Ghyll's Burgengute Lives

Burgengute of Ghyll, as seen in Gerth, November 30th, 2006:

Burgengute, as seen in Gerth, November 30th, 2006

Giving up the Ghost: Is SETI Futile?

Seth Shostak, the Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute, had an article published at on January 18th 2007 entitled When Does SETI Throw in the Towel?, wherein he writes about the search for extraterrestrial life:

Indeed, my personal feeling is that if SETI hasn't turned up something by the second half of this century, we should reconsider our search strategy, rather than assume that we've failed because there is nothing–or no one–to find. Would I ever conclude that we've searched enough? Would I ever truly give up on SETI's bedrock premise, and tell myself that the extraterrestrials simply aren't out there? Not likely. That would be to assume that we've learned all there is to know about our universe, a stance that is contrary to the spirit of explorers and scientists alike. We might yearn, or even need to believe that we are special, but to conclude that Homo sapiens is the best the cosmos has to offer is egregious self-adulation.

Michael Anissimov, on the other hand, suggests:

Believers will never abandon the search. If the aliens aren't swallowing stars right in front of our face, they must be broadcasting on the electromagnetic spectrum. If they aren't broadcasting on the electromagnetic spectrum, they must be sending each other neutrino bursts. If they aren't sending neutrino bursts, they must be somehow manipulating the fabric of spacetime itself to covertly send messages. Like theists, they're willing to bend over backwards to get the assumptions they need to give their belief any chance of success.

Why we've yet to be legitimately contacted is merely due to lack of time, a possible solution to the Fermi paradox, "the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of evidence of contact with such civilizations". Rasmus Bjørk, a physicist at the Niels Bohr institute in Copenhagen, comments in The Guardian about a computer simulation he designed:

Extra-terrestrials have yet to find us because they haven't had enough time to look ... if the alien ships could hurtle through space at a tenth of the speed of light, or 30,000km a second ... it would take 10bn years, roughly half the age of the universe, to explore just 4% of the galaxy.

And even should self-replicating and intelligent probes propagate throughout the galaxy, creating more and more copies of themselves in hopes of finally accomplishing something, anything, these Man's Best Friend may not be entirely loyal. Adam Crowl suggests:

Many assume that as soon as intelligences can make autonomous self-replicating robots then that's what they'll do, sending them forth with a 'mission' to colonise the galaxy with their kind of intelligent life. A self-replicator smart enough to be called 'intelligent life' is a 'person' in my view, but an arguably important aspect of personal identity is freedom and creativity, and I suspect even the longest-lived 'persons' will fatigue in the face of a task like colonising every star in the Galaxy ... And why should self-replicating probes colonise at all? They're intelligent enough to decide that for themselves, but such vastly long-lived entities may well develop a wholly different set of motivations to us organic beings.

These quotes are a backdrop to a tough decision I've recently made: stopping my SETI@home client which has been using my computer processing power to analyze radio telescope data for the last five years. My first contribution was December 24th, 2001, shortly after I purchased a new PowerMac and, with the rise of the new software, BOINC, I received the illustrious user account #123456. I'm saddened to be doing this but, even though I'd shake my fist at the sky should we discover something tomorrow, I won't regret the choice.

I'm still a believer and I revel at the thought of what proof positive would do to our little civilization. I don't think, however, that we'll be the ones to find communicable life within my lifetime, nor do I think I'll win the lottery anytime soon (especially since I don't play it, the same attitude "aliens don't exist"ers cop). Just as the people who don't have the money to spend on said tickets continue to waste it on a hopeful chance of a lifetime, my processing power is becoming more and more valuable as I do more and more concurrently. A lottery win and an alien "sup?" will certainly change lives, but finding life wouldn't truly affect my day to day. No alien emissary would be allowed to wander the populace, nor would I be able to shake, or do something else suitably naughty, to its tentacle. Dying at the hands of an alien invasion isn't entirely the contact I'd like to make, nor do I want the self-doubt inherent in an encounter no other sane person believes.

Good bye, SETI@home: It's been five good years, but I need to make differences where I can, not where I hope.


School's Horror Flick Probe Leads To Teacher's Exit

An anonymous source reported that Julie Cantrell was filming a movie around the school without permission after hours, according to a statement released by Acting Superintendent Dr. Terrence Kushner. "From the few clips that could be viewed on the Internet, it was apparent that the film, although not finished, was of the horror film genre," Kushner said in his statement. Read more.

In one scene actors carried chain saws into the school, and during the film Mrs Cantrell's character was shot in the head. No students had acted in the film, but one 18-year-old student, whose parents had signed a release, worked behind the scenes. Read more.

Julie Cantrell, 34, of Peters, a high school math teacher in the district for four years, resigned effective today, four days after the school board approved her resignation without comment at its Monday meeting. Her husband, Brooks Cantrell, 35, said she was forced to resign or face dismissal and a possible loss of her teaching certificate. Read more.

It doesn't take a leap of fate to say this will suck. More information about the flick at it's official website. Brooks says he "felt really good about shooting a horror film using no nudity to tell a story." I suspect, however, no one actually wanted to get nude in the film - if it was really "oooh, it's about the story, people, the story!", he wouldn't have used such a horrific teaser image on its website.

9/11 predicted by numerology, June 2000

Predictions are not exactly rocket science: given any event of remote importance, you will inevitably find ruminations that predicted it long prior to its occurance. The simplest way to reproduce this is to pick a number, then pay close attention to appearances of that number in your day to day life. Given enough scrutiny, you'll find that self-selected number everywhere: when you pay attention, you pay paranoia too. Fortune cookies, horoscopes, palm readings, all similar: predict a blonde haired gentlemen and suddenly the world is all Aryan all the time. More via self-fulfilling prophecy or observer-expectancy effect.

Most predictions base themselves on impossibly obtuse correlations: Nostradamus' "two brothers torn apart by Chaos" represent the Twin Towers, or that something bad will happen between November 11th, 1995 and January 26, 2008. It's rare that someone gets the date exactly, along with reasonings, in an archive whose dates you can trust.

From Steve Gray's post on, June 29 2000:

Obviously we start with the number of the beast, 666. Now, because the Great Event will turn the world upside down, change 666 into 999. Next, because Jesus is both Man and God, therefore having two identities, multiply 2 by 999, giving 1998. (Hold it! We're not done!). Since God is Triune, add 3, giving 2001 !!! Now for the day: When the Great Event occurs, everyone who's not saved will desperately dial 911, which has immense symbolic significance. So the BIG DATE is, without question, based on the inerrant Bible, is SEPTEMBER 11, 2001 !!! God has not yet revealed to me exactly what will happen on that day, but it will be BIG BAD NEWS. Be ready or be sorry !!!

More important, however, is the fact that Mr. Gray was kidding, responding in jest to the thread starter who consigned a followthrough prophecy of detailed proportions that presumes so much as to be laughable ("God has led me to a web site". Literally!). Convincing yourself is enough proof for others, certainly. I tried to contact Steve Gray for further comments, but received no response at the latest email I could stalk out of Google. I did find his feelings on Moore's FAHRENHEIT 9/11:

Jensen criticizes the film for not doing something it did not try to do. He criticizes it for not being calm and reasoned. A calm and reasoned film would get very little attention. Voters are political idiots; they vote for personalities and need to be hit o­n the head. He thinks the movie's goals should be much broader, when there is virtually no chance of achieving those broad goals. The film's purpose, a highly worthy o­ne, is to get rid of the liar, crook, failure, and imbecile in the White House. That goal at this time is more important than anything else the voters could possibly do.

Subthemes in Drupal 5.x

As you'll notice, I've finished converting my original Drupal 4.7 theme to 5.x. This is normally trivial but I also took the time to restructure the CSS with a basis on Garland, the new default theme in core. In addition, I also finished something I started long ago: the "network-ization" of the Disobey theme.

What I call "network sites" are many sites that fall under one tent but comprise many different domains or subtopics. These are not portals or collections of services like Yahoo! and Google, but rather content-based; GameSpy's planets are a good example. Disobey has always been, since its beginning in 1997, one of these sites, but I always did an entirely new design for each topic. This scaled badly: as I moved to new technologies or ran out of time, sites languished unconverted or unloved. Nowadays, I'd much rather do something else besides design.

The first iteration of the Disobey theme for Drupal 4.7 shared many characteristics of other network sites: a top navigation item that covered "about us" and other sites within the network, a short header that loudly proclaimed what this was, a highlight area for the most important shoutouts, and a standard two column layout with the sidebar repeating the related sites mentioned in the top navigation. Until now, I never finished making it generic enough for use elsewhere.

This is my base network_wireframe theme:

A wireframe theme for network sites.

I made it blue to mimick the "blue pencil" of desktop publishing: they were used much like the "red ink" of a teacher: for corrections, edits, or revisions of your document. Blue pencils (and pens) didn't photograph and were invisible in the finished item: take the same "you don't see it" as a green (once blue) screen in movies and apply it to paper. The goal of this wireframe is simply to be functional while still representing the structure and model of the finished product.

This is where Drupal's subthemes come in: the Disobey look and feel is the exact same document object model as the wireframe only with a different style.css (which, in turn, references different images and color). For me to make a new theme, it comes down solely to product identity: all the walls are up, but what color paint?

Drupal subthemes are nothing new: Chameleon had Marvin in Drupal 4.7 and 5.x has Garland with Minnelli. Subthemes are born when a theme directory has a subdirectory that contains, at least, a style.css file. There are, however, a number of more general design issues you'll want to keep in mind when creating a subtheme:

  • The master theme should be completed first and have most of the CSS. The subtheme style.css should be simple overrides of what you've already defined.
  • The subtheme's style.css needs to @import the master's style.css. Note, however, that you can't use Drupal 5.x's CSS preprocessor without running into an inheritance bug.
  • The subtheme does NOT get its own template.php. If you need to add code to your subtheme (my use cases are subthemes for taxonomy terms where I'd want to change the site name displayed in the header, or random logos), you'll need to rig the master's template.php to include subtheme PHP files that change $vars and other elements. Not too difficult.
  • While subthemes do support .tpl.php overrides, it is ill-advised. The master theme should really be the master theme: if you start one-shotting subtheme tweaks, you'll just make the master less and less powerful and all your themes more difficult to maintain. Enforce a generic and workable design in the master. If you're working with nodes, use Contemplate to do your specific style changes in the database, not in the filesystem.
  • Put new features in the master and make them optional. If a subtheme needs random logos, make the master theme support it first then add the extra images to your subtheme. Now, all your subthemes support random logos and it's merely a matter of turning it on or off (in my implementation, a master/subtheme/logos directory with more than one file automatically enables the feature).
  • Stick your theme in sites/all/themes so that it's available for all configurations.


Upgraded to Drupal 5.x

If you're wondering why looks "AAHHHhHhh!", it's because I've recently upgraded to Drupal 5.0. Since I've so little time in the day, however, I'm doing it in baby steps, which means that every little mistake and "remaining TODO" is live and available for your amusement and scorn. Thus, the first "remaining TODO" is to, uh, actually rebuild my original theme. Until then, we're using the new (and awesome) Garland theme. More later, but if you notice anything egregiously broken (like content, since I wrote a quickie 15 line Flexinode to CCK script), certainly let me know.


Grand Canyon: Noah's Flood; Old Faithful: Nostrils of Satan


... Despite promising a prompt review of its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah's flood rather than by geologic forces, more than three years later no review has ever been done and the book remains on sale at the park, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). “In order to avoid offending religious fundamentalists, our National Park Service is under orders to suspend its belief in geology,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “It is disconcerting that the official position of a national park as to the geologic age of the Grand Canyon is ‘no comment.’”


Park officials have defended the decision to approve the sale of Grand Canyon: A Different View, claiming that park bookstores are like libraries, where the broadest range of views are displayed. In fact, however, both law and park policies make it clear that the park bookstores are more like schoolrooms rather than libraries. As such, materials are only to reflect the highest quality science and are supposed to closely support approved interpretive themes. Moreover, unlike a library the approval process is very selective. Records released to PEER show that during 2003, Grand Canyon officials rejected 22 books and other products for bookstore placement while approving only one new sale item — the creationist book.


“As one park geologist said, this is equivalent of Yellowstone National Park selling a book entitled Geysers of Old Faithful: Nostrils of Satan,” Ruch added, pointing to the fact that previous NPS leadership ignored strong protests from both its own scientists and leading geological societies against the agency approval of the creationist book. “We sincerely hope that the new Director of the Park Service now has the autonomy to do her job.”

50,000th commit to Drupal CVS is Mine!

Indigestos from

I coulda swore I had posted this before, but from September 20th, 2001. Lines have been combined for readability:

<Morbus> you know, i'm so mad at kelloggs. they have chocolate frosted flakes, right? and they had a box at this market basket in town. so it was the ONLY flipping box. and after i got it home, i discovered why. the damn thing was like three months stale. but i still ate it, and i still loved it. but the stupid store never got them back
<Morbus> so i email kellogs. i'm like "yo bitches, gimme some cocoa"... they email me back and they're like "please talk to your manager". they thought i was some stock boy complaining about not getting a shipment in. i was like "whhhaa?" so then i went to and made my own cereal. it was frosted flakes, cocoa frosted flakes, lucky charms marshmallows, and some chocoloate marshmallows
<Morbus> i called it "indigestos".
<Morbus> i tell ya, it was the best damn cereal ever.
<Mishka> that sounds so gross
<djc> mmmm
<Morbus> no way, man, it was awesome. so flipping good.
<djc> how mcuh?
<Morbus> one serving (which are huuuge) was enough for like three days of sleepliess nights
<Morbus> well, cos i got all the sinful crap, it was like 20 bucks for seven servings.
<Morbus> but worth it man, worth it.
<djc> hhaaha
<mnickel> COOL
<djc> thats great
<Mishka> you americans are weird
<djc> i want my own cereal!
<Morbus> now, it looks like the site's closed. that sucks.
<Morbus> i only got in because i got a secret code.
<Morbus> well, you wanna hear my character for indigestos? see. actually, i wanted to make an all marshmallow cereal. but get this, said my cereal wasn't healthy enough and i had to pick some other shit. laughed my ass off. so anyways, the flippign character would be this pirate, who would go around to toehr cereals stealing thier marshmallows. and there'd be a prize in the cereal.
<djc> haha
<djc> cool
<djc> like a treasure!
<Morbus> the package would say "arrrr! hey kids? getting sick? try this?" and ripping open the pouch would be like a handful of normal cereal to sprinkle on your marshmallows
<djc> hahhahaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
<Morbus> it'd be fuckign awesome
<djc> dude
<mnickel> rotflmao!!!!
<djc> i am laughing my ass off here
<Mishka> oh my .....
<mnickel> dude, you are fricken' hilarious!!
<djc> +1
<djc> thats good stuff
<mnickel> Morbus++


The Morbus Effect

Posted without permission, thus names obscured:

<user1> meaning, you have an amazing talent of spawning discussion about the most trivial things
<user2> Who, Morbus?
<Morbus> i take that as a compliment, you know.
<user2> That's soooo *true*!
<user1> Which is part of the problem, I thiink :)
<user2> I find everything Morbus has ever said to be trivial.
<user2> That's why I agree with him so often.
<user1> Morbus: Sorry if it comes off as a surprise, but I find that every discussion where you are involved only gets longer, rather than resolved. And so I find that not dealing with you makes me happier and less stressed.
<user1> it's surely better than bickering endlessly
<user1> and you've already indicated that we're not going to reach a compromise anyway
<Morbus> you'll find that i haven't commented on that issue since then.
<Morbus> i'm not sure how you can blame the other comments on me.
<user1> I don't know how the morbus effect works either
<user1> but it does



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