Divine Aphasia

Problems and solutions

January 21, 2009

Problem: Screw falls out of glasses.

Solution: Duct tape.

Problem: “J” key pops off of laptop keyboard.

Solution: Push key back on, ignore until problem recurs.

Evan Silberman

Finding an angle

July 10, 2008

The big challenge of good writing is not finding something to write about, but figuring out how to write about it. My hard drive is littered with false starts, occasions when I thought I had a brilliant idea, only to realize while writing that I had no idea how to approach my topic. Back around January I wrote 500 words about the Writers Guild strike, and most of it isn’t any good because I was just writing down facts and ideas without any narrative thread. I had no angle, and hence no story. Even more frustrating was when, a couple days ago, I wanted to write about a beach that is very near and dear to my heart. I couldn’t write a single sentence that made me happy. All I had going for me was my nostalgia for this place, and nostalgia alone doesn’t get an essay anywhere. Abandoning an idea doesn’t feel good, but I’d rather never write about something important to me than write something boring about it.

Evan Silberman

The Silberman Bathroom Automation Index

June 25, 2008

In June of 2004, at a hotel in Houston, Texas (a city which I was visiting to compete in a quiz bowl tournament and to which I hope never to return—its principal features, as I recall them, were a foul odor, an interminable highway, and an obvious abandonment of any responsibility for urban planning), I encountered my first automatic paper towel dispenser. I waved a hand in front of the infrared sensor, a motor whirred, and a foot-long sheet of brown paper towel emerged and was perforated, ready to be torn away. No yanking, pushing, or turning required on my part.

I was a little stunned.


Evan Silberman

Ongoing annals of surreality

April 26, 2008

I slept for three, maybe four, hours last night, in between helping to prepare the questions for ACF Nationals 2008.

As I sit here in the Waltham Holiday Inn Express, eating my cinammon roll and sausage patty, MSNBC drones on the wall about a shark attack.

Evan Silberman

nerd meme

April 10, 2008

          $ history | awk '{print $2}' | sort | uniq -c | sort -rn | head -n 15
            95 cd
            64 vim
            55 ls
            26 ssh
            26 open
            19 ifconfig
            15 sudo
            11 xelatex
            11 less
            10 pandoc
            10 irb
             9 man
             9 echo
             9 cp
             9 convert


Evan Silberman

Recipe for Impromptu Zombie Street Theater

April 2, 2008

Evan, Zaidee, Arielle, and Greer as zombies

On April Fool’s Day, some unknown individuals sent an email to every Hampshire student warning of an undead presence on campus. Inspired, some of my friends and I decided to perform some last-minute zombie street theater. We furnished eight or nine zombies with blood and the pallor of death for under $25.


Evan Silberman

Out of touch

March 14, 2008

Another train ride. The train was an hour late this time, which is frustrating, because the delay will cut into my time for playing Super Smash Bros. Brawl this evening. At least it is spring break, and I’ll have plenty of time for Brawl come Sunday evening. In the meantime, I’ll be reading at two quiz bowl tournaments and going to the Kennedy Center. I’ll make time for Brawl.

The train is around me and beneath me, lumbering through Massachusetts. There is not just track ahead of me. For the next nine or ten hours, I will be out of touch. Outside of the Wi-Fi cloud, I am incomunicado. I have a cell phone, but nobody calls it, because it is not a practice I encourage. At any rate, I have turned it off. For half a day, my whole life is carrying on without me.

Evan Silberman

The emergent properties of Oregon Trail

March 12, 2008

You can play Oregon Trail to lose. The game is constantly trying to kill you and the members of your party, and its developers intended for you to try to avoid a cruel death by dysentery, snakebite, or cholera. But when I was in middle school, where Oregon Trail was installed on our colorful iMacs as educational software, my friends and I usually had more fun naming our party members after one another and doing our damnedest to kill everybody off. Set your pace to grueling, set your rations to meager, ford the river even when it’s thirty feet deep…this was how we played. The faster everyone died, the better. Bonus if you keep the character named after yourself alive the longest.

I think Oregon Trail is unique, or nearly so, among computer games in that it is possible to play it, and have fun playing it, in a fashion that the developers did not intend, without any hacking, mods, or cheating. Oregon Trail is really two games: the game that was created on purpose, where the goal is to get to Oregon, and the emergent kill-your-friends game. The existence of the latter game depends on the rules and mechanics of the former, but it also depends on those rules and mechanics being free-form enough to allow the alternate style of play. I don’t think there are any other games like this, where it is possible to play through the game while pursuing your own goal, without the “actual” goals of the game getting in your way whatsoever.

Evan Silberman

Email obfuscation is silly

February 28, 2008

If you’ve been around the internet recently, you’ve probably seen email addresses written like hamlet at elsinore dot lit, hamletNOSPAM@elsinore.lit, or something similar. Even worse, and even less accessible is the technique of converting emails to images via JavaScript or other such replacement techniques. The goal of all this obfuscation is to prevent malicious robots from scraping your email address and then spamming it mercilessly. This behavior strikes me as absurd. GMail has almost perfect spam filtering. I get about one spam message in my inbox per month, and I’ve never had ham marked as spam. GMail can’t have the only effective spam filtering solution. So people should just go back to making life easy for the bots and the humans, and let their spam filters worry about the spam. The bots will get your email in the long run, but Bayesian filtering has gotten to be pretty good. You’re just wasting everybody’s time, and you may be preventing people using screenreaders from understanding your email address.

Evan Silberman

unsubstantiated Apple Touch SDK predictions

February 1, 2008

I predict (or perhaps just hope for) the following for the launch of the iPhone/iPod Touch SDK, with varying unspecified degrees of certainty:

  • Apps will be sold via the iTunes Store.
  • Developers who have been working under NDA will have third-party apps ready to sell on the launch date.
  • One of the launch apps will be an iChat app from Apple.
  • There will be some sort of verification process for apps requesting access to the EDGE network. It may be possible to distribute apps not requesting such access over the normal Internets outside the jurisdiction of the iTunes Store.
  • If it is possible to distribute apps without verification by Apple, or at least on a free/open source basis, a version of Adium or some newly minted libpurple based chat client will appear very quickly.
Evan Silberman

hacking for hack's sake

January 30, 2008

I posted the following comment on why’s seminal manifesto posted last month at hackety org:

Hacking for hack’s sake means not being satisfied with the tools you’re given and the rules you’re given. Hacking for hack’s sake means that if you want do perform a task from the command line or Quicksilver or a bookmarklet or a microcontroller installed inside a teddy bear entrusted to a small child, the only thing stopping you is your own creativity. Hacking for hack’s sake means making your electronic ecosystem entirely your own. Hacking for hack’s sake means five-line wikis, thirty-line wikis, wikis in your text editor, wikis on your iPhone, wikis snuck into the office during the dead of night. Hacking for hack’s sake means Vim bindings for Firefox. Hacking for hack’s sake means never doing anything by hand more than twice before you write a script to do it for you. Hacking for hack’s sake means the only unit test you run says @assert hacker.satisfied?@ and it never, ever passes.

Evan Silberman

Train Ride

December 9, 2007

I’m sitting on the Amtrak to go home, and right behind me are a posse of chatty Catholics of a certain age. Their ringleader, probably in her early sixties, has been going on, since I first noticed her in the station, about television, TiVo, Christmas trees, her (apparently emasculated and largely silent) husband Joey, the train, the construction she saw outside the train, the Basketball Hall of Fame, the Hilton Rewards program, those Garden Inns, Comfort Inn, the jail that they’re tearing apart, how she is ready for a cup of coffee, should I go to that car, does anybody else want coffee?, don’t pay me now, I’m adding it all up, wait till you see your bill, ha ha ha, do you want anything to eat, like a bagel? I know they have bagels, how she will carry the food back in a tray (they have trays).


Evan Silberman

Hello, world

November 11, 2007

I have set up a sort of a blog thing, here. I will put interesting stuff that I write here, probably. Share and enjoy.

Evan Silberman

dreams are real

September 24, 2007


Everyone is lonely.

If you can believe what you read, everyone’s been lonely for a long time. Since Ginsberg left Carl Solomon behind at Rockland, since Godot didn’t show, back to when J. Alfred Prufrock took his fucked-up walk through the fucked-up streets of London, we’ve been lonely. It happened pretty fast—no way was Walt Whitman lonely; that guy loved everybody. In 150 years, we go from “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you” to McCartney lamenting the lonely people over a string octet and Linnell and Flansburgh singing to us that “Everybody dies frustrated inside and that is beautiful” and Grandma Death telling Donnie that “every living thing dies alone.” Sociologists write whole books about how we never do anything together anymore; the bowling leagues and bridge clubs and bar trivia nights don’t attract lonely souls because lonely is now just how we all are.


Evan Silberman


August 19, 2006


Lifeguarding has lost its allure for American teenagers. The myth of the tanned, muscular, sunglasses-wearing (only the first describes me) protector of attractive women or men no longer holds the same draw as an office job or internship which looks better on your college resume.


Evan Silberman