Friday, December 10, 2010

My oldest post

I found this a while back. This might just be my very first posting to the Internet ever. I did it via SacBBS via FidoNet. The odd thing is I don't remember being interested in Deckmaster until after I moved to Oregon in 1995. Either it was random, or I completely forgot.

From: (Jt Justman)
Date: 20 Jul 94 16:13:00 -0800
Subject: Cool.
Message-ID: <>
X-Mail-Agent: GIGO+ sn 1 at wmeonlin vsn 0.99 pl1
Organization: Fidonet: The Connection BBS
Lines: 8

Cool. I'm posting on a link. i should get used to it if i'm gonna have
this stuff on my BBS somday. Bye.

JT JUSTMAN Sysop Cyberland BBS (916)488-5162
: Fidonet: Jt Justman 1:203/5150.7 .. speaking for only myself.
: Internet:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Sixth Layer

They never even told me where they'd got the data from. They just delivered it to me, on a regular old compact disk with a laser printed label. "Any cipher on earth, I can break it," I'd told them. That boast seemed to unnerve them a bit.

My team and I tried all the usual tricks on it. We had the best minds, the most powerful computers, any resource I could ask for would be provided at fastest speed. We managed to identify a possible frame for the data, embedded behind two layers of encryption. Each chunk might refer to a letter, a word, a byte. Or it could have been a red herring.

The trouble was what to do with the data once we had it! Each one comprised hundreds of thousands of bytes of data, barely indistinguishable from random noise. When we finally found the third layer, it was one of the junior analysts.

He'd whipped up a program in Java, and rendered the data as a three-dimensional environment. When visualized such, he'd observed that the data formed a sort of landscape around him. So, on a whim, he made himself a virtual avatar, and started to explore. Then he started to apply meaning to the different shapes and blocks. He colored trees, streams of water, grass, even animals. It was uncanny. And most importantly, once we went through and applied his algorithm to the entire message, we realized that together all the blocks formed the continual surface of an odd cube-shaped world.

At first I was disheartened. I thought that we'd uncovered the message itself, that some amateur video game designer or experimental artist was playing a prank on us. But you should have seen the way the CIA guys freaked out when they saw it. They asked for a guided tour of the thing. They didn't have any idea how huge it was. Using the trees and creatures for scale, it had to be a hundred times the size of Earth!

At the insistence of my chain of command, we started to explore this virtual world. It was oddly compelling. All our analysts said it was unlike any video game they'd played before. And yet it was so simple! Simple geometry, simple elegance. It really started to draw them in. They would spend hours on the hills and inside the caves and crossing the oceans. That's when they came up with the fourth layer.

It turned out there was a mathematical relationship between the individual parts of the world. Eventually they arranged them in a hierarchy, a sort of natural economy. They resolved in a very natural way into a set of rules for interacting with the world. It was like a door had been opened. There was so much more to discover once they started re-arranging the world. Soon, the interactions resulted in more and more types of objects. Some objects were obvious - tools for digging, tools for cutting, tools for carrying. That's where we found the fifth layer.

While playing with one of the objects which they'd yet to assign a meaning to, a team of the fellows discovered that part of the object could be rendered as a hydrogen atom. Then we realized it actually described the isotope deuterium, and several other elements and isotopes were described in it. We showed it to one of the rated physicists, and he came back two days later, his eyes wide in wonder.

We'd discovered the plans for a cold fusion device. I considered it yet another layer of the absurdly complex hoax and forgot about it for months. I have since learned that they actually managed to build a working model, only a few months before the end.

By that time my project was being managed by a committee of very high-ranking people. Some of them were military, others from the executive branch. They all pressed even harder for me to keep discovering. That's where I made my mark on this whole mess, my own terrible bit of brilliance that did in the entire human race.

You see, it was my idea to publish the fourth layer as a video game. By use of a one-way hashing algorithm I concocted, we could allow anyone in the world to find the patterns in the data without being able to view the data itself. We started the whole thing as the most well-funded "independent" game ever created. And the gamers loved it, they came in droves, and within days they were finding patterns in the virtual worlds, few of which I ever saw before they were spirited away to the cloistered scientific experts.

I didn't notice the sixth layer until it was too late. None of us did. Hardly any of us knows it came from the game and all the others have been eliminated. I'm alone in this knowledge because in all that time I never once played it. I was right for the wrong reasons. I thought the whole thing was an attempt at humor, an idle distraction. But when my analysts started refusing food, when whole flocks of people started abandoning their work, their lives, there own children just to play the game... I finally started to suspect.

One of the last times I ever saw another person, it was the President of the United States. I told him he had to shut down the Internet. Did you know he had that power? He picked up the red phone on his desk, and held it to his ear, waiting for some waiting military officer to pick up. Then, suddenly, his face fell.

"He says he'll have to call me back," he said, his voice a mixture of shock and horror.

"Call you back? Why..."

"He says he just needs five more diamonds."

Soon after that, the President was spirited away to an undisclosed location. I was just left there, in the Oval Office, all by myself, with the emergency supplies and the supple, made-in-America sofas. People used to wander in from time to time, but I haven't seen anyone in a while. The power's still on, and there's a laptop computer there too. I wonder if it will run the Game?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Overheard at the dinner table

"I don't know, Bud, maybe you like fish/rice drinks."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Best father in the solar system

So you may know I'm a real science buff. The other night I went to see the great Dr. Freeman Dyson speak at the UO - although the room was full and I got stuck in the 'overflow room' watching via video. It was a great experience, but that's not what brings me here.

Theo likes to talk about science - sometimes just because it's a good way to distract me, I think, but sometimes just because it's fun. He also loves for me to read to him from my books. He'd love for me to read him the novels I read, but it's been a while since I read one which wasn't far too adult for him to hear at bedtime. But sometimes, when we run out of juvenile novels to read, I break out one of my non-fiction science books.

Tonight was one of those nights, and I picked up "1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Science" by James Trefil. I turned to the chapter on astronomy and started reading. The first entry of the chapter includes the sentence, "The sun, like a campfilre at the end of an evening, will someday stop burning and die."

"Dad!" Theo interrupted, "how will the sun die?"

"Well, when it runs out of things to burn, it will stop making light, and it will die."

"And it will be dark outside?"

"Well, it will be a really long time before the sun dies. And by then, all the people on Earth will be somewhere else."

"Will we get to take all our stuff, dad?"

I fumbled over the notion that we'd all be gone by then, but eventually settled on, "Well, maybe we can move the whole Earth!"

"How, Dad?"

"Maybe somebody will make a really big truck and just pull it away," suggested with a smile.

He got this sort of distant expression on his face for several long seconds. "Wow," he said, with a sense of awe in his voice that told me that he truly does have some kind of grasp about how big that truck would have to be.

"Do you want to build a truck that big when you grow up?" I asked, aiming to help alleviate any uncertainty he might have about the sun going dark.

"No," he said, sort of sullenly, "I won't."

"Well, I'm sure somebody will."

"Yeah!" he said, suddenly animated again. "You will, Dad!"

It's good to be Dad.

Meanwhile today when I got home, the moment I sat down to give the kids a hug, Lily pointed very urgently and conveyed the message that she'd like to be picked up. I lifted her towards the lightswitch, and she was so happy as she repeatedly demonstrated the new trick she'd learned today with Mom. She's so different from Theo, so pensive, so calculating to his impulsiveness. It's a nice change, and I'm glad I have the two of them to keep me on my toes.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Ghostbuster Halloween

You may know that Ghostbusters is one of my favorite movies of all time. So this summer I played Ghostbusters for Theo for the first time. He liked it quite a bit, and watched it several times. Then in July when we decided to start planning our Halloween costumes, I asked him what he wanted to be. When he boldly announced that he wanted to be a Ghostbuster, there was no stopping me.

Soon I had formulated a plan that was gloriously epic and amazingly awesome. It has also cost me a large amount of marital capital and many long nights slaving over my workbench.


So Theo is a Ghostbuster, obviously. Lily is just a baby ghost, we wanted to make a slimer outfit for her but ran out of time. If you don't know what I am dressed as or why Jessica is dressed as Lady Liberty, please rent Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II immediately.

Theo is clad in his jumpsuit with authentic "No Ghosts" patch and custom embroidered name tag courtesy of Grandma W. The main prop of course is the pint-sized proton pack.

I spent about 80 hours making this thing, which features chase lights on the cyclotron, a light-up panel on the gun, blue LEDs (sadly not chasing) for the power cell, and a three-color cycling LED for the gun blaster on its own switch. Theo loves the switches.

Here it is after two days of fairly heavy use. I admit it's fairly ugly, but everyone we met recognized him right away, and plenty of kids and dads were in awe of the thing. I am crazy to spend so much time on a thing that a three year old will be using for games involving combat.

(Lily is cut out of this picture which a passerby kindly took)

The statue of liberty just took Jessica a lot of hours of searching for the perfectly colored sheet, and a few hours to make the crown and the torch, which I painted.

Lily's costume is just a simple draped fabric, as I didn't think she'd likely tolerate a proper hooded ghost costume.

Mine, however, is characteristically unpractical. I shaved my head for it, and actually had to fit in the passenger seat of our little car when we drove to our parties on Friday night. Unfortunately the crotch ripped and I was losing stuffing all over the place.

I just have to say, if anyone else calls me dough-boy and pushes my tummy this week I'll punch them in the mouth. Serious.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Observations of the moment

When I drive to work, I listen to KLCC (local NPR station) and then come to work and listen to Jefferson Public Radio's News and Information stream all morning.

When I ride my bike to work (7 miles each way, go me!) I listen to Pandora Internet Radio.

Interesting how the different routines - the structured, orderly thought of driving, the athletic challenge of seven miles in twenty-eight minutes - leave different parts of my brain stimulated.

Friday, June 19, 2009

OS Bridge

So my little trip to Open Source Bridge 2009 is just about over. It was a great event, my first real conference and quite stimulating.

I was running for the MAX train and my phone fell out of my bag. It fell apart as usual and I quickly found two pieces. The back cover was nowhere to be found, until I thought to look in the storm drain right next to the tracks. Once I satisfied myself that there was no train coming, I opened it up and pulled the thing out.

Now my hand and my Treo smell like fish.

On the train they did a ticket inspection with sherrifs waiting. I was amazed that half of the twenty people on the train got pulled off.