hear someone rejecting Astrology out-of-hand with arguments about the relative gravitational fields of the planets and the doctor delivering a baby, this theory can be used to play devil’s advocate. And, after all, that’s where the fun is.

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