The Pains: A Book For Our Times

My teenage daughter knows a bit about life and art and intellectual pursuits. But only a bit. She rated John’s “Acts of the Apostles” as “not bad”, which is to say she liked it a lot. It’s a good read, and she can relate to its view of uncool dudes in the world. But having grown up living the technology instead of studying it, she takes too much for granted to appreciate the detailed references or the jokes.

I’m not yet recommending John’s latest book to her. She does not yet have the intellectual background for “The Pains.” Thank God.

Everyone over 20 should read it. It is an easy, funny and entertaining novella to read, with terrific pictures, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But it has a challenging subject that forms a litmus test of whether you’ve been out in the world and paying attention and asking questions: What is the scope of science, religion, and politics?

“The Pains” is no wishy-washy thematic rambling — it has an opinion. (My favorite line is when the heroine meets the obviously dying hero for the first time in an ’80’s dance bar and declares, “I hate the fucking Eagles.”) I had first thought that opinion was centered on the general theme of “neo-con totalitarianism is bad, starting with Reagan.” As such, maybe the story was a bookend capturing a dead era?.

But the deeper theme of personal vs messianic science, religion, and politics are certainly not resolved this January, 2009. Indeed, a soul’s freedom requires perpetual awareness, and I think I hope that it always will.

In your face

This summer we added an exit survey to Qwaq Forums, which was presented a percentage of the time when you quit the application. I and other engineers hated the idea of popping up a survey when the user doesn’t want it. We preferred a feedback box that the users could launch themselves under the Help menu. Anyway, the board of directors were quite clear, so I implemented the survey pop-up as asked, and then in the next release I added the user-launched Help->Feedback box. I thought the exit survey would always be left blank, and that the feedback box would take over.

I was wrong…

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Testing 1, 2, 3. Check. Check. …. Waiter?!

I’ve been working with some test harnesses for our Croquet worlds. It’s been a real pain working outside of Croquet: getting things to happen across multiple platforms. Moving data around. It’s all so much easier in a virtual space that automatically replicates everything.

Anyway, we finally got it working enough that there are several machines in Qwaq’s Palo Alto office that are all running around as robots in a virtual world, doing various user activities to see what breaks. Being (still!) in Wisconsin, I have to peek on these machines via remote. I’m currently using Virtual Network Computing (VNC), but there’s also Windows Remote Desktop (RDP). These programs basically scrape the screen at some level, and send the pictures to me. So when these robots are buzzing around in-world, I get a screen repaint, and then another, and then another. And that’s just one machine. If I want to monitor what they’re all doing, I have to use have a VNC window open for each, scraping and repainting away. Yuck. If only there were a better way….

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